On a whim this weekend, I picked up this combination cookbook–food diary at the library: My Year in Meals by Rachael Ray. I then proceeded to basically read it cover to cover, twice.
I'm weirdly obsessed with it – weirdly because ... Rachael Ray? I obviously don't despise Rachael Ray as much as so many food people do or I never would have picked it up in the first place, but the recipes from her show and the other cookbooks I've seen tend to be cutesy and gimmicky, and she has all these annoying verbal tics like always calling sandwiches "sammies."
This book is different. It's a super-casual, almost bloggy approach to a cookbook. Instead of categorizing the recipes into appetizers, salads, fish, etc., the meals appear chronologically, like "JUNE 23 / BREAKFAST" and "JUNE 23 / DINNER." They aren't, for the most part, recipes that she developed for public consumption; they're family favorites or just the basic stuff that she actually cooks and eats at home (but sometimes for guests, so there are varying degrees of elaborateness). The photos are non-professional snaps she and her husband took themselves. Half the recipes are the kind of pseudo-recipes that I write: no amounts, just guidelines; everything is to taste.
What I love most about it is that it illustrates the way home cooks cook when they're not trying to impress anyone. We tend to make variations on the same meals over and over, especially within a three- to five-month period (I'm currently in a "taco period"). If you're like me and my girl Rach, you don't use recipes most of the time; you have certain templates in your head (like a vinaigrette template) and you vary it up based on what you have on the kitchen, what's in season, etc. So you might use lemon instead of sherry vinegar one day, garlic instead of shallots, etc. And there's something at work I like to think of as recursive cooking: using leftovers in a kind of "upcycling" fashion in new but familiar dishes. In Rachael Ray's case it often involves cooking an enormous hunk of meat and then later using the leftovers in some kind of soup or "sammie." Or cooking extra risotto so she can make arancini the next day. In my case I might make an herb oil to use up some on-the-edge cilantro and then use it in different applications throughout the week: in salad dressing, scrambled eggs, stirred into cooked rice, etc. Or I'll start a new slaw (for tacos) using yesterday's leftover slaw and adding some new ingredients. Or use leftover roasted broccoli as a topping for pizza. RR makes her own giardiniera and uses it in everything; I make a batch of salsa every week and use it in everything. It's a smaller-scale, evolving version of using the same starter in your sourdough for years/decades. Recursive, see?
It's the kind of cookbook I would want to write. And she's inspired me to make a kind of green huevos rancheros tonight using some leftover enchilada sauce (which I made last week with tomatillos, cilantro, jalapenos, sour cream, etc.) as a starter. Let's start a recursive cooking movement!