Years ago my friend Kay, (of whom I am confident has never cooked a bad meal), revealed she reads cookbooks in bed at night. Sometimes I try to emulate her and read cookbooks about cheeses, chocolate, foods, spices, techniques… until my stomach growls and I get up to snack with abandon in the dark silent kitchen while the rest of the house sleeps. Reading about food does that. (Not recommended.)
Two classic, but new to me cookbooks have occupied my bedtime reading recently: How to Cook a Wolf (MFK Fisher, 1942), and Nose to Tail Eating (Ferguson Henderson, 1999). Gotta love those titles.
They were on my wish list, intriguing to me due this desire to feed my family well, with real foods, on a limited budget. My creativity in cooking is more limited to my knowledge base than I thought, so the same foods are repeated over and over…(what are the stats, we repeat about 11 recipes?)…time to change that, and these books fill in a few of those gaps; not just how to prepare uncommon meat cuts, but changing a few preconceived notions about how I should “do food”.
“How to Cook a Wolf “ (written during WW2 rationing) fits the latter of those topics for me; I am learning a little pearl;” to balance the day, not each meal in the day”, one of Fishers first principles.
“Breakfast, then, can be toast. It can be piles of toast, generously buttered, and a bowl of honey or jam, and milk for Mortimer and coffee for you. You can be lavish because the meal is so inexpensive. You can have fun because there is no trotting around with fried eggs and mussy dishes and grease in the pan and a lingering unpleasant smell in the air.”
I like that idea. A lot. It brings a whole new perspective to the psychology and dignity of simple, good food for me, because normally I think lavish would include ‘piles of different dishes’ filling the sink and my stress level, and that also breaks my budget.
She includes recipes of course, a running discourse, and multiple, useful tips on every page:
- To utilize every bit of space in the oven
- that bones are conductors of heat and make meat cook about 6 minutes per pound faster
- to coat fish with sauce before putting it in the icebox and it won’t ever smell fishy
- to an interesting recipe for mouthwash
- and a tip to stuff pin cushions with used coffee grounds
This all written in her dry humored, confident and, okay, opinionated writing style, makes the book both an entertaining and instructive editorial.
It’s just about simple real foods, nothing fancy, just delicious and plentiful. Most cooks wanting to improve on seasoning the basics would enjoy reading this as there are some gems to profit from.
The other cookbook, “Nose to Tail Eating” (previously “The Whole Beast”) is exactly what it states. It was an October 2015 LA Times article I stumbled on; food professionals from Britain, US, Austrailia and New Zealand chose this title as “The Best Cookbook in the World”.
In the WORLD?
Really? Heady stuff that. (Hmm…over “French Laundry”, Julia Child’s “Art of French Cooking”, even the prolific “Joy of Cooking”?) Alrighty then, I wanted to read this one.
Being nothing more than a home cook, it’s probably not surprising that I was a little…baffled, that this earned such status. The recipes are not complicated, but I can see why mainly professionals gravitate to the unique topics it covers. Not many other cookbooks cover these recipes that’s for sure.
Would the majority of us, would I, use this book? Probably not, unless I really am serious about learning to cook with unfamilier meats. It is however EXACTLY where I will turn when in possession of those cuts I have no clue what to do with…which is probable now that we do all our own butchering, so I’ll fill you in if ever I attempt:
- Onion Soup and Bone Marrow Toast
- Pea and Pig’s Ear Soup
- Grilled Marinated Calf’s Heart
- Duck’s Neck Terrine
- Crispy Pig’s Tails
- Boiled Ox Tongue
- Rabbit Wrapped in Fennel Twigs and Bacon
- or Smoked Eel, Bacon and Mash
Not your basic fare for say… a child’s birthday party. It could be because I have enjoyed traveling and eating in third-world countries that some of those actually sound appealing to me, so this will stay in my cookbook collection. Just in case. It would be the ‘Warm Pig Head’ or ‘Lamb’s Brains with Chicory and Shallots’ that I’m not quite desperate to try though.
But hey, at least now I will know how, and the bonus in reading this particular cookbook in bed a night?…I am not really tempted to get up and snack.