Cranking through cookbooks again

Long-time readers will know that #1 gets the bulk of her excitement in life from food.  While some people enjoy eating the same (excellent) ~14 meals on rotation, I am too much of a food dilettante.  On top of that, we live in a relatively small town, so even going out can’t bring excitement to my life because we’ve already had everything our town has to offer until places go out of business and get replaced with the new crop of restaurants.  (And our latest and best beloved CSA went out of business a few months ago, so no being forced to try new veggie things.)

Which means that cook-books are a lifeline.  Yes, the internet is great, but the internet takes effort if you want to find something *new* and *different*.  It’s easy to use the internet to say, find the “best chocolate cake recipe” but not so easy to find something that you don’t yet know exists.

Some cookbooks are really amazing.  Here’s a list from 4 years ago of cookbooks we have loved.  I love taking a cookbook that is ~100% winning recipes and just trying them all, even if some of them sound a little weird (example:  egg and onion soup from Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen! turned out to be quick, simple, and delicious, much to our surprise).

Recently I’ve been on kind of a new American/comfort food kick.  (Part of this is because DC1 has started being a pickier eater for no good reason and DC2 has responded by being unable to handle even the smallest bit of spiciness.  American tends to suit both palates so long as we skip cheese and tomatoes.)   I just retired the Better Homes and Gardens 10 years of best recipes book I’d been digging through after realizing we had marked every recipe we’d tried from that book in the number of years we’ve owned it with “ok, nothing special” except for their cake recipes and a single chocolate chip cookie recipe (the other cookie recipes we tried all say, “meh” or “too cakey” or “nothing special”).  Better Homes and Gardens has good cake, but we don’t make cake that often.  Now I’ve dug out the Cooking Light book with the same theme– 10 years of five star recipes.  So far it’s been giving us better luck, especially when I cut down on sugar and switch out the non-fat ingredients with full-fat alternatives.

It’s possible that we need to get more kids’ cookbooks.  The Disney Princess Cookbook has surprisingly good meals, but not very many of them.  Kid Chef has more difficult recipes, but they’ve almost all been winners (we weren’t that crazy about the sesame bar cookies, but there are a number of recipes that were so amazing that they made our “make for other people” list).  We’ve had the kids’ fun and healthy cookbook for years and it’s been a reliable go-to.

Because DC1 is the pickiest eater, zie is now in charge of menu planning and we have been pushing hir to do more cooking (today the kids made monkey bread from the Disney cookbook… it uses an excellent buttery biscuit dough for the balls which are then dipped into butter and cinnamon sugars)… so I hope I’m passing some of this cooking excitement on to the next generation.  Maybe no-knead bread will be more enticing than drugz for them too.  ;)

What cookbooks do you think are worth cranking through?  Where do you find new recipes?  How do you deal with getting out of a cooking rut?  (Or do you prefer repetition?)

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47 Responses to “Cranking through cookbooks again”

  1. Solitary Diner Says:

    My favourite website for recipes is Smitten Kitchen. I’ve tried multiple recipes from the website and loved most of them. I have only been disappointed by one of them, and even that was redeemable with a little bit of tweaking. Some of the recipes are a bit more involved (time/effort) than I would like, but she is coming out with a new “Every Day” cookbook that promises to have simpler recipes in it (https://smittenkitchen.com/2017/09/smitten-kitchen-every-day-trailer-book-tour/).

    My ex-partner loved trying new recipes, so she kept me from ever falling into a cooking rut. Now that we’ve separated, I will probably go back to a lot of my old standbys, with the occasional new recipe thrown in to keep things interesting. I actually kind of prefer to cook the same things fairly frequently, as I like knowing that a recipe is good and can be cooked in a timely fashion. I hate epic cooking sessions that end in food that I don’t want to eat.

  2. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Hey guys,

    I know that I am getting really tired of doing weekly activism, which means everybody like me is too. But it’s still really important. Call your members of congress about the Dream/hope act so recipients of DACA can stop having their lives ruined. https://5calls.org/issue/rec1JDCdyFCYYYFu9 Check out 5calls https://5calls.org/more for additional issues that are important to you.

