Friday, February 25, 2011

The Promised Cookbook Post

Thank you all for your comments and good wishes on yesterday's post. Petunia is clearly feeling better today... she's graduated from insisting on sitting on my lap and sleeping or watching Signing Time  to standing at her favorite spot in front of the TV and watching Signing Time. And I'm so happy to have my arms back that I'm not going to argue with the umpteenth showing of Signing Time today. We can get back to our "one show per kid per day" rule tomorrow. That particular rule has always been honored more in the breach than the enforcement, anyway.

I should go out and clean up the disaster in my kitchen. I had to make my lunch while holding a fussy toddler who really just wanted me to sit back down on the sofa and let her snuggle. Let's just say that not all of the cream cheese made it onto my bagel. And then, while I was eating my bagel, Petunia swiped half of it and started gnawing on it. I was happy to see her eating- the tonsillitis has significantly dampened her enthusiasm for food- but cream cheese was spread over even more surfaces.

But that can wait. Instead, I'm going to write about cookbooks.

I love cookbooks. The represent possibilities to me, and I enjoy browsing through and getting ideas for new meals. When I have a specific recipe in mind, or even a specific ingredient I want to use, I turn to the internet. But when I need inspiration, I turn to cookbooks. As I mentioned in my post on the last Cooking with Dexter column, I have several go to cookbooks. I am always looking for new ideas, though. I used to buy new cookbooks when I wanted inspiration, but the realities of the limited space in my kitchen have made me change my behavior. I've started checking a cookbook or two out of the library when we take Pumpkin in for a new set of library books. I don't get a lot of time to look at the cookbooks before choosing ones to checkout- I usually have Petunia with me while Hubby helps Pumpkin pick her books, and Petunia's main interest in cookbooks is as items that can be pulled from shelves. So it is hit and miss- I recently brought home a beautiful stir fry cookbook with lots of yummy sounding recipes... but they all would take thirty minutes or more to make, and that isn't what I'm looking for right now.

My most recent haul from the library, though, was far more successful. I think I may buy one of the books I have home, Quick Fix Meals, by Robin Miller. She is apparently some sort of Food Network celebrity, and her tone is a little bit chummy for my taste. But her recipes are good! I've made four recipes out of this book now (Sweet and Sour Pork, Curried Butternut Squash Soup, Broccoli Puree with Parmesan, and Roasted Balsamic Asparagus), and all four have been hits. I think I'll add more cheese to the broccoli next time, but that says more about my dislike of broccoli than the recipe.

She has five main sections in the book: "meal kits" (basically things that you make ahead in full or part), "morph it" (master recipes that get used in multiple dishes), "dinner express" (similar to my Dinner during Dora idea- from start to finish in 30 minutes or less), side dishes, and desserts. We don't have dessert most weeknights, so I haven't checked out that section. The other sections are all good, though. I get the idea of the "meal kit", but I am resistant to it- I know that I can make my weeknights easier by doing some cooking and prep on the weekends, but those are Hubby's days to make dinner, and frankly, I'd rather have those two days off from cooking. I may revisit my opinion on this, though. The Curried Butternut Squash soup is a meal kit and wow, was it good. You couldn't make the recipe as written in 30 minutes or less, but that is mostly due to the chopping of the butternut squash. My Mom suggested looking for frozen prechopped squash, and I think that is a brilliant idea. If it works out, you can expect to see my modified recipe as a Dinner during Dora post sometime.

The other cookbook that I brought home was Vegetable Love, by Barbara Kafka. This is not a book for busy weeknights. I found fewer recipes in it that I want to try- but I'll confess that this may be at least partly due to the fact that most vegetable recipes don't sound that good to me. It is a wonderfully written, and a true treasure trove of information about vegetables. I'm not going to rush out and buy this book, but I think I will put it on my wish list and hope that someone else buys it for me. I think it would be a wonderful reference to have on hand. The only thing that I wished for in the book but did not find was a discussion of the nutritional value of the various vegetables. This probably also stems from my status as a veggie-skeptic. I want to know if learning how to make a vegetable in a way that I'll eat is worth the effort.

The final new book I've been using recently isn't from the library- it is on loan from a friend of mine who is an amazing baker. I saw The Bread Lover's Bread Machine Cookbook, by Beth Hepsinger, on her shelf and asked her if it was any good. She said she hadn't used it much and lent it to me. We use our bread maker primarily to make the bread that is on offer at every dinner for Pumpkin and Petunia. We make a loaf, slice it up, and freeze it. Every night, we pull a slice out of the freezer and toast it for dinner (unless we have some fresh bread like Mimi's Sneaky Good Corn Muffins on offer). I wanted to see if there were other bread maker recipes we might want to try. There were several interesting looking recipes, but I'm not sure many would make it into regular rotation here. I did make the recipe for Graham Bread and loved it. Pumpkin ate it, but still prefers the recipe that she calls her "regular bread". The Cornmeal Pizza Crust is nicer than the other recipe I had, and is the basis for the pizza crust recipe that I'm working out now. I'll post that once it is final, too. But the best thing I've gotten from the book was the tip to add a little wheat gluten to bread machine recipes. This really does make for a lighter, nicer loaf. Since we don't make fresh bread that often, I probably won't rush out and buy this book, either, but I will copy down a few recipes before I return it!

