December Cook the Books! The Homemade Pantry Review and Wrap-Up!

People. It is January. This means that Cook the Books has come to an end!  I guessed that December would be a very slow month for Cook the Books and likely low on participation and that ended up being true. We know people have a lot going on this time of the year and, while there is generally a lot of cooking happening, it tends to be fairly specific cooking.  Perhaps cooking a big holiday meal for family. Or maybe some cookie-making from family recipes and traditions to keep intact.

Your fearless leader did very little cooking at all. In fact, I went into a major funk the end of November, then fell into a hole of relative debauchery mid-December, and shortly afterwards went to Oregon for the rest of the month and I made only 2 items.

grow and resist december cook the books

Deschutes Brewery, Bend, OR.  Instead of cooking.

Despite my vow to finally make yogurt, it didn’t happen. Neither did the crackers I promised I’d create.  I even gathered up all the ingredients to make chocolate pudding for the Babylady and my nephews at one point. But, it just didn’t happen.  No, I decided that zoning out, watching movies, practically live-streaming my random vacation thoughts and activities on Facebook, while drinking entirely too many assorted cocktails, would be a far better way for me to get through this first holiday without my Dad.

Sometime around Thanksgiving, I started emerging from my grief fog and began tallying up the losses of the past 3 years.  I began to open my eyes to the full spectrum of loss, beyond the obvious sense of loss surrounding my sweet Dad’s death. The things that were going on while my Dad was sick that I just couldn’t deal with or attend to during that time so they got pushed aside. For years. A grief and loss pile up. The loss of both our chocolate labradors, the ill effects of 3 years of intense stress on my health, on my relationship, on parenting, on our kiddo, my business, my career, friendships, finances, and just about everything that goes on in day-to-day life.  The inventory pretty much blows and the depth of it all has completely broadsided me.  And, while I know all I can do is wave my white flag and surrender, I don’t actually how to do that. So, I’ve been in a pretty bad place. Sad and totally overwhelmed at how to pick up all the pieces and shards of my life and put it back together again.

I didn’t cook much of anything in December. I don’t even really know what we ate.  I think I probably continued my arugula salad obsession and supplemented with peanut butter and jelly or breakfast-for-dinner until we went to Oregon.

grow and resist december cook the books

Metolius River near Sisters, OR (tributary of the Deschutes)

The Cooking:

Ready Mix Pancakes and Waffles (p.142):  The Babylady woke me up one morning and wanted to make pancakes. It was still somewhat dark outside (such is Seattle in winter) and I didn’t want to get out of bed, but it seemed a perfect time to mix up a batch of ready mix to have on hand since we make pancakes or waffles every week. In the past I’ve used Alton Brown’s version, which has all the same ingredients in slightly different proportions. If you haven’t whipped up your own pancake/waffle mix, I recommend it! It takes no time at all to make pancakes under any circumstances, but if you already have the dry ingredients mixed up ahead of time, it is even better. No pulling out recipes if you are like me and don’t remember proportions even if you make something 100 times, less dirty dishes, and it doesn’t take any longer to whip up a giant batch than it does just one.  The Homemade Pantry worked well!  I’d need to do a side by side with the AB version to see if I have a preference, but this is good!  With the dry ingredients mixed all you have to do is add the wet ingredients (buttermilk/milk/egg/butter/vanilla) and you are in action.

grow and resist december cook the books

Pancake helper

Best (Chocolate) Frosting (p.157):  The Babylady turned 6 a few weeks ago and got to bring cupcakes to school. She wanted a repeat of last year’s yellow cupcakes with chocolate frosting and sprinkles. You can’t go wrong with a classic.  The Ladyfriend begged me not to do anything different because the result last year was nothing short of perfection.  I promised not to mess with the yellow cake (I used Smitten Kitchen’s yellow cake recipe) even though I wanted to try the recipe in Homemade Pantry. Though, I couldn’t remember what recipe I used last year for the chocolate frosting.  It might have been the one attached to the yellow cake recipe. Or maybe this method. I’m still not sure. Though, not knowing gave me license to try the Homemade Pantry version, which is a cream cheese-butter-powdered sugar frosting with melted chocolate and cocoa (for the chocolate version). I gotta say, I wasn’t wowed. It was fine for sending cupcakes to kindergarten, but it was pale and just sort of blah. There are far better frosting recipes out there, so I wouldn’t use the chocolate method again. It just wasn’t very chocolately. However, if you are tempted to use that vile stuff in the can, then stop that nonsense and still make this.  Even though I won’t make this version again, it was easy, quick and a gazillion times better than the shelf stable chemical goop you’ll find in a can. Just don’t go there. Ever.

grow and resist december cook the books

‘cakes on the griddle! (cue John Denver)

The Participants:

Aimée at Homemade Trade had an impressive month, especially for a December.  She made beef stew, cereal snacks (car snack 1), chocolate pudding, peanut butter, buttermilk ranch dressing, potato leek soup, roasted butternut squash soup, and fruit gelatins.  Not too shabby! And, I will have to give the cereal snacks a try since I’m always on the look out for a new bar recipe!

