Saturday, January 20, 2018


by Stella Parks

"This isn't a cookbook about making anything fancy, it's about making everything from scratch.  Not because you have to, but because it's fun".
That is a quote straight from the introduction to the book by the author Stella Parks.

This book has everything I love in a cookbook.  The beautiful, full-page, glossy photographs of almost every recipe will have your mouth watering. 
Each recipe gives the yield, active time, and downtime.  After all, there is nothing more frustrating than diving into a new recipe only to find it has to chill or set 3 hours before you can continue.  Many recipes have gluten-free and other variations.  Measurements are by volume and weight.  Parks rant on the confusing measurements of ounce by weight and ounce by volume made me feel as if I had found a kindred spirit.

The author provides a well (5 year) researched history of many classic desserts.  One of my favorite desserts is Boston Cream Pie.  As we all know, this is not actually a pie.  But why is it called pie?  The answer to that is on page 103.  Did you know the early versions did not have the fudgy chocolate glaze on the top?  To me it just wouldn't be the same without it. 

Besides the classic dessert recipes you will find recipes for some popular brand name items.  Vanilla wafers, graham crackers, Oreos, Nutter Butters, Thin Mints, Oatmeal Cream Pies, Twinkies, Hostess-Style Cupcakes, Pop-Tarts.

Then there are the recipes for things you might not have thought of making yourself.  Marshmallows, english muffins, and sprinkles.  Yes, sprinkles,  those wonderful chocolate or brightly colored toppings that always make everything more fun.  These are guaranteed to actually have flavor.  Just imagine having sprinkles in the exact color combination and flavor to coordinate with your party theme.

Some of the recipes I have tried so far are:

Chopped Chocolate Chip Cookies - I made these using mini baking M&M's.  Hey, it was a blizzard and that was what I had on hand.  This recipe turned out great.  I found the cookies tended to get a bit crunchy the next day so next time I would reduce the baking time by 4-5 minutes next time.  If you place the cookies in a sealed container with a couple of apple slices or a slice of bread, they will soften back up very nicely

Triple-Oatmeal Cookies - My cookies spread a bit more than I would have liked but they were still very good.  I divided the dough into 2 portions.  To one I added regular dried cranberries.  To the other I added the blueberry flavored dried cranberries.  They ended up tasting like a cookie version of a blueberry muffin.  And in my opinion a cookie version of anything is the best.

Snickerdoodle cookies - these turned out good, not any different than the recipe I always use.

Snip Doodles (Snickerdoodle cake) - the Snickerdoodle cookie recipe with milk added to create a batter.  This did not impress me or my volunteer taste-testers at work.

Stella Parks is a senior editor for Serious Eats website.

Other books you might enjoy:
Even More Top Secret Recipes by Todd Wilbur - this one also has a recipe for a Girl Scout Thin Mint clone.
Good Housekeeping Great American Classics Cookbook
Comfort Food Diet Cookbook by Taste of Home

Friday, January 19, 2018

Dinner For Two: Easy and Innovative Recipes For One, Two Or A Few by Julie Wampler

Whether you are a newlywed, have a small family or are enjoying rediscovering yourselves as empty nesters, Dinner For Two should be on your short list of must reads.  I think of all kinds of folks would benefit from this book of quick and easy to prepare meals that are already designed for just a few people.  Coming from a family of nine where I was often in charge of making meals, as second oldest, it took me a long time to change my mindset to not cook for an army. Not having to do the math to reduce a recipe's serving portions seems like a real bonus.  Also grabbing prepared meals from your local market deli or ordering meals to go from your favorite eateries can be a time saver for busy folks but can be cost prohibitive for most of us on a modest or even average budget to take advantage of the "chef prepared"meal choices on a regular basis.  This book can help you same money.

The book, Dinner For Two by Julie Wampler is filled with many creative and tasty dishes that any home cook can prepare in lower volumes.  Julie has done the math for you already so there is nothing to calculate. If a recipe in the book calls for half a can of something, she has included another recipe in the book that will help you eliminate kitchen waste and is budget friendly.  Her recipes are based on an average serving size, so there is the possibility that there may be occasional leftovers but they will make a great portion size for lunch the next day.

