Two Cookbooks

Mark Peel, New Classic Family Dinners, Wiley, 2009

Williams-Sonoma, The Weeknight Cook, Oxmoor House, 2009

I realize I have a slight mental illness and addiction towards cookbook collecting. Truly, with my 1,500 plus collection, I would be fine if I never bought another cookbook. The even funnier part is that I so rarely cook from cookbooks. I read them all the time for inspiration and ideas, but usually start free-wheeling whenever I get in the kitchen and only check recipes as a reference once in awhile to get a ballpark idea on the direction I'm heading in. Yet I continue to acquire and collect cookbooks and cooking magazine and just love them. I thought I'd mention two of my most recent addtions.

My second-cousin, Karen Hattan, just gave me Mark Peel's New Classic Family Dinners. Mark Peel is the owner of LA's famed restaurant Campanile where they are known for their Monday Night Family Dinners. This book is gorgeous. I love the paper it is printed on, the photography, the writing and the recipes. This is one of those cookbooks where instead of leafing through and finding one or two things you'd like to make, you actually want to make something from every other page: Iceberg Lettuce with Roquefort-Buttermilk Dressing, Shrimp Louis, Linguine with Clams, Campfire Potatoes, Tomato and Goat Cheese Tarts, Brined Chicken, Beef Braised Brisket, Smothered Pork Chops, Smoked Tomato BBQ Sauce, Prime Rib with Yorkshire Pudding, Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf, Sausages Braised in Beer with Sauerkraut, Unabased Unashamed Southern Fried Chicken (soaked in buttermilk the same way I make mine) and then of course one of my all time favorites: Santa Maria Tri-Tip Barbecue. The desserts are all homemade classics too: REAL Chocolate Pudding with Whipped Cream, Peach Melba, Plum Granita, Roasted Figs, Key Lime Cheesecake, Peach goes on and on. The back has menus which most people find helpful when they don't know what salad to serve with what entree and then which dessert.

I liked the opening about the problems chefs find when they move into a home kitchen. One being that the smoke alarm goes off all the time because chefs are used to cooking at such high heat. (My smoke alarm goes off about 5 times a week in my house!) This cookbook isn't for novices. Even though the food is homemade comfort food, Mark Peel didn't take any shortcuts. He is giving you the full and complete directions on how and why his food is delicious. And it is delicious because he is making everything from scratch. To me it is the difference between homemade lemonade with fresh squeezed lemons vs. the powdered kind you buy in a box. There is no comparison. Some of the recipes are easy and all were tested in a home kitchen instead of at his restaurant. There certainly were adaptations made so the recipes work at home. But no compromise was made for quality or taste. Since I'm always going for incredible taste above everything else, I love this cookbook.

I'll enclose Peel's recipe for Plum Granita. (You can make granita out of any fruit at all. I've made it from Guavas, Limes, Lemons, Oranges. I know you can't get fresh plums right now, so you could always make a version with Lemons or oranges for the holidays. I'll make a note to send you one. I'm not sure why Peel keeps the pits in the plums when he first cooks them. That is the only part I'd probably skip. Put I thought I'd stay true to his recipe when writing it for you.)

Plum Granita

There's a progression of flavors in this dessert. When you take a spoonful, all you get at first is sweetness: then as it warms up in your mouth, the richness and sharp complexity of the plum flavors and the spices emerge. If you only use Santa Rosa Plums, which are more available than Elephant Heart Plums, the result will be sharper and more tannic because of the skins. A word of caution: Do not wear a white linen shirt while making this.

2 pounds ripe plums, Elephant Hearts and Santa Rosas if available, quartered (retain the pits)
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
3 whole cloves
1/4 teaspoon cracked black peppercorns
1/2 cup sugar
Zest of one Lemon
2 cups red wine, preferably a light Pinot Noir

1. Place a 9 x 11 pyrex baking dish in the freezer. Place the plums with their pits in a heavy medium saucepan. Add the vanilla bean and seeds, the cloves, pepper, sugar, lemon zest and 1 cup of wine. Bring to a simmer and simmer 15 minutes, until the plums are very soft.

2. Remove from the heat and add another cup of wine. Let sit for 15 minutes. Pick out hte pits with tongs, leaving all the pulp behind. Put through the fine blade of a food mill, or straing through a medium sieve, using a rubber spatula to push the mixture through. Strain the mixture again through a find strainer, You should have 4 cups. (Maili's note: if you don't have sieve or food mill, then you can blend in a food processor or blender if that is easier for you. Also, for those of you who want to try this in the winter with canned plums, like the plum sauce, you can use those too.)

3. Scrape with a rubber spatula the four cups of mixutre into the chilled pyrex dish and place in the freezer. Set the timer for 30 minutes. using a fork, scrape and mix the frozen ice crystals from the outside of the baking dish into the center. Return to the freezer adn set the timer for another 30 minutes. Continue to scrape the mixture with a fork every 30 minutes until you have a uniform chunky frozen mixture. (Maili's note: Once it freezes in this crystalized form it should stay that way. If you want to make it a couple days ahead then check on it at least once a day and stir it with a fork.) If you forget to scrape and the mixture does freeze solid like an ice cube, cut into chunks and use a food processor to break it up. Transfer to a container and refreeze. Allow to soften for 15 minutes in the refrigerator before serving.

The second cookbook I just acquired is Williams-Sonoma's The Weeknight Cook. This is definitely for the beginner cook, but has enough appeal that someone as advanced as me still bought it. The recipes are short and straightforward. There is a section at the beginning with Master Recipes and Basic Recipes and then the variations you can make once you've learned those. There is a Month of Menu's verses a week of Menus. (I like this Month Idea of menus a lot and think I'll try to copy it and insert my own recipes for you. So that will hopefully be coming soon from me.) The book also has charts, descriptions and lists and answers to basic questions and techniques. It has a part about Planning Ahead for Company and also how to cook by season, with seasonal produce listed and menus for each season.

Some of the recipes in the book are: Chimichurri Steak, Bourbon-Molasses Chicken, Spring Vegetable Tart, Split Pea Soup, Spicy Gazpacho, Pumpkin Pie, Rhubard Pie, Pasta with Hearty Beef Ragu, Pork Chops with Cider and lots of salads and side dishes. The recipe I'll include here is for Cheesy Chive Popovers. The unique thing about this cookbook is it has the ingredients highlighted in bold on the side of the page (to make your shopping list easier) and then has the amounts following. So I'll type it just as they have it. (Let me know if you like this style of listening the ingredients before the amounts. I may try to use it in the next recipe I send out if you like it.)

Cheesey Chive Popovers

Flour, 1 cup
Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper
Fresh chives, 1 tablespoon finely snipped
Milk, 1 1/4 cups
Eggs, 2, at room temperature
Unsalted Butter, 1 tablespoon melted
Gruyere Cheese (Swiss Cheese), 3 ounces coarsely grated (Maili's Note: Parmesan or Sharp Cheddar Cheese could be substituted)

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Generously grease 2 non-stick mini muffin pans. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and the chives. In another bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs, and butter. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and whisk until just combined (don't worry if some lumps remain.)

2. Fill the prepared muffin cups with batter to within about 1/4 inch of the rims. Place a scant teaspoon grated cheese in the center of each filled cup. Bake, without opening the over door, for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature for 350 degrees F and bake untilt he popovers are brown and fully puffed, 8-10 minutes longer. Transfer to a platter and serve warm

Makes 24 Popovers

(Maili's Notes: My guess on these, and I will test it for you, is that they would freeze well and reheat well. I'll try it and get back to you.)

My personal favorites for Thanksgiving coming soon! Maili


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