Cookbook Recommendations, Part One

There was a point in my life when I thought cookbooks were pointless.  Everything I needed was available for free on the internet, right?  Well, let’s just say, sometimes you get what you pay for.

It’s not that all recipes on the internet are crap.  I put my recipes on the internet for free and many of the authors below do, too.   But there is something to be said for diving into a collection of recipes that have been vetted, especially if they include beautiful pictures and writing to accompany them.

If you are reading this on the day of or after posting, there may be a very popular online retailer that has their own version of Black Friday (*wink*) offering these books for Buy 3 for the Price of 2 discount on many items, including a wide selection of cookbooks (and many are additionally discounted).  If you stumble across this post later, or prefer to shop local, independently owned shops, I still can’t recommend these books enough.

Top 3 Recommendations

If you are going to take advantage of the buy 3 for 2 deal, this is where I would start. 

Dinner:  Changing the Game by Melissa Clark – If you are in a dinner rut and want to punch it up a notch, this is the book for you.  Everything in here is easy to make and accessible.  There is nothing “weird” in this book.  Instead you’ll find mostly familiar foods in distinctive combinations that will make you say “why didn’t I think of that?”  My favorites – Herbed Parmesan Dutch Baby, Penne and Brussels Sprouts, Roasted Hake with Crispy Mushrooms, Seared Tofu with Bacon[!], Shiitakes, and Chives, Summer Grain Bowl, Smoky Fish and Potato Chowder, and of course the one-pan Harissa Chicken with Leeks and Potatoes that practically has a cult following.

The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart – As much as I love to read and write (my day job is teaching English, after all) I have to confess that I am also a big math nerd.  The Bread Baker’s Apprentice is the textbook of bread baking.  If you want to truly understand the science and ratios behind good bread, and maybe develop recipes of your own, this is a must-own.  I read it cover to cover and took notes like I was majoring in Bread in college.  Once you understand the math and science, the recipes are infallible.

Smitten Kitchen Every Day by Deb Perelman – If you are looking for a modern go-to book that has it all (breakfast, snacks, dinners, baking), and does it all well, this is it.  Some favorites – Granola Biscotti, Carrot Salad, Halloumi Roast, Caramelized Cabbage Risotto, Meatballs Marsala, Gooey Oat Bars, and – probably the most re-made recipe from any cookbook we own – Street-Cart Style Chicken and Rice. 

Runners Up

Looking for something different?  Already have the ones above?  Here are more favorites.

All-Inclusive – Books with a variety of recipes you will keep going back to.

Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child – Needs no introduction.  The version on Amazon is a split volume, which is more accessible than the full tome.

Six Seasons by Josh McFadden – Recipes for every vegetable you can imagine, organized by season. 

Simple by Yotam Ottolenghi – Ottolenghi’s books are enormously popular, and there are other titles in the sale, as well.   In this one, try the Seeded Chicken Schnitzel and the Sweet Potato Mash with Lime Salsa

Specific Cuisines – Great for mastering cuisines from specific countries or regions.  

Every Grain of Rice by Fuschia Dunlop – The General Tso’s chicken is so good, we even use this recipe for chicken nuggets without the sauce sometimes.

Vietnamese Food Any Day by Andrea Nguyen – There wasn’t a bad recipe in this book, and most of the ingredients are very accessible to the American cook.  The Glass Noodle Soup and Beef Lettuce Wraps were some of our favorites.

Season: Big Flavors Beautiful Food by Nik Sharma – I would classify this as American food by an Indian chef.  Try the Spiced Meatloaf.

Indian-ish by Priya Krishna – I would classify this as Indian food by an American-born cook (as made by her Indian-born mom).  In other words, what actual Indian-Americans eat.

Bottom of the Pot by Naz Deravian – Delicious Persian food interwoven with beautiful personal stories.  Her instructions are impeccable – I followed to a T and my tahdig came out perfectly on the first try.

Dinner in French by Melissa Clark – French flavors for the American kitchen – essentially an updated Mastering the Art of French Cooking – and you can’t go wrong with Clark’s books (see Dinner: Changing the Game above).

Amá by Josef Centeno – Tex-Mex food – try the bougie nacho cheese. 

Jubilee by Toni Tipton-Martin – Southern recipes with a side of history.  Not only was every recipe in here delicious and decadent, Tipton-Martin does a beautiful job of honoring so many Black voices that made Southern food what it is today.  Try the Shrimp and Grits, Red Beans and Rice, and Jambalaya.

Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen – This is a reprint of the original classic – a must for vegetarian cooking.

Baking – For the dessert and bread lovers

Midwest Made by Shauna Sever – Great for homestyle classic American baking.

Black Girl Baking by Jerelle Guy – I love that this book is organized by the five senses!

The Baking Bible by Rose Levy Bernbaum – This is a great book if you want to elevate your baking game, but not to levels of French patisserie.  The pie crust recipe in this book will NEVER FAIL YOU.

Zingerman’s Bakehouse by Amy Emberling – I don’t know if it’s worth buying a whole cookbook for the perfect brownie recipe, but if it is, the recipe in this book is it – perfectly fudgy with a crackly top.

Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book by Emily Elsen – My Pop used to say he had two favorite kinds of pie – hot and cold.  You will have lots of favorites from this book.

