Hungry Healthy Happy – Cookbook Notes

Hungry Healthy Happy Cookbook

Hungry Happy Healthy
by Dannii Martin
Photography by Jacqui Melville
Copyright 2016
Publisher – Jacqui Small, LLC, London
192 pages,  106 recipes
$29.99 US

I enjoy this cookbook very much. It’s full of good food that has a healthier ingredients. There are some things here that are not quite what we’re used to in the U.S. (this is a British author), but it was pretty easy to figure out the subtle differences as we cooked from it. Each recipe has nutritional values with it, including calories, but when I plug the recipes into My Fitness Pal, I often get completely different numbers. I’m not sure how or why. No matter what, this collection of healthier versions of traditional comfort foods are a welcome addition to our kitchen. I have a hard time describing the recipes because they were all SO simple and used just a few fresh ingredients.

Recipes we’ve tried so far: 

Banana Pancakes, p. 26

Banana Pancakes, p. 26

It’s been a couple of months since we’ve had this cookbook and this is one recipe from it we make almost weekly. I have a tendency to add blueberries to all of my pancakes and waffles and they worked especially well here with the bananas and whole wheat pastry flour. These pancakes are AMAZING. They have what I think is a perfect fluffy pancake texture. They’re crispy on the outside when cooked in our cast iron skillets and nice and tender on the inside. Obviously I can’t say enough about these. The blueberry waffle recipe made with oat flour on the facing page is just as amazing. We’ll be making each one of these many, many times. We already have.

Luxury Hot Chocolate, p. 184

Luxury Hot Chocolate, p. 184

I try so many different hot cocoa and hot chocolate recipes every year. Some stick with me, some don’t. This one stays in my head because it’s so simple and has the added benefit of less fat than traditional homemade hot chocolate. This recipe used almond and coconut milks to provide a rich flavor. It’s not as rich as it could be with whole milk or heavy cream, but hey, this is about healthier versions of the things we love. I used my Aerolatte to froth it up and I loved it. I’ll drink this in place of the whole milk/heavy cream version a lot to satisfy my winter hot chocolate cravings. .

Portobello Mushroom Pizzas, p. 132

Portobello Mushroom Pizzas

Boy oh boy was this an easy dinner. These were put together like pizza, smelled like pizza as they baked, and tasted like pizza. My love for mushrooms was more than satisfied with these with big portobello caps that acted as the pizza “crust.” These just had spinach, cheese, oregano and basil on them, but any pizza toppings would work fine. I’ll definitely add onions to the mix next time. I admit I did miss the crunchy texture of a traditional crust, but not so much that it would keep me from making these again.

Egg White Breakfast Pizza, p. 50

Egg White Breakfast Pizzas, p. 50

Other than the pancakes above, this was Hubby’s favorite recipe from Hungry, Healthy, Happy. Once again, there are just a handful of fresh ingredients put together with the easiest preparation. This makes a great weekend brunch for us.

Sweet and Sour King Prawns, p. 147

Sweet and Sour King Prawns, p. 50

Both Hubby and I liked this dish. It was fun to put together, but then I love this part of cooking. There was a lot of food prep here in the form of chopping things. Onions, peppers, celery, carrots are all in there with the shrimp. We were happy with the flavors of this colorful dish, but wished they had been more pronounced. We ended up adding a little soy sauce to everything and then things seemed to fall into place a little more. The sauce had an appetizing texture that wasn’t gooey and sticky like some of the take-out we’ve had. I loved the brown rice instead of white too. We’ll definitely make this again. Warmer places came to mind as we ate this in the middle of our Wisconsin winter.

Blueberry Crumb Bars, p. 71

Blueberry Crumb Bars, p. 71

I wanted this recipe to work so badly, but it just didn’t. The mixture never got “sturdy” enough to cut bars from it. The flavors were great, but this was a big mess. I’m gonna have to experiment with this recipe because this is my kind of treat. Blueberries forever!

Overall this is a nice cookbook to have on the shelf. I love having healthier options like the recipes to go to.  I still want to try the Coconut Lime Chicken, the Breakfast Burritos, the Pad Thai and the Brown Rice Greek Salad. Hubby can’t wait to try the Shepherd’s Pie. It’s nice knowing all these recipes are here when we need them.

