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national library week 2013: the cookbook reviews.

national library week: cookbook reviews.

Dear past, present and future library patrons,

I feel like we had a really good national library week together, yes? I got cosy with a few cookbooks, made some recipes, and hopefully got a few of you turned on to all your local library has to offer. I was fortunate enough to read about how the library has been a big part of your lives, as well. So many of you already use the library on a regular basis (and love it as much as I do), and that was a delightful surprise. I loved hearing your memories of childhood library visits, and spending tons of time there during high school and college, or losing touch with the library but finding your way back. It seems like everyone has a different favorite thing about the library, and that’s maybe what makes libraries so great; so many things to love.

To round out our little library party, I thought I would do a few cookbook reviews for you. I don’t normally review rentals, but this time, I’m making an exception. I spent a lot of time with each of these books reading through the beginning sections and chapters, deciding what recipes to make, and just getting an overall feel of what they were about. I loved all of them (which makes it so much easier than telling you I was less than thrilled), so here we go, in the order in which they appeared.

green market baking book.

 Green Market Baking Book: 100 Delicious Recipes for Naturally Sweet & Savory Treats by Laura C. Martin.

As I mentioned in the spinach and ricotta turnovers post, this was the only book that was an impulse borrow; I was headed over to get my rentals and all the sudden, it was right in front of me. Truly, the book is stunningly beautiful: warm colors, with little hand-drawn illustrations of fruit and vegetables gracing the cover; it’s hard to resist. I hadn’t rented anything “whole foods” oriented, so this was a nice change from what I typically look for. Green Market focuses on using natural sweeteners and local/seasonal/organic products and produce. Although this can sometimes be daunting, the book has a very helpful section on creating a stocked pantry for natural recipes, so you’re not making multiple trips to the store or having to hunt out items each time you make a recipe.

Is it a little on the hippie side? Yes, but in such a nice way, because they don’t beat you over the head with it. It seems like you could sub back in items if you’re a regular baker just out for a good time in the natural food world (because I’ll be honest, I’m never going to seek out grain-sweetened dark chocolate chips just because a recipe calls for them.) The book is divided seasonally, very much like Bi-Rite Grocery’s cookbook, and includes tips on how to shop for produce (although if that’s a big thing for you, the Bi-Rite book is much more comprehensive) and how to make the most of each season without putting yourself into an inadvertent refined sugar coma.

The book’s strong suit is the savory, and I think that’s going to be obvious, as savory cooking is much easier to do naturally than sweet baking is. That being said, there’s some fantastic-looking dessert and pastry recipes in here that I would love to try; some for everyday (grape quick bread) and some geared towards holiday baking (pumpkin pie). This book doesn’t unnerve me the way some natural cooking/baking books do, which is always a good sign.

This one is a compilation of recipes from quite a few contributors, which can be great: lots of different perspectives on food, very similar to the Food & Wine Annual Cookbooks I love so much. There are some nice bios for everyone in the back, and if you’re interested in this type of cooking, could help you find some new cookbook authors for your own library.

Verdict: If natural cooking and baking is your everyday thing, this would make a great addition to your personal collection. If you’re “vege-curious” like I am, but don’t stick to an all-natural-everything regimen, borrow it from your local library; you could find some recipes in here you’ll love.


 Nigellissima: Easy Italian-Inspired Recipes by Nigella Lawson.

I mean, okay; it’s Nigella Lawson, so you just assume I’m going to like this, right? You shouldn’t: I was apprehensive about this because in my head, I saw the ways it could go wrong. I had visions of Nigella Christmas in my head. If you’ve not seen it, Nigella Christmas is my least favorite cookbook of hers, and one I do not own, simply because to me, it’s just not up to her usual standard. It seems more compilation than original, sort of put together the way Martha Stewart puts those magazines together around the holidays that say “THE BEST IDEAS EVER FOR HALLOWEEN” but it’s really just all the ideas shoved into one super-expensive magazine. It’s wonderful (and, now that I think about it, probably created) for someone who isn’t familiar with Ms. Lawson or doesn’t own any of her cookbooks, but ladies and gentleman, that is not me. I have all the books, I adore her, so when I heard she was doing Nigellissima, and realized how many sections in her books were dedicated to Italian-inspired meals, a little shiver ran up my spine.

