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Cookbooks: Pretty Simple Cooking

I have been feeling a little lost lately. I’m in the strange place where a book I’ve written is nearly finished but there’s still nearly a year before it will be out there in the world. I am turning 39 in a few days and am finding that my life looks much different than I thought it would at this age. And, after seven years of working by myself in my living room, I’m starting to wish for a place to go and be each day.

During times when I feel out of sorts like this, one of the first things that often slips away is my grasp on useful, utilitarian, daily cooking. I still manage to make preserves and turn them into breads and bar cookies, but the alchemy of making dinner feels impossible to master.

When this happens, I find myself casting around for culinary lifelines (because one cannot live on take-out alone, even in a neighborhood as rich in fast casual joints as mine is). I shop the farmers markets. I allow myself to spend $10 on plump, purple asparagus. And I read cookbooks for hours, until I spot a recipe that hooks onto my soul and compels me to return to the kitchen.

One cookbook that has performed that trick for me lately is Pretty Simple Cooking by Sonja and Alex Overhiser. They’re the pair behind the blog A Couple Cooks and their breezy, vegetable-forward style proven to be the exact right thing to help me stitch myself back together again (Alana Chernila’s Eating From the Ground Up has also been working double-time on this front).

I think part of the reason Pretty Simple Cooking is working for me is that the food is a whole lot of stuff that I enjoy eating, put together in ways that I’d not thought of. It’s easy to love a book when you can open it, say yes to a recipe, and not have to do a lot to track down the components (I’m looking straight at you, Roasted Cauliflower and Black Bean Tacos on page 190).

Another fun thing is that Joy sat down and interviewed Sonja for our podcast recently, and the episode containing their conversation went live today. Give it a listen, if you’re so inclined!

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Cookbooks: Southern From Scratch

I have spent more than a few moments in my life wishing that I came from a place or background with a well-defined food culture. My culinary identity is a decided hodgepodge of mid-century Jewish cooking, hippie whole grain, and 1980s west coast home cooking. While the food that issues forth from these influences is reliably good and occasionally exceptional, it isn’t really grounded in place or culture.

Because I feel culinarily untethered, I often find myself gravitating to cookbooks that offer insight and exposure to more rooted ways of bellying up to the stove or kitchen table. One such book that appeals to me both on this level, and on the preserving front, is Ashley English‘s latest, called Southern From Scratch.

This is Ashley’s most personal book and it does a gorgeous job synthesizing her own food experiences with the Southern kitchen know-how taught to her by her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. Truly, from the moment you open up the cover, you feel like Ashley is there, guiding you along through the recipes.

This book is organized by pantry category (Pickles & Relishes, Sauces & Vinegars, Fats & Meats, etc.). Within in chapter, you’ll find a collection of master recipes (depending on the chapter topic, you’ll find as few as four and as many as twelve). Each master recipe then has a couple-three sub-recipes, designed to help you make the most of it.

There’s quite a lot in this book that speaks directly to my preserve-loving heart. There’s the Sweet Onion Relish (page 35 – I’m forever on the hunt for the best onion preserve), Muscadine Jelly (page 71 – we get these for a brief window each summer), Chile Sauce (page 107 – this recipe has a particularly lovely headnote), and the Southern Shakshuka with Hoecakes (page 123 – this just sounds delicious).

I think you all are really going to like this book!

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Cookbooks: Bring It!

I have long believed that when it comes to entertaining, most people can roughly be broken down into two groups. There are potluck people and dinner party people. My friend Cindy is most decidedly a dinner party person. She likes to control the menu and create an experience for her friends. I am more of a potluck person. I love the uncertainty of inviting people to bring with them whatever they’re moved to make.

I have definite opinions of what makes a good potluck dish (ideally something that can be served at room temperature and can be eaten from a plate with a fork). I’m forever curious about the recipes that other people prefer for potlucks and so make a point of checking out new potluck cookbooks whenever one is published.