Book Review – Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home


Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals that Brought me Home
Copyright 2016, Jessica Fechtor
Avery Publishing
271 pages

“During those long months [of recovery] food had called something up in me that needed calling, demanded things of me that my academic work had not. It had inspired me to make something of the everyday life around me, of my home and of my heart, to make something of myself. Life didn’t freeze when I flew off the treadmill that morning and neither did I. There was no going back, and for the first time I realized that I didn’t want to.” – Jessica Fechtor


I squirmed through this book. I nodded my head and screamed, “Yes!” at many passages in it. I read it all in one day, but parts were excruciating to get through. Reading this was surreal. Because Jessica’s story is almost identical to my story. The only difference is she had an aneurysm, I have a brain tumor (an atypical meningioma), after that our experiences are alike. Right down to the role food has played in my own recovery. I felt like I was reading about me the entire time I read this. From the emergency surgery to save our lives, to the hospital stays, to the “bonus” surgeries, to the rehab time, to recovery…… all of it, identical. It still shocks me, can you tell? I’m grateful to have found Stir. Jessica has bravely written about the frightening experience with an attention to detail that brought me to tears and reconciled many of the things going on in my own broken brain. I think a little clearer after this, I feel a little calmer thanks to reading this.

While reliving my experience reading Jessica’s, the thing that kept me reading when it was tough for me to do so, was our shared love of food and its role in our recoveries. Cooking it, eating it, enjoying it. Cooking saved Jessica and it continues to save me today, almost 3 years later.

It was a couple of years before my brain surgery that I began to cook a lot. It started one day a few years ago when I accidentally caught an episode of Barefoot Contessa. Before the show was over Ina had me believing that I just might be able to cook! So I gave it a shot. My first attempt at cooking from a recipe and not from a can or a box was the Shrimp Louis Sliders from Coastal Living. It was a big success and I never looked back. There is no question that I had found my passion.

A few years later, while I was in the rehab unit at the hospital during my own brain surgery recovery, one of the many things I had to do to be allowed to go home was show that I could take care of myself. That included proving that I could prepare my food. I was asked to prepare a recipe in the rehab unit’s kitchen. My nurse went to the grocery store and got everything I needed and I went to work in the kitchen.  With a slow moving brain, a slower moving body and half of my hair missing I made Ina Garten’s Mustard Mashed Potatoes. Perfectly.  In fairness, I had made those potatoes so many times before the surgery that I probably could have made them without thinking about it. But when I was having trouble just walking down the hallway at the hospital, let alone with thinking coherent thoughts, I was able to make them for everyone. It meant everything to me. It was a very big deal. I felt like I had turned a corner.  The day after that I baked chocolate chip cookies for my nurses. It was the first time in over two weeks that I wasn’t consumed by the thought of that tumor in my head, or terrified by what had happened to me. For the first time my broken brain was concentrating on something other than itself and it was the peace and comfort I so desperately needed. Those two days I spent in that kitchen I wasn’t afraid for my future. It was the best thing that could have happened. I got to go home two days later.

When I read similar stories from Jessica in Stir it overwhelmed me to the point of tears. Cooking was a form of therapy for her too only she has done a much better job of articulating it than I have. Cooking helped her recover and get on with her life too. The relief I felt reading about her experience is beyond my capacity for words. Half way through Stir I almost gave up reading it because it was so hard to relive the experience after pushing it down for almost three years. I forced myself to finish it and I’m so glad I did. I don’t feel so alone after reading it. It means a lot to me that I’ve stumbled on someone else that knows exactly what it’s like to have a broken brain. And exactly what it’s like to have food be a consoling force in our lives.

I imagine writing this book was much harder than reading it. I’m having trouble writing this review of it. But I needed to say that I sincerely appreciate Jessica taking the time to eloquently describe her experience. There are recipes in each chapter that I will definitely try, but the main purpose of this book is the benefit of finding one’s passion and the peaceful positivity that it fills a life with. We all need that don’t you think? In this case it’s cooking.  I didn’t write Stir but it’s a personal memoir for me too. It has helped a great deal in reminding me that I am not alone on this broken brain journey filled with a love for cooking.

IndieBound | Amazon

I also published parts of this review on my Instagram feed

From The Kitchens at Arcadia Books – Cookbook Notes

From The Kitchen At Arcadia Books
Copyright, 2014, by Jacki Singleton
Arcadia Books, Spring Green, Wisconsin
164 pages, 65 recipes

This cookbook is near and dear to my heart. I’ve had it on my shelf for the past two years, right along side all of the Barefoot Contessa cookbooks, and I’ve used this one just as much (if not more). This little paperback is truly a treasure to have. My favorite thing about it, other than the great food it’s let me create, is the touch of humor and happiness throughout the book. Every time I open it, I’m just happy to be in it.

