Monday, November 07, 2005

If you were stranded on a desert island for 6-months, which cookbook would you bring?

There are about 350 cookbooks in my collection at the moment which may seem like a lot, but I can easily think of 300 more cookbooks that I don’t have and would like to add… Obviously, bringing crates of cookbooks on the boat is not an option. So, I have to decide on five or six that I will be able to use over the next six months. This is not an easy decision.

I’ve decided to bring one “general-purpose” cookbook; something simple to use as a quick reference for a birthday cake or clam chowder; then, three or four ethnic and/or specialty cookbooks and one high-end cookbook. The main requirement of each cookbook being that it has to be practical. As much as I love Gray Kunz ”The Elements of Taste” or the cookbook from “French Laundry”, my access to specialty ingredients and equipment is limited. Also, I’ll be cooking in a less than ideal environment; ie, Caribbean heat and humidity; which would make the more delicate recipes difficult at best. My boys on the boat are big fans of Asian cooking but personally, I can do without Chinese. Too many oily, cornstarch and soy sauce smothered vegetables and sticky-sweet, hart-burn inducing fried meats have turned me off for life. I much prefer Thai or Japanese.

Of the ethnic and specialty books, I’ve decided on “True Thai” by Victor Sodsock and “Simply Ming” by Ming Tsai.

I chose “Simply Ming” for its focus on marinades, rubs, sauces, chutneys, dressings, infused oils, etc. Although I have yet to cook out of this book, I was definitely intrigued by the table of contents alone. The beautiful, bright and festive pictures were a draw too, but I love making curry pastes and sambals and experimenting with Asian spices so I only wonder why I didn’t find this book sooner! It seems like it will provide hours and hours of experimentation and fun in the kitchen.

The recipes in "True Thai” are practical, fun and delicious. The soups have kept me warm through many a winter and I love the seafood recipes from this book. There’s a great section in the book called “Cooking with a Thai Accent” which gives some pointers and tips when experimenting with fusion cooking and I just generally love this book.

My cookbook collection is a bit lacking in the Japanese dept. so I think that I’ll have to run to the bookstore and get one more to fill in…

The jury is still out on which Middle-Eastern cookbook to bring. I’m torn between Paula Wolferts “Cooking of the Eastern-Mediterranean”, “Mediterranean Grains and Greens” and Claudia Roden’s “The New Book of Middle-Eastern Food”. One Middle-Eastern cookbook that will be going with me however is a book from my grandmothers church. It’s bound by red plastic rings, with a well-worn red cover that says, “Magic Cookery” in gold lettering and with a magic lantern embossed on it. They are the old family recipes that I grew up with; Kibbe, Baba Ganooj; Tabouli, Namoora, Baklawa, Talmee Za’atar; Knafee, etc. Of course, included are also recipes for jello molds, Chicken “a la king” and Lobster Thermidore and the chances of me making any of those are slim to none, but the Lebanese recipes are priceless. It’s the food I know and love and whenever I cook them for anyone it is met with praise and I have yet to find another middle-eastern cookbook that has anything close to my grandmothers cooking...

Of the general-purpose cookbooks, I’ve decided on the “Gourmet Magazine Cookbook”. The recipes are fail proof, and are more modern, and have more of a gourmet element to them than “Joy of Cooking”. Plus, a friend of mine was a recipe tester for the book. So, if something doesn’t work, I can always email him and give him a hard time. ;o)

For desserts, I’ve chosen “The Last Course” by Claudia Flemming. The book covers a wide variety of ingredients and desserts and is well organized. The ingredients aren’t anything out of reach considering the environment I’ll be working in and there is a lot of focus on tropical fruits that should give me some inspiration for the local ingredients in St. Barth’s.

And finely, of the high-end cookbooks I’ve decided on Eric Ripert’s “A Return to Cooking”. This book really struck a note with me from the moment I opened it. There are four sections; Sag Harbor, Puerto Rico; Napa and Vermont. Puerto Rico and “West Indies Improv” section piqued my interest for obvious reasons and should provide some good inspiration for Caribbean ingredients; Napa, of course, reminds me of home; Sag Harbor reminds me of cooking the Hamptons in the summertime and Vermont just reminds me of the wonderful bounty of the North East the other three quarters of the year… The stories, recipes and pictures in this look book seem as lush and beautiful as Ripert’s cooking so I look forward to trying them…

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