You can’t win them all

We made another recipe from our new New Orleans cookbook last night and it wasn’t as successful.  Still a great cookbook but this one wasn’t worth the effort.  The recipe was for steamed clams with aioli and vegetables.  The first problem was the effort involved.  I’ve made aioli before and you have to take your time drizzling in the oil to get the right consistency.  The recipe included leeks, fennel and carrots along with fresh herbs so there was a fair amount of chopping involved.

It looked pretty (see picture below) but the broth overwhelmed the clams.  We think it might actually go better with mussels and if we make it again (a pretty big if), we would leave out the water and just use the white wine and probably cheat and use store-bought aioli.  I make notes in my cookbooks about what to do differently in case we revisit it in a few years and forget.


Cookbook review – the new orleans cookbook

I don’t think there has been a year without at least one new cookbook under the tree and this year was no exception.  The book that I gave to Keith this year is the new orleans kitchen by Justin Devillier with Jamie Feldmar.  A few of the soup recipes from the book (a caramelized onion soup with smoked bacon and blue cheese and a lobster chowder) were featured in the Wall Street Journal and they sounded delicious.

Not only is this a beautiful cookbook, there are a lot of recipes that sound amazing and in fact, we have already made two recipes from it in a week!  (That may be a record.)  The first thing we tried was a shrimp and grits recipe.  We didn’t actually make the grits part because we had leftover polenta from our Christmas Eve dinner.  Grits and polenta are similar so we figured the shrimp would go well and we were right.  The shrimp recipe includes cremini mushrooms and a wonderful sauce with shallots, garlic, white wine and Worcestershire sauce.  A definite do-over.

Another tradition is that we usually make our New Year’s Eve dinner from the new cookbook.  There were a couple of options but the one we selected was crawfish etouffee.  At first we weren’t sure that we could get the crawfish (the author suggests ordering it online but the shipping was going to cost more than the crawfish.)  A call to our friends at Conrad’s established that they carry frozen crawfish meat so that made the decision easy.  And since we were going to Conrad’s anyway, we got a wonderful mix of raw oysters as our first course.  Our friends joined us and Christie supplied a fantastic salad with grilled goat cheese.

Keith did the heavy lifting on the cooking and I did the prep.  Like many New Orleans dishes, the etouffee starts with a roux.  Keith makes an excellent seafood gumbo that starts with a roux but he particularly appreciated the pictures in the new cookbook because they clearly demonstrate the different colors of roux.  Working from a description of the color is much harder than comparing to the pictures.  This recipe also calls for combining some of the seafood stock into the roux to smooth the sauce and then stirring that back into the rest of the etouffee.  The result was truly velvety.  This is a definite do-over and I’m excited that there are leftovers in the freezer.


As for the next experiment from the book, there are so many possibilities – the pan roasted mushrooms, the seared scallops with garlicky brown butter pan sauce or one of the soups all sound delicious.  I’m very happy with the book and confident that it will get lots of use!  Highly recommended!



Restaurant meals from home

My cookbook collection includes a number of restaurant cookbooks.  Some of them can be rather daunting (Thomas Keller’s French Laundry) but many have produced consistent winners with accessible ingredients and manageable recipes.  One of my favorites is Mustards Grill.  It provided the inspiration for our New Year’s Eve dinner – Mongolian pork chops with a Chinese style mustard sauce and mashed potatoes.  The marinade was excellent and the good news is that there is leftover which will be used for another meal.

Keith picked tonight’s meal from Galatoire’s Cookbook.  We ate at Galatoire’s when we were in New Orleans.  It is a marvelous old-fashioned restaurant and tonight we are having Crab Sardou – sautéed crab on top of creamed spinach with artichoke hearts and Hollandaise sauce.  Just the way to finish the holiday excess and start back to lighter meals.

Wishing you and yours a Happy and Healthy New Year and I look forward to sharing our meals with you in 2017.


Cookbook challenge

A friend included me in a needlepoint challenge on Facebook – you post a picture of a needlepoint piece each day for seven days.  It’s been fun looking back at some old finishes and great to see what some other friends have posted.  I started thinking about another challenge, involving cookbooks.  Probably because needlepoint stores (like my friend’s shop Needles and Threads of Ruxton) call to me to buy canvases and threads just like bookstores call me to buy cookbooks.  And just like my needlepoint stash could possibly be just a little bit more than I need, I have an excess of cookbooks too.

