“Back of the Box Gourmet” (1991)

I still remember the day I got this book.  I received it as a reward for reading a lot of books while I was in a reading club in junior high.   The school librarian took the few of us who met the reading goal to lunch and to the local bookstore for a free book of our own choosing.  This is how much I loved cookbooks — even though I was an avid reader of fiction novels, I chose a cookbook as my reward.  I think the librarian may have been a little surprised at my selection.  I remember going to lunch because it was the first time I’d ever seen or heard of rhubarb.  We went to Sizzler and there was a make-your-own frozen yogurt machine.  It was the kind where you put in whatever fruit you wanted and it mixed it together for you.  I thought the rhubarb looked odd — like celery, and I was a bit curious, but not daring enough to try it.  (It wasn’t until about ten years later that I actually cooked with rhubarb in order to make a pie for a friend’s birthday.  For those of you who haven’t tried it, it’s pretty good — just don’t eat the leaves because they’re toxic.)

I didn’t remember if I’ve ever actually cooked out of this book before, but then I vaguely remembered making “Classic Tuna Noodle Casserole” once.  I don’t think I loved it enough to make it again.  This cookbook is comprised of recipes that are printed on the packaging of food products.  For example, the Nestle Toll House Cookie recipe that is printed on the back of the bag of Nestle’s chocolate chips.  Other recipes in this book include Libby’s Famous Pumpkin Pie and Rice Krispies Treats.  I actually often make the Quaker Oats recipe for Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, but I didn’t realize this recipe was in this book until now.

For this blog, I made the recipe for “Good Morning Pumpkin Pancakes” which features Carnation Evaporated Milk and Libby’s canned pumpkin.  It also uses a biscuit mix which I prefer not to use for pancakes, but I keep on hand for extremely lazy Saturday mornings.  I did boost the nutritional value of the mix by adding ground flax seeds, soy flour and brewer’s yeast — which are all undetectable to the taste in small amounts.  (I got this idea from Ruth Yaron’s book, “Super Baby Food”.)  At least this recipe uses pumpkin, which is very good for you.  These pancakes were decent but in no way compared to ones made from scratch — especially not the fluffy, buttery pancakes I’ve been making from Marion Cunningham’s “The Breakfast Book”. 

Flipping through this book now, I’m thinking that these recipes are easily available on the internet and there really isn’t a need for this type of book anymore.  In 1991, the internet didn’t exist the way it does now.  If you wanted a recipe from one of these brands, you’d have to buy the actual product and hope to find the recipe listed, or maybe you’d have to send a letter via snail mail to the manufacturer and ask for the recipe. 

I’m not too impressed with this book now.  Many of the recipes use products that I don’t normally buy, like mashed potato flakes or Velveeta.  It has a cute cover — I think that’s why I chose it in the first place.  I’m sure there were much better cookbooks in the store, but I probably thought they were too complicated at my young age.  I’m considering removing this book from my collection, but nostalgia is making me think otherwise.

Published in: on April 7, 2011 at 12:40 pm  Comments (1)  

“Sunset’s New Kitchen Cabinet Cook Book” (1938)

This book is adorable!  I don’t remember when or where I bought it, but I was definitely enchanted by the illustrations.  This book is from the publishers of Sunset Magazine.  It’s a compilation of recipes from a column entitled “Kitchen Cabinet” that appeared each month in the magazine.  The editors state, “Now, for the first time, Sunset’s New Kitchen Cabinet Cook Book gives you all of the recipes published over a period of nearly 10 years — from February, 1929, to June, 1938!”  I have the 1940 edition of this book and I’m amazed that it’s still in decent condition.  It’s over 70 years old and all the pages are still intact! 

Every page contains illustrations of stylish young women in the 1930’s.  Look closely at the picture to the right.  I found this one to be very funny; you’ll notice that the woman is covering her face with a handkerchief while she’s chopping onions and garlic with only one hand.  I imagine that anyone chopping this way would find it very time-consuming.  She also has her index finger over the knife handle, which is not the most ergonomic way to chop. 

