Showing posts with label cookbooks. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cookbooks. Show all posts

Monday, February 6, 2017

AROUND THE KITCHEN TABLE -- Our first cookbooks

LESLIE: Today, we're starting something new in the Mystery Lovers' Kitchen. On the first Monday of the month, we’ll gather around the Kitchen table to chat about something on our minds—food-related, because we’re all obsessed with cooking up recipes as well as crime! Today, we’re remembering our early cookbooks. We hope you’ll join the conversation in the comments.

As a teenager, I worked at Waldenbooks, and on September 8, 1978—I dated the bookplate—I used my employee discount on The Vegetarian Epicure, Book Two. The author, Anna Thomas, traveled widely in Europe and beyond, then created vegetarian versions of favorite dishes. Opened up my little palate, I’ll guarantee you! We still adore the salad torcoloti, and I used her curry and garam masala blends as the starting point for my own, in the Spice Shop Mysteries.

A few months later, I picked up Laurel’s Kitchen, the first cookbook to delve into the science and nutrition of vegetarian cooking. I still consult the tables of cooking times for grains and beans, and make the vegetarian chili often. Now I wish I’d sprung for the hardcover, but at the time, the 3.95 paperback was all I could manage!

Actually, the first cookbook I ever bought was probably this copy of Betty Crocker’s Cookbook, my mother’s Christmas wish. There’s no inscription or, oddly, a publication date, but I’m guessing 1976. It lives in my kitchen now, and while I don’t use it much, it isn’t going anywhere for a long time.

One small selection of my collection
DARYL:  I will never forget my first cookbook.  I still have it. The Gourmet Cookbook, volume 1. I started cooking way back when - I mean way back. I sold pies around my neighborhood when was 7. Chocolate pudding pies with whipped creamed topping. I made dinners. I designed menus. I played "restaurant" with my sisters. In high school I became more serious about learning to cook. Not just the dishes my mother or father made - yes, my dad loved to make Crepe Suzettes and Sunday omelets and barbecue anything - but I wanted to make things that were "gourmet." With sauces and exotic flavors. I ordered The Gourmet Magazine and challenged myself to make one new recipe every month. When I realized I could "do" it, I decided to save my allowance and purchase the cookbook. It wasn't cheap! It is still a go-to cookbook for me. For so many items: biscuits, beef stew, roast beef. The book is oil-marked and milk-marked and pie filling-marked.  I wasn't a neat cook. LOL But I don't think the book cares. It knows it has been well loved.  I will forever be grateful to this cookbook for inspiring me to think bigger when it came to the kitchen.

As for cookbooks in general - they are the reason I decided to write the Cookbook Nook Mysteries. When I stepped into a culinary bookstore and drank in the wondrous array of cookbooks at my fingertips, I fell in lust. That's the moment I knew I had to immerse myself in that world for one of my mysteries.

SHEILA:  My mother was a good plain cook--meat, starch and veg, plus dessert--so I grew up knowing the basics, like how to boil water. But my mother's idea of creative cooking was to add Vermouth to whatever meat dish she was making. Her cookbook collection was kind of pitiful: it might have filled one bookshelf. I still have the copy of The Joy of Cooking that she must have gotten when she married.

That was fine, because when I was a child, I was not a courageous eater. I had to separate each of the components of my dinner and consume each of them one at a time. I hated onions and mushrooms, and I never knew what garlic was (although I was fond of artichokes and asparagus, mostly because they were fun to eat). My grandmother, who lived in Manhattan, sometimes took me and my younger sister to lunch in what must have been some nice restaurants, but I have no memories of what I ate there.

It wasn't until I discovered Julia Child and Mastering the Art of French Cooking (whose co-author Simone Beck is often forgotten) that I realized what "real" cooking could be like. It was the first cookbook I bought, as a gift to myself when I graduated from college and moved into a small apartment with a kitchen that could fit in a closet. I still say, if you have only one cookbook, get this one. The recipes may have French names, but they work. Julia had a sense of humor and would insert comments like, "this may look curdled, but don't worry--it will smooth out later." Her ingredient proportions were generous, she used herbs liberally, and when she said a dish would serve four or six people, she was right--and they were for normal people with healthy appetites.

I still have that copy, and you can tell which are my favorite recipes by how greasy the pages are. When I married, my husband adopted some of the recipes as well, and still makes them. I even bought two copies (on sale) so I'd have back-up if the first one disintegrated into shreds. I don't know if I would have fallen in love with both cooking and eating if I hadn't found Julia Child.

