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Plenty-cookbook-book-cover

Cook the Book: Falling Back in Love with Cookbooks

Plenty-cookbook-book-coverOnce upon a time, I was an organized home cook. I planned our weekly menus for our meals at home, shopped for only fresh ingredients weekly, and did all my prep work in the mornings before work. Then I had a baby and all of my careful, well-honed organization went out the window. Gone were the days when I had time to flip through my cookbooks at a leisurely pace. I tried to make meal plans but then a baby wouldn’t stop crying and something would burn or a toddler interrupted me a thousand times before I could dice a shallot. Food shopping became a marathon exercise of half-remembered lists and saying “No, put that down; we don’t need that!”

Like every aspect of motherhood, there was a learning curve. Feeding my family was essential but I had to figure out how I could get back to my love of cooking instead of just throwing something (rather unhealthy) together while feeling exhausted and underappreciated. One simple change has made a difference: time has passed. I no longer have a baby or a toddler but a nearly self sufficient elementary school aged child who loves to cook herself. My husband arrives home on the later side, so I feed my daughter earlier in the evening and he and I eat after bedtime, leaving me a little time to put something decent together.

I’ve tried several strategies. My first attempt to reawaken the love of cooking was signing up for Blue Apron, a delivery service that provided meal kits to be prepared at home. The recipes looked delicious and the ingredients were extremely fresh but I soon experienced a few downfalls. First of all, I couldn’t choose what meals would arrive in a given week. Some people like that type of variety, but I suppose I’m more of a creature of habit than I realized. I like to look forward to things, even meals. Secondly, many of the recipes had steps I deemed unnecessary. I remember angrily shelling edamame and thinking, “But I could have bought shelled edamame to begin with and saved time!” I have a decent amount of experience in the kitchen, and I automatically scan recipes to see how I can streamline steps to maximize my time. One of my key time savers is buying produce already prepared and ready to use.

Blue Apron didn’t last long and I had already set my sights on switching to Plated, another meal kit delivery service that allowed us to pick from thirteen recipes each week. I solved my first problem by giving myself more control over what we received each week. I also found that Plated recipes required less fuss with ingredient preparation. We had a few issues with the actual delivery that led us to cancel the service so I was back at square one with meal planning.

Now that my daughter is a little older, I’m feeling the tug towards my long-neglected cookbook collection. Since discovering a new delivery service through Amazon called Prime Now, I’m starting to entertain the idea of going back to traditional meal planning with an updated food shopping service. Simply create a shopping list on your Prime Now app and someone will shop FOR you at Whole Foods and then deliver the grocery order to your house. No more wrangling a cranky child and an unwieldy shopping cart. That freedom has helped me rediscover some of my old favorite recipes from the dusty cookbooks on my shelves.

Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi was my first foray into non-traditional vegetarian cooking. Ottolenghi is a well-regarded British chef, restaurateur, and column writer for The Guardian. His philosophy about cooking vegetables made complete sense to me after I read an interview where he described the importance of recipes highlighting the flavor and properties of a vegetable, not trying to sell it as a meat substitute. Plenty takes this approach and does not pretend to try and turn hardcore meat eaters to veganism. It’s simply a great cookbook if you want interesting vegetable dishes that shine. My personal favorite recipes include Very Full Tart, Smoky Frittata, and Caramelized Fennel with Goat Cheese. My one recommendation with this cookbook is to watch cooking temperatures and time. I suspect Ottolenghi used his commercial grade kitchen when perfecting his recipes rather than a residential one and often food takes longer than he says it should.

On the opposite end of the cooking spectrum is Ina Garten, who probably needs no introduction. In case you have been living under a rock, Ina is a world famous Food Network host, chef, and former owner of the Barefoot Contessa shop in the Hamptons of Long Island. While some find her New York charm and insistence on “good” ingredients a little grating, I love that Ina never compromises on what’s important to her. The Barefoot Contessa: Back to Basics is filled with simple, tasty recipes and easy instructions. Ina is a home cook, so all of her recipes are usually very accurate and easy to make. Favorites like her Chicken Bouillabaisse take me back to a time before motherhood when I could spend several hours cooking every night and still remains my “date night in” specialty.

Now that fall is on the horizon, I find myself flipping through Molly Stevens’ classic Roasting. The oven is my secret weapon for mom-friendly recipes. I can quickly marinate or season a piece of meat with pre-chopped veggies while it preheats, and then walk away while everything roasts for 40 minutes. The house fills up with a delicious scent and I really feel as if I’ve made a good effort in the kitchen. Roasting is a master class in this, and Stevens’ chatty and detailed chapter introductions really help you master a technique rather than just one dish. When the cooler weather arrives, I love the comfort food appeal of Roasted Chicken Pieces Dijonnaise.

These three are only a few of my treasured collection! I’ve downsized a bit after several moves and have really only kept the cookbooks that contain recipes and techniques I truly love and use. I’m always on the hunt for new, tasty looking and well-written recipes, and frequently rifle through the library’s new nonfiction to see the latest cookbooks. I also love to wander in the library’s infamous “cookbook aisle” in the 600s on the mezzanine level. We have an unbelievable collection that could pull any home cook out of a slump.

Kate Tigue is the Head of Youth Services at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, MA. Read Kate’s column in the August 30, 2018 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

 

 

Lydia Sampson

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