TND – Cooking the Book, or Not

April 25, 2013

barley & leeks

In my experience, Celebrity/Name Chef cookbooks tend to come in three varieties.

The first is what I call the ‘It’s more about the lifestyle than the recipes’ variety. Much as I love Ina Garten, this is where I put most of her cook books. I basically want to be Ina Garten – I want her house, her garden, and especially her pantry – but I find her cook books are more about an aesthetic than they are about new and/or interesting recipes. I don’t know that anyone needs another recipe for butternut squash soup, or for chicken salad, or strawberry shortcake. The genius in her books is providing inspirational aspirational pretty pretty pictures of food and friends. I’d also class Nigella Lawson (who I also love) in this phylum of the cookbook world.

Then there are the ‘Well, now I want to go to your restaurant’ cookbooks. These are cookbooks filled with recipes I will never ever make, but that make my mouth water. They are the cookbooks I close and then start plotting how to get to whatever restaurant that chef owns – I just flipped through Dirt Candy and now desperately want to go to New York to eat there (and it takes a lot to persuade me to go to New York – although, while I was there I suppose I could also go to Red Rooster in Harlem).

Why won’t I ever make these recipes? They call for ingredients I can’t even begin to imagine how I’d source (Mourad: New Moroccan). They require timing that I can’t pull off because I don’t have that many burners on my stove, or an inclination to be stuck in the kitchen while everyone else is enjoying a glass of wine in the living room. Or, they require so many separate component parts for each dish that just reading the recipe overwhelms me (Dirt Candy). She has a dish that’s a play on a traditional Chinese steamed pork bun that has you make a bun dough with carrot juice, and then stuff it with a roasted barbequed carrot filling, and then drizzle it with a carrot hoisin sauce, and serve it with a cucumber ginger salad and carrot halvah on the side. I really want to eat that, but just typing out all the component parts was exhausting, and basically I want someone else to do all that work for me. Or, the Smoked Cauliflower & Waffles which involves smoking some cauliflower, pickling other cauliflower, making waffles, making a horseradish cream sauce, and a maple arugula salad. It all sound fantastic and a lot fussier than I have any interest in making myself. Recipes/dishes like these are exactly why I go to fancy restaurants, so someone else can tantalize my palate.

Then there are the cookbooks that manage to hit that magic sweet spot between innovative and imaginative restaurant dishes that are still accessible to the home cook. Ottolenghi is good at this – I’ve book marked about 27 recipes from his two cookbooks (Plenty and Jerusalem) and to date I’ve made seven of them, some repeatedly. Ana Sortun’s cookbook Spice – she’s the chef/owner of one of my favorite restaurants in Boston (to which I’ve now actually been – it totally lived up to the hype!), Oleana also hits the mark. Admittedly so far I’ve only actually made one of them, but I have real concrete plans to make more at some point in time. Honestly.

Buttermilk Roasted Chicken
Butternut Squash Orzotto
Roasted Radishes
Green Beans

Buttermilk Roasted Chicken
(serves 4-6)


3 lb bone-in chicken pieces (I used legs & thighs)
2 cups buttermilk
1 lemon, zested & juiced
1 Tbsp rosemary, chopped (or 2 Tbsp fresh thyme or dill, or whatever floats your boat)
1 ½ tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

Mix all the ingredients together and marinate for at least 8 hours, or overnight.

Preheat your oven to 450.

Pat the chicken dry. Arrange on a lightly oiled (& lined for easy clean up) baking sheet. Roast for 35-40 minutes, or until cooked through and skin is super crispy.

Butternut Squash Orzotto
(serves 4-6)

I love risotto, but I never ever make it. Why? Because I think it’s fiddly, and time consuming, and frequently I don’t have enough stove space to have one pot of risotto going and another pot of simmering stock. So, any form of risotto or risotto-reminiscent/adjacent dish that doesn’t require me to stir constantly is going to be something that catches my eye. This particular recipe also uses shredded butternut squash to create a creamy texture/sauce for the orzotto, and we all know how I feel about butternut squash in things (very very positive, if you’re new here).

orzotto in progress

1 ½ lb butternut squash, finely shredded
Butter or olive oil
1 cup pearled barley
2 (small) leeks, chopped
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
¼ cup white wine
4 cups stock and/or water
1 tsp thyme, chopped (I think sage would be good too)
¼ tsp salt, or to taste
1/8 tsp pepper, or to taste
Juice of ½ lemon, or to taste
Splash of brandy or sherry
Drizzle of maple syrup or honey
Parmesan, for garnish

Shred the butternut squash in a food processor and reserve. I recommend using the smaller/finer shredder attachment if your food processor gives you two shredding size options. You could also grate the squash, but the food processor is faster, easier, and saves your knuckles. This will look like a ridiculously large quantity of butternut squash, but it cooks down.

Heat some butter or olive oil in a heavy pan and sauté the barley until toasted (about 2-3 minutes). Add the leeks and garlic and sauté until wilted. Add the white wine and cook until the liquid is almost completely reduced.

Add the shredded squash, the stock/water, thyme, and salt. Simmer uncovered for 30-40 minutes, or until the squash is tender and the barley is cooked, but still has a little chew.

Taste, and then season with lemon juice, brandy/sherry (if using), a little maple syrup, and additional salt/pepper as needed (I found it needed a lot of salt and pepper, but if you’re using a salted chicken stock you will probably need less).

Serve with parmesan cheese on the side.

Roasted Radishes
(serves 4-6)

Honestly I’ve just always wanted to roast a radish to see what happens. Verdict: Possibly more interesting in theory than in practice. They weren’t bad, they just weren’t exceptional either.

roasted radishes

1 lb radishes, trimmed
Olive oil
Lemon juice

Preheat oven to 425-450. Toss radishes with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper (halve the radishes if they’re large, but I had small radishes). Roast for 15-20 minutes, stirring once. Serve.



  1. I agree, Ina Garten has built an empire out of taking what are essentially the same set of recipes, and changing them around every couple of books/seasons of the show. That said, I love having some of her cookbooks- sometimes the recipe change-up really works (Roasted Potato Leek Soup), or it’s just nice to have a go-to book where you can be sure the end result will likely be successful.

  2. I also agree with your assessment of Ina Garten. I do have her “how easy is that?” book and have a few go to recipes in it. But the books after that just seem to recycle old tried and true recipes. The chicken in this post is on the menu list for tomorrow (when I have an oven again). And I just looked online for the Roasted Potato Leek Soup, and I have put it on the menu list for this weekend. The Crispy Shallots sound wonderful; but seriously – 1 1/2 cups of olive oil to cook them!

  3. […] Recipe previously given:  Cooking the Book, or Not […]

  4. […] Recipe previously given: Cooking the Book, or Not […]

  5. […] Recipe previously given: Cooking the Book, or Not […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: