The end of 2006 and the VORTEX OF DOOM.

In 1993 I purchased cookbooks for the first time. That was a year of Jansport backpacks, overpriced flannel, and my first non-parent-owned kitchen. The only other books I had in my collection then were a church fund-raising book that my mother purchased out of pity, Pepperidge Farm holiday pamphlets, and a free Dole book with recipes that featured—surprise!—Dole products. My collection cried out for an upgrade.

Cookbook vortex of doomAt the bookstore I pondered my choices with the seriousness of a woman about to embark on a new career. It was a watershed decision—these books would shape my culinary future and live with me for the rest of my life. After consulting my flannel-clad roommates, narrowing down my choices, and considering my limited skills, I bought one “fancy” cookbook and one “homestyle” cookbook to cover my ass: Julia Child’s The Way To Cook and the 1989 edition of the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. Bookends for my buttocks, if you will. Both books still grace my kitchen shelves. Along with 117 others.

It started innocently enough. Intimidated by Julia and dissatisfied with Better Homes, I began investing in practical, all-purpose books that covered as much area as possible. As my skills grew, a growing obsession with Indian cooking gradually added 16 books on Indian food alone. I moved into more specific but still encyclopedic cookbooks such as The Cheese Bible, The Pasta Bible , and The Cake Bible. I had found my religion. Hallelujah!

My downhill slide gained momentum in 2005 and 2006. New areas of interest like canning would spark yet another buying spree. Food bloggers raved about new releases that would somehow fall into my shopping cart and show up on my doorstep to be devoured and set aside like all the others. Then the most dangerous book of all sucked me in: the pornographic coffee table ornament—books filled with beautiful prose, sexy pictures, and airbrushed silicone-breast-enhanced recipes that look so good on paper that you’d never actually make them lest you ruin the hot, dirty fantasy. My Amazon wishlist bulged with glossy books promising countless hours of hedonistic reading for the small price of only $29.95. I could feed my lust for less than nine cents a day!

When did I go from the pragmatic, conscientious buyer trying to squeeze the most from each book to the spendthrift, greedy slut buying books by the armful and tossing them on the shelf after using them once for my pleasure?

I admit it; I have a problem. But know this: I am stronger than my problem. I am stronger than my problem. Yes I am! Don’t talk back to me, problem! I’m the boss of you now, because things have changed. My New Year’s Resolution is no buying food books, cookbooks, or baking books in 2007. Instead, I will focus on cooking from the books I have and eliminate those that I don’t want.

Warning to my readers: the next few months of Bon Appegeek posts will likely be on the testy side. You may see more profanity than usual along with uncontrolled bouts of rage and evidence of excessive substance abuse. I apologize in advance. Bear with me. Please try to have a HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! despite my suffering.

Oh, and if you get a chance, send methadone.

Boneheads and ham bones.

I had a bowl of ham bone soup this morning as I wondered about what to blog next. “Ice cream might be interesting,” I thought, as I scooped up some tender, pink ham that had fallen off the bone. “Maybe I could try making injera for the first time.” A big mouthful of hickory smoke-infused beans warmed my belly. “Or I can finally get around to using that Chinese white fungus.” My spoon scraped the bottom of the bowl for the last bits of pepper-speckled goodness. I sighed my contented post-Christmas ham bone soup sigh and washed the dishes.

Ham bone soupThree hours later I hit my proverbial forehead with my proverbial knuckles and let out a proverbial “D’oh!” Fortunately I had soup left. I’m sorry it looks a little green. Legume soups don’t photograph well, as you know if you’ve ever seen Poltergeist (the movie, not a real poltergeist, although I bet the typical poltergeist diet isn’t photogenic either).

My father started the ham bone soup tradition after we dined on a magnificent smoked ham that redefined the watery hams we’d known until then. Since then we have always bought the same ham for Christmas, and we have always made the same ham bone soup. Well, almost the same. The first soups were so thick that they ate like porridge. My parents could never seem to nail the bean to water ratio, and the soup would disintegrate into a thick mass that stuck to the spoon if you held it upside down. We still loved it. When I took over the holiday cooking, the soups thinned a bit, but I kept much of the thickness out of sentiment.

This year I decided to dump sentiment and make a decent soup that you can’t eat with a fork. It’s the best version yet. The 2006 soup contains navy beans, black-eyed peas, pinto beans, split green peas, and regular brown lentils. The benefit of mixing legumes is that the large beans stay whole but the smaller legumes melt into the soup and give you a rich texture without the bother of pureeing scalding soup. Just about any combination of legumes will work except maybe kidney beans which take a long cooking time that might melt the other legumes too much. You can, of course, use just one kind of legume such as the traditional split pea. Like most soups, this soup reheats well and tastes just as good, if not better, days after it’s made.

BONEHEADED HAM BONE SOUP

Ingredients:
· 1 very meaty ham bone from a whole or half ham, preferably smoked
· 8 cups water
· 1/2 pound assorted dried beans, soaked overnight
· 1/2 pound assorted quick-cooking legumes such as split peas and lentils
· 1 bay leaf
· 1 large onion, diced
· 2-3 large carrots, sliced into coins
· Salt and black pepper

1) In a large pot, bring ham bone to a boil in 8 cups of water over high heat. Lower heat, cover the pot, and simmer the bone for at least two hours.

2) Add the drained beans, legumes, and bay leaf to the water. Cover the pot and simmer for half an hour, stirring occasionally.

3) Add the onions and the carrots, and continue simmering the soup until the beans are tender, anywhere from half an hour to an hour more. Add some water if the soup is too thick for your taste.

4) Season to taste with salt and copious amounts of fresh ground black pepper.

How to be Asian on Christmas: sesame seeds.

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when out from the kitchen
Came the crashing of cake pans and loud plaintive bitchin’;
The oven mitts hung by the oven with care
But cream, milk, and salt were spilled everywhere.

The egg shells were nestled all snug in the trash,
While I hastily gift-wrapped toy trains and some cash.
The cookies are filled now, and I in my cap,
Need to drink some hard liquor and have a long nap.

Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and/or bottoms up everyone. :p

Sesame seed thumbprint cookiesSESAME SEED THUMBPRINT COOKIES

Ingredients:
· 1 cup butter, softened
· 1/2 cup white sugar
· 1/2 teaspoon salt
· 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
· 1 1/2 cups sesame seeds
· 3 cups all-purpose flour
· 1/2 cup plain yogurt
· Icing or jam
· Holiday sprinkles (optional)

1) Toast sesame seeds in a pan over medium heat until they turn a shade darker and smell nutty. Let cool completely.

2) Preheat oven to 325ºF.

3) Beat butter until soft. Add sugar, salt, vanilla extract, and sesame seeds and beat until blended. Add flour, beat until well blended. Then beat in yogurt until just mixed.

4) Shape dough into 2-inch balls and place on a baking sheet. Press indentation in the middle of each cookie—cookie may crack, which is fine. These don’t spread much, so they can be placed quite close together. Bake 30 minutes and let cool.

5) Fill indentation with sweet jam or the icing of your choice. Sprinkle with sprinkles, if desired.

Note: You can choose not to indent the cookies and simply roll the cooled cookies in powdered sugar.