Which Cookbooks Are Best? Some of my Favorites

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!!

As a writer, books are a passion. As a writer AND a food geek, cookbooks are an even bigger passion. I have an entire section of my kitchen devoted to cookbooks. At last count I own over 150. I often read a cookbook cover-to-cover, as I would a novel. And just as in some books when the plot takes a sudden twist and you think, “No, that can’t be happening!” I have read recipes and thought, “That could not possibly work.” Or “Wow, that sounds amazing! I never thought of trying those flavors together!!”

You might see why I label myself a food geek…

I use the internet as a source for many of my recipes, and it often inspires my creations. But there is nothing like holding a [cook] book in hand, scrolling through recipe after recipe and  drooling over colorful, well-staged photos, to get me in the mood for cooking.

*Note: I don’t drool ON the photos, just over them. 🙂

How did I get so MANY??

Yes, I have a lot. More than most I suspect. Some were given to me. Many have been written by favorite chefs, signed if I’ve had the chance to meet them in person (and many I have). I have a coveted copy of Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” autographed shorty before her death in August 2004. And I have several signed books by my favorite local celebrity chef, Stephan Pyles.

One of my treasures is this signed edition of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” by Julia Child. I bought it 2 days before her death. I am honored to have this in my collection.

Most of my cookbooks I bought myself. In fact, I recently acquired two new cookbooks so I might, ideally, perfect a dish or two for my new daughter-in-law. She is from China, and it is a goal of mine to offer her a meal that in some way brings her homeland here to her. She has become a loved and treasured addition to our family!

Two new editions. As of this posting I have not yet attempted any of the recipes, but I have read that the author, Fuchsia Dunlop, uses authentic recipes based on her extensive training in China. I hope to recreate a few of these for my daughter-in-law.

Admittedly, many of my cookbooks are no more than eye candy that sit idle on my shelf or are rarely opened. Then there are others I do use on a regular basis, my go-to cookbooks that help me out in a pinch.

The Sweet…

Rose Levy Beranbaum is one of my cooking idols. I began with “The Cake Bible” and now own most of her cookbooks (not all in my collection are pictured). The brownie recipe in “Rose’s Christmas Cookies” is my go-to recipe, and is one of my most requested. Amazing!

For many of my pies, I use Rose Levy Beranbaum’s “The Pie and Pastry Bible”. I love her books. She takes time to explain not only the “how” of a recipe, but also the “why.” I use a scale to measure ingredients, so I appreciate that she includes measurements both in volume AND weight. This book in particular details the various crusts you might want to use and with which pies. While the recipes may appear complicated, if you follow carefully they provide a step-by-step method to achieve the best crusts. I highly recommend this book for anyone looking to up their pie-baking skills.

Rose’s “The Cake Bible” was on my wish list way back in 1988. I was a mere college student at the time, not yet realizing the depth of my culinary passion. But I should have known from the reaction I had to the cover. I was instantly drawn to its luscious cake draped in a sheet of chocolate(a sheet, I say!) …sigh! Leafing through the bookstore copy had me dreaming of possibilities. I don’t know if I thought I would ever attempt any of the recipes, but they entranced me. Thankfully, I received a copy that Christmas. The pages began falling out from so much use, so I recently acquired a second copy.

…The Savory

Of course I don’t only bake. Some of my favorite savory regulars include Molly Stevens’ “All About Braising,” Adam Perry Lang’s “Serious Barbecue,” and Cook’s Illustrated’s “The Best Recipe.” When I was first learning to cook, I found Irma Rombauer’s “Joy of Cooking” to be invaluable. It provides basic information and hundreds of recipes. As my skills expanded and I grew more comfortable, I experimented with modifications to suit our family’s tastes, branching out to more complicated cookbooks and techniques over time. Practice, practice, practice!!