The latest book on the topic to come to market is Ali Rosen’s Bring It! Ali is the force behind Potluck Video, a video series that you can find online and on NYC Life on Thursday nights.

This book is broken up into seven chapters. It opens with an introductory section that offers tips on How to Bring It. From there, it moves into Hors d’Oeuvres and Dips, Salads, Casseroles/Pastas/Tarts, Meats and Fish, Veggies and Grains, and Desserts.

There’s plenty of appealing food in this book (though I find the photography style a little unsettling. The lighting feels excessively artificial). In addition to the dishes pictured throughout this post, I’ve marked the Grits Casserole (page 106), the Cherry Tomato Tart (page 117), and the Farro with Charred Vegetables (page 188) as things I hope to make.

If you’re someone who attends regular potlucks and needs new inspiration, this book will certainly be of use!

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Cookbooks: Eating From the Ground Up

I the kind of cook who tucks vegetables into nearly everything I cook. My turkey chili always includes wilted Swiss chard. I prefer my eggs perched on a bed of sauteed spinach or zucchini. And if I’m making a sandwich, I pile it high with sliced cucumber, lettuce, and ribbons of carrot. This habit of mine doesn’t always thrill my husband (he grew up with a mother who was less of a produce pusher than mine), but after 10+ years together, he’s gotten used to it.

All that said, I confess to having a somewhat limited repertoire of vegetable dishes. I rotate through steaming, roasting, and sauting most things. This gets the job done, but can lead to a certain weariness. However, recently my vegetable cookery has received a much-needed shot in the arm.

This is all thanks to Alana Chernila’s gorgeous new book, Eating From the Ground Up. Many of you might be familiar with Alana’s previous books, The Homemade Pantry and The Homemade Kitchen, as well as her blog (it shares a name with this new book).

What I love about this book is that it tackles vegetables from a number of different directions, all with delicious results. The book opens with a section entitled Barely Recipes. These are ideal for busy weeknights, when you need to get dinner on the table and value speed and flavor.

After that, you’ll find A Pot of Soup (filling and deeply savory), Too Hot to Cook (perfect for deep summer, when it doesn’t take much to make a flavorful meal), Warmth and Comfort (many of these make a main dish out of veg), and the final chapter, Celebrations and Other Excuses to Eat With Your Hands (with a title like that, it needs no additional description).

This book should be on your shelf if you keep a backyard garden, shop farmers markets, subscribe to a CSA share, or simply love vegetables. It’s one that I know I’ll turn to again and again.

Thanks to Clarkson Potter, I have a copy of this lovely book to giveaway this week. Please use the widget below to enter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book and the giveaway copy at no cost to me. No additional compensation was provided and all opinions are entirely my own.

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Loaded Baked Potato and Cauliflower Soup from Healthyish and OXO

Back in January, before I entered the “all work, all the time” stage of my book writing process, I said that I would participate in a blogging challenge with OXO. This one featured the new cookbook Healthyish by Lindsay Maitland Hunt and an array of OXO tools. I opted to make the Loaded Potato and Cauliflower Soup and soon after, received a copy of the book and some of the tools necessary to make a batch.

I unpacked the book and the tools, took some pretty pictures, and then got swept away in my own book frenzy. However, with the post deadline approaching, I did the hard mental work of switching gears (I’ve been so singularly focused that I’m fairly certain that my brain made a loud, screeching sound as I opened the book) and planned to make some soup.

I read the through the recipe, made a grocery list, and walked to pick up the ingredients I needed. Back home, I chopped, stirred, and pureed. As I worked, I realized that making someone else’s recipe was exactly what I needed. I didn’t have to take notes, measure the size of my dice, or pay close attention to the exact duration of the cooking time (when I develop recipes, I often run a stop watch to ensure that I exactly capture the timing).

It was also a pleasure to have some new OXO tools to use. I’m been in such a rut with my gear that the new equipment brought a really pleasurable lift to the act of cooking.

