Your “Go To” Dip for 2015

23 Jan

I am blessed with three wonderful sisters, Diane, Jeanye and Ruth. They came into my life in my 20’s, when my mother remarried after my father died. I’ve had many wonderful and hilarious times with all three ever since. They are the best.

Jeanye and I are addicted to cards and will play for hours at a stretch. Which means, of course, we need some ‘nibbles’, as she likes to call them, while we play. Sustenance is important, right? (It also keeps the mind sharp for kicking ass at cards… We are a little competitive.) The last time we played at her house, she combined the remains of two left over store-bought items on a whim: pimento cheese and a corn salad.

We inhaled it.

It was so good I was determined to create a homemade version. After a few rounds of experimenting, I present you a dip you will make for the rest of your life. This stuff is good. Because of the ingredients, it also lasts a while in the fridge. I always double it, in fact. So make a big batch, serve with vegetables and/or crackers, and enjoy.

This is perfect for the Super Bowl, btw.

Oh and importantly, for the Southerners anyway, this is the best pimento cheese recipe ever, one I’ve come up with by combining a few recipes over the years. Make just the pimento cheese for the best pimento cheese sandwich on the planet.


Pim Cheese corn dip

Pimento Cheese Jalapeño Corn Dip





- 1/2 lb of extra-sharp aged White Cheddar Cheese, grated

- 1/2 lb of extra-sharp aged Cheddar (orange), grated

- 1 7 oz jar of pimentos, drained and finely chopped

- 1 cup Best Foods/Hellman’s mayonnaise (don’t use homemade for this recipe)

- *2 T Durkee’s Famous Sauce (order this from Amazon if you cannot find it in your store, it’s a must)

- 1 t each of salt, pepper and cayenne… minimum! Don’t be shy here.



Combine all ingredients well in a large bowl. Continue combining until relatively smooth, though some, like me, enjoy pimento cheese with the strands of cheese visible. It is difficult not to dive in immediately but it will be better in a day or so.


If you have a Trader Joe’s near you, your life is easy. Get a bag of their frozen “Roasted Corn”. If you can’t find this, a bag of regular frozen corn will do. Just sauté it at a slightly higher heat for a little longer to get a bit of roasted flavor. If you are ambitious, you may instead roast a few ears of corn on your grill, then slice the kernels off and start there.


- 2 T butter

- 1 bag Trader Joe’s Roasted Corn (see note above)

- 1/2 onion, diced fine

- 1/2 Jalapeño, diced fine… the seeds are the spice. I use about half for a very healthy kick.

- salt and pepper



Sauté the onion and jalapeño in the butter on medium until they are just getting soft. Add the corn and continue to sauté, adding plenty of salt and pepper. When everything is soft and caramelized, maybe 20 minutes total (taste!), remove from heat and let cool.

*For your finished dip, combine the cooled roasted corn with the pimento cheese. Again, you can eat right away but it will only get better with time!



Favorite Films of 14

9 Jan

It’s been a different year for movies. A good friend of mine noted there didn’t seem to be any big ‘Oscar movies’, nothing that screamed Must see! or that has a lock on Best Picture… and that is true. But for me, this has been a good thing. In an age where so many movies are huge depressing blockbusters: sequels ad nauseam with the same old, same old tired CGI action that makes me numb, my personal favorites of the year were movies that were small, indie and often very weird. Some of these even blew me away.

In no specific order:




Whoa, whoa, whoa! Isn’t this the type of big budget blockbuster you were slamming above?

Actually… no. This terrific, very smart, very suspenseful movie is what every big budget action movie should be. It’s the most sheer fun I had at the movies all year. A blast of a picture, Edge Of Tomorrow (or Live. Die. Repeat.) is extremely clever and, along with terrific supporting performances, has two kick-ass lead performances by Tom Cruise and the heavenly Emily Blunt. Wretchedly marketed by Warner Bros, (the movie’s name has even changed!) the ads looked like same old same old and revealed none of the humor (it is very funny), none of the romance (it has a heartbreaking romantic subplot) and hid just how good Tom Cruise was as he played one of the great cowards ever to be portrayed onscreen. That’s right, a total, yellow bellied coward. I confess, I love the guy, he is a superb actor (watch Magnolia if you disagree) and he clearly had a ball playing very against type. You probably missed it on the big screen, which is a bummer, but see it anyway. It’s a @%#$ blast.




