Sunday, January 10, 2010

Some thoughts on Cooking and Cookbooks

Now that recipes for just about anything you could want to cook are available online, some people are predicting the demise of the old-fashioned paper cookbook. I don't think that is likely. Nothing beats a cookbook as a source for ideas on what to cook. Also, a good cookbook provides interesting context for recipes, and also gives help on the techniques needed to successfully complete a recipe. I have a sizable collection of cookbooks. Periodically, I try to whittle the collection down, usually because of some sort of space crunch. I find it hard to get rid of cookbooks, though, even the ones I rarely, if ever, use. It is like wasting potential- who knows what gems are still in there, waiting for me to discover them?

For instance, I don't have time to bake much anymore, but I won't part with my A Piece of Cake cookbook, even though I only use one recipe with any regularity (Anna's Swedish Cake, which is my favorite birthday cake, and even makes a nice cupcake for toddler birthday parties).

I was thinking about this over the weekend, as I wrote up the menu plan for the week. I have a few "go to" cookbooks (including a hefty notebook of recipes clipped from Cooking Light over the years). Most of my "standard" dinners come from one of the following books:
  • Cooking Light Superfast Suppers. This has a recipe for tortellini in tomato broth that is just about as easy as boiling water, as well as an excellent recipe for crock pot lasagna. The latter is a weekend only recipe, because it takes 6 hours in the crock pot, and you can't let it go longer or the lasagna noodles will be overdone. I just tried out a recipe for crock pot BBQ pork sandwiches, too, which was really good. Pumpkin won't eat it, but if we limited ourselves to things that she will eat, we'd be eating a lot of chicken nuggets, Annie's peace pasta, and quesadillas.
  • Cooking Light Five Star Recipes. This has another favorite tortellini recipe (what can I say, tortellini may be Pumpkin's favorite dinner)- this one a "salad" with cherry tomatoes and corn. It also has a really nice greek pita pizza recipe that was a favorite of ours before we had kids. Maybe I should dust that recipe off, because Pumpkin has shown a fondness for "peanut bread".
  • The Minimalist Cooks At Home (I'd get the more comprehensive Mark Bittman's Quick and Easy Recipes from the New York Times if I were buying a Mark Bittman book, though). This has a good stir fry recipe that I make with cashews. It also has a linguini with zucchini and mint, that is similar to carbonara, believe it or not. Very yummy.
My "reference" cook book- the one I pull out overy Thanksgiving to look up how long to cook the turkey- is The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. The companion Fannie Farmer Baking Book gets even more use around here (I really prefer baking to cooking). It is the source of my recipe for scones, which I use in combination with bacon and smoothies for dinner. Bacon is one of the only meats Pumpkin will eat, and I think adding smoothies to just about anything makes it a good meal. I make my smoothies with frozen strawberries and pineapples, plus OJ, water, and whatever other fruit I have on hand. I freeze any fruit that is getting past its prime, and save it for smoothies.

Quesadillas are another favorite meal in combination with smoothies. I'd love to do a smoothie plus dips and bread meal, but we can't get Pumpkin to eat any dip. I'm very jealous of the people who have kids that like hummus.

I have decent recipes for red sauce and pesto, so we use those with pasta a lot, too. I make both in bulk and freeze the extra. I freeze the pesto in ice cube trays. I find that one cube plus a little bit of the water the pasta cooked in makes the right amount of sauce for us. I also combine a lot of meats with sweet potato fries (yes the frozen kind- I can't imagine having the time to make these from scratch), since these are the only thing resembling a vegetable that Pumpkin has ever eaten. She doesn't eat them reliably yet, but I keep trying. She finally ate some scone last night, on what was probably her 15th exposure. Let's just say that she warms up to foods slowly.

We've tried various rice recipes on Pumpkin, with no luck yet. She'll eat refried beans, but only at day care, where the teacher confirms she loves them. She won't touch them at home. I can't figure out why- I checked with the teacher, and the day care beans are just regular old refried beans. I periodically attempt these at home in combination with tacos, but the only thing she'll eat out of that meal is the tortillas. (I was the same way when I was a kid. I grew up in Arizona, and my parents and sister liked Mexican food. I ate a lot of tortillas.)

This week, we're trying fish sticks again. We'd had some luck with "little fishies" (fish sticks shaped like little fish), but our grocery store stopped carrying that brand, and we've yet to find an acceptable substitute. I'm not a huge fan of fish sticks, so I confess to being less than enthusiastic in my search. However, I'm getting bored with our usual meals, so decided it was time to try to branch out (again).

So what about you? What are your "go to" meals? I'd love some new ideas!


  1. I like Pumpkin's taste in pasta. :) My favorite way to eat them is plain, with butter, parmesan (the real stuff!), maybe some pepper, and rosemary. Since DH isn't thrilled with them (he'll eat them, but he isn't the junkie I am!), I often make them for lunch, and scoop some onto the Infanta's tray; she loves them!

