Welcome to my cookbook uncluttering project. See, I’ve got 45 cookbooks, which is kind of a lot of cookbooks for someone who mostly cooks from the internet. A bunch of them I haven’t even used so I figured since I’m in no rush to finish the project, I’d try out a few recipes from each book (we gotta eat, right?) and get rid of the ones that weren’t the greatest.
However, we have already hit a slight snag. That being the fact that I really like cookbooks and at this point I’m an experienced enough cook to make just about anything work. Witness The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Cookbook. (That’s an affiliate link, but don’t go clicking it until you’ve read the review.) The book has a subtitle, but it’s an entire paragraph long, which is not a terrible metaphor for how this book cooks. It’s not for the faint of time and money.
The first recipe we tried was Roasted Garlic Yogurt Cheese Crostini. Here’s the recipe description:
Everyone should have a few signature, tasty bites they can whip up with on-hand ingredients when guests are expected. On the farm, we always have garlic bulbs hanging in the root cellar and an endless supply of goat milk. If you have some homemade goat milk cheese on hand, it’s easy to whip up a quick bite to share with unexpected guests.
Note the part there that says “if you have some homemade goat yogurt cheese on hand”.
Raise your hand if you typically have homemade goat yogurt cheese “on hand” in the event of “unexpected guests”.
Anyway, so assuming your guests don’t mind waiting EIGHT HOURS for you to drain the whey from the goat yogurt that you will probably need to visit a special store to procure, this was a fantastic recipe. Or, even if you do have some homemade goat yogurt cheese on hand, roasting the garlic still takes about 45 minutes to an hour. It also makes a pretty small amount.
We plowed through it in two sittings: one of “appedinner”, as my sister-in-law calls it, with a couple other starters from the book and one of nibbles during cocktail hour the night I made pork shoulder that took five hours in the oven. (That wasn’t Beekman’s fault though—that was José Enrique and it was super duper extra worth it.) I will make this recipe again, but probably just for entertaining or to bring to a party and I’d double or triple it. It’s just three ingredients plus olive oil, salt and pepper and if you, like me, keep roasted garlic in the freezer, comes together pretty fast after the whole whey-draining thing.
Which brings me to the basic problem with this book. I’m ridiculous as a cook. I have a lot of time, a lot of interest, a lot of weird ingredients on hand and I live in a place where we have a farmer’s market every day, several large well-stocked grocery stores and a bevy of international stores. Frankly, if I can’t get it in Northern Virginia, it can’t be gotten. So if I’m telling you that this book is ridiculous, expensive and only for people who want a project more than a meal, with my tolerance for recipe BS, you know this is a serious cookbook.
On to the next recipe: Dandelion Salad with Slab Bacon, Croutons, and Hot Bacon Dressing. Two problems with this recipe: first, it turns out I don’t like dandelion greens. They are bitter af. And I like other kinda bitter stuff. Collards? All good! These? WHEW. No thanks. That’s not the recipe’s fault though. What is the recipe’s fault is that it has you slice the slab bacon into inch-wide strips, then render the fat, then “crumble” it onto the finished salad. Lemme tell you, inch-wide bacon doesn’t crumble. The results were tough and unappetizing. Chester liked it though.
The third dish of appedinner night was Roasted Asparagus with Fried Eggs and Balsamic Drizzle. This dish was fast, easy, required no special equipment or weird ingredients and taught me a new way to cook fried eggs (cover them), which turned out to be my new favorite way to cook fried eggs. I’ll make this again, maybe even for breakfast.
Finally, we tried some of the main dishes from the book. The first was Lamb Burgers with Cucumber-Yogurt Sauce. We turned them into little meatballs instead of burgers, shoved them in pitas and doused them in sauce since the recipe kinda had you, what? Plop the “burger” on a plate and call it good? There’s no provision for putting the burger on any sort of bread in the recipe, which in my mind makes it a lamb patty, not a burger, but whatever. It was tasty, but I have several other lamb burger recipes I like better. One day I’ll write about Julia Turshen, but not today.
The final recipe I tried from the Beekman You’ll Be an Heirloom Yourself By The Time You Get to Eat Cookbook was the Pea Pod Risotto. This recipe has you start with three pounds of fresh pea pods, three carrots with tops and homemade chicken stock so already you’re almost guaranteed to spend at least an hour and a half hunting down pea pods and carrots with tops while your stock simmers. (Hint: make chicken stock in the crock pot. Or instant pot I guess but I don’t have one of those so I don’t know.) I make stock when I roast chicken and put it in the freezer so that’s not a big deal for me. But unless you’re as totally extra as I am, that’s not going to be a thing for most people.
After two hours of simmering pea pods, sauteing pancetta and other stuff, and stirring risotto, you’ll get this, which is admittedly delicious if sort of pea soup-ish in appearance.
I’d probably add the peas in a slightly different order than the recipe says next time just to keep them slightly brighter green, but I would make it again. Once a year. When I can get English peas in their pods at the farmer’s market, which otherwise isn’t a given as I couldn’t find them in any of our grocery stores. This is like the Smitten Kitchen ramp pizza I make once a year when ramps are in season (and if you don’t live in the mid-Atlantic, you probably can’t get them). It’s a harbinger of spring, which is pretty awesome, but not something I’m going to be willing or able to make all the time. Especially when I’ve got a dozen other risotto recipes I like just as well that aren’t nearly so labor-intensive or as, uh, green.
So that’s The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Cookbook. There are a lot of things to like about it. I like the seasonal structure because we do enjoy going to the local farmer’s markets and it’s fun to be able to use some produce that we don’t see any other time of year. I like that there’s a space for notes in the margins. I like that it’s an outlet for some of my more obsessive cooking impulses. Usually when I’m feeling like doing a cooking project as opposed to just making dinner, I bake a cake. This is healthier and (eventually) results in dinner.
There are also a bunch of things I don’t like about it. See almost everything above. Seasonal recipes can be a pain. Sourcing weird ingredients can get both time-consuming and expensive. Long cook times aren’t always convenient. Plus I’ll add a couple more. First, I’d never recommend this book to someone who wasn’t a very experienced cook and didn’t have a whole bunch of specialized equipment. Doug’s tiki habit meant we have cheese cloth on hand for draining whey. I have a regular blender, an immersion blender and two sizes of food processor, all of which I used in the making of one or more of these recipes. I have a microplane for zesting and a mandolin for creating parmesan shavings. Plus, the recipes include the number of servings, but do not include cook times. So you need to be able to read through the recipe and add the timing together in order to time out the recipe with others to fit your allotted schedule. And the instructions aren’t always entirely accurate or extensive. I didn’t make a ton of deliberate modifications, but I did have to make some on-the-fly adaptations (for example, when my risotto wasn’t quite done yet and I ran out of pea broth). A less-experienced cook would probably throw up their hands and call dinner ruined.
That said, I do have a lot of time sometimes, specialized equipment, interest in seasonal eating and a lot of kitchen experience so this cookbook is kind of perfect for me. I’ve got a lot of books on my shelf though and I suspect some of them will result in similar outcomes so while I’m not cutting this one yet, it’s on the chopping block. Am I keeping it? The verdict is:
Stay tuned for more cookbook reviews! I’m aiming for one a week. Next week’s will be a falling-apart paperback from 1967 that I might trash on aesthetics alone…except that the first recipe I tried out of it was bomb. In the meantime, here’s that asparagus recipe. So good. When I get this blog migrated over to WordPress I’ll type it all out, but for now, there’s this.