Thursday, October 29, 2015

How Cookbooks Reflect Eras of Your Life

Seafood Pie
I learned to cook from books because my mother was not too skilled in the kitchen.  She made good chocolate chip cookies, but it was downhill after that.  Her go-to guide was “The Settlement Cookbook: The Way to a Man’s Heart,” originally published in 1903.  I wasn’t a fan. 

Much more interesting to me was “Joy of Cooking,” a book I heard of when I got my first apartment in New York after college.  I bought a copy and was thrilled with the huge variety of recipes, although many of the dishes I picked out to cook were on the bland side.  That was probably my fault because I was afraid of seasonings.

That changed when my mother bought me “The Spice Cookbook.”  Here were recipes with major flavor.  During my four years of cooking for myself and my roommate, I toggled between “Joy” and “Spice.”  They’re still in a prominent place in my kitchen, and whenever I pick them up I remember my young and fun days in The Big Apple.

Then I got married and moved to London, where we lived out of suitcases for five months.  Without access to “Joy” and “Spice,” I hung out in the cookbook section of W.H. Smith booksellers on Baker Street.  That’s where I discovered Elizabeth David, England’s answer to Julia Child.  I was so enamored of her recipes that I bought all her books.  I also fell for Madhur Jaffrey and her skill in making Indian cooking feasible at home.

Now back in America after 12 years abroad, I find that these two women still influence my cooking.  Chicken Tikka, Oeufs à la Monteynard (Eggs over Rice) and Mediterranean Vegetable Soup are often on my menu.

Ever curious, I’m now exploring soups through James Peterson’s “Splendid Soups” and Italian food through a mammoth cookbook called “The Silver Spoon.”  This is my less-meat-eating era, and I’m finding plenty of new recipes to try.
Seafood Pie – serves 4-6 (adapted from “The Silver Spoon”)  
1 unbaked pie crust (click here for an easy recipe) 
1 cup cottage cheese 
2 medium eggs 
1 6 1/2-can minced clams including liquid 
1/2 cup cooked shrimp 
3 tablespoons sour cream 
1 teaspoon chopped garlic 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/4 teaspoon black pepper 
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Prick the bottom of the unbaked crust about 15 times and bake it for 8-10 minutes, or until it begins to brown.  Remove from the oven and reduce the heat to 350 degrees. 
Combine the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl and stir until everything is thoroughly combined.  Spoon the filling into the pie crust and bake for about 30 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the filling comes out clean.  Cut into 4-6 pieces and serve. 
          For more easy recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"


  1. I hope you will give reviews/your takes on recipes from Splendid Soups. I book that book ages ago, but have been too much of a nervous Nelly to try any of them. For this recipe, do you recommend taking off the tail of the shrimp? I've seen some cooks who insist shells must stay on for flavor, but as an eater more than a cooker, I always am surprised to bite into a hard shell. Would appreciate your thoughts "Mom Mills". Thanks!

    1. I always remove every bit of shell from cooked shrimp. Some restaurants leave the shell surrounding the tail so that you can pick it up with your fingers, but that’s more for presentation.

      However if I’m cooking raw shrimp—which involves dropping them into a pot of boiling water for several minutes until they turn pink and become firm—I leave the shells on because they’re easier to remove when the shrimp are cooked. Raw, unpeeled shrimp are considerably cheaper than cooked, peeled shrimp.

      As for “Splendid Soups,” one of my favorite recipes from this book is Red Lentil Soup with Coconut Milk and Moghul Garam Masala, although I did make several changes to the ingredients. I used olive oil instead of butter and the ghee (which is basically butter), and I substituted 1/2 cup cream for the 1 1/2 cups coconut milk or yogurt. You can also skip the saffron if you don’t have any. Because of the lentils, you can use this soup as a main dish.

      Another favorite is Puree of Carrot Soup, although I didn’t bother with the croutons. I used the version that called for potatoes.