Tag Archives: cookbooks

Greek Food Festival Season

realgreekHello everyone, if I’ve seemed grumpy for the past several months, I apologize.  I’m pretty sure I suffer from undiagnosed Seasonal Affective Disorder.  But now I’m ready to talk, ready to smile and ready to come out of my hibernation.  I love spring and summer, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this happens to be the time of year when my favorite events start popping up: Greek Food Festivals.  I think we should just call this time of year Greek Food Festival season.  

The season kicks off with the Saint Nicholas Festival in Oakland, right across the street from the Main Library. Usually the season ends with Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in the North Hills, with several others in between.  Last year we were extra lucky, with Saint Nicholas doing a mini festival in the fall.

I’m not Greek, so I don’t know what it is about Greek food and culture, but dining out, enjoying a glass of wine, listening to the Greek band and enjoying Greek dance equals an amazing spring/summer evening.  My kids often end up dancing when audience members are invited to join the dancers, and it’s an all around good time. This year I intend to recreate some of the Greek food festival flavors at home.  

I don’t have much experience making Greek food.  I’ve made this spanikopita recipe several times, I’ve made some Greek salads, and I’ve made this honey cake, but other than that, not very much. That will change this year with the help of my garden, some local businesses and some Greek cookbooks from the library.

My garden this year is being planned with the end goal of cooking Greek food in mind.  I’m planting cucumbers, eggplants, tomatoes, peppers, basil, parsley, lettuce and more.  We also have useful perennials like mint, sage, thyme and oregano that will be useful in celebrating the glory of Greek food.  I also plan on utilizing ingredients from some of Pittsburgh’s Mediterranean supermarkets like Pita Land in Brookline, the Greek Gourmet in Squirrel Hill and Groceria Merante in Oakland.  

Some of the books I’ve looked at so far are:    

ikariaIkaria: Lessons on Food, Life and Longevity from the Greek Island Where People Forget to Die by Diane Kochilas — The subtitle of this one says it all: recipes that are healthy and delicious, to be enjoyed slowly with friends and family.  

The Greek Vegetarian: More than 100 Recipes Inspired by the Traditional Dishes and Flavors of Greece by Diane Kochilas Another great selection by the author of Ikaria. To me Greek cooking evokes fresh and delicious vegetables.  The first thing I plan on making from this book is the Spinach and bechamel lasagne.    

The Real Greek at Home: Dishes from the Heart of the Greek Kitchen by Theodore Kyriakou — Great cookbook with excellent photography and information on the ingredients.  

 

 

By far my favorite title has been this one, so please give it a try:

The Greek Cook: Simple Seasonal Food by Rena Salaman — There are several things I love about this book.  One is that it is divided into seasons.  I try to cook using what is fresh and in season; it’s cheaper and more delicious.  Another thing I love about this book is the excellent photography of all of the recipes.  One precaution about this one though, some of the recipes don’t have volume measurements, which got me into trouble when I was making a recipe and it called for 3 oz of Greek yogurt, and I didn’t have a scale (although some of the ingredients in the recipe did include volume measurements too).  Other than that, this is a great cookbook.  

Unrelated note:  While you’re requesting all of the above cookbooks, you should also check out My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which is one of my wife’s favorite movies.  Its sequel is in theaters now, maybe good viewing before heading off to one of the Greek food festivals listed above!  

Enjoy Greek Food Festival season!

-Scott M.

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50 Cakes Project Update

motivate-with-cake-prints

Current life motto. Print by Holly van Who.

Remember when I said I wanted to bake 50 cakes in one year? This ridiculous undertaking is still going on. If you’ve ever thought about putting stock into the butter industry, now’s the time, my friends.

I’m almost halfway to my goal. I’ve tackled my fear of layer cakes (spoiler alert: no one really cares about your uneven layers when they are eating delicious homemade cake), listened to tons of Beyonce, spent an embarrassing amount of time pouring over cookbooks, made my first vegan cake and managed to flambé some cherries without causing myself bodily harm.

Here’s a glance at the first half  of my cake project, along with links to the books where I got the recipes; my favorites are in bold.