    My go-to cookbook is the most recent edition of The Joy of Cooking. From it (or based on it, most of these I don't need the book for anymore, and I think all have family adaptations) I often make minestrone, leek and potato soup, pot roast, and more recently, mac and cheese. I have a few solid slow cooker recipes I make too, including chili and a pork roast. In season, we'll get giant artichokes and eat them almost as a meal on their own; I try to add something more substantial, but they hardly need it!

  2. I feel icky about serving chicken tenders and fish sticks on environmental grounds. But I don't have any guilt about serving TJ's chickenless tenders. She likes them just as much as the chicken ones.

    We also cook a "double soy" (baked tofu and edamame) stir-fry w/ onions and garlic.

    DH makes noodles and salmon. In the Cinema Paradiso DVD boxed set, he got a recipe booklet. We have the roast cauliflower and lemon pasta and the white fish gratin fairly often. They are quick and tasty.

    My list of favorite cookbooks.

  3. Anonymous4:20 AM

    I like the South Beach Quick and Easy cookbook a lot for inspiration. (They also have a good recipe for sweet potato oven fries.)

    Most of my other cooking books aren't in English, but I try to cycle through potatoes/rice/pasta (or couscous or something), and fish/meet/vegetarian. I'm lucky in that my SO loves fish, and is willing to try everything at least once.

    One of my favourite recipes right now is chicken with chicory and apple in soy cream. Takes a little longer to make, but the chicken is very nice and tender and the bitterness of the chicory is offset with the apple.

  4. paola5:07 AM

    I know I've said this beofre, but Soup soup and more soup! My son and hubby have a three course meal at work/kinder for lunch, which involves pasta or rice, a meat and some kind of fruit or dessert. So, what else is there for me but the big 'S'. And they are damn easy to make and the kids love them.

    The kids' fave is pumpkin soup (I add carrots and sneak in some zucchini, which they don't usually eat), and potato and leek (with a zucchini there too). Hubby loves barley, spelt and lentil soup, but I have to blend this for the kids 'cos if they see a whole barley grain, they push the plate to the side and say they are done. Of course to make these 'go-to' meals I have to cook them in a pressure cooker so in 40 minutes they are cooked.

    If I have leftovers, I add rice or barley to make a 'risotto', which the kids generally like especailly if its the pumpkin one. Otherwise big pasta shapes so they think they are getting pasta with a differnt sauce.

  5. My girl loves rice, so we often make it as a side dish. And the leftovers easily transform into fried rice, my favorite go-to meal! I just chop up whatever veggies and meat we have leftover, throw them in the pan with the rice, some scrambled eggs, soy sauce, salt and pepper. Easy and delicious.

    My favorite cookbook is Saving Dinner. The recipes are easy, fast and very good. I especially love the red beans and rice recipe.

    I'm also a big fan of the recipes in the Real Simple magazine for the same reasons that I like the others.

  6. My go-to cookbooks are Joy of Cooking and James Beard. My aunt turned me on to Beard because she makes the BEST pot roast ever and she uses his recipe. It is EXCELLENT. The recipes are very British, which can be funny, but a little unusual and all very good.

  7. The one we make at least once a week is "Rice Ragout" (I'm a fan of one-pot meals and so is the kiddo)
    Saute 1 onion, 3 cloves of garlic.
    Brown 1lb ground beef
    - 1 can crushed or diced tomatos
    - 1&1/2 cups white rice
    - about 2 cups of water (more if using crushed tomatos)
    - 1 bell pepper, diced (green is pretty)
    1/2 tsp each of cumin, mild curry powder, chipotle chile powder, salt

    Simmer 30 minutes, stirring frequently (or it sticks to the bottom). Unfortunately I'm guessing this won't work for your family - it can be pretty spicy. For some reason my kid prefers her vegetables embedded in tomato the point that she will steal the green peppers from my bowl. When offered plain green pepper she will refuse to even touch them. And Christmas dinner? Total failure. Wouldn't touch a single thing on her plate since they were all separate and not nearly spicy enough.

    Also, the other day I was informed that she wants to go back to Grandma's house because she serves Campbell's soup out of a can, which is apparently the best meal ever. Go figure. I'm guessing that more salt = better around here!

  8. Thanks for all the ideas, everyone!

    @Paola- the idea of using leftover soup as a sauce for rice or pasta is pure genius.

  9. My go-to cookbooks (and I'm so with you on your attachment to them, I'm the exact same way):
    - French Food at Home
    - The Moosewood Cookbooks
    - ALL of Jamie Oliver's cookbooks
    - Madhur Jaffrey's A Taste of India

    The foods that works best for my boys currently are:
    - baked salmon with those same frozen sweet potato fries (YUM)
    - Garlic and lemon roasted chicken (I roast it whole and make a few meals out of it)
    - Fried panko & coconut-crusted shrimp
    - terriyaki tofu stir-fried with acceptable veggies (which varies by how full the moon is, but can include broccoli, green beans, red peppers, mushrooms, but WOE be t me if I include cauliflower, kale, or spinach)
    - Almost anything they cook with me, they'll eat, at least a bit of. So, stuff they eat if THEY help me make it but not if I make it includes: pizza, quiche, Romanian meatball-y things, soups of various sorts.

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