I was first drawn to From the Kitchen at Arcadia Books by its cover. They had it displayed nicely on a shelf at the Arcadia bookstore in Spring Green and I picked it up as soon as I saw it. It has a lovely picture by Eric Ferguson of the bookstore’s storefront that has just enough snow and holiday decorations to make me want to run inside and warm up. But it was the note from the author that got me. Jacki Singleton, who was the chef at Arcadia books at the time she wrote this cookbook, writes like a cook I can relate to – she never went to culinary school, loves many different kinds of food from around the world and isn’t afraid to try new things.   Knowing how much I loved eating her food in the diner at the bookstore, I was sold.

I have always appreciated the conversational, clear way this cookbook is written. Each recipe has a brief story that includes the history of it as well as different tips for  serving suggestions included in every recipe listing. They’ve given me ideas I never would have thought of on my own (Like using the tomatillo sauce for a pizza with corn, black beans tomatoes and cheese. Love!) I  use the little suggestions like this over and over again. I really appreciate the help. Everything is written is concise and clearly formatted for the home cook’s success.

There are 164 pages and 65 recipes in From the Kitchen at Arcadia Books, most of them on a two page spread so turning pages while I’m cooking isn’t an issue. The cookbook is organized into sections: noshes [10 recipes], sauces [6], soups [11], salads [8], entrees [15], sides [8] and desserts [7]. Even though it’s a traditional-bound paperback, it lays nicely on the counter or sits well in the cookbook stand.  There is no glossary or equipment list and there are no pictures. The index is very basic. I LOVE the list of Wisconsin sources near the back as cooking and eating local is a “thing” around this house.

Grandma Melba’s Fried Chicken, p. 96

Grandma Melba's Fried Chicken (and waffles), p. 96

THIS is Hubby’s favorite recipe in the book. No surprise there. It was the author’s suggestion to serve the chicken with waffles so we did. And continue to do so every time we make the chicken. I made this as written the first time, assuming the 1 cup of flour meant to use all-purpose flour. It was wonderful, but every time after I’ve used white whole wheat flour. I’m not a fan of deep frying anything so I let Hubby take care of that part. He loved making it. And then eating it. He was in heaven.

The crunchy texture, tender chicken and taste of the  tangy batter won me over too, even though I don’t like eating deep-fried things. I have to admit that although this isn’t the healthiest recipe in the book, it is a favorite of ours. We just remind ourselves to have it in “moderation.”

Potato Salad, p. 128

Potato Salad, p. 128

And THEE potato salad. We first had this at the bookstore long before we bought the cookbook. Hubby, the potato expert in this family, calls this one of the best potato salads he’s ever had (full disclosure, Bobby Flay’s Grilled Potato Salad is his all-time favorite). Thankfully this recipe comes out the same every single time we make it with no finagling of ingredients by us. The recipe calls for mayonnaise, we’ve used Lemonnaise in every batch we’ve made. I love the little notes Jacki includes in some of the recipes. In Step 3 of this one, she suggests: “Taste for salt (probably not)”. Little things like this make the book seem so friendly to me.

Fish Tacos, p. 118

Fish Tacos, p. 118

We just made these again for the umpteenth time with homemade tortillas. It’s a simple, fast recipe that I’m glad we have to throw together  when we need it. The lime juice at the end really brings out the flavors and makes it a satisfying meal.

African Peanut Stew, p. 58

African Peanut Stew

It’s inevitable that one or two recipes in a cookbook will rise to the top and become “favorites.” This is one of them here. This is a thin, broth-based soup stuffed with a lot of flavors that make a perfectly spiced stew. Every time I make this, the first bite always provokes a “wow” from one or both of us. I make this as written with no substitutes or additions to the ingredients. The 3-step instructions make it one of the easiest soups I’ve ever made. This is one of the several recipes in the book that I learned a lot about the blending of flavors.  I don’t want to change a thing about this! This is my ideal comfort food.

African Peanut Stew, p. 58

Turkish Quinoa Salad, p. 132

Turkish Quinoa Salad, p. 132

My first try at quinoa! It didn’t go so well. I probably won’t make this again, but I loved the chance to finally cook with quinoa. It’s just not a grain I love to eat I guess. The only time I’ve ever had it and liked it was at the Marigold Kitchen in Madison in a scramble they make at breakfast time during the summer. And then I probably only liked that because it had Sriracha in it.

