Monday, October 30, 2006

Walden in fall!

Today is the last day of my ‘home’ vacation, and while I am not dreading work, I will definitely miss the time I have had this last week. Nobody who knows me should be all that surprised if I say that dividing my time between reading, writing, birding and cooking sounds just about perfect.

I made an effort to cook some interesting meals this week. I started last Sunday with a Potato Gratin from It Must Have Been Something I Ate by Jeffrey Steingarten. Very simple, and unusually he omits any cheese, insisting that if you do it properly, it will develop a cheesy flavor all on its own, just from the potatoes, cream and butter. He’s right, and it was delicious, though who’s to say it wouldn’t have been even cheesier with a handful of Gruyere browned at the top? On a slightly related note, I made myself polenta with butter and salt for breakfast yesterday, and it developed quite a cheesy flavor as well. Very tasty.

Monday afternoon I made Beef Bourguignon from Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook. Once again, this was a very stripped down recipe compared to several others I looked at, which is probably why I chose it. It was delicious, savory and silky, rich, the meat fork tender, the carrots soft and meaty. I think maybe I was expecting something a little more exotic, but after all, it is essentially just a beef stew with a slight French accent. I do wonder, however, if I had done the Gourmet Cookbook’s recipe, which called for brandy, dusting the meat in flour before browning and an entire bottle of wine (Les Halles used, adjusting total amount ratios, the equivalent of about a cup and a half), if it would have had a more refined and unusual flavor or texture. It also called for mushrooms.

Tuesday I followed the outline for Spaghetti with Clams from somewhere in Bill Buford’s Heat. Good, but not quite the glorious dish of pasta infused with the flavors of the sea I'd hoped for. The different liquids, the wine and butter and juice from the clams, just didn’t come together seamlessly, and I oversalted the dish just a touch. The clams themselves were perfect and still flavorful. Maybe I have to steam them more, extract more of their flavor into the pasta.

On Thursday I made a very simple Chicken Soup recipe from Irene Kuo’s The Key to Chinese Cooking. This was just a basic chicken broth (with the chicken), ginger, dried shiitake mushrooms, and my own addition of some baby bok choy, meant to be served with a dipping sauce of Soy, sesame oil and ground Sichuan peppercorns. Pull out chunks of food from the broth and dip, slurp soup – a very healthy, easy, delicious way to eat. I will fool around with this approach more during the winter months, I am sure.
Okay, that’s all I’m going to write now. If you’ve gotten this far, I hope you’ve enjoyed it!


Meghan said...

Do you buy all these cookbooks? I'm surprised you have room for all of them! How do you make gratin potatoes sans cheese? I've been totally uninspired by cooking, and it feels like an effort to make spaghetti with prego! I hope to get back into it again, but we have a lady that cooks for us once a week, and for now that's exotic enough. For halloween I had no costume, but I did find online a Mark Twain version of the golden arm which I read for the students. They were quaking! Very well done version. I think Mark Twain must have been an awfully clever fellow.

Brian C. Kenney said...

No, I've been getting most of these cookbooks out of the library. I usually do buy one for myself for my birthday, but I haven't chosen one yet.

mom/grandma said...

Nice pictures!

Anonymous said...

guess who this is its Esme. How are you? I just wanted to say hi. Love, Esme