24 October 2019

6 Brand New Cookbooks for Modern Cooks and Families

Oh how the gods laugh when you make grandiose plans. I planned to cook and bake my way through heaps of cookbooks during our recent working trip to Maine. The bomb cyclone, including 90-mph winds, downed trees, and no power, turned my plans upside down. Ooops!

Still, I want to write about another batch of awesome cookbooks that have October 2019 birthdays. A couple of these are geared to those of you on special diets (such as keto), one focuses on my beloved cast iron, and others are for shared meals.

I bet you'll find at least one cookbook that calls to you.

review of The Family Dinner Project's Eat, Laugh, Talk: The Family Dinner PlaybookAlthough I don't have kids, I'm a strong believer in the family dinner. Mr. BFR and I sit down at the dinner table--without books, phones, or television--pretty much every single night. Besides the obvious need to nourish ourselves with good food, we look forward to reconnecting after a busy day. If you have the same tradition or wish you did, The Family Dinner Project's Eat, Laugh, Talk: The Family Dinner Playbook (Familus, Oct. 1) is the cookbook for you. As The Family Dinner Project (TFDP), notes, they have "a singular goal: to help families gather for dinner over food, fun, and conversation." There is so much to love about this cookbook, such as (1) an easygoing attitude about feeding the family; (2) recipes that are easy tasty, and affordable;  (3) and the focus on fun. The beginning of Eat, Laugh, Talk gives you tons of tips on how to transform dinnertime into fun family time, even if you have picky eaters and busy schedules. The book provides recipes for 52 complete meals (mostly dinners), including conversation starters and games (geared to different age groups) to encourage participation and to strengthen connections. The menus include vegetarian meals, family favorites, global flavors, breakfasts, hearty dinners, and light salads. For each meal TFDP provides ideas for family fun, such as conversation-starting questions, guessing games, and word games. The cookbook is also full of terrific tips for busy cooks, such as how to get your kids to help, how to use your freezer, how to organize a community dinner, and shopping tips. Recipes to try: African Curry with Coconut Rice, Lightning Fast Lemon Pepper Chicken, and a Taco Bar.

review of Christos Sourligas and Evdokia Antginas's My Big Fat Greek CookbookI love Mediterranean flavors, so it's no surprise that Christos Sourligas and Evdokia Antginas's My Big Fat Greek Cookbook: Classic Mediterranean Soul Food Recipes (Skyhorse, Oct. 22) caught my attention. This cookbook is all about the family favorites of a Greek American family. More than a cookbook, though, this is Sourligas's tribute to his terminally ill mother (Antiginas), both preserving her recipes and sharing his love for her with the world. I loved the stories and photographs and, though I'm not Greek, could totally relate to the importance food has had in Sourligas's life: it's comforting, it's healing, it's the center of happy times and sad times. One of the things that makes My Big Fat Greek Cookbook different from other Mediterranean cookbooks is that it contains authentic family recipes, not the spa version of Greek food. Note too the recipes use easy-to-find ingredients, and most of the new-to-me items were available at my supermarket (go Wegman's!). We tried the egg-lemon meatball soup and loved the little hint of mint and comforting flavors. Mr. BFR loves Greek-style green beans, so I was thrilled to see a recipe for them, which I'll be trying soon, along with the roast lamb. I'm thinking the Walnut Cake for dessert. Bring on the cold weather!

review of Weeknight Baking: Recipes to Fit Your Schedule by Michelle LopezAdmit it. Sometimes you just want a little something sweet after dinner or with your afternoon cup of tea or coffee. I'm way too lazy to run out to the bakery to satisfy a craving, and I'm often too busy to spend hours in the kitchen. Enter Weeknight Baking: Recipes to Fit Your Schedule by Michelle Lopez (Simon & Schuster, Oct. 29). Lopez is well-known as the writer, baker, and photographer who owns the blog Hummingbird High. Her blog (which was new to me) and her cookbook are all about how to bake even when you don't think you have time to bake. Some recipes can be whipped up--start to finish--after work; others will come together over a couple of evenings. Either way, you really can fit baking into your busy life. The beginning of Weeknight Baking is all about stocking your pantry, but Lopez includes a great section on tons of substitutions, just in case you don't have the "right" chocolate or milk. I think my favorite chapters are the loaf cakes, the sheet (or pan) cakes and bars, and the drop cookies. But the layer cakes, cupcakes, tarts, and rolled cookies look pretty tempting. Especially with Lopez's homemade frosting. Oh, did I mention the muffins and scones? Yeah, they're in the cookbook too. Throughout the book, you'll find lots of tricks and tips and guides, which up the success factor and turn down the stress. I swear this book is going live on my kitchen table. Note that Lopez includes a chapter on vegan and gluten-free baking, so be sure to browse the recipes if you or your loved ones have dietary restrictions.

