pasta

Pasta was one of the dishes made during 2020.

OKANOGAN - Yeah, so 2020 happened. The year, with all its upheaval and confusion, sent The Pirate’s Code aground for several months.

The Pirate’s Code is a project I started in January 2013 to cook my way through several shelves of cookbooks. I am a hopeless cookbook collector and, even though I’ve weeded out a few over the past eight years, I somehow always acquire more. This year is no exception, as I received another for Christmas.

The project's name comes from “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie, when Capt. Jack Sparrow refers to the pirate’s code as a set of guidelines rather than actual law.

My Pirate’s Code, in place of New Year’s resolutions, is a set of guidelines for the new year, cooking-wise. I’m trying to make at least one recipe from each book, following the directions and ingredient lists as closely as possible.

For the project, I started at the upper left of the first of several shelves of cookbooks, and am working my way through the books.

Back to 2020. I suddenly realized in October that I’d been neglecting the project. As it happened, I checked my ongoing file on Oct. 28 and discovered it had been one year, to the day, since my last entry.

This would not do in a year of worldwide quarantining, when just about everybody on the planet was staying at home cooking. I cook every day, but mostly I stick to tried-and-true favorites.

I’d made banana bread, one of this country’s popular quarantine foods but a longtime staple in my cooking repertoire, but no sourdough – another popular quarantine project.

For what it’s worth, I still haven’t crossed that sourdough bridge. I remember all too well the friendship bread, aka “Herman,” craze of the early 1980s and decided I don’t have the stamina, nor the “good friends” required to make (and share with) a batch of starter.

Instead, I jumped right in, during late October, to try to make up for lost time.

First on the shelf was “Rival Crock Pot Cooking,” 1975, by Marilyn Neill.

The recipe for “Chicken-Mushroom Pasta Sauce” involves putting a whole, cut-up chicken in a crockery cooker with mushrooms and some other stuff. It produced way too much chicken, as compared to the mushrooms and so-called sauce. The result was mushy, overcooked chicken with a bland bit of thin liquid masquerading as sauce.

We were glad when all the leftovers, some of which were thinned out into a soup with some other ingredients, were gone. I will not be making it again.

The chicken stuff was served with “Wholemeal pasta,” from Jenni Muir’s “A Cook’s Guide to Grains,” 2002.

Visually, it’s a beautiful book. I wish I could say the same for the pasta, which required quite a bit of extra flour to stiffen it enough so the dough would through the pasta machine and not end up in a sticky glob.

Even more flour was required to cut it into something resembling fettucini, once the dough was rolled out. It tasted fine, though, despite not having any oil in the dough.

The next week I made “Apple Pork Curry,” from “Mable Hoffman’s All-New Crockery Favorites,” 1991, by Mable and Gar Hoffman.

The pork got way overcooked and the resulting mess wasn’t terribly curry-tasting. It had no dairy or coconut milk in the sauce, as many curries do, but instead relied largely on orange juice.

I probably won’t make it again.

Veterans Day brought “The Diabetes Everyday Cookbook,” 2002, by Jody Vassallo with Susanna Holt.

Since my husband is diabetic, I have several diabetic-friendly cookbooks in my collection. “Soba Noodles with Seafood and Snowpeas,” page 65, has potential to be a winner.

We couldn’t find soba noodles initially, so we used whole wheat spaghetti. Ditto with calamari and mussels, but we did use (frozen) shrimp and scallops, which are easier to find.

The result was pretty good. The Asian-style sauce pooled in the bowl and was tasty. The next time I make it, I’ll add some sliced mushrooms, and make twice the amount of sauce and possibly thicken it a bit with cornstarch.

The rest of the book contains a lot of recipes that rely on fake sugar, non-fat dairy and/or ingredients one or both of us don’t like. The jury’s still out on whether the book stays on the shelf, or whether I just copy the recipe onto a card and stick the book in the “donate” box.

“Better Homes and Gardens Crockery Cookbook,” 1994, came next. I tried “Caramel-Orange Pudding Cake, page 133, from the book edited by Lisa J. Mannes

It was pretty good. It’s one of those “magic” recipes, where the sauce starts on the top and sinks its way to the bottom. I would make it again.

Wrapping up the year, on Dec. 30, was “Baked Stuffed Apples,” from “Fix-it and Forget-it 5-ingredient Favorites,” 2007, by Phyllis Pellman Good.

How can you go wrong with baked apples, I asked myself. Well, with this recipe, you can.

It used white sugar, a tiny amount of raisins and a sprinkling of cinnamon, all dumped over hollowed-out apples. Sounds good, but it was bland and not that great. Plus it took about five hours to cook, far more than baking and even longer than making a similar dessert in the microwave (which is what I usually do).

Give me brown sugar, and lots of raisins and cinnamon for a proper baked apple.

That’s it for 2020. On a positive note, I’ve already started on the 2021 list.

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