  1. Lemon Sour Cream Pound Cake (All Cakes Considered by Melissa Gray)
  2. Brown Sugar Pound Cake (All Cakes Considered)
  3. Cinnamon Almond Coffee Cake (All Cakes Considered)
  4. Pumpkin Spice Latte Cake
  5. Chocolate Pound Cake (All Cakes Considered)
  6. Ginger Apple Torte (Food 52 Cookbook: Volume 2)
  7. Cinnamon Roll Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
  8. Coconut-Buttermilk Poundcake
  9. Honey Nut Snack Cake
  10. Luscious Cream Cheese Pound Cake (Bake Happy by Judith Fertig)
  11. Chocolate Truffle Cake  (Bake Happy)
  12. Vegan Devil’s Food Cake with Coconut-Coffee Frosting (Bake Happy)
  13. Chocolate Whiskey Cake
  14. Blood Orange Upside Down Cake (Honey and Jam: Seasonal Baking from my Kitchen in the Mountains by Hannah Queen)

  15. Chocolate Butter Cake with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting (CakeLove: How to Bake Cakes from Scratch by Warren Brown)
  16. Vanilla Cupcakes (I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence by Amy Sedaris)
  17. Neely’s Cookies N Cream Cake
  18. Devil’s Food Cake with Angel Frosting (Baked Explorations by Matt Lewis)
  19. Yellow Butter Cake with Peanut Butter Crunch Buttercream (CakeLove)
  20. Sunday Night Cake (Baked Explorations)
  21. Brooklyn Blackout Cake
  22. Chocolate Cherry Torte (Baking, From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan)
  23. No-Mixer Cake (CakeLove)
cake-cocktails-prints

What about Make Cake & Drink Cocktails? (Print by Nina J. Charlotte)

Why not try baking a few cakes yourself? Reserve one (or ten) of our delicious cake-baking books now!

-Ginny

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Get Into Cooking

bookcover_cookingI love food, especially desserts, but I hate to cook. Yes, I’ve been known to yell at kitchen utensils. Luckily for me, my husband has adopted cooking and baking as a hobby, and made it his mission to bake the perfect pound cake.

It may not be good for my waistline, but the rest of me is thrilled. He even made whipped cream from scratch recently. We had some pound cake and fresh strawberries, so naturally we needed some cream to complete the picture.

If you or someone you know shares his love of cooking, you may find these books instructive. My husband certainly has.

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

bookcover_kingarthur

The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion: The All-purpose Baking Cookbook

And, of course, where would we be without our old friend Betty Crocker?

The library has many more to help you get inspired. Maybe you’ll be the one to perfect your favorite recipe.

Tell us about your go-to cookbooks in the comments.

-Megan

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Cooking Tips from the Tasteless

We are  more than halfway through January, so it may be a little late in the game to talk about New Years Resolutions … buuuuut I feel like I am actually succeeding for once, so I want to share my winningness with you, dear readers!

This year, instead of cut and dry, do or die resolutions having to do with my weight (a favorite for me and every other person in America according to current TV commercials), I made a promise to myself to work on some more general things.

  1. I will yell at my kids less (already failed spectacularly, but hey it’s an every day battle)
  2. I will get back to crafting (I have made 6 batches of goats milk soap and cannot wait to make more while also boring everyone to death with details about soap making. Look out, that post is coming soon, dear readers … i.e., captive audience)
  3. Learn some new recipes…

…I am a mediocre cook (and that is being nice). Don’t get me wrong, I love to eat delicious food and I appreciate that cooking is an art form … mama just don’t have time for all that nonsense. For years the only “spice” in my cabinet was salt and my usual goal is to have a protein, vegetable, and starch on the plate in under 30 minutes. Edible is what I aim for, adjectives like “tasty” and “flavorful” are out of my reach. But recently my husband and my oldest daughter have been voicing their … let’s say concerns … over my recipe repertoire. So this year I decided to try something new. I checked out a few cookbooks from the Library, found recipes to try, and then (this is where it gets interesting) … I read them. I didn’t just glance at the ingredients, substituting half of them with what I had on hand.  I made lists, I purchased things and I followed the directions. And do you know, it worked? So far I have made three different meals from three cookbooks that my husband and kids ate, and then … ASKED FOR MORE. Not for something else, mind you, but for more of the thing I cooked.  It. Was. Amazing.