So many cookbooks, so little time

I’d like to use more of my collection; therefore, I will pick one cookbook to feature in my kitchen each week. One night that week would be devoted to creating a menu from the chosen cookbook, fulfilling a couple of purposes. One, my cookbooks  get more use, collecting food stains and post-it notes to mark favorite recipes rather than merely collecting dust. Two, my repertoire of menu offerings increases as I no doubt branch out into new territory. Sounds like a win-win!

A Few More…

*If you click on the highlighted titles in this post they link to where you can buy them on Amazon.com. I get zero (nada, zilch, none) profit from any links. The links are to help you find them should you so desire. 

This list is a sampling of the more used volumes in my collection. Stay tuned as I work through some of my lesser used cookbooks!!

Okay, I’ve shared some of my favorites. What are yours?

Royal Irish Soda Bread – My Favorite!

Irish Soda Bread

Irish Soda Bread

I look forward to this Irish Soda Bread every St. Patrick’s Day as much as I do my cheesecake and Irish coffee. It is that good. To be fair, it is not authentic Irish Soda Bread. It has butter in it. And a touch of sugar. And raisins. Not something the Irish of old had ready in their pantries back in the day.

The Recipe (a link)

My recipe comes from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s “The Bread Bible.” I am going to link to the recipe posted on Reddit [click here] because, well, I’m feeling a bit lazy after spending all day cooking Irish Stew…and Stout Cheddar Cheese Cheesecake…and Guinness Bread (a new recipe this year!)…and Chocolate Stout Ice Cream (also new this year)…and Whiskey Butter…and finally, these lovely Royal Soda Breads…

All I need to do tomorrow (which it almost is as I write this…) is to prepare the mashed potatoes to go with the Irish Stew, make sure the Guinness is cold, and if I’m not too tired, make a smoked fish appetizer to start it all off. I did smoke the fish for that earlier today, so we are ready to go!

Happy St. Patrick’s to everyone out there. Hope you find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow before that sneaky little leprechaun gets it first!





A Proper Irish Coffee: A Classic For St. Patrick’s Day

Irish Coffee

Irish Coffee…[sigh]

It got cold here again in Texas. At least for today. Who knows? Tomorrow may be all sunshine and short sleeves again. But today is overcast and back to sweaters. I even have a fire going with the last of the wood in the fireplace. It feels cozy. All that’s missing is some Irish Coffee.

It is morning as I write this, so perhaps Irish Coffee wouldn’t be the most prudent idea. Though, as they say, it’s 5:00 somewhere! Alas, for now I will dream of it’s comforting wiles, the warmth which comes from both the heat and a generous shot of Irish whiskey. For I am, after all, a whiskey gal. And Irish whiskey is some of the best to be had…and I’ve had plenty!

Jameson Distillery and the Perfect Irish Coffee

My first trip to Ireland was back in July 2011. It was magical. A week in the lush greenness that is this beautiful country was all it took for me to fall in love. To embrace my Irish [by marriage] heritage. I had been traveling with my family, and we were on the final week of a five-week Europe vacation. One of our first stops in Ireland was to the Jameson Distillery in Middleton.

It was here that I had my first “proper” Irish Coffee. Not only did I drink one – or even two perhaps, I also learned how to make one [properly of course]. Oh, sure, it looks easy. Just add a bit of whiskey to some hot coffee and top it off with some whipped cream, right?

Hah! While that may be tasty, there are a few refined techniques which will greatly improve the experience. Part of the goal is to have the cream stay with the coffee as it is drunk. Meaning, it doesn’t get mixed into the coffee, yet you also don’t drink it off the top within the first few sips. That would leave your coffee exposed to get cold, and who wants that? No, done properly, each taste should have a bit of cold whipped cream paired with hot coffee. A nice yin/yang effect. Dark vs. Light. Hot vs. Cold. Smooth vs. Creamy. Delicious.

Coffee…the Base

It should be obvious to begin with good coffee. Now I am not going to judge and tell you to use a certain coffee. I’ll just recommend using your favorite; something you love. This is the base of the drink after all. And with so few ingredients it’s important to use the best ones you can find. My preferences tend to be a stronger brew. We are currently using a locally roasted Brazilian espresso bean. It has chocolatey notes, adding to the depth of flavor.

