Free Range on Food: The year's best cookbooks

Dec 14, 2011

Today's topics: What were your favorite cookbooks of 2011? What do you look for in a cookbook? We'll also discuss Steve and Jean Case's ambitious plans for a Virginia winery, a Louisiana shrimper doing things differently, and anything else food-related.

Past Free Range on Food chats

Greetings, all, and welcome to Free Range, the chat that today brings you all sorts of cookbook ideas along with recipe troubleshooting and advice.

Did you like Bonnie's essay today on her worries about the new coffee-table-cookbook trend? How bout our lists for the top 10 cookbooks of the year; the also-recommended ones; and the hometown faves?

We also had Russell Warnick weigh in on his favorite food apps of the year; Jane Black's spotlight on a Louisiana shrimper who's doing things differently; and Dave McIntyre's talk with Jean Case about her plans for Sweely Winery.

We have special guests to help us out today: Please welcome Samantha Hoyt Lindgren and Don Lindgren, proprietors of the fabulous Rabelais Books in Portland, Maine. They know their books! And we have Mr. Warnick in the house for some tech talk.

Of course, we'll answer any other cooking/food q's you may have.

Oh, and we have giveaway books for our favorite chatters: "Food52 Cookbook" by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs; "The Food of Morocco" by Paula Wolfert; and "Vegetables from an Italian Garden" by the editors at Phaidon.

So let's do this thing!

Our daughter, who is mostly a non-meateater, loves duck at Christmas (with a green peppercorn/cognac/mustard/shallot sauce). Is there any way Bonnie can "share" the slow-roasted duck breast recipe mentioned in the book review column today? Thanks

Because you asked so nicely... Slow-Roasted Duck Breast.

Hi, Rangers. My dad is generally impossible to buy gifts for, because for every gift-giving occasion he asks for socks and an ice cream cone. I got him an ice cream maker last Christmas, and this year I'm planning to get him some shelf-stable ice cream ingredients so he can make his own ice cream cones. Any ingredient suggestions?

I'm going to turn to "Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home" -- one of Bonnie's favorite cookbooks of the year -- and my own ice-cream adventures for inspiration:

- some really good chocolate (Valrhona, Askinosie, Callebaut, etc.)

- nuts

- dried fruit

- fine sea salt

- variety of essential oils

How's that for a start?

Baking cookies on Saturday. Four of the five cookies (ginger, chocolate snowflake, etc) that I'm planning on making require shaping into balls, which can be pretty labor intensive. What's the purpose of doing that step, and is there any shortcut or do I need to resign myself to all of that balling? Thanks!

Could be that the dough is so soft it would otherwise spread irregularly without the ball step. Or the dough might be crumbly (Mexican wedding cookies come to mind) unless you compact it and let the butter do its thing at 350 degrees. Also, making evenly sized balls results in same-size cookies, and that means they'll bake evenly. If you put on some good music, the task will go quickly enough.

I'm looking for a mandoline for a christmas present. Which ones are your favorites? Btw - the top 10 cookbook list was great and would love to see a top 10 Free Ranger's Favorite Kitchen things.

I like the Oxo one quite a bit. The Super Benriner is great, too, but I have only tested/played around with it. (The Oxo I've had for years.")

I was super ambitious this weekend and made a yummy rabbit recipe that required me to butcher a rabbit! The dish came out great, but I felt guilty throwing out the bones, some with quite a bit of meat on them, so I made rabbit stock. Now...what to do with it? Should I use it in place of chicken stock? Is there something in particular that would highlight the rabbit-y flavor?

I think you could use it in risotto (with mushrooms?) to great effect. The gameyness of the rabbit would make an excellent contrast to creaminess of the risotto.

You might even try it with a winter squash soup to really boost the flavor.

Today's article on food apps (good job!) prompted me to ask you if you had considered doing an article on recipe apps. I am looking for an electronic, unified solution to the card file, manila folder, an online folders I've been maintaining over the years. I am now using the Paprika app with good results, but would like to know what else is out there. Thanks!

RUSSELL: If you're familiar with the online sync service, Evernote, they've just released a new app - you basically take photos of food, people you're with and the venue, and then add notes. This could be a used for your own meals too, a great way to catalogue your recipes, dinners or any food related venture.

Hi, have you tried Jamie Oliver's Meals in Minutes and would you recommend for a working mom who has to get food on the table quickly? Would the recipes appeal to kids? If not, do you have any other suggestions of cookbooks that would meet these criteria? Thanks!

SAM AND DON: This book is all about getting good, healthy and tasty food on the table in a half an hour or so. Definitely kid friendly, although there are some more adult oriented recipes as well, but the emphasis is on getting it on the table fast, without compromising on either quality or taste.  Jamie Oliver does it again!

Any there any cookbook apps that will read the recipe to you?

Wait, is this Siri? I've not come across any apps that cater to this need, perhaps a gap in the market but one that I can see filling in the near future what with the introduction of personal assistants in our smartphones. I'll keep my eyes (and ears) peeled.

The only non hands on app I've used is Great British Chefs, it includes a voice activated page turner for each step of the recipe.

I happen to know I'm getting the Essential Pepin cookbook for Christmas, and I'm very excited! Did you all have any favorite recipes from there? There are so many to choose from that I wouldn't know where to start!

Yes, I thought the fish wrapped in rice paper was terrific -- but then again, I think Msr. J is terrific.

Good Afternoon, I've decided to do a Moroccan spiced skillet duck breast for Christmas dinner. I generally also do a spiced pecan recipe but was wondering if you thought it prudent to add some exotic spices to it (pretty basic sugar, butter, salt, cayenne recipie as it is now). Also, what are some good sides. I don't have a tangine but would like to do some type of cous-cous with golden raisens... Any ideas or cookbook sugesstions would be great. Thanks.

