Post 107 – The Cookbook Challenge

I have a lot of cookbooks. Not as many as some people I’m sure, but I still have a plethora. I have old ones, I have new ones. I have thin and thick, tall and small. I used to collect them simply because family and friends knew that buying me a cookbook was an easy Christmas or birthday gift. Eventually I realized this could get out of control and I said, no more cookbooks! Sometimes I still pine for more when flipping through the glossy pages of a new one at Brookline Booksmith – my favorite bookstore.

IMG_1306So what to do with all these cookbooks? After talking with someone this past week who herself was trying to make better use of her collection, I decided that I need to cook from my cookbooks way more often. These days, I tend to go to the internet when I want a new recipe (or when I want to share a recipe – hello blog!) and my poor cookbooks are just taking up space on my bookshelf.

Oatmeal raisin pancakes for breakfast!

Oatmeal raisin pancakes for breakfast with cinnamon sour cream!

So I decided to do a cookbook challenge. I will make at least one recipe out of every cookbook that I own for the next several weeks (months? years?) until I get through every last one. I am still allowed to use the internet for a few recipes here and there, but the majority of my recipes will be from cookbooks that I own. This way I can still expand my recipe repertoire (as many of them have never been used!) and give my collection of cookbooks a little love.

I started my challenge yesterday, making oatmeal raisin pancakes with cinnamon sour cream for breakfast (pictured above). This recipe comes courtesy of Dorie Greenspan from a small book of pancakes I picked up at a used bookstore in Maine while visiting my aunt and uncle’s summer cabin. I altered the recipe slightly and the pancakes and sour cream topping turned out delicious!

Oatmeal Raisin Pancakes with Cinnamon Sour Cream

adapted from Pancakes: Morning to Midnight by Dorie Greenspan

serves 2-3 people generously

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup rolled oats

2 T. brown sugar

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. baking soda

2 T. unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled

1/4 cup plain yogurt

1/2 cup milk

1 egg

1/2 cup raisins

For the sour cream: Mix 1/2 cup sour cream, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, and 2 tsp. brown sugar and set aside.

For the pancakes: mix all of the dry ingredients (flour through baking soda) in one bowl. Mix all of the wet ingredients (butter through egg) in another. Add the wet to the dry and stir just enough so that all of the dry is moistened. Fold in raisins. Allow the batter to sit and absorb the liquid for 10 minutes. Preheat a pan or griddle to medium-low as you would for pancakes. When the pan is hot, add the batter in 1/4 cup ladles and cook for a few minutes until bubbles form. Flip and cook another minute more. Remove to a plate and serve with cinnamon sour cream. Repeat with remaining batter.

Now don’t think I stopped at one recipe for the day. After all, the day had only begun. For dinner I made Salmon in Phyllo (Filo) from the Better Homes and Gardens 75th anniversary cookbook. I had originally planned to make a steak and ale pie using the phyllo in honor of Pi day, but I ended up changing my mind. To use up the already thawed phyllo, I decided a sort of Salmon en croute would be delicious.

IMG_1297These pretty fillets were topped with rosemary, salt, pepper, and don’t forget BUTTER – whoa nelly! Wrapped up in pretty little packages, I tucked them in the oven to brown.

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Atop a colorful pot holder

The salmon and phyllo were flaky and wonderful, flavored nicely with the dried rosemary. Perhaps because of all the butter, the fish was very filling. I served it with roasted potatoes and as always a green salad.

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Salmon in Phyllo

adapted from Better Homes and Gardens 75th anniversary cookbook

2/3-3/4 lb. salmon fillets

4-6 sheets of phyllo dough

rosemary, salt, pepper

3-4 T. unsalted butter, melted

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and lightly butter a medium sized oven-safe dish.

Cut your salmon into two equal size pieces if it isn’t already. Pat dry with paper towels and season with salt, pepper, and fresh or dried rosemary.

On a clean surface, lay out your phyllo dough, one layer at a time, brushing each with butter before adding the next layer. When all layers are done, add your salmon pieces on top, spacing them evenly apart. Using a sharp knife, cut the phyllo dough to separate into two pieces for each piece of salmon. Fold two opposite sides over the fish, brushing with more butter as needed and roll or tuck up the ends to make a package. Place in your oven-safe dish and bake for 18-20 minutes depending on the thickness of your fish. If it is an inch thick, 18 minutes is perfect. It is hard to check the doneness of the salmon though since it is wrapped in the pastry. You can cut into it if you are worried about the fish being done. Serve with mustard or a mustard cream sauce (as recommended in the book).

Since we don’t usually like to eat leftover fish, I made one more dish (from yet another cookbook!) for Sam to take for lunch today – Peppered Chicken Stir Fry. This came from a giant cookbook filled with an assortment of recipes from all different cuisines. Chicken is mixed with ketchup and soy sauce and then dredged in crushed peppercorns. It’s pretty peppery, which I knew Sam would love. Serve it with rice for a tasty and well-balanced meal.

IMG_1294(1)I have cooked from three of my cookbooks (out of how many?)

The cookbook challenge has begun!

Peppered Chicken Stir Fry

from 1000 Classic Recipes

1 lb. chicken breast

2 T. ketchup

2 T. soy sauce

2 T. crushed mixed peppercorns (I beat mine contained in a ziploc bag with a meat mallet)

2 bell peppers, your choice of color, sliced

2 handfuls of sugar snap peas

2 T. oyster sauce

Brown rice to serve

Heat up a large skillet or wok over medium heat with a tablespoon of oil.