We’ve Also Made: 

Beer Brownies, p. 144

I read the ingredients here and just knew. It’s one of those drop what you’re doing, grab your favorite dark beer (we used a coffee stout) and bake this wonderful creation. We’ve made this as written and would never, ever, ever change a thing about it. The beer and the spices make a great addition to some really good cocoa to make a downright heavenly treat. That’s not an exaggeration. These brownies have a cake-like texture that I don’t normally like for brownies but it works well for me here. This is the recipe that got me addicted to that fantastic cayenne/cocoa combination. It’s how I love my hot cocoa these days.

Chimichurri Sauce, p. 32

This has such a bright, fresh, tangy flavor. It’s really good to dip bread in, but I think it’s probably best when used over meats, which we don’t eat much of around here. I enjoyed it on asparagus too, but it’s flavor is strong and takes away from other flavors. We don’t make this often, but it is something we like to have on hand during the summer vegetable grilling season.

Chocolate Cherry Cookies, p. 150

These cookies have a deep, chocolate flavor that makes the tart cherries just pop. The first time we baked these I was sure I had done something wrong because the dough was runny and the texture was nothing like any cookie recipe I’d made. Jacki does mention this in the story of the cookies, but it didn’t work out for me. The next time I made them I added 1/2 cup of flour and a 1/2 teaspoon each of baking powder and baking soda and everything worked fine. They taste and feel like sweet, chocolate covered cherries enveloped in a chewy, fudgy brownie. Scrumptious, I tell ya.

Blueberry Almond Scones, p. 156

Just like the chocolate cherry cookies, the batter for these scones was too runny. I had to make some adjustments the first time I made it just to have scones to try. While the flavors were spot on, the texture just didn’t work. I’m still experimenting with it because as is typical with Jacki’s recipes the flavors are just too good to leave behind.

Easy Summer Green Bean Salad, p. 74

We made ours with organic Dane County Farmer’s Market green beans and immediately made it a favorite summer salad. This is the kind of salad I can fully support.

French Herb Vinaigrette, p. 77

Both vinaigrettes on this two for one recipe page are a must for salads for this house. I just won’t eat a salad without the French Herb Vinaigrette. I mean, why?

Pizza Crust, p. 19

It’s good! We have so many crust recipes because pizza is one of our favorite things and this is one that made our collection.

Wild Mushroom Barley Soup, p. 62

I made this, but didn’t eat it. Mushroom Barley soup is Hubby’s area and he loved this one. We both won, I had fun making and enjoying the aroma while it simmered and he had great lunches for a few days.

Wisconsin Macaroni & Cheese, p. 130

There are no words. This Mac & Cheese leaves us speechless every time. Because our mouths are full. Again, comfort food heaven!

Things we still want to try:

“no” meatballs, p. 114
Asian Egg Rolls, p. 12
Rhubarb Bars, p. 152
Squash Enchiladas, p. 116

There are some meat recipes in this cookbook that we probably won’t ever make, like: Carolina Pulled Pork, Duck with Calvados, and Bacon Jam, to name just a few.

While Jacki Singleton is no longer the chef at Arcadia, I’m sort of ok with that because I have a collection of her food here. I’m so grateful we have it! It’s a huge bonus to me that she emphasizes the local side of cooking, along with clean eating with every single recipe. The more I cook, the more these things matter to me.

Read More Here

Arcadia Books


Cookbook Notes – New England Soup Factory Cookbook

New England Soup Factory Cookbook

The New England Soup Factory Cookbook
Copyright, 2007 by Marjorie Druker and Clara Silverstein
Photography by Ron Manville
Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville
118 Recipes

We’ve been cooking from The New England Soup Factory Cookbook for a few years now. I had to have it when I first saw it, because, soup! It was as simple as that. We just love soup around here – the fun of making it, the varieties of flavors and the ease to create it. This cookbook offers every one of these things in every recipe. Because I love to cook, collect cookbooks and eat soups, it seems surprising to me that this is the only soup cookbook on my shelves. But it is the only one and I absolutely love it.

I enjoyed Marjorie Druker’s introduction to the book. Soups have been a labor of love for her since she was a child and it shows in the stories and recipe histories she writes throughout the book. Her passion is infectious, especially for someone who already had a soup “thing.” Marjorie Druker, along with her husband Paul, is the co-owner of the award-winning New England Soup Factory restaurants in the suburbs of Boston. In 2007, when the book was published, they had won several “Best of Boston” awards, been praised often in the press, and even had a few soup-making appearances on the Food Network.