SAM AND DON: There are two great new Moroccan cookbooks this year. Mourad Lalou's 'Mourad: New Moroccan' and Paula Wolfert's 'Food of Morocco.'  These books are very diffierent from each other, and yet we recommend both. Wolfert's book  focuses on authentic, traditional preparations. It's full of cultural and historical information on the foodways of Morocco. Lalou's new book gives a respectful nod to tradition, but he's a modern chef in SF, and his book emphasizes technique. We've learned a great deal from this book.

I wanted to make Anthony Bourdain's Boeuf Bourguignon but couldn't find beef shoulder anywhere: the farmer's market was out (they said they were cleaned out by restaurants that buy in bulk from them), whole foods didn't have it, nor did safeway. Was it just a bad grocery store day or is this not a commonly available cut? What's the best substitute? Thanks, love the chat!

I can't say I've seen it in stores, either. You'd be fine with chuck, IMHO.

Wanted to pass along my thanks for two stellar cookie recipes I tried from the WaPo site: the super-sized ginger chewies and the two-bite gingerbread whoopie pies. They both baked up beautifully and were utterly delicious (I love ginger, can you tell?) I was also able to veganize them with no problem -- I subbed vegan margarine, egg replacer, and vegan "cream cheese" and they turned out moist and delicious. Thanks!

Thanks! Obviously you have good taste.

Super-Size Ginger Chewies; Two-Bite Gingerbread Whoopie Pies.


I have a question about Honey Baked Hams and the like. When one purchases a pre-cooked, ready to eat ham, how long is it good for in the refrigerator, typically? I bought a pre-cooked ham from Fresh Market on Friday, dined on leftovers over the weekend, and froze the hock and cut up portions on Monday because it seemed like that was as far as I could push it. But is there any rule of thumb besides the smell/feel taste?

The USDA has a whole list of recommendations for the shelf life of cooked ham. It breaks it down by many different categories -- cooked and left open in refrigerator, cooked and wrapped in refrigerator, etc. You should find the one that best describes your situation.

Hi Free Rangers, I was lucky enough to pass through Tarpon Springs, Fla., last week and stop at one of the excellent local Greek pastry shops. Had wonderful kourabiedes (sp.??), the super-short, light-as-a-feather cookies covered in powdered sugar. Know the ones I mean? Can anyone share a reliable recipe to make these at home? Thanks --

Here's a recipe we ran way back in 2000.



Once, Marion Kopsidas was asked what she thought was the best Greek restaurant in town. She gave her own address.

When Kopsidas was asked if she would share some of her recipes for this article, she exclaimed, "What am I doing? I'm giving away my children!" 

But then she obliged and also gave some cooking tips: Always use good olive oil and unsalted butter (never ever use canola oil or solid vegetable shortening). Never take shortcuts or skimp on ingredients. Use fresh parsley, mint and dill rather than dried.



(45 pieces)

Kourambiedes were the traditional wedding treat of Sparta. "Everyone got one at my wedding," Marion Kopsidas recalls. "I don't like to call them cookies because they're not cookies--they're creations."

Kopsidas says the secret is to whip the butter until it's white. The excess of confectioners' sugar represents wishes for good fortune. She prefers to sprinkle the confectioners' sugar on wax paper, transfer the cookies to the sugar, then cover them with additional sugar.


2 cups flour 

1 teaspoon baking powder 

2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature 

1/2 cup confectioners' sugar 

2 egg yolks 

1 demitasse cognac (optional) 

1 cup (about 6 ounces) blanched, coarsely chopped almonds, lightly toasted* (optional) 

About 45 whole cloves 

About 2 pounds confectioners' sugar for dusting


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour and baking powder. Set aside.

In a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter until white, about 10 minutes. Beating constantly, slowly add the sugar and egg yolks and mix until combined. Using a spoon, stir in the cognac and almonds, if desired, and mix until combined. Add the flour mixture and mix until thoroughly combined. Using about 1/4 of the dough, form it into a log about 1 inch in diameter. Cut the dough on the diagonal into 1-inch pieces. Press a clove into the center of each piece and shape each piece into a ball. Transfer the ball to the baking sheet and repeat with the remaining ingredients.

Bake the dough in the preheated oven until lightly golden but not brown, about 20 minutes. Remove the sheet from the oven and immediately sprinkle the confectioners' sugar over the kourambiedes, being careful to cover the sides and tops of each piece. Set aside to cool for at least 1 hour. Using a small spatula, transfer each kourambiedes into a small paper pastry cup without disturbing the sugar.


*NOTE: To toast nuts, spread them on a baking sheet and place them in a 350-degree oven, shaking the pan occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes. Watch carefully because nuts will burn quickly.


Bonnie, thanks for including several vegetable-centric and vegetarian/vegan cookbooks in the list this year, including Big Vegan by Robin Asbell, Cooking the Moment by Andrea Reusing, Vegetables from an Italian Garden by Phaidon. I confess though that I'm most looking forward to getting my hands on Plenty Yotam Ottolenghi. I love his take on eating more vegetables and that the recipes are not just your basic veggie stir frys. I think it would be great to cull from this book during the holidays to show my family that vegetarian doesn't have to be boring or mundane.

We absolutely love Ottolenghi's Plenty, as well as his non-vegetable centric earlier book, Ottolenghi. I still can't fully explain why we find our selves so often going to his books when it comes time to make dinner. I also like Simon Hopkinson's Vegetarian Option - and he's another English chef who is not stricly a vegetarian himself. Dennis Cotter, chef of Ireland's Cafe Paradiso has a book called Wild Garlic and Gooseberries, which has been out a few years, but which is lovely, and his newest book, For the love of Food, will be released in the states in April. Finally, we can't skip Nigel Slater's Tender, a huge volume dedicated to cooking from a small vegetable garden. The book offers descriptions of the various families of vegetables, with seasonal and harvesting info, and then gives us numerous tasty recipes.


Just a quick note to let the chatters know that the Tuscan oil mentioned in Jane Black's olive oil feature from October is back in stock at Olio2go. Thanks always!

Great. Appreciate it!

Do you cook your apples first before filing the pie? I am thinking about making a lace top apple pie and it seems that I will have to cook the filling first. Do you have a go-to recipe for pie crust that you can share? Thanks so much!

