Saturday, July 30, 2011

Wine from my collection: Anthill Farms Tina Marie Pinot Noir 2009

I found this bottle at W.I.N.O., otherwise known as Wine Institute New Orleans. Waaaaaay back when, I attended a pinot noir dinner at Cru, in which I had like 20 different kinds of pinot noir, and Anthill Farms was one of them. Naturally, most of the stuff I had and liked is hard to find. So when I saw this bottle, even though it was $65, I had to try it.

My memory did not disappoint. Unfortunately it will be a while before I can afford more $65 bottles, but it was a lovely vacation splurge.

Although to be entirely honest, I couldn't taste much difference between a good $30 pinot and this $65 pinot. Wherein does the $30 difference lie, I wonder?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Swamp tour, with alligators

(Not strictly a post about food, I know. Although I did eat alligator this week. But not one from this swamp.)

As part of my vacation, I went on a Cajun Encounters swamp tour with my family. The pictures really say it all.

My one-year-old niece, all suited up and ready for the swamp tour.

Headed into the fire swamp.

Swamp near the Pearl River, Louisiana.


See the gator?

There he is.

Meet Big Al.

I would just like to point out that the alligators completely ignored the marshmallows the tour guide used as bait, ate the hot dogs with disdain, but really went nuts for pieces of raw chicken. Let this be a lesson to us all: even large reptiles with brains the size of peanuts know the difference between junk food and real food.

Also, that's about as close as I ever care to be to a ten-foot alligator.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Cacio e pepe

Cacio e pepe is just a fancy Italian way of saying "spaghetti with cheese and pepper." In other words, this is what you make when there's nothing else in the house.

But because there are so few ingredients, you really have to use the good stuff. If you use pepper out of that pepper shaker in the back of the cupboard, it won't be good. If you (God forbid) use that cheese-flavored dandruff called Kraft's parmesan, it won't be good. In fact, to be truly authentic, you shouldn't use parmesan at all--pecorino romano is the way to go here.

I used a combination of cheeses, because that's how I roll. I buy parmesan in blocks at Costco and grate it myself, but because real parm is exhorbitant (even at Costco; a block of the good stuff is pushing $25), I mix it with a (cheaper) block of pecorino romano and sometimes either a block of asiago or a block of domestic parm. I grate it all, dump it into a gallon-sized ziploc, and shake to blend. More cost-effective than straight parm, and just as good.

I also used good, fresh pepper; if you don't have a good pepper mill, you can use a bowl or something to crack open peppercorns on the countertop.

So, here's all you need:

1 box spaghetti
A cup or so of the pasta water
2 tablespoons butter
Maybe 1/4 cup olive oil
At least three big handfuls of freshly grated pecorino romano
Lots and lots of freshly grated pepper (probably at least 5-6 tablespoons worth, if not more)

Cook the spaghetti to al dente. Reserve a cup of the cooking water. In the same pan, heat the oil and butter together. Dump the spaghetti and spaghetti water back in, and mix together well. Add the cheese and pepper, mix well, serve.

The bite of the pepper highlights the tang of the cheese, so you really can't have too much pepper, even if you think you don't like a lot of pepper.

It sounds like a boring dish (plain noodles with cheese and pepper? really?), but the total is more than the sum of the ingredients.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Baked spinach with poached eggs

This is essentially frozen spinach, baked, with cheese, with a poached egg on top. Really simple to throw together, and a really healthy meal. If you wanted it as a side dish, you could leave the poached egg off.

Here's what I used:

2 boxes of frozen spinach, thawed, with all the water squeezed out
2 tablespoons butter
2/3 cup chicken stock
a handful of breadcrumbs
a handful of parmesan

I sauteed the squeezed-out spinach in the butter until the butter was absorbed, then added the stock and cooked that until it reduced a little. Add half the cheese, stir, and put the whole thing into a buttered roasting dish. Add the rest of the cheese and breadcrumbs on top, and bake at 375 for 20 minutes or so. Serve hot, with poached egg.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Chard salad

Another variation on the raw-winter-greens salad.  I'm starting to really like these--they have more flavor and substance (and texture) than regular lettuce salads. They also hold up better to dressings.

1 bunch chard, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 red wine
1/4 cup OJ
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 cup raisins
3/4 cup walnuts
1/4 cup parmesan

Mix the liquids and sugar together, adding the oil last in a slow stream while mixing. Add to the chard and mix well. Add raisins, walnuts and parmesan and serve.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Wine from my collection: 2008 Vinum Africa Chenin Blanc

Another Barclay's Wine deal, and outstanding chenin blanc, retailing for $19.95.