Thinly slice your chicken breast and mix it with the ketchup and soy sauce. Toss in the crushed peppercorns and mix it all together. When the oil is starting to shimmer, add your chicken breast slices and stir fry for a few minutes until no longer pink on the outside. Add your sliced peppers and snap peas and stir. Cook for another 5 minutes. Add the oyster sauce and allow it to cook for another 5 minutes. Remove from heat and serve with brown rice.

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Post 71 – Peanut Butter Tofu Stir Fry

Now I know what you’re thinking – Peanut butter and tofu? Yuck! So maybe you’re not into tofu, but really why not? If it’s a texture issue then I totally understand. If it’s a flavor issue, that is a whole other story – tofu can be any flavor you want! If you can’t get over the idea of eating tofu and peanut butter together than fine. Just think of this dish as a Thai peanut sauce served over your favorite meat and veggies.

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The first time I remember making the original version of this dish I was headed to a concert in Yellow Springs with my sister, Chelsea. I don’t remember what concert or how long ago it was, but I do remember the warm feeling of summertime happiness and the delicious peanut butter noodles with veggies that would be our picnic dinner.

Now thanks to Sam’s love for peanut butter and my wonderful influence exposing him to so many new foods, (Tofu! Who would have thought?) this recipe has morphed into one of our go-to dinners. We cook up a pot of brown rice and serve it up with this peanut buttery comfort food. The best part – this recipe is totally adaptable. Use whatever veggies you want, sub out cooked chicken for the tofu, and even switch out honey for the brown sugar if you so choose. Whatever you may change, maybe you’ll find this dish makes it into your menu rotation.

Peanut Butter Tofu Stir Fry

Adapted from Ellie Krieger

1 14-oz package extra firm tofu

your choice of veggies (asparagus, onions, bell pepper, mushroom, carrots, snow peas, broccoli)

3/4 cup creamy peanut butter (or crunchy if you’re into that)

1/4 – 1/3 cup soy sauce (to taste, depending on saltiness of PB)

1/3 – 1/2 cup warm water (again, to taste and depending on consistency of PB)

2 T. rice wine vinegar (or white vinegar)

2 T. brown sugar

1 inch fresh ginger (or more) minced or grated

juice of 1/2 a lime

1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (to taste)

To start, prep your veggies by chopping them into even sizes. We used asparagus, carrots, and mushrooms though we used to always use onions and red bell peppers. Keep in mind the texture of the vegetables when choosing what size to cut. For example carrots are crunchier than mushrooms so they will take longer to cook. If you are using both carrots and mushrooms, consider cutting the carrots smaller, add them to the pan to saute first, or enjoy the extra crunch!

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Heat a large skillet over medium heat with a splash of canola oil. When hot, add veggies and cook, stirring every now and then until almost to your desired tenderness. They will cook longer when the tofu and sauce is added so unless you like soggy veggies, don’t cook them too long. You can add them one at a time if you need one to cook longer or add them all at once.

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While the veggies are cooking, drain, lightly squeeze and cube your tofu.

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Prepare the sauce by mixing peanut butter, soy sauce, water (start with the minimum and add more later if needed), vinegar, brown sugar, fresh ginger, lime juice, and crushed red pepper flakes. When the veggies are cooked to your liking, add cubed tofu and cook for a few minutes, stirring every now and then, until the tofu is warmed through, about 5 minutes.

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Peanut butter sauce with fresh ginger! Yum!

Turn down the heat to a simmer and stir in your peanut butter sauce. Cook for just a few minutes, just long enough that the sauce starts to bubble. If it is too thick add additional water, carefully stirring it in so as not to splash. Remove from heat and serve over rice.

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Post 42 – There’s More to Life Than Food

Happy Friday. I hope you get to relax this Labor Day weekend. I’m hoping to bake up some nice peach cobbler, maybe see friends, and go blueberry picking with Sam. The cats are hoping to take it easy.

Lewis the cat

Lewis the cat

Magellan wants to relax in the sink.

Magellan in the sink.

Have I told you that I have GERD, also known as acid reflux?

It’s kind of embarrassing and I just developed it in the past year so I don’t talk about it much, but I mention it now because it has literally caused me a lot of pain this past week. Everything, everything has been setting off my symptoms and my “Erin Eating Everything” philosophy has turned into Erin eating a very limited diet in small portions and not too late at night.

Sigh.

As much as I love to eat, I am starting to develop a new motto –

There’s more to life than food.

When you work with food, it’s hard not to spend all your time thinking about it and planning for it, but I need to keep reminding myself there are other ways to entertain oneself other than eating or spending time in the kitchen. The problem is the kitchen is the place where I am at home, where I am my best self. My mind is focused, my hands are working, and the rhythm is right.

More than that, being in the kitchen stimulates all the senses. My eyes absorb the natural beauty of colorful foods and dishes.

Purple potatoes

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Orange carrots

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Red onions (in this case pickled)

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A colorful medley of vegetables

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My nose knows by the aromas that waft from the pans when to turn the heat down and when to turn it up. My ears listen for the bubble of the boiling pot, the sizzle of melting cheese or onions hitting the hot oil. My hands are touching all the time, squeezing for freshness or firmness or doneness. My taste buds, of course, get the final say.

Yet I keep trying to tell myself –

There’s more to life than food.

One of my favorite quotes on this topic comes from food writer M.F.K. Fisher:

“People ask me: Why do you write about food, and eating and drinking? Why don’t you write about the struggle for power and security, and about love, the way others do? […] The easiest answer is to say that, like most other humans, I am hungry. But there is more than that. It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied…and it is all one.”

When I write about food, I write about more than just food. I write about gratitude, triumph, sadness, and the amazing people that make up this world, but somehow it always comes back to food.
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