I would not pre-cook your apples, unless you like applesauce pie.  Different apple varieties have different textures and tastes. To my mind the perfect apple pie has fork tender apples slices in a base of saucy apples.  Stay away from Macintosh and Macoun for pies, instead look for Granny Smith, Northern Spy, Rome or various Russets.  Or if you have a Farmer's Market ask the farmer selling apples which varieties they like.  There are more and more heirloom and heritage varieties available these days, some of which make fantastic pies.  Mix together a couple of different types for your own unique blend.  If you want to learn more about apples there is a great book out this year: The Apple Lover's Cookbook by Amy Traverso.


Well, I just loved the way Tiffany MacIsaac's Double-Crust Apple Pie turns out, and she cooks/cools her filling first. The consistency's perfect and you don't get that lumpy top crust with air holes. The crust recipe included is sturdy and tasty. It'll seem like the dough barely holds together, but hang in there. It works.

This is in response to a question from last week's chat, when toward the end someone said she had been recently laid off and wanted to know how to cook for little without resorting to the premade stuff. As someone who has been in this exact same situation, I have so much to say! And first off, it's actually easier to do all your cooking when you don't have a lot of money than to rely on those premade packaged meals.

I've written down a list of suggestions as they came to me: Buy a whole chicken - roast it for one meal, use left over meat for a second meal, and then use the carcass to make stock. I've actually gotten 3 meals out of one chicken; it goes a long way when you're just feeding two people. Buy chicken parts in bulk - just bought five chicken legs for $3.50. One leg is more than enough per person, so can easily get two meals out of this. I just made braised chicken legs (one per person is usually enough) with leeks and cream for $4.90.

Focus on seasonal cooking - food is usually cheaper when it's in season.

Buy meat when it's on sale, pack it up well and freeze it. Other items that can be bought on sale and stored for a long time - pasta, rice, canned roasted peppers (not cheap cheap, but a can will last for several meals), olive oil, good cheeses, bread, butter.

Focus on cheap but flavorful ingredients - bulk onions, garlic, green onions, leeks, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, bacon. Ground pork and chicken can be a pretty good deal - use to make burgers If you have to buy cheap meat that isn't tender, remember - the meat pounder is not only your friend, but really fun to use.

Embrace leftovers - I usually make them my lunch.

Try to reuse any scraps - you can save shrimp shells for stock, keep those onion ends for stock, if you only chop half an onion, rub it in butter, wrap it up and put it in the fridge for the next night's meal (I don't know about you, but I'm using onions almost every night I cook), don't throw out that frying oil - use it for the next go-round.

Allow yourself one nicer meal each week - maybe you found a pack of T-bone steaks on sale. Buy them, freeze them and parcel them out for a while. I like this route because it keeps me from going insane with boredom of the same kind of meats. I actually try to limit chicken to just two meals a week. It's cheap, but man can it get old.

(This one will get people mad at me, but I don't care) - Don't feel you have to buy organic - it's not nutritionally healthier than the other food out there, and as far as I've seen, there haven't been any actual studies showing those chemicals are harmful.

Ditto with frozen - If you're not a vegetarian, try making one meal each week vegetarian. Meat is usually one of the most expensive items in a meal, so try leaving it out. Tofu is actually not too bad and is a pretty good deal. Study the 80/20 rule - It's the idea that you usually spend 80 percent of your budget on 20 percent of the items. Therefore, study your grocery bills and see where you're dropping the most money. Are these items that you can substitute or just drop altogether? Figure out a good amount you think you can afford per meal on average. I've placed my goal at $10/dinner for two people. I'm allowed to go over it every now then, but in the end my weekly grocery bill needs to match that goal. I almost always go under, too.

Learn proper salting techniques - I fought this one for awhile because I was lazy and didn't want to salt my meal throughout the cooking process. But I cannot tell you much better food tastes when you start salting from the beginning and really let the salt infuse the whole meal. Sooo much better. That way, It will really help raise meals that otherwise wouldn't have much pizazz.

Hope you like your food spicy, because there's so many spicy things you can add to your food that are so cheap. I put Sriracha, cayenne or Tabasco sauce in probably 70 percent of my meals. All of three of these are definitely of the "a little goes a loooooong way" ingredients, so a bottle of each will last a long time. And again, it just makes my food sing.

The biggest thing I've learned, though, is that eating cheap is actually easier to do when I avoid those prepackaged, processed foods. Sure, those frozen bags of premade pasta or Chinese dishes only cost $6. But there's barely enough to feed two people, and we were always still hungry after we ate. So then we had to go and make something else.

Thanks for the treatise!

Indeed, I'll quibble with the organic thing. It's true that there's a dearth of studies that show that organic food has extra nutritional value, but there's tons of evidence of the damage that pesticide use does to the environment -- and to humans, really.

The Environmental Working Group's Shoppers Guide to Pesticides can help you decide which fruits and vegetables are worth buying organic because of the different levels of pesticide residues tested -- even after washing, btw.

Hi, I want to get my fiance a nice bottle of bourbon for xmas. I think Pappy Van Winkle is out of my budget though. Any good recommendations around $50, and where to buy in NW DC?

The 23 year old Pappy might be out of your price range, but if you can find the Van Winkle Special Reserve 12 Years Old Lot "B," it's usually $50 or less. Other than that, I like Four Roses Single Barrel or Elijah Craig 18 year old or Noah's Mill. All of which are fairly prevalent on liquor store shelves.

my 20yr old sister likes to cook and is fairly good at making a meal with what she had on hand but I'd like to get her a straight forward cookbook to inspire her. Occasionally she will cook for me and her boyfriend or both of us. Hopefully recipes will be based on standard procedures and not require too many special pieces of equipment. Can you point me in the right direction?

Have a look at "How to Cook Everything" by Mark Bittman.

There's an app for that, no seriously, Mark Bittman's HTCE is excellent, and a lot less cumbersome than the book.