Karen at Prospect: The Pantry is no stranger to the kitchen and DIY-kitchen projects. She decided to buy Homemade Pantry as a gift for someone who she thought would like making more things at home. Pretty great, right?  She tried out a few recipes including, potato chips, mixed roasted nuts, wheat crackers, chai, and vanilla extract.I think her recipient was pretty happy! She also had a broken camera, so no gorgeous photos from her this month!

The Review:

In full disclosure, a lot of the convenience or pantry items in the book are items I already regularly make, or have made, for our family. So, while there were a lot of items I wanted to try out for comparison sake, it wasn’t new information for my kitchen.  Yet, I know that, in that respect in the general population, I am probably an anomaly. I suspect many of you are in that as well given the niche of this blog.

  • Did the recipes taste good? They were good, basic recipes and a really good introduction to DIY pantry.

  • Would I use it again?  Yes. There were a few things I’d still like to try. The versions of granola bars and crackers, especially, since I’ve yet to find a go-to recipe for those items.

  • Is it reliable? Yes, the directions were clear and instructive and would be perfect for helping a new home cook feel confident in their ability to step away from pre-packaged foods and staples.

  • Can I replicate the recipes and are the results worth the effort?  I, regretfully, only tried 2 recipes with mixed results. I’d make the pancake mix again. And, as I mentioned, even though I didn’t love the frosting, for someone who is making their first frosting it was perfectly passable and light years ahead of canned versions.  So, in that context, I’m still calling it a win.

What I loved about this book, really loved, is that it makes so many things approachable for a beginner. So many people would love to start making their own bread, crackers, tortillas, buttermilk, vanilla, hummus, waffles, cake, etc from scratch but are totally intimidated on where to begin. This book is PERFECT for that person. Alana Chernila will hold your hand and walk you through the process of making hamburger buns, spaghetti sauce, salad dressings, soup, and more.  She discusses reasons to cook from scratch (real scratch, not the fake “I mix two processed boxed items together= cooking from scratch” idea) and helpful gadgets to have on hand. She does a great job encouraging the cook to get curious, find their sense of adventure, and just try something. More than likely, the cook will find that it isn’t hard, didn’t take much time, and tastes infinitely better than anything they could have purchased.  All that is to say, that The Homemade Pantry is perfect for a cook that wants to branch out and start making pantry staples on their own.

It’s a wrap. I’ve been picking out my favorite recipes from the full year of Cook the Books and will get that out in a few days.  If you’ve been following along, thank you. So much. It has been a really fun experience cooking with such focus this year. If you are curious, the list of all the books, with links to the reviews, is below.

grow and resist december cook the books

Three Fingered Jack from Black Butte Ranch (near Sisters), OR

Want to catch up with the year in review?

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November Cook the Books! The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook!

Oh, Tom, how I love your food and desserts! And, what a month it was. November was the perfect month to explore The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook with all the pies, tarts, and brunch-type foods. So, let’s get right to it, shall we?

grow and resist november cook the books dahlia bakery cookbook pie dough

My very first pie dough!

The Cooking:

Tom’s Tasty Tomato Soup with Brown Butter Croutons (p.342) I’ve think I’ve finally found my go-to tomato soup recipe! The soup was simple, quick, made with things you should have in your cupboard at all times (canned or preserved tomatoes, onions, garlic, and assorted spices). Despite using canned tomatoes, the soup tasted really fresh.  I used a bit less cream than it called for and it was fantastic. Go ahead and use the called for amount, if you prefer, but I tend to like my tomato soup on the blended-put-not-creamy side.

Grilled Cheese with Bacon and Avocado (p. 344) Grilled cheese AND bacon AND avocado! Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, I’ll just put it out there. It was just too effing much.  I might differ from other grilled cheese lovers here, but enough already.! Enough with the bigger-is-better philosophy. Just enough. More isn’t necessarily better. A lot of times, it is simply just too much. A grilled cheese sandwich with ~2 oz of cheese, 2 pieces of bacon, and ¼ of an avocado + a “generous spread” of butter on each slice is just too much.  Too much heavy greasiness and fat. Not in an avoiding-dietary-fat sort of way. No, I don’t go down that road. People need some amount of dietary fat. This is more in a “holy shit, that is a lot of greasiness-per-bite and I’m going to vomit if I eat it” sort of way.   It seems it is just how it is anymore though. When I go out to eat and see a grilled cheese on the menu it reads like a competition to see how many types of cheese and other items one can add to the sandwich. And, you know, I am not opposed to big ol’ messy sandwiches. I love them. But if the ingredients all you leave you with one big greasy mouth feel it is too much. Fine, keep the greasier elements. But add in some arugula. Or pickled vegetables of nearly any kind. Something. Just cut the grease with something. Please.

november cook the books dahlia bakery

Parsley Chive Scones (p.86)  I really like a savory scone and these were pretty good. We had them with the tomato soup, which was sort of ok. The recipe called for a teaspoon of lemon zest. In general I am a fan of lemon in zest in just about anything, but I found I liked the scones best on their own. Warm and savory, but with lemon, they were good. But paired with soup or eggs the combination was a bit off for me.

november cook the books dahlia bakery parsley chive scone

Sour Cream Coffee Cake with Cinnamon Streusel (p.106)  Oooh, now this was great!  What is not to love about butter, sugar, sour cream, and eggs?!  I used a mix of frozen blackberries and blueberries from summer.  Have company over or be ready to bring some to friends because it makes a full, thick 9 x 13 pan!  I’ll halve it next time since there are just 3 of us in our home.

