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Kitchen Story: The Mind’s Eye (because saying “the Stomach’s Eye” sounds gross)

April 17, 2011

I bought a cookbook years and years ago based solely on the title.  I do that with books sometimes, and even though I loved the title, it was still a little unusual for me to buy it because it has no pictures. I almost always want at least a few pictures in my cookbooks.  The cookbook is called “Those People At That Church Cookbook” and it’s a compilation of recipes from the congregation and friends of the St. Francis Lutheran Church in San Francisco.   Although I am neither Lutheran nor a church-goer, St. Francis’ holds a special place in my memories of San Francisco – it was one of the first places I had heard where they welcomed the gay community into the congregation with open arms, and, eventually, where openly gay pastors could minister to all who attended.  I just checked their website and learned they were expelled from the Lutheran church in 1995, but were eventually re-instated in 2009.

This is a long way ‘round to say I’ve had this cookbook since the early ‘90s, and for whatever reason, until just recently, I have never made anything from it.  I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s the lack of pictures. Or perhaps my emotional connection to the book and the people who put it together created some block of fear – what if I don’t like the recipes; would that somehow diminish my feeling about what the book and the place means to me?  So last Sunday I was looking at my cookbooks and, like many times before, pulled this one off the shelf.  But this time, I quickly spotted two recipes that I wanted to try.  Even without pictures, and at the risk of not liking them or somehow being disappointed with the whole experience, I made my list, went to the shops, came home and made Sunday dinner.

The first dish, Apricot Chicken, is a great dish.  It’s relatively easy, quite tangy and flavorful, and lends itself to lots of variations in cheese, nuts, and probably even the fruit aspect.  What it wasn’t, however, was photographable.  The resulting dish looked lovely and bright in person, but I tried picture after picture, and they looked horrid.  So you’ll have to make it yourself to see the food – or picture it in your head.

The dessert failed on one level but is a complete winner and Cherry Oatmeal Cookies will now be part of my cookie repertoire.  The failure, again, was visually.  I used two cookie sheets, but they are slightly different and the cookies on one sheet spread into a large mass, and so they came out quite unattractive to the eye.  But the dried cherries, along with the chewy, brown sugary oatmeal base make these a great cookie, even if they look like the bottom of an old shoe (or as if they had been chicken-fried, as a friend of mine pointed out).

This Sunday dinner re-introduced me to a cookbook that I have had for years and I am looking forward to making as many items in it as I can.  In addition, the process reminded me that it is our imagination that can fuel our kitchen dreams, and if there are no pictures…or the pictures don’t do the food justice…then take a deep breath and try it anyway.  The results may be wonderful.

Apricot Chicken

From Those People at That Church – The St. Francis Lutheran Cookbook

4-6 servings

½ cup dried apricots, chopped

¼ cup cider vinegar

2 tablespoons honey

¼ teaspoon salt

½ cup water

4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves

½ cup grated shredded Monterey Jack cheese*

½ cup chopped macadamia nuts (optional)*

3 green onions, sliced

Parsley sprigs (garnish)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9×13 inch shallow baking pan.

In a small saucepan, combine apricots, vinegar, honey, salt, and water. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until apricots are softened, 15-20 minutes.  Transfer everything to a food processor or blender and puree until smooth.  If the sauce is too thick, thin with a bit more water.  Set the sauce aside.

In a small bowl, combine the cheese, nuts and green onions.  Place cheese mixture on one-half of a chicken breast and fold the other half over to cover. Arrange the chicken in the baking dish and top with apricot sauce. Cover with foil and bake 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for 15 minutes longer.  Serve warm garnished with parsley.

*Note: you may substitute any cheese or nuts – or leave the nuts out altogether.  I used walnuts and they worked great.

Oatmeal Cherry Cookies

From Those People at That Church – The St. Francis Lutheran Cookbook

Makes 3 dozen

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened

1 cup dark brown sugar (packed)

½ cup sugar

2 large eggs

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pinch of finely grated nutmeg

2 cups uncooked old-fashioned oats

1 cup dried pitted cherries

½ cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease baking sheets.

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugars together until well blended.  Add eggs and vanilla and beat for several minutes until light and fluffy.

In another smaller bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda cinnamon and nutmeg. Add to butter mixture and beat until well blended, Stir in oatmeal, cherries, and walnuts.

Drop batter by tablespoons onto baking sheets.  Bake until the edges are just turning brown, about 12 minutes. Let cookies cool on pan for a few minutes, then transfer to racks to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

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2 Comments
  1. Ah, perhaps you’ve it upon why there are no photographs in the cookbook. It specializes in “homely cuisine.” Good but ugly.

    If you want a cookbook with GORGEOUS photos, plus some pretty damn fine recipes as well, may I direct you to my new face? It’s Dorie Greenspan’s book “Around My French Table.” Just lovely, with full-page color photographs. The cover dish, Chicken in a Pot with Preserved Lemons, is really high-class and simple, and gives you the opportunity to make a dough sealer for your dutch oven (simpler than it may sound.) Her onion biscuits are also quite tasty, and the apple cake she includes is a marvel of simplicity but exquisite taste. Hungry yet?

    I have been an admirer of Greenspan for some time (her baking cookbook is one of my go-to’s) and recently I watched a video of her on Amazon. I think you’d like her; she seems like someone you’d have over to bake cookies.

    Now I’m hungry.

  2. LikeBe the first to like this post.
    James April 17, 2011 at 5:13 pm said
    Sorry, my spellcheck has created havoc with my spelling. Here is the correct version:

    Ah, perhaps you’ve hit upon why there are no photographs in the cookbook. It specializes in “homely cuisine.” Good but ugly.

    If you want a cookbook with GORGEOUS photos, plus some pretty damn fine recipes as well, may I direct you to my new fave? It’s Dorie Greenspan’s book “Around My French Table.” Just lovely, with full-page color photographs. The cover dish, Chicken in a Pot with Preserved Lemons, is really high-class and simple, and gives you the opportunity to make a dough sealer for your dutch oven (simpler than it may sound.) Her onion biscuits are also quite tasty, and the apple cake she includes is a marvel of simplicity but exquisite taste. Hungry yet?

    I have been an admirer of Greenspan for some time (her baking cookbook is one of my go-to’s) and recently I watched a video of her on Amazon. I think you’d like her; she seems like someone you’d have over to bake cookies.

    Now I’m hungry.

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