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The Best 30 Minute Recipe (suggested by my boss Ian!)
From this cookbook, I made a skillet version of shepherds pie. Even with peeling and photomashing the potatoes myself (my kids had a field day with the peels, creating “witches stew”) this really did only take 30 minutes and it was delicious. (Sadly this was also the only meal I remembered to photograph.) I plan on making several more recipes from this book. I may even go out and buy my own copy, and that is saying something.


bookcover.phpI Didn’t Know My Slow Cooker Could Do That

This one I just pulled off the shelf on a whim. I love my slow cooker and the few passable things I do make are made in the slow cooker, where all I have to do is dump the ingredients in and walk away. I have tried to find different slow cooker recipes before but generally get annoyed because they mostly seem like variations on the same 10 to 15 recipes. This book had a couple new things I have never tried before and the beef and broccoli recipe that I made was great.

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One Pan, Two Plates
This was another one I found on the shelf. I really like the idea of those “4 or 5 or whatever random number of ingredients” recipe books, but when I’ve flipped through them I don’t really see anything interesting. I picked this one up hoping it would be similar in theme given that the recipes were limited to one pan and meant for weeknights. But that it would offer more flare; and while the recipes were a little more involved, I liked that the directions were simple and ingredients were kept to a minimum. Also, technically I have four plates I need to fill nightly, but my seven-year-old eats like a bird and the toddler can only put away so much before passing out in a food coma, so it worked for us. I made Hungarian beef goulash, mainly because I have always wanted to try goulash; it’s a great, fun word to say. I will admit I may have liked this more than my husband and kids, but I don’t care. It was yummy. A lot of the recipes in this book seem like things outside my ability level, but they also sound delicious, so I am going to try and stretch myself by making a few more recipes. If things go well this might be another title I actually go out and buy for keeps.

I am going to try and keep this resolution. There is a certain amount of pride I felt making things that my family liked instead of  something that just met their basic dietary requirements. If you have any suggestions for other recipes or cookbooks I should, try leave them in the comments, and I will report back any triumphs, and failures, from your suggestions.

-Natalie

 

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All Cakes Considered

Eat Cake for Breakfast

Good Advice.

Without the structure of an Official Project™, I’m liable to spend every evening sitting on the couch with my dogs reading comic books and feminist essays. So, I recently decided to put my money where my mouth is when it comes to my enjoyment of cooking and baking and commit to getting really good at it by making lots and lots of cake.

The inspiration? All Cakes Considered, a book by NPR staffer Melissa Gray about how she made a cake each week and brought it in for her co-workers to taste-test and enjoy. The book includes a year’s worth of weekly cake recipes, and all of the baking lessons Gray learned along the way.

I’m not as hardcore as Gray — I’m not going to make arrangements for my co-workers to have a substitute cake brought in when I don’t bake (sorry, guys) — but I have decided to make fifty cakes in one year, and, five cakes in, I’m already learning a lot. For example: bundt cakes can actually be ridiculously delicious, and it is truly worth it to spend the full minute beating the batter between adding each egg.

I love how this book is structured; rather than assuming you know it all already, Gray explains everything in detail, teaching you new skills and techniques as the book goes along.  It starts with simple, easy-to-master recipes like sour cream pound cake and cinnamon-almond coffee cake, and works up to more complicated fare. The book concludes with something equal parts astonishing and formidable, Stephen Pyle’s Heaven and Hell Cake, which Gray deems “The Liberace of Layer Cakes.”

I do really like All Cakes Considered, but I’m not planning on following along with it exactly. Here are a few of other books I plan to consult during the course of my 50 Cakes experiment:

-Ginny

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Foodie Fiction Finds

I love food. There, I said it. I enjoy the whole process: planning what to eat, shopping for ingredients, cooking and baking dishes and, most of all, eating the labors of my work, as well as the works of others. I also enjoy reading about food. I’m pretty sure that I’ve mentioned before my penchant for reading cookbooks the same way others read novels.

Then there are those books that actually are cookbooks disguised as novels.  Most of them tend to fall into the cozy mystery category, which has everyone from coffeehouse owners to bakers, tea shop ladies to caterers and food writers to food truck operators solving crimes, while cooking great food in the process. Most of these even have recipes at the end of the book, so you can continue your relationship with the story and author after the dastardly perpetrator has been caught.

Recently, I’ve found myself enjoying more of the foodie fiction books that are not specifically mysteries.  Here are just a few:

Chef’s Table by Lynn Charles – Chef Evan Stanford runs a successful New York restaurant, but his passion for his work is gone. And then he meets Patrick, the cook at his neighborhood diner. Patrick’s companionship, in the kitchen and the bedroom, reawaken Evan’s lust for cooking, and for life.