This is a wild, weird, phenomenal twist on the action thriller by one of the most inventive directors alive, Joon-Ho Bong. Very hard to describe, the entire movie takes place on a futuristic speeding train containing all that is left of humanity. With splendid action scenes and extremely inventive set pieces (wait until you get to the ‘classroom scene’ with a deliriously upbeat Allison Pill) Snowpiercer has a wild, weird sensibility that is all Bong, who also directed the equally wild and wonderful movies The Host and Mother. Chris Evans does his best work yet on screen. He’s terrific. As are all the supporting players. And then there’s Oscar Winner Tilda Swinton. Her part, Mason, was written for a man. When she was cast, they changed not a word, she transformed her appearance and this remarkable, fearless actress gives a hilarious, biting performance unlike anything you’ve ever seen. While the movie is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, it has a classic revenge suspense plot holding it together that will keep you leaning forward. Experience something wonderful and trippy. See this movie.





Whiplash blew me away. I saw it three days ago and am still processing it. It’s a complex, riveting exploration of both a brutal teacher/student relationship and the age old question, “How far should anyone go for the sake of great art?” Knowing this, before I saw it, I thought, “Ok, cool, but I have seen this story before.” Indeed, the first half of the movie is an expertly made, brilliantly acted, very engaging riff on many movies you have seen before. But then the movie goes off on it’s own dazzling track. With two of the year’s performances by Miles Teller and J. K. Simmons, this may have surpassed Boyhood as my favorite movie of the year.



Speaking of Boyhood!  What an absolute joy. Much has been written about the innovative approach to this movie, filming the same actors one week each year for twelve years to capture twelve years in the life of a boy and his family. I myself wrote a long post last year about writer/director Richard Linklater and his brilliant ‘Before’ trilogy. This movie, though, is something completely different, even from an artist responsible for such innovative films as Waking Life. Certainly also not everyone’s cup of tea, given its length and mostly leisurely pace, I found myself entranced all the way through and in the last 15 minutes or so, incredibly moved.



One of the most electrifyingly directed movies of all time. Seriously. In case you have not yet seen it or you don’t know anything about it, I don’t want to say more to keep from giving a few surprises away. Know this, though… it’s a very well written, brilliantly acted movie that, like Whiplash and, yes, many movies before, explores art, how far one should push oneself to create art, and the effect reaching for greatness can have on an artist. Everyone is talking about Michael Keaton, who is indeed wonderful in the movie. He has a scene, for instance, with the great Lindsay Duncan I could watch every day of my life. All the actors are terrific in it, in fact, but my favorite was Edward Norton, who is hilarious as what seems to be a ramped up version of himself. This movie was thrilling to watch.



Probably my biggest surprise of the year, this dark, creepy look at the underbelly of local news and video paparazzi has the best performance of the year by Jake Gyllenhaal. Transforming himself completely, he is extremely unnerving as a weirdo we slowly come to realize is a psychopath. You cannot take your eyes off him. At least until Rene Russo comes on screen. Mmay I stop and say how much I love love love Rene Russo??) Russo has her best role since The Thomas Crown Affair. She also knocks it out of the park. I love how instead of chewing the scenery, as many would do with this specific part, she plays it real and subtle. She’s quietly devastating in a long dinner scene between the two. I love pretty much any movie about my favorite city, Los Angeles (look for a full blog about this soon). Nightcrawler is one of the best LA movies in memory. The garish, neon look that captures both beauty and horror is dazzling. Score a huge debut for writer/director Dan Gilroy. I can’t wait to see what he does next.



The most ‘classic Oscar movie’ of any on my list, The Imitation Game is an expertly made, beautifully acted and at times quite gripping movie based on the true story of the man who attempted to break Germany’s Enigma Code in WWII. This also is a type of movie you have seen before, but when it is done this well, it doesn’t matter. The triple layered structure was a terrific idea and very well done, keeping three concurrent mysteries juggling. Phenom of the day Benedict Cumberbatch is, as always, pitch perfect and he is surrounded by many wonderful actors including Keira Knightly (see also below) and a favorite of mine, Matthew Goode. Oh, and Grandaddy Lannister: Charles Dance. Love. Him. The movie also sports my favorite score of the year by the great Alexander Desplat.

Of note:

A few other very honorable mentions:


The screen adaptation of the justifiable phenomenon Gone Girl sported great performances across the board. The two leads, Ben Affleck and particularly Rosamund Pike, nailed it. I mean, nailed it. I am a huge fan of the novel and enjoyed the movie, and these two, very much.


Keira Knightly was absolute loveliness in the very enjoyable romantic comedy musical Begin Again. (Full disclosure: one of my best friends produced this movie but I would not post it if I did not like it.) Singing her own songs, Knightly was delightful. The movie also sports easily the best movie song of the year, Lost Stars, sung incredibly well by Adam Levine. Scandalously, this song was not nominated for a Golden Globe, though it makes a certain sense since the Globes are a well known joke. Hopefully it will get the Oscar attention it deserves. 