BTW, we named our daughter Julia. Okay, maybe not solely for The French Chef, but that first Julia was in the back of my mind. And now my daughter makes croissants for a chain of coffee shops, and is learning to bake bread in large quantities. So maybe it rubbed off.

MARY JANE MAFFINI/VICTORIA ABBOTTt  When I got married, I was able to make tuna fish sandwiches (white bread only, no crusts) and I could fry chicken, with some singeing.  My mother-in-law was a wonderful cook and so was my mother so the time had come to pull up my socks. Things did not go well with the sock pulling.

I quickly came to hate cooking but I did like to laugh and was good at that.  Eventually I turned to Peg Bracken's popular (at the time) I Hate to Cook Book, a small and hilarious volume published in 1960.  There were enough 'keepers' in those pages to save me from daily mortification. Bracken was like having a friend in the kitchen: she didn't mind a trick or two and she was always ready for a joke.   The I Hate to Cook Book is still going strong and was reissued for its 50th Anniversary: it even has a Facebook Page!

After nearly fifty years, I still have my original  I Hate to Cook and still make a few of the recipes. Unfortunately, in the process I began to like cooking and then was forced to invest in more ambitious and heavier cookbooks like Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I never did master the art of French cooking, but thanks to the wit of Peg Bracken I learned to find the fun in the kitchen.  I did not name my daughter Peg, but you will notice I am still hanging around with another Peg who can be very funny.

A few years back, I decided to include the battered little blue book in a box headed for Goodwill.  But at the last minute, I realized there would never be a good reason to get rid of it.  We keep our friends!

PEG: Looks like Sheila and I both learned to cook from Julia Child and Simone Beck! I got a cookbook for a wedding present (1974) called Make It Now, Bake It Later. One recipe was for a casserole that included white bread and tiny canned shrimp.  Enough said!

KRISTA: Mary Jane, that's such a cute story. I never heard of that cookbook! My first cookbooks were from a collection that my mom bought at the grocery store. They came out one at a time, and she bought one every month. She had all of Julia Child's books, but they didn't have many pictures, which was very important to me as a kid. I read cookbooks by photo, not by recipe. I looked for those old cookbooks in my mom's house the other day but I fear they're long gone so I don't even know who published them.

LINDA: I love to laugh when I cook, Mary Jane. Helps get me through some dicey situations, so to speak. My first cookbook was a gift from my sister when I got married. She knows me so well! It's Craig Claiborne's Kitchen Basics. Up to this point, I hadn't cooked often at home and my roommate, when I'd moved out, was so good, I gladly left it up to her. So, having married another good cook, I felt the challenge to up my game. Craig helped me through it all...and still does. I can never remember equivalents when it comes to measurements, so I let Craig Claiborne handle that. 

LUCY: Your stories are so much fun ladies! Sheila, my mother cooked like yours, only not well. She didn't like desserts either--her idea of a company dessert recipe was red grapes in sour cream! Cooking for 6 after working all day was a chore, and kids underfoot did not help. So I didn't learn much about cooking growing up. But I did inherit her copy of The Joy of Cooking, and I would still have it if a puppy hadn't eaten the cover off. And then some Florida roaches began to nibble the pages, and that book became history. I still love the cookbook, though, and use it as a starting point for lots of recipes. Thanks, Mom!

CLEO: Like some of you out there, I come from a tradition of a little bit of this, a pinch of that--and a whole lot of garlic! My mom and her sister (who lived with us) were born in Italy and learned to cook from the women in their family. They had 3 x 5 cards with their handwritten notes, clipped items from newspapers, and tried out recipes printed on food packaging, but there were no cookbooks that I can recall.

Dad grew his own vegetables and made his own wine. His parents were dirt poor and his mom (my grandmother) baked bread every morning for the family in an outdoor oven (again, no cookbooks). My own first memory of written recipes came from beautiful, glossy recipe cards that Mom received through the mail—probably a bonus with a magazine subscription. I remember my eyes growing wide at the incredibly beautiful cakes, cookies, pies, and other foods in that stack of cards. Somewhere in that moment, the seeds were sown to try my own hand at food photography and recipe writing. Written or unwritten, it's clear the wish for all our recipes remains the same—that we eat with joy!


And you, readers? 
Do you remember your first cookbook? 
Is it still in your collection?