At Jameson’s they used a French press to make the coffee. I do love French press coffee, but I enjoy the coffee from our machine just as much. And it’s faster. So that’s what I use. Again, no judgement from me on your favorite way to brew or drink your coffee. Go with what works for you; just make it tasty.

The Whiskey

There are four ingredients in a proper Irish Coffee. I’ll take you through each one and then you can watch a video I found online [see below] showing how to put them all together. Let’s begin with the whiskey…

Obviously, the whiskey used at the distillery was Jameson’s. But if you have a personal preference for another brand, use that. It does not need to be a super premium whiskey; however, I don’t like to go too cheap here either. As I said before, there are only a few ingredients. Make them count. My preference is Jameson’s for this. I have also used Bushmill’s and Tullamore Dew. All were good. Great even.

What I don’t use: I do NOT use my Writer’s Tears [not available in the US as of this writing]. Nor do I use my Green Spot or Redbreast. These are for drinking straight, or maybe with a touch of water and/or an ice cube. Their finer qualities will get lost in this drink. Having said that, if all you have on hand is “the good stuff” and you are willing to use such fine spirits in your coffee, I say go for it. Either that or just drink the whiskey and coffee separately. Or perhaps leave out the coffee altogether…

Final Ingredients: Sugar and Cream

Brown sugar was used in Jameson’s demo. It gives a bit of depth to the drink. You can use light or dark brown sugars. Have I mentioned “preference”? Raw sugar can also be used. Or in a pinch [gasp] plain white sugar works. Experiment. Come on, it’s only a drink. Try it different ways and see which way works best for you. There are no mistakes here. Only subtle taste nuances. Go for it! I do recommend dissolving the sugar in either some of the hot coffee or the whisky ahead of time to help it mix in better.

Now for the tricky part. The cream. First, make sure you are using heavy whipping cream. If you can find low pasteurized, or even no-pasteurized, that is ideal. It whips better. But if not, go for what you can find. At the distillery they shook the cream in a cocktail shaker. If you prefer you can use a whisk or, if you are careful, a hand mixer. The important thing to remember is to not over whip the cream.

Let me repeat that: DO NOT OVER WHIP THE CREAM!

Here’s why: if you whip it too much it is going to just sit on top. You will not get that perfect integration with the coffee when sipping. Likewise, if you under whip the cream it will not float on top at all and will instead mix right into the coffee. What you want is something somewhere in between. Thick enough to stay suspended on top of the coffee, thin enough that you are able to get a little bit with each sip of the coffee below. Hot coffee coming through cold cream…a sensory delight!

The Basic Ingredients

As I mentioned, there are only a few ingredients: your favorite coffee, Irish whiskey, brown sugar and heavy whipping cream. That’s it. Four items. I always have at least three of those items on hand at all times, heavy whipping cream being the exception.

The proper vessel is important and should be warmed up ahead of time by filling it with hot water. It doesn’t need to be a designated Irish Coffee mug (though that looks nice) but it must be able to hold a hot drink. I do have a set of Irish Coffee mugs just for the occasion.

A Video on Making Irish Coffee

Rather than describe how to make a proper Irish Coffee, I came across a video from Jamie Oliver’s DrinksTube which does the job for me. Not only does it show you the process and walk you through it step-by-step, there is a bit of history behind the drink offered as well.

So there you have it, a lesson on how to make a proper Irish Coffee. Now it’s time for me to gather my ingredients and get to it…


Stout Cheddar Cheese Cheesecake


Stout Cheddar Cheese Cheesecake

Stout Cheddar Cheese Cheesecake.

Ahhh. This, to me, is St. Patrick’s Day.

