Ode to Joy (of Cooking)
I must confess that, for years, I believed The Joy of Cooking to be a complete misnomer I was presented with a copy at my bridal shower, along with what was supposed to be a companion volume, The Joy of Sex I found little joy in either.I supposed that the instructions in either book would work, but there was simply nothing there to inspire me. It was the '8Os. Who needed The Joy of Sex when you could rent 9 1/2 Weeks? And I certainly didn't need any Joy of Cooking, once I'd seen the very large (in every way) Entertaining With Martha Stewart. There I found glossy photos of incireedibly green snow peas stuffed with herbed chevre. There I found flowers on trays and ribbons everywhere, tortellini on 6-inch skewers, and grilled sea scallops bound with chives. And there I saw Martha herself, beaming and beautifully coifed, living the life.It was the life I sought. No recipes for Jell-O salads and ground-beef Stroganoff, printed in tiny black-and-white type with timesaving tips. No, mine would be a life filled with shimmering foods adorned like precious jewels, opulent. Mine would be a life filled with fashionable peo pie and fashionable food.I'm not quite sure what happened next. I moved. I divorced. I moved some more. The Joy of Sex hit the trash can early in the journey, but somehow, the The Joy of Cooking always made the cut; it got packed, and it got unpacked again. Maybe it was because it was the proper size and weight. Paperback, easy to carry. More likely, it was the reassurance that, in this Joy, I could find a working recipe for practically anything American or Continental.I did not cook from it at home. Joy was more like a sourcebook, a chronicle of those not always fondly remembered foods from the days of Beaver Cleaver and I Love Lucy. I first found it truly helpful when I started cooking in a nutty establishment that took requests, frequenty from people of my parents' generation. OK, exactly what did a lady expect in her chicken divan? What, specifically, did a guy mean by cacciatore? Does anyone know how to blanch sweetbreads? The answers were always there. Without a flourish, without a fuss. Answers. How to do it. Sound advice. But little joy.Originally, Joy of Cooking was privately pub lished and distributed in 1931 from the home of its author, Irma S. Rombauer, a single mother in St. Louis who found herself in need of an income. As her grandson Ethan, author of the cookbook's latest incarnation, points out in his introduction, this was a time in which most of America's upper middle class was witnessing, with nothing short of horror, the end of centuries of domestic servitude. Housewives were being expected to cook, on a budget no less, and most of them simply did not know how. The Joy of Cooking legitimized an act that had, until very recently, been deemed suitable for only the hired help. "Joy" was a very hopeful word, a word substituted, perhaps, for "chore."Naturally, the then-modern conveniences such as instant gelatin and condensed canned soups were looked upon as lifesavers and glories of technology. Rombauer's daughter, Marion Rombauer Becker, served as her mother's recipe tester and as illustrator from the book's inception. Upon her mother's death in 1964, Marion Becker became, with the help of her husband and sons, the torchbearer for theJoy legacy. Her 1975 edition, the one with which I was presented in 1985, outsold all previous editions. And it remained the latest edition until this very year. In retrospect, I can understand why I found so little joy in Marion Becker's cookbook. Joy's system of symbols and its lack of enthusiasm weighed as heavily upon my soul as a high school physics text. But still, it is not without merit. That earlier Joy was a most extaaordinary source of knowledge, filled with an incredible intellect and deliciously dry humor. Marion Becker reveled in tossing about quotations from Samuel Johnson, Goethe, and Dorothy Parker (bonbons for an English major), and her opinionated instructions on entertaining put her in a league with Miss Manners and Ann Landers. Still, to me, the book had many shortcomings in the recipe department, things that simply did not taste as good as they should. Creole that lacked celery, savory aspics made with sweetened Jell-O, nothing made with enough garlic or fresh herbs to suit my palate.But that was 22 years ago. Think what has happened in American cuisine since 1975. For heaven's sake, there wasn't even any balsamic vinegar in America in 1975. Pesto was exotic, fish sauce was unknown outside of Chinatown, and chipotle peppers hadn't crossed the border from Mexico. Goat cheese was unclean and dangerous, and yogurt was considered a fad. In 1983, when I announced to my parents that I wanted to be a chef, they looked at me as if I liad proclainied exotic dancing to be my calling in life. So very, very much has changed.Ethan Becker, grandson to the original author ofJoy, grew up in the midst of these changes. His classical culinary education at Cordon Bleu influenced his mother and threw him into the explosion of modern American cuisine. When he inherited his family legacy, he took it upon himself to bringJoy into the present day. A new edition has just been published (Scribner, $30), and he has done his mama proud.Gone are the confusing symbols and cross references. Gone are the outmoded recipes and methods. Becker spent four years and engaged chefs from across the country to research this ambitious piece of art and history. Here is an incredible volume that celebrates everything glorious about food in America right now. Ethnic diversity, from North Africa to Vietnam, from Peru to Soviet Georgia, and Savannali, Ga., too. Here are proven techniques for tastier food, involving reductions, dry rubs, marinades, toasted spices, and other flavor-packed methods. Here, at last, is a Joy that is a joy. This volume sings with taste and romance. This is a cookbook to cuddle up with.It's still not too fashionable (black and white, no photos). It's about food, and lots of it. I have no idea what Ethan Becker looks like, what kind of car he drives, or what kind of pooch he walks. Becker is not selling himself In the case of Joy, we have a cookbook that is all about the food. At last.I leafed through the new Joy of Cooking and picked out a few recipes that could make a cozy winter's meal-a difficult selection, given the book's 1,136 pages. 