Eating History

If you want to live, you gotta eat. A pretty basic truth and one we tend to take for granted. While gourmands argue about what wine to pair with what fish and health gurus debate the merits of protein vs carbs, a lot of the interesting questions about food go unanswered: Why do we eat what we eat? Why do certain peoples and regions eat different things? What the heck is a ‘square meal’ and where did it come from? Luckily, if you want to find answers to these questions and more, the Everett Public Library is the place to be. There are actually a large number of works on the history of food and eating that are fascinating and help you appreciate this seemingly basic human need. Read on for a few choice examples.

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A History of Food in 100 Recipes by William Sitwell
Taking a pleasingly micro approach to the history of food, Sitwell lays out a fascinating chronology, based on actual recipes, that demonstrates the evolution of food preparation and our eating habits. Everything from Ancient Egyptian bread (1958-1913 BCE), Dried Fish (800 AD), Soufflé (1816) and Rice Krispies Treats (1941) are covered. Far from just a collection of eccentric dishes, however, this work is full of interesting insights into why and what we eat.

Consider the Fork: a History of How We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson
Instead of focusing on the food itself, this work tracks the history of cooking through the technologies used to create the dishes we eat. While we tend to take for granted many seemingly simple kitchen implements (like the knife, the rice cooker and the egg timer) Wilson describes the surprisingly complicated and significant histories behind them.

Sweet Invention: a History of Dessert by Michael Krondl
Whether you believe dessert is the last part of a meal or a meal in itself, this book will prove entertaining and informative reading. Part history and part travelogue, Krondl travels the globe talking with confectioners and examining the dessert traditions of different cultures and countries and how they evolved over time.

British Food: An Extraordinary Thousand Years of History by Colin Spencer
One of the most vilified cuisines deserves an extraordinary and entertaining history; Spencer does not disappoint in this engaging work. The ups, yes there were ups, and downs of Britain’s food reputation are lovingly cataloged. Interestingly, the author charts the most recent downturn to the Victorian period when raw food was frowned upon and every foodstuff imaginable was boiled.

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Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal by Abigail Carroll
More than a history of breakfast, lunch, and dinner in America, Carroll traces the evolution of eating habits in the United States from the colonial era to the present day. As with much U.S. history, the one constant appears to be change itself. The biggest change turns out to be the industrial revolution and its regularization of the workday, leaving dinner as the only time available for a proper sit down meal with the family.

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Love and Longing by Anya Von Bremzen
A fascinating memoir and history told through classic Soviet dishes. The author was raised in a communal apartment with 18 other people and one kitchen before immigrating to the United States with her mother in the 1970s. Now the author of several international cookbooks, this is the tale of her upbringing and the food so closely associated with it.

Rice, Noodle, Fish: Deep Travels Through Japan’s Food Culture by Matt Goulding
Part travel guide and part food history, this book explores the deep and complicated food culture of Japan. Goulding travels throughout the country visiting the many different restaurants (including ramen, tempura, soba and sushi shops) exploring the food and history of each. The author is also not shy about giving recommendations of which restaurants to go to and which to avoid.

Dining with the Famous and Infamous by Fiona Ross
Taking food history to a personal level, Ross sets out to discover the eating habits of many interesting contemporary and historical figures. From George Orwell to Marilyn Monroe, the individual eating habits of the great and no so great are explored. This collection of food voyeurism is a guilty pleasure but impossible to ignore.

I hope you have enjoyed this small sampling of the many great works available on food, dinning and their history here at the library. Reading might actually burn calories so no need to worry about overindulgence.

641.84: A Tale of Two Burgers

pornburger

I. Love. Burgers.

At any given moment I would like nothing more than to sink my teeth into a couple of juicy, almost sizzling patties smothered in cheese, grilled onions, and topped with a slice of tomato and crispy thin bacon. I think Jimmy Buffet said it best:

I like mine with lettuce and tomato
Heinz 57 and french fried potatoes
Big kosher pickle and a cold draft beer
Well, good God Almighty which way do I steer?!
Apparently you steer toward the actual Cheeseburger in Paradise restaurant in one of seven states (sadly, not Washington…yet).

So it should come as no surprise that two recently acquired cookbooks have sent my heart into a tizzy, not just because of all the cholesterol it’s now anticipating.

