Off The Shelf: Poor Girl Gourmet

I recently came across this book: Poor Girl Gourmet: Eat in Style on a Bare-Bones Budget by Amy McCoy.  Overall, I was impressed. The book included delicious, health-conscious meals that are aimed at not costing you a fortune. In fact, the author gives you the estimated cost for each dish and how she figures the cost to break down.

The book includes pictures of most of the recipes, which is always a plus. It doesn’t have the layout finesse of a top-dollar publication, but it is attractive nonetheless and easy to flip through. At times I found the author’s instructions somewhat convoluted, but not to the point of making the recipe too hard to figure out. I  should also mention that the book tends toward the Italian flavors.

Recipes include such things as: Spicy Carrot Ginger Soup, Harvest Salad with Honey-Balsamic Dressing, Tomato Tart, Chicken in Cider Gravy, Roasted Carrots with Thyme, Honey-Mustard Coleslaw, Butternut Squash Risotto, Calzones, Cornmeal Crust Peach Crostata, and Banana-Wheat Muffins.

I chose to try the Chicken, Sausage, and Kale Soup. At first I wondered if this soup would be anything special. By the time dinner was finished I was already looking forward to leftovers and planning to put the recipe in my company dinners file. The soup was really, really good.

CHICKEN, SAUSAGE, AND KALE SOUP
(Poor Girl Gourmet)
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1 whole cooked chicken breast, cut crosswise into 1-inch strips
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (I used a bit less)
1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled, trimmed, coarsely chopped
1 celery stalk, trimmed, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp. dried thyme, or 1 Tbsp. fresh
1/8 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
2 (6-inch) links sweet Italian sausage (approximately 1/2 pound), casings removed, meat cut into 1/2-inch pieces
4 cups chicken broth
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, including liquid
1 bunch kale (approximately 3/4 pounds), washed, stemmed, coarsely chopped
Kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

While the chicken roasts, prepare the other ingredients. (Bake it covered in a 350F oven until cooked, about 20-30 minutes.)

Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot — at least 6-quart capacity, as the kale starts off as quite a gargantuan pile — over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic and saute — you are in the soffritto phase of this soup now — until the whole lot is softened and has blended together such that the color is leaning toward orange, 10 to 15 minutes.

Add the thyme and crushed red pepper flakes, then add the sausage — you should have in the neighborhood of 24 pieces of 1/2-inch sausage from the two links, in the event that you are curious — cooking until the sausage is lightly browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the broth, the beans with their liquid, and the kale.

Add the chicken pieces to the pot, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the massive pile of kale is fully incorporated into the soup, 20 to 25 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste, and serve it forth.

Serves 4.

Note: I served ours with a dollop of pesto on top, but it was equally good the next day without!

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Off The Shelf: New Flavors For Vegetables

New Flavors for Vegetables put out by Williams-Sonoma is a beautiful book filled with fresh, seasonal ideas for vegetables. Arranged by season, you will find inspiration for even the commonest vegetable. Admittedly, some of the recipes may seem a bit too gourmet for regular cooking, but not all are complicated. Have a look at some of the recipe titles:

SPRING: snow pea and radish salad, sautéed english peas with garlic and sesame, steamed new potatoes with chive oil, quick two-pea saute with basil and pecorino, roasted asparagus with fried eggs and parmesan.

SUMMER: green beans with creamy tarragon dipping sauce, spicy okra stew, sautéed yellow pear tomatoes with arugula pesto and feta, spicy cucumber salad with roasted peanuts, marinated summer vegetables grilled on rosemary skewers, creamed corn with chipotle chiles.

FALL: stir-fried broccoli with cashews and dark soy sauce, roasted beets with orange and herbed goat cheese, roasted acorn squash with chipotle and cilantro, caramelized cauliflower with honey and smoked paprika, glazed carrots with coriander, roasted root vegetables with indian curry and cilantro.

WINTER: spicy roasted potatoes with cool yogurt dipping sauce, gingered winter squash with pear puree, braised mustard greens with pancetta and lemon, braised winter vegetables with coconut and red curry, individual swiss chard gratins.

