136 Recipes That Saved My Life

We are living in unprecedented times. Most of us are stuck at home involuntarily, trying to cope the best we can.

In 2009, Ruth Reichl found herself in a similar situation. She had been the editor of Gourmet magazine for ten years and was in Seattle doing publicity for a new cookbook the magazine had just published when she received a mysterious call from her boss. “You need to return to New York right away,” he said. He refused to tell her why. In a staff meeting the next morning, all the employees were told that the magazine would stop publishing immediately. They were fired.

At the age of 61, Ruth feared she would never get another job and worried how she would support her family. Stuck at home, she began to cook. In the next year, cooking would be her salvation, healing her wounds and providing her with a new source of income when she turned that year of cooking into a cookbook and memoir called My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life. We have this book in our digital collection as a Cloud Library e-book. She also has a famous Twitter feed with over a million followers. Her short poetic tweets are scattered throughout her book.

Ruth is a very engaging writer and many of the recipes in this book use only a few ingredients and are fairly simple to make. I found it soothing to follow along as someone else dealt with being at home unexpectedly (albeit with trips to the farmers market that are not possible for me right now). I’m planting Broccoli Raab in my garden this week and I’m hoping to try her recipe for Broccoli Raab Bruschetta in a couple of months.

After My Kitchen Year, she wrote a memoir of her years at Gourmet magazine titled Save Me the Plums – we have Save Me the Plums in our digital collection as both an e-book and an e-audiobook. We also have Tender at the Bone, a memoir of her early life, as an e-book and Delicious, a novel she wrote, as an e-book.

eCookbooks at EPL

A slew of new eCookbooks have landed at our online library!    

Ready to whip up a heap of comfort food, or try your hand as a dough puncher (industry lingo for bread baker)? Haven’t been out to the grocery store lately? We’ve got you covered. The library has eCookbooks for all of those scenarios and more. So. Let’s get cooking!

A few categories of cookbooks lend themselves perfectly to the practice of hibernating, settling inside for an extended period of time. One such type is pantry cooking: cookbooks chock full of recipes that use what you have on hand, and many are easy, perfect for cooks at entry level and up.

For instance, Michael Love has many yummy recipes in The Salvage Chef Cookbook: More Than 125 Recipes, Tips, and Secrets to Transform What You Have in Your Kitchen into Delicious Dishes for the Ones You Love. Besides the recipes, Love explains how to lengthen the shelf life of items and answers a variety of questions about how cooking meals can be easier and more successful based on the underpinnings of a kitchen.

Hack Your Cupboard: Make Great Food with What You’ve Got by Alyssa Wiegand goes over what food storage areas typically have (and what they ought to have) and then delves into age-specific guidance to help you move on to more ambitious meals. Under the heading Toast, Wiegand offers three kinds of Avocado toast as well as adventurous versions of meal and snack staples, including Pepperoni Grilled Cheese and Curry Lime popcorn. Under Raman Hacks cooks can select from, among others,  Raman with Ham, Egg and Spinach as well as Coconut Curry Raman. I also like the sound of her Rotisserie Chicken Hacks and the list of many marvelous Microwave Hacks recipes, including Mushroom and Egg Cheese Bowl. And finally, show off your new cooking skills in what she calls, A Family Celebration Dinner, a collection of recipes to choose from for dinner and dessert.

Add ‘easy’ to ‘make with comfort food’ and you have yourself a popular recipe. Danielle Centoni turns an old standby favorite, fried rice, on its head with delectable results. with Fried Rice: 50 Ways to Stir Up the World’s Favorite Grain. For easy and healthy, try Fix-It and Forget-It Healthy 5-Ingredient Cookbook by Hope Comerford. For easy and fast, check out The Two-Pan, One-Pot Cookbook: A Guide to Cooking Great Meals Quickly, in Any Kitchen, and On Any Budget by Hope Korenstein. It can help you to swiftly deliver a meal and remove hunger pains at the same time.

Besides the aforementioned titles, aspiring cooks can pick up valuable information that deconstructs how all the food parts fit together in the critically acclaimed Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking by Samin Nosrat.

Comfort and freshly baked bread go hand in hand (don’t forget the butter!). If you’re looking for all of the above as well as the ultimate weekend baking project (any two days will do) that ends with you popping a warm piece of bread in your mouth, see if these cookbooks don’t do the trick.