For no reason, as it turns out: Nigellissima is composed of completely original, profoundly good recipes that echo what she’s done in other books, but really take it to a whole new part of town. Lest you think it’s just pasta dishes, it’s not; there’s a large meat section, and what may be the most incredible sides and vegetables section I’ve ever laid eyes on. And the pasta section? Not what you see in most cookbooks. Each and every recipe has a character all its own, and range from a mackerel, Marsala, and pine nut offering to a tortellini minestrone that couldn’t get more packed with things. That crab and chile risotto is hardly the only thing you’ll want to make out of this.

Did I mention the desserts in this book? No? Then I’ve lost my mind, because I would actually buy this entire book just for the sweet section. Two words: chocolate salami. I’m not telling you anything else until you buy the book or I give in, make chocolate salami, and post it to the blog. Because I want it more than almost anything; if you knew what went into it, you would also. I’m also overjoyed with the Italian-inspired Christmas section, which has truly everything I’m going to need this year for the holidays.

Verdict: If it were up to me, everyone would own this book. If you’re a Nigella fan, this is a no-brainer. If you’re bored with the standard “italian cookbook” fare and want to try to something new, borrow this from your library; I almost know you’ll want it for your personal collection.

piece of cake cookbook.

 Piece of Cake: Home Baking Made Simple by David Muniz and David Lesniak.

I had never heard of this one until I saw Tim make the very same cookies from it on Lottie and Doof. I couldn’t get the cookies out of my head, and I trust them implicitly with their cookbook recommendations – especially with baking books – so I gave it a go. I’m so happy I did, because this thing is classic American from cover to cover, with a little bit of Brit thrown in for good measure. Makes sense, as the book is written by the American dudes behind Outsider Tart, a bake shop in London. One is from Mississippi, one is from Jersey, and everything they make seems gloriously homegrown and wonderful. Evidently, they’re solely responsible for beginning the whoopie pie craze in Britain.

My favorite part about this book aside from wanting to eat the pictures? The USA to UK translation for ingredients. Over the years, I’ve had to look up more than a few listed ingredients from my UK-based cookbook authors – golden syrup, gas mark 6, caster sugar – so I appreciated the glossary of american ingredients and their UK counterparts. It’s a nice touch, and it saves me some googling.

 There’s so many baked goods in this book: it is just packed in there, and I don’t think I saw anything I didn’t want to try. It’s all very homestyle, nothing fancy, just some solid chapters with exactly what you’d expect: cakes, quick breads, cookies, bars, and so on. There’s some classic flavors, but there’s some interesting twists on things as well. I loved the layer cakes section; some very throwback things in here, including the first ever graham cracker cake I’ve seen in a post-1960’s cookbook. It probably goes without saying that the whoopie pie section is stellar as well: lots of mixes and matches for cream and pies, which makes for some fun experiments. I do so much baking, and I love what this book’s sensibilities, so I’ll be adding this to my personal collection. I mean, those enormous sugar cookies were phenomenal, and very simple, so I can’t wait to bake everything else.

Verdict: If you’re into American baking, and your heart belongs somewhere between New York-style coffee cake and chess pie, then I think you may love this book. If you have books from the Baked guys in your collection, you would love what this book has to offer, but I’d urge you to borrow this from your library first: it’s not necessarily an overlapping recipe situation, but they have similar characteristics, so owning this book may come down to how regularly you bake. I strongly recommend you flip through it, either way.

vintage cakes.

 Vintage Cakes: Timeless Recipes for Cupcakes, Flips, Rolls, Layer, Angel, Bundt, Chiffon, and Icebox Cakes for Today’s Sweet Tooth by Julie Richardson.

I have renewed this online so many times it’s become embarrassing. I know there’s got to be a limit to renewals, and I know I’m close, but I just don’t want to let this one out of my sight. There’s so many good things in here! I’m mostly in love with retro dessert recipes – especially the off-the-beaten-path ones – and this book fufills a long-term need to find a cookbook that loves old things as much as I do.