I am grateful for cookbooks that are organized by seasons like this one. It makes planning menus easy. When we use in season ingredients the flavors are better, things are easier to find and the in season produce is generally less expensive. Here, I can just go to the section of the book on the current season and pick a soup to make. There’s very little brain power needed and I’m always happy with how everything turns out. Sometimes I’ll buy what looks or sounds good at the farmers’ market knowing I’ll put it to good use with this cookbook.

The recipes here are usually one page and those that are two are on the same spread so there’s no need to turn pages while cooking. This is me being fussy, I know, but then I’m also particular about my cookbooks fitting on my countertop cookbook holder too. This one does.

I’ve used  The New England Soup Factory Cookbook for a few years now, but it didn’t take too long to realize I never had to wonder about the printed recipes. I knew after making just a couple of soups that I can trust them completely. Every recipe here is concise and easy to follow. They’re all easy to make, the ingredients are always exactly what is needed for success and everything has always tasted good. There’s always enough left over soup to eat for lunches in the coming days too, or to freeze if it lasts that long. There’s even a few salad and sandwich recipes included in the collection. There’s a pretty good cross-referenced index too.

It’s my 5 quart and 7 quart Dutch ovens that get used the most with this cookbook. My immersion blender gets a workout too, but a traditional blender would also work well.

Corn and Roasted Red Pepper Chowder, p. 84
The beautiful start of soup…

Soups we’ve made the most from The New England Soup Factory Cookbook:

Every recipe is made as written unless otherwise noted.

Corn and Roasted Red Pepper Chowder, p. 85

Corn and Roasted Red Pepper Chowder, p. 84

I have some leftovers of this one in the fridge as we speak and it’s going fast. This chowder is a mouthful of bright, warm flavors that is satisfying and comforting. I love the chunky texture, it makes it feel hearty. The sweetness of the corn is a perfect marriage to the sweet red peppers and potatoes. I love the idea of pureeing the roasted red peppers, it  certainly spreads their flavor throughout the soup better than just chopping them would. I’m SO glad I started this with the 7 quart Dutch oven. Even with that the soup came right to the rim until it reduced a little during the simmering stage.

This one might just be my all time favorite recipe in the book.

Sweet Potato Soup with Carmelized Onions, p. 14

Sweet Potato Soup with Caramelized Onions

If the Corn and Red Pepper Chowder is my favorite recipe in the book, this one is a very close second. It has an amazing velvety texture, “like pudding,” Hubby says. This is a savory soup that provides just enough sweetness from those caramelized onions for a full, well-rounded flavor. It’s pretty too, especially with those caramelized onions that get swirled through it at the end. For me, this soup belongs right in the middle of the afternoon of a snowy, gray day.

I had just as much fun making this as I did eating it. All that chopping is a form of therapy for me I think. I made this recipe as written, in my 7 quart Dutch oven, and I can’t think of anything I would do different next time. And there will be a next time. A lot of them. As with the other soup recipes in the book, this one makes a huge batch.

Creamy Wild Mushroom Bisque, p. 124

Creamy Wild Mushroom Bisque

I set out to make this solely for Hubby because he loves mushroom soup. Me? Not so much. I did not expect to love this. But I did. Enough to make it again and again. This might be the only mushroom soup, or mushroom bisque, that I’ll ever make again.

As is the norm with recipes in this book, this is another soup that was easy to put together. Lots of chopping, one pot and some aromatic simmering time made this a pleasure to make. I couldn’t find any chanterelle mushrooms here, so I had to substitute more shiitakes, portobellos and even a few button mushrooms. I used my 5 quart Dutch oven to cook everything, and my immersion blender to puree it all. It was beautiful while it was simmering, but once it was pureed not so much. Doesn’t matter.  The flavor more than makes up for it’s lack of beauty. I’ll definitely make this one again. For both of us.

Cauliflower Potato Cheese Soup, p. 48

Cauliflower Potato Cheese Soup, p. 48

While I was chopping the vegetables for this soup all I could think about was the bland color of the mixture I was making and how it would translate to the finished soup. They say you eat with your eyes first and this one wasn’t convincing my growling tummy that it would be enjoying anything too exciting anytime soon.  After making so many soups from this book, I should have known better.  This one is fantastic too. In fairness, I used some organic Wisconsin cheddar that’s white so I lost the orange color the traditional cheddar would have given me. I made it exactly as written and fell in love with the rich flavor on the first bite.  This isn’t a thick soup that I assumed it would be, but it’s got big flavor that I know we’ll make a lot.