Yeah, yeah, it is a sequel, it is an action movie, it is filled with CGI. Still, the Captain America follow up is by far my favorite Marvel movie, probably because it specifically homages some of my favorite films, the paranoia thrillers of Alan J. Pakula and others from the 70’s. Smarter than most, with solid performances from everyone involved, I enjoyed this movie quite a bit. So nice to see Robert Redford on the screen (again, the homage) and Chris Evans makes my list for a second time since he is perfect as Captain America, the best of the Marvel heroes. Well done.


Another of the best performances of the year was Bradley Cooper in American Sniper, Clint Eastwood’s best movie by far since Million Dollar Baby. Like many others this year, he transformed himself into someone very, very different. He was remarkable in the movie, which sports some of the most intense and suspenseful war sequences since Black Hawk Down.


Because of another bad marketing campaign, most people missed this terrific, scary thriller adapted from a Lawrence Block novel. Some of the promos made it look like Taken 5, ugh. However, A Walk Among the Tombstones was expertly adapted by Scott Frank, a favorite screenwriter of mine. Very intelligent, very complex, it felt like a dense novel onscreen, which is a high compliment from me. Find it on DVD or VOD. It’s excellent.

I’d love to know your own favorites! Leave a comment and feel free to reblog the post!




A Perfect Christmas Cocktail

15 Dec

From Thanksgiving stuffing to Christmas Cocktails, ’tis the season! I have a number of blog posts lined up but have been so busy I cannot find time to finish any of them. Sounds like a good New Years Resolution… “Finish Blog Posts!” Of course the effect any resolution has on me is less than nil. We will see what happens in January.

In the meantime, here is a cocktail for your holiday celebrating that is just about perfect. My twist on the great Gramercy Tavern‘s Cranberry Daiquiri.

Cranberry Daiquiri

Cranberry Daiquiri


Understand, I am not a fan of sweet drinks. The fact I love this cocktail and will happily drink it in lieu of a martini says a lot about how wonderful it tastes.

The daiquiri takes a little prep, both getting the right rum and making Cranberry Syrup. Make a big batch of the syrup, however, and you are ready anytime between now and Epiphany to make the cocktail.

People go crazy over this, trust me.

Since we are talking cocktails, I’ve also included another drink I will humbly admit I have become famous for, my version of a classic Manhattan. So invite some people over, make some goat cheese spread (A Near Perfect Food, my first post) and have a blessed Christmas season. Gourmet magazine’s Baked Cheddar Olives are another sublime appetizer to serve.


It’s very easy:

1 oz Cranberry Syrup (see below)

1 oz fresh squeezed lime juice

2 oz Gosling’s Black Rum

Place all ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Stir until icy cold, then pour into a chilled martini glass. Serve with a slice of lime or orange or for a pretty garnish you can throw a fresh cranberry or two into the drink.

NOTES: You must get Gosling’s Black Rum, it makes all the difference in the world. If you have a few people over, make a big batch: 1 part syrup, 1 part lime juice, 2 parts Gosling’s, however much you need. I like to make a batch in the afternoon and chill it in the fridge. Then it’s ready to pour into the shaker when people arrive.


First, make simple syrup: In a saucepan combine 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water. Boil until the sugar dissolves. This doubles or triples easily and keeps in the fridge forever.

For the Cranberry Syrup: add to 1 cup of simple syrup the peel of an orange and 1 large cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil. Add a 12 oz bag of fresh cranberries and reduce to a simmer.

Simmer, stirring occasionally, until most of the cranberries have popped. Remove from heat, cover and let sit for at least 30 minutes. Strain into a bowl, gently pressing onto the berries for more juice, but be careful! If you press hard, you will end up with jelly, not syrup!

Cool, then put into a container and place in the fridge. It will keep at least a month.

My jug of Cranberry Syrup for the holidays

My jug of Cranberry Syrup for the holidays



I can’t take full credit for this as an amazing bartender named Seth taught me how to make the best Manhattan ever. A classic Manhattan is one of the best drinks imaginable but it can be too sweet, particularly with the typical Maraschino Cherries added. Maraschino Cherries are, in a word, gross. And make any drink sickly sweet.

Below is my version of Seth’s version, using a lemon twist instead of a cherry. This gives the drink a slightly tart difference from the norm that is divine. Give it a try, even if you love a Manhattan with cherries. This will blow you away.


Best Manhattan Ever


Manhattans are easy. 1 part Sweet Vermouth to 2 parts bourbon. That’s basically it, with a couple of twists. You want a good sweet vermouth, Dolin or Nolly Prat. (Martini & Rossi is a decent dry vermouth for a martini but their sweet vermouth is not as good.) You also want a good bourbon. You don’t want a very expensive bourbon, though. Those are for sipping. For this cocktail I like Bulleit, but Maker’s Mark also makes a wonderful Manhattan.

