Monday, January 3, 2011

The Holiday Haul

This Christmas was a font of all things culinary, so I thought I'd share some of the goodies Alexis and my lovely family gifted me that will certainly inspire my cooking this year:

Fine Cooking: Who doesn't love recipes and ideas showing up in their mailbox? 

Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics: Even though this article slags Ina Garten for promoting unhealthy eating and (gasp!) the ingestion of butter and cream, I love her. Sure, her recipes are not for every day, but for entertaining, special occasions, or moments when I and the ones I love need some culinary nurturing, she's my gal.

Mastering the Art of French Cooking: As the grandmother of all female food fanatics, Julia Child's books are essential library additions, I think. If I master nothing else, I will master boeuf bourguignon. And although my first try was somewhat disastrous, 2011 will be the year that Melissa makes her own croissants. I don't have the cold hands of the born pastry-maker, but there's nothing that a bowl of ice water can't cure.

The Food Matters Cookbook: Yes, Mark Bittman can be kinda preachy. No, he's not a chef, and yes, his recipes can sometimes be almost too simple and commonsensical. But his overall message--eat real food and less meat as a way to do good things for yourself and the planet--is one that I'm fully behind, and his recipes do give quick, simple, and inventive ways to work towards that goal. I've never been a huge meat eater, but I can't claim to be anything other than an omnivore. My goal for 2011 is to reduce my meat consumption (I'm arbitrarily excluding fish and seafood from this count) to 1-2 times per week. It's very doable, and Mark will help.

The Flavour Thesaurus: It's as much about ideas—what flavours go with what—as it is about recipes, although there are some fascinating ones in here. I've already had a few culinary revelations reading through it; I got to the entry for Anchovies & Cheese and thought to myself, "Huh? That sounds odd." And then I thought about the fact that I never make cheese sauce without anchovy-heavy Worchestershire sauce in it. Lightbulb moment! And as Alexis read somewhere, if you like someone, buy them the American edition. If you love them, buy them the British. 

Nigella Christmas: It's Nigella. It's Christmas. What more is there to say? Well, just that Nigella and I have very similar ideas of what Christmas is and should be, how food fits into that, and what that food should be. She's also got some great Christmas-food-gift recipes, which will be invaluable this year, as I'm doing all homemade gifts for Christmas 2011. Or I tell myself that, as I look at my December credit card statement...

Knife Skills: Another Alexis gem. DK does such great visual books, and this one is no exception. I've sharpened my knives and pulled out my book-stand, so this baby is going to be hanging out in the kitchen for the forseeable future. My knife skills aren't bad, but they're certainly not expert, and I'd love to get quicker and more precise with just about everything chopping related. The great thing about this book is that it also has lots of information on using a mandoline, which is very convenient as I got this one for Christmas. 

My Bread: I'm about four years behind the times with Jim Lahey's bread recipe—Mark Bittman first published in The New York Times in 2006—but I've long wanted to try it and never had the right pot to do it in. Since Alexis has a large Le Creuset collection that he inherited from his mom, I've absconded with a casserole and baked four loaves of Lahey's bread since Christmas. I'm enthralled. It's some of the best bread I've ever had, and it takes about 10 minutes of my time, over two days, to produce. The basic recipe uses all white flour, but I almost never eat white bread, so I'm currently experimenting with some whole-grain variations and I'll share them with you when I'm happy with how they turn out. My first try was promising, although a little dense, so it should be soon. My Bread expands on that original four-ingredient recipe to do lots of other things, so Alexis and I very well might be keeping our promise never to buy bread again.

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