Lots of little stories in this book; many of these recipes are passed down from friends and family members or happened upon during vintage cookbook perusal, and the stories that go along with these recipes are short and provide a nice little backstory to each cake. And the cakes: the cakes are brilliant. Each one is a little different from the next, in style and in flavor, so it’s great for making the recipes as/is or using them for ideas to build from. Personally, I love that in a book, because it allows me a little wiggle room to make things my own.

The recipes are straightforward, and absent of any super-strange ingredients (which can be a nice change from books recently); no extra trips to speciality food stores here. Just because it’s a book about cakes doesn’t make it a one-trick pony, either; the title is lengthy, but even that doesn’t encompass every type of cake found inside. There’s mile-high icebox cakes, the coolest roll cake (it looks like a massive cake cinnamon bun) i’ve ever seen, and a short little cake called “the Streamliner” that i’m in a wee bit in love with. Those honeybee cupcakes were a cake from this book, originally, so i would argue that any of these cakes could be whittled down easily into mini-cake or cupcake format. The library is going to probably charge me full price if I hold this book hostage any longer, so I may as well just go buy it.

Verdict: Cake love = Vintage Cakes cookbook purchase; it’s that simple. everyday cakes, fancy cakes, whatever; if you like cakes and cupcakes, you’ll have a great time baking from this. If you feel like you may be at capacity with either baking books or vintage books, maybe you borrow this from the library just to see if it’s worth it for you. I struggle to find a reason you wouldn’t like this book, but that’s just me; i’m prone to random acts of cake.

 Thus ends library week, even though probably you’re seeing this after library week has officially passed. You guys were great to indulge my little library fixation; I am lucky to have grown up with a really excellent library system, and I hope you feel the same way about your library as I do about mine. If even one of you walks into the library for the first time in a long time because of my proclamations of library love, I’ll be a happy girl.


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  • Reply Katherine {eggton} April 22, 2013 at 10:58 am

    I want to buy the Vintage Cakes cookbook for the font alone! The way “Vintage Cakes” is written on the cover? I ADORE IT. Glad to know that there are other–perhaps better–reasons for making the purchase!

    “Random acts of cake” is a fantastic phrase. I can’t decide if it’s a good blog name, band name, party theme or what. I just know it’s golden.

    • Reply shannon April 23, 2013 at 10:11 am

      The font is really pretty, i know! such an unusual one for a cookbook, and it completely fits the entire personality of the book, in my opinion.

      Random Acts of Cake is an amazing blog name OR party theme. Maybe best suited to a Tumblr account? You just tumble random cakes all day long. Now i want to throw a party with a zillion cakes, although i guess to fit with the name, it would need to be a surprise party. For no reason.

  • Reply Sue/the view from great island April 22, 2013 at 12:26 pm

    Thanks for this, I haven’t read any of these, but I’ve been tempted by the Vintage Cakes book. I’m going to get it now that it’s got your stamp of approval 🙂

    • Reply shannon April 23, 2013 at 10:02 am

      You are very welcome: I love exploring new cookbooks, and i love passing along the info to all of you even more! Vintage Cakes is such a beautiful book, really, from cover to cover; i don’t think i saw one recipe I didn’t want to make.

  • Reply movita beaucoup April 22, 2013 at 2:18 pm

    I just added Piece of Cake to my Amazon wishlist.

    And then the interweb exploded.

    • Reply shannon April 23, 2013 at 9:54 am

      is that what that rumble was? did the interweb just explode? *oy*

  • Reply Jen @JuanitasCocina April 22, 2013 at 5:20 pm

    That last book…needs to be in my hands.

    • Reply shannon April 23, 2013 at 9:53 am

      vintage cakes? yeah…you would love it. what’s more, is i bet your entire family would love it. because you would be making them cakes all. the. time.

  • Reply Monica April 22, 2013 at 6:27 pm

    Your library series was such a sweet thing to do! I looked through Nigella’s new book. Love her, as you know…and I was pleasantly surprised by the book. I’ve seen Vintage Cakes at the library…I should check it out one day. Thanks!