In David Norman’s debut cookbook, Bread on the Table: Recipes for Making and Enjoying Europe’s Most Beloved Breads, he spells out bread baking traditions, learned first-hand traveling throughout Europe and North America. Home bakers will revel in the clear instructions and terrific photography, as well as the menu suggestions, which he has designed to showcase the bread you make. A fixture in Austin, head baker Norman and Easy Tiger Bakery and Beer Garden have recently committed to baking 10,000 loaves in 60 days to distribute to organizations that are experiencing increased demands from those in need, a direct result of the Coronavirus. Norman’s book was named one of the best cookbooks of the year by The New York Times Book Review in 2019.

Then there’s David Leader’s Living Bread: Tradition and Innovation in Artisan Bread Making, released last October. Living Bread is an introduction to everything bread and includes recipes inspired from bakers around the world.  A pioneer in American artisan bread baking, Leader started baking bread out of a wood-fired oven in the southern Catskills. From the start, he produced traditional, European-style bread shaped by hand. Perfect for the enthusiastic home baker.

Bon appétit!

Did You Know? (Hotcake Edition)

That the difference between pancakes, griddlecakes, johnnycakes and hotcakes depends mostly on if they are made with flour or corn meal?

In researching for this blog, every time I thought I had it figured out I’d find another recipe that contradicted it! Mostly from what I’ve seen, pancakes and johnnycakes (more about them below) are made with corn meal and griddlecakes and hotcakes are made from flour. That excludes buckwheat pancakes which are made with buckwheat, which is also known as Kasha.

Buckwheat, with its origins in China, was produced in Europe in the 1900s and was used in traditional crêpes (pancakes) and galettes (flat cakes) according to The Story of Food (page 239) from DK publishing.

In the UK, flapjacks are made out of sugar, butter, oats, and honey, but in the US, they are synonymous with hotcakes.

I think pretty much anywhere in the world you will find some version of hotcakes. Some are sweet and others are savory. Some are topped and others are filled. Here is a list of a few of the options:

Asian nonya spring roll pancakes

Brazil’s panqueca de carne moida are meat-filled crêpes.

Chinese bao bing (a thin pancake)

Dutch poffertjes (made with a yeast-raised recipe)

French crêpes (crêpes is French for pancake)

Korean hotteok sweet stuffed pancakes

Korean seafood pancakes are reminiscent of egg foo young.

German pfannkuchen (crêpe)

Hungarian palacsinta (crêpe)

Japanese okonomiyaki is the savory, saucy single pancake meal of your dreams.

Nigerian diet are gorgeous, spicy, chewy pancakes.

Spanish panqueques rely on fluffy whipped egg whites to make them incredibly light. (crepe)

Thai roti cooked with egg and drizzled with sweetened condensed milk. Thai roti are folded over and over to get beautiful layers when you bite into it. It looks like baklava.

Vietnamese Bánh Khot are tiny, crispy, savory seafood pancakes that are perfect two-bite morsels.

The website What’s Cooking America has a great article all about johnnycakes. They are made with cornmeal and are the New England equivalent of tortillas. They are known under a variety of names: Johnnycakes, johnny cakes, jonnycake, ashcake, battercake, corn cake, cornpone, hoecake, hoe cake, journey cake, mush bread, pone, Shawnee cake, jonakin, and jonikin. They are all regional names for this cornmeal flatbread.

The origin of the name johnnycakes is something of a mystery and probably has nothing to do with the name John. They were also called journey cakes because they could be carried on long trips in saddlebags and baked along the way. Historians also think that “janiken,” a Native American word that means “corncake,” could possibly be the origin.

Waffles, Crêpes and Pancakes by Norma Miller has all kinds of recipes for the titled items. I can’t wait to try the Tiramisu Pancakes!

Paul Bunyan Swings his Ax by Dell J. McCormic has a story about Paul Bunyan’s logging camp and the 10-acre griddle used to make hot griddlecakes so large that it took 5 men to eat one!

So the next time you are having a short stack, think about all the different things people call them, and the fact that around the world there are probably thousands of people eating a hotcake right now.

