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This is the sixth installment of Sunday Dinners, a biweekly column from our own Tom Hirschfeld featuring his gorgeous photography, stunning Indiana farm, and mouthwatering family meals.
Today: Tom takes a long, hard look at his stack of cookbooks.
I used to read a lot of cookbooks. Not in the literary sense; no, I simply read them for the recipes and then tossed them back onto the stack. I feel guilty about this past -- whenever I read a novel I usually skip all the preliminary stuff too. No preface, no foreword, no nothing. I go right to chapter one, or in the case of a cookbook, the first recipe. When one of the first novels I remember reading gave away the story in the first few pages of the foreword, I distinctly remember thinking, "I won't do that again." So it has become habit to just skip to chapter one.
In the early days of my cooking, I would buy into any cookbook because of its glitz and glamour. What eventually happened was that the more books I looked to, the less they seemed different. It had been all about the cover, but now the cover wasn't enough. Fortunately, as my cooking matured I began to know what I was looking for. All of the sudden I wanted depth and substance -- I was no longer in a hurry to start scouring the pages for something new. Instead, I wanted to develop a relationship. I wanted to have a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and casually flip through the pages of a cookbook looking for a new way to use an ingredient, a recipe I'd never heard of, or a new technique. But there was more.
As it turns out, I want a book with voice. Someone I want to hear from page after page. A writer who I feel is in the kitchen with me, building a kinship of similarities not just with their taste in food, but with their story. To put it simply: I look for a long term relationship with my cookbooks. As with any relationship, it isn't going to be perfect. There will be rough spots in the road, times when we don't pay enough attention to each other. But in a very real way, I have faith and trust that we will reconnect. Maybe the short break allows me time to see new beauty in a recipe I've overlooked for all these years, or more often to remember all the things I love about the old ones. It is much nicer to grow old together. It is comforting. I don't want to go out and replace the same book with a new one. I want all the blemishes, stains, and notes in the margins that represent our history together. It tells me we have gone places and that we still like the same things, and reminds me of all the memories we have built together.
If someone asks me with whom I would want to be stranded on a desert island, my first answer is always my wife, Amy. I don't say it because I am supposed to, but because I can't imagine a better person with whom to spend that time. When I'm asked about cookbooks I wouldn't want to be without, I feel lucky, extremely lucky, that I can say without reservation that I have more than a handful: The Cooking of Southwest France by Paula Wolfert, French Farmhouse Cookbook by Susan Herrmann Loomis, The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper, and Bistro Cooking by Patricia Wells, among others. In the same way that I look at old friends, I'm an extremely fortunate man to have known these books throughout my entire cooking life.
Beef on a String
Serves 4 to 6
8 cups homemade vegetable stock
1/4 teaspoon fennel seed
1/4 teaspoon Szechuan peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
8 cloves of garlic
8 carrots, washed, peeled, and cut into 2-inch long pieces
8 fingerling or small potatoes, peeled
2 celery roots, peeled and cut into 2-inch batons
1 or 2 onions depending on size, trimmed, root end left on and cut into wedges
2 to 2 1/4 pounds center-cut beef tenderloin, trimmed and cleaned of sinew, trussed
2 tablespoons Pommery whole grain mustard
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon flat leaf parsley, very finely minced
1/2 to 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper