Tuesday, December 26, 2023

My Favorite Cookbooks



In my recent post about my cooking blog  I boasted that I have over 100 cookbooks. It’s true. One of my friends asked which ones are my favorites? A good question! But, a hard question, because I have so many favorites.

But here goes! I decided to break my answer out in categories, so let me begin with general all-purpose cookbooks. My very first cookbook, a wedding present, was Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cooking School Cookbook. At the time I was teaching myself to cook, and I worked my way through it, adding more dishes to my repertoire: sauerbraten, shish kabob, and a variety of soups, chowders, and stews.

JoyThen came Joy of Cooking, a present from my future wife in 1975. This iconic book was the most comprehensive cookbook there was, where you could find a recipe for most anything. I later got an updated edition in 1997, which is my favorite version. The most recent edition isn’t nearly as good. Joy was my go-to for many years, and I still turn to it often..

Then came Julia Child’s The Way to Cook in 1993. This is another very good cookbook, not as comprehensive as Joy, but with many really helpful recipes, with good photos. Julia will walk you through the Holiday standing rib roast with ease. Her scalloped potatoes are epic!

In a similar vein came Mark Bittman’s The Way to Cook Everything in 2008, a masterful cookbook with a non-fussy approach that I like. I gave this to my daughter when she got married. I also like his The Way to Cook Everything Fast.

I enjoy reading cookbooks that tell stories about the food, and no one is better at it than the incomparable James Beard. I just love his American Cookery. I rarely use a recipe from it anymore, but I love to read it. It’s a veritable history of American cooking.

I have two New York Times Cookbooks by Craig Claiborne, another good storyteller. The Essential New York Times Cookbook by Amanda Hesser is lots of fun, as it looks back on hundreds of recipes published over the decades in the New York Times.

The two Silver Palette cookbooks (1982 and 1985) by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukens seemed exotic at the time, and still are full of great recipes. Their Chicken Marbella is a great company dish.

I subscribed to Bon Apetit for many years, and their namesake cookbook has many good recipes, as does their counterpart The Gourmet Cookbook by Ruth Reichl. Ironically, Reichl was on a book tour promoting the book when Conde Nast announced they would stop publishing the magazine, a great loss.

I love Ina Garten’s (“The Barefoot Contessa”) cookbooks and have a bunch of them. Her recipes are mostly non-fussy everyday ones. Her seared salmon in a cast-iron skillet is perfect every time.

JerusalemA cookbook I really love is The Jerusalem Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi from 2013. This is a beautiful cookbook, with an inspiring backstory. The authors were chefs in London when they discovered they had both grown up in Jerusalem, but on different sides of that divided city. Their food is fabulous! Their roasted chicken with clementines and arak is a revelation.

Finally, in the general category, there is The Food Labby J. Kenji Lopez-Alt. For those who believe cooking is more science than art this is you book. Lopez-Alt, who has a degree from MIT, geeks out on the best way to cook everything. My kitchen is not a test kitchen, but his most definitely is. His pot-roast recipe is worth the price of the book.

For foods from around the world, I cut my teeth on TIME-LIFE Foods of the World, a set of 27 books, edited by Waverly Root. These were beautifully written with gorgeous photos. I still make my paella from the Spanish one.

For French cooking, I have to go with Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 2 volumes. I inherited these from my aunt and they are early editions from Book-of-the-Month Club.  Yes, some of her recipes are complicated and fussy, but the food that emerges is exquisite.

HazanFor Italian food, I always turn to Marcella Hazan, especially her first cookbook, The Classic Italian Cookbook. I loved the way she had suggestions that paired dishes to make an Italian meal. She had a second book, and then a third that combined the first two, but omitted the suggestions.

I taught myself how to cook Chinese food from the Joyce Chen Cookbook. When I lived in Boston in the early 1970’s Joyce Chen’s wonderful restaurant in Cambridge was one of the first to branch out beyond American Cantonese cooking to Hunan and Szechuan dishes.

When I moved to Bangor, Maine in 1979, they didn’t have a good Chinese restaurant, so I went to the library and took out her cookbook, then bought my own copy.  Chen’s cookbook came out before many Chinese ingredients were available outside Chinatowns, and she made substitutions for the American kitchen. It’s outdated now, but was very useful to me back then.