Black Bean and Sausage Soup, p. 126

Black Bean and Sausage Soup, p. 126

And here is Hubby’s vote for favorite recipe in the book.

Hubby’s first reaction: ” holy crap this is delicious” I made this for him because he is such a big fan of black bean soup so I’m thrilled he loves this one. Fennel seed gives a touch of sweetness to the spicy flavors from the sausage and red pepper flakes. I love that this is a broth-based soup, and not a cream one.  This recipe makes a big batch, 10-12 servings, so heating up leftovers for Hubby’s lunches for a few days are a very nice bonus. I like knowing he has good food to eat while he’s working. I know I won’t mind having it around for my lunches either.

The ingredients are fresh and the method is detailed and concise. It’s not the prettiest soup in the world,  but it hardly matters. We make this one a lot.

Tortilla and Butternut Squash Soup p. 131

Sweet Potato and Corn Chowder, p. 86

I am a sweet potato fan. I could eat them every day, at every meal and never tire of them. This soup has a lot going for it from where I’m sitting, starting with those 7 large sweet potatoes. It only gets better from there, with the right mix of corn, spices and even a little bit of brown sugar. I love this soup.

Pumpkin and Cranberry Soup, p. 130

We didn’t use heavy cream like the recipe calls for here, we used unsweetened soy milk. It was a decision we didn’t regret, but I’m sure it changed the flavor. Everything else we used was what the written recipe called for. I wanted to make this because of the fall flavors here. They blended together well and made for a hearty texture after the purée. If I make this recipe again, I’ll try unsweetened dried cranberries and the heavy cream it calls for instead of the soy milk. The recipe says you can substitute butternut squash for the pumpkin but for us, it was nice to have that little change from a butternut squash soup we make so much.

Wild Mushroom and Barley Soup, p. 150

Hubby loves Mushroom and Barley Soup. Or he says he does. It seems like I’m always making it for him when soup season rolls around, but he never eats it after that first meal and I end up throwing it away. That didn’t happen with this one. Like every other recipe in this book, this made a big batch of soup! And he ate it all. Most of it went for his lunches and for at least one more dinner.

The Drukie (sandwich) & Renee’s Homemade Honey Mustard, p. 208

The honey mustard that’s a part of the recipe for The Drukie is worth making to always have on hand. I do this a lot, I even freeze it, because it’s hands down the best honey mustard I’ve ever had. We put it on sandwiches, vegetables, whatever sounds like a good place for it.  I especially love dipping homemade soft pretzels in it. It’s magical, with the perfect blend of sweet and sour flavor. The Drukie is good too, but this mustard is with the price of the cookbook.

Other Soups We’ve Made from the book:

New England Clam Chowder, p. 81
Chinese Hot and Sour Soup, p. 102
Asparagus, Potato and Herb Soup, p. 166
Chilled Beet and Raspberry Soup, p. 187

Soups We Still Want to Try:

Vegetarian White Bean Chili, p. 155
Wild Maine Blueberry Soup, p. 192 – Hmmm…I have some organic blueberries from the farmer’s market frozen, I should try this soon…..

As the years go by, I’m sure we’ll try even more recipes, especially from the summer collection. This cookbook is a treasure.

Goodreads | IndieBound | Amazon


Cookbook Notes: An Old-Fashioned Christmas: Sweet Traditions for Hearth and Home

An Old Fashioned Christmas: Sweet Traditions for Hearth and Home

by Ellen Stimson
photography @2015 Natalie Stulz Photography
@ 2015, Isabelpratt LLC
97 recipes, 288 pages

“Winter settles in and simplifies everything” – Ellen Stimson

An Old-Fashioned Christmas, Sweet Traditions for Hearth and Home jumped off the shelf and into my hands one day as I perused the New Book Area at our library. It was the title that got me to pick it up and that quote from the first few pages that brought it home with me. The more I skimmed through the book at the library, the more excited I got about not just cooking from it but reading the stories in it too. To say I couldn’t wait to get in the kitchen with this book is an understatement. Nine recipes and 17 days later, it hasn’t disappointed. There’s been something for both Hubby and I with everything we’ve made so far. Some things we’ve already made more than once.

