I used to be a big fan of cookbooks. I would drool over them in bookstores, check them out from the library, and, whenever my budget allowed, I would buy them. Then, along came the internet. All of a sudden every recipe I could ever desire was at my fingertips. All I need is Google and a few keywords and I can find anything. There is something missing, though; something essential and tactile about holding a cookbook in your hands that you don’t find with a computer. An actual paper cookbook is meant to get flour and grease on it. It is a place you can (and should) write your own notes in the margin, which is impossible to do with a computer. I have begun to revisit my love for bound cookbooks and have come across a few that I will be sharing here.
The first one I bought is Keys to the Kitchen by Aida Mollenkamp. I heard her interviewed on a recent episode of The Food Seen and it sounded like it would be a great book to start off my new collection. I wasn’t disappointed. Her cooking philosophy is: Quality Ingredients + Kitchen Skills + Technique + Cooking Method = Good Food. Starting off with the very basics, she goes over, in great detail; what, where, and how to buy specific items (cuts of meat, eggs, cheese, produce). There are tips on kitchen tools, the best kitchen layout, and what to have on hand for a basic pantry. I am going to keep going back to the section on spices, where she not only describes what they are, but what dishes they are used in.
The Kitchen Skills and Technique are a part of the How-To section. This section involves what you need to do before you even start to cook, prep work, and a ton of fundamental recipes such as mashed potatoes, homemade chicken stock, and steamed vegetables. My favorite tip? Placing eggs in a bowl of warm water to get them to room temperature in about five or ten minutes.
Then we get to the heart and soul of this book… the actual recipes. Full confession here: I’ve only attempted a few of the 305 recipes contained in the book so far. The ones I did make, however, were fantastic. They are easy to follow, with clear directions, and most have helpful tips printed along the side. The only complaint I really have about them is there weren’t enough photographs for me. Being a photographer, and a visual learner, I like to see what I am going to be making; to know what the end result is supposed to look like. The photographs that are there are wonderful, but there are only about one for every five or so recipes. It did not deter me from attempting some new things, however, such as the Indian-Style Braised “Butter” Chicken. This, along with cauliflower, zucchini and rice makes a spectacular meal.
If you are a new cook, or are more experienced and just want to hone your skills, I would highly recommend Keys to the Kitchen. It is a great reference tool and I know I will be using it and marking it up on a regular basis.
Indian-Style Braised “Butter” Chicken
[adapted from Keys to the Kitchen]
1 cup whole-milk plain yogurt
1/4 cup lime juice
1 tablespoon grated garlic
1 tablespoon peeled, grated fresh ginger
1 serrano chile, halved (I left this out and it was still delicious)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 1/2 pounds bone-in chicken thighs (6-8)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon peeled, grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon rated garlic
1/2 cup tomato paste
1 1/4 cups chicken broth or water
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup green onions, thinly sliced
For the chicken:
Mix together thoroughly all of the ingredients except the chicken. Add the chicken, turning to coat completely. Cover and marinate at room temperature for at least thirty minutes.
Heat the oven to 475° placing a rack in the middle. Remove the chicken from the marinade, letting extra sauce drip off and reserving it for later. Place the chicken on a rimmed baking sheet (I used a cookie sheet). Roast the chicken until it just begins to brown (15-20 mins). Remove it from the oven and set aside while you make the sauce.
For the sauce:
Heat up the butter in a large sauce pan or Dutch oven over medium heat. When you see the foam starting to subside, add the onion, some salt, and cook just until it softens. Add in the ginger, garlic, and tomato paste, stirring and cooking until fragrant (about 30 seconds). Add the broth and bring to a boil.
Decrease the heat to low and add the rest of the marinade and the chicken pieces. Cover the pan and simmer until the chicken is cooked and fork-tender (about 20-30 minutes). Be sure to taste and adjust the seasonings. Stir in the cilantro and green onions and serve.