My friend, Debbie, has over 100 cookbooks. I can’t even begin to imagine how she knows what is in them all much less the one or two favorite recipes in each one. Writing a cookbook sounds relatively easy– just get a bunch of great recipes together and there you go. Not so easy.
I took a cooking class a few years ago from Jean Francois Meteigner, Chef and owner of La Cachette Bistro in Los Angeles and previously, the celebrated Chef at L’Orangerie in Los Angeles. Like any good cooking class student, I came armed with his cookbook, “Cuisine Naturelle,” for him to sign, which he gladly did. When I asked him if he was going to write another cookbook, he said “Absolutely NOT! It was the worst experience of my life and I will NEVER do it again!” He went on to tell me is that he cooks by taste, smell, sight and experience. Doing the cookbook required him to write down the precise measurements and processes, something that is just a sixth sense for him. It just took much of the creative joy out of developing the cookbook. For him it was like writing an unchanging script by someone who changes the script with each time he makes the dish. As I watched him cook that day, I understood exactly what he meant – what makes chefs like Jean Francois so extraordinary is that they are truly culinary artists. Each creation is just a little different every time, but always spectacular. Then, there are the mere mortals like me who need a playbook to be adventuresome in the kitchen.
My favorite cookbooks are ones that are focused on a theme, whether it is a particular ethnic cuisine or a course of the meal. I was in Williams-Sonoma several weeks ago and a new cookbook caught my eye. It was just a small book, but after leafing through a few pages I knew I had to have it and would make every recipe in it – “For Every Season There is a Salad” by Linda Steidel. What I love about this book is that it is organized by season: Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring, with each section’s recipes using the ingredients in season at their peak of freshness. What is also great is that Linda has other types of recipes that are accompaniments to salads.
I made two of the recipes from this cookbook for our Easter Dinner this year. The one from the Spring section was “Butter Lettuce with Cucumber Ranch Dressing and Cherry Tomatoes”. This is a wonderfully thick and tangy dressing and can also be used as a sauce accompanying grilled lamb chops. I also served the recipe from the Summer section, “Tomato and Onion Tart”. Both were the stars of the meal. I hope you enjoy these simple, delicious recipes…and oh yes, buy the cookbook!
Butter Lettuce with Cucumber Ranch Dressing & Cherry Tomatoes
2 heads butter or Boston lettuce
1 box cherry or grape tomatoes
Cucumber Ranch Dressing (Makes 2 1/4 cups)
1 medium cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded and grated on the large holes of a box grater
1 tbsp finely chopped shallots
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup low-fat buttermilk
1/4 cup mayonnaise
3 1/2 tbsp fresh lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
1 1/4 tsp salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper
3 tbsp finely chopped flat leave parsley
3 tbsp finely chopped fresh chives
Stir together cucumber, shallot, sour cream, buttermilk, mayonnaise, lemon juice, salt, cayenne, parsley and chives in a medium bowl. Season with additional salt or cayenne pepper, if desired. Dressing can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
Tear the leaves of the lettuce and add to a bowl with the tomatoes. Add about 1/2 cup of the dressing until all of the leaves are lightly coated.
Tomato and Onion Tart
2 large onions (about 1 1/2 lbs.) sliced thinly
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 lb. Gruyere cheese shredded (about 2 cups)
1/2 lb. plum tomatoes cut into 1/2 inch wedges
1/2 lb. medium yellow tomatoes (or 1/2 lb. plum tomatoes if yellow tomatoes are not available) cut into 1/2 inch wedges
1/4 cup Nicoise olives, pitted
One recipe for butter pastry dough (I used the Pillsbury prepared pie crust dough from the refrigerated section in the grocery and it worked just as well)
Butter Pastry Dough
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter cut into bits
6 – 7 tbsp ice water.
In a large heavy skillet cook onions with salt to taste in oil, covered over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 20 minutes (I added 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves and it was amazing). Remove lid and cook onions, stirring occasionally, until golden and any liquid evaporates. Remove skillet from heat and cool onions slightly.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into a 14 inch round. Transfer to a 12 inch tart pan or a 12 inch quiche dish (DON’T use a smaller pan than 14 inches, the tart will be too thick when filled and will not cook properly). Spread onion mixture over the dough and top with cheese. Arrange tomato wedges and olives in concentric circles over cheese and season with salt and pepper.
Bake tart in middle of oven 1 hour, or until pastry is golden, cool on a rack. Remove rim of tart pan. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Butter Pastry Dough
In a food processor mix the flour and salt together. Add the butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until mixture begins to form into a dough. Form dough into a disk and chill for 30 minutes.