We tried the Sautéed Baby Spinach with Lemon Zest and Cream. This was beyond my expectations. It was so good. I’ve never had such mild, sweet (as in naturally sweet), delicious creamed spinach before. I would love to make this again. (Yes, I know fresh spinach is not cheap. Save this recipe for when you find some on sale.)

SAUTEED BABY SPINACH WITH LEMON ZEST AND CREAM
(New Flavors for Vegetables)

1 cup heavy cream
1 lemon
2 pounds baby spinach
1 tsp. sugar
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pour the cream into a saucepan. Using a vegetable peeler, peel 2 stripes of lemon zest, each 2 inches long from the lemon. Set the lemon aside. Add the zest strips to the cream and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook the cream, stirring occasionally, until reduced by half, about 8 minutes; watch that the cream does not boil too vigorously. Remove the zest strips and discard.

Remove any tought stems from the spinach leaves and rinse them well in a colander. heat a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the spinach, with the rinsing water still clinging to the leaves. Sprinkle with the sugar and toss well. Cover the pan and cook the spinach for 3 minutes. Uncover and toss the leaves well. Continue to cook, uncovered, until the spinach is wilted and tender, 1-2 minutes.

Place the spinach in a colander and, using a wooden spoon, press on it firmly to remove all the excess liquid. Chop the drained spinach coarsely and add it to the pan with the reduced cream. Finely grate the remaining lemon zest and add to the spinach (reserve the fruit for another use). Season the spinach with a pinch of salt and about 1/2 tsp. pepper and stir well to combine. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until just heated through, 2-3 minutes.

Transfer the spinach to a warmed serving bowl and serve right away.

Serves 4.

Off The Shelf: Rustic Fruit Desserts

Rustic Fruit Desserts by Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson is a scrumptious book filled with crumbles, buckles, cobblers, pandowdies and more. It’s the kind of book I want on my shelf. And, it’s the kind of book I would cook from as often as my conscience would allow. I think I might just have to put it at the top of my wish list.

The book is arranged by seasons. Take a look at some of the contents: Apple and Rhubarb Pandowdy, Sour Cherry Cobbler, Rhubarb Cream Cheese Pie with Fresh Strawberries, Upside-Down Sweet Cherry Cake, Double-Crusted Pluot Crisp, Apricot Raspberry Cobbler, Stone Fruit Slump, Caramel Peach Grunt, Maple Apple Dumpling, Huckleberry Buckle, Pumpkin Custard with Cookie Crumb Crust, Pear Cobbler with Shingled Hazelnut Biscuits, Cranberry Buckle, Apple Cobbler with Cheddar Cheese Biscuit, Caramelized Pear Bread Pudding, and Deep-Dish Winter Fruit Pie with Walnut Crumb.

I chose to try the Blueberry Cobbler with Cornmeal Biscuit. The sweet berries, combined with a not-so-sweet but rather soft and creamy biscuits, were delightful. I even gave in and served the leftovers to my kids for breakfast. Yum!

BLUEBERRY COBBLER WITH CORNMEAL BISCUIT
(Rustic Fruit Desserts)

1 Tbsp. butter, at room temperature, for dish

Fruit filling:
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/2 fine sea salt
3 dry pints (6 1/2 cups or 2 pounds) blueberries, fresh or frozen
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 1/2 lemon)

Biscuit:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup fine cornmeal
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. fine sea salt
1/2 cup cold, unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 cup cold heavy cream
4 tsp. turbinado sugar

Preheat the oven to 375F. Butter a 2-quart baking dish.

To make the fruit filling, rub the sugar, cornstarch, and salt together in a large bowl. Add the blueberries and toss to combine, then gently stir in the lemon juice. Spoon the fruit mixture into the prepared pan, being sure to scrape the bowl well.

To make the biscuit, whisk the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl. Add the butter and toss until evenly coated. Using your fingertips or a pastry blender, cut in the butter until the size of peas. Pour in the cream and stir just until the mixture comes together.

Divide the dough into 8 pieces and pat each piece into a 3-inch biscuit. Evenly distribute the biscuits atop the fruit filling, then sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon of the turbinado sugar on each biscuit.

Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the biscuits are golden and the filling is bubbling in the middle. Serve warm.

Storage: This cobbler is best if eaten the day it is made. Covered with a tea towel, any leftovers will keep at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Serves 8.

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Off The Shelf: Bean Appetit

Bean Appetit by Shannon Payette Seip, Kelly Parthen, and Carisa Dixon is a captivating cookbook for children. Its goal is to get kids excited about healthy eating. It certainly did just that for my daughter who couldn’t wait to try out several of these recipes.

The chapters cover topics such as: breakfast, snacks, going to the market, outdoor eating, food art, cooking-themed birthday party, winter food, summer food, international food, tea party, and book-themed food. There are activities and games interspersed with the recipes, making for a very fun book.

We tried the Stick Stacks and the Stack ‘N’ Sip — both were much enjoyed by my children (not to mention me!).

STACK ‘N’ SIP
(Bean Appetit)
Print this recipe

Make 3 different colored smoothies. Pour one color in the bottom of a glass. Layer the second smoothie on top. Add a top layer using the final smoothie. It’s a triple-decker drink!

Note: We used blueberry, banana, and strawberry smoothies.

STICK STACKS
(Bean Appetit)
Print this recipe

1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp. packed light brown sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
2 Tbsp. flax meal
pinch of ground cinnamon
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. butter, softened
1 cup milk
4 strawberries, cut widthwise into slices
2 kiwis, peeled and sliced widthwise into circles
1/4 cup blueberries (we used blackberries)

maple syrup, for serving

Chant “Pancakes! Pancakes!” as you combine the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, flax meal, and cinnamon.

Combine the eggs and vanilla in a mixing bowl. Add the butter and milk. Slowly add the egg mixture to the flour mixture. Stir until smooth. Chill in the freezer for 5 minutes.

Preheat a griddle to low. Lightly spray the griddle with nonstick spray. Ladle the pancake mixture onto the griddle to make 2-inch mini pancakes.

When the pancakes start to bubble lightly and the edges turn golden brown, flip them over. all the bitty bakers should flip around the kitchen, as if they were just flipped with a spatula. Cook on the other side for 1 to 2 more minutes, until the pancakes come off the griddle easily with a spatula.

Layer the pancakes and fruit on the skewers. Dip in maple syrup and eat one layer at a time.

Makes 12 to 14 mini pancakes.

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Off The Shelf: Eating History


Eating History: 30 Turning points in the Making of American Cuisine, by Andrew F. Smith, is not a cookbook, but rather a book of essays showing how Americans’ diets have evolved throughout the history of our country to get to the point we are at now.

Some may find this book a bit dry. Others, who love both history and food, will find it fascinating as they discover things like the effect of the Erie Canal on the average diet, the role of religion in the development of modern cold cereal, how war opened the way for our present-day reliance on canned goods, and how the development of various diets has affected the food available in our grocery stores.

Other fascinating chapters include: Cyrus McCormick’s Reaper, Gail Borden’s Canned Milk, Fair Food, Wilbur O. Atwater’s Calorimeter, Fannie Farmer’s Cookbook, Jerome I. Rodale’s Organic Gardening, and Julia Child the French Chef.

One of the chapters is devoted to the start of Gourmet magazine in 1941. Started during World War II, the magazine surprisingly survived a difficult time in our American history and continued being published right up until last year. Since there are no recipes in Eating History, I decided to use one from Gourmet.

This cake is simple to make and perfect for a summer afternoon (combined with a cup of tea, of course).

NECTARINE GOLDEN CAKE
(Gourmet, September 2009)
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1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
rounded 1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. butter, softened
3/4 cup plus 1/2 Tbsp sugar, divided (I used 1/2 cup sugar)
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. almond extract
2 nectarines, pitted and cut into 1/2-inch-thick wedges (I used peaches)
1/2 tsp. grated nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350F with rack in middle. Lightly butter a 9-inch springform pan.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.

Beat butter and 3/4 cup sugar with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in extracts. At low speed, mix in flour mixture until just combined.

