Wednesday, November 16, 2011

For the Love of Cookbooks

Where do you go to find the perfect recipe? Do you reach for the latest in modern cuisine in a shiny magazine? Or maybe a classic cookbook handed down from your grandmother, filled with notes and recipes that include ingredients rarely seen in the last three decades? How about the easy route? Click over to epicurious, type in an ingredient and just like that, the recipe that will impress even the pickiest of eaters at your table appears. Wherever you choose to do your recipe mining, keep in mind, that recipe in your hand or on your screen is simply a starting point.

A few years ago I was given a copy of
Cooking with Friends in part because I enjoyed cooking, and also since I was one of the millions of devoted fans of Monica, Rachel, Phoebe, Chandler, Joey and Ross. I thought “how silly”, recipes inspired by the show and all the preposterous situations the characters found themselves in. Well, that kitsch volume of memorabilia has since led me to some of my favorite go-to recipes beloved by my friends. I admit I may add a few key ingredients that make my versions of the recipes mine, but I am always amused when I reach for that cookbook knowing it was probably never intended to be the culinary resource it has become for me when comfort food is what’s needed. Not to knock the impressive new culinary memoir of Jacques Pépin, Essential Pépin, it has a valuable place in the canon... but you never know where you’ll find your taste inspirations.

Every holiday season I make a tasty variation of Cappuccino Biscotti with Chocolate Chips. I often create batches of Blueberry Muffins (with lemon zest) or Sour Cream Cake with Cinnamon Swirl for my morning treat to go with my coffee. When making a quiche I start with the Spinach Savory Pie tossing in a little of what I’m craving. And when it comes to chili, I HAVE to make the Flirting with Firemen Firehouse Chili to warm me up and fill my place with the smells of simmering tomatoes and spices.

I’ve added a few more fresh ingredients to the original pot and topped it off with a tangy cheddar cheese for added yumminess.

3 Tablespoons Vegetable Oil
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 medium onions, chopped
1 pablano pepper, finely diced (optional)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 pounds of lean ground beef or ground turkey
2 tablespoons Tomato Paste
2 cups canned crushed tomatoes
2 cups beef broth or chicken broth (if using ground turkey)
1 Tablespoon chili powder, or to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon fresh oregano leaves, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1 15-ounce can kidney beans, rinsed and well-drained
1 15-ounce can of black beans, rinsed and well-drained
1/2 cup Corn Kernels (from 1 ear, or frozen and thawed)
1/2 cup Cheddar Cheese, grated
2 scallions, sliced

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the carrots, and onions, cook for about 6 minutes then toss in the pablano pepper and garlic cooking for another 2 minutes.

Add the ground beef or turkey and cook, breaking it up with a spoon, until it is no longer pink.

Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, until it is slightly darkened but careful not to burn. Stir in the crushed tomatoes and broth, chili powder, cumin, oregano, salt, and pepper.

Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer gently until the liquid thickens and flavors are blended-about 2 hours.

Stir in the beans and corn, continue to simmer until the beans are heated through. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

To serve, ladle into warm soup bowls topping with grated cheese and sliced scallions.

This chili is particularly cozy when spooned over an earthy wild rice accompanied by warm, sweet corn bread.

Make Ahead: You can cook the chili in advance and refrigerate it for up to 3 days or freeze it for up to 3 months.


  1. Okay, SJA, this *is* pretty funny--but I love it! This chili recipe sounds really good...I think I'll have to have Andy whip us up some chili soon. We have a ton of cookbooks and cooking magazines that we hardly ever use. I tend to use the blog search at Simply Recipes to find recipes:

  2. Im really intrigued by this "Cooking with Friends" book (seeing that im also a huge fan of the tv show and have been watching alot of the episodes recently)and wonder if its a book i would want to purchase myself, i'm new to baking and cooking and i would love to learn new RECETAS (as i like to call it)but im a little on the rough edges, i have also started to learn a little about baking and i've been having a little fun. if it's alright i would really like your input on this book. im curious to find out what this book is about and maybe i can make some ingredients out of mochlate LOL

    Curious learner :)

  3. Thanks Karen, I love sites like Simply Recipes that pull from so many sources. It's always fun to find such a variety of uses for an ingredient when you do a quick search-so inspirational.

    Dear Sweet Little Baker,
    It warms my heart to find another fan who wants to eat like the gang at Central Perk. I will honestly tell you that I have found several tasty recipes that are easy to create in "Cooking with Friends". It's a fun, sort of silly, gathering of scene inspired dishes. It doesn't focus on just baking and doesn't include any added technique instruction but it is available through sellers on Amazon very inexpensively, so you can splurge on a nice used copy and enjoy some of the fun too.
    If you want to focus on more baking, I was given a copy of "Lee Bailey's Country Desserts" (also available on Amazon) that I go to for for rich flavors and classic cakes, pies and cookies.
    And most recently, through FCI and Judith Choate, I have fallen in love with the wonderfully demonstrative illustrations and techniques in "The Fundamental Techniques of Classic Pastry Arts". It's a much more instructional and in-depth volume for all kinds of pastry.
    I hope you continue to learn and explore-good luck.

  4. Thank you for the book advice :) im really going to try to find these books online and let the creativeness begin :)and with black friday today im trying to find a nice kitchenAid to get me started. I'm also intrigued by " The Fundamental Techniques of Classic Pastry Arts" book, will look into it and see what good recipes i can get started with. would it be alright if i had questions regarding some recipes to come to you for advice? i would really appreciate that. Hope you have a wonderful weekend :)

  5. I hope you found a great deal on a KitchenAid mixer, they really are a must-have for kitchen creativity.
    Please fell free to come to me with questions. If I can’t answer you I can probably point you in the direction of finding help (and I’ll try to be more timely with my response than this one ;) ).
    Happy Baking!

  6. Yeah didn't get a chance to buy one, the one i wanted was like 399.00, I'm just going to have to settle for a cheaper one :( but as long as i have one i'll be happy :) just order some books about pies and brownies i can't wait to get them so i can start being creative. so you might be hearing from me since i'm a little on the "how to bake for dummies" side of the road. hope you're having a wonderful week :)

    Sweet Little Bakers