Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Cooking Through Cookbooks

So, like I said yesterday, cooking through a famous culinary tome is not a new idea. Julie Powell and her year of Mastering the Art of French Cooking set the standard (in my mind anyway) for this kind of hands-on, self-made technical school in 2001 -- and her Long Island kitchen was the size of my powder room. I personally hung on every word. Since her wacky idea ten years ago there have been a basketful who have followed.

According to Lee Gomes of the Wall Street Journal, "generic food blogs are the scrambled eggs of culinary blogging. They require little in the way of skill and next to nothing in terms of equipment -- just a digital camera and a broadband connection." I'd say that's pretty much me.

Gomes also notes:
"the necessary ingredient: you need to be a little crazy." That's me too.

Carole Blymire cooked her way through the French Laundry cookbook -- a 130-recipe technical beast by Thomas Keller, the same guy who once whipped up tobacco ice cream for Anthony Bourdain. I know smoking was hugely popular mid-century but I've yet to see tobacco in Grandma's notebook (it's a filthy habit, she once declared).

A guy named Ryan S. Adams says he was inspired by Blymire's work to start on "The Whole Beast," Gomes explains, the offal-and-all meat British cookbook that has a cult following in the foodie world. With dishes like "Cold Lamb's Brains on Toast,"shopping has got to be a problem. "I don't know where I am going to get a woodcock," Adams said. "I may have to go out and hunt one myself." Woodcock is indeed in Grandma's book, clipped from the newspaper column "A Little Bit of Everything: Favorite Recipes" and submitted by a Miss Ellen Anderson of Lincoln, Nebraska. This woodcock is nothing short of a modern marvel calling for mushrooms, pimiento, hard-cooked eggs, cream cheese and a white sauce. Score a point for Grandma on that one -- I can get that locally. In the spirit of meat however, the ever-popular yet dated mincemeat shows up in half a dozen forms including my favorite interpretation that had Mom and I howling with laughter:

Mince Meat submitted by Mrs. Geo L. Anderson

3 bowls meat
5 bowls apples
1 bowl molasses
1 bowl vinegar
1 bowl cider
2 bowls raisins
3 bowls sugar
1 bowl suet
2 T cinnamon
2 T cloves
1 T salt
1 T black pepper
grated rind of three lemons and juice

Boil all, but meat and spices, until raisins are tender, then add meat and spices.

Note: I do not plan to ever make this version...I am scared by the ramifications of undercooked meat. Sorry to disappoint, foodies. Mrs. Anderson knew in her own mind what she was doing.

One detail that has not escaped me is finding willing recipients for the dishes that will be churning from my kitchen. Meat-guy Adams says finding willing diners can sometimes be as challenging as the cooking. I suppose some recipes (Orange Layer Cake) will be easier than others (Steaming Salmon Pie). I am especially interested in finding someone under the weather as "Invalid Soup" is an early entry on page one. Originally I thought the title to be invalid as in not valid but after reading the recipe I realized the mid-century logic in creating fortifying fare for those who needed enriching. I have no way of knowing if Grandma every made this stick-to-both -your-ribs-and-major-arteries fare but it's odd to say the least. If you are slightly sick or in need of calories, drop me a line.

Invalid Pudding submitted by Carrie B. Funk

Cook in double boiler.

1 pint milk
Yolk of 2 eggs
4 T sugar
1 T flour
little salt

Cook until thickens. Remove from fire and add the beaten whites of 2 eggs and 1 teaspoon vanilla.

I took a moment to Google this recipe and I came up with a few modern twists including a vegetarian version and ones that call for bread rather than the flour. Not sure I'd have any takers for any of the above.

Next: What era are these recipes from???

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