So, what about you? Where do you turn for cooking inspiration? Any cookbooks you think I should try to find?


  1. DH does most of the real cooking and I do most of the reheating. Dh loves and has had a lot of luck with the best reader-rated recipes and their notes in the comments.

    "Momofuku" is a kick-ass avant garde kind of Korean/Pan-Asian cookbook that even I can cook from. If you're carnivores, his Bo Saam with Saam Sauce = To.Die.For.

  2. paola8:09 AM

    The only cookbook I use is an Italian cookbook hubby gave me my first Christmas (or birthday) here in Italy. I do love to browse magazines for recipes especailly when I go home to Aus, as I still prefer Anglo desserts to Italian ones. I do find they are stuffed with so much butter and sugar. And there is always cream or ice-cream on the side, which IMHO is unnecessary. Being pretty health conscious I always adapt those ones, using yogurt instead of cream ( in cakes for example) and no butter unless its a cup-cake or muffin recipe and then I use half. This is probably the reason why my cheesecakes never ever come out!

    In the past I had countless recipe books, especailly Asian recipe books like Charmain Solomon's wonderful Encyclopedia of Asian Foods. My heart broke when that one never made it to Italy ( fortunately I found my favourite recipes on the net). Now most of my 'complicated' recipes are adaptations of recipes I have collected over the years. I think the more you cook, the better you get at adapting recipes and the more likelihood of success.

    I also hate the idea of doing cooking preparation on the weekend, and rarely do it now (unless it is my tomato sauce) When I first started working again, I even prepped in the evenings after the kids went to bed so we would have something decent to eat the next day ( a soup naturally, which I would freeze). As the kids have gotten older they actually leave me alone more so that I cook something every night and I don't have to prepare anything.

  3. It isn't a cookbook, but I get a lot of inspiration from browsing around at

    Vegetable Heaven by Mollie Katzen is one of my favorite cookbooks. Not exactly quick recipes, which I know is what you're after, but totally delicious and a nice source of ideas for flavour combinations. I find most of the prep in that book is overly complicated - there's a mushroom & barley risotto which would have you adding things and stirring every 10 minutes for an hour, or you can just throw it all in the pot at the very start and wander off. We couldn't really taste a difference.

    Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson is a really gorgeous book, and you might actually be able to find some of the crazy ingredients she often uses. I can't remember if the recipes in that book are really quick ones, but mostly I find recipes on her website,, and she makes a lot of quick one dish meals.

    If you want to learn to love vegetables, vegetarian cookbooks are probably the best place to start looking.

  4. Still trying to think of a good one8:49 AM

    For quick meals (with picky kid adaptations specified!) I LOVE the cookbook Time For Dinner. One of the authors has a great recipe/cooking blog too:

    Eat, Shrink and Be Merry is another good one for easy, quick meals, as are the other books in the series (Loonyspoons and another, the name has slipped my mind).

    Finally, I'm not usually a fan of Jamie Oliver's cookbooks but I picked up the Food Revolution one and so far, I've been quite impressed with the recipes. Everything I've made has been good, easy and pretty quick (as long as I've prepped on the weekend after buying groceries - cutting all the veggies I'll need etc).

    Hope that helps! Looking forward to seeing everyone's suggestions too!

  5. I, too, love cookbooks. I never thought to check them out from the library. I'll have to give that a try. It's hard for me to pass the clearance racks of book stores without picking out a cookbook. I've made some awesome finds that way, but there are always those that were on the clearance rack for a reason.

    Do you have a slow cooker? Slow cookers are excellent for nights you know will be busy, and there's a slew of slow cooker cookbooks on the market.

  6. Quick Fix Meals sounds great! I'll have to look into getting it, maybe from the library.

    My favorite cookbook is Saving Dinner, by Leanne Ely. She has a menu for every week of the year, gives the grocery list at the beginning and has a slow cooker recipe for weekends. I don't match the recipes with the week or even season, but it's design is really helpful. More importantly, they are all really quick and easy meals to make.

    My hubby is the pickup kids/fix dinner parent on the weekdays. I would like to do more especially on weekends, but I am just not able to during fall and winter. I cook a lot more during the spring and summer, though. But my favorite thing to do in the kitchen is bake!

  7. Oh, and I meant to first say that I'm so glad Petunia seems to be feeling better! My boy keeps getting sick, too. I've heard a few parents say the same about their second child, and I'm beginning to wonder if it's maybe a second child thing where they are picking up the germs from their daycare rooms as well as the germs the older kid brings back. That's my hope at least.

  8. great post, though it made me hungry. now that our girl is 4, i've been finding more time to get into the kitchen and cook, which i missed SO much when she was an infant and i just couldn't seem to make it happen.

    i end up finding recipes online and printing them out more often than picking up cookbooks these days. a few of my favorites: - try the naan recipe with your kids! easy and SO good warm and fresh. i also like and - the particular kitchen aims at people looking for healthy eating and also focuses on those with food allergies. and i second hush's recommendation for epicurious. ok, now i'm REALLY hungry.

  9. I'm pretty sure it's out of print, but Pasta Harvest is one of my all-time favorites. There's a good chance your library has's got a few real keepers that are pretty quick to throw together.

    Do you have a pressure cooker? Lorna Sass writes the best pressure cooker cookbooks, and mine are in tatters.


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