Dahlia Bakery Granola (p.110) The awesome thing about granola is that you can customize it to your hearts content. Don’t like pecans? Leave them out. Have cranberries instead of apricots? Substitute. Keep the basics in very rough proportions and tinker away. I already have a granola recipe that I adore, but I’m always on the lookout for new additions or things I haven’t tried.  In my Cook the Books endeavors I am doing as little substitution as possible to get a true sense of the recipes as written, so I followed this completely except substituting pistachios for hazelnuts (don’t really like them).  This recipe was good. Really good. I didn’t like the addition of sesame seeds so when I make it again, I’ll leave those out.  But the proportions of wet-to-dry and add-ins to base all seemed spot on and, on the whole, I love it!

november cook the books dahlia bakery granola

Old-Fashioned Molasses Cookies with Fresh Ginger (p.135) These were a major hit. Both the Babylady and I love molasses and/or ginger cookies. I put in more fresh ginger than called for because I always wish the cookies I buy in coffee shops managed to keep the great molasses-i-ness but had more ginger.  I’m glad I did and they were an absolutely perfect soft molasses/ginger cookie. Oh, and he called for flattening them before cookie which I haven’t done with ginger  cookies before. I think I squished them a bit *too* much because they were pretty thin.  It didn’t matter though and they were still perfect. They are long gone and I am sad.

november cook the books dahlia bakery  molasses ginger cookies

Flaky but Tender Pastry Dough (p.183) Oh, how I sometimes regret getting rid of my food processor. Once I got the Vitamix, I rashly assumed I didn’t need the processor anymore and sold it on craiglist. The Vitamix is amazing for pretty much everything. Everything, that is, except for making pastry dough (or shredding cheese/grating carrots).  I managed to mix up some great dough anyway with the Kitchenaid. I used whole wheat pastry flour because for some reason I couldn’t find white pastry flour. Only whole wheat. Which, was fine, but still odd that I couldn’t find it.  I couldn’t find it at 3 stores. I really liked how it turned out using WW pastry flour, but would like to make it as written to compare.  Tom has very thorough instructions on how to roll, shape, and bake your crust whether it is single, double, or hand-held versions.  Follow closely what he says about edges (see the apple pie below, for what not to do).

grow and resist november cook the books dahlia bakery cookbook pie dough

ready to roll

Silk Chocolate Cream Pie (p.167)   Tom called for pecan crust, but we all hate pecans here, so I went for the flaky but tender pastry dough.  This was the first pie crust I ever made. And, it worked perfectly. I overcooked it a bit in the blind bake, but still it was as flaky as it could have been in the overcooked state.  And, 3 days later, it was still perfect! The crust wasn’t soggy. The chocolate wasn’t weepy. The whipped cream topping was still set. It was damn good. Which is saying a lot since I am not really a fan of chocolate desserts in general.

november cook the books dahlia bakery chocolate silk pie

Sugar Pumpkin Crème Pie (p.194) Pumpkin pie is usually pretty meh. Not bad. Not great. Just sort of dutifully makes it’s texturally weird appearance. When I saw Tom’s recipe for the sugar pumpkin crème pie, I was intrigued. Here was a pumpkin pie I could stand behind! The blind baked  flaky but tender pie crust is covered with a layer of crushed gingersnaps and butter and topped with the a mix of pumpkin purée with a crème anglaise. Yes. It was fantastic. When I make it again I’ll use a bit less heavy cream so it isn’t quite so rich, but oh.my.god. this pie is good.  We topped it with the sugar cranberries and some powdered sugared pastry leaves. I’m a pumpkin pie convert.

grow and resist november cook the books dahlia bakery

“Hot Buttered Rum” Apple Pie (p. 199)   Tom gives very clear instructions on how to use the tender but flaky pie dough. He tells us that because it is a softer dough, with a large proportion of pastry flour, that the rim should not be fluted or high (or otherwise decorated much) because it will collapse. Head this warning. Because if you do not, it will collapse and it will spill over. Being the pie newbie, I made cute leaf cut out edges that overlapped the edge of the pan.  I checked in on the pie and the crust was dripping down on the drip pan below. I quickly shoved it back up with a knife. It solved the problem, but resulted in a far-less pretty pie than it should have been. The pie was good though! I couldn’t taste the rum too much (or perhaps, I was too far into my Rye Sours** to notice….), but the pie was great! The crust was perfect, though ugly. The apples (gravenstein, as called for) I used got soft quicker than I expected, so I’d keep a better eye on that next time. But, first fruit pie, I’m calling it a success!

grow and resist november cook the books dahlia bakery  apple pie

Yes. This is a mess of a pie. Don’t judge. And, do not do as I did. No big edges. No decorations. Just roll and press. Or, it will fall drop over and your edges will completely fall off. Tom warned me. I will warn you.

I didn’t get to many things I wanted to make. Such as the English Muffins. Or the Coconut Cream Pie.  I won’t say I was too busy. We are all busy in our own ways and I’m trying to stop saying that. We all make choices. Instead of cooking when I could, I opted instead to commune with the sofa and a giant pile of old movies. Choices. And, in the end, I feel it was a pretty rocking mix of choices. A good start on The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook. And a good start on the embarrassingly long list of movies I haven’t seen. Win-win. The coconut pie is still coming this weekend though. It is my mom’s favorite also, so I saved it till she would be visiting.

grow and resist november cook the books dahlia bakery apple pie

but, no worries… it still tasted great!