Snowpocalypse Reading List

Snowpocalypse. Oh thank goodness, the first two weeks of February are finally behind us. Yes, it actually happened. No, I didn’t enjoy it.* I mean, who would enjoy record-breaking snowfall in an area of the country not used to having snow accumulation at all, let alone several snowfalls piling up over such a short time?

*This is a lie. I completely enjoyed it to the very depths of my Midwestern soul! I didn’t enjoy having to call off work for the first two days since I couldn’t get out of my driveway, however. I mean, what self-respecting snow driver from Southern Illinois would I be if my pride didn’t hurt quite a bit admitting defeat like that?

The silver lining was the unexpected reading time that suddenly stretched out before me. Even though I had a ton of novels I picked up from a recent library conference, my mind was drawn to a few nonfiction books I had checked out from the library. These books became my Snowpocalypse reading list.

Hummingbirds: A Life-Size Guide to Every Species
When I woke up that first Monday morning to see the snow, I started freaking out about the Anna’s hummingbirds who hang out in my yard. Thank goodness I had spring on my mind the previous week and had checked out this comprehensive book about hummingbirds. What began as a curiosity to discover whether I could attract multiple species to my yard became a quest to keep my Anna’s alive. Page 335 declares this species status to be of least concern, but I knew locally our birds were in trouble. I practically memorized the section on feeding and trooped out back to wipe the snow off the one hanging feeder, also throwing seed down on clear patches for the seed-loving birds. Then I set to work making fresh nectar, filling two feeders, and rotating them out every few hours so the nectar wouldn’t freeze. One of my regular hummers buzzed me the first few times I did this, either out of appreciation or anger I couldn’t tell. But I did feel a little like Snow White the way the birds kept popping up in my yard so I choose to believe it was total appreciation.

Instant Pot Fast & Easy written by Urvashi Pitre with photographs by Ghazalle Badiozamani
There’s nothing quite like cold, dreary days to make me want something hot and filling to eat. Don’t worry–I’m not a French toaster. That’s something we Midwesterners call folks who stock up on milk, eggs, and bread anytime a snowflake appears in the forecast. But I did find myself with extra time and an extra empty belly from all the work I was doing in the yard for the birds. Enter food blogger and cookbook author Urvashi Pitre, whose blending of different cuisines was just what I needed. My favorite recipe I made was the deceptively simply titled Garlic Chicken. The mustard-based marinade and extra garlic in this recipe made my mouth water and my house smell amazing. This book is perfect for those times you can’t decide what type of food you’re craving. There is such a variety of recipes I’m sure you can find something for everyone.

No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work by Liz Fosslien & Mollie West Duffy
Me: Why do you want this job?
Interviewee: I love reading and I would love to read all day like you do.
…crickets…
This was an actual conversation I had with someone I was interviewing for a job working the checkout desk at a small but very busy library. The myth of the aloof reader perpetuates library work, but the reality is that all day every day we library workers are moving from one task to the next, mostly interacting directly with real people. Customers, coworkers, and bosses alike–no one truly works alone. Good communication skills are the best tools to have in your tool belt, both at work and in your personal life. But the one thing most books about communication skip over are the emotions that each of us is walking around with all the time and how those can vary widely from person to person, hour to hour. That’s why when books like No Hard Feelings hit my radar I drop everything to read it cover-to-cover. With accessible language and helpful–and often humorous–illustrations, the authors break down the best ways to deal with both your emotions and those that surround you. Spoiler: you can’t make emotions go away or pretend they don’t exist, so don’t try. I was able to immediately try out some of the techniques at home, when the cabin fever hit my husband and me and our emotions were getting real. See? It’s not just another business book. The information can be applied to your whole life.

I was lucky to have entered the Snowpocalypse with a full slate of reading material whose information could immediately be used in activities to help keep animals alive and keep boredom at bay. Here are some of the ways I used what I learned. And while I can still hear the stacks of unread novels crying out to me, I know I did the right thing in reading nonfiction while trapped inside my house.

Warm Up with These Cookbooks

The days are getting shorter, the air is moving from crisp to cold, the furnace is kicking on more than I’d like to admit, and I’m staying inside as much as possible. It can be tempting to fall into the gloom of the season, but I’m one of those weirdos who loves the grey, rainy weather we get here in the winter. This is the time of year where I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, trying out new recipes and techniques as well as indulging in family favorites. There’s just something about walking into a warm house that smells like something amazing has been cooking for hours that makes me feel all cozy inside. If you want to bring some of that magic into your own home, I highly recommend giving these cookbooks a whirl.