    • Reply shannon April 23, 2013 at 10:06 am

      thank you, Monica! I know you love Nigella, and i was wondering actually if you had that one yet. I’m happy there’s so many good things in there; my fears were completely unwarranted. 🙂 Vintage Cakes seems to be the favorite of everyone, and it really is super versatile; definitely check it out.

  • Reply Emma April 22, 2013 at 6:45 pm

    Do you think Julie Richardson is actually Rachael Dyer? Cause that cake looks like a movita creation to me if ever there was one!

    • Reply shannon April 23, 2013 at 9:48 am

      well, you know emma…exactly my thoughts. the entire book looks like her, so i just did a little word scramble decoding, and here’s what i come up with:
      JULIE RICHARDSON, unscrambled, = “RACHEL DIOR” using the letters available. so i feel like she did the altered spelling of both her first and last names to throw us. the leftover letters? “SINJU,” which may or may not be some sort of sinful ninja ballerina in Japanese. just saying. #consipracytheory

      • Reply Emma April 23, 2013 at 3:33 pm

        Ah, we’ve caught her at her game!

        She might also be trying to say INJUS, like, it injus’ that you at the library and not be out buying this book, yo!

        Or maybe JINUS, pronounced JEEN-yus.

        • Reply shannon April 26, 2013 at 8:31 pm

          Emma: you and i should honestly get a job as code-crackers. like, for official people. we are both JEEN-yus. es.

  • Reply Tammy April 22, 2013 at 7:42 pm

    I have the Vintage Cakes cookbook – my best friend got it for me for my birthday! I love it! I’ve already made the Lovelight Chocolate Chiffon cake (the one that’s pictured on the back cover), and it was deee-lish! And there are about three or four others I’m looking forward to making. And I will now be adding the Piece of Cake cookbook to my Amazon wish list! I agree with your assessment of the Nigella Christmas book. I have it because a friend of mine who lives in Germany has it and makes the mince pies out of it every year for Christmas, and she convinced me that I needed it. If I ever have to pare back the cookbook collection, it may be one of the first to go.

    • Reply shannon April 23, 2013 at 9:52 am

      Oh Tammy, you have a wonderful best friend! It’s such a great book, right? That lovelight cake on the back looks spectacular; i have tons of “lovelight” cakes in my old cookbooks and always wondered why they sort of died out over the years, and i’ve been wanting to make one.
      Piece of Cake is truly a wonderful book; easily a book you could drag out for everyday things or for parties, and i love that. I’m happy to hear i’m not the only person on the planet who feels that way about the Nigella Christmas book! Honestly, i felt bad even writing that. Certainly that book has some excellent recipes, for sure, but it’s just…something. i feel like she could make a better one someday.

  • Reply Brianne April 23, 2013 at 8:32 am

    I loved your library week posts! I’ve started perusing the cookbooks section at my local library because of you, and it’s such fun. I’m afraid to check out cookbooks because I’m afraid I’ll ruin them in my kitchen, but I fear all new ideas and concepts initially, so I imagine at some point in the near future library cookbooks will become a thing in my house. I’m dreaming about that crab and chile risotto. Yum!

    • Reply shannon April 23, 2013 at 9:43 am

      i love hearing that!! you make my day, girl. Here’s my best tactic to avoid getting things on rental books (or honestly, my own books too.) here goes:
      grab a length of plastic wrap, and make a piece large enough to overhang the open cookbook in question just by a few inches on each side. weigh the wrap down with a few coffee mugs; it should stick a little bit on its own because of clinging to the countertop. Not only does this keep your book open, but it protects it from splatters. Use the plastic wrap when you’re done to wrap up whatever magical thing you’ve just made. 🙂 *poof*

      • Reply Brianne April 26, 2013 at 10:40 am

        Dang, girl. Plastic wrap is GENIUS! You are mad pro.

        • Reply shannon April 26, 2013 at 8:50 pm

          *word* 🙂 Although one could argue that me plastic-wrapping books is anti-pro: martha probably makes some sort of cookbook raingear that’s more “pro” than my idea.
          someday (and it’s in the works) i’m going to make a page of my dumb tips and tricks; it will probably be called “My Dumb Tips and Tricks for Stuff.” I’m adding this to the list.