The Review:

  • Did the recipes taste good? Totally. With the exception of the average scones (and the more-is-better-ification of the grilled cheese), I loved everything.
  • Would I use it again?  Yes. There are still a lot of things I need to get to. I’m still after the english muffins and coconut cream pie, as I mentioned. But I can’t wait to make the apple dumplings with date butter, peanut butter sandwich cookies,and the pear tart.
  • Is it reliable? Yes, the directions were clear and instructive. I really appreciated all the information about how to mix, roll, shape, and bake pastry dough. As a life-long pie dough avoider, it helped me feel confident.
  • Can I replicate the recipes and are the results worth the effort? Yes! None of mine were as pretty as the book versions. But everything turned out great and nothing was difficult.

So here we are– the end of the November review and starting up the last month of Cook the Books! with Homemade Pantry by Alana Chernila. Wow! Can’t wait to see what you do for December!
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**Rye Sour was the Thanksgiving cocktail of choice:  Proportions vary, but this is what we did: 2.5oz rye (we used Bulleit), 1 oz simple syrup, ¾ oz lemon juice. Shake with ice. Pour over ice. Give it a red wine float (we used a syrah). 

grow and resist november cook the books dahlia bakery rye sour

My float got mixed together. No worries. These things happen. Do note the ingenious makeshift toothpick for the orange peel & non-marischino cherry. Do ignore my chewed up thumb (willy-nilly gardening with a duct-taped in place pruning saw is a bad idea…)

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Cook the Books! December: The Homemade Pantry!

December! A year ago, Briggs and I schemed up this little thing we later called Cook the Books. We hashed out the details over beers at The Beveridge Pub, spent time in the library and bookstore pouring over possibilities, and ultimately decided to just go for it.  I dove into cookbooks and cooked with a purpose. For me, the cooking was an escape from the grief of my Dad’s illness, and ultimately his death, and a way to keep cooking when all I really want to do is crawl in bed and let everyone fend for themselves.  I ended up needing it, more than I ever could have known when we hatched the plan.

grow and resist cook the books homemade pantry

For the last month of Cook the Books we are going in a bit of a different direction.  We will dig into a book I’ve had my eye on since it was released, The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making. You already know that both Briggs and I like to push ourselves to grow a lot of edibles of all sorts, preserve, and create food from scratch. In fact, one of the varied reasons we both started blogging was because of an interest in preserving. We started with the Can Jam as a push to further our DIY-ways. Including a DIY-focused book in the Cook the Books lineup seemed natural.

So many of you already prepare meals regularly that don’t use boxes, cans, or so-called “convenience” items. A lot of you regularly preserve what is in season for use year-round. This book will cover things that you might still buy from the store that you could easily make at home.  Let’s face it: we all have different ideas of what makes something worth making yourself. Taste? Cost? Ease of making? Time? General interest? Availability? Ingredients?  It all plays into the equation.  For me, I know there are things I could make. Things I wish I was inclined to make, but I won’t for a variety of reasons.  But, there are other things that I know would be simple to make. Things that would be cheaper, tastier, and healthier if I made it myself.

It is fun to look through and see what we’ve already accomplished this year that are included in the book (pasta, corn tortillas, pie crust, and ice cream for starters). So, if you haven’t mastered some basics, you can meet up with them again! The book is loaded with things I haven’t tried to make (toaster pastries or fig “newtons” anyone?) and I’ve got my eye on a few things in particular.

  • Yogurt. I swear, this will be the month I finally make yogurt. If it kills me. I sort of can’t believe I don’t make my own yogurt. Or at least that I haven’t even tried.
  • Granola. I’m always on the look out. Then I can compare my usual method and the Dahlia Bakery recipe with the Homemade Pantry version.
  • Granola bar. Is there really a single store- or home-made that is actually good? And keeps well enough? And only has things I like?  I’ve not found it. And, with past long distance athletic endeavors I am certain I’ve tried nearly every store version ever made. And, they are all kind of different shades of horrid. We will see!
  • Ketchup. I’ve made it before, but I was the only one that liked it. Plus, I have a ton of tomatoes I have frozen from a bulk buy and I’d like to see if they are up for the ketchup challenge.
  • Pancake/Waffle mix. I’m a fan of Alton Brown’s pancake mix. It is tasty, flexible, and foolproof. But, I’m open to possibilities. And, I haven’t made up a mix in a while, despite making pancakes and waffles nearly every week.
  • Pudding. Because pudding rules and there just isn’t enough pudding in my life.
  • Graham crackers. On my long time list of things to make.
  • Regular crackers. I love crackers. All kinds of crackers. I have big plans for the crackers. Just you wait and see.

So, Cook the Bookers! That will round out the 2013 Cook the Books Challenge!  We are so glad to those of you that participated and grateful to those following along!
Get your post in by December 28/29th or so and we’ll get you in the final Wrap-Up.

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Want to catch up with the year in review?

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October Cook the Books! Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking Review and Wrap-up!

