Saturday, March 16, 2013

Cookbooks I have known...

I have a friend, a wonderful guy and an excellent cook, who eschews cookbooks.  He believes it isn't cooking, it isn't creative, if you're not figuring it out or making it up as you go along.  And I like his perspective, I do, and he makes some really delicious food and it's always a lot of fun to talk to him about food, and technique.

However, about the cookbooks?


That's not even all of them.  There's more.  So many more.

I also collect essayists and food memoirists such as MFK Fisher, Elizabeth David, Mark Kurlansky, Harold McGee, Judith Jones, Ruth Reichel, Gabrielle Hamilton...

(Years ago, my husband said to me, if you come home with one more pair of shoes, I'll know you want a divorce - He really could say the same thing to me about cookbooks these days. )

(not that I'd be able to stop - more likely, I'd hide my addiction a bit better...)


I think I've said this before, but I often take a cookbook to bed with me and read it like a novel.  I love them, especially chatty ones.  My first chatty cookbook was that famous one by Peg Bracken, "The I Hate to Cook Book" - which was out on the counter in my mother's kitchen throughout my childhood.  I remember sitting belly to counter on the creaky old yellow stool skipping the recipes, but completely engrossed by Mrs. Bracken's practical, funny and self deprecating take on life as a woman in the 60s and 70s' suburbs.  My mom swore by her recipes.  I swear by her voice:

"Speaking of cooking, incidentally, and I believe we were, one of its worst facets is grocery shopping.  When you hate to cook, a supermarket is an appalling place.  You see so many things that they are all a blur, and you finally end up with a glazed look and a chop."

Though I don't hate to cook, certainly anyone who reads this blog with any regularity can see from the above quote why I love her.

That said - I tend to use a cookbook (or two) as a jumping-off place for my own creations.  I believe I mentioned in my last post that I'm currently addicted to The Smitten Kitchen -by Deb Perleman.  She's apparently addicted to pizza - and I recently made pizza with her dough recipe (although I used 2 tsp of sea salt instead of table salt).  This dough is very easy to double or even triple - which is what I did.  But since we don't eat cheese these days, I decided to make calzones.  Meatball calzones because, in honor of Emma's dairy allergy, I recently bought a book by Silvana Nardone called, Cooking With Isaiah-  and she'd put a large sticky on the page with meatball subs.  And meatball subs are good - but -

meatball calzones are better.  MUCH better -

You don't need cheese for meatballs - although a lot of recipes have you drowning the breadcrumbs with a splash of milk and adding parmesan for flavor and binding.  I've made meatballs without these ingredients for a while now.  You do need breadcrumbs and eggs for texture/binding and something that has some moisture in it - which is why people add milk.

I don't.  I add sautéed frozen spinach.

If you want to make Silvana's meatball subs, here's her recipe.

Ritz Crackers are nice because they have a fairly unique flavor -
which gives the meatballs an extra depth one wouldn't expect.
Mine are similar - except no milk, and since we aren't gluten free (yet) - and since I rarely have Rice Krispes in the house - I used Ritz Crackers instead of breadcrumbs.   (This is where I get all Peg Bracken-y.  I feel strongly that one should never, ever, rush out into the cold for an ingredient not in the pantry when another perfectly good substitute might be lounging around.  If you don't have Ritz, use saltines and cut back dramatically on the salt.  If you don't have saltines toast some bread and crumble it up - if you don't have toast then - god bless you.... )  And, of course, I'm way too lazy to add tomato sauce.  My best friend is a jar of Rao's.

Wow.  I've really been going on here - time to wrap this up and get to the food.  The last thing I'll say - when you are making the pizza dough for your calzone - make lots extra.  Cut the dough into 3rds and wrap two of the portions up in plastic, put them in a large ziploc or container and let them hang out in the refrigerator.  Then, check out my next post - I'll tell you what I did with my extras.  This dinner takes some time - therefore it is best made on a Sunday afternoon - a glass of wine at hand and a decent playlist going.

First: make the pizza dough. You can make Deb's, or you can do this:

1 cup of pretty warm water
2 tsp of yeast
1 TBLSP of brown sugar
3 cups of bread flour
1 TBLSP sea salt (I use fleur de sel) or 1 tsp of table salt
1TBLSP olive oil

Heat your oven to 200 degrees for 10 minutes then turn it off.  Dissolve the yeast and brown sugar in the warm water.  Whisk flour and salt in a large bowl, dump the yeast mixture in along with the olive oil and stir it up with a rubber spatula.  Or you can put everything in the bowl of a mixer with a dough hook and let it all run.  Either way, mix it up until everything is incorporated and comes together in a ball.  If it's in the mixer, let it run for 5 minutes.  Otherwise dump it out on a floured counter and knead until it is smooth - 3-5 minutes.  No need to get fussy with this.  If kneading annoys you, don't do it.  Wipe out the large bowl, spray it with oil, put the dough back in, spray the top of the dough, cover with plastic wrap and stick it in the warm oven for an 1/2 an hour to an hour (or more - I am often distracted by shiny things such as George Takei posts of Facebook or Kelly Oxford tweets)

Meanwhile... make yourself some meatballs

Saute the following:
1 stalk celery diced
1 small yellow onion diced
1 clove of garlic diced and crushed
1 cup of frozen spinach

Let this mixture cool and put it in a bowl with
1 cup of crushed ritz crackers

1lb of ground turkey or hamburger (if adding turkey, use a mix of thigh and breast)
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 TBLSP of sea salt or a tsp of table salt.
Grind in some pepper
1 egg lightly beaten
Squish it up with your hands.

form a bunch of small meatballs - whatever you like.  I sometimes use a 1 inch ice cream scoop so they're all about the same size.
Saute the meatballs in a pan with a few swirls of oil so that the outsides brown a bit.

TAKE YOUR DOUGH OUT OF THE OVEN (I cap this because I have forgotten to do this many times myself.  If you are one of the lucky people who have 2 ovens, obviously you don't need to do this) -

And preheat to 350

Pour your Rao's or any other kind of sauce you have - (or a can of crushed tomatoes if that's all you have) and  put it in a 350 for 20 minutes.

When the meatballs are cooked, and your dough is all raised, you're ready, take the dough out of the bowl, cut it into 3rds, wrap 2 of the thirds in oil sprayed plastic wrap and put them in the refrigerator for another day.

Roll your dough out flat and sprinkle a little olive oil on top.  Pick it up and flatten it out again on a  parchment lined jelly roll pan.

Put your meatballs right in the center.  If you don't have a dairy allergy, this is when you can add

1/2 cup of mozzarella
1/2 cup of ricotta or crumbly goat cheese (my preference)
1/4 cup parmesan

Fold the dough in half, and squish the edges together.  Cut a few slits in the top so steam can escape and stick it back in the oven for 10 - 15 minutes or until it is all a lovely brown and crusty.  You'll have to let it sit a bit before cutting into it - but this should be easily sliced into 3-4 calzones depending on how hungry your horde is.