Pornburger: Hot Buns and Juicy Beefcakes by Mathew Ramsey is not just the winner for ‘Best Title of the Year’ in my mental book awards. It’s a mouthwatering cookbook perfect for summer evenings spent around the grill. I literally salivate every time I open the book. This cannot be stressed enough. Do not read this book on an empty stomach. You have been warned.

Glad we got that out of the way! Pornburger has some incredible basic and not-so-basic burger recipes to satisfy both your burger cravings and your need to create something magical in the kitchen. Ramsey calls the book “an ingredient-driven Choose Your Own Adventure-style experiment, where all roads lead into the mouth of burger madness.” And it’s true! You are the boss of your own burger recipe. You can mix and match sauces, condiments, veggies, pickles, buns, etc.

You’re not limited to just ground beef patties either. Venison, pork, lamb, chicken (ground or fried–yes, fried chicken!) or even lobster can be your main attraction. There’s even a great recipe for a veggie burger that looks so much better than those sad frozen pucks you buy in a box.

And don’t stop there! Make your own pickles and condiments and wow the pants off of your dinner party (not literally–though, whatever floats your boat). Some examples include mustard caviar, pumpkin aioli, bacon jam, relish, and even bacon peanut butter. Why I haven’t made that last one yet is obviously a major oversight on my part. There are also recipes to make your own buns and breads, as well as sides and drinks sure to compliment your creations.

But wait, there’s more! While Pornburger is everything I’ve ever wanted in a burger cookbook, I’m also a rabid fan of the TV show Bob’s Burgers which just recently aired their 100th episode. Since the first episode was broadcast, my friend and colleague Jennifer was on my case to watch that show. “You’re going to love it!” was a phrase I heard until my ears bled. Like a fool I resisted until about season 3. She convinced me to give it one episode and if I didn’t love it, she’d never mention it again.

Reader, I loved it to pieces.

If you’re not familiar, Bob’s Burgers is both the name of an animated TV show and the name of the burger restaurant featured in the show. The Belcher family runs this small burger joint in a small seaside community on the East Coast.

Smash-cut to two years later and the world has been gifted with the publication of The Bob’s Burgers Burger Book: Real Recipes for Joke Burgers. For those in the know, Bob keeps a daily burger board behind the counter. Each day on the show the burger of the day changes, and there’s usually a dad pun involved in the name. Well, the geniuses at Fox decided that they should take all those pun-burgers and turn them into actual recipes.

bobs burgers with beefsquatch

What better way to introduce this cookbook than to replicate the Beefsquatch episode (season 2, episode 9)? Bob gets cast as a TV chef on a local morning show, and Gene steals the show as the burger-mad Beefsquatch. The recipe for that episode’s Bruschetta ‘Bout It burger is on page 25.

I know what you’re thinking. The pun burgers on Bob’s Burgers are so simple, why would I need a recipe to create them at home? I see where you’re going but I’m here to tell you you’re wrong. Or, just not right. Not only do the recipes go into greater detail than Bob’s burger board could ever hope to go, the recipes are actually funny to read.

Here’s a great example. It’s the Don’t You Four Cheddar ‘Bout Me Burger from the episode Linda-Pendent Woman (season 3, episode 13). Behold the description ahead of the ingredient list:

How many cheddars are too many in a burger? Science doesn’t know yet. This burger handles four safely and deliciously. The all-beef patty is stuffed with two different cheddars, cooked in bacon fat, and then topped with two other completely different cheddars. Throw some crispy bacon on it along with lettuce and onions, and call it a beautiful, fantastic, cheesy day.

The recipes are all peppered with Bob’s humor in this way. Fans of the show will recognize the way he drops those dad puns and how sometimes he even goes back to emphasize them, in a ‘see what I did there?’ sort of way. Reading this in Bob’s voice adds another layer of hilarity to the process.

You vegetarians will enjoy the veggie burger recipes inside. I have been pleasantly surprised to find veggie-tastic recipes in both of these burger books, and I hope you’ll find something you enjoy making and love to eat.

So there you have it: a porn burger and a pun burger. Not only do these cookbooks provide mouthwatering hunks of deliciousness, they’re also some of the few cookbooks I’ve run across that are actually a joy to read cover-to-cover. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a grill that’s begging for my attention. I just need to put a DVD in first and tilt the speakers toward the sliding door.