Fact: I had to leave the house on Tuesday to write and post our November Cook the Books selection because I can’t focus on much of anything.  My decision-making ability of late is also questionable. For example, instead of heading over to Alki Beach to watch the passing Orcas frolic, I hunkered down at a coffee shop to write on what turned out the best day to see them. Silliness, right?

grow and resist looking for orca whales puget sound

whale watcher?

The next day I was determined to see the whales if the made it back down to West Seattle. This meant, instead of doing an October Wrap-Up on Wednesday, I constantly refreshed screens and checked their progress on Orca Network and my n’hood blog.  This would all be well and good, if I was writing in the midst of the whale-obsessing. However, what I really did was wander around putzing with one thing after the next and accomplishing absolutely nothing.  I did rescue a stunned robin that thunked into our living room window. If you are a fellow bird-geek, you will understand there was a lot of distracting robin-watching and robin-petting to do. All in all, this meant very little writing occurred. I did however, see the Orcas and the robin flew up to my shoulder and landed (!!!) before flying away, so I’m still calling the day a win.

grow and resist cook the books puget sound

Seattle can be pretty great

Anyway. October. Cook the Books. Marcella Hazan. I really want to clap it out for Marcella. She is a legend for a reason and if you are following along but haven’t yet cooked from one of her cookbooks, make it your next cookbook purchase, download, or borrow.  Her reputation for producing cookbooks and recipes that are classic and perfect proved true.

grow and resist cook the books marcella hazan

Not too shabby, eh?

The Cooking:

Essentials is an enormous cookbook of  650+ pages. I knew I couldn’t get through the bulk of  her (very extensive list of) most requested and recommended recipes, but I wanted to make sure I tried out a few of the classics. I did, even if photographic evidence would seem otherwise. It rarely crosses my mind to photograph anything except for the Babylady. I’ll get better. I think.

  • Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter (p.152) The classic, seen-everywhere-on-the-internet version of basic red sauce. And, with good reason. It is simple. Foolproof. Pleasing. I think we all would have enjoyed it with a bit of garlic even better, but it is pretty great as written.
  • Roast Chicken with Lemons (p.326) A great roast chicken starts with a great chicken. No, no, not one my chickens. I am one of those urban farmers that won’t eat my own chickens. Don’t go hating on me. As a result of having chickens for eggs, I’ve developed a lot of chicken-eating issues. A story for another time. Let’s just say, if you are going to eat chicken, go for an organic, pastured, happy, hippie chicken. It really will taste light-years better. And if you think about all that goes on in chicken farming, it might be the only way you can stomach it at all. Ok, so maybe this isn’t the place to talk about all that. Again, another time. So, how did our organic, pastured, happy, hippie chicken taste  roasted in the classic and simple Marcella way (just 2 lemons)?  We all loved it! Gorgeous and tender, with wonderful subtle lemon drippings.
  • Minestrone alla Romagnola (p. 84) I love minestrone and this version is simple and perfect. Next time around I’ll use a titch less oil.
  • Bolognese Meat Sauce (p. 203) with Tagliatelle (p. 136) Hands down the best bolognese I have eaten ever. I will make it again and again and exactly as written.
  • Roast Pork with Vinegar and Bay Leaves (p. 419) The pork roast was seared in butter and oil and then slow cooked with vinegar, bay leaves, and peppercorns. Her tastiest, and most memorable, recipes are so simple. And so perfect. True confessions: I used a slow cooker instead of stove top. I know. I know. Marcella probably flipped in her grave. I was gone all day and had company coming over shortly after I got home and I didn’t really have a choice if I was going to pull dinner off. And you know what? I would do it again.  It was fantastic and fell apart like pulled pork (which is probably cooked too far for Marcella-approval, but also I think fall-apart pulled pork at pork at it’s very best).
  • Pork Loin Braised in Milk, Bolognese Style (p.417) Another Marcella classic with good reason. It was absolutely amazing. Tender, rich, and simple. I can’t wait to make it again (and again).  And, based on the success of the pork and vinegar in the slow cooker, I am going to try this and see how it goes. It may not work. I am certain she wouldn’t approve. But, I’m going to go for it. 
  • Pasta, in various forms, with machine (p. 130+) Marcella states that combining the flour and eggs by hand is the sensible way to make the dough. I will defer to her on that matter, as I am sure she is 100% correct. And, I don’t like mixing dough by hand. I detest bits of dough sticking wet to my hands. Someday I’ll give it a try, but in the meantime I found that the Kitchenaid + dough hook worked perfectly fine. And if the mixer is mixing, it should just go ahead and knead too, right? Right? I thought so. No judging.  I made enough pasta this month to finally feel comfortable in using my machine without thinking too much.  I still make an enormous mess and end with a floor covered with flour (especially with the help of the Babylady), but the pasta? It is good! I got a lot better at realizing when a section had gotten too long and I should cut it to avoid disaster on the next narrowing. I also figured out that thinner isn’t necessarily better. Rolling too thin nearly destroyed my ravioli attempt.

    Starting her young. Kids love making pasta!

    Starting her young. Kids love to make pasta!

I tried out a lot of sides, vegetables, and other assorted dishes as well.  The vegetable sides were all basic, yet so much better than it seemed like they should have been. I don’t know. I really, really loved the braised and sautéed vegetables. A lot.

