Tag Archives: recipes

50 Cakes Project Update


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)

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!



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Yes We Can

One cooking project I’ve been scared to tackle is canning and preserving. A  year or two ago, I asked for a set of canning supplies for Christmas, received them, and promptly relegated them into the closet in my house where things go to be ignored, nestled cozily alongside an accordion binder of old tax returns and paperwork from the vet.

I did it!

I decided to get over my fear of messing up and give it a shot, and guess what? It’s not so difficult, after all.  I made some quick garlic pickles and a batch of strawberry jalapeno jam, and now I’m ready for more. Of course, I turned to some trusty library resources to show me the way:

Dare to Cook – Canning Basics (DVD) – Chef Tom doesn’t have the on-screen charisma of your favorite Food Network star, but what he lacks in panache he makes up for in know-how.  Watching this DVD is what finally convinced me that I could do this, and that my fear of giving all my loved ones botulism was unfounded, as long as I followed the clear and simple instructions.

Canning for a New Generation: Bold Fresh Flavors for a Modern Pantry – Almost every review you read of this book says something along the lines of: “If you think caning is just for oldsters, think again!”  It’s true that this book includes lots of contemporary twists on classic recipes and quite a few things you won’t find in other canning books, but it also has good practical advice and recipes for ideas on how to use the jams, sauces, relishes, and condiments you’ll be preserving.

The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving – I loved that this had a large number and variety of recipes, and small batch is just right for a beginner like me. It helped me feel like even if I messed something up, I wasn’t wasting a ton of ingredients.  There are lots of recipes in this book for sauces and jams that you don’t have to process and can, so if you are scared of pectin and want to get those skills down pat first, try this one out.

Strawberry Jam Print. Click through for the artist's portfolio.

Strawberry Jam Print. Click through for the artist’s portfolio.

More Canning & Preserving Resources:



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A Homemade Snacks How-To

No, I’m not actually going to tell you how to make some of your favorite store-bought treats, but I am going to give you some ideas for who can and will.

This Saturday, March 9th, we are pleased to have Casey Barber, blogger and author, for a special Saturday session of our Hands-On Workshop Series. She will be demonstrating how to make marshmallow fluff, selling and signing copies of her book, and there will be FREE SAMPLES!! Unlike our other HOW workshops, no pre-registration is required for this event. So, we hope you’ll stop by for what promises to be a fun and tasty presentation.

If you’d like to cure your junk food cravings with something homemade instead of brought home, try one of these books from our extensive cookbook collection:

Fast Food Fix: 75+ Amazing Recipe Makeovers of Your Fast Food Restaurant Favorites by Devin Alexander – You know you want it. Now you can have it, but it will be better for you!

Classic Snacks Made from Scratch: 70 Homemade Versions of Your Favorite Brand-Name Snacks by Casey Barber – This is the one our Saturday presenter wrote (pictured above). Did you ever think of making funyuns or peeps at home? Well, you can!

The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying & Start Making by Alana Chernila – I’ve talked about this one before, but it’s worth repeating…

Unjunk Your Junk Food: Natural Alternatives to Conventional Snacks by Andrea Donsky and Randy Boyer – This is an Eat This, Not That for snack foods and drinks only. If you’re going to buy your treats, buy the best and healthiest treats you can.

Vegan Junk Food: 225 Sinful Snacks That Are Good for the Soul: No Meat, No Dairy, Lots of Love! by Lane Gold – For those who are following a vegan diet, lots of snacks foods to satisfy your sweet, and salty, tooth. Vegans need great treats too!

Salty Snacks: Make Your Own Chips, Crisps, Crackers, Pretzels, Dips, and Other Savory Bites by Cynthia Nims – When you make your own treats at home, you can control the ingredients. This means less preservatives and chemicals. They’re healthier and often tastier too!

America’s Most Wanted Recipes: Delicious Recipes from Your Family’s Favorite Restaurants by Ron Douglas – These recipes may not be the most low-calorie, but they’ll be cheaper, and probably better for you, than going out. There’s also More of America’s Most Wanted Recipes and America’s Most Wanted Recipes Just Desserts from the same author.

Remember to stop by the Main Library on Saturday at 11:00am for Casey’s homemade treats presentation. We’ll be in the Quiet Reading Room on the First Floor. I’ll be introducing her and then hanging out in the back row. I hope to see you there!

Happy Snacking!
-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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Mmm, Piiizzaaa…

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Apologies for the hunger this blog post is going to make you feel, but I must let it be known that today is National Deep Dish Pizza Day! The deep dish style of pizza was originally created in Chicago, which is why it is commonly referred to as Chicago-style pizza. Outside of big restaurant chains and grocery store freezers, this style of pizza is hard to find in Pittsburgh, and I personally know of only one independently run pizza joint that makes an authentic deep dish pie, Molly’s Pizza in Dormont. But fear not, you can always turn to library books to learn how to make your own at home:

Pizza: Grill It, Bake It, Love It! by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough

The Everything Pizza Book: 300 Crowd-Pleasing Slices of Heaven by Belinda Hulin

Pizza: Easy Recipes for Great Homemade Pizzas, Focaccia, and Calzones by Charles and Michele Scicolone

Pizza: More than 60 Recipes for Delicious Homemade Pizza by Diane Morgan and Tony Gemignani

Or, turn to some librarian approved websites to find some more tasty information, such as:

A deep dish pizza recipe from The Accidental Hedonist

-An entire website devoted to Homemade Gourmet Pizza

Deep dish pizza recipes from Epicurious.com

-A deep dish skillet pizza recipe from Vegetarian Times

Are there other deep dish pizza recipes that you can recommend, or perhaps a favorite Pittsburgh pizzeria that I’ve neglected? 



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