My Love-Hate Relationship with Valentine’s Day

my love-hate relationship with valentines day

When I was a little girl, Valentine’s Day was a special time. The green and grey corridors of my school would be awash in reds, pinks, and whites. It was an intense pop of color among all the grey plaid jumpers the girls wore and blue shirts and pants the boys wore. The teacher would lead us in crafting a box where classmates would dutifully deliver Valentines designed with She-Ra, He-Man, Rainbow Brite, or G.I. Joe. It was fun to pick out what I’d give my classmates, and even more fun to read through them all at the end of the day and see if I could read anything into the one I got from my secret crush.

Oh, to be 8 again!

As I grew older, the appeal of the day lost its luster. Don’t get me wrong: I still enjoyed putting out Red Hots candies and Sweetarts, but it seemed that there was a ton of pressure on adults to get it right, and it all boiled down to the bottom line. How much money did you spend on your honey? Did you upend both of your lives for the entire day to make ‘A Grand Gesture?’ No? Well, then you’re obviously not in love like you thought.

Ahem. BS!

All of these feelings were reaffirmed when I met the man whom I now call my husband. “Valentine’s Day is just a commercial holiday manufactured to sell greeting cards, flowers, and chocolates,” he said as he handed me all three of those things on our first Valentine’s Day together. In a bold move that later solidified our mutual affection and everlasting bond, I asked why he bought me stuff if he thought it was all bull. He did it all because it was expected. Once we compared notes and realized we both would rather celebrate milestone dates in our relationship (first date, wedding anniversary, etc.) we ditched the Valentines and never looked back.

Whether you’re like my husband and me and eschew this holiday, or if you count down the days until you can surprise your honey with the biggest box of chocolates imaginable, I have some books that will appeal to your Valentines sensibilities.

be mine sally j shimBe Mine
by Sally J. Shim
Guys, you really need to stop buying us ladies those giant red heart boxes of assorted chocolates. They’re never as good as we think they’ll be, and there’s always at least one variety that makes us gag. Why not make something instead? From adorable greeting cards to eye-catching garlands, this book will become your go-to resource for everything Valentine’s Day. Your sweetie will be impressed and amazed when you present him/her with an in-your-face pop-up card or a personalized message in a (tiny) bottle, complete with confetti hearts and an honest-to-goodness cork sealing the deal. The supplies are easy to acquire (you crafty people may already have a lot of them already) and the instructions are clear and easy to read. Just a little bit of time with some scissors and glue will impress your Valentine more than some random card you grabbed at the market on the way home from work. The thoughtfulness and effort you put into any of these projects will show your love in a way a store-bought something can’t.

one pan two plates carla snyderOne Pan, Two Plates by Carla Snyder
Sure, for Valentine’s Day you could make a reservation at a favorite restaurant, and wait before and throughout the meal for your food to arrive because you are eating out on one of the busiest nights in the restaurant industry. It’ll probably cost a pretty penny (more, if you’re going the valet route with the car) and depending on where you go, the atmosphere might not be quite as intimate as you’d hoped. Instead, why not cook at home? You can cook together, which is an activity that can actually be fun and bring you closer together. Or you can surprise your lovey with a home-cooked meal that will be just the perfect amount for the two of you. Most, if not all, of the recipes in One Pan, Two Plates are so quick and easy to make you’ll probably want to keep making these recipes all year long. All recipes include a beverage pairing and ways to make the meal more filling. Sauteed pork chops with sweet potato, apple, and mustard sauce is tart and flavorful and takes 40 minutes. Balsamic turkey with artichokes and eggplant caponata marries some really complex flavors and is ready in just 30 minutes. You get the idea. So tie on that apron and get cooking!

tinder nightmares unspirationalTinder Nightmares
In the grand tradition of Richard Benson’s F in Exams and F This Test comes Tinder Nightmares. Benson compiled some of the most outrageous and ridiculous answers college students used on tests and exams. Now the infamous Unspirational shows us the absolutely absurd side to the dating app Tinder. I mean, assuming there’s a side to Tinder that isn’t absurd. Granted, I’ve never had the need to swipe right since I was married years before Tinder was invented. But it doesn’t take a seasoned Tinder user to appreciate the cluster of stupid in this book. It’s full of bad pickup lines like “Hey, did you fall from the sky? Cuz you look like a dead bird.” You’ll also find bizarre date ideas like “I would take you on a date to Popeye’s for some light appetizers. Then, I would bring you back to my place for some TV dinners, grape soda, and two hours straight of Full House!” I like to think these are trolling texts, but I’ve met enough people to know that sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction.