A recipe in this book for “San Diego Special Garlic Bread” caught my eye.  We had just planned a trip to San Diego.  I was also wondering what was so “special” about this bread.  I hardly ever serve garlic bread because I didn’t have a recipe for good garlic bread.  In the past, I’ve even resorted to buying the frozen kind when I’ve needed to serve it, but the ingredients in it are scary.  I remember one of my friend’s ex-boyfriends made a garlic bread spread by combining margarine with garlic salt.  It was edible, but the ingredients also make me cringe when I think about it.  Since then, I’ve found a recipe that I’ve adapted so that I can make my own garlic rolls, but that’s a different cookbook and it’s not the same type of garlic bread. 

This recipe sounded a bit unusual but resulted in some very tasty bread.  It involves splitting a loaf lengthwise, then slicing it up but not all the way through to the bottom of the crust.  You then spread butter all over and put one whole clove of garlic between each slice.  I actually split the cloves of garlic first because it would be more flavorful with the garlic juices exposed.  The top is sprinkled with salt, parmesan cheese and paprika — which gives it that orange color I’ve seen on some garlic bread but didn’t know why it looked that way. 

Another recipe on the same page is definitely unusual for our modern tastes.  “Tender Salmon Cheeks” is a delicacy that I’m not familiar with.  It’s basically pan-fried salmon cheeks in gravy.  I never realized that fish had cheeks, but then again, I’m not very knowlegeable about fish — having never caught or cleaned fresh fish before.  Also on the same page is a recipe for “Salad Dressing Supreme” which requires almost half a cup of sugar!  Yikes — is it a salad dressing or a dessert topping?  I don’t even put that much sugar into whipped cream when I’m using it to top a dessert.

I may not be cooking much out of this book, but it is a very enjoyable read — especially with the comic-strip style illustrations.

Published in: on January 21, 2011 at 11:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

“Easy Green Organic” by Anna Getty (2010)

I haven’t made time to blog in a while, but that hasn’t stopped me from buying more cookbooks in the meantime.  I recently bought this cookbook from the bargain section at the bookstore.  The binding is separating from the book, so maybe that’s why it was so cheap, but it doesn’t make a difference to me.  Its pages have a wonderful “new cookbook” smell  to them.  I never cared for “new car” smells, but new cookbooks sometimes have a very nice fragrance.

Having just had several months of morning sickness, I had not been cooking much lately, so I chose a simple recipe to ease me back into it.  “Sage Skillet Potatoes” sounded really good to me — much better than the french fries I was craving earlier in my pregnancy.  These potatoes were delicious!  My toddler insisted on helping me select the potatoes at the store; it’s almost as if there’s something magical about every time she helps me with food — every dish she’s been involved in turns out really yummy.  This recipe was super simple but very flavorful.  It’s just potatoes, sage, butter, salt and pepper.  I wish I could’ve used the sage from my garden, but the little that is left is weak and frail.  Maybe we’ll have an early spring like we did last year and I can plant some more soon. 

This cookbook has other great sounding recipes that are making me really hungry right now:  “Grilled Manchego Cheese Sandwiches with Fresh Tomato Spread”, “Thai Fish Medallions with Cucumber Relish”, “Double Lemon Chicken Breasts with Fresh Tomato Basil Salsa” (coincidentally, the author was pregnant when she was craving the dish upon which she based this recipe).

Published in: on January 3, 2011 at 10:24 pm  Comments (1)  

“The Gastrokid Cookbook” (2009)

I heard about this book before it hit the bookshelves through a blurb on awebsite.  It sounded like a fun and practical book — one that would help me feed my child well.  the concept of “raising passionate, adventurous eaters” was very appealing to me.  I waited a few months before I gave in to my cookbook addiction and ordered it online.  When it arrived, I was so excited, but soon thought that this cookbook was a little more gourmet than I had expected it to be.  I flipped through it quickly and shelved it for several months.  I recently remembered I had it and decided to look through it again.  I realized that although some of the dishes have fancy names, the ingredients are rather simple.  The recipes in this book make me want to head down to the local farmer’s market and splurge on food like organic chicken and heirloom tomatoes.  There’s actually a local organic chicken farm a few miles from where I live and they sell at the farmer’s market. 

