On Cookbooks & Lessons Learned

I debated on whether or not I wanted to write something about this, but every time I stand in my kitchen and look at the four cookbooks I currently have stacked on their designated shelf, it just bothers me. Three weeks ago, I had a brand new cookbook in my hands, one I was actually over the moon about getting: Senate’s cookbook. I had it in my possession, hugging it to my chest, and was already thinking about the order in which I was going to go through all of the recipes. I had the ideas, I had the grocery lists planned out, and I had a desired outcome in mind. But that’s where everything went wrong.

Preface: In no way am I saying the cookbook isn’t good. It’s GREAT! The story, the photos, the recipes, they’re all wonderful and I’m so glad that I can add it to my shelf! But, I had wanted to make fancy hot dogs, and when I got to the grocery store, I couldn’t get everything that I needed, and when it came down to making the components that I could make, I just found myself getting frustrated with how everything wasn’t coming out like I hoped it would. Not necessarily like it was at the restaurant—Universal Truth: there are memories you make eating the real deal…and then there’s the reality of what happens in your kitchen. They can almost NEVER be the same, but if you’re lucky, you can get close with adapting a basic recipe till it’s just about where you want it, or even better than you remember it—but rather than nothing I was doing was coming together on the plate like I wanted it to. There was no masterpiece, no sense of real accomplishment, just disappointment. How sad is that?! I even tried to fry pickles and failed at that! I even followed their recipe too!—P.S.: I did retry the fried pickles MY way, with some help from my fry guy Ed, but this was after I resolved to turn a disastrous situation into a delicious one, so keep an eye out for that my food friends!

In the end, we ate guacamole with chips, made Chicago Hot Dogs—a separate failure due to the jar of sports peppers [spicy little pickled peppers] not opening, which we ended up just breaking…it just wasn’t a great night for cooking, and thus, why I have no photos to share this time—and I had to talk myself out of a total culinary deflation. Sure, it was still a yummy meal, but it wasn’t what I wanted the meal to be, and that was where the source of my frustration lay.

I can still remember my first trip to Senate, and the mussels charmoula on crusty grilled toast points, and the feeling of gooey sauce oozing between my fingers, holding a soft bun as together as I could while cramming my face with hot dog and spicy kimchi, or crispy fried okra, or tender shredded short rib under cool coleslaw. In truth, Senate is an experience, and most everything at their restaurant is made in-house, unlike me and my dependency on the grocery store. And that’s when I realized, that while the idea of making these very elaborate hot dogs seemed like a lot of fun, in truth, it was going to be way too much effort and too time consuming for this time in my life. And the experience wouldn’t be the same, which is something, again, you can’t usually re-transcribe into your home kitchen. I hadn’t really thought about how making these different hot dogs were going to fit into my everyday life, when they fit so perfectly in the chic and modern dining room of Senate. Which led me to then realize that I had purchased a cookbook that, realistically, I would consistently only make a handful of their sauces (if that), two sides, one cocktail, and give or take one or two of their other main dishes…this was where I mainly went wrong, and have gone wrong before.

About a month ago, when I got Small Victories for a song at Barnes & Noble, finally getting down to sitting in front of my TV with a pad of sticky notes and a pen for notating thoughts and ideas, I realized I wasn’t tabbing ANYTHING. And it’s not that I didn’t like any of the recipes or that they were too complicated as some cookbooks can be—again, I feel like this is a good cookbook—it was more that there were TOO MANY recipes for me to choose from, and for someone who is INCREDIBLY indecisive, it’s hard enough for me to plan my weekly menu on my phone calendar, let alone try to pick one of over a hundred recipes and variations. I just couldn’t get into it, couldn’t settle on one recipe to start with and got so overwhelmed that I just took it back to my kitchen and re-shelved the poor thing. It’s the worst feeling in the world, and I have tried a couple of times since then to give it another go, but still find myself unable to settle like I could with Smitten Kitchen’s book (of which I have tabbed nearly every page). I should have taken the time at B&N to flip through it, read the table of contents, and check out a couple of recipes before I bought it, realizing it wasn’t the kind of cook book I was looking for right now, but the world is full of incompatibility, and with my life the way it is, too many recipes is just too much for me to handle. One day, I’m sure Small Victories and I will click with such a vigor that I’ll wonder why it took me so long to find new favorites to add to my rotation. Doesn’t mean I feel any less worse about letting a good book not go to good use…

In short, my lesson learned, which perhaps is common knowledge to most: Online reviews of cookbooks should be taken with a grain of salt, and that bookstores, and Amazon, are your best friends for sneak peeks so that you can decide if you’ll make more than just one or two recipes. Worst thing in the world is to look at a cookbook in your kitchen and realize it’s just not for you or your current day-to-day life…so for now, Senate will also continue to sit on my shelf until a weekend where I’m ready for the challenge of making their braised short ribs to then make their Short Rib Poutine [homemade fries included! Eek!].

To Continually Learning Something New and Being Honest With Myself —Cooking Maggie

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