I tried out a recipe for mushroom custards - it calls for individual 6 oz ramekins of custard to be baked in a water bath. I'd like to make it for the holidays, but I'm wondering if I can adapt it to work in a larger dish, rather than lots of little ramekins? It's a very basic recipe: heavy cream, egg, herbs, with sauteed mushrooms and garlic stirred in. Oven space & timing are the main reasons I want to adapt (plus, I don't want to have to buy & store more ramekins - cooking for 9-12 people). Thanks!

It's tricky to produce one large custard from a recipe that calls for individual ones. I understand not wanting to spring for more ramekins, but maybe the disposable aluminum foil kind might be an option? Or try pouring the custard mixture into the wells of a large-muffin pan.

I'm looking for a good crockpot cookbook that has photos for almost every recipe. Any suggestions?

I'm a big fan of the slow cooker. One book I use religiously is Essentials of Slow Cooking by Williams-Sonoma. I like pictures too.

I just want to thank you for today' cookbook list. I have been wracking my brain for what to get my dad and my mom for Christmas, and now I know! Dad has recently taken up Indian food, so "How to Cook Indian" will be perfect for him. And my mother bemoans her lack of ambition to cook for just one, so Joe Yonan's book will shortly be on its way to her. Thank you thank you thank you!

Thanks on two counts -- glad you liked our lists, and appreciate your interest in my own book!

What cookbook would you recommend for new college graduates who have little experience? In the old days, it was the red-and-white checked Better Homes one; what would you now suggest?

Depends. If the grads are not on a strict beans budget, they might enjoy some of The Barefoot Contessa books, which are not so voluminous and whose recipes are never complicated. Or if they're prone to the geek side, a Cook's Illustrated compendium would be good. 

For my $$, I recommend a right-sized 2005 book that didnt make the splash it deserved --  Cooking School Secrets for Real World Chefs, by West Coast cooking teacher Linda Caruso. It covers soup to nuts, offers good advice and solid recipes.

Is Jim Shahin there? I need a barbecue cookbook idea for Christmas, but nothing too difficult.

Jim's not here today, but he offered a few barbecue cookbook suggestions on the All We Can Eat blog this week.

He may join us later in the hour; he's on deadline!

here's how to make it go quickly: 1) use a small ice cream scooper to grab portions of dough, then drop them onto a piece of parchment paper (not on your cookie sheet) after you have portioned all of the dough, put a small bowl of water next to your parchment paper full of your dough portions. keep your hands damp (not wet) and get to rolling the balls, dropping them back onto your parchment. once you have the batch done, either freeze as is or bake. the frozen ones put into a ziplop and smoosh out the air. when you bake, bake from frozen, but just add a few min of cooking time. PSL the same logic applies to drop cookies also of course, just no "roll into ball" step involved.

Yep, I'm a big fan of the bake-from-frozen method with balled dough. Can I suggest, though, that you look at professional pastry dishers? They're like ice cream scoops, but in very specific sizes. Love them.

I used to make apple pies my mother's way -- without cooking the apples first. Then I read a few recipes that referred to cookign them first. I am fairly sure one of those was an ATK recipe. I tried it and really liked the results. The pies held the slice much better. I do note that I made the conversion (1) after starting to use only farmer's market heritage apples, and a mix that had different textures and flavors (2) after deciding that I could make piles of filling, make one pie then freeze the rest of the par-cooked filling for future pies and (3) after these wonderful people called "Free Rangers" recommended it after I wrote in about a "stadium pie" I had made inadvertently - crust remained domed like a closed stadium over the sunken filling. Cheers!

I have six egg whites sitting in my fridge and am stumped on what to do with them. I loathe the texture of meringues so another option would be fantastic.

You could try scaling up Joe's recipe for Angel Food Cakes With Tangerines.

Angel Food Cakes With Tangerines

Or maybe a souffle?

What might be done with a truffle mixture that was made with unsweetened chocolate instead of bittersweet? Could it be reheated and some sugar added? If so, how much? How about some seedless raspberry preserves? It's an expensive mess right now; should I cut my losses or try to fix it?

Hmm. Might try using a liquid sweetener (honey, agave syrup, maybe even simple syrup) so you don't have issues with the chocolate seizing during a reheat.

I notice that both the top 10 list and the "almost top 10 list" didn't include either the gargantuan "Modernist Cuisine" or the highly praised (though admittedly a bit eclectic) "Ideas in Food." I can understand "Modernist Cuisine," I guess, given its price, but what about "Ideas in Food?"

Ideas in Food was a close you may have noticed, I included a ton of books in the recommended and hometown lists already. What did you like best about Ideas in Food, and did you have a favorite recipe in there?

Although Modernist Cuisine didn't actualy arrive until March, the publicity for it started in early fall of 2010, and the Ideas in Food book came out in December of 2010 as well, so I think of both of those as last year's books. But since you've asked... There's no doubt that the publication of Modernist Cuisine was an important event in cookbook publishing. The work that went into was huge. And it gives an overview of a field of cooking which has been getting more and more attention, even as it changes names: 'molecular gastronomy,'' 'modernist cuisine,' etc.  But the book was touted as being a first, and we can't help but think of the work and books of so many others that came before. Herve This, Pierre Gagnaire, Heston Blumenthal and of course, Feran Adria. Was modernist cuisine  more important than The Fat Duck Cookbook, which does such a good job of surveying techniques (we witnessed David Chang tear his hair out over just how good a book it is), or better than the 5 volume series of El Bulli books? I don't think so. Finally, it feels like a Microsoft product to me (it kind of is). Pretty functional but a bit soulless.

Ideas in Food proves that you don't need a $600 book to learn alot about contemporary cooking techniques. No pictures, nothing. But it's great.


I've turned my Gmail account in a giant recipe collection. It lets you put multiple labels on each email. I make the recipe name my subject line and then go crazy. Not to mention I can access it through my phone, so if I have a question about one of the ingredients, I can look up the recipe on my phone. I've made all kinds of categories too based on ingredients, dish types, cooking methods, seasons, etc.

I do this too, and I include the hastag #recipe which creates for an easy filter from my emails.