To make the drink:

Add 1 part Sweet Vermouth and 2 Parts Bourbon to a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Let it sit for 30 seconds. While it sits, throw a few shakes of Angostura Bitters into a chilled martini glass. Take a lemon twist and swirl it around in the bitters, leaving the twist in the glass. Stir the cocktail shaker to make sure the liquid is ice cold. Pour into the glass and serve. Perfection.

NOTE: You can also make a batch of these before a party, mixing the bourbon and sweet vermouth, then keep it in the fridge, ready to pour.

Do you have cocktail traditions for the holidays? Let us know. And, as always, if you try one of these, I would love to hear what you think!



20 Nov


There are few things I love more than Thanksgiving. And there are few things I love more on Thanksgiving than stuffing. Just in time for the big day, then, a stuffing post. 

Or do you call it dressing??

We grew up calling it stuffing. Even though we never stuffed a bird. My mom thought it was a bit gross to stuff a bird. Subsequently I never stuff the bird either. I hear from my dear and trusted friend Phyllis that stuffing the bird creates incredibly moist, tasty stuffing. I will have to try it sometime!

Thanksgiving Table 2013

Thanksgiving Table 2013

One thing I love about stuffing is how versatile it can be. Mom, for instance, made an incredible shrimp and crabmeat stuffing I can still taste to this day. During the year she would also make a southwestern stuffing, with green chilis, black olives and cheese. A good basic stuffing recipe is incredibly adaptable to almost any flavor. 

There is also the question as to white bread or corn bread. I say, why choose? Each year I have one of each at the table. So whether you call it dressing or stuffing or, um, Stove Top (Never, Ever, Ever), below are two terrific stuffing recipes, from two very good friends. Both these recipes are so good, I make them not only at Thanksgiving but throughout the year when I have that craving for stuffing. 

Remember first a few general stuffing notes:

* Stuffing tastes better over time so you can ease your Thanksgiving by making the stuffing the day before or even days ahead. Bake it, then it can sit in the fridge a day or two, getting more flavorful, or you can make it even a week before, freeze it, then reheat it (my trick.)

* You can make fresh vegetable stock in 30 minutes or fresh chicken stock in less than an hour. Fresh stock makes a world of difference. Just do it. Click here.

* Stuffing is not an exact science. I never ever follow these recipes to the exact amount and the stuffing is always is wonderful. Just taste as you go!



nan’s stuffing with soy chorizo


My friend Nan is an amazing cook. I’ve had many wonderful dinners at her house. She introduced this stuffing to me and I’ve made it every year since.

There are a number of things I love about this recipe… it works with either cornbread or white bread. Nan, in fact, uses both to great effect. And while it is indeed wonderful with pancetta and sausage, we both substitute in soy chorizo, which is shockingly good and creates a stuffing that pleases the meat eaters yet is vegetarian friendly. As with any stuffing recipe, it is hard to screw up. I’ve simplified her relatively easy recipe even more to make it as user friendly as possible. Oh and, yeah, I’ve simplified it also because I am lazy.


2 large loaves of good quality bread (LaBrea Bakery Rosemary Olive Oil bread is an excellent choice) OR 2 pans of cornbread. For the best cornbread in the world, click here. (You can do one of each and mix your breads.)

3 cups stock (chicken or vegetable, depending… click here to make easy homemade stock. It really does make a difference.

2 cups half and half

2 large eggs, beaten lightly

7 T butter

1.5 lbs bulk pork sausage (or 1 lb soy chorizo)

8 oz pancetta (optional)

3 medium onions, chopped fine …about 3 cups

3 ribs celery.. and leaves! (impt!)… about 1 1/2 cups

4 T minced fresh herbs… thyme, rosemary, sage and or savory are good choices

3 cloves garlic, minced

salt and pepper


1. Cut or tear the bread into bite sized pieces. Some people like to cut. I myself tear, I like the rustic look. (Did you know “rustic” means “lazy”?) Spread the pieces on 2 baking sheets and dry out in a 250 degree oven for an hour. Place in a large bowl when cool.

bread for stuffing

torn rustic white bread


2. Whisk stock, half and half, and eggs in a bowl. Pour this mixture over the bread and toss pieces gently to coat. (Cornbread can become mushy so I like to make bigger pieces of cornbread)

3. Heat 12 inch skillet over medium-high head until hot. Add 2 T butter and swirl to coat pan. When foam subsides, add your meats or soy chorizo or whatever combo and cook, stirring, until it loses it’s raw color. Remove to a bowl. If you use chorizo, wipe the pan relatively clean so your veggies do not turn orange.

