Cookbooks? Prove yourselves worthy!

Every year since 2000, I’ve started by going on a massive diet.  Some years with more success than others, granted.  It’s a diet I think I’ve blogged about before.  Boils down to 3 simple rules:

  1. Eat less
  2. Exercise more
  3. No alcohol until mid-February

Do all of the above and you’re golden.

I also find I spend more time reading about food and planning experimental cooking than I would otherwise.

Cookbooks on my shelves have to earn their place.  They’ve got to prove their worth in the kitchen otherwise they’re out.  I think I’ve got 4 on the shelves I’ve not done anything with yet – hopefully that’s just a matter of time.  Of course, there are some chefs who’s books are the equivalent of the next Blackmore’s Night album – they’ll be purchased without a thought and reviewed (and discarded) later.  Once such chef is Paul Prudhomme.

I’ve 4 of his books on the shelf right now.  Louisiana Kitchen, Fiery Foods, Seasoned America and, the latest addition, Louisiana Tastes.

I did have a 5th book, “A Fork in the Road”, but that was clearly written after he’d had a long reality-check conversation with his cardiologist and the recipes were substantially different!

Each of his books takes a slightly different approach to the recipes, giving you different snippets of information, history, back story, and so on.  This one gives you tasting notes as you go along, encouraging you to taste your food more and almost drawing back the curtain to show how the wizard works his magic.  Take this from “Bucktown soup”, the first recipe I cooked from this book:

An immediate saltiness rises above a very subdued middle taste, led by a sweet, boiled onion flavor. The final taste fades in the mouth.

This is what you should be tasting at the end of step 1.  And, by God, he’s right!  That sweet, boiled onion flavour wasn’t exactly what I was wanting the final thing to taste of, but trust me, this man knows what he’s talking about.  Moving on to the end of stage 2…

Now notice the very unusual taste produced by the combination of lime juice, cream and the natural sweetness of the vegetables. For a brief moment, the flavor suggests a lime dessert, then the taste changes to an herbal creaminess

And yes, there’s cream in this – a whole pint of double cream.  But man, it is good!  And then, 20 minutes later, you’re digging into a bowl of this Louisiana take on a smoked fish chowder, your tastebuds singing and dancing in joy.

So yeah, this book is seasoned liberally with tasting notes like this.  And it’s sprouted a veritable flock of post-it note sticky labels marking the page corners for the recipes we’re going to try this year.

My cookbooks are also living documents, each recipe we’ve done is scored, reviewed, and any alterations made are jotted down so we can either do the same next time or know what not to do!  Notes on the Bucktown soup recipe read “subbed paprika for half the cayenne, spice level about right for youngest.”  Notes on the next recipe, Harira, read “Soak your own chickpeas next time, don’t use tinned.  And remember the flour/water the night before.

I’ve a real love for street food.  Being a busy man, I know street food is going to be something that can either be cooked damn quickly or can be made well in advance and assembled on demand.  Harira is one of those “make well in advance” recipes.  It’s a rich, lightly spiced, Moroccan chicken soup from “Street Food From Around the World

If you’re coming to the Soup and Sweet Lunch at St John the Baptist Church, Baston, on February 2nd, this is what I’m making.

This book has been sat on my shelf, largely unread, for a few years now.  It was being given it’s last chance read-through when I came across Harira.  And now it’s firmly back on the shelf, festooned with page markers, all calling me to different countries for their street food delights.  It’s not the prettiest of books, only having a handful of colour plates, but the recipes are solid and the little snippets of back story to each of them are lovely.

Final cook book for this post isn’t available yet.  If you’ve ever been to The Curry Guy’s website, you’ll know his recipes are sound.  He’s finally managed to swing a publishing deal and I pre-ordered this as soon as I found out about it.

Go.  Buy his book.  Fund volume 2!

I wish all of you dieting good luck – you don’t have to change what you eat, you just have to eat less of it.

And please, recommend me cookbooks!

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