I love cookbooks. I would pick to read a cookbook over a novel any day of the week. I’m not joking. If I had an empty room, I would fill it with cookbooks and a big cozy chair to curl up in. Then on a chilly Minnesota weekend, I could hole up with a stack of great cookbook reads, with Lily the lab at my feet and Brette re-filling my coffee mug as needed. Ahh…doesn’t that sound nice?
To humor my love for cookbooks, I will highlight a new cookbook each Thursday (in Nov) that I enjoy. These will be cookbooks I would recommend whole heartedly and strongly suggest you either go buy or put on your Christmas list. It is November after all.
Here is what I look for in a cookbook: great recipes that are easy to follow (not necessarily quick and painless, but easy instructions), well-written descriptions and tips about the recipe, photos and stories. I love stories about where a dish came from or how it came to be.
My first selection is The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper: Recipes, Stories, and Opinions by Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift.
Do you know Lynne Rossetto Kasper? She is the host of NPR’s, The Splendid Table. I heart this show. When I learned she had a new cookbook coming out (quite some time ago now), and that she would be doing a live show at the Fitz, I had to go. I called up my foodie friend, Kari, and off we went to pretend we were best friends with Lynne and get a signed copy of the new book. It was a blast. I’m convinced Lynne and I would be fabulous friends. So far she has not taken me up on that offer. Lynne, if you’re reading this – how about dinner some time? Seriously, you’ll like me.
At that event, Kari and I vowed to get together and try a couple recipes from the book – ones we wouldn’t normally pick. That too – a blast. From that cookbook, our Gourmet Dinner Club was created. Before I get to far, please note: these are not gourmet recipes in this book. I don’t want you to to think these are fancy recipes. These are recipes for the week nights. However, they got Kari and I thinking a little bit out of the box and we have now been getting together with a group of women for a more than a year to try things we haven’t tried before. Thanks for the inspiration Lynne!
Back to the book.
First of all, it is so lovely to read. Both Kasper and Swift do a great job telling stories around how these recipes were created and little tidbits of the best way to prepare things. I felt like it read more like a story than a cookbook. They include such things as The Pesto Chronicle, The Egg: A Secret Life, and a whole section on the best canned chicken broth. Note: there is also a recipe for a “cheaters” homemade broth. I love that.
Even if you’re not obsessed like I am, you will still enjoy sitting down and leafing through this cookbook. There are funny stories from people they’ve had on their radio show along with quotes and thoughts from some well-known chefs. I think I’ve gone through it at least a dozen times and I find something new each time.
There are sections on how to build your own soup and a do-it-yourself dressing kit with tons of options for variations. In fact, most recipes have different variations you can take. For example, the Oven-Roasted Chicken Cacciatora has 2 variations: Cumin-Cinnamon-Scented Chicken and Lemon-Oregano Chicken Roasted with Onion and Carrot. One method…3 different results.
Speaking of the recipes. I’ve had mad success with many of them. I found them uncomplicated and perfect for most weeknights. Some of them are so good, they’ve been staples in my entertaining repertoire.
Here are some of our favorites (for when you go buy this book):
- The quintessential risotto “fall” version with fried sage and pear chunks.
- Chicken Curry with Gentle Spices
- Greek Pot-Crushed Potatoes
- Plumped Ginger-Caramel Shrimp (because it sounds like a dessert)
- Pasta with Chopping Board Pistachio Pesto
And our ultimate favorite: Cuban Black Bean Stew. If you only make one recipe, this should be the one. It’s that good. It was my first time cooking with a ham hock but now I always have one in the freezer. Just for this soup. If you were like me and are wondering, “where do a I get a ham hock?”. Most grocery stores have them – even Cashwise in Willmar, MN. When in doubt, just ask the butcher.
Below is the recipe word for word from the book. I have never made any deviations.
Cuban Black Bean Stew
Prep time 15 minutes; stove time 30 minutes.
Serves 4 as a main dish, 8 as a first course.
Soup holds 4 days in the refrigerator and freezes up to 3 months.
The soup blossoms with a rest off the heat, and an overnight stay in the refrigerator gives it even fuller flavor.
This soup demands a finish of onion and lime juice or vinegar (sherry vinegar is our pick).
Cook to Cook: We use a 10-quart pot because we want the broader cooking surface at the bottom of the pot. Cooking that all-important sauté on the larger surface discourages steaming and helps build up a flavor-packed brown glaze on the bottom of the pot. That glaze is a key to the soup’s success.
Don’t worry if the vegetables don’t brown. The glaze is the thing. This, and the pork, creates the heart of the soup. If you have only a 6-quart pot, do step 1 in a big sauté pan, then combine the sauté with the beans and broth in the 6-quart pan. Jen: This is important – don’t cheat.
1 or 2 meaty smoked ham hocks (about 1-1/2 pounds)
Good tasting extra-virgin olive oil
3 whole cloves
2 medium to large onions, chopped into 1/2-inch dice
1 small to medium green bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 small to medium red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 14-oz. cans chicken broth or vegetable broth
6 large garlic cloves, coarse chopped
3 bay leaves, broken
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1-1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
3/4 to 1 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
3 generous tablespoons tomato paste
3 15-ounce cans black beans, drained and rinsed
3 limes halved, or about 1/2 cup sherry, wine, cider or palm vinegar
1 cup chopped mild onion
1/2 cup chopped fresh coriander (cilantro)
1. Trim the meat away from the ham hock bone, cutting it into small pieces. Don’t be too fussy; leaving some on the bone is fine. Film the bottom of a 10-quart stockpot with olive oil and heat over medium high. Stir in the meat, bone, cloves, onions, peppers, and salt. Sauté 8 minutes (stirring occasionally), or until the vegetables are sizzling and there’s a brown glaze on the bottom of the pan (vegetables need not brown, and take care not to let that glaze blacken).
2. Add a little of the broth along with the garlic, bay leaves, cumin, oregano, black pepper, and tomato paste. With a wooden spatula, scrape up the glaze as you simmer the mix on medium high for 3 minutes. Then add the beans and the remaining broth. Adjust the heat so the soup bubbles gently. Cover the pot tightly, and cook for 20 minutes.
3. Stir in the juice from 2-1/2 limes, or 1/3 cup of vinegar. Taste soup for seasoning. Adjust salt and pepper, and add more lime or vinegar to your own taste.
4. Ladle the soup into bowls, topping each serving with a heaping tablespoon of chopped onion and a little fresh coriander. Have hot sauce on thetable.
Enjoy! Let me know if you make this recipe or any others from this book. I’m still making may way through it and would love to hear your favorites.