I used to be an almost exclusively red wine drinker. Now that I'm back on the East Coast, and dealing with very humid, hot summers, I'm leaning more toward a seasonal split: red wine in the winter, white wine in the summer. (Especially as I live in an un-air-conditioned house.)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Wine from my collection: Granite Ridge Chenin Blanc

Thanks to the glory of Groupon, every once in a while I can get a deal on online wine. Most recently it was $25 for $75 worth of wine from Barclay's Wine. One of the bottles I got was this Granite Ridge Chenin Blanc, retailing for $12.95.

South African wine, like Argentinean wine, can be very very good or very very mediocre (with not much in between). I really liked this one--it was crisp and fruity and went down very easily, with no too-much-sugar-white-wine headache. I love a wine deal.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Quinoa salad with roasted sweet potato

Reprinted from The Kitchn:

1 cup quinoa, rinsed

1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes, all around rhe same size
3 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1/3 cup pine nuts
4 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup dried cranberries
4 scallions, sliced

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Place the quinoa into a small saucepan and add 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 15 minutes, or until the water is evaporated. Turn off the heat and let quinoa sit covered for at least one, hour or preferably, three hours.

Place the sweet potato cubes into a roasting pan and toss with 1/2 tablespoon of the olive oil. Bake for 25 minutes, or until you can just pierce the cubes with a fork. Set aside.

Place the pine nuts into a small pan over medium heat until lightly toasted, stirring often. Set aside.

In a small bowl, place the remaining three tablespoons olive oil, vinegar, honey salt, pepper, cumin and cinnamon. Whisk well.

When the quinoa is dry, use a whisk to break apart the seeds and place into a large bowl. Add half the vinaigrette and mix with the whisk. Add more to taste, depending on how wet you like your quinoa; I add it all. Add the sweet potatoes, pine nuts, cranberries and scallions and mix gently. Serve at room temperature.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Apple Manhattan

More fun with applejack!

1 3/4 oz applejack
3/4 oz sweet vermouth
orange bitters

Shake, serve over ice. Garnish with a cherry.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Like a Sidecar, but with applejack. Equal parts applejack, Cointreau, and lemon juice. Shake and serve over ice. Apple-y and delicious.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sesame-roasted snap peas

Put sugar snap peas in a shallow roasting dish. Add about a tablespoon of sesame oil, toss to coat, and roast for about 10 minutes at 400 degrees.

That's it. I did the same thing with two handfuls of green beans, and served with brown rice.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Cucumber, tomato and white bean salad

2 cucumbers, chopped
5 medium tomatoes, chopped
2 handfuls feta cheese
a drizzle of olive oil
2 handfuls leftover white beans (or you could use 1 can, drained)
1 handful assorted herbs from my garden: basil, sage, chives, parsley, plus a couple of squash blossoms, all chopped

That's it! Salt to taste. Scarf immediately.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Spaghetti with fennel pollen, orange, garlic and mint

OMG, this is the greatest pasta recipe I've come across in some time.

Only six ingredients, although admittedly one of them--fennel pollen--is a little rare. But I had some! And I had everything else, including homegrown fresh mint! So I made it. Imagine spaghetti, only fruity and light and summery. That's what this tastes like.

Read about fennel pollen, and get the recipe, here.

Reprinted below:

1 pound spaghetti

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Zest of one large orange
20 to 30 mint leaves, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon fennel pollen
salt to taste
1 to 2 teaspoons lemon juice, if desired (I left this part out)

Bring 3 quarts of water to boil in a large pot with 1/4 cup kosher salt and cook spaghetti until tender but still firm. Stir occasionally, especially when first adding spaghetti.

While spaghetti boils, melt butter over medium-low heat in a wide skillet. When butter is melted, add garlic and cook for one minute.

When spaghetti is done, strain from pot and add to skillet along with olive oil, orange zest, mint, and fennel pollen. Stir until pasta is thoroughly coated with oil and is highly fragrant. Add salt to taste and lemon juice, if desired. Serve immediately.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Gardening update

What I've learned about tomato stakes:

Good: rebar; 1/2" x 4.5', $2.98 each at Home Depot

Better: plastic PVC pipe, 1/2" x 10', $1.68 each at Home Depot (cut in half in five-foot lengths, so, 84 cents each)

Best: long sticks and twine; free!