  • Marinated Carrot Sticks (p. 56) I don’t think I’d had marinated carrots before giving the recipe a try.  They were a really nice do-ahead item to have ready. The carrots were partly cooked then mixed with garlic, oregano, some red wine vinegar and topped with olive oil. That is it.  It was nice to have along side a mix of other things (cheese, crackers, pickled items, and nuts in that case) for pre-dinner snacking for the guests and other family when I kicked them out of the kitchen. =)
  • Butter and Sage Sauce  (p. 192) with Tortelli/Ravioli Stuffed with Parsley and Ricotta (p. 210 & 140) Another of our favorites this month. As I mentioned above, I started rolling the pasta a bit thin, so some of them fell ripped open, but I think I’ve got it now. The filling was fantastic and we’ll be making it again and again. I loved the sauce because it not only tasted great, but only took only minutes and used sage from the garden. The Ladyfriend always prefers a red sauce, so we’ll try it that way next time.

    grow and resist cook the books marcella hazan

    ravioli in the making

  • Risotto with Bolognese Meat Sauce (p. 256) I made a double batch of the bolognese when I made it and chose to use the extras for risotto and I’m sad, sad, sad that I did.  It was the only truly unsatisfactory thing I made all month. Visually unappealing and we found the combination just off. It was a meal of heaviness without anything particularly tasty about it, which is strange because risotto is great. I already told you the Bolognese was great. But together? Not so much.
  • Sautéed Green Beans with Parmesan Cheese (p.472) Amazing what  a bit of butter and parmesan can do!
  • Sautéed Broccoli with Olive Oil and Garlic (p.477)  This would have been perfect, had I not cooked the crap out of the broccoli. I got sidetracked and it got way overcooked. And yet, it was gobbled up by all of us. I really liked the parsley addition. It was just a bit, but made ordinary broccoli taste somehow special.
  • Smothered Cabbage, Venetian Style (p. 479) A bit of a mishap here. I missed the part of the directions that said it needed at least 1.5 hours to cook until it was nearly serving time. In a rush, I pulled out the pressure cooker and got it cooked, but I don’t think it was nearly as good as it could have/would have been had I done it the long way.  Next time!
  • Braised Carrots with Parmesan Cheese (p.480) Everyone loved the sweet, buttery carrot nuggets. They were magic carrots, I swear. I want them again and again.
  • Celery and Potatoes Braised in Olive Oil and Lemon Juice (p.487) One of my favorites from the book. After my experience braising celery back in May with Tender/Nigel Slater it has been on my mind. Braising it with lemon juice and olive oil was perfect. I can’t describe it adequately, but the tender celery with lemon hasn’t left my mind since. Again, simple and perfect. 
  • Eggplant Cubes, Al Funghetto (p.497) Al funghetto basically means cooked in the way of how mushrooms were traditionally cooked. The eggplant needs to steep for awhile at first, then is sautéed with garlic, olive oil, and parsley. It enjoyed it and it made me wish I would have tried more of her eggplant recipes (particularly the eggplant parmesan and eggplant patties).
  • Braised Finocchio (Fennel) with Olive Oil (p.503) Do you like fennel? It is one of those love/hate things for sure. I happen to love it. Especially pickled. Swoon. I hadn’t ever cooked it before, but this ended up being another favorite of mine from the book. Braised fennel tastes entirely different to me than raw fennel. Somehow less fennel-y and more, I am not sure, earthier? More rustic? I don’t know, but if you even sort of like fennel, give this a try!
  • Sautéed Mushrooms with Olive Oil, Garlic, and Parsley (p.509) We made the mushrooms twice this month because they rocked. For some reason, my cooked mushrooms are always hit and miss. They were always ok, but never amazing. With Marcella’s instructions, the mushrooms retained  a great texture. Her method was to heat oil, then add mushrooms and turn to high.When the oil is soaked up, season and turn to low until they release their juices, then return again to high while the juices boil off.  Is that how all people sauté their mushrooms? I am not sure, I certainly hadn’t, but it resulted in perfect mushrooms both times.
  • Baked Red Beets (p. 558) & Beet Tops Salad (p. 559) I adore beets and they were great, but also not really a recipe to my mind. More of a suggestion. Roast beets and add some olive oil and red wine vinegar. And boil greens, then add olive oil and lemon juice. Good, but not earth-shattering. However, a cookbook of this scope includes the full realm of the things eaten at a meal, not just the more complicated items. I think it inspires you to think about options and the full meal when flipping through the book.
  • Shredded Carrot Salad with Arugula (p.549) Nothing to this salad at all really. Except a bit of olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt and the shredded carrots and arugula. It was nothing special, but also nice to have with a heavier meal.
  • A Farm Wife’s Fresh Pear Tart (p. 589) We used bosc pears and it was a winner. At first I wasn’t sure if I liked it because it didn’t taste very sweet. But then I decided that was what I loved most about it. It was a mellow, seasonal, not overly sweet, rustic, easy cake-like tart. Our lovely friends brought a fantastic bottle of Vin Santo (Italian dessert wine) that we opened and it sort of blew my mind how great it was. I think it might make any dessert taste better. I loved the wine. So much.
  • Italian Chocolate Mousse (p. 599) Mmm, mousse. The recipe was very similar in technique to the method in Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table (January’s selection) and turned out as wonderfully. Marcella’s version adds rum and espresso that I loved.

