Yes, I know there's a Vogue book in there. Girl's gotta have a bit of glamour
If you could have a cookbook that was ‘you’, what would it be like? I don’t necessarily mean a book that you write; rather, what collection of recipes would reflect your tastes and desires, your style of cooking and eating, how you shop, harvest, cook, eat and think about food? What would be in it?
I started thinking about this when I was working my way along the cooking shelves of my local library. I’d pick out a book, the colour and words along its spine tempting me, the covers making me want to take it home before I’d even cracked open the pages.
I’m sure you’ve done the same thing in your library or a bookshop; flipped and thought oooh! Look at all these delicious meals! And then had a closer look and thought, in a disappointed fashion, hmmm, maybe not. Too much of this, not enough of that, is what I thought as I put the book on the shelf.
I recalled that most people only make three recipes from a cookbook. When most cookbooks, I think, have around 100 recipes in them, that’s not a good strike rate.
So imagine holding in your hands a cookbook that you’d make everything in it. What would it be like?
Chuck out all the rules. I must admit I’m amused by books that start with a breakfast chapter. Me, I eat the same thing every day: rolled oats, nuts, stewed fruit, soy milk; cold in the summer and warmed through in the cooler months. I’m apparently not alone: someone at work told me that when it comes to brekkie, most of us are creatures of habit; changing your breakfast choice is one of the most difficult things to do (especially before 7am). I cannot fathom making a different breakfast every day, even on the weekends. So no need for a breakfast chapter for me.
I wouldn’t have a soup chapter either. My mother is horrified that I recently confessed I wasn’t a big fan of soup. After years of her freezing little portions just for me, each time she made her own big batches! I like chewing things, and while I do enjoy mum’s soups (I do, mum, really!), I could never be bothered making my own. I tried once, and it was just soggy vegetables floating about in water. But then I reserve the right to be contrary: recently I made tomato soup. But it was pretty thick, so more likely I’ll use it as passata.
So let’s get on with what I would have. Lot’s of chunky, healthy salad recipes: substantial, colourful, nutritious, hearty bowls full of vegies, chickpeas or lentils, nuts, and some leafy green things — but not too much; remember, I like to chew. Salads that are main courses in disguise. Different textures and colours exploding from every gorgeous bowl, all assembled in a flash. I actually have pictures of these kind of meals, torn from magazines and stuck on my fridge, for constant inspiration. So a few pages in a book would be very satisfying.
Next would be a chapter that would inspire my weekend meals. Like things on toast or between two bits of bread, but better than what I do at the moment. I need my weekend lunches to be quick because I’m usually in and out of the garden, but I know I could jazz things up a bit. Something to get me out of my summertime cheese and tomato and basil rut (which is pretty good, but a rut nonethless).
The next savoury section would be dedicated to the oven, because I love my oven. I’m thinking colourful vegie gratins, filling pasta bakes (but not too stodgy), warming risottos, wibbly-wobbly quiches, rustic zucchini-scattered galettes. Like the salads, a good emphasis on good-for-you as well as good-tasting. The sort of dishes you make in the wintertime, on the weekend when you have more time (as opposed to those quick toss-it-all-together bowls in the salad chapter).
Then we have, of course, the cakes and puddings and sweety things. Very old-school, old-fashioned. No chai puddings or avocado-chocolate mousses here, nor fancily decorated three-tiered constructions, no celebration or ‘special occasion’ gateaux.
We’d have plain cake, lemon cake (which I now know you love too!), orange and apple cakes, one or two fail-safe chocolate cakes (because everyone needs a go-to chocolate cake). There’d be a small selection of boozy cakes, because you know I love soaking my sultanas in sherry, or sploshing some tia maria in the brownies. A selection of biscuits made for dunking in a mug of tea. And after-dinner fruit crumbles and bread and butter puddings; homely and comforting, a little bit stick-to-the-ribs. All very CWA and what-granny-used-to-make-on-Sundays. Because they are the kind of recipes I love looking at and that inspire me to get in the kitchen.
So there we are. Some of those recipes I’ve already collected here at Dig In, or I have squirrelled into folders, in my own kind of recipe book. But it would be good to have all my favourite and favoured recipes all in one place. I have no desire to write a cookbook (I’d be scratching to reach that target of 100 recipes), but it’s a fun process once you start plotting.
So do tell me: what would be in your cookbook?