    I’m going to make my calls right now even though I really don’t want to. :/ But people’s lives are more important than my distaste for talking to people on the phone. And DACA is what’s in the news right now and it’s where our calls can make a difference *if there are enough of them*. You can also fax etc. using links from our Activism tab https://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/activism/ .

    Now back to the much more fun topic of food.

  3. Shannon Says:

    In addition to cookbooks, I will sometimes subscribe to a cooking magazine (Cooking Light, Food and Wine, etc) for a year when I get in a rut. I rip out any recipes I might like and then file them in a binder. I have three of those binders now (with different categories of recipes), and some of our favorite meals come out of there.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We really really miss getting the Penzey’s catalogue/magazine which was better than a lot of cooking magazines we used to pay to get. I did briefly sign up for their replacement email, but it was way too frequent.

      Before having kids we subscribed to cooking light, gourmet (RIP), Cook’s Illustrated, and Cook’s Country. After realizing we had piles of magazines still in their plastic (when Gourmet went out of business we had like 2 years worth unopened), we reluctantly cancelled our subscriptions. We kept Cook’s Country for a little while after that but got bored of the repetition. Eventually we boxed up the unopened magazines and sent them to a relative of DH’s who likes to cook.

      One day I will convince one or both of the DCs that putting all our randomly ripped out recipes into a binder or scrap-book would make an excellent Christmas/birthday present for me. (It’s been on my to-do list for SEVENTEEN YEARS. But is far less important than say, mending DC2’s coat before it gets cold and/or zie grows out of it.)

  4. Linda Says:

    I have a Betty Crocker cookbook that my grandmother gifted me that I still reference for some classic “American” recipes like cornbread, meatloaf, stuffed peppers, etc. When I winnowed down my collection of cookbooks and cooking magazines for the big cross-country move, it made the cut and came with me. It’s not ancient; it was “current” when I originally received it in the early 80s, but many of the recipes still have that 60s and 70s aesthetic.

    Besides online searches when I’m trying to find a recipe to fit certain ingredients, my most used cookbooks are the ones by Madhur Jaffrey. She is best known for her Indian recipe books, but I own three wonderful books she published with great vegetarian recipes from around the world. There are plenty of non-spicy recipes there that could engage curious kids and introduce them to new foods or new ways of eating old favorites like carrots, potatoes, noodles, etc. http://amzn.to/2f03ALY Both World Vegetarian and World of the East Vegetarian are wonderful, and one of her recipes in At Home with Madhur Jaffrey is my absolute favorite way to eat okra. Alas, is would probably be considered too spicy by DC2, but it may be worth a try. After all, I’m sure you have access to lots of okra in the south. ;-) The World of the East Vegetarian book also has some great illustrations and directions on how to make vegetable sushi at home. That may be a fun thing for kids to do, and vegetable rolls with cucumber, carrot, etc. are easy and mild-tasting.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I bought one of the “old” 1950s-style Betty Crockers when it was reprinted for one of their anniversaries. I haven’t really gotten through it (I’ve read it a couple of times but not cooked from it), although I recognize a LOT of the “pour can X” recipes from my childhood. I suspect Betty Crocker has better stuff than Better Homes and Gardens.

      We love the Madhur Jaffrey’s Quick and Easy Indian cookbook that we have (we cranked through it a couple years ago). We’ll have to check out her vegetarian cookbooks.

      We also have a sushi-making set that DC1 got for Christmas one year–I have an unfinished post somewhere in drafts about fun and unusual sushi recipes (ex. chicken salad with apple sticks). We sometimes do sushi like scalzi does burritos.

      The worst thing about Okra is that sometimes when you’re on a CSA, you end up getting the kind that needs to have the fuzz cleaned out and that takes FOREVER. (We are not currently on a CSA though so could choose to only get smooth okra or pre-processed frozen okra.)

      • Rosa Says:

        Better Homes & Gardens is what my mom had, so it’s always got what I’m looking for when I am thinking of a “classic” recipe. I suspect it’s highly regional.

        I am rediscovering processed foods (premade polenta in a tube, today! It’s so good and so easy!) so I’m barely making any new recipes, just doing easier versions of old ones we hadn’t made in long time or random things I feel hungry for.

