The book itself is fertile ground for more mocking. There’s the title, for starters. Surely How to Cook Supper would be more appropriate. Then there’s the layout, which looks like someone just downloaded a bunch of new fonts and wanted to use all of them in one book. The recipes are interspersed with a strange array of quotations about food, like this from Miss Piggy: “You don’t sew with a fork, so I see no reason to eat with knitting needles.” There is no white space, because every square inch has been filled with sidebars, asides with variations on the recipes from the 16th century, recommendations for other cookbooks, explanations on how certain ingredients came into existence, and other useless trivia. Perhaps the book designer has ADD, but I was exhausted just flipping through the book.
And then there are the recipes. Cooking with The Splendid Table felt a little like being tested in high school food science class, with my teacher hovering over my shoulder, wondering if I would notice that the cake recipe calls for baking soda without a corresponding acid like buttermilk. I spent a lot of time on each recipe, just trying to figure out how to fix obvious errors.
The recipe for macaroni and cheese called for the onion and cheddar and Gruyere to be shredded in a blender. I imagine this was seen as a time saver, but all I could think about was how long it would take to clean the cheese out of every crevice in the machine. I decided not to play along, and I instead brought the “crumbled” cream cheese to room temperature and then added it to the macaroni while the pasta was still hot. It coated the pasta well enough that the rest of the cheese mixed in evenly. It may have taken me an extra minute and a half to dice the onion myself instead of just “coarsely chopping” it and sticking in the blender, but I imagine I saved just as much time from the clean-up process. The result was a mac and cheese so good that even the next day, served cold, a friend I sent home with leftovers reported her husband rated it two thumbs up. “He actually made the gesture with his hands,” she said.
Likewise, the Adobo Chicken recipe sounded a little strange to me. It called for two thinly sliced onions to be added at the very last step. The onions would cook for approximately two minutes, meaning the chicken would be served on a large bed of slightly warm, raw yellow onion. I could already imagine what I would smell like the morning after eating something like that, so I got out another pan and sautéed the onions until golden instead. The chicken was delicious, and the tartness from the palm vinegar was balanced against the sweet caramelized onions.
But once you get past all of that, the food is incredible. Beyond the design issues, the minor flaws in the recipes themselves, and the patronizing and constant reminders of how important it is to buy organic vegetables (“We know we’ve said it so many times, but we like to use organic vegetables for flavor and politics.”) this is a cookbook you will use until the pages all stick together. I have only had this cookbook in my apartment for three weeks, and yet I have made just about all the recipes whose ingredients are in season.
I wasn’t expecting much when I tried the Green Apple, Cheese, and Chard Oven Omelet — I was just trying to use up red chard before it spoiled — and yet before I swallowed the last bite I was e-mailing the recipe off to others, urging them to try it.
The Splendid Table keeps you on your toes, but once I started looking at is as a game — “What Is Wrong with This Recipe?” perhaps — I relaxed and fell in love with the food. • 23 July 2008
Green Apple, Cheese, and Chard Oven Omelet
Adapted from The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper by Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift
Serves 3 to 4
1 bunch Swiss chard, chopped, stems and leaves separated
2 medium yellow onions, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup water
1/2 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and diced
5 large eggs
3/4 cup milk
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, Asiago, or Fontinella cheese
1 cup shredded Muenster or Monterey Jack cheese
salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat oil in an ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions, chard stems, and a little salt and pepper. Saute until onions are golden brown.
Stir in garlic and chard leaves. Add water and stir until leaves are very wilted and the liquid has evaporated. Then stir in apple and remove from heat.
In a bowl, beat together eggs, milk, nutmeg, salt, pepper, and 2/3 cup of each of the cheeses. Pour over vegetables. Sprinkle with the rest of the cheese, cover with lid or foil, and bake for thirty minutes. Uncover and bake for 10 to 15 minutes more, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out almost clean.
Let omelet stand for five to 10 minutes before serving.