Irene KuoThen in the early 80’s I found a wonderful Chinese cookbook that I still use, The Key to Chinese Cooking by Irene Kuo, published in 1977. Unlike Joyce Chen she didn’t make substitutions; Asian ingredients were by then becoming more available.  This is the best cookbook that nobody has ever heard of. Why Kuo isn’t a household name like Julia Child and Marcella Hazan is something of a mystery (for a fascinating story about this mystery go here). She had the same editor that they did, the estimable Judith Jones at Knopf, and the book was popular for a while, but then fell out of print. It has beautiful hand-drawn illustrations, good explanations, and wonderful stories about Chinese food. Her hot and sour soup will make you forget every other version.

For Thai food, I love Nancie McDermott’s Real Thai, which was published in 1992. She spent time in Thailand in the Peace Corps. She breaks Thai cuisine down into its several regions. Her recipes are simple and easy to follow and the food is fantastic. In 1992 you had to make your own Thai curry paste. Now you can buy them in most any grocery store. This is one of my go-to favorites.

For Tex-Mex food, I’ve long relied on Jane Butel’s Tex-Mex Cookbook. It contains easy to follow recipes and delicious outcomes. She was a cooking teacher and it shows in this well-written book.

Rick BaylessFor authentic Mexican, the great Diana Kennedy was the first American to bring real Mexican food to us. She lived for years in remote Mexico, and has several fine books. This is the real deal, but sometimes it has tough to find ingredients and labor-intensive approaches. For a more accessible book, I like Rick Bayless’s Mexico: One Plate at a Time. Each recipe has two versions, the authentic and a modern version.

For grilling and barbecue it is hard to beat Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby’s The Thrill of the Grill and its two sequels. They make great food, with innovative sides.

For fish and shellfish, there is the magisterial Fish by Mark Bittman from 1999. This is the book that put him on the cookbook map and it is superb. Fish varieties are listed alphabetically, with recipes for each variety. Many recipes can be used interchangeably for several varieties, such as cod and haddock.

Madhur JaffreyFor Indian cuisine, I turn to Madhur Jaffrey, the British actress and food writer, who introduced the food of her native India to millions in the West. Her Indian Cooking remains an important resource with helpful explanations about Indian spices.

My favorite Moroccan cookbook is by Paula Wolfert. Her The Food of Morocco is full of colorful pictures and tasty recipes. I bought a tagine several years ago and this cookbook taught me the basic principles of how to use it.

For Cajun and Creole cooking nothing can beat Chef Paul Prudhommes’s Louisiana Kitchen. Jambalaya, gumbo, shrimp creole, it’s all here.

I could go on and on (in fact, I have) but that is probably more than enough for one blogpost. I do have over a hundred cookbooks, and there are many more worthy of mention, but these are the ones I reach for most. Enjoy. As Julia liked to say, “Bon Appétit!”

Saturday, December 16, 2023

Rick's German Pancake (Dutch Baby)

DutchMy daughter-in-law introduced me to this wonderful recipe. This is simplicity itself. Just eggs, milk, flour and butter whisked together and baked, and you have a lovely breakfast or brunch dish that has a texture somewhere between a pancake and a fluffy omelet. Serves four to six.


4 eggs

1 cup milk

1 cup all-purpose flour

A dash of salt

1 TBS unsalted butter


Place rack in middle of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees.

In a 10 or 12 inch cast iron skillet place butter and put the skillet in the oven for about four minutes or until the butter.

In a medium bowl whisk the eggs until they are smooth. Add the milk and whisk to mix. Add the flour and salt and whisk until you have a smooth batter.

When butter has melted remove the skillet from the oven and swirl to coat the bottom with butter. Add the batter to the skillet and return it to the oven. Bake for 15 minutes or until the pancake rises and is lightly browned.

That’s it! Serve with your favorite jam, or apple sauce, or real maple syrup. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 7, 2023

Rick’s Spicy Shrimp with Peanut Sauce



Variations on this dish are a staple in our house. If you have a well-seasoned wok, by all means use it. A 12 -inch skillet will also do nicely. I’ve been pleased with wild caught Argentinian Red shrimp, which I buy frozen and thaw out under cold running water.

You can use a variety of noodles, but my favorite for this are the folded rice noodles (Sen Lek) which come in 7 oz packages, which is perfect for this dish.


