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.
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.
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.
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.
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.