Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Cook the Books 2013 - Wrapping up with Homemade Pantry

The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying & Start Making by Alana Chernila was the perfect choice to close out our amazing year of Cook the Books 2013 Cookbook Challenge. I'm not sure how an entire year, or 12 cookbooks for that matter, have gone by already, but here we are.

As much as I appreciated learning so many new things in the kitchen, I came to most value reading other participants' posts. Along with intros, recaps, and more from our fearless leaders: Meg of Grow & Resist and Brigg of Ohbriggsy!. Each month, each post revealed different approaches, which recipes appealed, which ones flopped  literal food for thought. They also gave me personal insight into my fellow cooks; making this communal project influence me in the best of ways. New friends, new perspectives, lots of good food!

And, I think I am going to use Angela and J.K.'s  idea of cooking through cookbooks we already own in the coming year. This will be the perfect way to continue the method, while either weeding out my overflowing cookbook library, or discovering new favorites already on the shelves.

Usually I recap the recipes in the order I made them during the month, but this go around I am going to lead off with the ones I liked best.

Beef Stew
This was nice and hearty with simple but satisfying flavors. I used fancy beef which may seem contrary to stew tradition, but it sure made for tender chunks of tasty beef. I think the key steps here are the drying of the beef (tip of the hat to Julia), and crusting the pieces in the paprika-spiced flour mix before browning. I went with 1/3 red wine and 2/3 beef broth which is the right balance in my opinion.

Cereal Bars (Car Snack 1) 
These turned out great! Not only were they super easy to make, they last well in the fridge and make for a perfect snack on the go. They were also excellent impromptu gifts, requiring just the addition of parchment paper wrapping and a bow. I didn't have enough sliced almonds on hand, so toasted some pumpkin seeds to make up the difference which I liked a lot, and would probably go half/half on next time. Any mix of dried fruits will do, but the mix of coconut, apricot, cherries, cranberries and a little bit of mango was a winner. I also recommend sprinkling a layer of Maldon salt over the top before you put them in the fridge to set. Yum!

Chocolate Pudding 
Previous posts have revealed my love of pudding, so I won't rhapsodize again here. A dramatic cooking mishap unfortunately intervened in my pudding making this time though...I dropped my iPhone into boiling milk, sugar and corn starch. Miraculously, my phone survived! My pudding on the other hand got a bit overcooked, so it set more firmly than I would have liked. Still, this pudding I liked a lot.

Peanut Butter
So easy! Why have I not made my own peanut butter before?!? That is the beauty of a book like this. Per the nut butter recipe, I started with raw peanuts and roasted them lightly. Perhaps not enough, as this had a very unroasted, raw nut flavor. Which was nice, and rather unusual, but I'd go for a bit more time in the oven for my tastebuds next time. Also, I recently scored some spiced peanut butter at the food swap, and see myself definitely experimenting with some chile pepper enhancements down the line.

Buttermilk Ranch Dressing
This is another great use for extra buttermilk. I am not the biggest ranch dressing fan honestly, but the boyfriend is. I reduced the amount of mayo, and used some sour cream instead, which lightened it considerably and made it much more to my liking. I imagine using plain yogurt would work great too. This was awesome on a smoked trout salad.

Potato Leek Soup
A straightforward soup, which always pleases me. Even more so with the addition of bacon! I also used less milk than called for, since overly creamy soups are not my thing. A solid soup recipe to have on hand.

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
This was my least favorite recipe/result. The roasted garlic flavor overwhelmed, though I did wing it a bit on proportions, so maybe that was my fault...

Fruit Gelatins: Black Currant and Peach 
I'm cheating a bit here, as I actually made these for the October food swap. But, since they are from this book, I'm including them with full disclosure. Choose your juice flavor wisely — I recommend a clear juice (not something thick like nectar), and something you really like the flavor of as that is basically what these will taste like. Actually, I wonder what you might use to give these a little bit of a flavor boost? Some kind of extract or booze or infusion might be just the thing to make these magnificent.

Many of the staples in this book I have made, or make regularly already, but my biggest regrets this month are not getting to the Toaster Pastries or the Fig Bars. Alas. But, I am inspired for an awesome yogurt flavor I will post on in the new year. Which is literally upon us! Farewell 2013...you delivered a lot of good cooking and good times.

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