Favorite cookbooks offer inspiration all year long

September 11, 2020

Depending upon the question I’m trying to answer, there’s a handful of cookbooks that I invariably turn to. For example, if I want the correct temperature for roasting beef or how long to cook a pork tenderloin, I’ll pull out “Joy of Cooking.” From its original 1931 edition to the 75th Anniversary volume published in 2007, one of its 4,500 recipes is sure to have the answer.

When I’m looking for a reminder on which spices to stir into a batch of jambalaya, it’s my stained copy of “The New Orleans Cookbook,” and when seeking inspiration for a special dinner, I’ll reach for Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” Over the years, I have added to my shelves of cookbooks, collecting titles by chefs, or on particular cuisines or specific ingredients.

One cookbook that has emerged as a new favorite was a gift from my friend Marie. “Local Flavors” by Deborah Madison has a subtitle that gives you a sense of what to expect from the pages inside – “Cooking and Eating From America’s Farmers’ Markets.” The author takes you with her as she visits local markets around the country throughout the changing seasons of the year.

The chapters are organized by food, with an array of mouthwatering color photographs of both the markets she visits and the dishes she makes. For example, halfway through the book, in the chapter titled Eggs and Cheese at the Market, there’s a recipe for egg salad where she advises which herbs to add based on the season.

I’ve tried many of her recipes and have typically enjoyed the result, from rainbow chard soup to ricotta frittatas to a cherry almond loaf cake. In most cases (and with most cookbooks) I try to follow the spirit of the recipes, although I may deviate from the letter. It’s reasonable to substitute one ingredient for a comparable stand-in when your pantry doesn’t cooperate, and you won’t significantly alter the flavor profile and texture.

For the dish in the photo, I turned to her recipe for Brussels Sprouts with Cauliflower and Mustard-Caper Butter, and started making changes. My first deviation was to swap out the lime-colored Romanesco for a standard head of deep-green broccoli. With the same textures and similar flavor, this seemed fair. The next thing I did was ignore her instructions for making the mustard-caper butter.

I tried to “pound the garlic in a mortar and pestle,” and found it impossible to get the pieces fine enough. Realizing I would be left with unprocessed chunks of garlic, I opted to finely chop the cloves and mix the bits with salt to form a paste, then stirred it into the softened butter with the seasonings listed in the recipe.

If you make this, be sure to follow the timing for blanching the vegetables, keeping them tender-crisp and not mushy. This is designed to be eaten warm; if you do have leftovers to refrigerate, be sure to reheat them to prevent the butter from clumping. The garlicky kick of the mustard sauce is a bright contrast to the steamed vegetables and would also pair nicely with grilled fish or chicken.

I’ve included my adaptation of the Brussels sprouts recipe here, as well as Deborah Madison’s delicious cherry-almond loaf that uses a food processor to build the batter.

Brussels Sprouts with Cauliflower & Mustard-Caper Butter

1 lb Brussels sprouts
1 small head cauliflower
1 head broccoli
2 peeled garlic cloves
1/4 t salt
6 T softened butter
2 t Dijon mustard
1/4 C drained capers
grated zest of 1 lemon
3 T chopped marjoram
white pepper, to taste

Trim and halve the Brussels sprouts. Cut the cauliflower and broccoli into bite-size florets, discarding large pieces of stem. Bring a large pot of water to boil over medium-high heat. Add Brussels sprouts and cook for 3 minutes. Add cauliflower and broccoli; cook an additional 5 minutes. Drain vegetables in a colander. While vegetables cook, make the sauce by finely chopping the garlic; place it in a bowl with salt and mix to form a paste. Stir in remaining ingredients; season to taste with white pepper. Return drained vegetables to pot and add sauce; toss to combine. *Adapted from Deborah Madison’s “Local Flavors.”

Cherry Almond Loaf Cake*

1 C blanched almonds
1 C plus 2 T flour
1 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1/2 C softened butter
3/4 C sugar
3 eggs
1/4 t almond extract
1/2 t vanilla extract
2 1/2 C pitted cherries
1 t sugar
confectioners' sugar, optional

Preheat oven to 375 F. Butter and flour a 5-by-8-inch loaf pan; set aside. Place the almonds in the bowl of a food processor and chop coarsely. Remove 1/4 C; set aside. Add flour, baking powder and salt to the almonds remaining in the food processor and pulse until smooth. Transfer mixture to a mixing bowl. Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of the food processor and pulse until creamy. Add the eggs, one at a time, incorporating each one. Add extracts and pulse to combine. Add half the almond mixture and pulse to incorporate. Add the remaining almond mixture and pulse until smooth. Pour batter into prepared pan and cover with cherries in an even layer. Mix the reserved almonds with 1 t sugar and sprinkle over the top. Bake until a tester comes out clean, about 1 hour and 10 minutes. Allow to cool in the pan before turning out on a serving plate. Dust with confectioners’ sugar, if desired. *Adapted from Deborah Madison’s “Local Flavors.”

Subscribe to the Daily Newsletter