    grow and resist cook the books marcella hazan

    vin santo and pear tart

The Review:

Recipe/writing style:

  • Did the recipes taste good? Oh my goodness, yes. So good.
  • Would I use it again? Yes, I am not ready to move on actually.
  • Is it reliable? Yes!
  • Does it use real food? Yes
  • Can I replicate the recipes and are the results worth the effort? Marcella really spelled out each step in her recipes and, as a result, the recipes come out great. The results were worth it. For the most part, none of the recipes are difficult. Many do need a quite a bit of chopping (which I love) and some attention paid along the way, but the techniques themselves are not hard at all.  I think she did a great job describing all the steps along the way and would make anyone a better home cook.

I love Marcella’s bossiness. She declared “Outside of spinach, no other coloring can be recommended as an alternative to basic yellow pasta. Other substances have no flavor, and therefore have no gastronomic interest. Of, if they do contribute flavor, such as that of the deplorable black pasta whose dough is tinted with squid ink, its taste is not fresh. Pasta does not need to be dressed up, except in the colors and aromas of its sauce.”   She didn’t mince words!

There is a lot of must, right away, that instant, etc  In fact, she tells us that “once the pasta is sauced, serve it promptly, inviting your guests and family to put off talking and start eating.”  Shut it peeps, pasta is on! Marcella meant business! There is a time for talking and a time for eating! I like to envision an elderly, badass woman in the kitchen telling it like it is and I love it.

One think I will note, especially for any of you that don’t tend to read your recipes very thoroughly (ahem, *gives self the beady eye*), you will really want to do what you can to focus while you are reading the recipe through a few times. Her instructions are lengthy and wordy, and while I appreciate the information and it was helpful, my mind tends to wander off and I miss instructions, (rather key timing things such as cook for 1.5-2 hours), until was too late. My mind is so scattered lately that I don’t make it through many paragraphs, particularly instructions, without spacing out. At one point, with company over, I was trying to braise or sauté 4 things at once and get the timing and directions sorted out. While drinking Manhattans. I finally had to have my friend read it and tell me what to do because I could not focus enough to retain the words. As a note, trying to braise or sauté 4 things that need to be served immediately upon finishing at the same time is not necessarily an endorsed method by anyone really. Especially while drinking Manhattans and laughing with friends. But, somehow, I pulled it off.

I finally remedied this by underlining key timing and such as if I was studying for a test so I the key bits would stand out and hopefully grab my attention.  Just a tip in case you have a wandering mind or have 8 things happening around you at any one time.

The Participants:

We had fewer participants this month than usual, but those that played along and got a post up cooked a lot!

Angela & JK at Tea Time Adventures both realized that cooking an Italian meal for a small group is hard when you want to try a lot of selections! So, why not make it a feast and invite a bunch of friends?  I agree!  As far as planning, they discovered the menu plans near the end of the book and built their menu from the bottom up, based on the dessert JK wanted to make. Following the Rustic Menu, II they served up: Piadina- Flat Griddle Bread (p 641) with Sauteed Mixed Greens with Olive Oil and Garlic (p 505), Pork Sausages with Smothered Onions and Tomatoes (p 429), Shredded Carrot Salad (p 549), Baked Red Beets (p 558), and the Ciambella–Grandmothers Pastry Ring (p 592)- served with Limoncello. Plus, they added: Polenta (p 274 using butter and aged gouda), Orange and Cucumber Salad (p 552), and Banana and Rum Gelato (p 611). They subbed in wheat flour in the piadina, switched up the greens in the sautéed mixed greens, and added a chocolate-wine sauce to the dessert– all changes they enjoyed. Assorted drinks were served, members of their group declared it the best Italian meal they had tasted, and it sounds like a good time was had by all!  Well done! 

Aimée at Homemade Trade tried out the Tomato, Onion and Basil Frittata (p 281) and substituted cherry tomatoes, broccoli, kale, along with fresh sage and thyme.  She made the classic, and perfect for fall, Minestrone alla Romagnola (p 84-6). I agree, simple ingredients=magic, in this case. Aimée also made: Pan-Roasted Potatoes with Anchovies, Genoa style (p.524)Foccaccia with Rosemary (p. 620), and Eggplant Parmesan (p.494).  I can’t believe I didn’t make foccaccia or eggplant parmesan, so I’m glad you did.  Good tip on the sea salt on top of the foccaccia! Yours looked amazing.  She declares her favorite thing about the cookbook is that she didn’t want to stop cooking from it. You nailed it!  The sign of a perfect cookbook and I totally agree. I am still pouring over it.

Oh, and as an aside, if you are a cooking legend, you probably do not want Aimée embarking on a cooking project focusing on your work. As she noted, not only did Marcella pass away, and the beginning of this month’s Cook the Books,  but cookbook author Marion Cunningham died during the same time that Aimee was exploring The Breakfast Book last year. Eeegads, that certainly isn’t a good track record! And, yet, what better way could there be to pay homage to such influence that to cook on with gusto?

