17 October 2009

Panel Series: Cooking

Hello and welcome back! I'm glad to see that you enjoyed our first discussion enough to come back for more. I've decided to feature savory refreshments today so please stop by the table in the back for some delicious chevre (did you notice how many of our panelists stock up on great cheese?)with sun-dried tomatoes and crackers. Also, please don't pass up the artichoke-olive crostini. Trust me.

Now then, on to business. Today's discussion is about finding inspiration. Our panelists have compiled lists of the authors, cookbooks, and websites that keep them scampering back to the kitchen time after time giddy with the thought of trying a new recipe or whipping up an old favorite. I believe there is something for both newbie cooks and seasoned family chefs in this discussion. Enjoy:

Finding Inspiration: Do you have a favorite cookbook/cookbook author? Do you get most of your recipes from the internet, books, magazines, your mom, or your head? Any recommendations for a new cook?

Jaime: My favorite cookbook is hands-down America’s Test Kitchen The New Best Recipe. No joke, if you want the best recipe for something (albeit NIETHER the healthiest NOR the easiest recipe), you can find it in this cookbook. The cookbook has a lot of basics—pumpkin pie, regular cheesecake, sandwich bread, chicken-fried steak, etc. so I tend to refer to that cookbook when I know what it is I want to cook; I decide what we want to eat, then go there for the best recipe.

For inspiration though, I tend to look elsewhere and everywhere (maybe because the cookbook doesn’t have pictures…). Most of my new fun ideas and recipes come from magazines (I rip out the pages and keep them in a stack on my fridge with a magnet) although I have been known to spend my daughter’s nap “reading” cookbooks and making lists of things to try. Family and friends certainly have given me many new great recipes, and of course the internet is an endless supply of ideas.

Makenna: I subscribed to Martha and her food magazine about 2 years ago and love her! She has great holiday themes and you can find tons of great recipes on her website.

I also use allrecipes.com a lot. I love using their ingredient search as I can plug in what I have on hand and it pulls up recipes using those ingredients. They usually have tons of reviews and suggestions from other cooks who have tried them. Fantastic website. Highly recommend this one.

I love Rachael Ray as she puts great twists on good ole standbys.

I use my church cooking books, my mom, and my grandma a lot.

And mostly things just come from my head. I love experimenting. I cook purely by smell. I have always challenged myself to cook COMPLETELY from scratch. No cream of anythings or pre-made sauces. Most things start from broths and sauteed onion and garlic or peppers.

Michelle: I love cookbooks! I have a whole cupboard full of them, and no space for any more, so if I get a new one, I have to weed out an old one (or at least store it somewhere else!). I frequently check them out from the library as well. I enjoy reading them, and I love trying new recipes. If I make a recipe too many times in too short a time period, I get sick of that food and never want it again.

Some favorites, off the top of my head (since I'm very far from my cookbooks, currently):

The old Betty Crocker Cookbook -- this was re-printed several years ago and is now easy to find -- many of my grandma's best recipes come from this one!
Colorado Cache -- Junior League cookbooks are quite often very good.
The Bread Bible -- Rose Levy Berenbaum
Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day
The Ultimate Cooking Light Cookbook
Simply Scones --Leslie Weiner and Barbara Albright -- this tiny cookbook is a gem. I have used these recipes countless times for tea parties and showers. They're really easy, too!
Beat This! -- this is a compulsively readable cookbook, and the recipes are really good, too!
The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper -- another compulsively readable book.

I wish I could remember more. I'm currently reading Chocolate & Zucchini and it is quite good.

I also love food blogs and food websites. They are so prevalent, you can get cooking inspiration anytime you want! Some favorites:

La Tartine Gourmande
Chocolate & Zucchini
Smitten Kitchen
Dorie Greenspan
David Lebovitz
Pioneer Woman
Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner
Coconut & Lime

I sometimes read (and sometimes subscribe to) Cooking Light, Everyday Food, Gourmet and Bon Appetit.

Grandma continues to supply me with wonderful new recipes. My mom is a great source of recipes, too! As is my Aunt Denise. Oh, and my Aunt Linda! We all love to cook, especially together.

Man, I wish I was one of those cooks who can just invent things on the fly. Sadly, I'm not. That's why I'm such a recipe collector.

Oh, and while we're talking about recipes, here's a major beef I have: people who won't share them. I just don't get that at all. And it makes me mad! When I have a good recipe, I want to share it with the world! I want everyone to be able to partake of that wonderful food.

Rachel: I learned to cook from two people – Martha Stewart and Mark Bittman. When I was in college and newly married I watched a lot of Martha Stewart Living and her show on the Food Network. They were sooooo much better than her talk show that’s on air now. My future husband, Ben, bought a copy of “How to Cook Everything” by Mark Bittman. I read it like a novel. Everything that I wanted to make, I found in his book. Not only did it give me recipes, but the technique of cooking. It has a heavy emphasis on improvisation, which is probably how I came to cook the way I do.

Nowadays I subscribe to many food bloggers and make what looks good. If I want a particular recipe I go to allrecipes.com and pick one according to reviews. I still go to my library of cookbooks now and then, and often call my mom for recipes I remembered from childhood.

