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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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 1-23-17 #IMWAYR

Meme badge
It’s blustery with occasional snow flurries, but our nor’easter is going to be mostly rain here, so no snow shoveling this Monday morning!

cover imageI’m reading My Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl for the Good Taste Cookbook Club meeting at the library this week. I’ve read the Fall, Winter, Spring sections of the book already, and only have Summer left.

For Cookbook Club on Thursday night, I’ll be making and bringing Lemon Panna Cotta. The recipe is very simple, and I’m hoping it’s as easy as it looks because I’m coasting a little this month because of other projects. I’ll be able to taste some of the other, more complex, recipes that more ambitious members of the group will be tackling.

I’ve been meaning to try The Splendid Table’s recipe for panna cotta, (which includes gelatin, while Ruth Reichl’s does not) so maybe I’ll eventually make them both, and compare!

My Kitchen Year is a beautiful book. Ruth’s personal story of her experience of unexpected unemployment starting in the fall of 2009 combined with gorgeous color photographs from the different seasons makes for a highly pleasurable reading experience. And then there are the recipes! Most of which I want to try.

My Kitchen Year has some personal resonance with me, coincidentally, as I found myself unexpectedly unemployed last fall, as well. I also found solace in cooking and in writing about the recipes I made in Weekend Cooking posts. I never thought to read My Kitchen Year last fall, but I may be able to enjoy it more, now that I (like the author) have moved on and gained perspective on the experience. I do miss having all that time to cook and plan meals, and regret that I didn’t use my time wisely by making copious notes for a book as Ruth Reichl did (haha) but am trying to make up for it by using my time more wisely now!

I miss the Weekend Cooking crowd over at Beth Fish Reads, and hope to get back to writing about cooking again soon.

Happy Reading!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? (#IMWAYR) is a place to meet up and share what you have been, are and about to be reading over the week.  It’s a great post to organize yourself. It’s an opportunity to visit and comment, and er… add to that ever-growing TBR pile! So welcome in, everyone. This meme started with J Kaye’s Blog and then was taken up by Sheila from Book Journey. Sheila then passed it on to Kathryn at Book Date.




Weekend Cooking: Sara Moulton’s Home Cooking 101 #weekendcooking @BethFishReads

cover image of Sara Moulton's Home Cooking 101Sara Moulton’s Home Cooking 101 is the new cookbook by Sara Moulton, the host of PBS’s Sara’s Weeknight Meals.

I wasn’t familiar with Sara Moulton before seeing Home Cooking 101 on NetGalley, but the cookbook’s cheery cover design appealed to me, along with the idea of learning from an expert home cook how to kick the flavor of everyday meals up a notch without elaborate, all-day bouts in the kitchen.

And…I loved this one! I’d been thinking of requesting it as a Mother’s Day present, but just found out I might be getting a new iPhone, so I may just have to buy it for myself, instead. (Unless any of my kids are reading this…hint, hint.)

As user-friendly and approachable as Sara herself, HOME COOKING 101 embodies a lifetime of experience. Sara was schooled in the French classical tradition, worked for years as a restaurant chef, and tested and developed recipes for Gourmet magazine. She spent a decade as the Food Editor for ABC-TV’s “Good Morning America” and was the host of several popular shows during the first ten years of Food Network. Sara, like her mentor, Julia Child, has devoted the bulk of her career to teaching, and specifically to helping the home cook put dinner on the table on a weeknight…a task that too often seems daunting.

From the publisher of Home Cooking 101

Home Cooking 101 is the author’s fourth cookbook, with over 150 new recipes. In it, she shares tidbits from her career, such as when Julia Child refused to hire an experienced chef to assist her because she cut an onion the wrong way, and she also includes guest recipes from some of her favorite, well-known cooks such as Rick Bayless.

If you’re not familiar with Sara Moulton and her cooking methods, visit her Web site for a wide selection of her recipes to see what they’re like:

In Home Cooking 101, you’ll learn the correct way to cut an onion; what to stock in your pantry; the best method for hard-boiling eggs (Step aside, Julia!); how to make your own butter; how to steam and shell lobster to make Summer Shack Lobster Rolls; and much more.

As I went through the cookbook, I easily bookmarked at least a dozen recipes I wanted to try, but I realized later that I was staying within my known likes and comfort zone with the recipes I was choosing. If you’re a good home cook who wants to develop your skills and expand your repertoire, you might end up bookmarking recipes like these, instead:

  • Warm Grilled Octopus Salad (with a note on how to buy octopus and a section titled “Dave’s Tips for Preparing Octopus”)
  • Red Wine-Braised Short Ribs of Beef (with Cook’s Notes on skimming off fat, cutting parchment paper to fit your pan, and on Wondra flour)
  • Rack of Lamb for Two with Rosemary Crumb Crust (with a detailed section titled “How to Trim and French a Rack of Lamb”)

There are many recipes like these, that would make spectacular entrees for special dinners and which have step-by-step photos in all of the tip sections to make trying the recipes less daunting, but there are plenty of others more suitable for weeknight dinners. (Although none that I would say are really quick and easy, I think this author assumes you already know how to throw a quick meal together and that you’re using this cookbook for times when you have an hour or more for dinner prep.)

I bookmarked less complicated (OK, easy) recipes (of which there are many) to try. Although I only planned to make a few for this review, I ended up trying seven, and they were all winners that I would definitely make again.

Indian Cauliflower with Crispy Chickpeas
Green Chile Rice and Chicken Skillet Dinner

Green Chile Rice and Chicken

Stir-Fried Tofu in Chile-Orange Sauce

Sauteed Hungarian Pork Chops

Crispy Pork Fried Rice with Pickled Radishes

Warm Shrimp Salad with Carrot-Ginger Dressing

I also made Lemony Carrot “Fettucine” with Toasted Pistachios to go with Easter Sunday dinner from the cookbook’s “On the Side” section. It’s a great side dish for spring, and you can find the recipe online. (Use your spiralizer or food processor to make the carrots into “noodles”, if you can; that part was more time-consuming than I thought it would be.)

There’s a Vegan/Vegetarian section and a Meal in a Pan section, as well as Soups and Salads for Supper, DIY Dinner, Quick and Quicker Entrees, On the Side, Cooking When You Have More Time, and Something Sweet.

Some of recipes that I bookmarked but didn’t get to try:

  • Baked Chicken Thighs with Pancetta, Olives, and Cherry Tomatoes
  • Thai Chicken Salad
  • Indian Eggs with Spicy Tomato Pepper Sauce
  • Vegetable Fritters with Green Chile-Coconut Chutney

Sara Moulton’s Home Cooking 101
Moulton, Sara
Oxmoor, Mar. 8, 2016
368 pp.$35.00, US

Disclosure: I received a free e-ARC of this book from the publisher for review through NetGalley.

Happy Weekend Cooking!

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