I did happen to catch a sale a few weeks ago at Target, of all places, on frozen wild salmon fillets, so I had those in my freezer.  I was very happy to stumble upon a recipe using frozen wild salmon in this book that also uses fresh sage; I also have a thriving sage plant in the garden that I haven’t used much of yet.  The recipe is called “Salmon Saltimbocca” and it’s very simple but absolutely delicious.  It’s only salmon wrapped in sage leaves and prosciutto and cooked in a little bit of canola oil for five minutes on each side.  That’s it — that’s the entire recipe and I thought there wouldn’t be enough flavor in the fish, but I was wrong.  The prosciutto and sage was enough to make it very flavorful.

I also made a recipe called “Meet the Meatballs”, which the authors commented on being better than the traditional Italian meatball.  I couldn’t imagine how good until I tasted them!  They were absolutely scrumptious!  It was the whole cup of chopped fresh herbs that made the difference.  I used sage, rosemary, thyme, and parsley; the first three came from my backyard but I had to buy parsley at the market because mine isn’t growing so well now.  I’ve only made meatballs in the past that were cooked in the oven.  These are browned in a skillet and cooked with tomato sauce on the stovetop.  The sauce was simply a can of whole peeled tomatoes that you crush with your hands and pour over the meatballs.  These were so good I could probably eat them at least once a week, if I had time to make them.  Unfortunately, my daughter didn’t even want to try a single bite — so she’s not much of a “gastrokid” but I hope she’ll come around one day.  At least she enjoys looking at cookbooks; she flipped through this one saying “Oooh…lot of things.” 

Whether I have a gastrokid or not, I will definitely be cooking a lot out of this book because so far it has exceeded my tastebuds’ expectations.  I can’t wait to try “Roasted Chickpea Bruschetta” or “Sausage with Sagey White Beans” or anything from the “Pizza” chapter — yes, there’s a whole chapter on pizza in this book and they all look easy and delightful.

Published in: on June 5, 2010 at 8:33 pm  Comments (2)  

“Feeding the Whole Family” by Cynthia Lair (2008)

I’ve begun to buy cookbooks again.  I tried to restrain myself for a while, but there are some family/kids cookbooks that have recently caught my eye.  This is one of them.  I randomly found out about this book’s website while on an online forum.   It is at www.cookusinterruptus.com and their mission is “to educate viewers about how to prepare high-quality wholesome food within the context of busy family life”.  They do this by presenting funny cooking videos on their website.  I bought this cookbook on a whim because I thought it sounded pretty good.  I always try to read customer reviews before buying books.  Some reviewers of this book said that ingredients for the recipes could be hard to obtain — especially if you live in the Midwest.  Fortunately, I live in Los Angeles, where these ingredients are plentiful.  The problem I have with this book is that I haven’t been using it because I haven’t had time to look through it yet!

Our family ended up buying an annual membership to the zoo, so I needed to make another cold lunch item so that we wouldn’t have to buy lunch there.  “Asian Noodle Salad with Toasted Sesame Dressing” was very easy and quick to make.  I added some cooked chicken for protein.  I also added cilantro; a recipe similar to this one in the same book calls for cilantro so I thought it was a good idea. 

The cilantro was from my backyard and I had grown it from seed.  This cilantro was so fragrant, tender and unblemished — so much better than what I had been buying at the supermarket.  I went without an herb garden for a few years, but this year I realized how much I missed having one.  In February (one of the joys of living in Los Angeles is the mild weather) my toddler daughter and I planted several different herbs that are still mostly healthy (I get lazy about pruning them).

