Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Joy of Cooking, Other Cookbooks, and Doing Without

Twenty years ago when being an adult, having a house and a kid, and homemaking activities still had plenty of novelty and appeal, I developed an enthusiasm for cooking (even under constrained conditions) and for cookbooks.  I asked for and received my own copy of The Joy of Cooking when I was still in college.  I owned a muffin tin.  I clipped recipes from the newspaper and kept them in a folder. I figured out how to cook asparagus in an electric hot pot.   
Last spring, as it became evident that a plan was afoot that might lead to our household’s displacement I began an experiment involving the most recent edition of The Joy of Cooking.  Simply put, I stopped looking in other cookbooks, and stuck to this one.  While this edition does not include the skinning of rabbits and preparing bear meat, it sufficed.
The contents of my kitchen were boxed up in the beginning of July, and in anticipation of this, I got rid of many things I imagined I would not need anymore. I jettisoned a number of cookbooks on the logic that I had not used them and was doing fine without them. It has been my experience in other, similar situations when I am taken with the zeal of getting rid of things, I get a bit ahead of myself, throwing out too much.  But it is done, and there is no getting it all back.
The house we are living in is stock with books—books of so much variety that I will have to save it for another day.  There are a couple of cookbooks, though: a fragile, antique Joy of Cooking, How to Grill, Miami Spice,  Great British Cooking. I opened one and had some success, and I will get to that in a minute. I am still waiting for the Truly Useful Cooking App, which can scan the contents of your pantry and tell you what you have the ingredients to make. I think we will be waiting a long time for it.
I am regularly frustrated by recipes found online.  When I look for pad thai, I want to be able to choose from maybe three versions, and not 1,710,000.  It helps to start with something like, but Martha has access to ingredients I never seem to be able to find. I have noticed that hand-written recipes from friends end up being the things I make the most, and even though I do not have the recipes for “Salad Ann Makes” or “Sheila’s Chinese Chicken Salad,” I have made both in this house, guessing at quantities.
Thursday night’s dinner was notably successful.  I made a Greek Lentil Soup with Lemon which I modified from a recipe in one of the books in the house. “Modified” means I omitted ingredients because I didn’t have them.
Greek Lentil Soup with Lemon
Cook a 1 lb. bag of lentils in 2 ½ quarts of water or chicken stock for 30 minutes, according to the package. When done, add another quart of hot stock, along with 1 chopped jalapeno (seeds and stem removed), 2 t whole coriander seeds, 1 t cumin, 1 t each of oregano, basil and thyme, and 2 bay leaves.  Add 3 medium-sized potatoes, cut in small chunks. Chop and add a bag of fresh spinach. Also add about 2 cups of diced butternut squash.  Lower to simmer and cover.
Chop an onion and a small bunch of celery, leaves included and sauté in olive oil until soft. Add about three cloves of chopped garlic and sauté another minute or so. Add to soup. 
Soup requires a lot of stirring and occasionally adding more hot stock.  Just before serving, add about 1/3 c of freshly squeezed lemon juice.
With soup, I served a Greek salad with tomatoes, cucumber, feta, green pepper and a bit of onion, tossed in olive oil and lemon juice.  I also served a lot of warmed pita bread and homemade hummus.  I had forgotten how easy it is to make hummus, and made some in the blender out of a large can of drained garbanzos, 1/3 c tahini, ¼ c lemon juice, 1 t salt, 2 cloves of garlic, and 1 T olive oil.

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