I started using the long sticks method, as I had so much deadwood from the winter's storms; but I quickly ran out of usable lengths. (There are only so many 4 to 5 feet long, relatively straight sticks to be had.) As the tomato plants grew, I needed more, and taller. So then I starting using rebar, at $2.98 each (still cheaper than tomato cages, at $3.98 each). The rebar had the added advantage of being pound-able; I could simply untie the tomato plant, remove the stick, pound the rebar in with a hammer, and retie the plant.

But, then I needed more rebar, and my husband informed me you could only get it in bundles of 25. So I went looking around at Home Depot, and discovered 10-foot lengths of PVC pipe at $1.68 each. Cheaper than rebar, still straight and tall, still poundable.

Best of all, I can reuse all of it (sticks, rebar and pipe) for next year's tomatoes.

By the middle of next week, I should have one full-size zucchini and a handful of purple green beans ready to harvest, in addition to a whole bunch of mint. I've got basil coming in, lots of miniature butternut squash started, thigh-high corn, and a metric ton of green tomatoes.

Only a few of the pepper plants are actually growing. The rest are...not growing, but not dead. Not sure what that means.

The carrots and cauliflower I think I'll have to cede to the rabbits. Neither one grew back after the previous rabbit decimation.

I expect to have a veritable jungle once I return from vacation.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Tahini dressing

I love salad dressings I can make on the fly, out of random pantry items.

1/2 cup tahini
4 teaspoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
1 tablespoon garlic powder
salt to taste

Combine, add water 1 tablespoon at a time until just pourable.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Pizza with fennel pesto and fresh mozzarella

Ya know, the taste of the fennel pesto got lost almost entirely. It was still identifiably green, just not fennel-y. Oh well. It's not like a pizza with fresh mozzarella could be bad.

Pizza crust, fennel pesto, fresh mozzarella, handful of grated parm. Done.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Raw collard green salad

I love these winter greens-raw salads. They're suuuuuper-healthy, quick and summery, and the longer they sit, the better they taste (which is perfect for taking leftovers to lunch the next day).

1 head collard greens, ribs removed and chopped
a handful of walnuts
a handful of grated parm or Romano


1/4 cup walnut oil or olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic
1 tablespoon dijon
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
salt and pepper
garlic powder to taste

Mix, add to collard greens, top with walnuts and cheese. Let sit one hour for flavors to meld and dressing to soften greens.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Chicken salad with fennel

Lots of leftover chicken from corporate catering trays will only grace so many salads before you get really tired of salad-topped-with-chicken. So yesterday I started thinking about other things to do with chicken.

"Hmm," I thought, "I haven't had any chicken salad in a while. Chicken salad would be really good."

"But I don't have any celery," I told myself, "and my mayo supply is perilously low. Plus I don't have any sour cream." (I like my chicken salad with half-mayo, half-sour cream.)

"Oh!" I thought then. "I have another bulb of fennel, courtesy of my CSA. Fennel is kind of like celery, right? Oh, and I just made a fresh batch of homemade Greek yogurt--maybe I could combine that with what's left of the mayo, instead of sour cream."

So I did just that. I cut up the leftover chicken, thinly sliced the bulb of fennel, and added a little chopped Vidalia onion. To that I added a 1/3 cup mayo or so, with a small container of yogurt. Then I threw in a dollop of the fennel pesto I made last week, some sliced almonds, and added salt and pepper to taste.

You probably already know I'm not a huge fan of fennel. But you know what? This chicken salad kicked ass. The fennel and fennel pesto together gave the whole thing a brightness that chicken salad doesn't normally have, and the tang of the yogurt balanced that perfectly. Plus it wasn't too fennel-y.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Corporate leftovers

As a corporate worker bee by day, one of my duties is event planning--which means I get to order the food for big meetings. Which means there are usually a lot of leftovers. Which means I get first dibs at the leftovers. Which means my husband and I are eating from corporate-sized tubs of salad and trays of chicken fairly often.

I have no shame about hauling tubs of salad and giant plastic sandwich trays out to my car at the end of the day. Why would I? That's perfectly good food (well, we could debate "good" in many instances, but that's beside the point) that would otherwise get thrown out. Waste makes me grind my teeth--the plastic trays alone start the grinding process--and, hello, free food.

