For December’s book club pick, we were free to read any cookbook we wanted or highlight a favorite standby. So, I picked out A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table by Molly Wizenberg, otherwise known as the woman behind the blog Orangette (and fellow Pacific Northwest citizen- she lives in Seattle and has a restaurant there Delancey). I thought it would encourage you to read the book. I want to also visit her restaurant next time I’m in Seattle (and, I want to read her next book, Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage).
I don’t know if this really counts as a cookbook, though it does offer 50 recipes. It’s just that instead of the traditional just all recipes with beautiful photos, these come with lots of stories with each recipe. I guess it’s a book-cookbook.
What I love about this is that instead of photos to entice you about each recipe, the book offers a little slice of her life and the emotional connection of what this recipe means to her – and which can also persuade you just as much as a styled photo.
She is writing exactly as the posits in her introduction: “When we fall in love with a certain dish, I think that’s what we’re often responding to: that something else behind the fork or the spoon, the familiar story that food tells”.
This is a book I like to revisit. All the chapters are short- just a handful of pages each- which made this book very much like one of short stories. It does proceed chronologically from first being introduced to her family and father in her youth, her adult awakening in Paris, the crushing passing of her father (I got teary-eyed on the plane as I was reading it and had to put it down for reflection/calming down in public), and then her romance with the man who would become her husband. There is a certain formula to each chapter, revolving around a personal memory that is told and then ending the chapter with a related recipe from that story.
That’s a very high level summary- but what really sets Molly apart in her writing is how personal she makes each story in a vulnerable and honest way that touches the reader and takes you with her. I did get teary eyed at some chapters of the book, and felt exhilarated with a sense of adventure and like I need a trip to Paris at other times.
A lot of the recipes do happen to be desserts, and I’m not really a baker so I didn’t bookmark those, but there are some savory recipes as well, and many are pretty homey and easy- such as one with Pain Au Chocolat (more like a formula of bread and chocolate), or another for buckwheat pancakes or french toast or a scrambled egg with goat cheese. She introduced me to eating radishes and butter with a sprinkle of good salt.
Other examples she shares include:
- Her dad’s potato salad (Burg’s Potato Salad)
- Custard Filled Corn Bread
- Her mom’s Blueberry-Raspberry Pound Cake
- Coeur A Le Creme with Raspberry Puree (haven’t seen that in a long time!!)
- Hoosier Pie (a pecan pie with chocolate and bourbon)
- Vanilla Bean Buttermilk Cake with Glazed Oranges and Creme Fraiche
- Rum Pie with Graham Cracker Crust
- Bouchons Au Thon
- Roasted Eggplant Ratatouille
- Italian Grotto Eggs
- Slow Roasted Tomatoes with Coriander – which she recommends with many things, be it cheese souffles or pesto pasta or in a sandwich with basil, arugula and goat cheese. You can make them into a pasta sauce, or just eat with crusty bread and wedge of blue cheese. She also offers a recipe for Slow Roasted Tomato Pesto.
- Fennel Salad with Asian Pear and Parmesan
- Butternut Soup with Pear, Cider and Vanilla Bean… and more!
There are so many recipes that put together unique combination of flavors but are prepared simply. The one I decided to try and share with this book review is from a chapter where Molly writes about cream, and the accompanying recipe is for a Creamed Cabbage. I and never heard of such a thing, so had to try it. A creamed vegetable side dish sounds wonderful for the holiday month and the fact it is winter anyway. This recipe is typical of many in the book where it is simple but thoughtful and filling.
Cream Braised Green Cabbage
This recipe calls for a small cabbage, as Molly notes small ones are often sweeter and more tender than their big-headed siblings. You can certainly use any size you want, as long as you make sure each wedge is no thicker than 2 inches at its outer edge, and only use as many wedges as fit into a single layer in the pan, so the cabbage cooks properly. I walked around the whole Farmers Market trying to find the smallest one and only found a medium one, so that left me a wedge after I filled the pan for a future wedge salad. Molly also notes that you can try this recipe on halved or quartered Brussels sprouts.
- 1 small green cabbage (about 1 1/2 pounds)
- 3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter
- 1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
- 2/3 cup heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- Prepare the cabbage by pulling out any bruised leaves, and trim its root end to remove any dirt. Cut the cabbage into quarters, and then cut each quarter in half lengthwise. When you but, make sure you keep a little bit of the core in each wedge to hold the wedge intact so that it doesn’t fall apart in the pan. You should wind up with 8 wedges of equal size. Again, make sure that each wedge is no thicker than 2 inches at its outer edge. You will only use as many wedges as fit into a single layer in the pan so the cabbage cooks properly.
- In a large (12-inch) skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the cabbage wedges, arranging them in a single crowded layer with one of the cut sides down. Allow them to cook, undisturbed, until the downward facing side is nicely browned (the more brown the more sweetly caramelized), 5 to 8 minutes or to your liking of brownness . Then, using a pair tongs (I used tongs and a spatula), turn the wedges onto their other cut side to brown.
- When the second side has browned, sprinkle the salt over the wedges, and add the cream. Cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid, and reduce the heat so that the liquid stays at a slow, gentle simmer. Cook for 20 minutes, then using tongs, flip the wedges. Cook another 20 minutes, or until the cabbage is very tender and yields easily when pierced with a thin, sharp knife.
- Add the lemon juice, and shake the pan to distribute it evenly. Simmer, uncovered, for a few more minutes more to thicken the cream to a glaze that loosely coats the cabbage. Serve immediately. Molly recommends serving with salt at the table, but F is not a huge fan of salt so we went with lots of cracked pepper instead.
I have to admit visually, the Creamed Cabbage perhaps isn’t quite as pretty as other creamed vegetable dishes (I’m thinking particularly of creamed corn and spinach). However, the flavors are so good it is worthwhile to make this dish. The cabbage becomes sweet and nutty. And this dish is so easy to do – not much prep, and easy to manage as a side dish while multi-tasking other dishes in your kitchen.
If you are interested in the online book club the Kitchen Reader, the gist of our casual club is there is a new book selected for every month, each book is related to food, and members write a review on their blog during the last week of that month. Except for December which is open-ended, it’s interesting to read the round-up of reviews at the beginning of the month and see what other members have thought!
For January the book club selected reading is Food Gurus by Stephen Vines. It’s a book about food gurus and is more of an anthology of exploring various people and trying to understand what makes them a food guru: their recipes, the personality, the circumstance, etc.