Category Archives: Cookbooks

Recipes from My Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl: Cookbook Club #weekendcooking @BethFishReads

Something I’ve always thought would be fun would be a cookbook club where everyone would try a recipe from a cookbook, bring it to the meeting, and the group would talk about the good and bad of the cookbook, the recipes we tried, and the recipes we still wanted to try.

So I got the Good Taste Cookbook Club started at my library last September, and it’s going strong! Except for meeting every other month instead of monthly, it’s just like any other library book club, except that the books we read are cookbooks. Oh, and we also eat extremely well at every meeting!

book coverMy Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl was the January selection. It’s a combination memoir/cookbook that the longtime restaurant critic ended up writing after Gourmet – the magazine she had edited for ten years – was suddenly shut down, with everyone on staff laid off. Its format, design, and recipe layout are unusual for a cookbook (e.g. loose, conversational-style, sometimes inexact, instructions; ingredient lists divided into “Shopping List” and “Staples”; personal notes woven into the recipe directions) which some of the group didn’t care for, but others enjoyed.

“For the past six months, cooking had been my lifeline, and I was grateful for everything I had learned in the kitchen. Most cookbooks, I thought as I reached for an orange and began to squeeze it for juice, are in search of perfection, an attempt to constantly re-create the same good dishes. But you’re not a chef in your own kitchen, trying to please paying guests. You’re a traveler, following your own path, seeking adventure. I wanted to write about the fun of cooking, encourage people to take risks. Alone in the kitchen you are simply a cook, free to do anything you want. If it doesn’t work out – well, there’s always another meal” – My Kitchen Year

I made Lemon Panna Cotta for my contribution to the meeting, which was a very simple recipe from My Kitchen Year, having just three ingredients: heavy cream, sugar, and three lemons. As an example of the inexact directions, the recipe calls for the juice and zest of three lemons, but doesn’t tell you approximately how much juice and zest you should end up with. So I wondered if I had it right as I mixed the lemon juice and zest together and plopped it all into the hot cream, but the recipe worked – simple as it was! Even people who don’t particularly care for lemon desserts raved about it.

I put the Lemon Panna Cotta into plastic shot glasses for individual servings, with the remaining amount filling two ramekins. During the meeting, we discovered that it would probably be best kept refrigerated right up until serving time, because it got a little soupy in the bottom of the shot glasses. (The thinner layers in the ramekins seemed to stay firm, though.)

Lemon Panna Cotta in shot glass-sized servings
Lemon Panna Cotta just after being poured into the ramekin

I also wanted to try the recipe for Food Cart Curry Chicken before the cookbook club met, but didn’t have time, so my personal chef (aka Mr. BaystateRA) kindly made it for me. My photo doesn’t do it justice, but it was delicious! Mr. B. complained about grinding spices when we had ground spices in the spice cabinet already, but I think the extra work – his, that is – was definitely worth it, for the flavor explosion.)

served in the pans

I’ve read many of Ruth Reichl’s other books, including the novel she also worked on during this year of unemployment (Delicious!). My Kitchen Year is divided into seasons – Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer – and chronicles her time spent in two residences, a New York City apartment and a country home, upstate.

My Kitchen Year happened to resonate with me, personally, because I had an unexpected six months of unemployment starting in the late fall of last year, which caused me to reevaluate my career and how I spent my time. Like Ruth Reichl, who found so much comfort in the kitchen during her year at home while looking for new employment, I did more cooking than usual during those months and also found it soothing. Although, unlike Ruth Reichl, I didn’t write a book (much less a cookbook AND a novel) during my time of unemployment, I discovered that preparing healthful meals can be as relaxing as baking, and got a lot more creative with salads, so I count that as an overall plus.

Now, settled happily into my new job, I’ve been finding less time to cook and had also been going to the gym less often, but thanks to New Year’s resolutions and the encouragement of Joy Weese Moll’s Readers’ Workouts, I’m getting back into a gym routine and have now finally gotten back to Weekend Cooking with Beth Fish Reads!

At our meeting to talk about My Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl, we sampled:

  • Anchovy Bread
  • Tuscan Bean Soup
  • Perfect Pound Cake
  • Banana Bread
  • Applesauce
  • Khao Man Gai (Thai Chicken Rice)
  • Beef, Wine and Onion Stew
  • Gingered Applesauce Cake Glazed with Caramel
  • Lemon Panna Cotta
  • New York Cheesecake
  • Bison Chili
  • Fried Chicken
  • Chicken Pate
  • Potatoes au Gratin
  • Custard in a Crust (Quiche)
  • Pickled Red Onions

Click to enlarge the pictures:

Happy Weekend Cooking!

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Celebrating Lunar New Year Vietnamese-Style #weekendcooking @BethFishReads

It’s the Year of the Monkey!Picture with text Happy New Year in VietnameseI went along as a driver to the Tet in Boston celebration (which was actually held in a town near us, not in Boston) recently with my husband and his lovely group of students from Vietnam (and one from Haiti!) to learn English and attend college. He is a volunteer tutor at the nearby convent where they live while they’re here.

stage performance

There were speeches, dancing, martial arts performances, and ceremonies, but our little group of sisters attracted a lot of attention from the Vietnamese-American crowd and became minor celebrities for the morning. Everyone wanted to have a picture taken with them, and sometimes wanted a picture of our whole group. Maybe because my husband dressed up in his Chinese jacket!