St. Patrick’s is less than a week away and I find myself dreaming of this Stout Cheddar Cheese Cheesecake. I first had this cake at a restaurant – one long gone – many, many years ago. It was the name that first drew me in. Stout Cheddar Cheese Cheesecake. I plied the waiter with questions before finally deciding I just had to order it. Was it savory? Sweet? I had to know. (It was sweet)

It was so good I asked for the recipe. To my surprise – and utter delight – they gave it to me! Of course, being the popular restaurant it was at the time, it was in restaurant quantities. It was also given to me in weight vs. volume measurements. This would be no problem today since I do most of my baking by weight. But at that time I had never heard of using a scale to measure ingredients, so I had to convert the recipe into volume amounts. And I needed to decrease it dramatically since the version he gave me made nine large cheesecakes. Great for a busy restaurant; not so great for home.

Personal Touches

Over the years I have added my own flair to this delectable cheesecake. The most notable change involves the crust. I am not a fan of graham cracker crusts, so I make a chocolate cookie crumb crust for it. For the stout in the recipe I use Young’s Double Chocolate Stout. It is expensive? Yes, but you don’t need an entire bottle to make the syrup to swirl into the cheesecake. Hmmm, what to do with the leftovers???

Finally, I like a more dense cheesecake…something that gives my fork a little resistance when I go in for that first bite. Dense, but not too dense. So I add a little more cream cheese than the original recipe called for. Just a little. I’ve tried various amounts, but the recipe (below) reflects what I now deem to be the perfect amount.

The cheese is important!

I am pretty sure the restaurant used more of a Velveeta-style cheese for their version. I do not like Velveeta. I cannot bring myself to use it. Why use what I feel is a “fake cheese” in such a perfect, delicious cheesecake? I set out to find the best “real” cheddar for this. (But feel free to use whatever you like…if you like Velveeta, go for it!)

My first try yielded bits of cheddar that were chewy rather than soft. I don’t remember what I used, probably a really nice sharp cheddar. This is a case where more expensive does not equal better results.

So the next time I made sure to use a much creamier version. I tend to change it up each time, so I really don’t have a specific brand to offer you. I ask the cheese monger at my local store to recommend something that will melt rather than get chewy. He hasn’t let me down so far! I also look for a yellow cheddar cheese for no other reason than to add the color when you slice through the cake. Remember: you eat with your eyes as much as your mouth! It’s up to you; you can decide to go with a white cheddar, but you won’t get that visual presentation.

The Pan

I use a 9″x3″ round cheesecake pan for this. It looks like a regular cake pan, but it’s an inch deeper than a typical cake pan. It also has a removable bottom. The idea is to push the cheesecake up from the bottom. You can also use a springform pan, but to me this is easier. It’s all about what you have on hand and making it work for you.

**By the way, a little baking secret of mine is that I use these same pans for baking cakes. I place a parchment paper circle on the bottom, pour in the batter, and bake. When it is time to turn out my cakes I go around the side of the pan with a flexible spatula to loosen, then push up. No more greasing and flouring the pans before baking. I’ve been doing it this way for YEARS! It works and is a time saver, especially if you do a lot of baking. 


Please Note: This cheesecake takes time. It bakes low and slow…specifically: 225 degrees for 4 hours. So make sure to allow time in your schedule for this one.  Also allow time for the crust, which is best made ahead and chilled for at least one hour. This part can be done the night before. Finally, this cheesecake is best when made a day ahead. 

  • Butter, melted  4 oz (1 stick)
  • Chocolate Wafers, crushed  8 oz
  • (optional) Sugar  up to 1/2 cup if you like a very sweet crust