This is a pretty little hardcover book with a collection of rustic recipes, inviting stories and lovely wintry photographs that put me right in the middle of the Christmas spirit. There’s a chapter called Butter and Sugar, another one called Homespun Tastes and still another called Christmas Brunch. Among others. A comforting story opens every chapter, and every recipe has a little history with it. You can feel the presence of Vermont everywhere. Not every recipe has a corresponding photograph. They really don’t need one, but I do wish there were more. They set the homey, rustic mood of a New England Christmas. There’s a pretty good index I’ve referenced quite a bit. The individual recipe pages are easy to read and well-organized. I love that I can see an entire recipe without having to turn a page while I’m cooking. It’s nice that it fits perfectly on my cookbook holder too. I’m fussy that way, probably because I’m not working with a lot of room in my kitchen.  I’ve not read the author’s other books yet, but I plan to. I enjoy her easy-going, friendly writing (and cooking) style very much.

“Precision is not required. It’s not even particularly welcome.”

When I read this it jolted me. I’m a big fan of measuring everything carefully and following instructions precisely when it comes to any recipe. (Probably a residual effect from learning how to cook from hours of Barefoot Contessa shows over the years.) Now that I’ve made some of these recipes I have to say that it’s fun to just let the food happen like this. I certainly feel a little more confidence in being creative with recipes than I was before I found this book. I usually stick to making the recipe as written the first time.  I did that here too, but sometimes it just wasn’t an option with this collection. A “knob of butter” means about a 1/2 tablespoon to me, but Hubby said he’d use a whole tablespoon. A “handful of tarragon” is half of one of those little herb bundles you buy at the grocery store, but might be different for someone else. And you know what? This approach is working well!

Recipes We’ve Made:

We cooked every recipe as the author has written it, unless otherwise noted. Here’s some results:

Creamy Tarragon Eggs p. 252

The only thing I could think about while I made these eggs was my dad scrambling eggs over a campfire in a cast iron skillet on one of the many family camping trips of my childhood. I’m sure this memory made these scrambled eggs taste even better. This was the first recipe I made from this book and the first one I put on the “make again” list. Yes, of course I used the cast iron skillet. Simple ingredients, clearly written instructions and a “handful of tarragon” made these creamy, dreamy eggs a pleasure to cook and eat. The tarragon not only brings a little sweetness with its hint of licorice, but I think it makes the eggs prettier than they would be without it. The author’s low and slow method of scrambling the eggs is mine forever.

Old Fashioned Egg Nog p. 201

We drink store-bought egg nog every year. It won’t be good enough anymore. I imagine this egg nog is what egg nog should have always been. This egg nog is so much thicker than any store-bought kind could ever be and no where near as sweet. We did add the optional bourbon for this recipe (Buffalo Trace). I keep saying I’m gonna make the alcohol free version, but I haven’t yet. It’s just so good with the bourbon. Warning: It’s really hard to stop with just one glass of this!

Decadent Mac ‘n’ Cheese p. 86

This baked and bubbly masterpiece looked and smelled incredible coming out of the oven. It begged to be eaten. Full disclosure: I didn’t add the bacon to this. I know, I know, it’s a whole other layer of flavor, but believe it or not we’re just not bacon fans. The only other change I made to this recipe was the elbow macaroni. The grocery store was out of our organic elbow macaroni, so we bought shells instead.

Other than that I made this recipe as written. It was so much fun to put together. It’s messy, uses a lot of pans and smelled as good as it looked while it was baking. This is my kind of cooking. I did get a little nervous when I poured everything into the casserole dish before baking it. It seemed soupy, but I worried for nothing, it all baked up perfectly with a thick, creamy, cheesy sauce hugging the pasta. It’s such a full, robust flavor that worked well with the thick pasta shells. This feels like the epitome of comfort food.

Mom’s Ham Biscuits (minus the ham) p. 192

I can see how these delicious biscuits would make the perfect vehicle for a slice of ham as the recipe calls for, but we enjoyed these in other ways instead. They are good as a side to just about anything (especially the homemade soups of the season). We also used them for meatball sandwiches with the Maple, Fennel Sausage and Cheddar Meatballs on p. 147. I love the pull apart structure of these, but it does make them feel more like dinner rolls even though they were flaky like a traditional biscuit. It’s helpful to bake a batch of these and having so many uses for them for a few days. They freeze well too.