1 believe, though, that these recipes reflect the modern, global perspective of the book as a whole. I know they are all delicious.To serve with drinks:Crisp Pecans(Walnut halves can be substituted in this recipe.) Bring to a boil in a large heavy saucepan over high heat:1/2 cup sugar1 teaspoon salt4 cups waterAdd:1 pound pecan halvesReturn to a boil, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Drain the pecans well, then spiead in a single layer on a baking sheet and let dry for one hour, tossing occasionally. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Lightly grease a bakings sheet with corn or safflower oil.Spread the nuts in a single layer on the baking sheet and roast, stirring occasionally, until crisp and golden, about 45 minutes. Let cool completely, then transfer to a mixing bowl. The pecans will keep, stored in a tightly covered container, for up to a week. Harissa-Seasoned Black OlivesIn a bowl, combine and toss to blend:2 cups best quality unpitted black olives (such as Nyons), drained2 tablespoons harissa, or to tasteSpoon the olives into a jar and shake to blend again. Store, covered and refrigerated, for at least a day before sampling and up to a month. To serve, bring to room temperature. (Joy of Cooking includes a recipe for the savory pepper sauce harissa, but you may purchase harissa inexpensively at most ethnic and specialty grocers.)For dinnerItalian Pot Roast (Sfraeotto)A classic of home cooking, stracotto changes from one part of Italy and from one family to another. The braising juices may be used to sauce pasta, and leftover stracotto makes excellent hot sandwiches, served on chewy rolls, moistened with pan sauce.Mince together:3 large cloves garlic1/4 cup tightly packed fresh parsley leaves 4 fresh sage leaves, or 1 teaspoon dried 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, or1 teaspoon driedSet aside half the mixture and mixthe rest with:1 tablespoon olive oil1/4 teaspoon ground black pepperMake about 10 deep slits in:1 beef rump roast (3 1/2 to 4 pounds)Stuff the slits with the oil and herb mixture. Heat in a 6-quart pot over medium high heat:3 tablespoons olive oilAdd the roast and brown on all sides until dark and crusty, about 20 minutes. Maintain the heat so that the meat sizzles but does not burn. Remove the roast from the pot and pour off all but 2 tablespoons of fat. Sprinkle the roast with:1 teaspoon saltReturn the pot to the heat and add:1 onion, chopped1 carrot, chopped1 celery stalk with leaves, chopped4 ounces mushrooms, wiped clean andthinly sliced1 bay leaf, brokenCook, stirring, until the onion is lightly browned. Stir in the remaining herb mixture and cook for 30 seconds. Add and boil until almost dry:1/2 cup dry red wine2 tablespoons tomato pasteStir in and boil until reduced to 1/2 cup: 1 cup dry red wine1 cup beef or chicken stockAdd the roast along with:one 28-ounce can whole tomatoes,drained and crushed1 cup dry red wine1 cup beef or chicken stockBring to a gentle simmer and cover the pot. Reduce the heat to its lowest setting. Cook the roast slowly, so that the liquid just barely simmers, for about two and a half hours. Turn the roast every 30 minutes or so. When the meat is tender, remove it to a platter and cover it. with aluminum foil to keep warm. Skim off any fat from the surface of the liquid. Taste and adjust the seasonings. If the sauce seems weak, boil it down for a few minutes. Slice the meat about a quarter-inch thick and moisten it with the braising liquid. Serve with: Soft Polenta with Butter and Cheese, or boiled potatoes. Soft Polenta With Butter and Cheese(This is the basic formula for stirred, soft polenta. For more flavor, replace up to half of the water with chicken stock. Makes about 4 cups; 4 servings.)Melt in a large saucepan over medium heat: 3 tablespoons butterAdd and cook, stirring, untiltranslucent, about 5 minutes:1/2 cup finely chopped onionsStir in and bring to a boil:3 cups waterStir together:1 cup water1 cup yellow cornmealGradually stir into the boiling water, reduce the heat to low, and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the cornmeal is very thick and leaves the side of the pan as it is stirred, about 25 minutes. Sprinkle with:2 tablespoons to 1/2 cup gratedParmesan cheese1 teaspoon salt, or to tasteServe this salad alongside the roast and polenta: Tart Green SaladCombine in a salad bowl:2 bunches arugula, tough stems trimmed, washed and dried, and torn into bite-sized pieces3 Belgian endives, washed, dried, cores removed, and cut crosswise into one-and-ahalf-inch-thick slices1 small head radicchio, washed, dried, and torn into bite-sized pieces Toss well to coat with:1/2 to 3/4 cup Fresh Herb VinaigretteServe immediately.Fresh Herb VinaigretteIf garlic flavor is desired, mash together until a paste is formed: 1 small clove garlic, peeled2 to 3 pinches of saltRemove to a small bowl or a jar with atight-fitting lid.Add and whisk or shake until well blended: 1/3 to 1/2 cup red wine vinegaror fresh lemon juice1 shallot, minced1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (optional)Salt and ground black pepper to tasteAdd in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly, or add to the jar and shake until smooth:1 cup extra-virgin oilAdd:1/3 cup minced or finely snipped fresh herbs (basil, dill, parsley, chives, and/or thyme).Taste and adjust the seasonings. Use at once and cover or refrigerate. Almost Classic (Pear) ClafoufiPreheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 10-inch deep-dish pie pan.Beat until frothy, about 2 minutes:4 large eggs3/4 cup sugarAdd and beat until smooth:1 cup milk1 tablespoon Cognac or rum(untraditional, but good with the custard) 2 teaspoons vanillaStir in:3/4 cup all-purpose flourPinch of saltDistribute over the bottom of the pie pan: 1 pound peeled, cored, and finely cubed pears Pour the batter over the pears and place the pie pan on a baking sheet. Bake the clafouti for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake until the top has puffed (it will sink on cooling) and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean-about 35 minutes more. Transfer to a rack and cool for about 20 minutes. Dust with powdered sugar. Serve in wedges.Martha Phelps Stamps is the author of The New Southern Basics.