  5. yetanotherpfblog Says:

    We CSA so that forces us to mix things up. I’ve been having a grand old time lately with Not Eating Out In NY (blog) and United Noshes (blog, premise is each meal is representative of one country in the UN).

  6. omdg Says:

    Bittman? He has a couple now. I liked “How to Cook Everything” a lot. The one he has on cooking everything in less than 30 minutes that I found at the library a few weeks back seemed to me to be total. bullshit. (as in there’s no way any of those recipes could be done in <30 min unless you have a fully stocked kitchen already, and he seems to be trying to appeal to the millennial generation in a way that is just… annoying). But his original cookbook I liked.

    • CG Says:

      It always makes me mad when I see a recipe time estimate that clearly doesn’t count chopping. That is the most time-consuming part!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I’ve noticed that a lot of cookbooks advertising a certain time-limit in the title tend to be liars. That’s why we love the Help! book and books with “quick and easy” in the title that actually are quick and easy.

      (Plus unless it includes 20 min sitting on the stove or in the oven without me doing anything, 30 min is too long for a weeknight meal!)

    • CG Says:

      Exactly with the Blue Apron! We tried it for a while but I like to cook and don’t do too bad of a job of finding recipes, and I found that the meals they sent took way longer than my average weeknight dinner to prepare. So we bailed.

  7. CG Says:

    I subscribe to Real Simple and like a lot of their recipes. Most are not too time-consuming and they’ve done a better and better job over the past few years of incorporating seasonal veggies. You can access them on their website if you don’t want to subscribe.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      My only experiences with Real Simple have been anything but Real or Simple. Oddly, Gourmet magazine occasionally had recipes that were actually simple.

      • Omdg Says:

        Barefoot contessa had done that were surprisingly simple and tasty. I’d forgotten about her!

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        We have two of hers. They’re fun to read. The recipes are always good (so far), but they’re generally pretty caloric. She’s great when we’re doing cookbooks on rotation rather than just cranking through one. She’s an excellent antidote for the new Laurel’s Kitchen! (Though we would probably be healthier people if we ate more from Laurel’s Kitchen…)

  8. gasstationwithoutpumps Says:

    I’m afraid I can’t help here—my wife has about 12–15 shelf feet of cookbooks and uses about 1/4 of them, plus having a box of recipes from newspapers, magazines, and the web. Our picky eater is an adult now, and eats a somewhat wider range than before (now is vegetarian, but still doesn’t eat many different vegetables). I believe that a lot of this summer’s recipes were adapted from This Can’t Be Tofu, but Deborah Madison, but I’ve not been keeping track.

    My son and I are doing a recipe from The Key to Chinese Cooking by Irene Kuo tonight, though we’re modifying it a lot (making Mu shu tofu, not mu shu pork, and changing the vegetables to ones he likes).

  9. accm Says:

    Canadian oldies-but-goodies are the books by Anne Lindsay (Lighthearted Everyday Cooking, etc.), though these days I swap in the full-fat alternatives. Lots of reasonably fast, mostly kid-friendly recipes.

  10. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    I love eating repetitiously but I hate cooking and eating my own cooking that way. It makes no sense at all. We’ve been eating out a TON for many reasons lately and it worries me that I’m going to lose my feel for cooking solid basic meals, though. Since I have to simplify every single recipe I make, I’ve made my own little cookbook with those recipes and those are easier to make repeatedly.

    Some of my go-to sites: Smitten Kitchen, Kevin’s Closet Cooking, All Recipes, Food&Wine (for basic ideas and then I got my other sites to dumb it down).

    I’m starting to wonder if I should cave and find a CSA to force myself to do a better job with vegetables.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      You will not lose your feel for cooking solid basic meals. It is very much like riding a bicycle.

      Wait on the CSA until after you’ve settled into the new place. They will add stress to your life and you do not need that right now. (We’ve got posts on the emotional aspects of CSAs!)

  11. Rosa Says:

    The last cookbook I cranked through was Afro Vegan, and every single recipe was amazing, but not quite amazing enough for the amount of work it is, so we’ve settled on a few basic recipes that we’ve taken out unnecessary steps for. I actually make really big batches of a few of his sauces and keep them around to use.