This year I decided we shouldn’t let Valentine’s Day slip by unnoticed. That’s why my husband and I have plans to see the Deadpool movie on February 14th. We’re going to pig out on movie theater popcorn and puns courtesy of Mr. Sir Deadpool, Esq. Then we’re going to go back to our place for a jointly-prepared, mutually agreed upon home cooked meal, and we’ll follow it up with binge-watching old episodes of The League. Because that’s what romance means to me.❤

My Stomach: the Strong, Sensitive Type

Cover image from The Intolerant GourmetI love to eat. I can demolish healthy foods, spicy foods, exotic foods, comfort foods, or the type of horribly unhealthy grub you’d find at state fairs. I take on all comers; the problem is, my digestive tract won’t. Last year I was diagnosed with a gluten sensitivity. Luckily I dodged the Celiac, allergy, and intolerance bullets (there’s a difference – link opens a PDF), but I still pay a price when I decide to snack on some doughnuts. Thankfully, the food industry in the States is rapidly becoming more gluten-free aware. Gluten-free products are springing up on store shelves and restaurants are adding new items to their menus. For all the cooks and bakers out there, there’s a wealth of new cookbooks being published every year.

Whether you’re avoiding gluten because your body hates it or you’ve decided to cut back for other health reasons, I have a list of books from our collection that I’d recommend checking out. I picked these titles because they all do a good job of explaining some things about being gluten free that can be confusing. Some cover the different reasons why people go gluten free, while others navigate the tricky waters of creating a dynamite gluten free flour mix for baking. Some of them have really handy lists of things you should and shouldn’t eat on a gluten free diet, while others have charts for properly cooking the different grains and beans being recommended in the recipes. I also like these books because they don’t rely too heavily on store-bought, pre-made items (gluten free breads, pastas, dressings, etc.) opting to teach you how to make those items in your own home instead. So, here is my list with some notes:

Cover image from The Gluten-Free VeganThe Gluten-Free Vegan by Susan O’Brien. This book has great explanations about being vegan, gluten free, and choosing organic goods. Those who are lactose intolerant or allergic to eggs may also find The Gluten-Free Vegan useful because it goes into alternatives products for cooking and baking. For those looking to cut back on refined sugars, there’s a section on organic sweeteners.

The Intolerant Gourmet by Barbara Kafka. Kafka stocked the back of this book with great charts for cooking times, water to grain/bean ratios, and more. This title is also a good pick for those who are lactose intolerant.

Cover image from Gluten Free 101Gluten-Free 101 by Carol Fenster. I think this title does the best job out of any of the cookbooks of introducing the reader to the reasons why someone might need to live a gluten-free lifestyle. You can tell that the author is speaking from years of experience and she is there to ease the reader through making the changes they need to make. Aside from the encouraging intro, the recipes themselves look delicious and easy to follow. While Fenster often uses canned ingredients in her recipes, cooks can easily substitute dried or fresh items at home if they want to avoid the extra sodium. Her emphasis in this book is on quick and easy recipes, so the shortcut makes sense.

Cover image for Gluten Free BreakfastGluten-Free Breakfast, Brunch, & Beyond by Linda J. Amendt. If you have suffered under any delusions that being gluten-free is an inherently-healthy lifestyle, this book will destroy them. Each chapter is sprinkled with glorious full-color photos of waffles, crepes, pies, and so much more to make you pack on the pounds. Use this resource wisely if you’re choosing to be gluten-free for weight-loss reasons.

Gluten-Free Whole Grains by Judith Finlayson. After learning I couldn’t eat wheat or rye without causing trouble, my eyes were opened to a world of grains I never knew existed. Reading through the lists of things that I COULD eat, all I could do was wonder how I was supposed to prepare them. This book is really helpful in explaining how to use both familiar and exotic grains in ways that show off their unique flavors and textures.

Happy cooking!