I love the fact that cooking at home this puts you in control of your food intake as many of us are counting calories or watching what we eat for other health reasons.  Before the listed ingredients, Ms. Wampler has calculated the prep time.  Most of the dishes require only about 20-30 minutes to make that will help you plan which recipes to prepare during your work week schedule.  Other recipes that require longer baking times, might be more suited for weekends or days off.  She also separates the ingredients list into what is needed for the main part of the dish and then what is required for the sauce or filling.  There is also a chapter on Breakfast for Dinner filled with yummy choices that also would lend themselves nicely to being served for brunch with a friend.

I love the Spinach Lasagna Roll-Ups recipe that uses the technique of rolling the ingredients in teh pasta noodle instead of stacking the them in layers which makes it easier to serve.  The Slow Cooker White Bean and Kielbasa Soup will be sure to hit the spot during this chilly winter weather.  I am keeping the Ranch Chicken Bacon Burgers on my list of things to make when I need something to prepare quickly. 

If you are looking for more options for cooking in small batches, my first recommendation would be to try Mr Food Test Kitchen The Ultimate Cooking for Two Cookbook.  It has a similar appeal as Dinner for Two.  Great photography and easy to cook meals.  It also has a bit more diversity in ethnic dishes for broader appeal.  America's Test Kitchen Cooking for Two: The Year's Best Recipes Cut Down to Size and The Complete Cooking for Two Cookbook 650 Recipes for Everything You'll Ever Want to Make, also by America's Test Kitchen, are good but the recipes seem to be more be more tutorial in layout and the recipes do not seem to have the eye appeal with the great photography that Dinner for Two by Julie Wampler offers.

If you are looking for a sweet finish for your smaller portion meals then Dessert for Two: Small Batch Cookies, Brownies Pies and Cakes would be my go to suggestion.

PS.  Dinner For Two might also be a gift worthy choice for newlyweds or someone on their way to college.

Review by Phyllis


Thursday, January 18, 2018

Well Fed 2: more paleo recipes for people who love to eat, by Melissa Joulwan

It’s January 2018 and definitely the time to eat healthy. However, I just faced down a plateful of curly fries and lost. Each day is a new day, right? When I need inspiration on healthy cooking, I generally turn to Melissa Joulwan’s book Well Fed 2: more paleo recipes for people who love to eat.

Joulwan is a mainstay of the paleo movement and Whole30-approved recipes. She also has her own food/paleo blog at WellFed (previously titled “The Clothes Make the Girl” in this book). While she has previous book as this is a sequel, it’s consistently found available at the library and I am never sure why. This is a prime book to go to when in need of inspiration and reminders at how easy healthy cooking can be.

Practically a novel at 240 pages, Well Fed 2 it can be considered an ode to paleo. The photos are brilliant, a mix of close up’s and regular shots, with playful shadows adorning the edges. Moreover, the recipe pages are built to give and receive the most information possible. The reader can add notes or read the suggested recipe pairings and substitutions.

I love this book because it’s full of things that I would cook, but flavors I’m unfamiliar with. Joulwan uses African flavors and Middle Eastern spices, lending a worldlier flavor to some familiar recipes. Making sausage isn’t hard, but have you ever thought of Merguez Sausage Seasoning from North Africa? What about seasoning with a Lebanese Seven-Spice Blend?

More, you say? Try Joulwan’s original, Well Fed: paleo recipes for people who love to eat, or her newest Well Fed Weeknights: Complete Paleo meals in 45 minutes or less. Nom Nom Paleo: food for humans by Michelle Tam is full of delicious recipes as well as photos of the cooking process. Also consider Beyond Bacon: paleo recipes that respect the whole hog, by Aimee Buxton for some delicious swine-related recipes. And dine divinely.

By Nicole

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Hero by Maren Morris

Todays music artists seem to take great pleasure in blurring the music genre lines and Maren Morris is an example of that.

Even at the still young age of 27, Ms. Morris is not new to the music scene.  She has been singing and writing songs professionally since age 14, by the age of 15 she had already self published her first album.

Before hitting it big on her own Morris wrote songs for other artists, among them Tim McGraw and Kelly Clarkson.

With her first hit single, My Church, she took an unusual route.  She bypassed the usual radio station circuit and went directly to Spotify, where it hit an amazing 1 million plays in under a month.  That attracted the attention of the big music producers.

The songs on this album move fluidly between country and pop.  With the breakthrough hit "My Church" playing on most radio stations you are sure to have heard her by now.  The combination of Morris's smoky voice and catchy tunes will have you singing along in no time.
Ms. Morris has also performed duets with some big names in country music, most recently Dierks Bentley and Thomas Rhett.

