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.

Did You Know? (Lobster Edition)

That in 1880s Massachusetts servants went on strike so they wouldn’t have to eat lobster more than 3 times a week?

I found this information on page 215 in the book Good Eats, the Early Years by Alton Brown. This book is based on his TV series that explains the science of different foods, with lots of tidbits and trivia facts. Alton also gives very good instructions for preparing and cutting up a lobster, as well as a recipe for Stuffed Lobster.

The New York Times Seafood Cookbook edited by Florence Fabricant has many lobster recipes. I actually can’t wait to try my hand at making the Lobster Thermidor or risotto. For those of you who don’t have the opportunity to get or use fresh lobster, 200 Best Canned Fish & Seafood Recipes by Susan Sampson has recipes for Lobster Newberg, Lobster in Américaine Sauce and Shortcut Lobster Thermidor.

We mainly think of lobsters as an expensive delicacy but, back in the day, they were plentiful and cheap. As yummy as any one food can be, too much of a good thing can be very tiresome. Craving: Why We Can’t Seem To get Enough by Omar Manejwala, M.D. explains the science of why we crave certain things. Let’s just say it has a lot to do with neurotransmitters, serotonin, enkephalins, and norepinephrine. The author has lots of advice on how to break the cycles of addiction and craving.

Lobsters are crustaceans that belong to the larger family of arthropods. There are more than a million species of animals, and 3/4 of them are arthropods. Lobsters and other Crustaceans is a good book from the World Book’s ‘Animals of the World’ series. This children’s book explains all about lobsters being decapods (10 legs), their exoskeletons, molting, breeding and almost everything else you ever wanted to know about them! Animals Without Backbones by Ralph Buchsbaum gives even more details about these fascinating creatures.

And lastly, The Lobster is a funny movie about finding love… The story centers on David, as he searches for love at an exclusive resort. But, there’s a catch: you have 45 days to find love or you will be turned into an animal of your choosing!

Thrills and Grills: Summer Cooking

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
When the gas grills are flowing and charcoal is glowing and we’ve got cold beers!
It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Seriously. Summer is my jam. Well, actually autumn is my jam because the temperatures don’t get all high and mighty. But I’ll take summer for all the wonderful tastes and smells it has to offer. I’ve called you here today to tell you about the wonderful new books that are going to help you have the best barbecue on the block. So stock up on wet wipes and read on!

Let’s jump right in and talk about how to cook your meat so perfectly it makes people drool before, during, and even after eating. While these first two titles might seem silly, I promise you the authors and publishers are quite serious about their barbecue. The South’s Best Butts by Matt Moore has over 150 tried and true recipes from some of the best barbecue joints in the South. Divided by restaurant, you’ll find meaty recipes throughout the first half of the book. While this does mean it’s laid out more creatively than a traditional cookbook that might place all the pork recipes together, for example, it also means you get to read about each restaurant which will make creating your barbecue road trip itinerary a snap. (Yes. I dream of taking a vacation where my husband and I do nothing but drive from one barbecue restaurant to the next as we wind our way around the country. Tell me this doesn’t sound like a rad idea!) For those looking for side dishes there’s a wide selection in the back part of the book. The genius recipes are those that incorporate the meat from the front part of the book, meaning you have ready-made ideas for any leftovers that didn’t already get gobbled up the day you cooked.

My personal favorite new barbecue cookbook however is Praise the Lard by Mike and Amy Mills. I admit I’m totally biased towards this book because both the Mills family and I hail from Southern Illinois (618 for life!) where you can find good barbecue all around you. Pork steaks, burnt ends, and ribs as far as the eye can see. Sorry. I went somewhere just then in my mind. I think I went to barbecue heaven, which can actually be found in Praise the Lard. But all of my dreams can be a reality by following the recipes on pages 101, 116, and 88, 92, 107 respectively. I got a little antsy with the church-themed chapter titles and wordplay, but it’s also representative of Southern Illinois and so I gave it grace and moved onward. In addition to intricate smoking and grilling recipes for meat, you can also find recipes for everything from sauces and seasonings to drinks and side dishes. They even show you how to cook the whole hog so you can make your dreams of a luau a reality at your next family reunion or block party.

Side note: if you know how to become a barbecue photographer please get in touch with me. Asking for a friend.

When it comes to summer drinking there’s nothing I want less than a heavy alcoholic drink. Think about it: we’re standing out in the heat, maybe even burning in direct sunlight. Aside from a nice cold beer or hard cider fresh from the cooler, what really hits the spot are low-alcoholic icy cold cocktails. Day Drinking: 50 Cocktails for a Mellow Buzz by Kat Odell will become your go-to beverage bible all summer long. Perfect for mixology beginners like me, Day Drinking explains all the perplexing-sounding techniques like muddling and dry shaking and builds confidence by reminding us that many recipes can — and should — be improvised. Included in the book are recipes for various flavored syrups you can make at home, making it super-easy to switch out ingredients and make your own bespoke cocktail. None of the drinks actually require a specific glass or container, meaning those red Solo cups that have become a staple at parties everywhere can hold your sorta-fancy low-booze beverage just as well as it holds beer fresh from the keg. That said, I must note that I’m drawn to visually interesting drinks like The Regent’s Royale that’s served in a hollowed-out pineapple, which is a bit of work but also means I get to eat a bunch of pineapple!

