March 27, 2011

Sharing Words & Cookbooks

WordShapingI'm pleased to announce that Cookbook Fetish is featured on the WordShaping blog. Each week Wordshaping host Amber Polo interviews a different author to learn what she can about the craft of writing. With Cookbook Fetish, she's exploring the art of reviewing cookbooks. Amber Polo is a dear friend and I've had the pleasure of being first reader/editor on many of her publications. And while not exactly a foodie, she appreciates good eats, crockpots, Fiestaware, and a wicked sense of humor. Thank you, Amber!

March 16, 2011

Butternut Squash Festival, Day Two: Pasta Sauce

I'm cooking a few recipes from Red, White and Greens: The Italian Way With Vegetables by Faith Willinger. Today's recipe is Penne with Squash Sauce on page 305.

I took a day off of work. Because I haven't had a day off without being sick in so long I can't remember when that was. And the concept of taking time off for a vacation? I'm not really sure what that is, though I do dream about such things.

When I woke up in the morning, the house was cold. Seriously, it was 58. I'd been having ongoing issues with heat, and my landlord was aware. He'd even replaced the thermostat, hoping that would solve the issue. No go, and it was cold. I called the landlord, and then headed to the kitchen to keep warm.

I thought I'd finished with Red, White, And Greens by Faith Willinger, but I had a lot of squash left over so, well, why not? This is a deceptively easy recipe and it kept me moving around the house until the landlord called.

First I chopped up more butternut squash. This is from the same butternut you saw earlier - remember? While peeling the squash over the garbage can, the squash tried to escape and commit squash suicide - it dived into the garbage. I retrieved and washed, then chopped it to bits and retribution.

This is another recipe where patience in the first steps pays off. You saute the chopped squash in olive oil until tender. Wait as long as you can stand it before proceeding to the next step. Allow at least a half hour, if not 45 minutes.

While exercising patience, I chopped some parsley and garlic. I also threw in the last of the Aerogarden basil and thyme.

The pasta water went on to boil, and the penne rigate followed soon. Once cooked, I drained the pasta and reserved two cups of pasta water.

The chopped herbs went into the squash mixture, followed by cooked pasta and some pasta water. I took my time incoporating each bit of water. The objective is a sauce, but I also like to have some squash to bite into.

The end result is chunks of squash that virtually melt in your mouth, swaddled in a flavorful sauce, accompanied by penne pasta and parmesan cheese. Just perfect for a cold morning - or evening meal!

And, for those of you wondering how long it took for the heat to come back on, the answer is quite intriguing. It came back on that day, but was off again in the morning. In the end, there was a small sensor that needed to be replaced; once that was taken care of, and the weather outside turned sleety and snowy, my home was warm and toasty.

March 14, 2011

Butternut Squash Festival, Day One: Soup

This week I'm exploring the recipes in Red, White & Greens: The Italian Way with Vegetables by Faith Willinger. Today's recipe is Squash, Bean, and Pasta Soup on page 312.

Let's get to the obvious about butternut squash, shall we? The blog is called Cookbook "Fetish" after all...and these squash, well, they're so representative. This butternut was impressive, and I couldn't fit an entire hand around the shaft. That's a whole lotta squash to love. I chopped up half of it using the force of a small hammer to make the initial cuts.

Then I chopped further, and diminished the sizeable shaft into four cups of chopped squash. Except the recipe called for two cups, so I decided to double it, and perhaps wreck havoc on Willinger's utter perfection of a squash and bean soup.

As I chopped the squash I thought, "Why not add some of that fresh thyme and basil I've got...why not add some garlic?" Stop a moment and pray that these slight alterations do not ruin a large pot of squash and bean soup.

I checked the expiration date on the cannelloni beans. A-OK. I poured some olive oil into a pot and began sauteing the squash.

This is another recipe where patience pays off. Particularly patience in the first step. Remember that tofu I cooked earlier this year? Patience is your best friend. The same is true here in the first step of Squash, Bean, and Pasta soup. Cook over a moderate heat until the squash is brown - slowly.

To aide the exercise in patience, I envisioned sweet potatoes fresh from the oven, especially those that have become rather caramelized. Squash does the same thing if left long enough in the pan. So I waited, and stirred periodically, contemplating how else I could mess with the recipe. How about some garlic? Sure, why not? I added onions and garlic.