Krista's book, Mission Impawsible, launches tomorrow. She's giving away a copy today! We hope everyone will join the conversation and leave comments. If you would like to enter the contest for Mission Impawsible, leave your email address in your comment, please.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Killer Chocolate Cheesecake w/ photo contest, #book giveaway & recipes!

5 years of culinary bliss on Mystery Lovers Kitchen!

(Above pic is a sneak preview of today's celebratory recipe! Killer Chocolate Cheesecake. Scroll to the end to get a taste.)

From Daryl Wood Gerber aka Avery Aames:

I can't believe we've been at this 5 years. If you read Krista's post on Monday, you know how we all started. Krista, Julie, Cleo, Elizabeth, and I became a team. Then we grew. I had no idea when I started writing mysteries that I would have to cook. Luckily, I did! Because if I didn't, I wouldn't have been a part of this amazing blog!

In honor of our anniversary, we're throwing two contests!

We're giving away a book every day from today until July 25th. All you have to do to enter is leave a comment here and tell us with whom you shared the news of our contests or our anniversary. Help us celebrate by spreading the word! Did you tell your neighbor? Did you email your sister? Did you post on Facebook? Did you tweet? TODAY??? Be sure to leave a comment each day because there will be twelve drawings. Leave a comment before midnight because after midnight, the next drawing starts!

REMEMBER TO INCLUDE YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS so we can contact you if you won!

Today: I'm giving away Inherit the Word (or your choice of a Cookbook Nook or Cheese Shop mystery!) We'll talk.

Our second contest is a photo contest!  You can find our photo contest here and at our Facebook page! Five lucky winners will receive a Mystery Lovers' Kitchen tote bag and seven paperback mysteries! Since we can't all get away on vacation, we hope our books are having fun this summer. Take a picture of one of our books having fun! You can enter up to five times, once in each of these categories:

1) One of our books with a cat
2) One of our books with a dog
3) One of our books having summer fun
4) One of our books in a library
5) One of our books in a bookstore.

Now, we thought you'd like to know what the Mystery Lovers' Kitchen alums are doing these days. I'm going to bring you up to speed about Wendy Lyn Watson aka Annie Knox.


Take it away,  Annie aka Wendy Lyn Watson:
What's new? 
I'm writing a series for NAL about a woman who runs a pet boutique in northern Minnesota.  The first, PAWS FOR MURDER, came out in January, and the second, GROOMED FOR MURDER, will be out in September.  I'm frantically writing the third right now.  The Pet Boutique Mysteries are written under the pen name Annie Knox.  I've also signed a contract for another series, written as Wendy Lyn Watson, called the Book Magic Mysteries.  I don't want to share much more at this point--surprises!--but I'm very excited about it.  Beyond writing, I continue to teach, advise, and cook. 
What's your favorite post for MLK? 
This recipe for portobello "street tacos": .  

It was one of the more involved recipes I posted, but the meal it created was fantastic.  The reason I'm so tied to it, though, is that I legitimately came up with the whole recipe.  It wasn't built off of someone else's recipe or dredged up from a childhood memory.  Kitchen to table, this was my baby.  It made me realize that I don't need a cookbook to cook, and I've been more adventurous in the kitchen ever since.  I make some truly retched food, but every now and then there's a gem.

What did you like most about being a part of MLK? 
First, the need and then the desire to try something new every week.  When I write, I find I need some other creative outlet to keep the must whispering her sweet nothings in my ear.  Before MLK, I would undertake these massive craft projects that would consume and sometimes frustrate me. Now, I make dinner.  I thank you all for that gift.  And my husband does, too. 
Thanks, Wendy! Wishing you tons of success!

And now, because we post a recipe every day, 
I, Daryl aka Avery, am sharing 

How can I not? When I joined MLK, I was just starting out with the Cheese Shop mysteries. Now I write the Cookbook Nook mysteries, too. This recipe is the perfect blending of using both of my series for an inspirational, celebratory cake!!



One package 4.6 ounce Glutino gluten-free chocolate wafers  [LCD cookbook recipe asks for 9-ounce package chocolate wafers - don't have to be gluten-free]
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted or room temp

1 pound bittersweet or semisweet baking chocolate, chopped
¼  cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3  8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temp
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs
pinch of salt
1 ½ cups sour cream, at room temp
2 teaspoons vanillin (if not gluten-free, may use real vanilla)


For crust:

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan, place a sheet of parchment paper on the bottom. Wrap the entire outside tightly with heavy-duty aluminum foil. Have a roasting pan (can be disposable) ready. Put a kettle of water on to boil for the water bath (*see below).

