Tag Archives: cookbooks

A [kind of] New Woman

I am one of those people who make New Year’s Resolutions. I try to make them realistic, but not too easy. For example, I can say I’m going to give up Indian food, Jim Beam and HBO. With nooooo problem. Because I don’t like the food, drink the booze or have cable. Done and done!


All right…

My 2013 Resolutions

One new vegetable a month*

I almost said one new vegetable a week, but that seemed way too ambitious. I can’t even think of 52 vegetables. Not that I don’t love my steady diet of broccoli, spinach, green beans, peas and asparagus, but it’s time to mix it up. To that end, here are few cook books I’m going to use to help me out.

EatYourVeggiesEat your vegetables, Arthur Potts Dawson

The art of cooking with vegetables, Alain Passard

Cooking with fruits and vegetables, Claire Llewellyn

*I will not, however, be eating any form of mushroom.
They taste like dirt, people.

Stop saying sorry

I apologize for everything. I apologize for stuff that’s not my fault, for events that I have no control over, things that have nothing to do with me. I apologize when someone does something to me! It’s stupid and doesn’t get me anywhere. These people will help me.

Manage my money better

I pay my bills on time and all that jazz. But I really should have way more expendable income than I do. Like way more. Especially since I quit smoking (2011’s resolution) and added an extra $4000 a year to my pocket money. Where is it going???

Also, managing my money better would mean I could donate more to charity, which is always on my resolution list. I’m so fortunate to have the life I have. I should absolutely be helping others in need. For real.

I signed up for  Mint.com, a website that pulls all your financial accounts into one place. You can set a budget, create and track goals and [gulp] see where your money is really going.

BehaviorGapThe behavior gap : simple ways to stop doing  dumb things with money, Carl Richards

The debt-free spending plan : an amazingly simple way to take control of your finances once and for all, JoAnneh Nagler

The only budgeting book you’ll ever need : how to save money and manage your finances with a personal budget plan that works for you, Tere Stouffer.

30 Day Hot Yoga Challenge

I am going to do 30 days of Bikram (hot) yoga, in a row, without a day off. Frankly, I think this will be the hardest resolution to keep. Because of work and chores and things that constantly interrupt my fun, there will be days that I have to go to the 6 a.m. class. In the dead of winter. Probably on my bike. From the South Side to Lawrenceville. To say that I’m not a morning person…well, this could be ugly.

I plan on starting February 1st and going through to March 2nd. Now that it’s out in the universe, I have to do it. If I succeed, I am totally buying a pair of yoga pants with bling on the butt. Because I will have earned them.

Pray for me. Happy 2013!



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12 Favorite Cookbooks of 2012: My Year in Review

Some people will tell you that I like to cook. And they wouldn’t be lying. But even more than I like to cook, I love cookbooks themselves. I read them as novels, flipping the pages, looking at the glossy pictures, reading the explanations of each dish, perusing the ingredients for the new and the familiar. And I collect cookbooks, much to the dismay of my limited bookshelf space.

In addition to collecting cookbooks, I enjoy checking out the latest cookbooks from the library and finding old favorites to enjoy again. I am always searching through the new books added to the collection, as well as through blogs and social networking sites, for cookbooks to add to my holds list.

Here are my favorite cookbooks I discovered in 2012:

What Chefs Feed Their Kids: Recipes and Techniques for Cultivating a Love of Good Food by Fanae Aaron – So apparently, chefs feed their kids food. Real food. Not “food” in those special packages labeled especially for toddlers or whatever stage of life your offspring happens to be in right now. Also, to be the most successful at raising kids who will eat real food, including vegetables, you have to start them young. Makes sense though, right? You can’t expect an 11-year-old to all of a sudden love asparagus, if they haven’t been exposed to it when they were developing their taste buds. So cook for your kids and cook a variety of things. You’ll be surprised how much happier and healthier you all become.

The Science of Good Cooking: Master 50 Simple Concepts to Enjoy a Lifetime of Success in the Kitchen by the editors at America’s Test Kitchen and Guy Crosby – Especially for the kitchen scientist who not only wants to know what to do, but why they are doing it, and what is technically going on inside their food. Included are things like an explanation of the Maillard  reaction, why it’s a good thing, and how to make sure you achieve that brownness when cooking meat. That gray layer on your salmon? Eat it, it’s full of the healthy omega-3 fatty acids. They even used blue colored water to show how much is absorbed by the different kinds of potatoes as they cook. All this is to help you understand why cooking a certain way is going to achieve better results than another way. Also known as the “proof,” for those who need it.

