Category Archives: Cookbooks

What’s on your cookbook shelf?

Many years ago in my newspapering days I interviewed a woman who researched cookbooks throughout history.  She had hundreds … and as many stories to share from Medieval Times to the current century.  A look at someone’s cookbook shelf does give you some inkling of how they eat, don’t you think?

I’m running out of room for cookbooks.  I wean a few every year or so but like most people, I have a handful of faithfuls that I turn to.  Here’s a look at those standbys – The Basics. Nothing very fancy but always rewarding. And that black binder at the bottom? It’s used more than all the rest — hundreds of clippings collected over the years.

How about you?  What are your favorites?

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Favorite Cookbooks I - The Basics

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Male insight – just in time for Father’s Day

I recently downloaded an audio book on “The Male Brain” in an effort to better understand the goings-on in my testosterone-dominant household.  The cat and I are struggling to tip the gender balance in our direction.  Our two pet female rats don’t help much. I figured a little insight wouldn’t hurt in dealing with a husband and two boys. I could have saved myself the effort, I suppose, if I had turned first to a small cookbook tucked away on a high shelf: “Dishes Men Like.”

I’m not kidding – that’s the title. Published in 1952 by Lea and Perrin Worcestershire Sauce. My mother passed it along at some point, with a check mark inked beside the “mystery cheese ball” recipe.

As you might expect, the premise behind this little jewel of a cookbook is that Worcestershire sauce is that magic bullet that lures men to the dinner table.  Indeed, I remember the L&P bottle was a definitive fixture on the table whenever my mom served steak. L&P makes an appearance now and then beside our stove to add a little pizazz to routine recipes, but never had I considered making Worcestershire sauce the starring attraction. Hmmm, could it be the culinary equivalent of a pheromone to bring the menfolk running to the table? Maybe I should think again.  Let’s consider the introduction:

If you have husband who likes to cook, pamper him! You are lucky indeed, even though you find yourself only a fetch-and-carry handmaiden while his genius glows. But men are wise, not one in a thousand really wants to take over the job. They usually have a few specialties to produce on occasion and leave the rest of the cooking to us.

So, what to do? It goes without saying that most women choose dishes men like.

While the recipes may be worth a second look, it’s the images that are truly entertaining.  Apparently grainy black-and-white photos coupled with Jetson-like ink drawings were the trend in food styling in the ’50s and ’60s. The blog Eat Me Daily features plenty of examples if you want to take a look. (Consider lingering a while to enjoy a cynical and critical take on food, media and culture.)

A focus on Dishes Men Like — Worchestershire Sauce or not — makes a lot of sense in this household.  That’s why you’ll see this blog moving, literally, in that direction this summer.  Stay tuned for further details!

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Pickup sticks with pork and pineapple

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Pork & Pineapple Pickup Sticks - A Perfect Ten

Just the name of this recipe sounds delicious: Pork and Pineapple Pickup Sticks with Savory Mint Mayonnaise.  Shelia Lukins scored with this one from a new favorite addition to my cookbook shelf: Ten: All the Foods We Love. It’s the last book produced by the late Sheila Lukins and I think it’s her best. All the guys liked this one. No surprise there!

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Custard-filled cornbread – dinner or dessert?

When I first read the recipe for custard-filled cornbread in Molly Wizenberg’s book, A Homemade Life, I wondered why it lacked a warning label.  Two cups of whole milk, one cup of heavy cream, corn meal, flour, sugar. The fat warning zoomed straight to red on this one.

But oh, is it worth it. Molly discovered the recipe in Marion Cunningham’s The Breakfast Book.  You can find the recipe here. I was relieved to see that a square is only 213 calories; it tasted to be at least twice as much. Consider reducing the sugar by half if you’re serving it for dinner as I did.  But take Molly’s advice and replace that sweetness with a spoon of maple syrup.  The sweet gooey cake-like bread was the perfect side for the spicy main attraction on a weeknight: Louisiana Greens with Andouille Sausage, a recipe on the package of Trader Joe’s bagged greens of kale, mustard greens and chard.

We enjoyed more of the cornbread the following night with paprika-spiced pork chops and roasted cauliflower with red pepper and caper vinaigrette. Trader Joe’s came to the rescue again, allowing me to substitute the roasted red peppers in the original recipe with a few dollops of its Red Pepper spread.  I love this zesty mash of red peppers, garlic and eggplant on most anything that benefits from a kick just before serving: scrambled eggs; artichoke dip; chicken burgers.

With my husband out of town, I took advantage of short cuts on Wednesday (baked penne with marinara sauce and sausage) and skipped the kitchen altogether on Thursday with teriyaki take-out. No complaints from the guys on this plan!

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Breaking in the pressure cooker

Saving time AND energy seems like an awfully good idea.  I guess I lot of people think so. The pressure cooker my husband ordered as Christmas gift arrived just last week, two months on back order. It was worth the wait!

The Kuhn Rikon pressure cooker is a beauty. Fortunately, we decided to christen it with an artichoke. The lid wasn’t seated properly in the gasket so it turned out to be one very well done artichoke. Lesson learned, we moved on to Sunday night’s dinner of sausage and shrimp gumbo.  I don’t think we saved any time, due to lots of fumbling around with the recipe and settings. I figured out the “eight minutes on high pressure” was misleading since I didn’t notice the other 17 minutes of stovetop cooking. In any case the meal turned out just fine.

Tonight’s dinner went much more smoothly. The Rick Rodgers’ cookbook Pressure Cooking for Everyone. was touted by Kuhn Rikon as the best-tasting collection of recipes. So far, so good. Son #2 cleaned his plate of Cauliflower and Carrot Curry. I added toasted cashews for extra protein and used the remaining half can of coconut milk to flavor the basmati rice. A keeper!

Sunday: Sausage and shrimp gumbo over long-grain rice

Monday: Cauliflower and Carrot Curry topped with toasted cashews and cilantro, over basmati rice.

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Adventurous Monday with Lamb Shanks

Sheila Lukins’s All Around the Word cookbook is one of my faves. Her passion for travel experienced through food has always satisfied my explorer-self. It seems she recreated most of the recipes in the book from memory, deconstructing exotic flavors into detailed stories over and over for her readers.

The book was published in 1994, back when I had time to sift through its pages and fantasize about a trip to Thailand or Spain to experience Sheila’s dishes first-hand. Now I reach for the book when I’m feeling a little adventurous, ready to escape to a faraway place through a new sensation to the palate.

Tonight’s dinner was reportedly Sheila’s favorite recipe from this book: Spiced Peloponnesian Lamb Shanks.  I’m a late-comer to lamb. My mother never served it because my parents didn’t care for it. I didn’t taste lamb until I worked in a restaurant in Dublin the summer after college (a story for another time).  In the years since I’ve  made roast leg of lamb, lamb stew and lamb burgers, even lamb chops once or twice.  Lamb shanks were a whole new game.

I had planned this long-cooking menu for Sunday, but the Super Bowl got in the way. A busy afternoon didn’t leave time to plan ahead, 2.25 hours, for browning the shanks, braising in the oven, and prepping the sides. Yet again, deli chicken came in handy as we watched a bit of the game. I was home in time to start dinner early so tonight was our treat.

Natural lamb shanks from PCC in a spiced sauce of cinnamon sticks, honey, sage, onions and garlic, loaded with prunes and tomatos. Served atop Sheila’s lemon orzo with a side of green beans. Sheila was right. It was worth the wait.

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