So there you have it. With just a couple of library books and a little bit of planning you can rock the best summer barbecue on the block. Now if you’ll excuse me I need to wipe the drool off my chin before my boss sees me.

All I Wanted for Christmas was Time to Read!

Time, that precious and fleeting commodity. Like sand through the hourglass indeed, time just seems to slip right through my fingers. As soon as I get some it’s already gone. Etc. Etc. I know you know what I mean! As you read this I’m enjoying a break from the library, spending time with family and reading next to a crackling fire while snow blankets the flat-yet-somehow-rolling hills of Southern Illinois. I decided to treat myself this year and set aside time to read. Here are some of the books I’ve taken 2,200 miles away with me.

relishRelish by Lucy Knisley
Did you read Hot Dog Taste Test by Lisa Hanawalt? I’m hoping this will be similar, a graphic memoir about food and the people who love it. In Lucy Knisley’s case she takes actual episodes from her life and frames them by what she was eating at the time. There are recipes in every chapter and I’m hoping to find one I can make with family on my trip. Even if I strike out I’m sure I’ll love reading about all the food. ALL THE FOOD! *grabby hands*

 

 

9781925321548Lady Cop Makes Trouble by Amy Stewart
Um, so reading Girl Waits With Gun set me down a winding, happy road of reading books solely based on someone else’s recommendation. In the case of GWWG it was intrepid librarian and awesome colleague Joyce Hansen who was discussing it as part of the library’s monthly book discussion group. Lady Cop Makes Trouble is the sequel to GWWG and I can’t wait to jump back in time nearly 100 years to the world of Constance Kopp and her determined sisters.

 

 

before-i-fallBefore I Fall by Lauren Oliver
I have a fantastic hair stylist. Not only does she give me amazing hair, she also loves to swap book recommendations with me. The last time I was in she was raving about the book she had just finished and thought I would love it, too. I confess for a minute I thought she was recommending Before the Fall by Noah Hawley, which was a breakout hit of the summer but definitely a very different book than this! Before I Fall (what, do you find this confusing or something?!) is about a teen reliving the last day of her life over and over again after she dies. I am a sucker for the “I woke up dead, now what?” type of books so of course this sounds right up my alley. Before the Fall, bee-tee-dubs, is about a regional plane crash, the two survivors, and the backstories of those who perished. I’ll probably read that one at some point, but definitely not while traveling on a plane myself!

relentlessRelentless by Cherry Adair
Oh, Cherry! I had read a few of her books years ago but here’s what’s getting me back into her work: Cherry herself. I was lucky to have been on the planning committee for a library conference back in October and she was one of our keynote speakers (we also had authors Lauren Dane and Susan Mallery, and the Romantic Times Librarian of the Year Robin Bradford of Timberland Regional Library, who are all incredibly awesome human beings and I really hope to hang with them all again). Cherry was a hoot, always cracking me up and getting me involved in what was going on inside her head. Impossibly tall and drop-dead gorgeous shoes lined up in her custom closet? Check. What sorts of shenanigans go on at the Romantic Times convention? Check. Then she got up in front of 120+ amazing professionals and proceeded to act out a raunchy scene from a book that inspired one of her own. Oh my word, that woman is amazing and I want to get back into her books like, now!

untitled-design-1

The chilly, nasty winter weather just makes me want to curl up and get lost in a good book and there’s never been a better time than right now. And maybe later. And definitely on the plane ride home. Oh! And on the commute there’s that audiobook I’d like to try…

Best of 2016 Redux

It’ll probably come as no surprise to you that those of us who work in libraries tend to be voracious readers. We consume information, words, articles, books, and series as fast as we can manage. Part of it is a personal interest and part of it is professional: we can do a better job recommending things to you if we’ve read a variety of things ourselves. That’s a very long-winded way of saying we had more recommendations for 2016 than we could fit in our previous posts. So without further ado I present to you everything else we loved to bits this year.

Adult Fiction
adult-fiction

A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin
Summary: Milo Andret, a strange but uniquely talented loner who develops into a brilliant mathematician, is plagued by alternating feelings of grandiosity and utter failure. Milo’s son Hans, similarly brilliant and troubled, tells the second half of Milo’s story.
Why Elizabeth liked it: This book opened my eyes to the intensely grueling, emotionally devastating world of academic competition. Milo’s self-destructive tendencies are painful indeed, but what lingers is amazement at the transformative power of family.

The Man Without a Shadow by Joyce Carol Oates
Summary: After a life threatening brain infection robbed Elihu Hoopes of his short term memory he endures decades of testing at the hands of neuroscientists. Margot Sharpe develops her whole career from these studies but also develops feelings for her subject.
Why Elizabeth liked it: If you like psychology, brain science, bizarre human relationships, and hints of a dark and mysterious past, you will eat this up! Oates exposes the ruthless nature of scientific study in this suspenseful and disturbing tale.