Some of the recipes in this book require the use of a pressure cooker — one of the few appliances I don’t own.  I’ve had an uneducated fear of pressure cookers (I don’t know much about them), since I first saw the movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” many years ago.  The scene where Holly Golightly’s pressure cooker’s lid blows off is enough to scare me away from this contraption.  This means that I can’t make “Rice Balls Rolled in Sesame Salt” which sound very tasty, but requires the use of a pressure cooker.

I do plan to try the other recipes that don’t require a pressure cooker:  “Indian Rice and Lentils with Caramelized Onions”, “Three Sisters Stew” (corn, beans, squash — which grow well together), “Thai Coconut Chicken Soup” to name a few.

Published in: on June 1, 2010 at 9:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

Juan’s Spatula

This post is not about a cookbook, but about my favorite silicone spatula.  Well, not really MY spatula — it’s Juan’s spatula.  I don’t know who Juan is and I hope I don’t ever meet him because I’d feel really guilty.  Juan’s spatula is almost identical to one that I owned except that it has Juan’s name written all over the handle in giant letters. 

I was in culinary school and in my final class when my spatula went missing one night.  My initials were on the handle and I almost successfully made it to graduation without missing a vital kitchen tool (I did lose an Ateco pastry tip in an earlier class, but managed to do without it by using other sizes).  So imagine my sadness when I realized that I lost the one tool that I had been using almost every single day!  I think it was the day after my loss that I came across Juan’s spatula — just sitting there on the floor, underneath my station, with no Juan in sight.  None of my classmates were named Juan, so it didn’t belong to any of them.  So I took this spatula and washed and sanitized it and made it mine.  That was five years ago.  To this day, my husband makes me feel bad by saying how poor Juan must be missing his spatula.  So Juan, if you happen to be reading this, I apologize for taking off with your spatula, but hopefully you’ve become a successful chef and don’t even miss it!

By the way, if you’re interested in obtaining a spatula of your own, you may purchase one at:  http://www.amazon.com/Rubbermaid-Professional-Heat-Resistant-Scraper/dp/B0000CFO2S/ref=wl_it_dp_o?ie=UTF8&coliid=I15VQFSO16TU32&colid=TGTCZ3K9VPCD

I love this spatula so much that I even posted a review on Amazon.com.  I’m the one named “Funfoodie”.

Published in: on May 31, 2010 at 10:46 pm  Comments (3)  

“The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook” (2005)

This is one of my favorite cookbooks.  It is the book I go to if I’m looking for a basic recipe.  Want to know how to poach eggs?  That’s in here (although I have yet to poach an egg).  Wondering what to do with leftover turkey?  There’s a great recipe in here for “Turkey Noodle Soup” with broth you make from the turkey bones and some meat.  There are a ton of tidbits about the best products to buy and the difference between varieties of cornmeal — after all, it is from America’s Test Kitchen. 

I have the first edition and I remember being very excited about it when I saw it available at Costco.  The first edition is flawed in that the pages are thin and prone to tearing off of the binder.  The second edition has much thicker and seemingly durable pages, but I didn’t see the need to replace my copy yet.  I just tape up the torn holes with reinforcements. 

Almost everything I’ve made out of this one has been really good; the exception was “Collard Greens with Bacon and Onion” in which the greens were too bitter for my taste. 

I recently tried a new recipe from this book called “Cold Sesame Noodles” because I needed a lunch for our trip to the zoo the next day.  I’m blessed enough to live near an Asian supermarket where I was able to easily procure fresh Chinese egg noodles for this.  I added cold, shredded chicken as the recipe suggested and it really did make an excellent picnic food.  This was so much better than what they serve at the zoo.  (Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of the actual dish I made, so the photo I’ve posted here is actually from the book itself.)