As the onions cooked, I added cannelloni beans, and seasoned with salt and pepper.
Beans added, onions not quite brown.
Next I added chicken broth, and continued simmering for just a bit longer as the squash became truly tender.

Then I got out my trusty hand blender, and whirred the heck out of about half of the soup, threw in a good handful of basil, and added some previously cooked pieces of spaghetti - or was it linguine? I don't remember. Some of that shy and slim pasta that quickly submerged in the broth.

Basil and submerged pasta
The resulting stew is hearty, tasty, and satisfying. Combined with a drizzle of olive oil, a small salad, and crunchy bread, you're set for the evening. That all sounds like a proper balanced meal, but I had this with itself, a glass of water, and some chocolate.  The next day I shared it with writing buddies - accompanied by fruit salad and banana cream pie. Like most soups, this one just gets better and better!

March 12, 2011

Macaroni for Poor Folks

This week I'm exploring Red, White & Greens: The Italian Way With Vegetables by Faith Willinger. Today's recipe, like many in the book, has an entrancing story. The title of the recipe is "Livia's Genoa Macaroni for Artistocrats and Poor Folks: Maccheroni alla Genovese" and it can be found on pages 221-222.

Willinger begins talking about this recipe by describing the produce she sees on the journey to the restaurant Don Alfonso: there are olive trees, lemon groves, vegetable gardens, artichoke plants, onions, garlic, and staked tomato plants. The Don Alfonso serves fancy food, " lobster and foie gras and covers food with silver domes..." writes Willinger, but Livia Iaccarino (wife of restaurant owner Alfonso Iaccarino) told a story about traditional macaroni.

Livia says that, in days gone by, the artistocrats would braise meat and onions for hours; eventually the onions would turn into a cream sauce. The peasants, on the other hand, omitted the beat, and simply cooked the onions for hours with other vegetables to create a savory sauce. I gathered the ingredients.

Then I chopped up the onion, carrot, parsley, and celery and placed them in a pot with olive oil.

I sauted this mixture until the vegetables were tender, then added white wine, salt, and pepper and set it on the burner to cook long and slow.

This where the magic is supposed to happen. If you're a patient cook (which I sure can be when The Grit's Golden Bowl is involved) you are rewarded as the onions turn into a cream sauce.After two hours of simmering, I had no broth. I did, however, have nicely sauted vegetables that tasted very good.

I let the vegetables keep simmering as I put pasta water on to boil. I cooked the pasta, drained, and reserved two cups of pasta water.

I mixed the cooked pasta in with the vegetables, and added some of the pasta water. No magic onion sauce appeared. I was tempted to puree the whole thing (sans pasta) with my hand blender, but resisted. In retrospect, that probably would have been a good idea.

The resulting dish was certainly tasty, but nothing I'd make again. And though Ivan was interesting in nibbling, only I ate Macaroni for Poor Folks.

If I was to try this again, which probably won't happen, I would definitely cook the vegetables longer. I also think I needed more liquid, and the hand blender would have been a good thing to use. Regardless, I enjoyed falling under the spell of the "upstairs/downstairs" dish.

March 10, 2011

Pancetta Magic

I'm writing this on a Thursday night and the week is nearly over. I have a busy weekend, and the work week has been crazy...weird.

Chicken with Peppers, Piedmont Style on page 243 of Faith Willinger's Red, White and Greens cookbook sounded different...not your stereotypical Italian thing.

The recipe called for pancetta though, and I wasn't sure I could find some in my tiny town. There are only one or two places that might have heard of pancetta, let along actually carry it. I really did not want to use bacon as a substitute in this recipe. I did find the pancetta at the second store - whew!

I minced an onion, some celery, carrots, a garlic clove, and pancetta, then placed in a dutch oven with olive oil and rosemary. This I set on to simmer until lightly browned.

In the meantime, I sauted two chicken breasts and chopped up a red pepper and tomato.

When the chicken was browned, it went into the pan with the onion/pancetta mix along the chopped peppers and tomatos. And then the spices? No basil and oregano here, folks. Instead, the recipe calls for a pinch of cloves and a pinch of cinnamon. I stirred in the spices and walked away for as long as I could stand it.