Aftertaste by Meredith Mileti – As if I needed another reason to read this book besides the food, it’s mostly set in Pittsburgh! There are specific references to the Strip District and the Pennsylvania Macaroni Factory and allusions to Enrico Biscotti Company. Follow along as Mira’s career and personal life is completely destroyed, and she builds it back up by returning to her roots.

The Coincidence of Coconut Cake by Amy E. Reichert – Chef Lou Johnson is about to get an unwelcome surprise. Her fiancé is sleeping with his law firm’s intern, but he never understood why Lou wanted to be a chef anyway. Then she, literally, bumps into a man who could be “the one.” But Al has a secret that threatens to ruin any chance he has of a future with Lou. Can the chef whose restaurant fails forgive the man who wrote the scathing review that shut it down?

Delicious by Ruth Reichl – We’re used to reading Reichl’s books on her foodie upbringing, and her stint as editor in chief of Gourmet confirms that she knows what she’s talking about when it comes to cuisine. But now she’s written a novel? Could it be any good? The answer lies in this tale that’s part chick lit, part foodie fiction, with a dash of romance and a hint of a puzzle to solve. I thoroughly enjoyed this tale of the demise of an iconic food magazine and the interesting people it employed. The backdrop of New York City rings true, as only a book written by a New Yorker who loves its food scene could do.

If you’d like to explore these and similar titles, stop by the Main Library and browse the Food Fiction display I put up this week…

Foodie Fiction 1

Happy Reading & Eating!
-Melissa M.

P.S. Ruth Reichl is coming to Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures’ Literary Evenings, Monday Night Lecture Series on October 26th. Get your tickets here. I’ve already got mine!

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Pickling Pittsburghers

Pickle-loving Pittsburghers came in droves to the Rachel Carson Bridge this past July to celebrate all things pickle, pickled and soon-to-be pickled. Produced by the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, Picklesburgh included demonstrations on how to pickle various veggies, pickle-juice drinking competitions, and live music to boot! Favorites included Quick Pickled Dilly Green Tomatoes with Ryan from Whole Foods and the Vietnamese Pickled Veggies.

The only downside was that some of the demos ran out of their pickled delights before I could get my pickled mitts on them. To find out more about our own Pickled Piper (John Heinz-who gave over 1 million pickle pins out at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair) and all things pickle, make sure to pick up some of these library resources: Just try not to drink too much pickle juice while you do….

"Untitled," by Nancy Merkel. All rights reserved. Click through for artist's webpage.

“Untitled,” by Nancy Merkle. All rights reserved. Click through for artist’s webpage.

H. J. Heinz : A BiographyQuentin R. Skrabec. A great intro to H.J. Heinz and his Heinzenormous success as a businessman. This book is a quick read, but goes to great lengths to distinguish a man who has been over overshadowed by his contemporaries (Mellon, Fritz, and Carnegie). Unlike his contemporaries, Heinz was known to be a considerate employer, treating both his employees and suppliers with respect. A good introduction to a Pittsburgh’s famous son.

Pickled: From Curing Lemons to Fermenting Cabbage, the Gourmand’s Ultimate Guide to the World of Pickling, Kelly Carrolata. There are four parts to this book: Part I covers “How to Pickle”, Part II gets into the nitty gritty by giving the reader “Recipes for Pickling.” In the carrolattasecond half of the book, Part III covers “Meals with Pickles,” while Part IV deals not with food, but “Drinks with Pickles.” This book is an excellent how-go guide with a dash of pickling history . Lots of great pickle recipes if you’re the DIY type who wants a beginner’s guide to this process.

The Pickled Pantry, Andrea Chesman. Chesman is the author of over 20 cookbooks on Chesmanvarious topics. This book provides a pickle primer, with various pickling methods and techniques discussed. Examples include fermented, hot pack canned pickles, and refrigerator pickles. These are further examined with recipes and a quick history of pickles. Excellent for those of that love a challenge.

The Art of Fermentation : an In-depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes From Around the World, Sandor Ellix Katz. Winner of the 2013 James Beard Foundation Book Award for Reference and Scholarship, this is a slightly more comprehensive and in-Katzdepth guide to fermentation. The author covers every imaginable food and beverage and gives the beginner and the foodie something both can appreciate: an extensive explanation of the concepts behind fermentation and how it applies to everything from agriculture to art (well, one more than the other). This book remains firmly entrenched in practicalities though and has information on effective preservation and safety techniques.

What’s your position on pickles? Let us know in the comments section!

–Whitney Z.

 

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