Appetite for Life: The Thumbs-Up, No-Yucks Guide to Getting Your Kid to be a Great Eater: Including Over 100 Kid-Approved Recipes by Stacey Antine – You would think I had a picky eater in the household. I really don’t. With the exception of not liking cheese or things with a cream sauce, my son will eat most everything. Cooked and raw fish? No problem. Brussel sprouts and sautéed spinach? Bring it on! But I am always on the lookout for kid-centric cookbooks that can expand my cooking, and therefore, my son’s eating repertoire. And if it’s healthy food to boot, then why wouldn’t I try? Excuse me, I think I hear the baked coconut shrimp calling us!

Whatever Happened to Sunday Dinner?: A Year of Italian Menus with 250 Recipes That Celebrate Family by Lisa Caponigri – This book made me want to cook every Sunday for the rest of my life. I seriously wanted to adopt a huge Italian family and spend the entire day in the kitchen cooking, talking, laughing, and just being together with a group of people who all share the same passion for food and each other. You never know, I still might adopt that family. Let me know if you have any viable candidates.

The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying & Start Making by Alana Chernila – Now, I’ve pretty much always known about homemade lemonade, jam, breadsticks, granola, and marshmallows. But the idea that you can make your own “pop-tarts” was a revelation. And with the Hostess company having their issues, a recipe for making “twinkies” at home is going to be such a relief to some people. What amused me most was that the recipes in this book are divided into “aisles” instead of chapters, just like the grocery store items they are replicating.

Ten Dollar Dinners: 140 Recipes and Tips to Elevate Simple, Fresh Meals Any Night of the Week by Melissa d’Arabian – I like a cookbook that has delicious, easy to prepare meals that are also looking out for my budget. I love the new and exotic, but most of the time I need to stick with the comforting and familiar, if only to make sure I don’t break the bank. And how could I not trust a person with a name like “Melissa”? This one is being added to my permanent collection for sure.

The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food from My Frontier by Ree Drummond – I love Ree. I love Ree in that “I wish I had your life and sort of hate you because I don’t” kind of way. But I also love that Ree is a fellow ginger who isn’t afraid to cook, eat and advocate for meals that aren’t low-fat, low-calorie, or low-taste. She cooks stick-to-your-ribs food. She makes comfort food in a gorgeous kitchen in a modern ranch setting with four beautiful kids and hunky cowboy for a husband. *Sigh*

Garlic: Over 75 Farm-Fresh Recipes – I am almost half Italian. I don’t think I could survive without garlic in my life. Pretty much everything I cook could start with garlic and more than half would end with it too. But because I prepare meals for someone who can’t stomach garlic (literally), I have had to learn to do without it. I must say that at times it KILLS me and there have been times where I have used it anyway. (Sorry, Dear!) So for me, this cookbook was more in the fantasy cooking genre. But, oh! What a lovely dream it was.

Barefoot Contessa Foolproof: Recipes You Can Trust by Ina Garten – By now you may have gotten the idea that I am more than slightly obsessed by some TV chefs and cookbook authors. And you wouldn’t be too far off in that assumption. Ina Garten is another person whose life I would like to try on for size. Not in the least because she and her hubby are just so gosh darn cute together. I have enjoyed Ina’s other cookbooks and this one is no different. I want to go home NOW and make every single thing in this book. Because they are “foolproof”, I think I actually could too.

Livwise: Easy Recipes for a Healthy, Happy Life by Olivia Newton-John – Have you SEEN Olivia Newton-John lately?!? She looks exactly the same as she did in 1979. How does she DO that? According to this, her first cookbook, she does it by exercising daily and eating well. Eating well means organic when possible, very little red meat and processed foods, whole grains, and lots of fruits and veggies. The food was tasty looking and seemed easy enough to make. Now, I wonder if I could actually do this too…

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman – Another cookbook author that began as a blog writer. Deb cooks in a small New York City kitchen. Really small. I mean s-m-all. But she gets the job done. You just know that every one of these dishes is going to be the very best example of its kind. They’re not terribly difficult and don’t require lots of fussy ingredients either. And each one comes with a story. Have I mentioned how much I love a good food story?

The Quintessential Quinoa Cookbook: Eat Great, Lose Weight, Feel Healthy by Wendy Polisi – Quinoa is my new favorite grain. But up until now I had only cooked it like rice and eaten it with salt, pepper, and butter. This cookbook opened my eyes to the possibilities and versatility that quinoa offers. This cookbook is another one that I may actually have to make room for on those overstuffed bookshelves at home. (Christmas present idea alert! Hint, hint!)

I wish you all a happy and healthy holiday season, filled with all the family, friends, and food you can handle!
-Melissa M.