review of Sarah Anne Jones's The Keto Sheet Pan CookbookI don't follow any particular diet, although we are big believers in home-cooked meals and eat plenty of vegetarian dinners. We do, however, have friends and family who follow a vegan, gluten free, or keto diet. When I saw Sarah Anne Jones's The Keto Sheet Pan Cookbook: Super Easy Dinners, Desserts, and More (Skyhorse, Oct. 1), I thought it would make a good addition to my collection. Before reading this cookbook, I didn't know much about the keto diet, beyond the fact that it avoided carbs. I was concerned that it was all meat, all the time, but really it's more diverse than that. The Keto Sheet Pan Cookbook includes meal planning tips, nutritional information, buying guides, and ingredient guides. Now to the recipes. I haven't yet cooked from this book, but I like the looks of the oven-baked fritattas (how perfect for a Sunday morning when you have guests), the Jamaican Jerk Chick with Turnips (we like spicy), Pesto Chicken Tenders with Green Beans (looks like a good weeknight dinner), Kielbasa and Cabbage (another simple dinner), Beef and Broccoli (without the rice), Chipotle-Lime Shrimp (yum!), and more. The desserts interest me less because I'm not a fan of the sugar substitutes, but if you're following a keto diet, you'll probably be happy to have recipes for Texas Sheet Cake, No-Bake Peanut Butter Bars, and Lemon Bars.  I'm not going to argue the benefits (or not) of the diet, and my initial interest was purely to find a way to safely feed my keto friends. But I'm really happy to have discovered another source of sheet pan recipes that we'll use often. There's no keto police, I can go ahead and add rice or quinoa if I want.

Review of Food by Mark HymanFood: What the Heck Should I Cook?: More than 100 Delicious Recipes--Pegan, Vegan, Paleo, Gluten-free, Dairy-free, and More--For Lifelong Health by Mark Hyman (Little, Brown Spark, Oct. 22) offers another source of recipes for various modern diets. You may have heard of Hyman from his "Sugar Solution" books and because he is associated with Cleveland Clinic. I've always liked his no-nonsense approach to good food and good nutrition and his practical recipes. First off, I want to thank Hyman for marking the recipes with icons so I can tell at a glance which recipes will fit which diets. Food contains a lot of information about diets, ingredients, the environment, and health before moving along to the recipes. The recipes rely heavily on coconut and avocado oils, non-wheat flours, and other ingredients you might not have in the house, unless you're already following a nonstandard diet. The soups and stews chapter is the one I'm most likely to turn to, although some of the heartier main dishes caught my eye: Slow Cooked Chicken Thighs with Kale and Delicata Buckwheat Bowls. The cookbook ends with desserts, sauces, spice blends, bone broths, and a gluten-free bread. If you are sticking to a specific diet for whatever reason, I bet you find some new favorites in this cookbook. I'm not quite sure it's for me, since I'm more in the Michael Pollan camp; however, I like having resources for feeding others.

Review of Cast-Iron Cooking for Two by Joanna PruessAs you know, I love my cast iron. I own maybe eight skillets and use at least one of them pretty much every day. Cast-Iron Cooking for Two: 75 Quick and Easy Skillet Recipes by Joanna Pruess with photos by Noah Fecks (Skyhorse, Oct. 1) seemed like the cookbook for me. Pruess jumps right into the recipes, which are divided into familiar chapters from breakfast to dessert. Cast-Iron Cooking for Two offers a variety of dishes to get through your average workweek (Grilled Cheese with Bacon and Beer-Braised Onions) to the little more unusual (Sweet Potato Pancakes with Asian Brussels Sprouts Slaw). Mains range from savory vegetarian bread pudding to game hens and lamb shanks and lots of everyday dinners in between. The desserts are fruit forward (crisps, clafoutis), although there's a skillet brownie recipe too. I love that the meals are on a small scale. Although I have no problem eating leftovers, it's nice to cook something that we can eat in one night. If you have four people to feed, I don't think you'd have any problem doubling up on most recipes, especially the breakfasts, sides, and mains. The cookbook ends with tips on cooking with cast-iron, how to clean and care for your pans, and information on buying skillets if you don't already own one. Like I said, I'm a big fan of cast-iron and will be cooking out of this book often. I especially have my eye on the After Thanksgiving Breakfast Hash . . . what a great way to eat up some of the holiday bounty.


bermudaonion 10/24/19, 8:15 AM  

When we eat together, it's always at the table. If someone took the trouble to prepare a meal, I think everyone else should sit together to enjoy it.

Vance will be buying a house next week so cookbooks will be under the tree for him this year. I'm going to check out Eat, Laugh, Talk! to see if it would work for him.

rhapsodyinbooks 10/24/19, 2:18 PM  

Eat, Laugh, Talk has such a clever premise. But I'm going out to look for Weeknight Baking, because I'm always looking for ways to turn what I have on hand into something sweet!

Jackie McGuinness 10/26/19, 8:05 AM  

We got into the bad habit of eating on trays in front of the TV. BUT I got a new carpet and we decided we should go back to eating at the table and it is working well, although the TV is on...

I get frustrated with gluten free recipes as they make a big fuss and require all kinds of special ingredients. I just do it, only I now have more flours than I used to. The AP GF flours work great. I love that I'm trying out other, less expensive (than AP GF) flours like almond, coconut and chickpea.

I have been baking more often in the afternoons lately. My goal is to stock my freezer with lots of goodies, but it is hard as John loves having something sweet in the afternoon and we both like loaves for breakfast.

(Diane) bookchickdi 10/27/19, 4:58 PM  

The cast iron cooking for two sounds perfect for me.

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