Spread batter evenly in pan, then scatter nectarines over top. Stir together nutmeg and remaining 1/2 Tbsp. sugar and sprinkle over top. Bake until cake is golden-brown and top is firm but tender when lightly touched (cake will rise over fruit), 45 to 50 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes. Remove side of pan and cool to warm.

Serve plain, or with whipped cream or vanilla ice-cream.

Serves 8.

Off The Shelf: Breakfasts & Brunches

On review this week is the Culinary Institute of America’s Breakfasts & Brunches. This 248-page book is filled with 175 recipes to inspire you to delicious breakfasts and brunches. There are nine chapters in the book:

1. Breakfast and Brunch: and introduction with essential information and helpful ideas on planning your event.

2. Breakfast and Brunch Drinks: everything from hot coffees and chocolate to lemonades, and alcoholic drinks appropriate for morning fare.

3. Muffins, Quick Breads, and Coffee Cakes: think raspberry muffins with pecan streusel, cheddar and thyme muffins, honey almond crumb cake, angel biscuits, soda bread, and cream scones.

4. Sweet and Savory Breads and Pastries: the many options include cinnamon rolls with apricot glaze, brioche loaf, cherry cheese baskets, cheese pockets, bear claws, and chocolate biscotti.

5. Pancakes, Waffles & Crepes: blueberry pancakes, buckwheat blinis with apple butter, corn and scallion pancakes, french toast with orange sauce and raised waffles are just some of the options in this chapter.

6. Eggs: It’s always fun to try something new with eggs and there are some terrific looking recipes such as huevos rancheros, eggs benedict, orange and cherry bread and butter pudding, and caramelized onion quiche.

7. Grains & Legumes: this includes garlic cheese grits, polenta with mushroom ragu, cream of wheat with orange and pistachios, kasha with spicy maple pecans, wild and brown rice with cranberries, couscous salad with curried vegetables, and granola parfait.

8. Meats, Fish & Potatoes: the book gets down to some serious breakfasts with ham steaks and redeye gravy, broiled sirloin with sauteed mushrooms, poached salmon with hollandaise sauce, and corned beef hash.

9. Soups, Salads, and Small Bites: cold strawberry soup, tropical fruit salad, mushrooms, beets, and baby greens, apple sandwiches with curry mayonnaise, and gougeres all sound tempting!

I decided to try something out of the ordinary — the Chorizo and Egg Breakfast Pizza. Although it sounded a bit strange to pour beaten eggs over a pizza crust, the results were delicious and an ingenious way to serve pizza for breakfast. I didn’t have any chorizo, but I did have ham and so adjusted the toppings to suit the tastes of my family and the availability in my refrigerator! You can do the same.

CHORIZO AND EGG BREAKFAST PIZZA
(adapted from the Culinary Institute of America’s Breakfast & Brunches)
Print this recipe

Dough:
3 1/2 cups bread flour (can use part whole wheat)
1/2 cup semolina or durum flour (if you don’t have this, use more bread flour)
1 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water
3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. salt

Pizza:
1/2 pound Mexican Chorizo
1/2 cup cooked or canned black beans, rinsed and drained
1 red bell pepper, roasted, peeled, seeded, and cut into strips
3 Tbsp. chopped cilantro
1/2 tsp. salt, or as needed
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, or as needed
4 large eggs
1 cup shredded Manchego cheese or sharp cheddar

To make the dough:

Combine the warm water, olive oil, salt and yeast in a bowl. Gradually add in the flour until you reach a good consistency for the dough. You may need more or less flour than called for. Dump the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 3-5 minutes until smooth and elastic.

Grease a bowl and lay the dough inside to rise. Cover with a cloth or plastic wrap and let rise until doubled — about an hour.

If you want to make your dough ahead of time you can place it in the fridge after kneading and leave it overnight or for up to two days.

Once risen, punch dough down and spread on a greased baking sheet.

To make pizza:

Preheat the oven to 425F. If I have used whole wheat flour, I like to partially bake my pizza dough before adding the toppings. I bake it for about 8-10 minutes.