Pulse the chocolate wafers in a food processor until finely ground. With the motor running, add the butter, and process until blended. Press the mixture onto the bottom of the springform pan (on top of parchment paper).

Bake the crust for 8 minutes until it is set. Let cool on a wire rack.

To make the filling:

Melt the chocolate with the butter. [The cookbook says over simmering water – I did this in the microwave, on medium heat for 3 minutes.] Remove from microwave and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the cocoa powder. Let the mixture cool to room temp.

In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and sugar with an electric mixer, starting on low and increasing to medium-high. Beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. [Note: I put all the eggs into a measuring cup and poured one in at a time. Amazing how that works!] Beat in the pinch of salt. Beat in the chocolate mixture until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the sour cream and vanilla. Beat until smooth, scraping down the sides.

Transer the filling to the springform pan. 

Set the pan in the roasting pan, place it in the oven, and carefully pour in enough boiling water to reach halfway up the sides of the springform pan. Bake for 45 minutes. Center will STILL be slightly jiggly; do not overbake—the cake will firm as it cools. Remove the roasting pan from the oven (carefully!!!) and let the cheesecake cool in the water bath for 15 minutes.

Remove the springform pan from the water bath and let cool on a wire rack, completely, about 2 hours. Remove the foil (messy) and refrigerate the cheesecake, loosely covered with saran wrap, utnil thoroughly chilled, at least 12 hours.

To serve, let the cheesecake stand at room temp for 20 minutes. Remove the pan sides, smooth the sides of the cheesecake with a table knife, and cut into wedges.

Serves at least 12 because this is SOOOO rich!

 * * *

Remember to leave a comment today to win one of my books! Following the instructions above! You've got to share to win. :)


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Check out our website.

Days of Wine and Roquefort 
is out!
order here

Inherit the Word
  is out!
                                    order here

STIRRING THE PLOT is available for preorder: order here.

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so you can learn about upcoming events, releases, and contests! 

Sunday, October 3, 2010

What's Your Favorite Cookbook?

Over the years, I have noticed that I reach for the same worn cookbooks when I’m looking for a recipe. It’s not that I don’t have new cookbooks, but sometimes the prettiest, shiniest, most trendy cookbooks don’t fit the bill. Don’t get me wrong, some of them rapidly make it into my tried and trusty category. Which is actually my point. Some cookbooks just seem to have recipes that taste right to me, and others -- not so much. Fortunately, we all have different taste, and I’ve wondered sometimes if I prefer certain cookbooks because the author likes the same flavors and foods as me.

Flashy doesn’t count here. A friend gave me CHEZ PANISSE DESSERTS, a cookbook that’s about as plain vanilla as a cookbook can be. It has a soft cover and NO PICTURES! In our visually oriented society, that’s hard to imagine. The recipes, however, are worthy of a five star restaurant. Not surprising perhaps, since the author, Lindsey Shere, was the pastry chef at Chez Panisse. The recipes are extremely clear and well written and make it easy to navigate through a complicated dish. CHEZ PANISSE DESSERTS contains my favorite recipe for Dobos Torte, sometimes called Dobosh Torte. Of Hungarian origin, this is the cake you want to serve to a snooty domestic diva mother-in-law. Formal and regal, it’s a once-a-year knockout indulgence. Fabulous. Seven thin layers of cake with chocolate hazelnut buttercream in between, and a thin glossy burnt sugar top. There is nothing more elegant, and Lindsey Shere’s recipe is classic.

I am not, however, a recipe snob, as evidenced by the very worn cover of my copy of the original JOY OF COOKING. The book is so thorough that I use it as a reference. Anyone who is a newcomer to cooking will find it invaluable. I think it makes a really nice bridal shower gift for a young couple because it’s so comprehensive.

One of the newer cookbooks in my kitchen is the Better Homes and Gardens OUR BEST RECIPES. It has a fun feature showing how some recipes have changed over the years. Our mothers’ version of classic dishes has lightened up quite a bit. Do you write in your cookbooks? I do. I make notes after I prepare the dish, like -- substituted dark corn syrup for molasses. I note who liked recipes and who didn’t. It’s fun later on to see that I made the Walnut Mocha Torte for New Year’s in 2007, who was there, and who liked it. Of course, some recipes get the dreaded “don’t bother” or “yecch” note, but those are few and far between in the cookbooks I’m mentioning today!