P.S. I am often asked, “If you could only have one cookbook, what would it be?” This is always my answer to that question.


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It’s Soup-er Weather

Carrot Miso Soup from the great cooking website Smitten Kitchen: http://smittenkitchen.com

So it’s officially happened. Winter is almost here. Although I somewhat dread the darker days of winter, they bring with them cause to rejoice—winter is perfect soup making weather. This past weekend I made my first soup of the season, a creamy potato-garlic concoction, inspired by a recipe from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I have waxed poetic about this book before, but I like it so much that I don’t mind repeating myself; this is not just a cookbook for vegetarians. It’s a great, straightforward cookbook with simple, delicious recipes.

Since we’re talking soup, there are a few terrific things about the soup section in this book: 1) she lays out the basic pattern for making pretty much any soup, 2) she provides recipes for different garnishes and stocks (if you’re into making your own stock,) and 3) for many recipes, she provides tasty alternatives, such as how to turn the same soup into something spicy, or sweet, or curried. Within a very basic framework Ms. Madison provides novice-to-seasoned cooks with the skills to create an endless variety of soups. After sticking with this book for a couple years, I can honestly say that I am now confident enough in my soup making abilities to go off map, and even improvise jazz-style on occasion (but don’t worry, we’re not talking about anything too crazy here).

Of course, if the above cookbook is not exactly what you’re looking for, we have many others on hand for just about any age, skill level, or dietary need. Behold, we have soup cookbooks for:

The Beginner

The Busy

The Adventurous

The Healthy

The Vegan/Vegetarian

The Carnivore

Happy stewing & simmering all,

PS – If you are also a soup enthusiast, you may want to consider starting your very own soup swap


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Pittsburgh Restaurants… In Your Kitchen!

Pittsburghers, you have to admit that our options for dining out have really exploded.  New restaurants are popping up left and right, and we are lucky to have so many great places to eat in our fair city!

But, as much as you might want to, it’s tough to dine out every night.  That’s where the library comes in handy.  Our extensive cookbook collection allows you to try out recipes that replicate the flavors of your favorite restaurants.

I have a group of suggestions below (in no particular order), but feel free to tell me what I might have missed in the comments.

If you like Downtown’s Meat & Potatoes and want to put a low-cal spin on comfort food, then try: Now Eat This! : 150 of America’s Favorite Comfort Foods, All Under 350 Calories by Rocco DiSpirito (also available in ebook).

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If you like Quiet Storm and want to introduce more meat-free meals into your life, then try How to Eat Like a Vegetarian Even if You Never Want to Be One: More Than 250 Shortcuts, Strategies, and Simple Solutions by Carol J. Adams.

How to Eat Like a Vegetarian Even if You Never Want to Be One: More Than 250 Shortcuts, Strategies, and Simple Solutions

If you like NOLA on the Square, then try: My New Orleans : The Cookbook : 200 of My Favorite Recipes & Stories from My Hometown by John Besh.

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If you like Osteria 2350 in the Strip District, then try some simple Italian cooking at home with Osteria: Hearty Italian Fare from Rick Tramonto’s Kitchen by Rick Tramonto.

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If you like Nicky’s Thai Kitchen, then try Easy Thai Cooking: 75 Family-style Dishes You Can Prepare in Minutes by Robert Danhi.

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If you like the South Side’s Yo Rita’s, then try Just Tacos : 100 Delicious Recipes for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner by Shelley Wiseman.

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If you like Max’s Allegheny Tavern or the Penn Brewery, then try Black Forest Cuisine: The Classic Blending of European Flavors by Walter Staib.

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Happy eating!



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Potluck Anyone?

One not so well kept secret around the Main Library is that the First Floor – New & Featured staff love a good potluck. We indulge our passion for cooking, eating and sharing approximately every other month. We celebrate arrivals, departures and whatever the closest holiday happens to be. The creativity of my co-workers abounds not only in the culinary realm, but also in the theme department. A few of my personal favorites have been the all chocolate potluck, the Thanksgiving leftover remix potluck, and the Cinco de Mayo potluck, complete with blender, ice and non-alcoholic margarita mix.

I usually recommend that you bring to a potluck a dish you know how to make, one that’s been a tried and true recipe for you. If you enjoy it, chances are that others will also. A potluck, especially with people you may not know so well, is not always the time to try that fancy new recipe with 40 steps and 25 esoteric ingredients. Potlucks are supposed to be about classic, homey favorites.