In a large saute pan over medium heat, saute the chorizo, stirring frequently, until cooked, about 5 minutes. Remove the chorizo from the pan with a slotted spoon and drain on paper toweling. Sprinkle the chorizo over the pizza, followed by the black beans, red pepper and cilantro. Season with salt and pepper.

In a small bowl mix the eggs together with a fork and pour evenly over the pizza, being careful not to pour the eggs too near the edges. Top with the cheese. Bake the pizza until the edges are golden and the eggs are full cooked, 15-18 minutes. Cut into squares or wedges and serve hot or warm.

Off The Shelf: Irish Cookbooks

Margaret M. Johnson has put together several beautiful cookbooks, all with an Irish theme. Each cookbook is full of photographs of the Irish countryside along with mouthwatering pictures of the recipes. If you are at all interested in Ireland, or Irish food, these are a must-see from your local library.

The first of the three books is Irish Puddings, Tarts, Crumbles and Fools: 80 Glorious Desserts. This book features recipes such as Bread and Butter Pudding, Queen of Puddings, Steel Cut Oat Pudding, Sticky Toffee Sponge Pudding, Rhubarb Tarte Tatin, Plum Tart with Oatmeal Crust, Blackberry-Almond Crumble Cake, Apple Fool, Lemon Syllabub, Lemon-Ginger Scones, and Christmas Pudding Ice-cream.

I tried the Pear and Ginger Crumble which I found to be quite delicious. The aromatic yet delicate pears went perfectly with the sharp bite of crystallized ginger and, topped with a crumbly topping,  made for a very “more-ish” dessert.

PEAR AND GINGER CRUMBLE
(Irish Puddings, Tart, Crumbles, and Fools)
Print this recipe

Filling:
3 pounds Bartlett or Anjou pears, peeled, cored and sliced
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/3 c. sugar
2 Tbsp. minced crystallized ginger chips
1 1/2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

Topping:
1 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 c. quick cooking (not instant) Irish oatmeal (I used regular, quick cooking oats)
2/3 c. packed light brown sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
pinch of salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Preheat the oven to 375F. Lightly butter a 9×13-inch baking pan.

Filling: In a medium bowl, combine the pears and lemon juice. Stir in the sugar, crystallized ginger, and flour. Spoon into the prepared pan.

Topping: In a medium bowl, combine the flour, oatmeal, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt. Add the butter, and stir with a fork until moist clumps form. Sprinkle the topping over the fruit. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the topping is golden and the pears are tender. Serve warm with whipped cream or vanilla ice-cream, if you like.

Serves 6-8.

The Irish Pub Cookbook gives recipes for the kind of heart-warming food you would find in a typical Irish Pub. Chapters include: Starters, Soups, Salads, Hot Pots Meat Pies & Savory Tarts, Meat & Potatoes, Seafood, and Sweets.

I found many of the recipes tempting; Salmon Cakes with Dill and Wine Sauce, Parsnip and Apple Soup, Bacon, Blue Cheese and Courgette Soup, Bibb, Bacon and Apple Salad, Ploughman’s Lunch, Guinness Beef Stew, Bacon and Cabbage, Irish Cream Cheesecake, and Irish Chocolate Cake.

I tried the Farmhouse Vegetable Soup which was delicious and down-to-earth with a distinct taste of parsnips.

FARMHOUSE VEGETABLE SOUP
(The Irish Pub Cookbook)
Print this recipe

4 Tbsp. butter
1 small onion, chopped
2 leeks (white parts only), washed and sliced
2 parsnips, peeled and sliced
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
4 cups vegetable broth
2/3 cup half and half
3 Tbsp. minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
salt and pepper

In a stockpot or large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and leeks, cover, and cook, stirring once or twice, for 5-7 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft but not browned. Add the parsnips, potatoes, carrots and stock or broth, cover and cook for 25-30 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Remove from the heat and let cool for 10 minutes.

Working in batches, transfer the soup to a food processor or blender and puree until smooth. (Or puree in the pot with an immersion blender.) Return the soup to the pot, whisk in the half-and-half, and season with parsley, salt and pepper. Simmer until heated through.

To serve, ladle the soup into shallow bowls.

