Inspiration is a strange thing. You never know where you’re going to find it. Sometimes it’s from another person, a conversation you have, something they mention. Sometimes it’s from something you read, or hear about. Or with cooking it can be from the raw ingredients, what’s available, fresh and seasonal, or just left over in your cupboard. Or from something else you taste. Or a smell, or a memory, or a piece of equipment, or a serving dish, or piece of crockery. And sometimes it just springs up from somewhere inside you and you have no idea how it appeared.
Much of my inspiration comes from what I read, or what ingredients I have to hand, or spy in the shop/market.
Two books which are inspiring me just now include:
Lucas Hollweg’s Good Things To Eat. A very recent purchase, and bought entirely because I love his regular feature in the Sunday Times, our weekend paper of choice. Today I didn’t bother with inspiration, I just made one of the recipes as it was written: a salad of cucumber, strawberry and watercress. Just divine, with a sharp sweet vinegary dressing and more black pepper to add further bite to it. Let me know if you want the full recipe.
Darina Allen’s The Forgotten Skills of Cooking. I’ve owned this book for several years, and find myself constantly going back to it. Recently it was for a recipe for soda bread and its variations, and before that it was elderflower fizz and vinegar. It’s not just a go-to book for certain recipes it is also the perfect book for browsing – I have a fantasy about making a cold smoker, to smoke my own meat and fish and this book shows me how. She also shows you how to to cure bacon, store fruit, make suet, skin a wood pigeon and writes beautifully about her memories of the local pig killer. In fact, what makes this book is the human element – the memories and the stories bring her food to life. If you’re even vaguely interested in what I would call ‘traditional’ cooking skills and recipes then buy this book. It will delight and inspire you.
I have many cookbooks. I know that won’t surprise you. I love books and I love cooking, so of course I have many cookbooks. And I also live in two different places. It’s taken me a while to admit this, but I do. Through the week I am in a wee flat in Edinburgh, and at weekends I am in the Clyde Valley with my boyfriend. I’m living the dream.
But dreams can occasionally be confusing. I don’t always have the clothes I want or need in the place I want them. Or the right necklace to go with whatever I’m wearing. I know, I know, real first world problems.
One of the confusions I wouldn’t have predicted was the recipe confusion. I’m never sure if I’ll have the right cookbook with the recipe I need in the place I’m cooking at the time. Or if I want to plan what to make at the weekend, I can’t browse a cookbook and plan it till I get there.
My new favourite thing is EatYourBooks. It’s a website where you can keep track of your cookbooks. If that was all it did you wouldn’t be very impressed would you? So of course it does more. It has a vast database of indexed cookbooks. And for each indexed cookbook it includes each recipe, and the key ingredients in each recipe. How genius is that?
So, imagine I know I want to cook something with aubergines and chicken. I search ‘my bookshelf’ and I find I have 23 recipes with these two ingredients, ranging from Miso Roasted Chicken (Donna Hay) and Green Chicken Curry (Vatch’s Thai Street Food) to Grilled Breast of Chicken with Provencal Vegetables and Aioli (Simon Hopkinson). And, as I tagged each book as I added it to my shelf, I know which books are in Edinburgh and which in the Valley. And of course the website lists the ingredients I need for each recipe (a straight list, without quantities) so I know if I’ll need to buy an extras to make the dish. Oh, and it includes various magazines as well. I tell you, it is perfectly genius, and I love it.
And it includes cookery blogs. And it highlights new articles from its featured blogs, so today I learnt how to make my own creme fraiche from Food52. You do know Food52 don’t you? It’s food porn. But useful porn, if such a thing exists. Go find out for yourself.