I have shelves full of cookbooks in my kitchen. I have stacks of cooking magazines tucked into spare spots in my office. I read cooking blogs every day (a few favorites: In Jennie's Kitchen, Orangette, Smitten Kitchen, Foodie Mama).
I devour books by Ruth Reichl, Michael Pollan, and Julia Child. I generally read cookbooks like they're novels. I pore over them in the bookstore, thumb through dogeared pages among the racks at used bookstores, and spend hours gazing at recipes online.
On rainy days I curl up with a cup of Tension Tamer tea and browse through a stack of cookbooks. I clip recipes from the likes of Cooking Light , Food & Wine , Bon Appetit , and Southern Living, all of which arrive in my mailbox monthly. I was a devoted subscriber to Gourmet and miss its delivery every month.
You know what? I never make a single recipe.
I use cookbooks, recipes in general really, as inspiration. I don't measure a thing and am fond of substitutions when the recipe calls for something I don't have on hand and can't manage a trip to Harris Teeter. I joke that I am the queen of "kitchen sink cooking;" I can muster up a great meal with a dash of this and a dollop of that, whatever lurks in the back of the pantry or in the bowels of the freezer are fair game. I consult a recipe just to get ideas for spice blends, cooking times, food pairings, or menu options. It is rare that I cook with a book propped open.
Until I discovered "Taste This!" by by friend (whom I admittedly have yet to meet; we met in the blogosphere) Gina Von Esmarch.
I was immediately drawn to the photographs. I hate when cookbooks don't have pictures. It must be a Pavlovian thing. I made three things out of Gina's cookbook, improvising just a tish, as any creative cook is wont to do. Let me tell you, this is the first time in my life that what I cooked turned out exactly like it looked in the picture. I'm telling you, her photos could have very well been from my own little kitchen.
Here's what I cooked up:
Chicken Jerusalem, delectable shredded chicken and artichoke in a wine and cream sauce served over rice. I added garlic and used gewurtraminner since I was plum out of sherry. In a rare twist, we didn't have leftovers. Deal even asked for some the next day for lunch. It's been only three days, and Mac Daddy is asking for this dish again. Sure signs of a family keeper, no?
Parmesan Crisps, sourdough bread coated in finely grated Parmesan. Butter, bread, cheese. How could one go wrong?! We could barely stop nibbling on these while I was dishing up dinner. D.I.V.I.N.E. Gina has these babies in the appetizer section, but they are so good that you'll want to serve them with the main course too. I put them in a cool glass bowl on the table so we could help ourselves as we enjoyed our meal. I stopped counting at five. Like I said, butter, bread, cheese. Can you blame a girl?
Needle in a Haystack, chocolate candy, 'nuff said. Pretty much the only dessert I can make without screwing up is instant pudding. But I could make these. Who knew chow mein noodles and chocolate are long lost soul mates? We devoured these. The best part? So easy and fun to make with the kids! I used half chocolate, half butterscotch chips. I added unsalted peanuts, mini marshmallows, and shredded coconut. The recipe recommends raisins too, but you know how I feel about those wrinkled has-been grapes that are better reserved for wine. This treat is going to be my go-to recipe for school parties, holiday gifts, block parties, you name it. Delish.
Think I'm gushing? Here are some family testimonials:
"This is the BEST haystack I've ever had!" exclaimed Deal, age 4.
Commenting on said treats, "I know a way to get rich, Mommy. Let's make and sell these!" remarked my entrepreneurial, if not somewhat cheeky, Bird, age 6.
What's so great about "Taste This!" is that there is nothing chi-chi about it, no trips to the fancy food show to track down obscure ingredients. Easy, family friendly, fast cooking. No chicken nuggets or other such crap posing as healthy kid fare. These recipes are family fare. You know me, no cooking two separate meals for parents and children. The whole family eats the same meal; I am not a short order cook (no height jokes, please). This cookbook is great for a seasoned cook and a kitchen greenie alike. The Finger Lickin' Chicken is next on my list.
Oh, want to get your hands on this too? Check it out .
I can't wait to try more from this cookbook. I have a feeling it's going to be dogeared and sauce splattered very soon.
Ilina is the mom of two who writes about food here every Wednesday. And you can always find her on her own blog Dirt & Noise.