There are so many great recipes in this cookbook that produce excellent results.  Some are a little time-consuming, but definitely worth it.  A few of my favorites in this cookbook include:  “Beef Burgundy”, “Roast Lemon Chicken” (excellent when you first brine the chicken as suggested),”Roasted Ratatouille”, “Gingerbread [Cake]”, and ” Corn Muffins”.  I’m getting hungry just thinking about these dishes.

Published in: on May 25, 2010 at 8:49 pm  Leave a Comment  

“Baking Illustrated” by Cook’s Illustrated (2004)

I’ve made a few recipes out of this book and have yet to be impressed.  A while back, I tried to make a birthday cake for a co-worker and failed miserably.  It was the recipe for “Genoise” (a tender and light cake if done properly).  The recipe’s method of using the stand mixer to incorporate flour into the batter is a little rough on such a delicate cake.  I’ve made a genoise with a different recipe before; that method involved gently folding the batter with a spatula.  I figured that Cook’s Illustrated puts their recipes through numerous tests so I thought that maybe their method would work.  The cake turned out extremely hard and inedible, so I tried again.  The second cake also went into the trash.    The “Almond Buttercream” that accompanied this genoise cake was a little too greasy for my taste, but I ended up using it anyway.  It was late at night and I promised to bring in a cake, so I used a box of brownie mix to make a layer cake and filled/frosted it with the buttercream.  Which leads me to my discussion about brownies…

I love brownies but have not been able to make a good batch from scratch.  I can make a very moist from-scratch chocolate cake and really good red velvet cupcakes, but I cannot make brownies!  I’ve grown accustomed to eating the kind that comes from a boxed mix.  One of my friends makes great homemade brownies — without measuring!  I welcome you to share any delicious homemade brownie recipes that you may have.

I decided to try this recipe for “Chewy, Fudgy Triple-Chocolate Brownies”.  I think I overbaked by just a few minutes, but even so, I’m not in love with the flavor enough to try this recipe again.  I don’t know how much of a difference it would make if I did make this recipe again and was more careful.  The fact that none of the recipes I’ve made in this book have been good means that I’m probably doing something wrong every time — since I can’t replicate their results (which are described in great scientific detail in this book).  This also probably means that the recipes do not easily result in good product.  I’m not alone in thinking this.  I went to a book signing event for Cook’s Illustrated and several other cooks secretly felt that several of their recipes are flawed.  However, I absolutely the “America’s Test Kitchen’s Family Cookbook”.  The recipes in that book almost always turn out well for me.  I’ll write about that one next. 

That said, I’m still willing to try a few more out of this book before I cast it off.  Do you think their recipe for “Foolproof Sponge Cake” is really foolproof?  I shall have to try it and see.

Published in: on May 10, 2010 at 10:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

“Family Meals” by Maria Helm Sinskey (2008)

This is the only other Williams-Sonoma cookbook I own so far.  I recently bought it because I had a gift card for Williams-Sonoma that I had been holding onto for a  long time.  I couldn’t find anything that I felt was worth spending the money on(except for their exclusive new Cuisinart food processor which costs more money than I can spend right now — what kills me is that I recently got a speeding ticket and for the price of that ticket, I could’ve bought that food processor and more!)  So I used the gift card to buy another cookbook, in hopes that I’ll actually use it more than once.  This book appealed to me because of it’s simplicity; the recipes seemed to be less complicated than those in their other cookbooks.   There’s an earthiness to it that’s reminiscent of growing up on a family farm and being nourished by delicious yet simple comfort food. 

 I’m becoming a fan of beans/lentils and rice because this combination is so nutritious and economical.  The recipe “Chickpea Curry” probably only cost me about $4 to make and it serves 6 – 8.  It contains chickpeas (a.k.a. garbanzo beans), onions, garlic, tomatoes, potatoes, spices, lime juice and cilantro.  I was disappointed at first because the dish wasn’t very flavorful after cooking, especially since I put so much prep time into it (more on this later).  The author mentions that it tastes better the day after — she’s right; it’s a lot better the day after.  My almost 2-year old even liked it. 