Other music you might like:

All That it Takes by Maren Morris - download available on Hoopla only
Life Changes  by Thomas Rhett the song Craving You with Maren Morris
Black by Dierks Bentley the song I'll Be the Moon with Maren Morris
The First Time by Kelsea Ballerini

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Many Beautiful Things : The Life and Vision of Lilias Trotter

The word serendipitous is one I use a lot when describing the fortune of books and other things of interest coming my way at just the right time.  The film, Many Beautiful Things came to me in this fashion.  I deal with problem audio visual materials at the library where I work.  If not for the chance of someone reporting a problem with this DVD, I could have never discovered this film.  It took me all of a few seconds once I popped it into the computer to check it for damage to be smitten with this film.  The film is about a Victorian era artist, writer and missionary that I had never encountered although I am fond of all forms of British literature, art and history.

Who was Lilias Trotter? If not for the the thirty year journey of a minister's wife who also pondered this question when she first received a small book that contained some of Lilias Trotter's watercolor illustrations, we all possibly never would have known.  Miriam Rockness began stealing the quiet moments in her busy life, doggedly searching for information on this unknown artist that has been brought to life in this lovely piece.  Rockness credits her ability to travel through books and art in the earlier years of her somewhat confined life when her children were young.  Books and art fed her curiosity and gave her access to the information she would use spanning the three decades it would take to research the life of someone that would have been otherwise forgotten.

Isabella Lilias Trotter was born in 1853 into a family of comfortable means in the west end of London.  Her family's upper class means afforded her many daily luxuries.  At the age of twelve, her father passed away and she seemed to develop a deep spiritual awakening.  In 1876, while traveling in Venice with her mother, they found themselves staying in the same hotel as one of the foremost leading figures of English culture, natural history and art, the famous John Ruskin.  Mrs. Trotter wrote Ruskin a note and enclosed a few of Lilias' art pieces and asked if he considered her work to show a talent that would benefit from instruction.  Ruskin, saw promise in Lilias' work and took her on as a protege.

Many Beautiful Things chronicles Lilias Trotter's life and the decisions she makes along the way that had such a profound impact on her journey. What could have intrigued me in a few seconds?  Was it the promise of a mystery solved?  Or perhaps that this movie began to unfold as one of the most beautifully executed biographical films I have ever seen?  Perhaps a bit of both.

Lilias was primarily a watercolor artist.  The film is told using watercolor portraits that magically appear and then fade at times into the real life scenes of the actress portraying Trotter.  Other watercolors capture the piercing wisdom in the eyes of John Ruskin, and in the visual portfolio presented you can compare the work of the two artists.  Michelle Dockery gives a voice to Lilias Trotter, reading diary passages or expressing her feelings at the different stages of her life.  John Rhys-Davies is the voice of John Ruskin in the readings of the letters the two exchanged over their more than twenty year relationship.

The film is the story of two women really, Trotter and Rockness.   The film time travels with Miriam from her home in the present day.  It travels across the sea to both the present and the Victorian era in England and beyond the horizons in Algeria as she traces Trotter's footsteps in search of answers to the questions she's sought throughout her life.  You will visit both present and historic London and the magnificent county estate of Ruskin named Brantwood before taking aerial flight through the beautiful English countryside to witness the beauty that inspired the artwork of both Ruskin and Trotter. With Miriam you will experience reading the diaries, letters, journals and seeing vintage photographs that piece together Trotter's history and meet everyone that has helped Rockness with her research and became friends throughout her quest.

In the film, Trotter's paintings also come unexpectedly to life. From a small boat rowing in a golden sea to a duo of white moths flitting across a still life of flowers, as well as the other artwork that helps to illustrate Trotter's path until her death at the age of 75 in 1928. The score from the film is also hauntingly rendered by Sleeping At Last.  The film is a complete visual and spiritual masterpiece for all the senses and is sure to inspire and feed the soul.  One cannot help but be astounded by the lifetime of one obscure individual that made a silent impact on so many. 

Anyone who has encountered the type of crisis of soul like Lilias Trotter had, that lead her on the path to almost certain obscurity, will recognize the peace in the clarity of her decision.  There was a calmness and unwavering confidence in her choice that allowed her to live, although not a famous life, one of deep spirituality and contentment in her mission in Algeria for more than forty years.  Did her art suffer?  Did she regret not having given her life to Ruskin?  These are questions answered in watching this beautiful film.