4. Add 4 T of butter and saute onions and celery until softened. As they cook, add salt and pepper liberally, and your herbs. After 5 minutes, add the garlic. Cook on medium heat until all is soft. 

5. Add this mixture to the meats/chorizo, then toss with the bread mixture. Toss gently so some of the bread remains in full pieces and does not mush. Taste! Do you need more seasoning? Add it. 

6. Cover bowl with wrap and let sit an hour, or 4 hours, or overnight, whatever you have time for.

7. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter a large rectangular baking dish. Pour in stuffing and any remaining liquid. Bake until golden brown, 35-40 minutes. 

8. If making ahead, bake fully, then keep in fridge or freeze. If you freeze it, let it thaw overnight. Either way, pad with butter, all over, when you reheat.

Note: Eliminate the meats/chorizo and you have a wonderful basic stuffing recipe here, ready for any kind of flavor twist.


Where I grew up, on the gulf coast of Texas, the idea of fruit in stuffing was anathema. I could never imagine it! I’d hear of people putting, say, apples in stuffing and think, “What??? They must be a Yankee!”, about as bad a thing a Southerner can call, well, anyone!

So the fact my friend Jan has converted me to making a stuffing that does indeed contain fruit is pretty amazing. This is a terrific stuffing!! I would be making it this year, along with Nan’s version, but Jan is bringing her version to the meal! This is a wonderful addition to any table.


2 pans of cornbread. For the best cornbread in the world, click here.

3-4 chopped onions

1 1/3 c. chopped celery

1 lb. chopped mushrooms

4-6 c. chicken broth 

1 c. fresh snipped parsley

2 t. sage

1 T. rosemary

2 t. thyme

1 1/2 t. salt

1 t. pepper

1 lb. sweet Italian sausage

1 string dried figs (I use about ten)

1 c. Craisins (dried sweetened cranberries – optional) 

3 apples, peeled and chopped

1 c. pecans 


1. Bake your cornbread. Let it cool. 

2. Melt 1/2 c. butter in a huge skillet or Dutch oven. Sauté the onions and mushrooms and celery until soft. 

3. Add chicken broth and spices and bring to a boil, then reduce heat.

4. Cook your sausage. 

5. Crumble the cornbread into a very large bowl. Add the sausage. Snip in the figs (I quarter them). Add the Craisins, if using, the apples and pecans (set some stuffing aside into another bowl if you have people coming with food allergies). Pour the chicken broth/onion mixture in and mix all together. 

6. Turn the whole mixture into a casserole dish and bake till warmed through — about half an hour at 350°. 

A Great Movie You’ve Probably Never Seen, Vol. III

26 Oct

One of the most famous literary mysteries of all time revolves around the unspeakable secrets swirling through Henry James’ classic ghost story, The Turn Of The Screw. Published in 1898, the novella is told mostly in the form of a diary by a governess hired to oversee two young children at a remote country estate. Numerous ambiguities in the story have both frustrated and delighted readers and critics ever since, particularly the main question, one James refused to answer: is our narrator, the governess, reliable or insane, i.e. are the ghosts in her account real or the figment of a twisted imagination?

It’s a mind bending debate made even more maddening by James’ prose. My graduate students last year wanted to have me lynched for making them read it, so difficult can it be to understand his sentences. For instance:

“I can’t express what followed it save by saying that the silence itself–which was indeed in a manner an attestation of my strength–became the element into which I saw the figure disappear; in which I definitely saw it turn as I might have seen the low wretch to which it had once belonged turn on receipt of an order, and pass, with my eyes on the villainous back that no hunch could have more disfigured, straight down the staircase and into the darkness in which the next bend was lost.”

That’s not even one of the really difficult sentences!

Suffice, then, to say that, even though a ghost story–still as popular a genre as it was in 1896–a novella of even this critical magnitude and renown might make difficult an adaptation into the cinematic form, particularly given the immutable truth it is most famous for ambiguities, literary mysteries and twisting sentences, three elements one must agree modern audiences don’t rush to embrace, elements that also would make it seem, even to the greatest, most brilliant talent, un-filmable.

Yet towering over every other cinematic ghost story, perfect for this Halloween week, stands The Innocents.

Innocents Title Card

It is difficult to discuss this remarkable movie without giving away its malevolent pleasures. As such, I will avoid my usual lengthy diatribe. Yet along with encouraging you to find the movie and give it a watch, let me note only a couple of things that make the film so amazing, the first being the cinematography. Quite simply, The Innocents is one of the greatest achievements in cinematography. Filmed in Cinemascope (ultra, ultra wide screen) director Jack Clayton and DP Freddie Francis use both the frame and the lighting in remarkable ways.

Even the simplest of images, in the bright of day, have an unsettling quality:



 Or take the introduction of Flora, the little girl in the story. The first shot of her, a reflection in the water, not only gives her a ghostly appearance but calls into question from the start her motivations and honesty.