First, let’s talk techniques. I will pull a good recipe from anywhere: cookbooks, the internet, a cooking show, calling my mom up and having her recite it for me to transcribe–I will go anywhere for a good recipe! However, if I’m trying a new technique I always have questions. Luckily the geniuses at America’s Test Kitchen have put their heads together and published Kitchen Smarts: Questions and Answers to Boost Your Cooking IQ. I absolutely love how the book is laid out. There are two tables of contents. One breaks it down by ingredient/theme: baking, meat, herbs, etc. The other spells out the topics by chef problem: kitchen mythbusters, substitutions, confidence, science, and even a pronunciation guide so you don’t sound like a n00b when you discuss your new skills over dinner. Whether you’re just dabbling in cooking for the first time or you’re already a seasoned chef, you’ll want to ensure this book is as easily accessible as your pepper mill.


Now, on to the cookbooks! I can tell right away that The Winter Table by Lisa Lemke is going to become my go-to for cold weather comfort food. Easy to understand directions and beautiful photography make this one of those rare cookbooks you might be tempted to read cover-to-cover (I know I was!). There are lots of soups, casseroles, one pot meals, and other easy to prepare dishes perfect for long winter evenings. And if you’re looking to try your hand at make-ahead freezer cooking, check out Jane Butel’s Freezer Cookbook. This is an update to her classic cookbook that lead the charge for make-ahead chefs everywhere. What the book lacks in photographs it more than makes up for in quality recipes with instructions that are easy to follow. Freezer meals are great solutions for when you have time only sporadically to prepare meals but can still have something delicious and home-cooked whenever you need it.


If pressure cookers are more your thing, I have books for those, too! Dinner In an Instant by Melissa Clark features thorough recipes for everything from cheeses and yogurt (yes, homemade yogurt is A Thing!), to risotto and even mint crème brûlée. My engineer husband loves making crème brûlée, mainly because he loves the taste but also so he can torch it at the end with literal fire. Then we have The Art of Great Cooking with Your Instant Pot by Emily Sunwell-Vidaurri. Unlike most pressure cooker cookbooks, this one has photographs for every single recipe. When you’re trying something new in the kitchen it’s so helpful to have photographs to guide you during preparation. I’m already drooling over the breakfast recipes in this book, especially the Sausage & Gouda Breakfast Pudding (page 146).


If all else fails it’s time to bring out our old, trusted friend: the slow cooker. It’s difficult to argue that you don’t have time to cook when cooking can mean dumping ingredients into a machine, hitting a button, going to work, and coming home to dinner that’s waiting for you! Here are just a few of the new slow cooker cookbooks that you can try this winter:
Fix-It and Forget-It Cookbook (revised & updated) by Phyllis Good
No-Prep Slow Cooker by Chrissy Taylor
The Complete Slow Cooker by America’s Test Kitchen
Fix-It and Forget-It Holiday Favorites by Hope Comerford
Stock the Crock by Phyllis Good

Whether I’m prepping for a holiday get-together or just trying to mix it up mid-week, these cookbooks have just what I need to see myself through these long winter nights. Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s some chopping to be done and that butter knife isn’t going to lick itself.

Reading That Satisfies

There’s still time to complete another summer reading challenge before the August 31st deadline! Today I present to you a bountiful feast of books about food. Most of these are straight-up cookbooks, though some include recipes as more of an aside. Either way they totally count toward your reading challenge and have the added benefit of helping you put fantastic meals on the table.

Just click on the book you like and you’ll be taken to the online catalog where you can drool over a larger cover image and place a hold.

               

If you’d like some more reading suggestions to complete more reading challenges check out this series of blog posts designed to help you read and succeed.

Julie Does Some Cast-Iron Cooking

Enjoy this review, complete with an example of her excellent cooking, from Julie for the book:

The Cast-Iron Pies Cookbook by Dominique Devito

I usually only use my cast iron for searing steaks, but this cookbook changed all that. I made the Spinach Sun-Dried Tomato Quiche and it is delicious! I was nervous about it sticking to my pan, but it came out perfectly and did not ruin the pan. I will have to check this book out again, especially now that it is farmers’ market season.