Serves 4-6.

The New Irish Table: 70 Contemporary Recipes provides more of the same: beautiful photos, gorgeous food, and good recipes. The book is divided into Small Bites, Starters, Main Courses, Side Dishes, and Sweets. Scattered throughout each of these cookbooks are short explanations of various food items or recipes, helping to educate the reader on true Irish food. These books are a delight to look through and Johnson has done an admirable job of creating them.

Off The Shelf: Slow Cooker Cookbooks

I found it difficult to review slow cooker cookbooks. Perhaps it’s because I have the idea in my head that slow cooker recipes should be quick and simple, almost as if by magic a healthy and delicious meal should appear on my plate with no effort at all. The fact of the matter is, all good, healthy meals do take some kind of time. If it’s not the time spent just before dinner is served, it may be the time spent getting a slow cooker meal ready early in the morning or the evening before. If I can reconcile myself to investing a little bit of time in a slow cooker meal, then there are some lovely cookbooks to make use of.

The Art of the Slow Cooker by Andrew Schloss was the book I chose today’s recipe from. It is a relatively new book, well laid out and filled with good pictures. The book contains 80 recipes divided between soups, stews, braises, classics, vegetables and sweets. You will find some outside-the-box recipes such as Chocolate Chicken Chili Soup and Espresso Braised Beef as well as classics such as Chicken Cacciatore and Herby Minestrone.

The cookbook is definitely aimed at people who like gourmet-type recipes, made with whole foods and no shortcuts. Many of the recipes are the type I would use on the weekend, rather than for a simple weeknight meal. I chose to try the Sausage and Tomato Ragu with Pasta. We all thoroughly enjoyed this meal and will look forward to having it again sometime soon.

SAUSAGE AND TOMATO RAGU WITH PASTA
(Art of the Slow Cooker)
Print this recipe

2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 pounds mild Italian sausage, cut into 2-inch lengths
2 medium onions, cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 celery ribs, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary leaves (or 1 tsp. dried)
pinch of ground allspice (I omitted this)
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
1/4 c. flour (to make gluten-free, substitute a gluten-free flour blend)
1 cup dry red wine
2 cups chicken broth or beef broth
1 can (28 oz.) crushed tomatoes
1 can (15 oz.) tomato sauce

1 pound short pasta, such as penne, ziti, or rigatoni

Heat the oil in a large deep skillet over medium-high heat. Brown the sausage on all sides, about 2 minutes per side, then transfer to a 5-to-6 quart slow cooker.

Add the onions, celery and carrots to the oil remaining in the skillet and saute until lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic, rosemary, allspice, salt, and pepper and cook for another 30 seconds. Add the flour and stir until incorporated. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Add the broth, crushed tomatoes, and tomato sauce and stir to incorporate, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan to blend them with the sauce. Heat to simmering and pour over the sausages. (At this point I put the ragu in the fridge for the night and place it in the slow cooker in the morning.) Cover the cooker and cook for 4 to 5 hours on high or 8 to 10 hours on low.

Cook the pasta in rapidly boiling, lightly salted water until tender, about 10 minutes; drain and serve with the ragu.

Serves 4-6 generously.

I also enjoyed perusing the Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Slow Cooking: Delicious New Recipes for Slow Cookers and Braisers. As with any Williams-Sonoma cookbook, this is a high-quality, beautifully designed cookbook. The introduction covers slow-cooking basics and prepares the way for the recipes contained in the book, including giving sample meal menus. The book covers vegetables, seafood, poultry, pork, beef & lamb and basic recipes.

I would say this cookbook tends even more toward the gourmet cook with such recipes as Savoy Cabbage with Pancetta, Celery Root with Chestnuts, Braised Artichokes, Braised Dug Legs with Port and Figs, and Thai Red Curry Beef. However, there are plenty of more down-to-earth recipes like Texas-Style Beef Chili, Italian Pot Roast, Beef Stroganoff with Mushrooms, and Spanish Chicken Stew. Once again it is a book I would use for weekend cooking more than everyday.