But now having said that, if you are looking for a new dish to try out on your guinea pigs, er, I mean co-workers or friends, the library offers a plethora of casserole and one-pot meal cookbooks. The following are intended for potlucks specifically:

The Church Supper Cookbook: A Special Collection of over 375 Potluck Recipes from Families and Churches across the Country – Everyone knows that the best potlucks, and therefore the best potluck recipes, come from the church ladies. This book even contains a recipe for ham loaf, which was a staple at my church’s potluck dinners when I was a child.

Cook’s Country Best Potluck Recipes: More Than 100 Classic and Heirloom Favorites for All Occasions from the Editors at America’s Test Kitchen – If it’s from America’s Test Kitchen, then you know it’s going to be good. When you’re looking for a new recipe that’s going to be an instant addition to you regular repertoire, new candidates can be found in this book.

Potluck Paradise: Favorite Fare from Church & Community Cookbooks by Rae Katherine Eighmey and Debbie Miller – I love the kitschy 1950s look of the illustrations in this. This book is a compilation of recipes from those community-produced, spiral-bound cookbooks you see for sale everywhere. The authors have gleaned the best of the best, tested them, and present them in this entertaining book.

Park Avenue Potluck: With Recipes from New York’s Savviest Hostesses by Florence Fabricant – For those who want to bring a little fancy to their next potluck, this book offers recipes “that are as easy as they are elegant.” Herbed Orzo with Toasted Pine Nuts, Spanish Seafood Casserole, and Society Salmon Mold are just a few of the dishes in this collection.

Fix-It and Enjoy-It! Potluck Heaven: 543 Stove-Top and Oven Dishes That Everyone Loves – Will 543 recipes be enough for you to choose from? Think you might be able to find something in this one? If not, you just might be too picky.

Good Housekeeping the Great Potluck Cookbook: Our Favorite Recipes for Carry-In Suppers, Brunch Buffets, Tailgate Parties & More! – If it’s from Good Housekeeping, chances are it’s a classic. Your favorites are here, as well as some that are served with a twist.

Emeril’s Potluck: Comfort Food with a Kicked-Up Attitude by Emeril Lagasse – Just in case you want to add a little BAM to your next potluck offering. How about Cocktail Crawfish Turnovers or Penne a la Vodka Casserole? There’s even a Creole Breakfast Bread Pudding!

Raw Potluck: Over 100 Simply Delicious Raw Dishes for Everyday Entertaining by Lisa Montgomery – Not everyone is a meat eater nowadays. These dishes will appeal to those who limit their intake of certain foods and the omnivores at your gathering. No one needs to know they are eating something healthy…

-Melissa M.

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It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere…

Drink Up!

Do you remember your first alcoholic drink? Not only what you drank, but where you were and who you were with? Do specific places and activities have drinks that you associate just with them? Are there certain situations that scream for one particular beverage?

Whenever I hear “Long Island Iced Tea”, I am immediately transported back in time to my senior year of college, specifically to Otter’s Pub in Meadville, PA. This was my drink of choice when hanging out with my friends at that location. I can honestly say that I have never had a Long Island Iced Tea any place else. I know that it just wouldn’t taste as good. That drink is, for me, tied to that spot and that experience.

There are certainly times when a specific place and time call for a precise drink. I was reminded of this recently when reading How to Booze: Exquisite Cocktails and Unsound Advice, The Right Drink for Every Situation by Jordan Kaye and Marshall Altier. This humorous book identifies a specific cocktail for each and every circumstance you could possibly encounter. Need to know what to drink on a first date, second date, or when trying to organize a threesome?  How about the right cocktail for a sporting event, barbeque, or when at the park? What about when you’re obsessing over why he’s not answering the phone or when you’re with people you despise? This book not only has a suggested choice for imbibing under all of these circumstances (and more!), but they’ll tell you why it’s the perfect drink for the occasion. Then you get the recipe for the drink, and explanation of the chosen spirit, mixer, and/or garnish so you know what you are drinking and why it is a necessary component of the concoction. This book goes beyond the usual cosmopolitan (although that is included as the perfect drink for a bachelorette party, natch) and brings back some of the classic cocktails and ingredients that may no longer be a part of popular bar nomenclature. I personally learned things I didn’t know about absinthe and bitters.

So, if you are entering a situation and would like to know the perfect drink to accompany it or if you want to build up your cocktail repertoire, check out some of the following…

How’s Your Drink: Cocktails, Culture, and the Art of Drinking Well by Eric Felten – This James Beard Foundation Award winning author writes, “If you have a creeping suspicion that others are defining you – and judging you, too – by the drink in your hand, you’re not far wrong.” He then proceeds to give the history of great cocktails, the famous, the infamous, and the largely unknown. Each story is provided along with its recipe. This book is as fun to read as the cocktails are to drink.