Hmm, let me give credit where due. I should say that I learned to cook from THREE people. My mom had me help with dinners and baking since I could snitch cookie dough. She gave me a basic set of skills without me even realizing it. It’s just that once I left for college, I relied mostly on Stewart and Bittman for how-tos. But believe me, there have been many panicked phone calls mid-recipe, asking Mom how to salvage my dish.

I certainly recommend “How to Cook Everything” to any new cook out there. But don’t underestimate the value of demonstration. You need a parent or friend who can show you how to do it. Find a mentor and latch on.

Sarah: I love looking at different cook books and exploring their ideas. As odd as it may seem, I just read them. One of my favorite cookbooks is The All New Good Housekeeping Cookbook.
It is a great book for the beginners (and experts too) because it says the basics for breads, cakes, veggies, poultry, everything. One thing I loved when I went to college was it told me how to pick out fruits and veggies. I never new you wanted lighter colored celery.

One of my more fun books is the Nordstrom Friends & Family Cookbook.
Every recipe I have made from there has been delicious and fun to make. Some include Chicken Tortilla soup and Nanaimo bars. (Mmm, I want to make those again!)

I love my cookbooks, but also use magazines and the internet a lot for inspiration. I love looking at other blogs, allrecipes.com, foodnetwork.com, anything. Although most of the time I take a recipe and change it up to make it my own - that's just the fun of cooking: exploration!

One suggestion, though it may seem odd, is to watch a lot of cooking shows. This helped me learn the techniques, terminology, and what combination of foods work.

Have fun, test things out, its okay to fail - that just makes for a funny experience.

Staci: I’m not much of a cook book chef. I use cook books as a go-by or to double check an ingredient, an amount of that ingredient, or to validate that I’m doing the right thing. I don’t know that I have a single favorite cook book, but I have 3 that I repeatedly pull out of my cupboard.

The Joy of Cooking – I don’t think I’ve actually made anything from this cookbook, but it’s full of reassurances. Need to know how long to cook that ham? Craving burnt sugar frosting? Want an idea for what to do with all those apricots because you can only eat some much apricot jam? Curious how to serve up that wild boar occupying space in your freezer? (I didn’t have a wild boar in my freezer, but I was looking for a marinade for swan – gack) It’s all in there! I do not like the binding on this one. It just won’t stay open…

Better Homes & Gardens (the one with the red & white buffalo checks) – This one is a good old stand by. I think they need to consult me when they prepare a new edition. I really wanted to make Swedish Pancakes (zoom ahead to my adulthood, and 20 years later these are aka crepes – but did I know that? NO!!!). The Swedish recipe isn’t in my edition – luckily it was in my mom’s. I stumbled across crepes in mine, and it’s nearly verbatim. So, there you go.

The one that my apartment complex put together when I was in college. I wouldn’t say that this one is gourmet by any means, but it’s got what I call survival mode meals. Beans & weenies? They’re in there. No crust peanut butter sandwiches? You got it. German pancakes? Of course. Get the idea? By the way – German pancakes are found under “International Cuisine”.

I have 2 websites that I go to for ideas:

Allrecipes.com – I like that you can search for recipes by ingredient. When I’m in a rut and need a new idea, this is amazing. I also like to read the reviews for each recipe. Some of the reviewers crack me up because they alter the recipe so much that it’s really not the same thing in the end. However, sometimes those alterations give me creative license to make my own alterations, and then I’m really cooking… I just located my new favorite waffle recipe – there’s a mere 10 Tablespoons of butter in the batter, and it only makes about 10 waffles. Delish!

Cookingforengineers.com - Seriously – if you are a visual person, this is the site for you. You get a photo for every single step of the recipe. Makes it easy to see if you’re doing the right thing! So good when you’re blonde and an engineer. The author also gives a bit of a history on each recipe – take Rice Krispie Treats for example. The author wondered if they could use the name “Rice Krispie Treat” if a no-named brand was used, so they wrote to Kelloggs to find out! That is so something that I would do! I also love their recipe layout. It makes sense to my brain. I mean look at this

When my nieces started college I had a few suggestions for them – find a couple of recipes that you make really well, a couple more that are just plain delicious, and a few others that take less than 10 minutes to throw together. Some recipes may fall into more than one category. Do not be afraid to use store prepared food to make something seem home made (think rotisserie chicken for chicken noodle soup), and don’t try out a new recipe on guests. I suppose that my intentions with offering this type of tip fall into the “Catch-a-Man” philosophy, but my cooking pleases the 4 males at my place on a regular basis, so it’s what works for me.

Bravo ladies. Thanks so much. And now once again, it's your turn...any great cookbooks or websites that our panelists didn't mention? Are you the cookbook twin of one of these lovely ladies? Let us know. Next week's discussion: Weekly Chore: Grocery shopping & meal planning. See you then!



catherine said...

Ha. Cooking for engineers is awesome! Love it :) Thanks for the tip.

Greeneyes said...

Rose Levy Berenbaum also authored "The Cake Bible". The recipes aren't always what I'm looking for, but she has excellent sections explaining the why and wherefore of how a recipe or technique works. Overall, it's a worthwhile reference.

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