Off The Shelf: Chocolate Cookbooks

My library listed 111 chocolate cookbooks to choose from. Despite that high number, I feel there is room for even more chocolate cookbooks. Why? Chocolate is such a passion for so many people, the recipes are endless, and the options for photography innumerable. My craving for beauty and inspiration was only slightly satisfied with the books I reviewed, despite the fact that these were good books.

The Essence of Chocolate by John Scharffenberger and Robert Steinberg was perhaps my favorite. The book is written by the founders of Scharffen Berger Chocolate Makers (dubbed America’s finest chocolate). The recipes are divided among three chapters: Intensely Chocolate, Essentially Chocolate, and A Hint of Chocolate.

You will find recipes that include: Orange Chocolate Ganache Tart, Chocolate Pudding Cakes, Cookies and Brownies, Ice cream and Sorbets, Cheesecakes, Chocolate Ginger Pots de Creme, Chocolate Zabaglione Trifle, Pull-Apart Kuchen, Chocolate Chunk Challah and Mascarpone-Stuffed French Toast. The book includes over 100 recipes, so there are many to choose from.

Interspersed throughout the recipe chapters are details about how the chocolate company was founded, as well as how chocolate is grown and processed. The book is nearly 400 pages long and contains many beautiful photographs.

What’s a week focused on chocolate without a chocolate cake? So, here is That Chocolate Cake from The Essence of Chocolate. I can highly recommend this cake — I’ve been making an exact copy of this recipe since I was 12. It is my go-to for chocolate cake. The icing recipe was new to me, but it will be my standard from now on. It is so delightfully full of chocolate, and not so heavy on the sugar. Rather like the inside of a truffle….

THAT CHOCOLATE CAKE
(The Essence of Chocolate)
Print this recipe

2 c. sugar
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 c. canola oil
1 c. whole milk
1 c. boiling water

Frosting:
1 1/4 c. granulated sugar
1 c. heavy cream
5 ounces 99% unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
8 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350F. Lightly butter the bottom of two 9-inch round cake pans. Line the bottom with parchment paper, then butter and flour the parchment and the sides of the pans.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the sugar, flour, cocoa, salt, baking powder, and baking soda, mixing on low speed. Mix in the eggs, oil, and milk.

Increase the speed to medium and beat for 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and mix in the water. The batter will be soupy.

Divide the batter between the cake pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and cool on a cooling rack for 5 minutes, then turn the layers out onto the rack and cool completely.

Frosting:
In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and cream and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat and simmer for 6 minutes. Add the chocolate and butter and stir until melted. Pour into a bowl and stir in the vanilla.

Let the frosting cool, whisking gently from time to time. Don’t overwhip or you’ll create air bubbles.

When the frosting is cool it should have the consistency of mayonnaise. If it is still too thin, allow it to cool longer. (It will take quite some time to thicken up. After about 2 hours I put mine in the fridge for 30-60 minutes for “quick thickening”. Just don’t forget it or it will be too hard!)

Spread the frosting with a hot palette knife or icing spatula to give the frosting a beautiful shine.

Serves 8-12.

Next up is The Ghirardelli Chocolate Cookbook put out by the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company. A nice little book of about 8 inches square and 150 pages, there are many tempting recipes and good photos. Chapters include Cookies, Brownies & Bars, Cakes, Cupcakes & Tortes, Pies, Tarts & Other Spectacular Desserts, Candies & Bonbons, Breads & Breakfast, and Anything-But-Boring Chocolate Drinks.

I chose to make a Chocolate Pecan Pie and I was not disappointed. This pie was amazing and will be something that I turn to in the future. The pie filling was like a dark chocolate brownie, heavily laden with nuts but with the pecan pie filling consistency.

CHOCOLATE PECAN PIE
(The Ghirardelli Chocolate Cookbook)
Print this recipe

4 ounces Ghirardelli Semi-Sweet Chocolate baking bar, broken or chopped into 1-inch pieces (I used Baker’s Corner)
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
3 large eggs
1 cup light corn syrup
1/2 c. firmly packed light brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. pecan halves
1 9-inch unbaked pie crust (I used Martha Stewart’s Pate Sucree)

Preheat the oven to 325F. In the top of a double boiler or in a heatproof bowl over barely simmering water, melt the chocolate and butter, stirring occasionally until smooth.