Many scenes are shot in very long takes, maximizing the tension. And there are numerous layers to every shot. See below the creepy statue way in the background through the door? Clayton and Francis stick these statues everywhere to very unsettling effect. These statues become a character unto themselves, always seeming to peer into the house. Rather than standing guard, their effect is to create a trapped, claustrophobic feeling. Someone or something is always watching.

Living room

 Here we see their use of layers of reflection:

reflection-overlay - Version 2

 Of course, given the movie is a ghost story, there is masterful use of pitch black including a lengthy, very scary sequence of the governess exploring the house late at night, a sequence that also has some of the best sound I’ve ever heard in a film.


I can’t even show you some of the greatest examples of why the movie is so brilliant, as they would give away some of the best moments. Besides being gorgeous, the movie is edgy and very ahead of its time in terms of content. For just a hint at many WTF moments from the movie, check out this still from a scene that sent executives at Fox into a tailspin when they saw the final cut:


It must also be noted that Deborah Kerr’s performance is stunning, the best in career dominated by wonderful performances. A six time Academy Award nominee, I’ve never seen Kerr give anything less than a stellar performance. She is one of the most reliable, capable performers in film (and stage) history. Yet even with such a pedigree, her work here is phenomenal, navigating the mystery of the narrator’s mental state brilliantly. The great mystery of the novella remains just as debatable in the movie due to her subtle, complex turn. 

Another reason to screen this movie? After years of there only being a crappy DVD to watch, Criterion has released a stunning transfer with incredible visuals and sound. It’s gorgeous.

Find this version, make some popcorn and settle in. You’ll be happy you did — though you might not sleep.

As a reminder, “A Great Movie You’ve Probably Never Seen Vol. I and II can be found here and here.

Building Your Cookbook Library Vol. I

3 Oct

People keep asking which cookbooks they should buy. If you take a look at the photo below, you can see I am as good as person to ask as any! So I decided I would do a few posts about how to practically build your cookbook library.

It should be noted that the photo below was taken after I tossed over 50 cookbooks… and the books are stacked on these shelves two deep… and I am not showing the myriad cookbooks in various bookshelves all over the house… nor the two large drawers under the shelf in the photo that are filled to the brim.


a small part of my cookbook collection, 2 deep

It’s true, I have a cookbook addiction.

Not only are cookbooks worth buying because, well, you know, you can cook great food from them, the best cookbooks open up different parts of the world. Even better, the best cookbooks are not only about food but about exquisite and passionate writing. There are few things I love to read more than a chef writing vividly about their love for food and their approach to food. Reading cookbooks is a big de-stresser for me. I can get lost in them for hours.

For starters, we need to be semi-practical. I will later do another post about more exotic cookbooks. For this post, I want to recommend the books I return to over and over and over again. Each one has terrific recipes that are for the most part practical and simple, recipes you will make again and again. These books are all terrific references for anything you might need. If you have just these cookbooks I list in this post, and no other, you will enjoy years of amazing food.


PW book

I’ve written before about a cookbook that changed my life, Patricia Wells at Home In Provence. Read the entire post to find out my experience with both this book and this wonderful woman. Know, however, that the book is filled with easy, glorious dishes that will transform your table and, additionally, your approach to cooking. If you can find a copy of the original book, cover shown above, I highly recommend it as it is a beautiful book. I am including a photo of the original copy of my book, which proves how much I return to it.

2pw book

I’ve used this book quite a bit…

Among many favorites in this book, Patricia’s Gratin Dauphinois recipe (potatoes au gratin) is a divine version I make for every holiday meal.


I also wrote lovingly about Suzanne Goin and her cornbread, the best ever invented. She, too, is a chef that changed how I thought about cooking and food. Her book Sunday Suppers at Lucques is filled with marvelous food I’ve cited many times before on this blog. Two standouts of many, many killer recipes are her Devil’s Chicken Thighs with Braised Leeks (you can simply make the leeks as well, they are great as is and are usually on my holiday table) and her Braised Beef Stew. Check this link for a few more recipes… the 5 recipes in the link are recipes I make all the time. The tart is a go-to I make constantly.



Originally self-published in 1932, Joy Of Cooking is an amazing reference book that not only has been on the best seller list since it’s original publication, it was updated yet again in 2006 for a modern diet and kitchen. Filled with recipes of every kind, it is often my ‘go-to’ book when I need to make something I’ve never tried, or want a dependable, tasty recipe for just about anything. The Blue Cheese Dressing recipe , for instance, cannot be beat. Same for the Hunter’s Chicken recipe, a variation on Chicken Cacciatore which my friend Tiffiny makes for me whenever I ask… and I ask often as it has become one of my favorite dishes to eat in all the world. If you need one bible of recipes and cooking tips, Joy Of Cooking is the one to get.