John’s Grandmother’s Roszke Cookies p. 50

I mixed these up in no time while Hubby was out clearing the sidewalks of our first snowfall of the season. The ingredients were interesting to me. Yeast in a cookie? 2 pounds of pecans? I was intrigued. Slovakian food is something I’ve never cooked or eaten before. Because of Hubby’s love of cookies (and pecans) this seemed like an ideal recipe to change that.

The most important thing to say about this recipe is that the flavors are excellent.  The sour cream adds just enough tang to counteract the sweetness for a perfect balance of flavors. My Roszke cookies weren’t so appealing to look at, mostly because this was my first rodeo with making nut filled crescents, but they sure are satisfying to eat.

Because I’ve never made anything like this before, the recipe instructions were missing some vital information for the success of the cookie for me. After the instructions tell you to roll the dough into 8 or 9 pieces, the only other instruction was to let it rise for another 1/2 hour and cut into squares. My questions were; Cut each of the 8 or 9 pieces into a square? Or several squares? How thick should the dough be once it’s rolled out? How big should these squares be? How many cookies is this recipe supposed to make? I would have appreciated any little hint as to just how big these cookies were to be.  With a little searching on the internet, I sort of figured it out.

Except for the amount of pecans listed in the ingredient list. After looking at similar recipes online, I have a feeling this might be a typo and should read: “2 cups finely chopped pecans” and NOT “2 pounds finely chopped pecans.” I could be wrong, it happens, but there’s no way my little cookies could have handled anymore filling than I put in them. I didn’t use even half of the pecans I bought for this recipe. It worked out okay because I have another use for the pecans right here in this cookbook with the recipe for “Grandma Rimarchik’s Slovak Nut Roll.” But, this is a pretty expensive typo for the cook who buys two pounds of pecans for this recipe.

When I made these two weeks ago I froze a couple dozen of them that we’re still eating. They freeze really well and are just as good as they day I made them. I’m sure we’ll make these again.

Grandma Rimarchik’s Slovak Nut Roll p. 208

The Roszke cookies are good but I think this nut roll is amazing. The dough mixes up just like a bread would and has a similar texture to it when it’s baked. The tender dough with the pecans and apple is a pleasure to snack on. I used my mixer with the dough hook, but this could easily be hand mixed. I did have to add a almost another cup of flour to get the dough to a good consistency to work with.  Like the Roszke cookies, slices of this nutroll have held up well in the freezer over the past few weeks. I think this is the beginning of a new Christmas baking tradition at our house.

Buttermilk Fried Chicken with Loaded Mashed Potatoes, pgs.104 and 106

We made these two recipes for dinner one night. Well, Hubby did because he’s the chicken fan and I don’t like to cook it. There’s only the two of us in the house, but we made the full recipe of 2 fryer chickens so Hubby had some leftovers for lunches. There’s a lot of chicken here! We agreed that marinating the chicken overnight went a long way in making a flavorful, tender, juicy chicken. Both the chicken and the mashed potatoes were good. The creaminess of the potatoes with the crunchiness of the chicken was exactly what I wanted. I know Hubby will make both of these recipes a lot.

Strata p. 199

To have something as tasty, wholesome and as easy as this strata for a meal is why I love to cook. Things like this just make me happy. Even though tomatoes aren’t in season right now, we got some wonderful organic slicers at the co-op that tasted great. A good thing, because I won’t be able to wait until the summer to make this again. 

Other Recipes On The List To Try Soon:

Tomato Pie
Maple Pecan Cookies
John’s Famous Chili
Corn Pudding
Olive Oil Ice Cream
Cheddar Chive Biscuits
Maple Bacon Popcorn
Cheddar Soufflé
Maple, Apple, Sage Stuffing
Lux Garlicky Scalloped Potatoes
Cardamom Tapioca Pudding

I am crazy about this cookbook. I borrowed my copy from our library, but it only took cooking two recipes from it for me to buy it. I know we’ll refer back to it often, we already are, because it represents not just flavors we love, but the simple, rustic way we like to cook.

I recommend An Old-Fashioned Christmas, Sweet Traditions for Hearth and Home to home cooks who love simple, clean eating with comfort food flavors from New England to Slovakia. Hubby wants me to cook my way through every recipe in the book. That’s a good idea!

In a house with many, many cookbooks like ours, this one has turned out to be our go-to cookbook this winter. I can’t say enough about it. This is the kind of cooking and eating that simply makes me happy. I’m grateful to have found these recipes and the stories behind them.

Cafe au Lait, p. 222

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