Sunday, December 20, 2009

Review: Jam Today by Tod Davies

I am not an intuitive cook. I need a recipe. I pull out recipes for things I've been making for literally years. I don't like to fly blind in the kitchen. Is this a control freak thing? Am I so very constrained because I am a perfectionist and don't want to feel compelled to eat a dreadful failure? (Not that following the recipe always guarantees great success, mind you, although I prefer to find the cookbook at fault rather than the cook.) And I think the ability to improvise and pull together a delicious (and edible) meal from seemingly disparate ingredients, just knowing that things will work, is an incredible talent. It's one I wish I had. So the concept of cooking with what I had on hand, as Davies' cookbook cum discussion of her food philosophy book asserted intrigued me no end.

The recipes here are intentionally inexact as she wants to encourage cooks to experiment and to understand that for some things, there's no way to mess up. Now I admit I flagged many of these inexact recipes and intend to go out, buy the ingredients, and do the best I can with every last ounce of guidance that she gives. But I was also inspired to go out on a limb the other night and create something from the things in my pantry, hanging around in my fridge, and on the table in the fruit bowl. And shock of all shocks, it turned out deliciously! (Well, my kids didn't think so but I sure did and the kids are philistines so we tend to ignore their bland, uneducated palates around here).

What was charming about the book itself was that it was written in a cozy, friendly manner, as if the reader was sitting with Davies in her kitchen as she threw together things that were destined to be good. There are loads of vegetarian options here as Davies' husband is a vegetarian but since he travels and she eats meat herself, there are also plenty of suggestions for carnivores. Her recipes focus on using fresh ingredients, appropriate to the season, and local if at all possible. I'm sure her produce, pulled from her own garden moments before inclusion in recipes is far tastier than mine but the overabundance of veggies in her meals inspires me to try and add more into our own diets. My chief complaint about the recipes is more a taste thing than anything else. I loathe eggs and mushrooms where Davies loves them and includes many recipes for both. But there are enough other recipes to keep me happy too so that's really a minor quibble. I enjoyed the book and am looking forward to trying some of the tagged recipes.

In the meantime, here's my off the cuff, had it lying around recipe, as inexactly as I made it (and anyone who comments that there was no way I could have messed it up with this combination of ingredients is banned from the blog in perpetuity--although they have gotten into the spirit of the book):

Citrus Noodles with Chicken and Pecans

Take a half box of Thai stir fry noodles and boil them until they are ready to stir fry. Toss them in a wok with whatever oil you happen to have on hand (I had the dregs of Canola in my pantry). Add in a roughly chopped half (or more if you like it) of an onion and a chunk of butter. Stir in the leftover chicken you have in a container in the fridge, especially if the chicken is getting close to having to be pitched and everyone is tired of eating it in all its other incarnations. Pound the pecans remaining in the bag after the Christmas baking is completed and toss those in as well (pecans, not Christmas baking). Grab a tangelo bought from your neighbor's daughter for a fundraiser. Zest the entire thing into the dish. Then squeeze it into submission and add all the juice and any pulp in the strainer (try to catch the seeds though) into the wok as well. If your concoction is starting to look a bit dry as your stir it around (mine was), slosh a glug of half and half into the mess. Heat through and top with grated pepper. Serve immediately. Now that I think of it, fresh (or even dried if there's no fresh in the crisper) parsley would have made a nice addition too. I'll have to try that small adjustment when I reheat the leftovers tonight.

Really, you can't screw this up, short of having it burn to the pan. If I can learn to cook intuitively, anyone can. And that is a gift for which I give thanks to Ms. Davies, even if she does like fungus just too much for one person's good!

This post has been a part of Beth Fish's Weekend Cooking meme. Check out her blog for other people writing about food, cookbooks, and food-related novels this weekend.


  1. Oh - I desperately need a cookbook like this one. I have not heard of it before, but will definitely look for it the next time I am out.

  2. I'm like that. I always joke that I'd starve in a supermarket if it wasn't for recipes on the back of the boxes. This looks like something that would be inspiring.

    It is always a huge deal for me or my sister when we cook from what is available. Your invention is much more gourmet than what we come up with, though!

  3. Love to cook, though I'm still at the stage where most of what I make is a disaster. I'll look for this book.

  4. this is my dream review, actually interactive with the book, and I LOVED WHAT YOU COOKED. thanks so much, and really, mushrooms always speak very highly of you...eggs, too. (ps just curious: how did you come across the book?)

  5. I'm glad you're pleased, Tod! As to where I found the book, I was loitering near a book signing and cheerfully scanning the cooking (narrative) shelves at the local Barnes and Noble. I saw the title and pulled the book since I generally already own every book they stock in there. A quick riffle through the pages and the book was destined to be mine. ;-)

  6. I agree with Beth; it is a cause for celebration in my house if I manage to turn out something edible with items I have on hand and without a recipe. I think I need to get my hands on this book.


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