1 lb. large shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 limes

2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

2 TBS peanut oil

Dried red chili flakes to taste

½ red bell pepper, seeded and cut into shreds

½ small onion, peeled a coarsely chopped

4 OZ. snow peas

½ cup smooth peanut butter

1 TS sesame oil

1 TBS honey

2 TBS fish sauce (Nam Pla)

½ cup dry roasted peanuts, chopped, for garnish

Cilantro for garnish

Salt and pepper


In a large bowl zest one of the limes, and add its juice. Add peanut butter, sesame oil, honey, fish sauce, and about ½ cup of boiling water. Whisk to blend.

In a large pot bring water to a boil. Add salt. Add the rice noodles and remove from heat for about 10 minutes until soft but not mushy. Drain in colander. Add to bowl with the peanut butter.

In your wok or skillet heat oil over high heat for a minute or two. Add the shrimp, salt and pepper, red pepper flakes and stir fry for a minute. Add the sliced red bell pepper, onion and garlic and continue stir frying until the shrimp is pink, another minute or two. Add ½ cup of water, stir, and sprinkle in the snow peas. Cover and cook for one minute.

Empty the contents of the wok/skillet into the bowl, toss, garnish with cilantro and chopped peanuts. Enjoy!

Rick’s Kung Pao Chicken with Snow Peas


Kung Pao

This is a flexible dish. You could skip the snow peas and serve with a different vegetable. You can adjust the heat by the number of chilis you use.


For the marinade:

2 TSP cornstarch

2 TSP water

1 TSP Chinese cooking rice wine (Shaoxing Wine) or dry sherry

1 TSP sesame oil

3 TBS soy sauce

A pinch of salt

1 TSP Sichuan peppercorns, ground in a mortar

1 egg white, beaten

For the sauce:

2 TBS dark soy sauce

1 TBS cornstarch

1 TSP sesame oil

2 TBS Chinese cooking rice wine (Shaoxing Wine)

1 TBS Chinkiang (black) vinegar

2 whole boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into ½ inch cubes.

4 to six dried chili peppers, such as Hunan chilis, Thai bird chilis or chiles de árbol.

½ red bell pepper, cut into ½ inch pieces

4 TBS peanut oil

½ cup dry roasted peanuts

2 scallions, sliced for garnish

4 OZ snow peas


Whisk the marinade ingredients together in a medium bowl and add the chicken pieces and stir until all the pieces are covered. Marinate for half an hour while you make you preparations.

Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Add the snow peas. When the boil returns, drain the peas in cold water.

In a big non-stick skillet heat the oil over medium heat and when hot, add the chilis. Stir for about 30 seconds and add the chicken all at once and spread them across the skillet. Let them cook on one side for about 3 minutes and then turn them. Let the other side brown, add the sauce, the bell pepper, and snow peas. Stir fry until the snow peas are covered and the sauce is thickened and reduced, a couple of minutes. Turn the heat off. Add the peanuts and scallions. Stir and serve with rice.

(Photo: R.L. Floyd 2023) 

Greek Lemon Chicken Soup with Orzo (Avgolemono Soup)

Soup 2I had never had this soup until I started dating my wife nearly 50 years ago when I was introduced to it by her mom, who is a great cook. Her dad is the Greek, but her German mom cooked many Greek dishes. It became a favorite of mine, but I seldom see it on menus.

Years ago, I discovered a local pizzeria that made it and always ordered it. One day it was changed from “Avgolemono Soup” to “Lemon Chicken Soup with Orzo.” In my neck of the woods almost all pizzerias are owned and operated by Greek Americans. I asked the owner why the name change? He said, “I couldn’t give it away as “Avgolemono Soup,” but the same soup is now popular.” Go figure.

Full disclosure: I could, but I don’t make this from scratch. The is definitly a leftover soup for me, and since I made Ina Garten’s amazing “Skillet Roasted Lemon Chicken” this week I had some cooked chicken that already had a lemony flavor. This recipe serves two, but can be doubled.


2 TBS good olive oil (Greek, if you have it)

1 small carrot, peeled and chopped fine

1 small stalk of celery, peeled and chopped fine

1 scallion or shallot,  peeled and chopped fine

1 garlic glove, smashed and peeled

1 bay leave

1 pinch oregano

4 cups chicken stock or broth

2/3 cup orzo

1 cup cooked chicken, chopped or shredded

2 eggs

½ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice

Salt and pepper to taste


Heat oil in a pot and sauté the carrot, celery, and scallion for several minutes until they are limp but not brown. Add the garlic and stir for another minute. Add the stock and bring to a boil, then lower the heat to keep a simmer. Simmer for 15 minutes. Raise heat and add the orzo, stirring until soup returns to a boil, simmer for 9 minutes or until the orzo is cooked to your liking.