Case in point: last week, during a series of big meetings, I ended up with most of a make-your-own-gyro platter (takeaway: pita bread, roast beef, chicken, sliced tomatoes, onions, and cucumbers, olives, roasted red peppers, and that yummy cucumber-dill sauce), a tub of salad, and a handful of fresh mint they'd used to garnish the fruit platter. (Hey, that was perfectly good mint.)

The roast beef, chicken and pita bread became sandwiches, and the veggies and olives graced the lettuce from the salad tub and became salads. The mint joined a handful of my home-grown mint for a bowl of tabbouleh later in the week. Easily a day's worth of food for two adults. (I also commandeered a bottle each of OJ and cranberry juice.)

The next day, I got a tray of chicken and another half-tub of salad.

Needless to say, my husband and I have been eating a lot of salads. But that's okay--a nice salad, with some chicken, feta cheese, maybe some pecans, and homemade croutons is pretty much the perfect summer meal.

More excitement with leftover chicken tomorrow.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Bastardized clam chowder with fennel pesto

I'm calling this "bastardized" clam chowder because by the time I was done with it, I'd departed so far from the original recipe as to make it barely clam chowder at all.

I'm trying not to buy more groceries between now and our upcoming vacation, so I'm in the process of poking through the back of the cupboards to see what I can make. I had a bunch of canned clams, but wasn't feeling in the mood for, say, linguine with clam sauce, so I decided to make a Manhattan clam chowder (that's the kind with tomatoes, not the cream-style chowder).

But I was out of a lot of the ingredients. No fresh tomatoes, no regular potatoes, no fresh basil. I started with a saute of shallots and garlic, and deglazed that with some white wine. I added a splash of fish broth, and cut that with some water. Then I added one diced sweet potato (since I didn't have any regular potatoes) and about 3/4 cup of leftover salsa (to replace the tomatoes in the recipe). Once the sweet potato was cooked through, I added two cans of chopped clams, with some of the clam juice, and a bag of frozen corn.

So, really, it was soup with clams rather than clam chowder. At the end, I added some dried Italian herbs and salt, but it was still lacking If I'd had fresh parsley and/or fresh cilantro, I would have added that. But I didn't.

So I stirred in a little of the fennel pesto I made last week, and you know, it was actually the perfect addition. Because it was made so haphazardly, I was skeptical of the end result, but this turned out to be a great bowl of soup.

Which just goes to show you, don't be afraid to experiment. I would never have normally combined sweet potatoes, clams, and fennel pesto, but there you go.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Butterscotch pecan ice cream

OK, I know you're going to hate me for saying this, but the more I make my own ice cream, the more store-bought ice cream tastes like the bottom of a shoe. Flavors I never really liked in store-bought incarnations, I suddenly adore when I make them myself.

Case in point: butter pecan ice cream. This tastes SO much better than any pecan ice cream I ever had before. And note, please, this version is butterscotch pecan ice cream, thanks to the addition of a very tasty shot of scotch.

Also, I wouldn't judge you if you served it with a shot of scotch poured over top.

From David Lebovitz:

5 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup milk
6 egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon scotch

Melt the butter in medium saucepan, stir in brown sugar and salt. Whisk in the milk and 1 cup of the cream. Once warmed, pour a little into the beaten egg yolks while whisking, then pour the eggs into the pan. Stir over medium heat until the mixture thickens and coats the spoon. Pour the remaining 1 cup cream into a bowl and set a mesh strainer on top. Pour the custard through the strainer, and add the vanilla and scotch. Cool completely.

Make in your ice cream maker; at the last minute, add these buttered pecans:

1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups pecan halves

Melt the butter in a pan, remove from heat and toss the pecans with the butter until well-coated. Spread on a baking sheet, sprinkle with salt, and bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes. Let cool completely.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Fennel, grapefruit and shallot salad

1 fennel bulb, sliced/shaved very thinly (that's the part at the bottom, not the stalks or fronds)
1 large grapefruit (or orange), segmented, with white pith removed
1/2 to 1 shallot, peeled and sliced very thinly
salt and pepper
Good olive oil

That's it. Combine, and use the best olive oil you can.

Because I'm not a huge fan of fennel, I let the fennel and grapefruit hang out together for a couple of days, with a little of the grapefruit juice, to help meld the flavors. I then added the shallot and let that sit together for another day.

