Saturday, January 4, 2014

A New Year, a New Cookbook and a Jar of Marinated Cheese

Recently I purchased a copy of David Tanis' new cookbook One Good DishIt was a spur of the moment decision.  I really don't purchase a lot of cookbooks anymore.  The market is a bit glutted—and there are of course the many, many food blogs to look to for ideas and recipes.  The only reason I purchased this one is I needed to add something to my Amazon order so I could get free shipping (I wonder how many of us do that...and how much higher the average Amazon purchase is because of it?...).  There was much to say in favor of choosing this book:  I have one of Tanis' other cookbooks and the recipes are sound...and his attitude toward food and cooking is similar to mine.  The fact that this was not a menu driven cookbook...but rather a cookbook of small plates and essential "go to" favorites appealed to me a great deal.  (Who wouldn't want a cookbook that includes such a talented chef's favorites?)  Finally, it was not outrageously expensive. The decision to click "add to cart" was an easy one.

I didn't really get around to opening my new cookbook until I had a brief quiet moment to myself on Christmas morning.   And I was totally drawn in.  It has been so long since I laid my hands on a cookbook and then, after a brief glance, was so engaged that I wanted to sit down and read the whole thing. The last time I felt this way about a cookbook was when I purchased a copy of Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food...and since that was published in 2007, it really has been a while. 

One Good Dish is of course a book with recipes....but more than that it is a philosophy of cooking and eating.  The recipes are simple and often spontaneous (his polenta pizza came together when he pulled a slab of firmed up leftover polenta out of the fridge one noontime)...the flavors straight forward and clean.  I don't know if there are chefs who regularly prepare complicated multi-course meals for themselves when they cook at home...but I certainly do not.  This book is filled with ideas for preparing really good dish at a that every meal can be a pleasure.

Since it is not my job...or my write cookbook reviews, I'll say no more about the specifics of this book.  Instead, I will share the first recipe that I have made from it:  Marinated Cheese in a Jar. 

It is a great example of the practical, flavorful and elegant recipes that fill this book.  I love Montrachet-style goat cheese.  Unfortunately, once opened the cheese needs to be used fairly quickly before it begins to taste bitter or sour.  Submerging the cheese in an herb-infused olive oil not only extends its shelf life, it adds wonderful flavor.  When I saw the picture in the book I had a sort of "Duh!" moment since I have actually used purchased jars of marinated goat cheese in the past...I don't know why it never occurred to me to marinate it myself.    

To prepare marinated cheese in a jar, cut the log of goat cheese into fat rounds (1- to 2- inches thick) and place in a jar along with some herbs (well washed and dried) and spices.  Cover with olive oil.  Refrigerate.  That's it.  The cheese can of course be eaten immediately, but it is best after it has had about a week to sit in the infused oil.  Tanis says that you can keep it for a month.  I'm not sure mine would ever last that long.  You may use it however you like, but it is particularly delicious in a salad or smeared on crusty bread.  The oil is of course delicious, too.  

In his recipe, for every half pound of goat cheese (or Feta), Tanis adds a few sprigs each of thyme and rosemary, a bay leaf, two cloves of garlic that have been peeled and halved, and a few black peppercorns.  He specifies that you will need about a cup of olive oil...but you should just add oil until the cheese is submerged.  In my version, I omitted the garlic (it is a bit strong this time of year) and added some toasted fennel and coriander seed along with the black peppercorns. A few hot pepper flakes would be nice too if you want to add some heat.  Winter Savory would be a delicious addition to, or replacement for, the thyme and rosemary.  Obviously you could add anything you long as you keep it simple.

Inspiration is an elusive thing.  It comes at the most unexpected moments.  As I have paged through my new book, I have felt inspired.  What a nice little gift my serendipitous "free shipping" purchase turned out to be.  So as the new year unfolds, I look forward to finding more my new book....and where ever else it may happen to appear.  And I hope that in 2014 you too will find new inspiration.  Inspiration that draws you into your kitchen...  to cook food you love....  to share with the people you love.  Happy New Year.       

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