Friday, July 07, 2017

Joys of cooking

I know what you're thinking: Why would one person need so many cookbooks? I probably shouldn't admit that in addition to a cabinet crammed full of cookbooks, I have two metal tins stuffed with recipe cards and my husband has a whole separate pile of bread-baking books in his office. So yeah, I have a lot of recipes.

And what does it mean to need a cookbook? These days I cook most things of the top of my head, but I learned what flavors work well together over many years of faithfully following recipes. Many of my cookbooks stick around only so I can consult that one beloved recipe for a dish I can't create from memory. 

You can tell which recipes I use most by seeing where the cookbooks fall open naturally. The Joy of Cooking opens to my favorite angel-food cake recipe, and that one little church-lady cookbook opens to an easy and delicious recipe for brownies. The fancy-pants high-society Junior League cookbook comes out of the cabinet only when I need to make that marvelous raspberry cream cheese coffee cake, and if I have to keep a snobby and expensive book around just for that one recipe, it's worth it.

Some cookbooks carry sentimental value. The great big fat book full of recipes representing many nations was a gift from an old friend who said, "You're the only person I know who would try these things," and he was right--I do. (Ask me about my kim-chee.) And I would never buy a book called "Quick Dishes for the Woman in a Hurry," but who do you suppose would give such a book as a wedding gift? (If you guessed "mother-in-law," you're pretty close.)

The cookbook I use most frequently is Greene on Greens by the late Bert Greene, each chatty chapter offering up a cornucopia of recipes focusing on a single vegetable. Pumpkin rolls! Cabbage pancakes! Tater 'n' tomater pie! A borscht recipe bursting with winter root vegetables and bright red beets! He's my go-to guy when the garden's producing its goodies.

And I still hold tight to The More With Less Cookbook, a wedding gift from a friend who knew that we'd be cooking on a tight budget. Published in 1978 by the Mennonite Central Committee, More With Less had a very clear mission printed on the front cover: "Suggestions by Mennonites on how to eat better and consume less of the world's food resources."

When we were flat broke and couldn't afford meat, this cookbook taught me how to make curried lentils and soybean loaf, a godsend back when much of our provender came from my husband's work at a food pantry where soybeans were cheap and abundant. I haven't made soybean loaf in years (thankfully--it was awful), but the cookbook opens naturally to the basic biscuit recipe I still use regularly. 

And when the zucchini and summer squash plants start producing, I reach first for the squash casserole I've made for probably hundreds of potlucks and family dinners over the years. I made it just this week for some houseguests who asked for the recipe, but when I looked it up, I realized that I don't follow the recipe too closely any more. For one thing, it was written at a time when Americans thought margarine was real food, and also, it doesn't call for salt and pepper. Seriously, who can eat squash without salt and pepper? And then sometimes I crank up the color and flavor by adding red bell peppers or even jalapenos--but not for church dinners. I wouldn't want to give anyone a heart attack.

For the benefit of the friend who asked for the recipe, here it is, amended slightly from the original. (Does anyone seriously use margarine anymore?) 

Corn-Squash Bake

Heat oven to 350.

Cut 3 or 4 medium zucchini or summer squash in one-inch rounds. Cook in small amount of boiling salted water (or chicken stock) until just tender. Drain and mash slightly with fork.

Saute one small onion, chopped, in 1 T butter.

Cool squash slightly and combine with:
Sautéed onion
2 c. corn kernels
1 c shredded Swiss cheese
2 beaten eggs
salt and pepper to taste

Place in greased casserole dish.

Combine and sprinkle on top:
¼ c. dry bread crumbs
2 T grated parmesan cheese
1 T melted butter

Bake for 40 minutes, or until set. Let stand 5-10 minutes before serving.

This is comfort food at is best, seriously yummy, and it counts as a vegetable--and it gives me a good reason to hold on to a cookbook that got me through those first lean years.

But best of all, it's not soybean loaf.


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