Thursday, January 20, 2011

One Big Cookbook

I keep saying that I really don’t need any more cookbooks, but somehow new ones just seem to keep creeping onto my overloaded bookshelves. As you know, I recently acquired “Baked Explorations” and “Baked – New Frontiers in Baking” from that hallowed place in Brooklyn, as well as David Lebovitz’s “Ready for Dessert.” Now comes Molly O’Neill’s “One Big Table.”

Molly O’Neill is well-known in the food world, having been a food columnist for the New York Times and the host of “Great Food” on PBS. She has written several books, including the “New York Cookbook” which of course I own and use frequently. In fact, it’s the source of those matzoh balls I make every year at Passover. I had the pleasure of meeting her years ago when she came to Atlanta to promote the book.

Over the past decade, Molly crisscrossed the country to amass recipes from cooks throughout America. She collected over 10,000 recipes and this book contains about 600 of them. Here is what she writes about her inspiration:

“I’ve never known a food-obsessed person who did not have someone in a cotton apron – a grandmother or mother, an uncle, a father, a neighbor, a teacher – standing behind them who could turn an ordinary meal into an extraordinary one and make the world seem larger, full of heart and bursting with possibility. But these American cooks had been forgotten over the past several decades as ‘cooking’ morphed into ‘cuisine.’ I wanted to find them and cook with them and get a taste of their America.”

Her words resonated with me. In my life, those people in the “cotton aprons” include both of my grandmothers (they really DID wear cotton aprons; my maternal grandmother used to sew her own out of lace and gingham), my dad and my mom, both of whom I have written about here before. I like to think I am that person for my sons Andy (who loves to cook) and even Eric (who is much more interested in a good meal and proficient in the kitchen than he would like to admit). Who was that person for you?

In any event, you can expect me to post a few recipes from this wonderful book. I can’t wait to try the marinated feta, original deviled eggs, 3-generation olive salad, West Indies crab salad (I loved this when I lived in Mobile as a teenager) and chocolate-sauerkraut (really?) cupcakes. I’ll keep you posted.

I made the following soup when we were captives in our house last week. It was just the ticket as it was warm, comforting and hearty enough to sustain us throughout the ice storm. I'm just happy we didn't have to rely on it for more than five days!


6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound white mushrooms, coarsely chopped (see note)
2 medium onions, chopped
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups water
2 cups chicken stock (preferably homemade)
2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce
2 teaspoons paprika, preferably smoked (see note)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ cup sour cream
½ cup chopped Italian parsley
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

In a Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and onions and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until vegetables are soft. Sprinkle in the flour and cook, stirring, about 1 minute until incorporated.

Slowly whisk in the water, stock, milk, dill, tamari, paprika and salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally until thickened.

In a small bowl, mix the sour cream with ¼ cup of the warm soup to temper, then stir mixture into the soup along with the parsley and lemon juice. Taste to adjust seasonings and serve.

Serves 6

*  While the recipe calls for white mushrooms, I used criminis (baby portobellos) because I like their "meatiness" and heartier flavor.

*  I think smoked paprika really does add another element of flavor to this soup, so I would encourage you to use it.  You can also use smoked pimenton (Spanish paprika), which is what I did.  If all else fails though, you can use sweet paprika.

*  Want to make this vegetarian?  No problem.  Just substitute vegetable stock for the chicken stock.

*  Feel free to play around with quantities of dill, tamari (or soy sauce, which is what I used) and lemon juice.  I ended up using a little more of each, but that's just my taste.

Naturally, there is a story behind the acquisition of this cookbook.  It was purchased for me by my sister (in-law, but we don't look at it that way) Barbara, who lives in NYC.  She gave it to Andy (who also lives in the city) and insisted he schlep it on the plane to Florida where he was meeting us right after Christmas.  Since it weighs over 10 pounds, he wasn't thrilled, knowing he would either have to lug it in his backpack or exceed the weight limit on his luggage.  He asked why she didn't just order it from Amazon and send it directly.  Her response?  She wanted to support the local bookstore in the West Village so they can hopefully stay alive in the midst of those big-box booksellers.  Gotta love that!

Or at least I did until it was my turn to drag it back on the plane to Atlanta.  Thanks, Barbara!

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