It was the beans that took so much prep time.  I knew this somewhat, so I cooked them a few nights before I made this dish.  I needed 5 cups of cooked beans for this recipe, so I thought it would be cheaper to use dried beans.  Hey, I’d cooked dried pinto beans before, so how hard could this be?  Well, I learned later that it’s a little more time-consuming with garbanzos, which are bigger.  Yes, you can walk away while they’re cooking, but you do have to come back to them once in a while.  (And in my case I also had to spend some time stirring the cooked beans in an ice bath to safely cool them down for storage in the fridge.)  The time wouldn’t have been an issue, had it not been a weeknight after work and if it had been earlier than 9:00 when I started cooking them.  I had to lose some sleep over these beans, waiting for them to cook.  They were finally tender by 10:50 p.m.  Upon tasting the beans, my husband and I decided that they were well worth the time.  The beans had been cooking with some garlic cloves and a little bit of kosher salt and their taste was superior to that of canned beans.  I’ll need to start cooking the beans earlier next time.  I’m trying to get better with meal planning/prep.  Right now I’m cooking pasta in preparation for tomorrow night’s casserole (Betty Crocker’s “Party Tuna Bake” which I first made a few months ago).  It’s 9:51 pm, but at least pasta cooks fast — unlike garbanzo beans.

Published in: on March 8, 2010 at 10:36 pm  Comments (5)  

Williams-Sonoma “Essentials of Healthful Cooking” (2003)

I bought this book because of the title and its impressive photos (I’m a sucker for good food photography!)  And who doesn’t like looking through Williams-Sonoma stuff?  Like Martha Stewart, everything about their products is so enchanting and sophisticated.  Good thing I went to culinary school, where I learned things like how to fashion a double-boiler from a stainless steel bowl and saucepan; when I graduated, these high-end overpriced cooking specialty stores lost their hold on me.  (My favorite cooking store is now a restaurant supply store called Surfas — still can be pricey but not so needlessly fancy.)

Once again, the recipes in this book can be a bit time-consuming.  A couple of my friends (who are married to each other and cook together unlike my husband and I ) swear by the Williams-Sonoma quick cooking book (unsure of the title).  I guess if it doesn’t say that it’s quick, then I shouldn’t expect it to be.  These same friends  also love the Williams-Sonoma Thanksgiving book, which has delicious recipes — believe me because I’ve been blessed enough to partake in this couple’s Thanksgiving dishes!  Although I do recall that it took them a long time to peel chestnuts for one of the stuffing recipes.

The only recipe I had made out of this book was “Lemon Orzo with Parsley”.  In fact, this recipe introduced me to orzo and I love the fact that it mimics rice but is actually mini pasta that cooks very quickly.  I just wish that orzo was whole wheat — does whole wheat orzo exist? 

Since most of the recipes in this book took more energy than I had at the time, I wanted to make something relatively easy.  It had been a while since I’ve cooked non-canned beans, so I wanted to give it a try.   “Red Bean Puree with Pita” is not actually made with red beans; it’s red because you put tomato sauce in it — although it’s not really red in the end anyway.

The dip wasn’t as tasty as I would’ve liked.  I’m used to homemade hummus which has lemon juice, tahini, and garlic.  I think I missed the flavor of these ingredients in this bean dip.  From this experience, I learned that soaking and cooking your own beans is not difficult at all and is way cheaper and probably healthier (since bpa is often used in lining food cans even though I still buy canned food).  Although this dish wasn’t so great, I at least was re-introduced to the concept of using dried beans.

Recipes in this book that leave me with a craving include “Thai Beef Salad” and “Vietnamese-Style Summer Rolls”.  Maybe I should’ve bought a quick cooking Asian cookbook instead?  But you know what they say — you can only have two out of the following three:  fast, cheap, good.  So it’s either fast and cheap (but not good)  or fast and good (but not cheap) or in my case, it’s often cheap and good (but not certainly not fast).

Published in: on February 4, 2010 at 5:03 pm  Comments (4)