Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Confessions of a Cookbook Addict

By Luby

I admit it – I’m addicted to food magazines and cookbooks. Recently I was asked if I have a favorite. That’s like asking a doting mother who is her favorite child.

After many years (and bookshelves) of buying, reading and collecting dozens of cookbooks on pastry, ethnic cuisine and, of course, chocolate (Death by Chocolate) about 5 years ago, my husband and I agreed to a moratorium on our compulsive passion. This act of self discipline, however, did not keep us from feeding our cookbook Jones with weekly sojourns to the downtown library - loading up on every imaginable culinary text, rushing home to test new recipes, and flopping down on the futon to dive into the next treasure chest. But I digress…

One of the last cookbooks I actually bought (on the bargain table at Powell’s, no less) is a real gem! Clearly Delicious, An Illustrated Guide to Preserving, Pickling & Bottling written by award-winning author, Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz (Herbs, Spices & Flavorings) and Judy Ridgway is one of the most beautiful "cookbooks" I have yet to see or own! This is a completely illustrated guide to some of the most delicious recipes I have ever found all in one book. When I’m shopping at the Farmers’ Market, I’m dialing in on recipes from Clearly Delicious. And at home, when I’m thumbing through Clearly Delicious, I’m making mental notes about products I’ll find at the Farmers Market next Sunday.

This is not your grandmother’s version of canning. The writers clearly possess a robust appreciation of the marriage of our seasons on earth and the heady craving of palate pleasing flavor. This collection is chock full of simple step-by-step sequential demonstrations that transform seasonal picked-in-their-prime fruits and veggies into pickles, conserves, jams, jellies, curds, marmalades, syrups, flavored vinegars & liqueurs, chutneys and more! Each chapter begins with a one page summary on the basics – how to make, seal and store and maybe even more importantly (especially to a canning phobic as I) – what can go wrong and why. Thankfully the writers stress the value of careful (a.k.a. safe) preparation as a vital component of successful and delicious results (thanks Grandma). A fantastic chapter on herbs & spices transports the reader around the globe in delightful and dizzying fashion.

The last chapter, Finishing Touches is well… just intriguing. In my opinion, the collection’s ‘cherry on top.’ Who would think a jar of tomato sauce could look so good? Idea packed 7 pages inspires even the artistically challenged to create unique, imaginative gifts that are very high on the WOW meter.

I’ve seen a few copies on line (Amazon, etc.). But be sure to get the edition with the gorgeous canned pears on the cover. Check out Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz’s other cookbooks, especially The Book of Latin American Cooking lauded by James Beard, and The New Complete Book on Mexican Cooking.

My favorite recipes from Clearly Delicious:

Cassis – what else to do with the 3 quarts of black currants exploding with flavor and bending every branch on the bush!

Apple and Ginger Jam – (Hint: use fresh ginger and less sugar)

Pickled Cauliflower with Sweet Bell Peppers

Spiced Apples with Rosemary – no sugar, all honey, very yummy!

Rhubarb Chutney – a perennial favorite (but I tell ya, next month when the almighty beets are sweet and in full swing, I’m trying out the Beet Chutney!)

Perfumed Thai Chili Oil – this is absolutely fabulous to grill tofu, tempeh or veggies or to scent steamed rice.

Blueberry Herbed Vinegar – gorgeous in a thin bottle with a bit of raffia around the neck

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