The Nest by Cynthia D’aprix Sweeney
Summary: The Plumb siblings have always expected a large inheritance as soon as the youngest, Melody, turned 40. That day is nearing when Beatrice, Jack and Melody are devastated to discover that Leo’s wild ways have resulted in a loss of most of the Nest.
Why Elizabeth liked it: Dysfunctional family drama galore! The siblings are flawed, funny, and (mostly) financially doomed. I found myself thinking why is this so entertaining? Because the writing, the family, the setting (NYC) all add up to a really engrossing page turner.

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
Summary: Two middle school friends learn of their special powers.  Laurence is able to tweak the time continuum, and Patricia has the ability to talk to animals.  Earth is doomed, and their relationship may restore humanity, or their opposing views may collide.
Why Sarah liked it: This is a quirky fantasy, sci-fi, dystopian romance, with superb technological innovations, and lots of spunk.

Georgia by Dawn Tripp
Summary: Georgia O’Keeffe‘s artistic focus and determination was helped and sometimes hurt by her decades-long relationship with photographer Alfred Stieglitz. While this is fiction, Tripp’s research and skill at imagining Georgia’s thoughts give it the ring of truth.
Why Elizabeth liked it: I have really enjoyed the handful of historical fiction books about artists that I have read, and this one may be the best yet. At the end I was newly, and greatly, impressed with O’Keeffe and had to seek out books about her art.

LaRose by Louise Erdrich
Summary: Imagine you accidentally shot your best friend’s son, and the custom forced you to give your own child to the bereaved family? LaRose, one of many with that name in his family of healers, is the child who is given away.
Why Elizabeth liked it: The incredibly richly imagined cast of characters makes for a very engrossing read. Since this is the 15th of Erdrich’s North Dakota Cycle I am looking forward to reading a lot more about this community.

Young Adult Fiction
ya fiction

I Woke Up Dead at the Mall by Judy Sheehan
Summary: Sixteen-year-old Sarah wakes up dead at the Mall of America only to find she was murdered, and she must work with a group of dead teenagers to finish up the unresolved business of their former lives while preventing her murderer from killing again.
Why Carol liked it: Despite the serious subject matter of, ya know, waking up dead and knowing someone killed you, this book was quirky good fun! I really wanted a sequel, but I think this book will stand alone.

These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas
Summary: In 1882 England when her sister Rose vanishes, Evelyn, bored with society and its expectations, embarks on a search for Rose, encountering the reclusive Sebastian Braddock, who is also looking for Rose and claiming that both sisters have healing powers.
Why Carol liked it: I read this in April and my memory is struggling with specifics here in December. So here’s my Goodreads review from April: Witty as hell and so fast-paced my neck almost snapped. Can’t wait for book 2!

Adult Nonfiction
adult-nonfiction

French Country Cooking: Meals and Moments from a Village in the Vineyards by Mimi Thorisson
Summary: A captivating journey to off-the-beaten-path French wine country with 100 simple yet exquisite recipes, 150 sumptuous photographs, and stories inspired by life in a small village.
Why Leslie liked it: This beautiful cookbook has approachable recipes, especially the “staff meals.” I love the vichyssoise! So simple and good.

The Aleppo Cookbook: Celebrating the Legendary Cuisine of Syria by Marlene Matar
Summary: Wonderful full-color photographs of the food, people, and markets of Aleppo make this a stunning cookbook and fitting tribute to a beautiful city and the suffering its people continue to endure.
Why Pat liked it: Tempting recipes, culturally informative text, great illustrations, and a message of hope of rebuilding this ancient city yet one more time– everything you can want in a cookbook and more–a beautiful, meaningful book.

Superbetter by Jane McGonigal
Summary: Self-help with a twist! McGonigal studies game theory so this method of getting better from illness, depression or other situations is full of quests, power ups, superhero identities, etc. By making your life “gameful” you can battle your “bad guys” and win.
Why Elizabeth liked it: I am not much of a self-help reader but the methods in this book feel like they would actually work while being fun rather than tedious. It could make a real difference in helping people develop resilience, and improve mental health and happiness.

Graphic Novels for Kids
graphic-novels-for-kids

Dog Man by Dav Pilkey
Summary: George and Harold, protagonists from the Captain Underpants series, create a new comic called Dog Man. It’s just as silly and irreverent as you would expect Dav Pilkey to be.
Why Emily liked it: For fans of Wimpy Kid, Big Nate, Captain Underpants, Bad Kitty, and other humorous, illustrated fiction.

Poptropica 1: Mystery of the Map by Jack Chabert
Summary: Oliver, Mya, and Jorge take a ride in a hot-air balloon, only to crash-land on an unknown island filled with extinct animals and a horde of angry Vikings.
Why Andrea liked it: This graphic novel is a great introduction to the worlds of Poptropica (a gaming website for children 6 to 10 years old). It is filled with exciting chase scenes, hilarious dodo birds, and a daring prison break.