When I find a recipe that I like, I put a marker in the book (I also make notes if I tweak the recipe.)  As you look at 4 of my 8 Barefoot Contessa cookbooks, you can see that she is a constant source of inspiration to me:


I have other cookbooks that don’t have anything marked.  So my plan is to choose one book a week that has no tagged recipes.  I’m going to look through the book and try to choose at least one recipe to make.  If I can’t find one recipe that I think is worth making, I’m going to donate that book to a book sale.  Since many of the books were acquired from used book sales, it seems fitting.  If I give away some that I’m not using, that will make room on my bookshelf for more!  🙂

I’ll let you know the results of my Cookbook challenge.  If your bookshelves are overflowing, consider joining me.  But I’m not ready to get rid of any of my needlepoint stash!



On cookbooks

I have an insatiable appetite for cookbooks.  I started counting my cookbooks one day and got up to 200 and stopped.  I have general cookbooks that I use for research, cookbooks from restaurants, cookbooks by particular cooks, cookbooks by ethnic specialty, cookbooks by food category, the list goes on.  Part of the reason I like to have so many is that it gives me lots of ways to find inspiration.  One of the best ways to feed my habit is used book sales.  I have found some wonderful cookbooks at used book sales and at very reasonable prices.

Yesterday we visited the Smith College Book Sale.  They always have a great selection and you never know what you’ll find.  I sent Samantha to check out the kid’s table (I insisted that we buy a few of the old, original Nancy Drew books!) while I checked out cookbooks and needlepoint books.  I found a few interesting things in each area.  I picked up a Japanese cookbook and one on grilling but my two favorite finds this year are books that look really interesting and unusual.

The first attracted me because the cover is so beautiful.  It is called The Artist’s Table and it was published in 1995.  The subtitle is A Cookbook by Master Chefs Inspired by Paintings in the National Gallery of Art.  Those Master Chefs include Julia Child, Joel Robuchon, Paula Wolfert, Alice Waters and others.  The paintings are reproduced in the book and include paintings by Manet, Matisse, van Gogh, Monet, Gaugin and more.  The recipes are arranged into menus and include an Onion Tart by Julia Child, a Grand Shellfish Platter with Saffron Mayonnaise by Jeremiah Tower and Warm Chocolate Tarts by Patrick Clark.  I will probably never make the Roasted Saddle of Rabbit or the Wild Boar but I feel like if you get a few good recipes from a cookbook, it is worth it and I’ll enjoy looking at the gorgeous pictures over and over again.

The other fun additions is Dining by Rail, The History and Recipes of America’s Golden Age of Railroad Cuisine.  The first section of the book is all about railroads, dining cars, etc.  It is followed by recipes from specific railroads.  If you have traveled by train in recent years and looked at the slim offerings in the Amtrak “Dining Car”, it is amazing to consider the gourmet fare that used to be offered to train travelers.  I look forward to spending some time with this book as well.

Of course, shopping makes one hungry.  For last night’s dinner I turned to another recent acquisition.  This one came from one of my birthday shopping outings with my nieces.  For their birthdays we visit a local independent bookstore, The Ivy Bookshop. It is a delightful store and although it isn’t big, it is exceptionally well stocked with quality books in every department.  My nieces get to select a book they want and then I supplement their selection with a book I think they might enjoy.  It is a fun way to spend time together and hopefully encourage a lifelong love of reading.  While they make their selections, I roam around trying to resist temptation from multiple fronts.  I caved when I saw 660 Curries.  My husband and I love Thai food and Indian food and the book made its way into the pile for purchase.  Keith suggested that I make something from it for dinner and I decided on Chicken Tikka Masala – one of my favorite Indian dishes.  This one is not for the faint of heart.  It involved making garlic paste, ginger paste, grinding a mix of toasted spices to make Garam Masala and a special trip to Wegman’s for ghee.  Happily the efforts were rewarded by a delicious complex combination of flavors that were not overwhelmingly spicy but nicely balanced.  My mom joined us and we decided to make the balsamic strawberries again.  She loved them too and the evening was only slightly marred by the fact that when Samantha climbed on the counter to get the sprinkles down for her ice cream, she knocked a glass jar of anchovies out of the cabinet and it broke.  Nothing like the combination of broken glass, fish oil and the smell of anchovies to put the cap on an evening!

A friend sent me email last night about a new cookbook she is enjoying, A Kitchen in France by Mimi Thorisson.  She raved about it and the online reviews that I saw echoed her enthusiasm.  My middle niece has a birthday coming up so temptation awaits on my next birthday shopping outing!  I’ll keep you posted!