February. The good cheer and get-togethers of the holidays are way behind us, and spring is so far off on the horizon as to be more of a taunt than a promise. New Year’s resolutions? Ha! But, seriously, I need something to get me excited about creating in the kitchen and entertaining friends … I have a case of the Februarys.
Fortunately, we live in a city that offers a lot of inspiration if you just get out and look for it. So, let’s get out there and find something to shake off these mid-winter doldrums.
Start with a new cookbook. Nothing gets a cook’s brain spinning like a stack of cookbooks. And you don’t have to go buy a bunch. Our first stop is the Edina Branch of the Hennepin County Library (5280 Grandview Square). Senior librarian Sue Carr tells me that cookbooks are the number one non-fiction books checked out from the library. “Cookbooks can be expensive,” Carr says. “People like to have a chance to read through them and try out some recipes … sometimes they go on to purchase their favorites.” Carr is one of the people who chooses which books the library will buy. In that capacity, she and another librarian once looked at every cookbook published before 1968, so you could call her something of an expert.
Carr can recommend some serious cooking inspiration. She says you can go to the central branch in downtown Minneapolis and visit Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking. It’s a six volume, $625 behemoth from a team of 20 cooks and scientists at The Cooking Lab. (Most of us, no matter what our level of foodie-ness, aren’t going to put down that kind of “cabbage” for a set of books.) You can’t check them out, but you can sit in the reference area and read through as much of it as you want. Carr says the reference librarians tell her it continues to be popular.
Retro is the new modern with Nordic Ware Bundt pans.
A book you can borrow and might love is Delicious Bundt Cakes: More than 100 new recipes for timeless favorites. After you check out Delicious Bundt Cakes, you can head right over to Williams Sonoma in the Galleria and buy a Nordic Ware Bundt pan. Because, as you surely know, Nordic Ware is not only headquartered right here in the Twin Cities, but the founders trademarked the name Bundt in 1950 and made the cake a sensation.
Williams Sonoma also has their own line of cake mixes. You can also pick up a jar or two of their braising sauces. Then you can go home, get some dinner and a Bundt cake in the oven and sit down to read your new cookbooks!
A game changer kitchen gadget is the Vesta Precision line of Sous Vide.
If, while you were at the library, you also managed to get your hands on one of the popular Sous Vide cookbooks, you can spend some time reading all about how that handy kitchen gadget works. If you don’t know, it’s cool, trust me. You might need to pay a visit to Kitchen Window on Hennepin Avenue, as they carry the Vesta Precision line of Sous Vide. There are a few options and really, this is the kind of thing that can be a game-changer in the kitchen. It has that “new gadget” sense of fun, but it actually makes a perfectly cooked chicken breast or roast without any guess work. The food is sealed in a plastic or silicone bag and then submerged in a tub of water. You put the Vesta Immersion Circulator in the water, set the temperature and the food cooks at exactly that temperature all the way through. The outside doesn’t burn before the inside gets perfectly done. One of the advantages of sous vide is that you can leave your dinner cooking on the counter while you have a cocktail with your dinner guests, and nothing will ever burn.
Stir and sip beautifully with a bar cart like the Mayfair from Restoration Hardware.
Did someone mention cocktails? This may be the season when I stop using the pass-through between the kitchen and dining room as a “bar” and buy myself a real bar cart. Restoration Hardware’s temple to homestyle on France Avenue seems like a good place to start. And don’t worry, I happen to know there’s a very strong contender. Restoration Hardware’s Mayfair bar cart in old saddle black. It will definitely class up the joint. If the likes of Frank Sinatra and Don Draper drop by for cocktails with Lauren Bacall, I will be ready to entertain them elegantly and confidently. From the mirror at the top to the casters that let you roll it where it can play to best advantage, this is the sort of thing that might make you excited about having your partner’s boss over for dinner.
Let Valerie’s French Kitchen do the cooking. (Photo by Rachel Nadeau)
If you still aren’t jumping up and down with excitement about recipes and gadgets and cocktails, don’t despair. There’s a surefire cure. Valerie’s French Kitchen was featured in a previous issue of Edina Magazine.
“Keeping up with nutritious, healthy and tasty meals can sometimes be a challenge,” chef Valerie Faure says. “I help my clients eat tasty and healthy meals. Sometimes, a cooking class will be all they need to motivate themselves to get back on track. For others who don’t have the time or the desire to cook, I come in and do the weekly meal prep for them, so that they always have nutritious and healthy meals at hand. At this time of the year we are still in the winter mode, craving comforting dishes, yet longing for spring and lighter recipes!” Faure will prep the meal for you—or teach you a new recipe—then you can serve your family or guests a perfect French meal and offer up wine from your beautiful new bar cart.
Faure encourages the use of herbs and warm spices, especially thyme, cumin and coriander. She uses them as a kind of bridge between winter and spring recipes because they complement both heavier dishes and lighter springtime recipes.
Faure says that she is particularly fond of cooking in her “trusty Dutch oven. I love the smell that fills my home when these recipes simmer for hours over the stove. From meat stews and oriental tajines to French onion soup or chilies, my Dutch oven is so versatile and a piece of kitchen equipment I could not live without.”
Bundt cakes, sous vide, a French chef—the endless possibilities of cookbooks and that conspicuously handsome new bar cart. Maybe one or all of these gets you jazzed or maybe something else sparks your food fancy. Point is: Give something new a try … and if that doesn’t work, try something else!