Holiday Meal Helper, Part 2: Planning Perfection

Welcome to the menu portion of my three-part series intended to help you master your holiday host or hostess responsibilities in style. Part I introduced you to the basic cooking skills you need as a foundation for cooking confidence. Today I’ll share delicious and simple recipes guaranteed to bring applause and tears (the good kind, at last!) to your gathering. Or, more realistically, you’ll be sure to stress less and have more fun this holiday season, even if you’re not a pro in the kitchen…yet.

1After Toast: Recipes for Aspiring Cooks by Kate Gibbs appears to be designed for the post-college crowd—but any budding chef can benefit from the recipes inside. I found two great snacks you can scatter in small dishes around your living areas. Guests can nosh on spiced crispy chickpeas (page 175) made with smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, and ground cumin. Sugar-and-spice nuts (page 176) feature walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds. The beauty of both recipes? You can make them ahead of time, they’ll make your house smell amazing, and they are as simple as tossing the ingredients together and baking in the oven.

2High Flavor Low Labor by J.M. Hirsch proclaims to “reinvent weeknight cooking.” You just need to know it has decadent appetizers that are perfect for your holiday gathering—or any time. Grilled bacon-wrapped figs with blue cheese (page 9) are simple and make a dramatic presentation. Polenta cakes topped with prosciutto and peppadew slivers (page 11) are so pretty, yet so easy. Half the work is already done for you with ready-made polenta. Fig and manchego puff pastries (page 21) pair the dream team of flavors: sweet and salty. Once you master this recipe it’s easy to switch it up later to make mini pizzas, perfect for movie night. Pesto-drenched tomato wedges (page 35) show off the red and green color combination perfect for the holiday season. Blend ingredients in the food processor and pour over sliced tomatoes. How easy is that?

3Aida Mollenkamp’s Keys to the Kitchen is “the essential reference for becoming a more accomplished, adventurous cook.” While this is indeed a fantastic cooking reference (are you paying attention, Santa?) what it’s bringing to our party is the salad. Butter lettuce salad with tahini-honey dressing (page 200) is a great basic salad to get your palette revved up. I’m not sure why I haven’t made my own dressings before—it’s super easy. Step 1: put stuff in food processor. Step 2: blend. Step 3: let’s eat! Or if you’d like to be more adventurous, try the raw kale salad with heirloom tomatoes and roasted cashews (pages 202-203). Aida swears that making this salad ahead and letting it sit helps wilt and soften the kale. It makes for a fabulous presentation on a serving platter. And your health-fad cousin will love that you used kale, that trendy ingredient.

4Come Home to Supper by Christy Jordan has the dough—meaning there are some terrific bread and roll recipes in here. Cheesy garlic biscuits (page 219) are super-simple to make. And they happen to be my favorite type of biscuit: drop. That means you just mix the ingredients and drop them onto a baking sheet. Ten minutes later you have biscuit nirvana. Need an even quicker recipe? Ten-minute rolls (page 224) utilizes muffin tins and has a secret ingredient: mayonnaise: “The mayonnaise gives them a subtle flavor as a sour cream would, acts as shortening, and produces a tender crumb.” Sometimes the shortcut recipes turn out to be the most rewarding, both in time saved and flavor savored.

5Choosing Sides by Tara Mataraza Desmond contains nothing but recipes for side dishes. I implore you to look beyond the mashed potatoes (pages 201-204) and focus instead on switching up the holiday menu a bit. There’s a lot to cover, so I’ll just be listing the recipe names and pages. Please try not to drool as you read them. Charred asparagus with shaved parmesan (page 84), chimichurri green beans (page 85), crisply roasted garlic potatoes (page 90), sugar snap peas with grana padano crust (page 95), ginger honey carrots (page 101), golden cauliflower with herbed breadcrumbs (page 133), red quinoa with cherries and smoked almonds (page 142), legacy cornbread dressing (page 199), and sugar-glazed sweet potatoes (page 205). Now wipe your chin. Drool is very unbecoming in a host or hostess.