Cocktail Aficionado by Allan Gage – This is a recipe book, pure and simple. The chapters are organized by the main spirit in the drinks. Here you’ll find the classics as well as some newer tasty choices, such as the Toblerone, Purple Turtle, and Butterflirt. This would make a good bar reference book as well as fodder for an evening’s entertainment. Flip the pages and point to a drink at random. Viola! That’s what we’re drinking next! Plus, I love a book with a built in bookmark. This one actually holds the page down so you can refer to the book while concocting the beverage.

Mr. Boston: 1,500 Recipes, Tools, and Techniques for the Master Mixologist – If you want one book that will tell you EVERYTHING you need to know about mixing a drink, this would be it. How to set up your bar and what equipment it should house, necessary glassware and what type of drink each should hold, mixers and garnishes to have on hand, as well as how to create those fruit and vegetable garnishes, how many drinks to have on hand for whatever kind of meal or party you are throwing, and a list of resources where you can locate that hard to find ingredient. This book has it all!

The Art of the Bar: Cocktails Inspired by the Classics by John Hollinger and Rob Schwartz – If you every wanted to see a lovely coffee table book about cocktails, then this is your book. Each creation is beautifully photographed and explained in great detail. Through the stories, instructions, and explanations, you’ll come to understand the artistic, as well as the practical, side of mixing great beverages that everyone wants to drink.

Good Spirits: Recipes, Revelations, Refreshments, and Romance, Shaken and Served with a Twist by A.J. Rathbun – This book has stunning photographs, recipes, explanations, ideas for when the cocktail should be served, factoids, and quotes about the joys of alcoholic beverages. The four drinks to induce dancing? The Don’t Just Stand There, The Eye-Opener, The Tidal Wave, and The Brass Monkey. With 38 kinds of martinis, you can’t go wrong. Bacontini, anyone?

Behind Bars: The Straight-Up Tales of a Big-City Bartender by Ty Wenzel – This is Kitchen Confidential for the bar set. Studded with the occasional drink recipe, this is a what-goes-on-behind-the-scenes tell-all book. You’ll get to hear about those who made fools of themselves when bellied up to the bar and those who didn’t even make it that far. Also included are those dirty little secrets the bartenders and the bar owners don’t want you to know about. This book is just plain good fun!

Suddenly, I feel it’s time for a drink…

-Melissa M.


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So What Do You Eat?!

I’ve been a vegan for four years and, after learning that vegan means that I do not eat any animal products (which include dairy, meat, and eggs), one of the most frequent questions I get (after “where do you get your protein?”) is “so what do you eat?!” Since going vegan, however, I have never eaten such a variety of foods in my life nor felt better than I do now. I only wish I had done it sooner. Simply put, I eat plants.

Fact is, if you want to be mindful about your food and what you put into your body, you have to learn how to cook. And what better place to learn about vegan cooking than the library

The following cookbooks (and their authors’ blogs and web sites) have guided me and introduced me to some of the most delicious foods ever. And because I’ve been cooking for so long and so often now, I can create meals quickly and easily. If you’re new to being vegan, or just curious, these books are very informative and helpful and, most important of all, the recipes are outstanding.






How It All Vegan, The Garden of Vegan by Sarah Kramer and Tanya Barnard and La Dolce Vegan by Sarah Kramer. These Canadian punksters are so enthusiastic about being vegan they make it fun. What started out as a gift zine for friends and family quickly turned into something much, much bigger. Tons of recipes will have you wanting to try a different dish every single day.






Vegan Express by Nava Atlas. This is my number one go-to book for quick, easy, and delicious recipes in less than 30 minutes. Everything she creates looks fresh and beautiful and, best of all, impresses your meat-eating friends!

Dreena Burton’s books, especially Eat, Drink & Be Vegan and Vive le Vegan! are wonderful for one-of-a-kind meals using whole foods (vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes). I especially enjoy her breakfast and dessert sections because she uses a lot less sweeteners and oils in her recipes than a lot of other vegan cookbooks. As my tastebuds have changed (which is common for vegans), so has my sugar intake and tolerance for sweets in general.

While not vegan, Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson is eye candy for its gorgeous photography alone and the texture of its pages; it’s an art book for food. She stresses the use of colorful whole foods and I have successfully “veganized” many of her recipes.

Finally, Short-Cut Vegan by Lorna Sass is just a nice little book to have around when you want something fast. There are no pictures but the recipes are delicious. I was disappointed to hear that Sass is no longer vegan, but I won’t hold that against her.



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