To make things confusing, another excellent reference is Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything, which pretty much sums up the book. While I would choose Joy of Cooking if I could only have one, Bittman’s is another amazing reference and has smart, concise information on all kinds of things.

What I love about these two books is how helpful they are when you are faced with something new. Never poached an egg? No problem, grab one of these books. From basics such the best way to boil pasta to much more advanced techniques, you can cook many wonderful meals with either of these books alone.


There are two chefs/authors I return to over and over because they are so damned dependable: Ina Garten and Jamie Oliver. With my cookbook obsession, I have bought quite a few heralded cookbooks that turned out to be major disappointments. I give a new cookbook about 5 chances.  If I cook 5 recipes from it that don’t turn out so great, something is going wrong with the book. With Ina and Jamie, however, I don’t think I have ever encountered a recipe by either that has been anything less than stellar. Besides being so dependable, they both seem to be smart, lovely people.

What I would give for a day in the kitchen with either!

The only problem is which book of each person to buy as they each have so many great books! While you can’t go wrong whatever you pick up, let me give you the one book by each I grab off the shelf most of all.


Ina smartly published this book, Back To Basics, in 2008 and I’ve been using it frequently ever since. It contains a little bit of everything and each bit of everything is delicious.

Two favorites from this book: Ina’s Omelet for Two is something I make at least once if not twice a week. The recipe is an excellent base for trying other ingredients and flavor combinations though it is perfect just the way it is. It is baked in the oven, so it is easier than a normal omelet and has a better texture. I also love this Baked Shrimp Scampi, which I’ve started making most every New Year’s Eve as well as other nights during the year.




Simply put, Jamie Oliver is a stud. From his work with disadvantaged youth to his crusading for better food for schoolchildren, he is someone I’ve admired for a long time. His books are a blast as well! Of all the books, I love Jamie At Home the best. Not only are the recipes outstanding, the book is an excellent reference with even sections on planting and growing your own produce.

Two favorites from this book are Jamie’s Proper Chicken Caesar Salad, which my buddy Keith asks for every time he comes to my house (we had it by request yet again last Saturday), and Jamie’s Creamy Rice Pudding with the Quickest Strawberry Jam. I didn’t even know I liked Rice pudding until I tried this, which I made more for the jam part than the pudding part. Wow. It is great!


a snapshot from Jamie At Home



Finally, two favorites elevated not only by the brilliance of their food, but the passion of their writing, which is always a joy to read.


A chef I’ve written about before is Nigel Slater. His writing has become a bit of an obsession for me, I have worked my way through almost all of his books. He is funny, smart, tart… and wow is his food good! The best book to get for your first bit of Slater is Tender, which I wrote about here. This, too, is a reference book, divided alphabetically by vegetable. (It has tons of meat dishes in it, don’t worry.) If you have some cabbage and need an idea, turn to Cabbage. You get a history of the veg, how to grow it, how to store it, and then you get innumerable versions. The section for each vegetable is the same. What a great cookbook! I love this man. 

Two of many recipes I love are his Eggplant Gratin and his Baked Peppers for a Summer Lunch.



Last but not least is the goddess Nigella Lawson. Hot damn, does this woman know how to write! Her books are filled with humor as delectable as her food. She also writes with a wild passion that fires me up. My favorite, for all these reasons, is  How To Eat.  This is probably my favorite cookbook to simply read. There is much knowledge here, it is a very good reference book. But the writing is a blast. One of my favorite things Ms. Lawson does is encourage the home cook to relax, don’t worry what happens, and she often structures her recipes so you can ‘have a bath and a glass of wine’ while something is cooking. Madame, come on over.

All right! A starter list for even the best home cook. You cannot go wrong with any of these books! I would love to hear from you your favorites. And in a few months, I will be back with more….

Cookbook Night Vol. II

18 Sep

Last year I wrote about Cookbook Night, a day/night when my great friend Tiffiny and I pick a cookbook we’ve not tried, spend all day making many dishes out of the cookbook, then have people over to gorge on the new recipes. We’ve been doing this for a while; it’s a day the two of us can hang out in the kitchen, catch up, laugh a lot and, well, cook up a storm. The actual night is casual. We use paper plates and disposable flatware, for instance…. though somehow we still end up massacring the kitchen. All told, it’s a wonderful time with a lot of great conversation and much food and drink being consumed.

