Sometimes you need to spend some time with an ingredient to really understand it. I recommend this article on bay leaves as an example. The author approaches bay leaves like a scientist to understand how this fairly subtle herb affects food.
I’ve got at least two recipes in the queue to write up, and another to review. Hopefully, I’ll get to those soon.
Today I stumbled across Good and Cheap by Leanne Brown. Ms. Brown ran a Kickstarter to allow her to produce a free cookbook aimed at helping people with limited financial resources to eat well. (She aims for eating on roughly $4 per day.) I was pleasantly surprised by this book.
Firstly, I very much like the approach Ms. Brown takes for this kind of cookbook. While her previous cookbook is a vegetarian cookbook, and a lot of these recipes are vegetarian, there is no moralizing about what you chose to eat. In fact, her primary goal seems to have been to create a flexible cookbook that would give people basic skills, recipes, and flavor combinations to build on. She also acknowledges that building a pantry to aid you in eating cheaply has an upfront expense. She recommends slowly investing in pantry ingredients to give yourself more flexibility and better flavor. Lastly, she acknowledges up front that her cost estimates are based on using seasonal produce, but she talks about also using appropriate canned or frozen produce.
All-in-all, this is not simply a book of recipes. It is a book that teaches you a fair bit about putting together your own inexpensive meals to your own tastes. There’s a group of recipes called “Things on Toast.” It’s a collection of loose recipes of exactly that — simple open-faced sandwiches. She also has a section entitled “Leftovers” in which she makes suggestions for interesting ways to use up leftovers from the other recipes in the book. Lastly, she has a section on “Staples” which covers how to make things like tortillas, a basic tomato sauce, breadcrumbs, and cooking dried beans.
While I have not made any of the recipes in it, I can tell you that from their construction that they should be inexpensive, tasty, and fairly simple to make. I would highly recommend this book to novice cooks who are on a budget. I think it would be an excellent college student cookbook. A few of her recipes are time-intensive, which would be unrealistic for many people. (How many of us have time to make our own tortillas regularly?) That said, so many of the recipes are simple, quick-to-prepare, and very flexible to individual tastes that I’d can’t really hold that against the book. I think it’s well worth considering picking up the second edition ($10.21 on Amazon) for the sake of having a paper copy for your kitchen or sending her a $5 tip for the free version.
Boy have I been neglecting this blog. A piece of that is that all my external USB ports on my laptop have died, so I can’t pull pictures off my camera. (I am a luddite when it comes to cell phones, so that isn’t an option either.) That said, I’ve missed this. So to get us going again, a recipe review.
This Sunday, I made King Arthur’s Belgian-Style Yeast Waffles. I can’t recommend it highly enough, if you’re someone who likes waffles and can eat flour. I’ve tried a lot of waffle recipes. Some more fiddly than others. (Separate eggs, then fold beaten whites into the batter? I mean I could, but I don’t wanna.) I am also *braindead* when I first wake up, so I don’t tend to want to cook anything at all. The more I can have done in advance the better. So the first thing that intrigued me about these waffles was that you made the batter the night before.
I changed almost nothing about the original recipe. I left the optional syrup out of the waffle batter, but added a little cinnamon. The rest is exactly as written. The batter rose beautifully, thought about what it had done overnight in the fridge, then cooked beautifully. Since there was no required sweetener, the waffles were pleasantly crisp with a hint of yeasty tang. (Nowhere near to the degree of say, a sourdough. Just enough to give a little complexity to what is otherwise a fairly bland base flavor.) This was a plus from my husband, as he doesn’t like overly sweet food first thing in the morning.
So I got perfect waffles, and all I had to do in the morning was warm up the waffle iron & pour the batter I’d already made into it, while I sipped coffee & became human. Win-win, would make again.
I’m going to give you my top three cookbooks for any cook’s shelves.
I’m Just Here for the Food: Food + Heat = Cooking
I learned a lot about food from watching Good Eats. Alton Brown is a good teacher. I’m Just Here for the Food is a great resource if you know nothing about cooking. Alton Brown will break down everything from cuts of meat to how to choose an appropriate cooking method. While there are recipes, this is more like a cooking manual. If you have no idea what you’re doing, this can be your cooking basics class.
The Joy of Cooking
The Joy of Cooking is a long time kitchen staple. The recipes are good, and each major section includes some technical instruction. I recommend finding a copy of the 75th Anniversary edition if you can. It includes some more unusual recipes for this day and age. If you need a solid basic recipe for just about anything, Joy of Cooking probably has it.
The Flavor Bible
If you want to learn to be an inventive cook, this is the one book you need. It is an encyclopedia of which flavors go with each others. Want to know what goes well with beets? Turn to the entry for “beets” and get the full list of recommended flavor combinations. While the entries are very good, sometimes an ingredient isn’t cross-referenced in both directions. That flaw aside, I highly recommend this to an aspiring cook.
With those three books, you can figure out how to cook nearly anything. (Baking is another story though Joy of Cooking will give you a start there.)
I should start by acknowledging that I was inspired by this recipe. That said? I rarely pick up a recipe without tampering with it. While this seemed really promising, I got inventive.
- 1.5 cups of lentils
- 1/2 lb of 80% lean ground beef
- 2 cups (ish) of whole wheat seasoned bread crumbs
- 2 medium onions, minced
- 4 crimini mushrooms, minced
- 1 tbsp oregano
- 1 tbsp garlic powder
- 1 tbsp basil
- 1 tsp rosemary
- 1 tbsp chia seeds
- 2 eggs
- 1/4 cup ketchup
- 2 tbsp salt (ish)
- fresh cracked pepper
- olive oil
Cook up your lentils in plain water and salt, or broth of your choice. When your lentils are soft, drain thoroughly, then throw them in the food processor with the beef, mushrooms, and onions. Process this into a smooth paste and turn out into a bowl. Add everything but the breadcrumbs, then add breadcrumbs a little at the time until the meat reaches the right consistency. Form into roughly two inch balls, then fry in olive oil, turning to brown all sides. Once the outside was browned, I piled them into a couple of baking pans with a little sauce to hold at about 200 degrees while I made up the rest of dinner.
We had this with pasta and squash the first night which wasn’t bad. That said, it was particularly good as the meatball subs pictured.
For that I used:
- Torpedo rolls
- Asiago cheese (parmesan would work as well)
- Marinara sauce
- Fresh Spinach
- Roasted red peppers
- Sundried tomatoes
- Provolone cheese (Mozzarella would work)
- Fresh chiffonade basil (optional)
Toast your rolls to start, then grate a bit of asiago or parmesan on them. Lay down a layer of shredded spinach, and/or basil. Lay in your other veggies, followed by a little hot sauce and meatballs. Top with provolone, then bake at 350 for about ten minutes to wilt the spinach and melt the cheese.