In the Kitchen With Books

We begin our library blogging week with a guest post from Suzi (not to be confused with Suzy), who will, hopefully, be joining us at least once a month going forward. 


Note: this post is not vegetarian. It is gluten-free, nut-free, and soy-free.

In her book, How to Save A Life, Sara Zarr writes, “Everything tastes better when someone else fixes it for you.” I love good diner food and a waitress refilling my iced tea. For too long I was seduced by advertisers who, wanting to sell me their packaged food, told me that chopping vegetables is too much work.

However, at some point, endless club sandwiches for lunch and frozen entrees for dinner dull the taste buds and rob the pocketbook (did I mention tip the bathroom scale?). I started taking cookbooks out from the library, but I still wasn’t cooking, so the books just sat there, silently, on my kitchen table for three weeks until their respective due dates.

It’s not that I never learned how to cook. But for me, cooking is like riding a bike: I do it so infrequently each time I try a new recipe is like the first wobbly time without training wheels. I make three things well: meatloaf, quiche, and scrambled eggs. My mother and I made meatloaf together when I was a child, I have made quiche a thousand times, a thousand ways, and doesn’t everyone know how to make scrambled eggs?

I came across The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: how a few simple lessons transformed nine culinary novices into fearless home cooks, one day at work. I started reading it and was hooked. Maybe there was hope for me (the subtitle serves as a good summary: a chef works with nine women who for one reason or another have been subsisting on prepared food and the women together learn how to chop onions, braise beef and make tomato sauce from scratch).

I still wasn’t cooking, but my interest was piqued.

In time, I found two more books: Charlotte au Chocolat and Bread and Wine.  I happened to walk past a shelf at work and Charlotte au Chocolat whispered my name. A pink book always catches my eye, and this book happened to be a memoir about a girl whose mother managed a restaurant called “Upstairs at the Pudding” in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The book starts when Charlotte is about five and ends when she is about twenty. It is the story about a girl growing up in a restaurant. It is romantic, well written, and it makes you hungry while you are reading it.

While this book is decidedly not about cooking, and contains no recipes, it is about good food, and the people in this book believe in eating well. I found that by reading about good food, I became inspired to root around my fridge and make something. Before I knew it, I was taking leftover rice and duck and creating a sauce using mustard and marmalade. Do not be deceived: I had not made anything initially with duck—I had leftovers from when my parents took me to The Original Fish Market on their way to Michigan.

Suzi’s Leftover Duck and Rice


Leftover rice, 1 serving

Frozen broccoli, 1 serving

Leftover duck (or other meat),1serving

1 Tablespoon Mustard

1 Tablespoon Marmalade

Heat the rice and frozen broccoli in the microwave, about 1 or 2 minutes. Pull duck off the bone. While the rice and broccoli are heating up, take 1 T mustard and 1 T marmalade and mix them together, making a sweet and sour sauce. Serve immediately. Pour sauce over rice, meat, and broccoli. May be served with Greek yogurt. Makes 1 serving.

I found myself rereading Charlotte au Chocolat three times, for three reasons: it was well written, it fit in my purse, and I didn’t have another book about food on the horizon. That is when my friend Suzannah suggested the book Bread and Wine.

Bread and Wine is written in the same style as The Kitchen Counter Cooking School, essays with an occasional recipe. Shauna Niequist writes about food, writing, hospitality, and being the mother of small children and the wife of a musician. This was the book that wooed me back into my kitchen. The other night, I fixed chicken. I went to my cookbook shelf, found a recipe for chicken in Cheap Fast Good, and got out my dog-eared copy of The Kitchen Survival Guide to find out how to make rice. Yes, my skills are this basic.

I improvised. Instead of sautéing two onions, I used one, and I used the rest of the mushrooms in the fridge, since they were about to go bad. I forgot to add spices beforehand, so I added them afterwards, sprinkling my rice with dried orange peel, parsley, and basil. I had some salad, some Greek yogurt, and voila! Suzi is back in the kitchen, preparing food.

What are your favorite recipes? Cookbooks? Do you have trouble in the kitchen, or do you have tips for novice cooks? Talk to me in the comment section!








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12 responses to “In the Kitchen With Books

  1. My interest is peaked – as I have a strong ‘distaste’ for cooking!

  2. I cook all the time, mainly because I like to eat what I cook. Fortunately my family agrees and I haven’t been fired.

  3. I am a huge fan of “food lit.” I think you would like the Ruth Reichl books; I loved them all. I am going to check out Charlotte au Chocolat, and not only because my daughter’s name is Charlotte and one of my many nicknames for her is Chocolat. Loved this piece, can’t wait for more!

  4. Kaarin

    Great post, Suzi! I’ve requested the Kitchen Counter Cooking School and checked out a pink ebook about chocolate. I like to cook, and I feel like a novice, so I love the suggestions. The Mom 100 Cookbook is a favorite of mine, both for the recipes (which I have to half most of the time) and the laugh-out-loud commentary. Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything and The Moosewood Cooks at Home are also on my frequently-used shelf.

  5. Jane Jessell

    Great post, Suzi — almost makes me want to start cooking again!

  6. Pingback: Back in the kitchen with Suzi | Eleventh Stack

  7. I’m pinning this post so I can be sure to check out those books! Thanks!

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