We usually do two of these a year but given my ‘one armed status’ (see here) this is probably our only cookbook night of 2014. (We did have a great canning and preserving day earlier in the summer, when I didn’t look like Robocop. We made homemade worcesterhire sauce, some hellacious pickles and Caramelized Pineapple in Tequila… oh my is that good.) For this particular cookbook night, we chose My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz. Lebovitz is a wonderful writer, I highly recommend both the book and his website!

As I am still operating at less than full speed, there will be less writing and more photos in this post (I hear some cheers out there) with links to many of the recipes. Thanks to my buddy Chris for the great photos! Thanks also to the various blogs I am accessing for recipes, including Mr. Lebovitz himself.





We tried a variety of appetizers, served cocktail party style with everyone standing out back. All the apps were terrific.

In the first picture below, along with Tiffiny’s wonderful cheese plate, you see crostini spread with Homemade Goat Cheese, topped with Slow Roasted Tomatoes. This was a favorite of a number of people.  

Next is a Duck Terrine (kind of a pate) that was incredible. I’d never before made a pate and truth be told, my buddy Chris did most of the work. It sits for a few days so we made it a few nights before. It was a lot of work but not difficult work so don’t be scared. Try it sometime! It was delicious, filled with duck and pork and many other wonderful ingredients. Also served on crostini with an excellent mustard, and pickles, this Duck Terrine will impress even the most jaded foodie.

Another highlight of the night was the Artichoke Tapenade. Tapenades are a breeze, btw. You throw olives and whatever else you want into a food processor, chop it up, let it sit, then dive in. If you like olives, learn to make tapenade! 5 easy minutes of your time, max.

Recipes under each photo.

Goat cheese

Crostini with Homemade Herbed Goat Cheese and Slow-roasted Cherry Tomatoes.

 Cherry Tomato Crostini with Herbed Homemade Goat Cheese recipe, click here.


Duck Terrine

Duck Terrine recipe, click here.


Artichoke Tapenade

Artichoke Tapenade recipe, click here

Oh and this was the aftermath of the cocktail hour. Note the rag on the floor, my way of cleaning the floor. To quote the late, great Joan Rivers, “If God had wanted me to bend over, He’d have put diamonds on the floor.” My version of her joke would I guess be Mac-N-Cheese on the floor.





Tiffiny made a terrific Gazpacho from the book. I loved this very, very much.





We did three salads for the first seated course: Salad with Bacon, Egg and Garlic Toasts; Celery Root Remolaude and a Grated Carrot Salad. The first is a french classic, normally served with frisee, which was nowhere to be found! So Tiffiny did a beautiful adaptation. I myself can’t get enough of Celery Root Remo, as I like to call it, another french classic served everywhere in Paris, so I made Lebovitz’s version. And the carrot salad was a lovely, healthy alternative to many heavy dishes before and after.

As a palate cleaner, I made a weird and wonderful Gin and Tonic Sorbet, a recipe my dear friend Janet sent me, knowing how much I would love it. Props to my best friend Mark who stepped out of his Hamburger Helper comfort zone and prepped the sorbet. I will be making this sorbet often.

Here you see Tiffiny’s gorgeous salad. Recipes below.


Salad with Bacon and Egg

Frisee Salad recipe, click here.


Gin and Tonic Sorbet

 Gin and Tonic Sorbet recipe click here.



We did two mains: Lebovitz’s wonderful Mustard Chicken and a french/asian take on BBQ ribs, Caramelized Pork Ribs. Photos and recipes of both below. The sides were Braised Vegetables served with Salsa Verde (perhaps my favorite, I could bathe in the salsa verde), Lebovitz’s amazing rendition of sautéed green beans and a scalloped potatoes with Blue Cheese and Roasted Garlic! People went nuts over all of them, the ribs in particular. I myself could not get enough of the chicken!



Mustard Chicken and Caramelized Pork Ribs



Mustard Chicken

 For the Mustard Chicken recipe, click here.

For the Caramelized Pork Ribs, click here

Beans potatoes

Potatoes with Blue Cheese and Roasted Garlic; Green Beans with “Snail Butter”

For the potato recipe, click here.

For the wonderful green beans, click here.



Braised Vegetables with Salsa Verde

 Scroll down for the vegetables and salsa verde recipe here.


Somehow, we never ended up taking pictures of dessert. We made two: Salted Caramel Chocolate Mousse, which is as wonderful as it sounds, and an amazing Orange Pound Cake, half of which I think I ate myself. I swiped this photo of the mousse:


Salted Caramel Chocolate Mousse,

Here is the recipe for the mousse. To. Die For.

Finally, a few more random photos. Try these recipes, though, or just get the book! You will be very happy with Sir Lebovitz’s food and writing.


Tiffiny’s Cheese Plate

lights 2

new lights in the back


“Zach’s Lights”


Tiffiny frying bacon for a number of the dishes


Caramelized Pork Ribs


cocktail hour


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