Is there a definitive source for recipes from food trucks across the nation?

There is no definitive site or book that I know of, although a number of reliable sources have published recipes from food trucks. Notably:

Bon Appetit


Also, earlier this year, writer Heather Shouse published a delightful book, "Food Trucks: Dispatches and Recipes from the Best Kitchens on Wheels." It includes many recipes, including the Fojol Bros.'s recipe for butter chicken.

I was in the cereal bar aisle of the grocery store looking at chewy granola bars for my son's school snacks. I was surprised and disappointed that I couldn't find a single box without high fructose corn syrup. Do you have a recipe for a soft granola bar that I could make over the weekend? Nuts are not allowed in school. Thanks!

Check out Lisa's Oat, Nut, Fruit and Seed Bars. I think you'd be fine to cut the nuts.

Lisa's Oat, Nut, Fruit and Seed Bars

Unless I misread the list, it looks like there's almost no dessert cookbooks on the top 10 list. What would be your top 3 dessert cookbooks of the year?

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home (on the top 10 list); Baking StyleTea With Bea and The Cupcake Diaries  (all on the hometown favorites list).  Yes, that's four, but I've listed them in order.

Do you understand Matt Sartwell's comment (see below) that Anais Nin or Toni Morrison is the literary equivalent of "Notes From a Kitchen: A Journey Inside Culinary Obsession"? I don't, and I read both authors -- and probably would try their recipes, if their books included any. "People don't read Anais Nin the same way they read Toni Morrison," he says. "They buy cookbooks with recipes even though they have no intention of cooking any of it. Calling 'Notes From a Kitchen' a cookbook is missing the point."

He's not saying either Anais or Toni is like the authors of "Notes." He's saying Anais and Toni's works are very different from one another's, in the same way that "Notes" is different from more conventional cookbooks.

Hi, I have some difficulty with the melted chocolate I use being too thick to do a smooth, thin(ish) coating without a lot of pooling on what I'm making. I've read some recipes that add shortening or other fat to melted chocolate to improve the consistency for easy dipping of things like nuts, pretzels, truffles, etc. What's at work here? Is there a rule of thumb or ratio that I can keep in mind as I make candies this week? Which fats are appropriate, and will affect flavor the least? Thanks!

I've been using our recipe for Chocolate-Dipped Peppermint Marshmallows as my guide for my chocolate dipping needs. It calls for adding a little vegetable oil to the melted chocolate. Make sure you chill whatever you're going to cover in chocolate. It will help the coating firm up once they're dipped.

Jason, my husband enjoys brandy. He also was recently served Canadian Mist at a friend's house and enjoyed that. I am thinking about getting an "upgrade" or "special occassion" bottle for him for Christmas. He has mentioned that he'd like to try a cognac some day, but I don't know a thing about what to buy. He also enjoyed a "white brandy" by Christian Brothers that a family member was able to get in Virginia (we're in the Midwest). I'd be grateful for your suggestions, the more specific the better :) Thanks.

Just to be clear, Canadian Mist is not a brandy, it's a Canadian whisky. I haven't been a huge fan of Canadian whiskys, but one I tried recently and liked very much is Forty Creek. If he likes Canadian Mist, I might try an American rye whiskey, like say Bulleit, Sazerac, or Templeton ryes.

Now, if he wants to try brandy, and specifically cognac, you're going to want to splurge a little. Pierre Ferrand Reserve, at around $60, is a beautiful spirit. If that's too steep, you can go down a notch to Pierre Ferrand Ambre, at around $35. You might also want to try an Armagnac, like Chateau de Laubade -- the VSOP is around $40 and the XO is around $60.

is Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson (of The pictures are beautiful (she is a photographer), the recipes are inventive and simple, and the narrative is very well-done. Her intro to her lunchtime recipes is a must-read essay about the importance of taking a mid-day break that will make you re-think your reheated leftovers consumed while staring at a computer screen. Also, I like the fact that while she is a vegetarian (as am I), she doesn't attempt to shove it down her readers' throats.

Yep, she's featured in several best-of lists this season.

I love Heidi's stuff.

I'm a huge fan of cookbooks, but as someone who strictly keeps kosher, I find that many cookbooks contain recipes that I just can't eat (things that have bacon, or meat and dairy, or shellfish, etc.) so much of the book is useless to me. What would be the best kosher cookbook of 2011 or the cookbook that would be the most accessible to a kosher cook?

Kosher Revolution's kind of interesting, although I didn't quite get what was revolutionary about it. Why don't you try checking into vegan cookbooks, like Big Vegan by Robin Asbell (on our recommended list)?

Hi chatters! Hanukkah begins next Tuesday at sundown and this year rather than stick to latkes, I'm going to give yeasted jelly donuts a try. Do you have any advice for a first time donut maker? Thanks!

We will! Coming up on our All We Can Eat blog in the next few days is a nonfussy, delicious fried doughnut recipe from Washington caterer Vered Guttman, with tips included. Hers aren't filled, but she recommends the easier option of a sauce (in her case, a chunky merlot-cherry sauce) for dipping.

I am making a big batch of short ribs tonight. They are marinating with some Guinness. Turns out I have less people coming to dinner then I had planned, should I freeze half of the ribs cooked or uncooked with the marinade? Will beer freezing affect the texture of the meat?

I'd make all of it. Definitely. And then take the short ribs out of the cooking liquid, refrigerate them separately so the fat rises to the top of the liquid, scrape it off, boil it down to a syrupy state and use it as a sauce when you serve them. For the ones you don't eat, take them off the bone and shred them, combine with more of that sauce, and freeze in freezer bags. They'll do fine, and you'll be that much closer to dinner down the road when you thaw them.

I'm making a quiche and I thought the recipe called for 1 1/2 cups of cream but I realize now that it's half and half. I bought whipping cream and was wondering if I can substitute some milk with the whipping cream to make it half and half? If so, how much milk to how much whipping cream. Thanks and I love these chats!

It's half and half! That means half milk, half cream. Cool, huh?

You've almost convinced me to get an iPhone (I still use a not-very-smart 'phone.)