6Christmas Slow Cooking by Dominique DeVito is like the holy grail of holiday cooking. It really does cover every course of the meal and then some, but I like it best for the hassle-free main courses. I don’t know why I’d never considered using my slow-cooker for a holiday roast. Short ribs of beef with rosemary and fennel (page 113) become so tender after ten hours in the slow cooker. Prime rib (page 117) has exactly four ingredients: rib roast, olive oil, salt and pepper but it looks incredible. Turkey, bacon, cranberry bliss (page 125) blends some of my favorite ingredients: just use one turkey breast, bacon, apples, cranberries and spices. Holiday ham (page 131) requires a spiral-cut precooked ham and not a lot of effort. Remember, all of these recipes are made in the slow cooker. Your stress level will automatically lower when making one of these easy recipes.

Layout 1One Bowl Baking by Yvonne Ruperti takes the guesswork out of baking. I’m an okay cook but I’m not a great baker. That’s probably mostly due to the fact that I am impatient and imprecise in the kitchen. But this book makes me wonder why I freak out over baking so much. Pumpkin cheesecake with gingersnap crust (page 186) uses crushed gingersnap cookies in the crust and a can of pumpkin puree in the filling. With those serious flavors taken care of, the rest just seems like child’s play. Deep dish plum pie tart (page 198) is a decadent—and simple—alternative to either making a pie from scratch or buying one of the pre-made frozen variety.

You have just read an incredibly simple road map to Party Successville. Population: you. If you make some things a day ahead (snacks, salad) and use the slow cooker to do your main dish’s heavy lifting, you’ll be free to whip up multiple appetizers and side dishes your whole family will love.

Stay tuned for part 3, where I will share the little details that transform a good holiday party into a great one.

Carol

Holiday Meal Helper, Part 1: Cooking with Confidence

Uh oh. You really did it this time. You have achieved the goal you’ve dreamed of since childhood. You’ve secured the designation of host or hostess for your family’s holiday gathering. Why the long face? You don’t know how to cook, do you? Well never fear—I’ve got your back! The library has tons of great resources to help you pull off the party of the decade. And it all starts with learning the ropes. Get some practice with basic cooking techniques now and you won’t sweat it on opening night.

SeinfeldThe Can’t Cook Book by Jessica Seinfeld is a great place to start choosing some simple recipes that will become your kitchen staples. Seinfeld knows that the number one thing holding most ‘Can’t Cooks’ back is fear of failure—either real or imagined. She takes the guesswork out of buying the right equipment and using it correctly. She also has a fantastic how-to section that literally illustrates important skills step-by-step, from chopping herbs to pitting an avocado and even the best ways to wash different ingredients. The recipes are amazingly simple and have a “don’t panic” tip right off the bat that addresses a part of each recipe that might make a ‘Can’t Cook’ hesitate. There’s also a photo for each recipe. If you’re like me this is one of the most important pieces of a recipe–it illustrates exactly what your finished product should look like. This is usually where I notice that I forgot the carrots because there is orange in the photo. You get the idea. Now get this book!

200 skills200 Skills Every Cook Must Have by Clara Paul and Eric Treuillé is not a cookbook. Let me get that out of the way right now. It is, however, exactly what the title proclaims. There are two hundred skills that the authors illustrate step-by-step. While there are a few recipes, it’s mostly what I would call a great companion book to any cookbook you may be using. I find it an especially handy reference when using an old family recipe that may not be very descriptive in its instructions. Right now I’m working on skill 174: soaking and cooking dried beans. I’m on a mission this winter to discover the best chili recipe and I have a feeling that recipe won’t start with canned beans.

everyoneEveryone’s Time to Cook by Robert L. Blakeslee promises to be “the best starter cookbook you’ll ever need.” It also aims to teach you “how to start a love affair with cooking.” From the ideal kitchen layout to choosing the best bean roast and grind for the perfect coffee, this book is a must-read for anyone hoping to create delicious meals that aren’t too complicated to make. Cooking with dried beans is covered in detail starting on page 214 with recipes following. Did you know you could make refried beans at home without a can? It sounds like a no-brainer but it’s not something I’d ever considered before. After seeing the mouth-watering image of the finished product of “OMG! Refried Beans” I am raring to go!

ATKThe America’s Test Kitchen Cooking School Cookbook is going on my list for Santa. I’ve always sworn by the ATK to provide well-researched recipes and this book is no different. Like the other books I’ve already mentioned, this one goes in-depth with the techniques required to make each recipe. Also included, in true ATK style, are the reasons why one particular ingredient should be used over another. ATK tests consistency of flavor and texture, so you know you’re getting a crowd-pleasing recipe from them. As an example of how far this book goes, let’s look at the BBQ section. It shows you how to set up both charcoal and gas grills, using wood in a grill for added smoke flavor—and then follows that up with incredible recipes. ATK is not afraid to warn you in advance as to what may go wrong with each recipe. So, like Jessica Seinfeld, ATK is setting you up for success.