Here’s what they sent:

  • The Pro 8 inch Chef’s Knife – Wickedly sharp right out of the package and the perfect weight for flying through vegetables.
  • The Swivel Peeler – Grippy, sharp, and put my stained Y-model to shame.
  • The Wooden Corner Spoon – Made of solid wood and carved to the perfect angle for getting into the corner of the pot.
  • The Kitchen and Herb Scissors – Perfect for slicing the bacon into slivers for garnish, and the blades come apart for easy cleaning.
  • The Coarse Grater – This grater laughed at my hard cheddar and reduced it to shreds with ease. It’s also far simpler to clean than my ancient box grater.
  • The 12 inch Tongs – They are now the longest reaching tongs in my kitchen. They’re good for flipping bacon, retrieving toast, and grabbing boxes of crackers from on top of the fridge.

We ate this twice for dinner and each time I was reminded of the importance of taking time to eat good food and relax a little, even during the most action packed times. I look forward to cooking more of the recipes from Healthyish (though probably not until the book is turned in).

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The 2017 Class of Canning, Preserving, and Culinary DIY Books

It is time for my annual round-up of all the canning, pickling, and preserving (or preserving-adjacent) books that came out last year (I typically try to get this post up before the holidays, but I could not make it happen this time). Not all of these are traditional canning books, but all have a high enough number of jams, pickles, infusions, decoctions, and condiments that they deserve placement on the list.

Please forgive me if I missed a book! I do my best to keep track of the category, but occasionally a preserving book or two slips by me. If you feel like something was overlooked, please do let me know!

Artisanal Preserves – This is a beautifully packaged reissue of a classic preserving book by storied cooking teacher Madelaine Bullwinkel. It features traditional jams, jams without added sugar, jellies, marmalades, preserves, breads and muffins, and desserts. Amazon | Powell’s

Can It & Ferment It – Written by long-time canner Stephanie Thurow, this book is organized by season and offers recipes for both canned and fermented items. It focuses primarily on pickles, salsa, and relishes, so it’s a good one for folks who prefer the salty and tangy side of things. Amazon | Powell’s

Fermentation on Wheels – Part cookbook and part travelogue, this is the story of Tara Whitsitt’s years spent traveling in a school bus, sharing her love and knowledge of fermentation. It’s a delightful tale and the recipes can’t be beat.   Amazon | Powell’s

The Wildcrafted Cocktail – Written by foraging expert Ellen Zachos, this book offers up a wide array of garnishes, syrups, infusions, juices, and bitters made from ingredients you can often find in your own backyard. There’s a whole lot of inspiration here for anyone looking to take their home bar program from good to great. Amazon | Powell’s

Composing the Cheese Plate – The thing I always love about cheese plate books is that they’re often preserving books in disguise. This one, written by cheese evangelist Brian Keyser and pastry chef and condiment maker Leigh Friend, is bursting with an array of bright, creative, and unusual things to spread, smear, and dollop. Amazon | Powell’s

Preservation – For canners who like a goodly dose of science with their jams and pickles, there is no better book than Christina Ward’s comprehensive volume. She is a master food preserver who digs into the hows and whys of water activity, pectin, and the boiling water bath process. Amazon | Powell’s

Traditionally Fermented Foods – By Shannon Stonger, this book focuses on a wide spectrum of classic fermented foods. Shannon writes the blog Nourishing Days from her family’s small Texas farm and her book feels very much like an extension of her site. It’s friendly, helpful, and comes from a place of deep experience and expertise. Amazon | Powell’s

Fiery Ferments – The second book from seasoned pickle makers Kristen and Christopher Shockey, this one focuses on building pickles, sauces, and condiments that walk on the spicy side. You’ll find an in-depth sections on the ingredients that bring the heat like ginger, galangal, turmeric, peppercorns, and chiles. It’s so good for anyone longing to bring some serious zip to their fermentation. Amazon | Powell’s