Cook's illustrated actually recommends pre-cooking apples for deep dish pies. The pectin will let them hold their shape, and you eliminate the big air pocket between the apples and the crust.

And CI also recommends vodka in the pie crust dough, which is one of the secrets of Tiffany's recipe.

I want to make a risotto with canned tuna fish to give it some extra protein. Is it better to put the tuna in at the very end and cook for a couple of minutes or should it go in closer to the first batch of broth?

I'm not one to pass judgment on someone else's dinner decisions, but canned tuna risotto? Excuse me while I run to the bathroom.

Try what Bonnie Benwick just suggested to me: Mix the canned tuna with mac and cheese. I suspect you might like the results better.

And I'd add it at the end, just before serving.

A couple of weeks ago, a chatter mentioned in passing that they knew food scraps weren't supposed to go in stock, an assertion that went unchallenged. As a novice stock maker, I thought the idea was to throw veggie odds and ends into the freezer until ready to make stock with them. Have I misunderstood? Is this a vegetable vs. meat stock thing?

I missed this mention on the chat -- and I'm with you. I think it's a great idea even for a meat stock to use trimmings from celery, onions, carrots, etc.

Are traditional recipe only cookbooks on the way out thanks to websites like epicurious and Anyone can find an excellent recipe anytime with internet access. A lot of recent cookbooks seem to be addressing this by focusing on design, and storytelling (Joe Beef for example). Thoughts?

It remains to be seen if cookbooks (or books at all) will make it in the long run. There are so many factors involved. Publishers, while they might deny it today, clearly see the savings and ease of going electronic. But as to comparing cookbooks with online recipe sources, I think there remains no comparison. When we find a cookbook we like, whether it is handsomely designed or rather plain, what makes it distinct is not that it is a collection of recipes, but that those recipes display a particular point of view. We know that ten chefs, left to their own devices, will make the same dish ten different ways. It's because they have ten different visions. The same is true of good cookbooks.


I want to read and cook from a cookbook knowing that I have some idea of what the author is trying to say.  I think of some of the best cookbooks ever, like those of Elizabeth David or Richard Olney. No fancy design there, but there is a point of view.


Yum. That looks so good. Thank you for the recipe! I can't wait to mess it up. I mean make it.


We're planning to plunge right in and put on the traditional seafood spread on Christmas Eve. Where would you recommend that I shop for the freshest seafood in DC? I live in upper NW but I'm willing to swim a bit offshore!

Never had a bad catch from BlackSalt Fish Market and Restaurant in the Palisades. Special orders don't upset them, as the song goes.

David Liborvitz ice cream book is AMAZING.

So is David Lebovitz's. ;-)

do any of the restaurants in dc sell fun foodie items (sauces, spice mix, cookbooks etc) ? looking to put together a "DC food basket" as a gift. any other suggestions of what to put in?

Oh, wow. So many great things you could do.

- sauces from Rasika

- hot chocolate pops or chocolate-covered bacon from Co Co Sala

- pretty much anything from the Palena Market

- Jose Andres's book "Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America"

- charcuterie from Red Apron Butchery

- spiced nuts or cookies from Alchemy by Carla Hall

Other thoughts?


Hi Free rangers, Last week I made some shredded beef in my slow cooker and the recipe asked that before shredding the beef to remove half the sauce and reserve for use in another dish and then add the beef to the remaining sauce. The sauce was great with the beef, but now I'm wondering what dish to use the leftover sauce in. It's really half sauce/half broth so it's not really something I can just put over another meat dish. The sauce has beef broth, tomatoes, chipotle sauce, other mexican spices and onion. Should I try to reduce it? Use it more as a stock? Any ideas for not letting this go to waste would be welcome!

Sounds perfect for a sloppy Joe. (And I'm not referring to myself.) Or you could make a Mexican twist on a baked pasta dish like lasagne or stuffed shells. Or use it as a sauce for stuffed peppers. Anything that calls for a tomato sauce I think would be good. You could do Eggs in Purgatory -- crack a couple of eggs into it and cook them in the sauce.

Beans, beans and more beans. Look around on the internet for new ideas of how to use them - I just made 101cookbooks's giant white beans in chipotle sauce, my omnivore husband and sometime picky toddler both loved them and it easily made enough for 2 nights for the 3 of us.

Hear, hear.

I combined The Good Eats apple pie crust recipe which calls for apple brandy with a cooked bourbon apple filling in which I substituted apple brandy for bourbon. Best apple pie I ever ate.

Hi! I'm thinking of making chocolate peppermint bark as part of my holiday gift this year and am wondering what type of chocolate to use. I've seen various things on the internet about using chocolate chips and others that say to avoid chips and buy bar chocolate. Any thoughts? And if I do melt down chocolate chips are higher end chips necessary? Thx!

I'm also making peppermint bark. If it helps I'll be using semi-sweet chocolate chips.

How about Mchele Sciolone's Italian Slow Cooker (or her new French Slow Cooker)? Good recipes chosen among things that actually work nicely in a slow cooker, with Italian or French tastes. Nothing you can just abandon in the cooker for ten hours, but still great stuff.

I was all set to include it, but I think it has a 2012 pub date, no?

I loved Bonnie's essay on these tomes or bibles dedicated to a restaurant or a particular chef. I tend to think of them as souvenirs, sorta like how you'll buy an art book after seeing an exhibition at a museum, or the program at a show or baseball game. I hope chefs continue to make them! I don't own any myself but if I'd been to French Laundry or Noma I would totally spring for it.

I appreciate that. The French Laundry one seems to cover all the bases: beautiful, usable, inspirational.

I learned to cook from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook -- good descriptions of basic techniques, plenty of all-American recipes.

It seems like everyone talks about how to make sugar cookies as crispy as possible, but I love soft, soft, soft ones (though not too thick) such as I occasionally find at bakeries. Could you please link to a recipe for soft sugar cookies? Thank you!

I had a whole sugar cookie blog post. Pretty sure you can find what you're looking for in there!