BurrellOwn Your Kitchen by Food Network star Anne Burrell was written with the beginner in mind, with “recipes to inspire and empower.” Let me share with you Anne’s ten ways to own your kitchen:

Read a recipe all the way through before you start cooking
Do your mise en place (prep work)
Taste and season as you go
Embrace salt
Salt and pepper are not married, they’re only dating (they don’t always have to be used together)
Fresh herbs rock, dried herbs don’t
Spices are sexy!
Toast your nuts
The right equipment makes cooking fun
Keep your pantry stocked

I have a very difficult time with the first few items, as I am always well-intentioned but not necessarily well-prepared. This can lead to a total meltdown on my part before the oven is even preheated. The recipes in this book aren’t exactly basic, but once you’ve gained some confidence mastering the skills above, you can attempt more. This is the cookbook meant to bridge that gap between beginner and intermediate chef. Wouldn’t you like to try your hand at homemade ricotta cheese? I would! Fried rice made right in your own kitchen? Sign me up! How do I know Anne will steer me in the right direction? She doesn’t use a lot of fancy cooking terms (aside from mise en place) but instead uses wordage more apropos of girl talk. My favorite term? Crud: the delicious brown bits on the bottom of the pan that help develop deep, rich, meaty flavors. Oh, yum!

So there you have it—my five best no-fail cookbooks to bring out the inner Julia Child in you. Julia always reminded me of my maternal grandmother, Helen: she made mistakes but made cooking fun. If I can run my kitchen like Julia or Helen I think I will be doing quite nicely indeed.

Stay tuned for part 2 where I’ll break down the perfect holiday meal that even you can’t mess up.

Carol

Cookbooks for Free

“How much does this book cost?” is a question I get occasionally from pre-school aged children on the library’s bookmobile. The idea of the free public library is a foreign one to some young minds. You probably totally get this concept since you’re reading this blog. Free books? Of course! Count me in!

I love to check out all of the glossy, beautiful cookbooks that our library has to offer just to see if they are worth purchasing for personal home use. Here are the ones that I’ve found at the library and loved so much that I just had to add them to my home cookbook shelf:

stirfryingStir Frying to the Sky’s Edge: The Ultimate Guide to Mastery with Authentic recipes and Stories by Grace Young. This is a complete guide to stir frying with over 100 recipes, stunning photos, and many great tips. We especially love the Cashew Chicken recipe at our house.

inthekitchenIn the Kitchen With a Good Appetite: 150 Recipes and Stories about the Food You Love by Melissa Clark. The only thing lacking in this cookbook is photos, but it is full of stories, and fantastic recipes to cook delicious meals and fill you up. We love the Spicy Chicken Barley Soup. Try it!

whattocookHere’s one that I purchased as a gift for a new cook. What to Cook & How to Cook it:  Fresh & Easy by Jane Hornby. The fantastic thing about this book is that it is so visual, almost like a visual menu. It has photos for each step of each recipe, from laying out all of the ingredients to the finished product. It shows you everything. How easy is that?

I’m in the ‘holds’ line to check out these cook books:

barefootcontessaBarefoot Contessa Foolproof by Ina Garten looks like a keeper. I love all of Ina Garten’s cookbooks and this one probably won’t disappoint. I’ll check it out from the library first just to be sure.

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman is very popular these days. There’s quite a buzz about this one, so, of course, I must check it out. Literally.

myfavoriteAnd, finally, here’s one that I just found on the new book shelf. Oh, my, but this one is gorgeous and glossy. Home Cooking with Jean-Georges: My Favorite Simple Recipes by Jean-Georges Vongerichten. With a name like that, he must be a great chef, right?  That’s Stone Fruit Bruschetta on the cover. Each of the recipes have a stunning photo and look delicious.

I can answer that child’s question for you: books cost a lot of money! Check out these fabulous cookbooks and others at your free public library.

You hungry now? I am. Buh-bye, I’m off to cook!

Leslie