One regret I have when watching the film is the quote offered by John Ruskin, "There is no wealth but life."  I wish they had included the entire quote.  It is beautifully stated it shows how like-minded Ruskin and Trotter were.  The enlightenment I had regarding the people that look without seeing resonates with me still.  I think Trotter's perspective helped her greatly in not only her art but her life choices.  There is a tendency for some to lack the emotional intelligence in truly feeling, exhibiting compassion and seeing a need.  But once recognized, someone that acts with the giving heart that Trotter possessed, needs no reward.  The act or deed is not for the praise of doing something right or good but in the comfort it gives others. 

I would also like to bring up one other point if I may.  I have long been sad that the art of letter writing and journal keeping is in danger of being lost.  Our daily lives are given to texting, emailing and blogging and other technical ways that have allowed us to keep in contact with our families and friends. In letter writing and journaling, the written word becomes tangible.  It will endure when kept by another. It is our history, in our own words, to describe our thoughts, feelings and the events in our lives. It is my legacy, it is yours... please write it down for posterity.  If not, our history will not endure like this beautifully told story of this young woman's journey.  It would have been lost but for the tangible trail that fed the efforts of someone devoted to knowing more about another.
For more information on the life of Lilias Trotter, her art and relationship with John Ruskin, you can read A Passion for the Impossible  by Miriam Huffman Rockness.

Review by Phyllis

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Whole30 fast and easy: 150 simply delicious everyday recipes for your Whole30, by Melissa Hartwig

New year, new you. For most people, that’s the entire premise of January. Resolutions for “eating better” abound, and the reasons are varied are the people making them. Some decide to do it for budget concerns, or for weight loss. Others do it for reasons relating to health. Whatever your reason, Melissa Hartwig’s new book The Whole30 fast and easy: 150 simply delicious everyday recipes for your Whole30 should get you there.

The Whole30 diet is an elimination diet, wherein one abstains from certain foods then slowly reintroduces them to their eating habits, to see if they have a sensitivity or allergenic reaction. Whole30 is a paleo diet, with a distinct lack of dairy, legumes, sweeteners, and meal products. The rules are strict, but some have lost weight on this diet. Others see more psychological changes such as better sleep, clearer skin, or less symptoms of certain illnesses they have.

Want to know more? You’ll have to check out Hartwig’s website, or check out one of her many previous books. This book offers very little in the way of explanations. Exactly as it says on the cover, it, it is a fast and easy way to the Whole30 diet. She does devote some few pages to help a newcomer with rules and preparation, but the bulk of the book is recipes supplied by Hartwig and invited bloggers.

As I previously stated, Hartwig has several books dedicated to her Whole30 enterprise, including It Starts With Food, and The Whole30 cookbook. If you’re interested in more paleo recipes, check out Nom Nom Paleo by Michelle Tam or if the whole thing overwhelms you, try Part-time paleo: how to go paleo without going crazy by Leanne Ely. And happy eating!

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Asian Slow Cooker: exotic favorites for your crockpot, by Kelly Kwok

Even as I write this post, the weather is expected to take another snow day this week. We may or may not get up to 4 inches, who can say? All the cold being forecasted can mean only one thing: time to bust out the slow cooker. Thank goodness for The Asian Slow Cooker: exotic favorites for your crockpot, by Kelly Kwok.

Asian cooking is so ubiquitous, there’s a Chinese takeout restaurant every other block. But instead of stopping for unhealthy (yet delicious!) takeout that’ll be cold by the time you get home, think about having the same flavors waiting for you at home, piping hot and ready to serve. Kwok, popular blogger and creator of, has that covered in her first chapter, converting those familiar dishes for crockpot cookery. In the second, she touches on simpler recipes with her 5-ingredient chapter. She also forgoes the slow cooker for one-pot meals and skillets dinners, reasoning that sometimes life comes at your fast, and you aren’t necessarily ready to feed the family at 5pm. The “Skip the Stove-Top” recipes are among her easiest yet, but she also rounds out the book with chapters featuring spicy meals, vegetarian entrees, soups, and desserts.

Is your appetite sufficiently whetted? Marvelous, mine too. Are you looking for other takes on Chinese takeout? Check out The Chinese takeout cookbook : quick and easy dishes to prepare at home, by Diana Kuan. Healthier options? Say no more and look for Paleo Takeout: restaurant favorite without the junk, by Russ Crandall. If slow cooking gets your cooking juices going, VBPL has a plethora of cookbooks to choose from, including Damn delicious : 100 super easy, super fast recipes by Chungah Rhee. So take these possible snow days to slow down and eat up.