Hi, do you have an idea where I can find dry cod? I saw Lidia Bastianich making bacala mantecata and can't wait to try it. I live in Bethesda but can get around.

A&H Gourmet and Seafood Market in Bethesda has it (also a selection of great paella pans), and so does BlackSalt in the Palisades (see my previous answer).

I was going to make a big batch of bourbon spiced pecans to give out as gifts this year, but pecans are SO expensive. Do you think there's another nut that would sub well? Every recipe seems to specify pecans.

Do you or a friend have a Costco membership? I bought a ginormous bag of pecans there for a great price.

The webpage has been freaking out for me, so I apologize if this comes through to you guys a zillion times. If the chatted adds sweetened condensed milk to that truffle mixture and whisks it over medium heat, it will turn into a delicious hot fudge sauce. Certainly not what they were going for in the beginning, but a tasty save for an expensive mess.

I'd make an equal-sized batch with semi-sweet chocolate, then melt the unsweetened chocolate truffles and mix into the semi-sweet mixture.

I enjoyed today's Chat Leftovers. To follow up on the request for a Christmas Eve soup, I propose a red lentil and spinach favorite that I make around Christmas every year. It's healthy yet filling. Plus, it's got the red and green thing going on. I like this recipe, but it's open to all kinds of variations:

Jane Touzalin's Chat Leftovers is a treat to read every Wednesday, including today's on a heart-healthy soup for the holidays.

Your lentil and spinach soup sounds good. It also comes with a fringe benefit: It's tied to traditional New Year's Eve celebrations. Those lentils represent "coins" and the spinach "money," both of which are eaten for good luck at the start of the year.

Over-ripe bananas dripped all over my favorite cookbook, which was on a tabletop beneath their wire basket when I went away for a few days. Of course, the book was open to one of my favorite recipes. Is it okay to let the book dry out and keep using it? Or does it present some sanitary problems?

If food drips/stains presented a sanitary problem for us die-hard cookbook users, then I think we'd all be dead by now. Wipe it off, let it dry, you'll be fine.

You left out "The Art of Living According to Joe Beef," by Frederic Morin and David MacMillan of the *amazing* eponymous (don't get to use that word often enough!) Montreal restaurant. It's got great recipes, but it's more than food, it's about life and seasons and philosophy, and opening the book took me back to the restaurant itself, which is a feat that few restaurant cookbooks are able to capture.

You're right! But other lists included it.

I luuuv your store, which I encountered during a cruise pit stop in Portland. What is the best and most interesting new bread book this year? I already have the revised Italian Baker. What else should I look at?

Strangely this is not a great season for bread books.  That is other than the revised The Italian Baker, which we adore.  Carol Field is so knowledgable, her recipes are clear and delicious, and there are not that many Italian baking books out there in the world. The CIA did put out the weighty and slightly ponderous The Fundamental Techniques of Classic Bread Baking, which is a great book for reference, or for those who like to geek out on their techniques (something I have been known to do upon occasion).  But when it comes to great recipes, a charming and respected voice, inviting photography and a fantastic layout two books from earlier in the year/last year come to mind.  Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson of the bakery by the same name in San Francisco, and Simply Great Breads by Daniel Leader of Bread Alone bakery in Upstate New York.


I haven't had the chance to read "Ideas In Food" itself but I've followed the blog for a while and I love the idea of creatively using food without necessarily going crazy with equipment or obscure chemicals. Though, admittedly, I would love to get my hands on some of those chemicals for the more involved recipes which I've heard about. I'm particularly intrigued about the "crispy chocolate mousse".

I use an appropriately sized disher and kind of pack the dough against the side of the bowl when filling. Then you just have to roll slightly to make a ball. Sometimes no additional rolling is needed.

Take it from an experienced chip eater. . . Trader Joe's are the best! Also, Hershey's dark. Stay away from Nestle Tollhouse. They taste like sugar and chemicals.

It's pretty widely available - even the Giant in the Van Ness area has it.

I'm going to buy the Volt cookbook for my husband who is a big fan, but I realize we're not going to be able to make most of it. I'm hoping there are a least a few sides that are possible. Did you find anything the home cook with above average skills but little in the way of fancy equipment can do?

If you look for recipes within recipes, as chef Bryan suggested to me, you can find things that are doable, such as a variety of vegetable purees (they like adding agar for body). Their caramelized and kimchi bok choy is fantastic but needs to spend 24 hours in a vacuum-sealed pouch.  It's the equipment needs that might be a stumbling block.

My father is a widower and is starting to cook for himself. (My mother was a fabulous cook, so this is new territory for him.) I'd like to get him a cookbook for Christmas geared to cooking for one, but I don't want one titled "Cooking for One" because it will just remind him that's he's on his own. (Sorry, Joe!) He's also expressed an interest in baking bread. Any thoughts?

You think he's forgotten that he's on his own? Funny. But seriously: Mine is titled "Serve Yourself." The cooking-for-one part is in itsy-bitsy letters in the subtitle.

Our daughter really doesn't like medium-rare, so any advice for medium re time and internal temp?

IMHO, slices of duck breast just aren't the same when the blush of medium-rare is gone. My advice is to prepare it that way and then cook a portion of it to medium and ask her to taste the difference. (Is it a texture thing for her or a food-safety issue? Just curious.)

thanks for the to share your bark recipe? there are so many on the internet and all seem to say different things!

I'll be playing around with a recipe from last year, perhaps throwing in a little bacon as inspired from this Whiskey Caramel Bark recipe.

This Peppermint Crunch Bark is a good one too.

Thanks for the list today. Last year I gave someone Ratio, and it was a total hit. Any similar geek-cooking (for lack of a better term) books you could suggest? That one may be hard to top. And thank you, thank you for the chats, which continue to entertain and educate me on cooking.

There are more and more of these books available these days.  Here are a couple to get you going:

Culinary Reactions The Everyday Chemistry of Cooking by Simon Field

Cooking For Geeks: Real Science, Great Hacks and Good Food by Jeff Potter

Neurogastronomy: How the Brain Creates Flavor and Why it Matters  by Gordon Shepard

Anything by Herve This

Also for flavor pairings and the like there are The Flavor Bible and Culinary Artistry by the Dornenbergs and The Flavor Thesaurus by Nikki Segnit.

