Wednesday, January 29, 2014


I’m extra pleased with this one because I invented it myself. I know, putting toppings on a pizza isn’t exactly rocket science, but I’m a habitual recipe follower (hence the title of this blog), and while I think I have pretty good instincts for adapting existing recipes, I rarely come up with anything brand-new. Although putting sausage, peppers, and onions together is hardly original, when I got hungry for a pizza based on this classic combo (34 pizza recipes on file and I still don’t have one that features bell peppers!), Google came up surprisingly short. There were plenty of tomato-sauce pizzas with sausage and peppers, but that seemed too easy; I wanted the main ingredients to shine. I love ricotta in place of regular pizza sauce and thought its mild creaminess would be extra great here.

When a recipe calls for sausage, I usually default to chicken sausage, just to keep things a little lighter. Trader Joe’s has a perfectly serviceable Italian chicken sausage, but since I really wanted to hew closely to the idea of a traditional sausage-and-pepper sandwich, I decided to splurge and use pork sausage. It was a wise decision. It’s notably greasier, but in a way that’s perfect for pizza, which needs a little gooeyness. You can get away with using a fairly small amount because its flavor thoroughly permeates the other ingredients. I wanted big rounds rather than crumbles, so I browned the sausages whole to make them firm enough to slice, then cut them up and sautéed the pieces with the colorful peppers and plenty of aromatic onion and garlic. As for the cheese, there are probably a lot that would be great here, but I went with the standard Parmesan and mozzarella. A garnish of fresh basil adds color, freshness and Italian flair.

This turned out exactly as I’d envisioned it, which is not always the case when I improvise. I’ll definitely make it again and won’t change a thing.

½ pound hot Italian sausage (pork recommended)
Olive oil
1 small to medium red pepper, sliced
1 small to medium yellow pepper, sliced
1 small onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pound pizza dough
About ½ cup ricotta cheese
Shredded Parmesan and mozzarella cheese to taste
Chopped fresh basil to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

2. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and brown the sausages. Remove from the pan, let rest for a few minutes, and slice. (It’s OK if the sausage isn’t cooked all the way through yet.)

3. Return the pan to the heat and add about a tablespoon of olive oil. When it’s warm, add the onions and sauté for a few minutes. Add the peppers, sausage, and garlic and cook until sausage is fully cooked and vegetables are tender.

4. Roll out the pizza dough and place it on an oiled baking sheet. Spread the ricotta over it in an even layer. Scatter the sausage-pepper mixture over that and top with Parmesan and mozzarella.

5. Bake pizza for 8-10 minutes or until cheese is melted and crust is browned.

6. Garnish with fresh basil.

Serves: 4
Time: 40 minutes
Leftover potential: Good. Reheat on the stove in a dry skillet over medium heat for best results.

Thursday, January 23, 2014


I first made this in 2012 but forgot to take a photo. I put it in my “to make again” file and waited until the seasons rolled back around to autumnal weather, when apples and cider and dishes composed entirely of different shades of brown seemed like a good idea again. That time I did snap a picture, but now a few months have passed and the details have faded somewhat from my mind—yet I don’t want to wait yet another year to share this, because it’s one of those simple crowd-pleasers that are good to have in your back pocket (metaphorically, that is; please don’t keep actual food in your back pocket). It’s pretty much what it sounds like: sautéed chicken and apples in a sweet sauce with a mustardy kick. You could eat it on its own, but it’s nice to have a starch to soak up some of that sauce; my Germanic heart went with egg noodles, although rice would also be nice if you are so inclined.

The original post at Simply Recipes notes that the sauce is mild and you can double the cider, honey, and mustard, leaving out the chicken broth, for a more intense flavor. I can’t quite remember, but I dimly recall that I tried that and found it a little too sweet and syrupy for my taste; the broth adds an important savory note. I do like having plenty of sauce to cover my noodles, so I’m thinking one-and-a-half times the cider/honey/mustard measurements plus all the chicken broth is the way to go, and those are the quantities I’ve noted below. A and I both thought onions might also add a good counterpoint flavor, so I might try throwing some in when I add the apples next time. I’ll try to iron out the details when I make this again in fall 2014.