Karen at Prospect: The Pantry outdid herself, as usual! Karen already had well-loved copies of two earlier Marcella Hazan cookbooks: The Classic Italian Cookbook  and More Classic Italian Cooking.  She didn’t plan to get a copy of The Essentials book we were using this month, but ultimately did and it sounds like she is happy she did.  She cooked some recipes that were found in all 3 of her Hazan cookbooks, including some that were already her family favorites, but changed somewhat in Essentials.  You’ll want to check her post out for some differences between the 3 texts. Ready for it?

  • Pan-roasted Chicken with Rosemary, Garlic and White Wine (p 329 Essentials/p. 304 in Classic)
  • Baked Bluefish Fillets with Potatoes, Garlic, and Olive Oil  (Essentials p.306/Baked Bluefish with Potatoes, Genoese Style (Pages 208/ More Classic)
  • Sweet and Sour Tuna Steaks, Trapani Style ( Essentials p.302/More Classic p.221)
  • Steamed Fish between Two Plates (p 218/More Classic)
  • Penne with Ricotta and Spinach Sauce (p. 147/More Classic) I saw the version on page 162 in Essentials, but it included ham so I’m not sure if it is the same or not. What do you think?
  • Pasta and Pesto with Potatoes and Green Beans (p. 178/Essentials)
  • Bolognese Sauce (p.203 Essentials/p.127-128 in Classic)
  • Braised Pork Chops with Sage and Tomatoes, Modena Style (p.422 Essentials/p. 293 More Classic)
  • Sausages with Red Cabbage (p. 429 Essentials/ p.302 More Classic)
  • Orange and Cucumber Salad (p.552 Essentials/p. 414 More Classic)
  • Radicchio and Warm Bean Salad (p.556 Essentials/p. 415 More Classic under Endive and Cranberry Bean Salad)
  • Apples baked with Macaroons (p.603 Essentials/ 441-442 in More Classic)

Wow, right? It looks like I completely overlooked some standouts! I’ll be hitting up the Pasta and Pesto with Potatoes and Green Beans and the Baked Apples soon!  In fact, I want the apples right this minute. (I also just noticed the Chilled Black Grape Pudding on the following page…intriguing!)


So folks, that wraps up October! Coming up next is The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook introduced here.  Are you ready to get your baked goods on?

too unseasonably sunny to stay home and write

It was too unseasonably sunny to stay home and write, plus there are seals! And orcas!

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Cook the Books! November: The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook

November Cook the Books is from local restaurateur and bakery owner, Tom Douglas.  The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook.  I have high hopes for the cookbook because of 2 items: Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies and Coconut Cream Pie. The cookies are worth a trip downtown to get and savor. They contain the absolute perfect amount of crunch to creamy and salt to sweet.  And the pie! Friends, I have a wicked coconut cream pie love. Sure, fruit pies are fine and well, but I’m partial to a good cream pie. And coconut cream is the pinnacle of that desire.  The Coconut Cream Pie at Dahlia is probably the best I have ever tasted in many, many years.

A long time ago, perhaps 11 or 12 years, a group of friends of mine were going camping at Lake Wenatchee before a century-bike ride. Driving around town after work and trying to get out-of-town on a Friday at rush hour, I was in a full on (what I now recognize as) anxiety attack.  Already panicky, I made my last stop to pick up my dear friend (and amazing chef), Chuck.  He walked out toting an enormous secret box that he needed to put in my already cramped car. And this box apparently had to be kept upright. And not jostled.  And, yes, it had to come along. And, no, I couldn’t know what was inside. In my anxiety-state, I had no patience with this egregious behavior. None. Luckily, some small grasp on reality kept me from totally losing it and tossing him and the box, out of the car. Thank goodness, because  once at the campsite, Chuck unveiled the contents: a perfect, made-by-him-for-me coconut cream pie. On a decorative, green metal and enormous cake stand. I was stunned. Not only at the outpouring of friend-love and that my sense lavish tent camping had been met, but the pure perfection of his pie. I still want that pie.  (Moral of the story: Don’t freak out on your friends. They *might* have pie. And, klonopin? Helpful. Very helpful.)

cook the books november dahlia bakery cookbook

Not a fan of coconut? Not to worry. The book boasts 125 recipes covering everything from pastries to brunch, pies and tarts to cookies, cakes to éclairs, ice cream, and a side-step to tomato soup.  I have my eye on a few things already:

  • Apple dumplings with medjool date butter (yes, please!)
  • Pear Tarts with caramel sauce (I won’t be making puff pastry any time soon, but this recipe is gorgeous and will be made at some point)
  • Banana Cream Pie with chocolate. (Mmmm, my second favorite cream pie)
  • English muffins (The Babylady has been mentioning wanting to make them, so bonus!)
  • Tomato Soup. Probably with Parsley-Chive Scones.  (‘Tis the season)
  • Sour Cream Coffee Cake (I’m a sucker for new-to-me coffee cake recipes)
  • Sugar Pumpkin Crème Pie (fact: I detest regular pumpkin pie, despite loving pumpkin. In looking over the recipe, it seems I might convert)

What will you make? As usual, get your hands on a copy of the book and try out a few things. Get flour covered. Make a mess. Try a new technique. Write it up before the end of the month and send the link of your post to cookthebookschallenge@gmail.com to be included in the end of the month wrap up.  We love hearing how you are incorporating the cookbooks in your life!

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