The house smelled fantastic. Periodically I stopped by the stove to stir and smell. After about  30 minutes, I removed the chicken to the cutting board and sliced. I arranged the chicken and added a small bit of the sauce.

After I snapped the picture, I added a lot more pepper and dug in. The chicken was a little dry, probably because it cooked longer than it needed to. The sauce, however, was outstanding and made it worth hunting down that pancetta - complex with layers of flavor, yet simple to prepare. The spices sang a lovely harmony in my mouth, while the red wine vinegar (added after removing the chicken) added a subtle yet distinctive kick.

March 8, 2011

Nude Is Where It's At

Red, White, and Greens : The Italian Way with VegetablesRed, White and Greens: The Italian Way with Vegetables is by Faith Willinger and was published by Harper Collins in 1996. I came across the book shortly thereafter, cooked from it a few times, and gave the cookbook away or took it to a used book place - I don't remember. Regardless, I forgot about the cookbook.

Kind of. A few of the recipes really sang out to me, so I went hunting for a used copy, found one, and happily revisited fond meals. I'll definitely be doing that this week, and also exploring new recipes in this secret-revealing book.

Willinger lives in Italy, and has developed a relationship with many chefs. More importantly, she's developed relationships with vendors at various farmer's markets throughout the country, thus receiving Italian family-style approach to preparing vegetables.

On page 180, Nudies aren't quite a family secret, but they are a bit of a Florentine joke on a dish from the Casterino. Willinger explains that in Casterino they make a dish like the ravioli made by the Flornetines. However, the spinach walnut-sized balls aren't "wearing" pasta and are considered "nude." What a better recipe to make for a blog called Cookbook Fetish?

I've tried to make gnocchi before to horrible results. If I have a hankering for gnocchi, I'm just as likely to head to a restaurant or to the freezer section at my local grocery store. So here we go - keep your fingers crossed.

The Nudies call for wild greens. I found some spinach and figured that would work. Not many wild greens available when the ground is covered with snow.

I put a kettle of water on to boil, and quickly removed some of the larger spinach stems. All of the spinach went into the salted water for a quick 3-5 minute boil, and then into a colander for a rinse under cold water.

Then I got out the cheese cloth and squeezed the spinach as hard as I could. It shrunk in size. I squeezed again, and it shrunk more. I was worried - the recipe calls for 1 1/3 cup spinach. I had maybe 2/3 of a cup.

I placed the spinach into a bowl and added the ricotta, grated Parmesan cheese, egg, and nutmeg. I didn't use quite as much as the recipe called for because I had less spinach that was required.

I mixed it up until it resembled a smooth paste. Or a big ball of spinach and stuff.

I placed the mixture into a plastic bag that I had (as the recipe suggests) cut a corner off of. I took a picture.

And then the camera battery died. I put the spinach into the fridge. I thought about cutting veggies for another recipe, but realized I needed a camera to take pictures of that. And the camera was out of commission for at least two hours.

I watched the Jamie Cullum Live at Blenheim video. I'd had it playing while preparing the food and, by the time Cullum tiptoed into the start of the "High & Dry/Singing In The Rain" medley, I was without camera. I wondered when Cullum would ever play anywhere near my tiny town. I saw him from the third row in a small theater in Knoxville, Tennessee years before and was blown away by both Cullum and opening act The Gabe Dixon Band. I was also disappointed Cullum didn't even touch the state of Michigan during the 2010 tour. Hear me Jamie? Stop by Michigan - I'll be there with dancing shoes on.

I watched the snow fall, the cats sleep. I made a sandwich, checked email, and waited. I made No-Bake Chocolate Cookies, ate several, looked at a genealogy question, contemplated my navel. Finally, the camera battery was replenished.

I raced to the kitchen, threw on my apron, and returned to work. I cleaned the counter and laid down flour. I retrieved the spinach dough from the fridge. I put the reserved spinach cooking water on to boil.

I piped out blobs of spinach dough onto the floured surface.