Verdict: the grapefruit helped cut the fennel-ness of the fennel; I imagine using an orange (which is sweeter) would help even more. A nice, crisp, light summer salad.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Zucchini hummus

This is amazing on fresh-baked bread.

1 to 1 1/2 zucchinis, chopped
1 15 oz. can chickpeas, or the equivalent (I used dried chickpeas, soaked and cooked, about 3 cups worth)
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 cup chopped parsley, basil and/or mint
salt and pepper
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 - 1/2 cup olive oil

Combine everything except the oil in a food processor and whirr. Add the oil in a slow stream until hummus consistency is reached.

The great thing about this hummus is that you don't have to cook the zucchini, and that it's amazing either as a dip (chips, crackers) or as a spread (on sandwiches).

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Grapefruit, honey and yogurt scones

From Joy the Baker:

Makes: 6 scones

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar, divided
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
1 Ruby Red grapefruit, zested and segmented
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

Zest the grapefruit and combined zest and granulated sugar on a clean cutting board. Rub together the zest and sugar with the back of a spoon or a plastic bench knife. The sugar will be tinted a pale orange color and smell of grapefruit. Measure 2 tablespoons of the grapefruit sugar and whisk into the dry ingredients. Save the remaining grapefruit sugar for topping the scones just before baking.

Segment the grapefruit next. Slice off the bottom and top of the grapefruit, exposing the wheel of grapefruit flesh inside. Use a sharp knife to cut away the peel and pith of the grapefruit, exposing the pink grapefruit flesh. Slice in between the white skin segments to the center of the fruit, at a slight angel, circling the grapefruit. Little grapefruit segments should fall from the fruit as you slice. Set segments aside.

Dice cold butter into small chunks and add to the dry ingredients. Using your fingers, and working quickly, break the butter down into the flour mixture until butter chunks are the size of oat flakes or small peas. The butter and flour combined will resemble coarse meal. Add the honey, plain yogurt and grapefruit segments. Toss together with a fork until all of the dry ingredients are moistened by the yogurt and honey.

Turn the scone dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Form into an 8 inch circle, about 1 inch thick. Use a knife or a bench scraper to cut the dough into six scone triangles. Place on the prepared baking sheet. Lightly brush the tops of the scones with milk or buttermilk, and sprinkle generously with grapefruit sugar.

Bake for 15 to 17 minutes, until golden brown on top and firm but soft in the center. Allow to cool on the pan for 10 minutes before serving. Serve warm with butter and jam. These scones are best served the day they’re made.

And check this out...

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Ratatouille pizza with sun-dried tomato pesto

Isn't that gorgeous?

I layered yesterday's sun-dried tomato pesto over this pizza crust with thin eggplant and zucchini slices. In the middle I put half a ball of fresh mozzarella. I sprinkled the whole thing with parmesan, and added a little chopped fresh sage when it was done.

Super-delicious, super-healthy, I will warn you this is best fresh out of the oven (microwaved eggplant does lose some of its appeal).

Monday, July 4, 2011

Sun-dried tomato pesto

From Not Eating Out in New York:

(makes about 1 cup)

2 cups sundried tomatoes (soak in warm water for 20 minutes if using the very dried kind and drain)
zest of one lemon
2 cloves garlic
1-2 small shallots
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1 teaspoon Balsamic vinegar (or slightly more to taste)
handful of fresh basil leaves, parsley, or both
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
salt and black pepper to taste

Chop the sundried tomatoes into pieces no larger than a quarter (for optimum food processor-friendliness). Chop the garlic, shallots and fresh herbs. Combine all the ingredients in a food processor except for the oil and pulse until even in coarseness, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as necessary. Drizzle in the olive oil and continue pulsing until a paste-like consistency. (You may want to use less if using the oil-packed type of sundried tomatoes.) Store refrigerated for up to one week or much longer in the freezer.

I'll be featuring this yummy pesto in tomorrow's ratatouille pizza!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Hot Charlotte

I got this recipe out of a back issue of Wine Enthusiast. It's kind of like a lighter alternative to a Bloody Mary. It's good, but watch the Tabasco.

1/2 diced cucumber
1-2 dashes Tabasco
1 1/2 oz Hendrick's or Plymouth gin
1 oz St. Germain
3/4 oz lemon juice

Muddle the cucumber and Tabasco together; combine all and shake with ice.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Fennel frond pesto

Fennel fronds

Just so you know, I won't be posting any traditional 4th-of-July-type recipes. No burgers, no grilling, no potato salad. Why? Because I don't have a grill (or any burger meat on hand). We're going on vacation for a week later in the month, and I'm not buying any groceries between now and then. First, to save our money for vacationing; and second, to clean out the fridge a bit before we go.