*Make crust ahead, allowing at least one hour to chill in the fridge

  1. Prepare a 9″ cheesecake pan: insert a 9″ parchment round on the bottom. If you like, you can use a bit of butter to help hold it in place.
  2. Mix the butter with the chocolate wafer crumbs. You can add up to 1/2 cup of sugar if you like. I prefer it less sweet and feel the cookie crumbs give enough sweetness.
  3. Once mixed together, press into the bottom and slightly up the sides of the cheesecake pan. Wrap the outside of the pan with foil (don’t cover the top) and place in the fridge for at least one hour.
  4. This can be prepared a day ahead
  • Stout (I use Young’s Double Chocolate Stout)  5 oz reduced to 1.5 oz, cooled
  • Cream Cheese  2 lbs = (4) 8oz pkgs
  • Cheddar Cheese  1 cup
  • Sugar  1.5 cups
  • Sour Cream  1/4 cup
  • Eggs  3
  1. Preheat oven to 225 degrees F
  2. To get ready for baking: Take out the cheesecake pan with the crust (prepared above); Wrap the outside of the pan with foil to keep out the water from the water bath when baking. Place this inside a larger pan and all of that onto a sheet pan
  3. Reduce the stout from 5 oz to 1.5 oz. Set aside to cool
  4. In a mixer, cream together the cream cheese, cheddar cheese, sugar and sour cream on a low speed for about 5 minutes. It should be well blended with no lumps of cream cheese
  5. Add the eggs and mix to completely blend in, about 1 minute on low
  6. Pour the batter onto the prepared crust
  7. Drizzle the reduced stout over the top, then use a toothpick or knife to swirl it into the cheesecake, making a decorative pattern on top
  8. Pour boiling water into the pan which the cheesecake pan sits in; the water should come halfway up the outside of the cheesecake pan
  9. CAREFULLY place the sheet pan with the cheesecake into the preheated oven
  10. Bake for 2 hours; rotate the pan, then bake another 2 hours
  11. Remove from oven, take the cheesecake pan out of the water and place on a rack to cool
  12. When cool you can wrap the pan and refrigerate.
  13. To present: If using a cheesecake pan, all you need to do is push up from the bottom. You can slide the cheesecake onto a serving platter. If you used a parchment round when making the crust you can slide it off of the removable bottom of the pan. If you used a springform pan, just release the sides and place on a platter.
  14. This is better if you make it ahead and let it set up overnight in the fridge.

Finishing Touches

To add that perfect last touch, a properly made Irish Coffee finishes it all off…but I’ll save that recipe for a future post! 😉

Irish Coffee to go with Stout Cheddar-Cheese Cheesecake
And what better accompaniment for the cheesecake than a properly made Irish coffee!

Disclaimer: The link I posted for the cheesecake pan is not a site I have used, but it showed the pan nicely. I am not plugging the site, only the pan; however, the price is a good one (as of the time of this posting), so they may be worth checking out. I get no benefit from this site or any other site, so feel free to use the products which work best for you. If ever I do get any compensation for using products, I will make sure to note that.

Pasta Bolognese…or Tagliatelle al Ragù

Pasta Bolognese

I have been craving authentic Italian fare…Pasta Bolognese in particular. One might think that with the myriad restaurants here in the United States that it would not be a difficult task to find a place serving the real deal…not so. I won’t mention any names, but one restaurant in downtown Dallas proclaiming to serve authentic Italian food brought me their version. It consisted of spaghetti topped with a red sauce which had ground beef added. This, my friends, is NOT authentic Pasta Bolognese.

Pasta Bolognese, or “Tagliatelle al Ragù”

In the Italian town of Bologna, Pasta Bolognese is simply known as ‘ragù’…or “Tagliatelle al ragù” – with ragù referring to a meat sauce. Here in the United States we think of this sauce as being more tomato based with meat added [as it was presented to me in the restaurant in Dallas]. However, an authentic Bolognese ragù is mainly meat with a very small percentage of tomato added for flavoring – be it in fresh, puree, or sauce form. In fact, the original recipe had no tomato. Zero. Tomatoes were eventually added, though certainly not as a main ingredient. Never as a main ingredient.