¾ cup apple cider
1½ teaspoons cornstarch
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1½ tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
½ cup flour
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium unpeeled apples, cored and cut into ¼-inch thick slices (use good cooking apples, such as Fuji, Granny Smith, Jonathan, Jonagold, Pippin, or McIntosh)
½ cup chicken broth
Chopped fresh parsley to taste

1. Whisk cider, cornstarch, mustard, honey, and salt and pepper to taste in a bowl. Set aside.

2. Salt the chicken well and dust it in flour. Shake off the excess.

3. In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the chicken breasts and cook until golden-brown on one side, about 3-4 minutes. Turn chicken, add apples, and cook until the chicken has browned on the other side.

4. Add chicken broth and cider mixture to the pan and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to low, cover the pan, and simmer until chicken is tender, about 15 minutes.

5. With a slotted spoon, remove chicken and apples to serving plates. (I like to slice the chicken breasts after they rest for a few minutes.) If sauce looks too thin, increase the heat and reduce it slightly. Spoon sauce over chicken and apples and sprinkle with parsley. (If serving with egg noodles, I toss them into the pan with the sauce until they’re well coated and then serve the chicken, apples, and parsley on top.)

Serves: 4
Time: 40 minutes
Leftover potential: Good.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


Is it too soon to talk about cookies? These are the next item on my long backlog list and I really feel you ought to know about them. Sure, all the food blogs are still full of green smoothies and if your cupboards are anything like mine they’re still full of leftover Christmas treats, but if you don’t feel up making these just yet, bookmark them for later. Because if I’d managed to get this recipe posted in 2013, it probably would have garnered a spot on my list of the year’s top recipes.

I know these look really basic, even homely, and I wasn’t expecting anything especially remarkable. I mean, chocolate and coconut are great together and oatmeal cookies are my fave, so obviously that trifecta is what lured me to try this recipe when I saw it at Tasty Kitchen. But except for the slight twist of replacing some butter with coconut oil, this is about as straightforward as cookie formulas come. Yet I ended up making them twice last year, and considering I don’t make cookies more than once a month (excepting December) and have a wealth of great recipes already on file, that’s pretty remarkable. These might be my ideal everyday cookie. (OK, not every day, but ordinary, not special-occasion.)

One thing I like about these is that they’re not too sweet, but I was too lazy to go to Whole Foods for the unsweetened shredded coconut and got good results using the less-sweetened version from Trader Joe’s, which is still way less cloying than Baker’s or other standard grocery-store versions.

1¼ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup (heaping) unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
⅛ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
3 tablespoons coconut oil
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup light brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
1½ teaspoons vanilla
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut (unsweetened)
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

3. In an electric mixer, cream together the butter, coconut oil, and sugars. Scrape down the sides and then add the egg and vanilla; mix to combine.

4. On low speed, gradually add the flour and cocoa mixture and mix until incorporated. Add the shredded coconut and oats and mix. Add chocolate chips and mix until just folded in.

5. Form dough into balls about the size of a heaping tablespoon and place on baking sheets lined with silicon mats or parchment paper.

6. Bake for 11 minutes or until just solidified. Remove from oven and let cool for about 2 minutes more on the sheet, then remove to a rack to cool completely.

Yields: 3 dozen
Time: 35 minutes
Leftover potential: Great; freeze well.

Saturday, January 11, 2014


Blogwise, 2013 was mainly marked by frustration over my inability to stay up to date. I didn’t cook any less than in previous years (although perhaps less ambitiously), but my posting was sporadic at best and I still have a long backlog of good recipes not yet written up (some of which would have been contenders for my favorite recipes of the year if I’d actually managed to get them posted in 2013). It feels overwhelming, and although the food blogs I follow provide much of my cooking inspiration, seeing so many gorgeously photographed, frequently updated sites only amplifies my sense of inadequacy. I have to stop and remind myself that many of the bloggers I read don’t work full-time outside the home, and for some their sites are their jobs, so there is much more time and energy at work there.

I’m definitely content to stay an amateur, but I at least want to be an organized and capable amateur. Last year I had the stunning epiphany that I don’t actually need to post every single recipe I make, only the ones I really think I’m likely to make again, which streamlined my process somewhat. I also finally realized that while my current schedule doesn’t easily allow for big chunks of time to devote to personal writing, finding a few moments is better than none at all. In the fall I started trying to work on Bookcook for 15 minutes a day, and found I could finish a post in two or three days. I might have gotten up to two whole posts a week if the holiday craziness hadn’t interrupted my flow. So, long story short, my goal for the year is to keep plugging away and get caught up, but also not to stress so much about it that I drain all the fun out of what I’m doing.

