Sunday, January 22, 2012

Slow Cooking cookbook review

I have just discovered my new favorite cookbook!! Well, until I discover another since cookbooks are a bit of an addiction.

One of the first things Erica bought when she was getting ready to move into her own place was a crockpot. At the Christmas potluck at our (Quaker) meetinghouse someone looked at her Pumpkin Soup contribution and exclaimed "that is one serious crockpot." Her soup was the big hit of the get-together, but apparently the crockpot itself was a close second. Now, I never cooked in a crockpot so Erica didn't grow up with the tradition of eating meals made in one. Neither did Chris, as far as I know, but he had it in his head that having a crockpot slowly cooking food in the kitchen was homey and, if nothing else, he was super excited about creating a home with Erica. So she bought one. I had done a lot of reading and research on cooking in the solar oven when we bought one, interlibrary loaning cookbooks on the subject. After Rick bought me a Pomaireware clay pot for my birthday I added clay pot cooking to my list of essential reading. At both times, I also loaned out crockpot cooking cookbooks. After all, it's the same idea: Cooking one pot meals for a longer time at a lower temperature.

With Christmas coming my cookbook reading collided with my Christmas present buying. I was "wandering" around Amazon looking for ideas when I hit on Art of the Slow Cooker by Andrew Schloss. The front cover looked soooo inviting. I was about to switch over to the library Web site and put it on hold when, instead, I placed it in my shopping cart. I'll buy it for Erica, I thought. About a week later I subjected Rick to a look-see at all the presents in my cart before I placed the order. He okayed everything except the cookbook, not being as excited about the enticing front cover photo nor the description as I was. Sheesh, how could you not get excited!? But I ignored him and ordered it anyway. 

The night the order arrived I took the cookbook up to bed so I could gaze longingly at all the delicious recipes and drool over the photos before I fell asleep. Rick was probably reading something heavy, like he always does at night (although right now he's reading Chasing Chiles: Hot Spots Along the Pepper Trail, which looks really interesting and which I'll probably read next). I kept oohing and aahing over everything, probably interrupting his thoughts. Finally, he asked why don't I just keep the darn thing. But it was to be a present, so I sighed and put it away. I tested the chicken cacciatore recipe the next day, substituting my clay pot for the crockpot, and it was delicious. I then wrapped the book before I was tempted to try another recipe and get it dirty before I gave it to Erica. Another sigh.

Erica has tried quite a few of the recipes since Christmas and liked them all. She kept e-mailing me with updates. I tried this, I tried that. It was yummy. It was to-die-for. I had to get myself a copy of the book! Rick didn't understand my obsession. It's only a cookbook, he said. Come on, look at my shelves! I have as many cookbooks as he has music books. I have now made two more recipes: Jerk Pork with Yams, which was out of this world yummy; and last night I tried Chocolate Chicken Chili Soup, inspired by Rick's reading about chili peppers and the fact—most importantly—I happened to have all the ingredients on hand.

The whole idea of adding chocolate to the dish didn't excite me, though. I'm not a huge fan of cooking with chocolate. But the recipe promised that the amount of chocolate was subtle. And it was. Even Annalee, Miss Picky, enjoyed it. Rick says he'd like a bit more chocolate next time, though.

Next time. Hmmm, this is a three for three win on the recipes in this book so far. If Rick was doubtful before, he's not now. In fact, he might even buy me the cookbook so I can return this copy to the library. How about for Valentines Day some nice dark cooking chocolate and the Art of the Slow Cooker (hint hint). He might go for it because he opened the fridge earlier and searched desperately for leftovers to have for lunch. When I informed him there weren't any he physically deflated.

I won't ever buy a crockpot since it doesn't really fit into my non-electric (or minimal electric gadgets) stance, not to mention I have zero counter or cabinet storage space left, but the idea of slow cooking and the delicious from scratch recipes in this book are easily adapted to both clay pot cooking and solar cooking. Schloss says that the low setting on crockpots is about 200 and the high is 300, and clearly states how long to cook each recipe at either setting, making it easy to adapt the recipes for a conventional oven or the solar oven. I'm really looking forward to trying some of these outside when I can get a few decent hours of sunlight again.