Meanwhile, make the avgolemono by whisking together the eggs and the lemon juice in a medium bowl until they are frothy.

When the orzo is cooked add the chicken. Here’s the fun part. You have to temper the avgolemono or it will curdle. To do this place the bowl with the eggs next to the pot and  slowley ladle in two ladles of soup into the bowl while whisking continuously. Turn off the burner and stir the avgolemono back into the pot. Serve and enjoy!


Slow Cooker Chinese Short Ribs


Short ribspg

I’ve always loved braising in my Dutch Oven. Tough cuts of meat like brisket and short ribs become meltingly delicious when braised. When my children and grandchildren were with us during the pandemic, they brought their slow cooker and I was hooked. When they left and took it with them, I bought myself one like theirs, a Cuisinart 6 ½ quart that has a sauté function, so you can brown things before you start the slow part.

Lately, I make many of my meals in the slow cooker, and have been inspired by the wonderful recipes by Sarah DiGregorio on the NYT cooking site.

I love beef short ribs and have made them numerous times in both the Dutch Oven and the slow cooker.  I typically make them like a pot roast or brisket, but this recipe is a new way to make them with an Asian flavor palate.

The inspiration for this recipe was from Mark Bittmans’s “Slow Cooker Short Ribs With Chinese Flavors.” This is simplicity itself. You don’t brown the meat. You just throw it all in the slow cooker and let it get happy for 7 or 8 hours.

I’ve added a few of my own tweaks. I strain and thicken the sauce and toss in some steamed snow peas.


8 beef short ribs, about 3 pounds

½ cup soy sauce

¼ cup brown sugar or honey

3 star anise

6 whole scallions, trimmed

1 3-inch piece cinnamon stick

5 nickel-size unpeeled slices of ginger

1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns

Cooked white rice for serving

A handful of snow peas, steamed

Chopped scallions for garnish


Combine all the ingredients, except the rice, snow peas and garnish, in the slow cooker. Cover and cook until meat is very tender and falling off the bone, 7 or 8 hours on Low. Remove the bones and put the meat on a platter.

Strain liquid and thicken with 2 teaspoon corn starch, whisked with Sesame oil and1 TBS water.  Pour liquid over the meat and add the snow peas. Serve over rice and sprinkle with chopped scallions.

Rick’s Cataplana Shellfish Stew


Cat 1

Years ago, friends of ours brought us back a cataplana from their trip to Portugal. A cataplana is both the name of the cooking vessel and the dish that is made in it. The vessel is a clam-shaped copper pot with a hinge.  If you don’t have a cataplana, you can use a sturdy pot or Dutch oven with a lid. The dish is a shellfish and pork stew. There are many versions. Here’s mine. Since my cataplana isn’t very big, this recipe is for two, or maybe four with enough good crusty bread and a salad.


8 small live clams, like littlenecks or Maine mahoganies

8 large shrimp, peeled and deveined

½ lb. calamari, cut into round strips

½ yellow onion, chopped

½ red bell pepper chopped

2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil

3 good canned tomatoes, crushed by hand with their juices

A pinch of saffron

A pinch of smoked paprika

2 thin slices of prosciutto, chopped fine

8 sliced rounds of chourico, linguica, or Spanish chorizo

½ tsp. dried oregano

½ cup dry white wine

½ cup water

Ct 2


Set the cataplana or pot over low heat and put in the oil. Add the chopped bell pepper and onion, and stir. You want to make a sofrito as you do for a paella, so keep the heat low and stir from time to time. You don’t want to brown the vegetables, just soften them. In 10 minutes or so add the prosciutto and chourico and stir for a minute or 2.

Add the crushed tomato, wine and water and bring to a boil. Add the oregano, saffron and paprika. Add the calamari, shrimp and clams, cover tightly and cook at medium high heat for 6 to 8 minutes or until the clams have opened.

Discard any clams that don’t open. Serve with crusty bread and a salad and a dry white wine.

Cat 3