Artisan Sourdough Made Simple – I’ve been an on and off sourdough baker for years now and this book by Emilie Raffa (she blogs at The Clever Carrot) is one of the best introductory books on the subject that I’ve seen. It also features a short but mighty section of dips, spreads, and jams towards the back that are good whether you’ve baked your own loaf or you’re picking one up at the market. Amazon | Powell’s

Ball Canning Back to Basics – This book was written by the Ball Canning test kitchen team and offers all the reliability of Ball recipes, with gorgeous step-by-step photography. If someone asked me to recommend an introductory canning book for a visual learner, this would be the very first volume I would suggest. Amazon | Powell’s

Modern Cider – With this book, Emma Christensen claims her crown as undisputed queen of small batch home brewing. It’s the perfect guide for anyone who has been intrigued by boozy fermentation but doesn’t drink beer. Amazon | Powell’s

Toast & Jam – Looking for a book that will get you stirring up tasty preserves AND help you discover a world of naturally leavened breads on which to spread them? Look no further than this gorgeous book by Sarah Owens (she also posts really amazing Instagram stories about her various ferments, preserves, and bakes). Amazon | Powell’s

Savory Sweet – This book, by Beth Dooley and Mette Nielsen, focuses on simple, approachable preserving with a northern sensibility. Organized by ingredient, all the recipes are small batch preserves that are low in sugar, are bright and zippy on the tongue, and can be stashed in the fridge or freezer rather than needing to be processed in a water bath canner. Amazon | Powell’s

The Essential Book of Homesteading – This hefty book gathers up all four of the books that Ashley English wrote for her Homemade Living series and tucks them into a single volume. It contains detailed info on canning, home dairy, keeping chickens, and raising bees. Amazon | Powell’s

The Joys of Jewish Preserving – Written by Food Swap! author Emily Paster, this lovely book celebrates the many aspects of traditional Jewish jams, pickles, fruit butters, and spreads. From your classic fermented deli pickle to lemon curd designed to use up extra egg yolks (common around Passover!), there’s a wealth of goodness here. Amazon | Powell’s

Preservation Pantry – Written by Sarah Marshall, the kitchen genius behind Marshall’s Haute Sauces, this is like an encyclopedia for canners. Organized by ingredient (much like Savory Sweet), this book goes well beyond the sauces that Sarah makes and sells. She digs into 24 different fruits and vegetables, and shows you how to preserve all that goodness without a smidgen of waste. Amazon | Powell’s

Kombucha, Kefir, and Beyond -This book, written by Alex Lewin and Raquel Guajardo, offers an array of approaches to fermented drinks. In 13 wide-ranging chapters, they hit on everything from kombucha to fermented cocktails. There are sodas, vegetable drinks, and even traditional Mexican fermented drinks that date back to the pre-Hispanic era. The recipes are relatively simple, intriguing, and entirely approachable. Amazon | Powell’s

Ferment – Written by Australian chef Holly Davis, this book offers up some serious fermentation knowledge (Sandor Katz wrote the introduction). For those who are looking to deepen their fermentation practice, I highly recommend it. Amazon

Homegrown Pantry -So often, people ask me if I grow what I can and if I could give them gardening advice. I always disappoint them when I confess that I’m not a gardener. Happily, this book by Barbara Pleasant, is designed to help you choose the best varieties to plant, determine how much you’ll need to grow, and the best ways to preserve the fruits, vegetables, and herbs that are the result of your hard work. Amazon | Powell’s

The Preservatory -This gorgeous, hard cover book by Lee Murphy contains 80 sophisticated, unusual, and intriguing recipes. They’re broken down so half are preserves and the balance is a collection of dishes, drinks, and baked goods that you can make with the contents of those glowing jars. Amazon | Powell’s

That wraps up this year’s class of preserving books. You can find previous years here: 2016 | 2015 | 2014

Disclosure: Some of the books pictured here were received as review copies. Others I bought. The Amazon links are affiliate (so I make a few pennies if you click over and buy). The Powell’s links are not. 

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