As Schloss writes on the back cover: Good things come to those who wait. Amen. Now I just need to choose which recipe to try tonight!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Holiday ramblings

Annalee and I went to the grocery store on Christmas Eve morning to buy all the fish needed to make our traditional Italian Christmas Eve fish extravaganza. How many [fish] dishes are traditional is subject to argument, despite the fact it's usually called the Feast of the Seven Fishes. We make sure we have 7 at least, but I figure anything over that and it's just extra good luck. This year we reached 9. In various other years we've managed to hit 12! We tried, as usual, to make small amounts of each dish, but we still had way too much food: clams casino, calamari salad, lox on homemade crackers with dill sour cream, mushrooms stuffed with anchovies, lobster ravioli, shrimp cooked in a red sauce, mussels in white wine, swordfish Sicilian style, and ceviche. We went a little international, but hey, fish is fish. I did miss having baccalĂ , though, but there's only so much you can eat (I think). There were only five of us this year—me, Rick, Annalee, Erica, and Chris.  

Now, in our immediate family, we have a tradition that only one person opens a present at a time. We historically sit around for hours and hours and hours on Christmas morning. Even the tiniest stocking stuffer deserves to be watched by everyone and oohed and aahed over. Erica was feeling a little left out because this was her first Christmas away in her new place, so we opened presents with her and Chris on Christmas Eve instead (which is why we kept dinner to just the 5 of us) and oohed and aahed with them then. Of course, Rick, Annalee, and I had to do it all over again ourselves Christmas morning. Round two.

Unfortunately, by Christmas morning I was also beginning to feel a little sick. Rick had actually started feeling under the weather a few days before Christmas, but he was holding up to some extent. I guess I caught it from him, or whoever he caught it from, but a bit worse. Well, not to have a pissing contest, but I was definitely more disgusting. I got through our second round of oohs and aahs okay, my spirits buoyed by the plastic spoon, can of anchovies, and onion Rick gave me (he didn't think I had enough stocking stuffers so he went "shopping" in our pantry!). I laughed so hard I couldn't stop coughing. By Christmas evening, though, I could barely talk and was sinking pretty fast. Kind of like the Titanic. By the 26th—and Christmas #3 at Rick's mom's house,—I was reduced to a shivering, shaking mess. Ugh! 

And that's pretty much how my week went. I slept on the couch (so as not to keep Rick awake at night) with my handy dandy jar of Vicks, a handkerchief dabbed with essential oils, a hot water bottle, a glass of water, and a box of tissues. I'm pretty sure I have bronchitis, hopefully not pneumonia. I haven't been that hungry, and yet I've craved food—something, anything, to make me feel better. Not the tins of cookies we made, nor the many scrumptious leftovers. I didn't open any cookbooks nor pour through any of my cooking magazines; a favorite past time. I did, however, drag out my copy of The Art of Eating Well by Pellegrino Artusi. For colds, flu, upset stomachs, and generally not feeling well, Artusi recommends "una dieta in bianco." This translates as "a white diet," and although many of the foods literally are white or light colored, what it really means are foods that are easy to digest. Mild foods prepared simply. Something that won't get in the way of the body's attempt to heal itself, but will actually help the process. 

One such recipe is Minestra Mille Fanti, or Thousand Soldiers' Soup. Artusi writes his recipes in typical Italian style—no exact measuring. I love it. 
Figure on half an egg per person. Dot bottom of a bowl with as many heaping teaspoons of flour as the number of eggs you will use. Add 2 tablespoons of grated parmigiano (or to taste), a pinch of nutmeg, a pinch of salt, and finally the eggs. Beat until thoroughly mixed. Pour it into boiling broth through a colander with widely spaced holes, stirring the broth as you pour. Continue cooking until the egg is done. Serve. For a variation you can use breadcrumbs instead of flour.

Artusi doesn't say what kind of broth, but I favor chicken. A good homemade beef broth would work perfectly, too. This is a simple recipe. (Note: There's another less expensive edition of the book with the original title of Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well. I assume they're one and the same, possibly a different publisher?, but Artusi's is the quintessential Italian cookbook. Kind of like The Joy of Cooking for Italy. And definitely worth the read.)

I wish everyone a wonderful, healthy, and blessed new year.