In a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed or with a whisk, beat the eggs, corn syrup, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt until blended. Beat in the chocolate mixture. Stir in the pecans and pour into pie shell.

Place pie on a baking sheet on the middle rack of the oven and bake for about 55 minutes, or until the filling is set. Cool completely on a rack at room temperature.

Serves 8.

A few other books to mention include:

Deep Dark Chocolate by Sara Perry. This is a beautifully designed little book with about 200 pages of scrumptious looking recipes including brownies, cookies, pies, tarts, cheesecake, puddings, custards, souffles, sauces, fondues, ice-creams, drinks, breakfast items, and more. The photos and design give the book a vintagey feel.

Chocolate Epiphany by Francois Payard is another large, picture-filled book of nearly 300 pages and 100 recipes. It includes a number of breads not mentioned in the other books as well as some less-known varieties of chocolate cookies. Other temptations include: Chocolate Popcorn, Chocolate Marshmallows, Cranberry-Chestnut Tart, Sweet Potato Chocolate Tart, and Black Forest Cake. The author is French and this means many French and European-influenced dishes are included in the book.

Off The Shelf: River Cottage Family Cookbook

For those of you looking for a nice cookbook to give to a budding young cook in your family, let me suggest The River Cottage Family Cookbook by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Fizz Carr.

What I love about this book is that it doesn’t attempt to water down cooking. It takes real recipes and real concepts and begins to teach children the very basics of cooking in a very inspiring way. I was so excited about the book when I first saw it that I ordered a copy for my then 8-year-old daughter and we immediately began reading and cooking from it.

Take a look at the contents: Flour, Milk, Eggs, Fruit, Vegetables, Fish & Shellfish, Meat, The Cupboard, Sugar & Honey, and Chocolate. Each chapter begins with an introduction, giving helpful information about the topic and how to use it. This is followed by numerous recipes. For instance, the chapter on Eggs talks about what an egg really is, how to crack and separate an egg, what does an egg white do and how to fold it into something, how to know an egg is fresh (it will sink in a bowl of water), and what kinds of eggs to use.

Now, have a look at the recipes included in the egg chapter: Custard, Pancakes, Soft-boiled eggs, Omelette, Eggy Bread (French Toast), Meringues, Sponge Cake, and Drop Scones. Each chapter is filled with beautiful, inspiring photos and easy-to-read type. And while this book hails from the UK, it has been translated into American English and cooking terms to make things easy!

Rachel and I decided to make the Baked Apples from the Fruit chapter. This is a simple recipe for a child to help make and the result is a delicious, comforting food on a cold winter night.

BAKED APPLES
(The River Cottage Family Cookbook)

butter
Granny Smith or Golden Delicious apples, 1 per person (or use whatever apples you have)
soft brown or granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 350F. Smear a little butter over the inside of a baking dish.

With a sharp knife, carefully cut a line completely around the waist of each apple to give it a sort of thin belt. This stops the apple from exploding as the flesh foams and expands in the heat of the oven.

Remove core and seeds of each apple. Cut a small slice off te bottom of the apple so it will sit in the baking dish without rocking from side to side. Stand the apples in the dish slightly apart from each other, so they don’t join up and get stuck together while they cook.

Pour sugar into the well of each apple right up to the top. (At this point we stuck a few dried cranberries in with the sugar — raisins are good too!). Dot a generous knob of butter on top of the sugar. Spoon a tablespoon of water for each apple into the base of the dish.

Place the dish in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes (other varieties of apples may take longer). The apples should be puffy and the skin a little split. Stick a sharp knife into the flesh of the apple at the thickest part near the core. If the flesh feels hard, let the apples cook for 5 minutes longer. Turn the oven down a little if they are getting too brown.

Serve everyone an apple and a good spoonful of the delicious syrupy sauce poured over the top. Some people adore the skin of a baked apple; others prefer to push it to one side. But whatever you do, eat with plenty of cream, Greek yogurt, or English custard.