So, with that in mind, there are going to be a lot of CSA-based recipes between now and then. Starting with this one: fennel frond pesto.

I don't really like fennel. In fact, I don't like anything in the fennel/anise/licorice family. I've tried, believe me. But I got a bulb of fennel in this week's CSA box, so I'll try a few new things with it. Maybe something will stick.

Fennel fronds are the dill-looking stuff coming out of the bulb. The bulb is the part you actually eat.

Other things you can do with fennel fronds:
  • Use as a base (or garnish) for roasted/grilled fish.
  • Make an infused oil.
  • Substitute for dill in recipes.
  • Stuff them all inside a roasted chicken (or fish).
Fennel frond pesto:

Fronds from one bulb of fennel
2 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tablespoons pine nuts
salt and pepper
2-4 tablespoons parmesan
4 tablespoons olive oil

Whizz everything except the oil in the food processor until it becomes a paste; add the oil in a slow stream until it looks like pesto. Adjust to taste.

I'll use this pesto on a pizza later in the week.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Great Cookbook Purge

What my cookbook collection used to look like...

Every once in a while I feel a need to get rid of some stuff, to pare down, to reexamine the things I own and see if they're still useful to me. Part of this is just the fact that I hate clutter. Part of it is that I've spent so many years moving around, usually in small apartments, that now winnowing/purging is second nature. (For years, in New York, I operated under a strict "one in, one out" policy; if I got something new, something old had to go.) And part of it is that I know I can "trade in" things; sometimes directly, through sites like PaperbackSwap and SwapaDVD; sometimes indirectly, like selling things on ebay and using those funds to get new stuff, or by dropping things off at the Salvation Army and taking the tax credit.

I've also spent so many years debt-ridden and poor that now Stuff = Money. Or rather, Money Spent. The more stuff you have, the less money you have. Whereas once I owned close to 10,000 books and was inordinately proud of my book collection, now I own less than 1% of that (thanks to two cross-country moves) and do all my reading directly from the library. When I look at someone else's packed bookshelves these days, I just see dollar signs.

My secret dream is to one day sell everything I own and travel the world, maybe settling down in a container house in Costa Rica somewhere. I doubt I'll ever do that; for one thing, it would be hard to cook. But I have become much more minimalist in later years than I used to be.

Note: while it is very easy for me to apply this policy to clothes, books, DVDs, and furniture, it's more difficult to apply to Kitchen Stuff. I can't justify spending money on HBO, but I can justify owning 12 martini glasses. Bless my husband for putting up with that.

So the other day, I was flipping through a pile of printed-out recipes, looking for inspiration, when my gaze landed on my cookbook shelf. I suddenly realized that I hadn't opened 90% of them in at least a year.

The Purging Bone in my brain started to itch.

Did you know you can trade in things on Amazon for credit? I just learned this. Guess where all those big glossy cookbooks went.

Well, first I culled out the biggest and prettiest and newest of the cookbooks, and looked at each recipe in each one. I Xeroxed the recipes I knew I might use again. I ended up with less than 10 copied recipes. That was an easy $90 in Amazon credit, right there.

The next step will be to go back through the older, beat-up cookbooks, the stuff I picked up at yard sales and the like, to see which of those will be worth keeping.

Everybody has a different cookbook style. The cookbooks I get the most use out of are the utilitarian, all-purpose ones (The Joy of Cooking, How to Cook Everything), followed by Cajun/Creole/Southern cooking (My New Orleans), then by French country cooking, then Italian. I had accumulated a lot of aspirational cookbooks--Indian food, French bistro cooking, Korean fusion, molecular gastronomy--that quite honestly I'll never use. I want to be able to use those cookbooks, and I love eating that food in restaurants--but I'm just not interested in making kimchi or pistachio foam at home. (As evidenced by the fact that I copied like 10 recipes out of the whole stack.)

And let's be honest--we all get our recipes online these days. Otherwise you wouldn't be reading this. I've got a stack of printed-out recipes that's easily two feet tall, and those are just the unfiled ones.

So the moral of the story is: You don't need a lot of cookbooks to cook.