Most of the sisters don’t mind posing for pictures, anyway!

My favorite performance was the Lion Dancers. All young men in pairs, they made the giant dragons dance and leap into the air.

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When I saw a few of the Lion Dancers relaxing after their performance, they agreed to let me snap their picture.IMG_4178

There were a lot of vendors and displays.

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And, of course, a lot of tables where you could buy food!

I bought a Vietnamese sandwich, bánh mì, to take home and we sliced it and had it for dinner.

banh mi sandwich slices

When our group of lovely ladies learned that morning that I had not yet tried phở (Vietnamese noodle soup) they decided to treat us to lunch at a nearby Vietnamese restaurant, where they showed me how to eat phở correctly. I made a valiant attempt with chopsticks, but soon gave in and used a spoon.

I ordered the tofu-vegetable phở but accidentally was given plain vegetable phở, which was still delicious. When the apologetic waiter brought me a dish of sauteed tofu, I just added it in!

The Tet in Boston was held before Lunar New Year, so my husband made banh chung to give to his students for their own New Year’s dinner the following week.

I wrote about banh chung in an earlier Weekend Cooking post, if you would like more details on what it is!

These are the two Vietnamese cookbooks my husband has been given. I hope to try a recipe from one or both of them soon!

cover image of Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table Vietnamese Home Cooking

Happy Lunar New Year and Happy Weekend Cooking!

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Weekend Cooking Posts That Weren’t, Part Two #weekendcooking @BethFishReads

My first  Weekend Cooking Posts That Weren’t, Part One post was about our scientific taste test of King Arthur Flour’s Cake Enhancer. Now comes Part Two – some more of the Weekend Cooking posts I planned to write in 2015 (or 2014, 2013, etc.) but didn’t:

1. Cupcakes! by Eleanor Klivans

cover image of cookbookI bought the ebook edition of Cupcakes! by Eleanor Klivans (Chronicle Books, 2005) for my Nook Color way, way back, long before pretty, pastel macarons became the new thing and cupcake bakeries started going out of business.
Cupcakes! is a lovely book with beautiful photographs and lots of yummy-sounding recipes, but the only one I tried before I switched mainly to gluten-free baking was for these Coconut Cupcakes one Easter a few years back.  Delicious!

photo of Easter coconut cupcakes
Aren’t they pretty? I even used food coloring to color the coconut green like Easter grass.
Cupcakes with colored sprinkles
I left the coconut off of some for people who don’t like coconut.

2. Le French Oven by Hilary Davis

cover imageThis Weekend Cooking review post is still to come, so this is just a preview.
I feel bad about not reviewing Le French Oven by Hilary Davis before Christmas this year, but hopefully you saw it somewhere else and put it on your wish list. If you have a French oven or those cute miniature ones called mini cocottes, you MUST GET YOUR HANDS ON THIS COOKBOOK. I, unfortunately, do not, and, for some reason, did not get one for Christmas. 😉
I’ve earmarked many recipes to try anyway, such as Artichoke Parmesan Soup, Soft Parmesan Polenta with Arugula Salad and Poached Egg, Simply Delicious Roasted Vegetables, Braised Leeks and Swiss Chard with Feta and Raisins, Roast Turkey Breast with Provencal Vegetables, and Fresh Orange Creme Caramel.
This isn’t a good choice if you’re vegetarian or on a gluten-free diet, but for everybody else…especially if you love having gorgeous photographs in your cookbooks…this is a beautifully written and well-designed cookbook to have in your collection. Plus, it lies flat and the pages are not going to come loose from the binding.
Warning: You’re going to start planning a trip to France after reading this or either of the author’s other cookbooks – French Comfort Food and Cuisine Nicoise. (Links go to my reviews.)

3. Lobster Rolls

Plate of lobster roll with French friesSummer is not official until we have our first lobster rolls. Preferably at some seaside restaurant. But my husband grew up lobstering with his father and brothers, so he knows how to cook fresh lobster, and sometimes we have it at home.
My husband makes lobster salad just the way I like it, heavy on the lobster and light on the mayo. Here’s his homemade lobster salad on a gluten-free, spinach wrap. Yummy!

IMG_2216In the Weekend Cooking post I had “planned”, I was going to discuss the different ideas people have of lobster rolls and the regional divisions between the ones with mayo and ones that are just lobster and butter in a roll.
But I like the mayo version best, so I’m not even going to bother. The lobster salad, though, has to be made with big pieces of fresh lobster with, at the most, a little chopped celery, and it has to come in a New England-style hotdog bun…grilled in butter (but not burnt like the one in this picture)…for it to be my ideal lobster roll.
Eating a lobster roll on the ocean adds to the flavor. Massachusetts lobsters are the best, of course, but we actually had our best-ever lobster rolls up in Old Orchard Beach, Maine. I forget the name of the restaurant, but it’s right on the water.

Me and my husband at a table on the beachThis photo is from 2009! Since then, my hair has been steadily going gray and my husband went on a low-carb diet, so in 2016…he looks better and I look worse! (For the record, however, having seen the new Star Wars movie, I believe Carrie Fisher has aged just as well as Harrison Ford.)

Happy Weekend Cooking!

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