Have fun!



I was the chatter who asked about homemade buttermilk a couple of weeks ago. Even though you warned me off using it for biscuits, I did go head and make them. They were delicious. It's a drop biscuit recipe so no-kneading. The buttermilk was very thin but it still reacted with the baking powder and baking soda. The batter was pretty sticky at first but ended up being craggy and shaggy and worked perfectly for drop biscuits. They baked up great and were a bit crispier on the outside than usual but we enjoyed them. I also used my homemade butter. Thanks for answering my question. Nebraskim.


1,000 Italian Recipes, by Michelle Scicolone . . . comprehensive, easy, and delicious!

for peppermint bark i have used nestle toll house white morsels for years. so simple. follow the directions for melting in the microwave then mix with crushed candy canes. to get the mint flavor throughout the bark, take the crushed candy and place it in a small metal handheld strainer over a bowl. use a wooden spoon to crush the candy a little bit further. the powder in the bowl will mix wonderfully with white chocolate and you still have bits to make the bark crunchy.

Would it be possible to make a rabbit confit (similar to the much-adored duck confit)? if so would I just boil boils in water?

Of course -- confit of rabbit leg is delicious. But it's not boiled, never. Confit is made by slow-cooking and then cooling the meat in fat. Traditionally its own.

I bought a frozen package of cleaned calamari tubes and tentacles. My favorite restaurant appetizer is fried calamari and I would love to replicate it (as easily as possible) at home. Can you give me a step-by-step please?

Well, the short answer would be to buy Mark Bittman's "Fish" cookbook, which is my favorite of his.

He has a lengthy step-by-step process for deep-frying squid. It includes dipping sauces, which might be of some help for you too.

..hmm.. I thought it had too many typos and oddities.

Italian was out two years ago. French is just now available at a few online stores. I reviewed it for Amazon Vine, but would have bought it myself if not for that.

Can hardly wait to tree these Soft Amish-Style Sugar Cookies.  I wonder if my love for soft sugar cookies dates back to my grandfather's Mennonite heritage (he loved buttermilk, too).

could you use it as an au jus for a french dip sub?

I'm planning on serving a rib roast (it will be just three of us) for Christmas; browning it first, then using auto oven setting to turn it on for a slow roast at 200 or 225 while we're out in the afternoon to be ready for us when we come home. Beef Council says 1 1/2 - 1 3/4 hrs at 350 for 3-4 lb roast for rare. Do you know how long it should at the lower temp for rare?

Have you ever checked out our Slow-Roasted Beef recipe? I've used it to make a very fine bone-in rib roast or two. At an even lower temp (170 or 175) it's almost impossible to overcook. Love the evenness of the interior.  It takes longer than your recipe, which might work better for your day plans. Using that method, it takes about 2 1/2 hours per pound to achieve medium-rare --- and i should say that it's on the rare side of medium-rare.

When I was a child my parents had a huge, fancy cookbook with beautiful pictures. It was the kind of cookbook that they never cooked from. But I loved to look at it and when I got old enough I made recipes from it. Each one took a full day to prepare, but it was fun. And my parents indulged me by buying the special ingredients like kirschwasser for a chocolate cherry cake or cornish game hens (exotic for Midwesterners back then). Now I use the internet for most regular meals but only cookbooks have ever really inspired me to try something different.

Hi Rangers! We're having friends over for dinner tonight. I made the manicotti and it is in the refrigerator and ready to go in the oven. The normal instructions say to bake it for 45 minutes at 350. Since it's been refrigerated, should I increase the baking time? If so, for how long?

Does that mean you won't have time to let it sit on the counter for 30 minutes or so before you bake it? That would take care of it. If it's  just been refrigerated and not frozen, I don't think you'll have to adjust the time/temp by more than 15 mins.

So, several years ago, I sent my boyfriend to beer camp for his birthday, i.e., I paid for him to go to Shenandoah Brewery and brew and bottle beer. He had a good time, so I was going to do this again for this birthday, but am not sure of the status of the brewery. I remember reading that it was closing, then someone was buying it and was going to continue to operate it, and then haven't read anything. Is it dead? Alive? In limbo? Is there anywhere else in the area where I can send him to brew beer? Thanks.

Well, I tried calling Shenandoah, and its number is disconnected. That's not a good sign. It's apparently closed.

Check back with us next week, and we'll see if we can find any replacement brewing classes.

For weeknight cooking, I find myself turning more and more often to sauces and condiments for flavor (cooking meat/veg in advance) - I loved that Joe's book had some of this, but I am always on the look out for more! Any cookbooks you know of that seem to do this very well?

There are some terrific books dedicated to Sauces, including James Peterson's Sauces: Classical and Contemporary Sauce Making, and Michel Roux Sauces. Both can guide you through the fundamentals of this speciality which has its own special station in classical French kitchens.  There are some other books out there which have sizable sections devoted to Sauces, including Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home, and Daniel Humm & Will Guidara's new Eleven Madison Park: The Cookbook.   We're particularly impressed with the "building blocks" section of EMP, as it could be a book by itself (please do this publishers!). Page after page of sauces, dry rubs, infusions, vinegrettes, flavored salts and oils. Incredibly useful for all.

Well, you've cooked us for a minute or two on each side until we have toasty dark spots here and there, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's today, and thanks much to Samantha, Don and Russell for helping us answer them. (Oh, and Jason, too!)

Now for the giveaway books: The chatter who asked about the differences between books and websites will get, appropriately, "The Food52 Cookbook." The one who titled the post "More Veggie Options" will get, of course, "Vegetables Form an Italian Garden." And, finally, the chatter who wondered whether banana drips made a cookbook unsafe to use will get another stain-worthy volume: "The Food of Morocco."

Send your mailing info to Becky Krystal at, and we'll get you your books.

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading!

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