Having only managed to post 35 recipes in 2013 (my worst record since 2006), I feel a bit silly making a top 10 list, given that it will contain nearly a third of my total content for the year. But once I started reviewing the recipes, I spotted so many delicious ones that have already become standbys that I realized it’s still worth highlighting them. So, here are my favorite 10 recipes I posted in 2013 (in chronological order):
  1. Roasted Tomato, Kale, and Feta Pizza: Building on one of my favorite recipes of 2012, Roasted Cherry Tomatoes, this is pretty much my ideal pizza—a little spicy, a little sweet, a little salty, a little tart, a little earthy, loaded with vegetables, plenty cheesy, and easy to put together. Sold! 
  2. Cardamom Cookies: Not sexy to look at, but a must for any cardamom lover, these buttery spice cookies have become one of my Christmas standards (although I only posted the recipe last January, I’ve been making them for several years now). I originally struggled with the odd shape and considered just making them round, but I was recently paging through a Swedish cookie recipe book A’s mom gave me a few years ago and spotted almost this exact recipe, titled “Cardamom Horseshoes.” So they are legitimately traditional, and I’ll be sticking with the horseshoe shape now that I’ve finally figured out how not to make them look like butts.
  3. Pumpkin Baked Oatmeal: I’d been making a plain version as an occasional break from granola since 2010, but with my discovery of the wealth of flavor variations at Budget Bytes, 2013 was my baked oatmeal renaissance, and now I only tend to make granola as an occasional break from baked oatmeal. Banana and Funky Monkey (although unless I’m feeling hormonal or decadent, I usually omit the chocolate and coconut so it’s just peanut butter-banana) are also in my regular rotation, but pumpkin remains my all-time favorite, regardless of the time of year. I actually have some in the fridge right now!
  4. Apple and Fennel Salad: My first time out with raw fennel, I happened to stumble on pretty much the perfect salad. I love the fruit + greens + nuts + cheese + lemon vinaigrette salad formula in many forms, but this is an especially successful version.
  5. Mushrooms and Poached Eggs on Cheesy Toast: Hardly a complicated recipe, but beloved, not only because it’s easy and delicious but also because I was hungry for something specific and was able to improvise to feed my craving, not always my strong suit. It also kicked off my mini-mania for other breakfasty sandwich-type things (see also Open-Faced Egg, Cheese, and Tomato Sandwiches).
  6. Spinach Soup With Garlic Thyme Croutons: 50-something soup recipes on this site and this was the first time it occurred to me to (a) make a pureed spinach soup and (b) gussy it up with croutons. I may be slow on the uptake, but it helps that this is a really flavor-packed recipe.
  7. Farro Salad With Roasted Mushrooms and Parmesan: 2013 was definitely my Year of Farro. I not only discovered that I like it, but found three killer recipes. This one narrowly edged out the excellent Beef, Mushroom, and Farro Soup and One-Pan Farro With Tomatoes, due to the sheer number of times I’ve made it—at least five times already, which pretty much means once a month. I love making a lemony kale salad alongside it and having wholesome, satisfying double-salad lunches all week long.
  8. Southwest Scramble: I said in the original post that I’m not sure I could ever get tired of this one, and that still holds true even though I’ve done my best to try. As if the discovery of how to make baked tortilla chips wasn’t exciting enough, I can throw them into a pan with black beans, eggs, salsa and cheese and have easy comfort food in just a few short minutes. Definitely make your own tortilla chips for this one—I did try it with storebought once and it’s not the same.
  9. Roasted Strawberry and Toasted Coconut Popsicles: I finally used my popsicle molds! And I struck gold on my first outing with this recipe. Next summer I’m going full-on popsicle-crazy, but I doubt I’ll find anything as delicious as these.
  10. Tex-Mex Beef and Bean Enchiladas With Chili Gravy: Slam dunk, instant classic. I’m pretty pleased to have made my own enchilada sauce, but the simple filling is a winner too, with a genius use of refried beans to create a saucy consistency.