Possibly my favorite cookbook is Susan G. Purdy’s HAVE YOUR CAKE AND EAT IT, TOO. Another picture-less cookbook (note to editors -- use pictures, you’ll sell more cookbooks!), it hits the spot every single time. Susan Purdy and I must have exactly the same taste palate, because these recipes are always just right. Happily, she has reduced the fat and calories in all her desserts and explains how she did it -- but you’ll never notice. This woman is a baking wizard of the highest order, and I would buy any other cookbooks she puts out without giving it a second thought. In fact, I would be first in line!

So, what’s your favorite cookbook?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


by Sheila Connolly

Made you look, didn’t I?

But this blog is written by mystery writers who like to cook. And eat. We don’t do smut.

My dirty books are the cookbooks I love best. You know, the ones that fall open to your favorite recipe automatically. And when you look at that recipe, it’s hard to read because there are years of grease spatters and chocolate blobs on the page—but it doesn’t matter because you could probably make the recipe in your sleep anyway.

I own maybe fifty cookbooks, which I started collecting in my senior year in college (I lived in a dorm but we had “kitchenettes”—and we actually cooked a full Thanksgiving dinner there one year). The very first cookbook I ever bought was a cheap paperback edition of The Joy of Cooking, just for the basics. The second, a graduation present to myself, was Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking—and I still have it.

I surveyed my cookbook collection, and it was obvious which ones have received the most use over the (mumble, mumble) years I’ve been cooking:

--the aforesaid Julia Child (and I now own not one but two back-up copies, in case I ever decide the original is too far gone to use)

--my mother’s Boston Cooking-School Cook Book (aka “Fannie Farmer,” 1949 edition, so she must have acquired it shortly after she married)

--British and Irish Cooking (Around the World Library, 1974)

--Cookies and Candies (Better Homes and Gardens, 5th ed. 1966), which I think was the third cookbook I bought (I paid $1.95 for it—the tag is still on the cover).

These are the cookbooks I have gone back to time and time again. “Julia” is my bible, the go-to book for every meal with guests. The dirtiest page? Right in the middle: Boeuf a la Catalane, which is almost translucent with grease, and on the next page, Daube de Boeuf. I’ve been making these from Day One, and even my husband has adopted them.

I treasure the Fannie Farmer because it includes annotations from my mother and my sister, made over decades of us (my grandmother had her own copy, which I also kept). The spine fell apart years ago. Funny, but it looks like the section that got the heaviest use was…desserts. It makes entertaining reading, as it is filled with dishes that no one makes any more. There’s even a section labeled “Fish in Second-Day Dishes.” Huh?

I forget why I bought the British and Irish Cooking book, but it has the best lamb stew recipe I’ve ever had, and we make Toad in the Hole regularly, as well as Bubble and Squeak. (Gotta love the names!)

And finally, my much-loved Cookies and Candies. I think I have more cookie cookbooks that any other kind, and I keep buying them, looking for something new and different. But I always come back to my first love. It falls open to the page for Paul Bunyan Sugar Cookies, and I notice that there is an accumulation of flour in the groove there. I’ll give you the recipe—with my modifications (I’m not sure what copyright issues may apply, but I have changed this recipe over the last thirty-something years of use). It’s the recipe I used when I sent my then-fiance a box of pink hearts, and when I entertained my daughter and her ballet buddies after school, and of course for many years of Christmas cookies.

Foolproof Sugar Cookies

¾ cup butter
¾ cup solid shortening
2 eggs
1 Tblsp. vanilla
2 Tblsp. whole milk
4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
3 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Cream the butter, shortening, sugar, eggs and vanilla until light and fluffy. Stir in the milk. Add the sifted dry ingredients and blend well. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap or put in a plastic bag and refrigerate for one hour (this is important—it makes the dough much easier to handle when you roll it out).

Roll the chilled dough to ¼-inch thickness. Cut with your favorite cookie cutters. If you wish, you may sprinkle the tops with granulated sugar, or any other decorative sprinkles you like. Place the cookies about 1 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. (You can combine the scraps and reroll the dough for more cookies.)

Bake at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes, or until the edges are lightly browned (don’t overcook!). Remove from the pan and cool.

These keep well in a closed container (I think the flavor actually improves after a couple of days—if they last that long!) Don’t ask me how many this makes—it’s a bunch, probably between three and four dozen, depending on how big you cut them.