Just as important as the sauce is the pasta served with it. A wider egg noodle is preferred because it allows for the sauce to properly adhere to it. Tagliatelle is the traditional pasta of choice. It offers a more robust noodle than fettuccine, though fettuccine will also work. And to be clear, fresh pasta is best here. This is one of those times it is worth it to spend the extra time for a ‘fatto in casa’ (homemade). Trust me, you will thank me later. Well, perhaps not, but I’d like to think you will. 😉 

Authentic Versions

I cannot offer up THE ONE authentic recipe for Bolognese. Bolognese in Tuscany can vary from household to household, Nonna to Nonna, each proclaiming theirs to be the best and most authentic version. However, there are many common traits interwoven throughout each of those recipes. They typically begin with a sofritto. Sofritto is a diced mixture of onion, carrots and celery. Surprisingly, garlic is not often added to a Bolognese sauce. And neither are most other spices. That would be a “no” to oregano, thyme, basil, even red pepper flakes…pretty much anything but salt and pepper. 

As I mentioned above, tomatoes are only added for flavor, they are not meant to be the base of the sauce. I use canned whole tomatoes in my version, San Marzano when I can get them. Wine may or may not be added…some recipes call for red, some white, some none at all. This is where I’d like to point out then when there’s an option to go with wine, go with wine!

A mixture of ground meats is typical: veal, pork and beef are common. I can’t always find ground veal, but I definitely mix in some ground pork or sausage with my ground beef.

And finally, whole milk – not cream – is added as the meat cooks to tenderize the meat and mellow the flavors. The first time I made this sauce I added the milk at the end of the cooking time, per the recipe I found. Upon further research I learned the meat is to be cooked in the milk. It tenderized it as it simmers. This is what I did the second time I made it…and I’ll admit, it was better. I have made it that way ever since.

Pasta Bolognese: A Recipe

Here is a link to a recipe on Food Nouveau for Pasta Bolognese. After concluding my research, this one is one of the most authentic versions I have found. It does include garlic [not authentic] – but to be honest, so does the version I make. I love garlic in the ragù…heck, I love garlic, period. What can I say? I use red wine in lieu of white…just a personal preference and what I normally drink and have on hand. In my research, I saw many recipes which used either one interchangeably. Lastly, I add pancetta or bacon in with the meat when it cooks. I like the depth of flavor it offers. And, well…bacon. Enough said!

Fresh Pasta – a Huge Difference!

I make my own pasta for this. I don’t always use homemade pasta when I cook Italian fare, but for this I am convinced it is an enhancement. The fresh pasta seems to soak up the flavor better than dried…and the wider noodles hold the sauce and allow for that perfect bite. I do not have a cutter for tagliatelle, so I often cut it by hand; if I am in a hurry I use the fettuccini attachment to my set.

Flour makes all the difference here. I have tried all-purpose flour but the pasta comes out much drier and has a different texture. The best is the Italian ’00’ flour (this, I’m convinced, makes all the difference!). The only other ingredients are fresh eggs (from pastured hens is my preference), salt, and if needed, water. My pasta recipe comes from “The Silver Spoon” cookbook [click on Silver Spoon for the recipe I use] and goes together in minutes. With this special attachment to my Kitchen Aid mixer*, it rolls out in no time.

I get it if you aren’t willing to make it by hand. I really do. It can be a bit much. But perhaps not as much as you may think. I sure hope you’ll try it at least once. For me, there was no turning back…and it gets easier and faster each time I make it.

Time to Serve Dinner!

Essential [IMHO]: have a large chunk of Parmigiano Reggiano on hand to serve with this. And even though it is practically forbidden, I offer red pepper flakes on the side. Like garlic, it’s a personal preference I have.

Pasta Bolognese
Parmigiano- Reggiano and red pepper flakes

The meal would not be complete without a beautiful bottle of fine Italian red wine. I mean, really, if you are going to spend ALL DAY cooking such a divine meal, why serve it with box pasta and cheap wine?

Wine for Pasta Bolognese


And one FINAL TIP (I promise): If you are going to go to all of this trouble, cooking all day long, why not double or triple the recipe and put some away in the freezer? It holds well, and it is perfect to have on hand for last minute guests or some evening when you just don’t feel like cooking yet want a hearty meal. A no brainer…

Buon Apetito!

*Please note, I get no money from any of my links; just want to let you know what I use and prefer. If you have your own devices and methods which you prefer I say go for it! My links are solely for information purposes.