Blobs of Nudies
I covered them with more dough, and gently rolled one at a time between my hands until they were more or less round.
Lined Up Nudies
And into the boiling water they went. Except the water wasn't quite boiling, and it wasn't quite deep enough. Still, I proceeded.
Boilin' Nudies
And in two or three minutes, I removed cooked Nudies with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Slimey Lookin' Nudies
Impatient and hungry as always, I plopped five into a Fiestaware dish, added some leftover marinara sauce, sprinkled on more parmesan, salt, and pepper, and rolled in into the preheated oven.

In 10 minutes or so, I had this lovely dish piping hot and ready to eat.

The Nudies tasted like little spinach un-meatballs, like little melt-in-your-mouth spinach/cheese balls. They could have stayed in the oven a bit longer, but I didn't mind. The pinch of nutmeg sneaks up on you, bearing a subtle undertone to your taste buds.

This is a delightful way to get your dark, leafy green vegetables. Because the spinach was cooked and chopped, there are no long strings of potentially unidentified stuff in your mouth. And that always freaks me out,like orange juice pulp floating around in my mouth - don't get me started. With Nudies, your greens are dressed up, but still naked.

And though prep takes a long time (in my case given camera battery problems - 5 hours) it's well worth it as the oven time is only 15 minutes tops. Combine this with some crusty garlic bread, a small side salad, and a glass of red wine and you're in Italian heaven. Belissimo!

March 6, 2011

Have Birthday, Get Cookbooks

Look up at the top of the blog at the count of cookbooks. It says 118. That number's going to have to be revised because my collection keeps growing. And it never grows more than when friends realize how much you enjoy reading cookbooks. The past week has brought me:

Dinner & A Movie Cookbook
Backstage Pass: Catering to Music's Biggest Stars
Food in History
Monet's Table: The Cooking Journals of Claude Monet
Midnight Snacks
The Best Ever Indian
A Kitchen Witch's Cookbook
Kafka's Soup
The Anatomy of a Dish

Confession. Picture me saying this while scuffling my feet, lowering my head and avoiding your eyes. I went to a bookstore. They had used books. I bought cookbooks. I confess I have an addiction to cookbooks, and couldn't help myself. The books jumped off of the shelves and followed me home. Then the Nook I bought as a gift last year came back to me, and I found some foodie books. I'm still avoiding your eyes...

March 3, 2011

Absurd Wacky Chocolate Cake

This week I'm cooking from The I Hate to Cook Book: 50th Anniversary Edition Cook Book by Peg Bracken. 2010 was the 50th edition of the book, and I wanted to see what made it such a long-lasting book.

There are many quick and easy desserts in this book, and several have intriguing names. For example, the Hootenholler Whiskey Cake and Cockeyed Cake both caught my eye immediately.

To an experienced cake or cookie baker, the directions for the Cockeyed Cake might sound apocryphal. Bracken recommends greasing the pan, then sifting into the pan flour, cocoa, baking soda, sugar and salt. After that,you're supposed to poke holes into the dry ingredients, pour wet ingredients in, pour water over top of the whole thing and mix right in the pan.

It all sounded to Easy-Bake Oven for me, so I did a little internet research. Sure, plenty of others have written about and made this cake - it's been around for years and may have originated during the Depression era. I particular like the advice from this blog: don't mix in the pan unless you're good at that.

Umm, I've never mixed in the pan, so that makes me an absolute beginner. And on a Monday night after a wacky day at work, I didn't want to take too many chances. I used a small glass bowl, dropped in the dry ingredients, and mixed them up.

Dry Ingredients
 I used a dark chocolate cocoa, and poked holes in the dry ingredients. Can you tell what wet ingredients are in the holes?

If you can believe it, the wet ingredients are vegetable oil, vinegar, and vanilla. Then you pour water over the top and the ingredients start to bubble.

I used my sexy red whisk to mix the whole thing up.

Into the prepared pan it went, and straight into the oven.The batter tasted good, so I had high hopes. I also like that this batter did not have any raw eggs: more batter for me to eat without worrying about salmonella poisoning. Or overeating the batter and just not feeling good.

I can't say I'll make it again anytime soon; after all, I prefer a bar cookie to cake at home. This was a satisfying, dark chocolate cake, and I munched on it throughout the week. It was a nice way to wrap up an uneven week eating from The I Hate To Cook Book, and the book was returned to the library on Saturday. I chuckled to myself about Bracken's keen sense of humor, and wondered what book I'd select for next week's menu.