Winter: a good time to curl up beside a toasty fire and study gardening books and catalogs; but also a good time to peruse new potentials for the cookbook shelf. A word of advice though: run the books by the whole family before giving them space in your permanent recipe file. This task can be entertainingly accomplished through an in-home read-aloud thanks to your local library.
Case in point: I checked out a recipe book that looked like a perfect match for us. Not only was the word "farm" in its title, but its author was pictured on the cover, leaning on a shovel and wearing that satisfied gardener's look of endorphic joy. While this collection of recipes did explore culinary options with squash and cabbage, rhubarb and rutabagas, it also called for some rather exotic ingredients.
"Support local farmers using these recipes? Maybe when we live in Northern Italy."
This type of initial spousal feedback is invaluable as you determine a cookbook's appropriateness for your book shelf.
Some of those exotic ingredients (to the Midwestern backyard gardener, that is) I could explain to my family. Quinoa, for example, is a grain. I knew this in theory from gardening books I've studied. I even tried to grow it one year, bu couldn't find anyone local selling seeds.
Then there were those things I didn't recognize at all, like gramolata. When I mentioned that one to the family, I got this for feedback: "You mean that stuff's real? I thought it was just made-up on that farmlife video game you play."
I read further down the recipe. "Oh...why that's just minced parsley, garlic and lemon zest. That's not so unusual. But what's this osso bucco you're supposed to sprinkle it on?" I lamented my ignorance. (Now, thanks to Wikipedia, I know that this would indeed represent a typical farmhouse dish should I ever live in 19th century Milan.)
Recipe-testing Hubby reassured me my ignorance was not so unique. "I dare you to go ask the lady at the grocery store about it, you know the one with the gray bouffant hairdo? Ask her to point you toward what you need for osso bucco because you have some gramolata you want to sprinkle on it. I bet she won't have a clue either!" So supportive! But I still wonder if my own ignorance is not common to society. Maybe if we ate more veal, or served dinner to more diplomats and statesmen...
SO, do ignorance and inaccessibility spell the death knell for this cookbook at my house? Probably, but a few of the recipes will make it into the personal file of singular recipes, and some give a distinctive tweak to recipes already stored in my memory file. The book as a whole, however, would be impractical for a family such as mine. In fact, the whole flirtation with these recipes helped me hone a list of points to remember when considering a potential relationship with a new cookbook:
1. I don't grind fresh nutmeg.
2. The liberal use of parentheticals is a plus as in: polenta (coarse corn meal.)
3. A recipe has to be really good for me to take the time and trouble to do something like pit 1 1/2 pounds of ripe cherries or scour the city for fresh figs.
4. I've never braised a squid in my life, and particularly not according to any particular recipe ethnicity. (Just what exactly makes it Spanish-styled, anyway?)
5. If I go to the trouble of digging the ice cream maker out of storage, I'm probably going to succumb to making rich, home-churned ice cream rather than restraining it to a concoction of red grapefruit sorbet.
6. Some recipes are exotic enough I might be able to get away with them once, but that would surely be the end of it...take for instance, something that calls for candied kumquats. Hubby's response to my query on this recipe's potential: "I don't know. I've never had kumquats, so I don't know why I hate them yet."
7. If I'm going to knead dough for 10 minutes, I'm making bread. Period. I'm not risking all that wrist-inflaming labor on a sweet potato ravioli that could very well wind up as, at best, the dog's evening meal.
8. Hubby's reaction to my offer to cook asparagus flan: horrified eyes above a tongue hanging out while the sound "Blaah-aah-aah" rises from deep in his throat.
9. When I read the words "non-reactive container" my first thoughts run toward nuclear radiation threats.
10. Sometimes the pictures don't help. Take, for instance, the one of artichokes stuffed with the carefully crafted, home-made breadcrumbs of day-old French bread. "Looks like you dropped it in wet sand, tried to brush it off, and when that didn't work you stuck a slice of lemon on top and just served it anyway."
11. I'll most likely skip saving a recipe if typing its name requires multiple symbols not available on a standard word processing program.
12. Speaking of recipe names, if a guest should ask what I'm serving, I'd like to be able to get the answer out in one breath, and preferably not have to restate it "in English."
13. When I asked Hubby whether I should try making us the homemade mayonnaise, he gave me a speculative, "would I die for this" look before giving me a determined, "No."
14. Everything I know about rampion I learned as a child reading the story of Rapunzel. I have no idea how to get it for a recipe. Would regular radishes work? (See comment #2.)
15. If the final product looks like a Quonset hut, my intention had better be to create a playground for imaginative play with little green army men rather than haute cuisine, because the little green army men are what I'm going to find on my table soon after serving it.
16. And finally...Almond flour?
Don't take my jesting as too poor a review. I'm certain this book is absolutely right when it self-proclaims its "elegant, and simply marvelous" offerings. But in the astute words of recipe-assessing Hubby:
"If I've learned one thing from this experience, it is this: I have a pedestrian palate." And winter is the best time to run such an inventory.