          • Emma April 27, 2013 at 5:56 am

            I like letting my cookbooks get dirty because then each recipe that has smears and streaks on the page has proof that at one point that recipe existed, and I made it. It’s kind of like scrapbooking?

          • shannon April 29, 2013 at 9:03 pm

            I will say i often enjoy a good chocolate streak running through my cookbooks as well; it’s totally like a souvenir from a cooking excursion long since passed.

  • Reply Wendy April 23, 2013 at 11:54 am

    Thanks for the book reviews! There a couple here I haven’t “previewed” yet. Please return them so that I can check them out. 🙂

    • Reply shannon April 26, 2013 at 8:32 pm

      Wendy, I would say I’m getting them back as fast as i can, but that may or may not be a lie. BUT: i have several things on deck for the blog that are coming out of these books, so maybe it will be worth the (short) wait. 🙂 *i can’t stop cooking from them*

  • Reply Abbe@This is How I Cook April 23, 2013 at 5:53 pm

    Great job! new ones for me to look for!

    • Reply shannon April 26, 2013 at 8:33 pm

      Abbe, I hope you like these as much as i do, if you get a chance to check them out; they’re all really, really good books. Lots of things you’ll want to eat.

  • Reply Ashley April 25, 2013 at 9:25 am

    Outsider Tart, you make my cookbook collection grow every day. And I don’t mind at all.
    Thanks for all the inspiration and love you put into this week’s posts! It is amazing how much you reminded all of us what we love about the library…and how you may have urged a few back through the doors. I know you directed me to the cookbook section (genius!)….and Vintage Cakes is among the few I most recently checked out.

    • Reply shannon April 26, 2013 at 8:42 pm

      you called me Outsider Tart *yes* so it’s officially a nickname now! I realize i am driving some of you into the poorhouse, believe me: that was some of the inspiration for Library Week (“here, don’t hate me, RENT ALL THE BOOKS FOR FREE!”) this year.
      You know, that was seriously my favorite part. i know i’ve said that before, but i can’t say it enough; hearing
      everyone else’s library history and stories made my day, every day. It was so great! I hope it did get some stragglers back into the library’s arms; I would feel really good about that.
      Isn’t Vintage Cakes crazy good! You really would enjoy this Piece of Cake one also; like for some reason it speaks to me in a special way, so if you get a chance, take a look at it.

  • Reply Kim Beaulieu April 26, 2013 at 12:13 am

    I’m really eyeing that vintage cake cookbook. It’s so nice to get other people’s verdicts on cookbooks before buying them. I love to hear whether they are worth the investment or not.

    • Reply shannon April 26, 2013 at 8:46 pm

      Kim! I feel like you would really like that Vintage Cakes cookbook, for sure: just so many things in there you could mess with, and some really nice flavor combinations in there without it being too crazy. I like hearing others (like, ‘real people’) review cookbooks too; it’s like you get the feeling it’s the most genuine assessment you’ll see about it.

  • Reply Amy @ Elephant Eats April 28, 2013 at 5:59 pm

    Ok, seriously, I need to buy a Nigella cookbook. You just rave about them so much! Which should I start with??

    • Reply shannon April 29, 2013 at 9:02 pm

      Well, Amy, let’s talk about this; I like to recommend Nigella cookbooks based on what you’re looking for. If you want my hands-down, I love it, favorite of all time, always? Feast: Food to Celebrate Life is my favorite. I swoon over it. It’s like getting out my favorite blanket in the fall. But it is what it says it is: Celebration food for gatherings or holidays, although arguably i’ve made recipes for normal days (but I am not sane in that way.) For more everyday food, I love Nigella Kitchen; SO many things in there. For baking, I love How to be a Domestic Goddess. I will say, though, that this Nigellissima has some serious potential, and certainly if you’re big into cooking awesome pastas and big, in-your-face veg, and meat from time to time? It’s a great book at face value. I need to cook out of it more to give a formal opinion.
      I do love, love, love her. If anyone asked me who in the food world i would want to be, i wouldn’t even hesitate.

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