    It really is a good cookbook though – none of the steps were unnecessary in the sense of “adds nothing but work” sense that so many recipes have, they were just “separately roasting and then grinding all these spices only makes them 25% as good for quadruple the work” unnecessary.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That’s one of the things– we just don’t have time or patience for effort anymore like we did back before we had kids. I wonder if we’ll have it again in the future. Occasionally DH will take a day to make say, a huge pot of mole from scratch, but it’s pretty rare. It’s gotten so we mostly only pursue buying books that actually have “quick and easy” or “kids” in the title (they seem to be less likely to lie than those that say “10 min” or give some other time limit).

  12. Zenmoo Says:

    I like Donna Hay (e.g. instant cook, instant entertaining). You can see samples at donnahay.com.au

    I tend to also use taste.com.au

    Most of our meals are from a dinner box service. It just makes life easier with three different cooks to have ingredients and recipes delivered.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Blue Apron is pretty popular around here. #2 gets Purple Carrot, which is probably the only one I’d consider given that we need to eat more vegetables now that the CSA is gone and it delivers items that are difficult to find around here (and just enough that you don’t have say, a huge container of miso that you’re not sure what to do with in the refrigerator).

      I’ve noticed that the grocery stores around here have started providing more “fresh and healthy” tv dinner style options, possibly to compete with some of these door-to-door services. I still have a hard time paying $8-$15/person when I could get perfectly good take-out for that amount. But it would be take-out, not delivery, which is a non-trivial time and hassle cost.

  13. fizzchick Says:

    Twelve Months of Monastery Soups has a ton of good recipes. Most have only 5-10 ingredients besides salt and pepper, most are vegetarian and a few are vegan, and every single one that I’ve tried has been easy to prep and surprisingly delicious and filling for how simple they are. On the days you want something somewhat more complicated, I’ve had excellent luck with all the recipes I’ve tried from Melissa Clark’s In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite. They are not simple, nor low fat, but they are tasty. And there’s none of the needless “dirty 5 bowls plus a sifter, 3 knives, and a kneading mat for drop biscuits” type thing that annoys me about a lot of recipes.

  14. Nolo Says:

    Have you checked out weelicious.com or her cookbooks? Geared towards kids friendly meals so they tend to be quick and easy. Flavorful too!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I saw her bentos the other week when we were talking about DC2’s lunches. (The latest on that front: DC2 likes tortillas at home. DC2 likes hummus at home. DC2 REFUSES to eat a tortilla hummus roll-up in hir lunch at school. DC2 also refused to eat the apple custard pancake for lunch that zie was perfectly fine with eating room temperature at home. Of our lovingly packed lunch yesterday zie had an iceberg lettuce salad and 4 strawberries.)

  15. Tulip Says:

    I like “Fast, Fresh, and Green” by Susie Middleton. All about fixing veggies with an emphasis on technique rather than specific recipes – although she does offer recipes as well.

  16. ardalionanguiano Says:

    Most ingest only 5-10 ingredients besides Strategic Arms Limitation Talks and black pepper, most are vegetarian and a few are vegan, and every exclusive one that I’ve tried has been gentle to prep and surprisingly toothsome and filling for how simple(a) they are.
    I’ve noticed that the food market stores around here ingest started providing more “new and hefty” tv dinner party way options, possibly to compete with some of these house-to-house services.

  17. Alyssa Says:

    Thank you for posting these cookbooks! We’re definitely in a rut right now and I’m getting a lot of “we’re eating this again!?”

  18. First Gen American Says:

    My garden is overflowing right now so I have recently just been serving things straight up with other meals. Cukes in vinegar, or just a bowl of cherry tomatoes and people grab them. I am getting veggied out. I have tomatoes coming out of the wazoo and I need to make salsa….but time…where is the time?. So the chickens are enjoying many veggies that I can’t pick in time.

    • First Gen American Says:

      Oh yeah, cookbooks. I still use allrecipes a lot. I tend to mess with a recipe for a while til I perfect it. Right now, it’s jambalaya. Still figuring out the perfect broth to tomato ratio for cooking the rice in.

      Have you ever tried doing a jacket potato bar? Baked tater with various toppings. Make your own. They used to have carts in England that sold them when I lived there. Picky eater can have butter or cheese..others can have curry or chili, etc.


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