Food Non-Fiction (not cookbooks) – When you love food so much you want to read about it

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer – One of my favorite non-fiction books ever.  I will likely never become vegan but this book made the most convincing argument, and has made me re-evaluate my meat consumption.

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain – The OG restaurant exposé.  A must read for anyone who loves food.

What’s in My Cart

This is what I am trying to choose between right now.  Drop your recommendations in the comments. There are a few I am embarrassed to not already own!

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat

From Crook to Cook:  Platinum Recipes from Tha Boss Dogg’s Kitchen by Snoop Dogg

Flour Water Salt Yeast by Ken Forkish

The Good Book of Southern Baking by Kelly Fields

Falastin by Sami Tamimi

The Noma Guide to Fermentation by René Redzepi

Appetites:  A Cookbook by Anthony Bourdain

The Taste of Country Cooking by Edna Lewis

Sally’s Cookie Addiction and Sally’s Baking Addiction by Sally McKenney

I turned 40 today.

The exact moment – while I was writing this.

I was dreading 40 for a while.  But when the clock hit midnight and it was 2020, I didn’t really care anymore.  My 30s were good but some health issues kept them from being great – some new treatments are making me hopeful for my 40s.  So with that frame of mind, I started planning the celebration.

My bestie Julie, who also turns 40 this month, and I were going to do a cute best friends photo shoot, complete with smash cake, matching outfits, and balloons.  We talked about taking a cruise.  My husband and I were planning a vacation.  My birthday fell on the last day of school so I was counting on a raucous happy summer, happy birthday happy hour with my co-workers. 

But alas, 2020 has had different plans for all of us, and my 40th celebrations are just one of the casualties. 

After over a year of planning and prepping, I thought that being stuck at home would be a perfect time to launch my blog.  I had been putting it off because I just didn’t think I could churn out the content that it needed, and I thought stay-at-home orders would give me no more excuses.  But teaching from home proved to be more work than I previously anticipated, and the last thing I wanted to do after teaching from my home office all day was to continue to sit at this computer screen even longer.

So as the school year wrapped up, I thought a birthday cake would be the perfect blog post to re-engage.  I read through tons of recipes prepared to create my own original one to post here.  I thought about how I could decorate it for the perfect, instagrammable content. 

And then I said “Fuck that” and decided to create a cake for ME.

In the blogosphere and elsewhere, there is so much pressure to “create content.”  It’s rare to see people just doing something they like without trying to figure out how to turn it into a side hustle anymore.  And hell, if you can do something you like and make some extra cash from it, do it! 

But sometimes, just every once in a while, create some content for yourself. 

I decided I was going to make an extravagant cake for myself. I had the time, and it was something I could do to celebrate when every other plan was taken away.

I wanted it to look pretty because I am worth it, not for the ‘gram (although she is going to be posted there, too, because she is gorgeous). 

I wanted almond and raspberry and I didn’t have to care if anyone else liked those flavors, because I won’t see anyone to share it with besides the hubs, anyway. 

I decided to make every component from scratch – raspberry preserves, macarons for decoration filled with raspberry curd, amaretto cake, and raspberry frosting. 

I even remade the macarons because I didn’t like how the first batch looked.

I bought new cake pans because I wanted a certain shape and size.

I licked the beaters.  I even sucked the last bit of frosting out of the frosting bag.

I stayed up late.  I danced and listened to music.  I experimented with new piping tips.

And I created something gorgeous.  For myself. 

I named her Sheila.  Sheila got a photoshoot with the works.  Meaning, I got out the good camera.

Then I put on my brand new sequin dress.  And a crown.  And false eyelashes. And poured myself a mostly-champagne mimosa for breakfast.  We are getting takeout and my sister is throwing me a Zoom karaoke party tonight, but I have nowhere to go.  But I can wear sequins for myself.

Whether you are a mom, crafter, teacher, seamstress, baker, writer, photographer, artist, etc., so many of us put so many beautiful things out into the world.  Don’t forget to create those beautiful things in your world, as well.  Make sure your labors of love are also labors of self-love.  Make something just for you.

Damn, 40 feels wise.

Strawberry Clementine Shortcakes with Vanilla Custard

Strawberries have a special place in my heart.  My grandparents always had a patch when I was a kid and some of my favorite summer memories are picking and eating my way through the patch, shooing away the box turtles that would come to eat, too, and helping to make strawberry jam.  Most importantly, since my birthday is in early June, my Pop would often make homemade strawberry ice cream for me.

Having said that, there is not a food that is more illustrative of the importance of eating seasonal than the strawberry.  Strawberries are pretty much the perfect food from mid-May to early June only.  You may be able to get some mediocre ones in April and July, but outside of that, they are all overgrown, watery, sour garbage.  (I have a lot of opinions about strawberries).

When strawberries are at their prime, they shouldn’t be overcomplicated.  A basic shortcake or angel food cake, strawberries with the tiniest bit of sugar just to macerate, and some fresh cream is all you need.  Hell, you can lose the cake all together and just give me a bowl of berries and cream at that point.

This recipe is not for those berries.

This recipe is for those shoulder-season berries – decent, but they still need a little help along.  A little flavor boost.  First, I add some clementine juice and zest to the macerated strawberries to give it a little extra sweetness and tartness.  Then I swap out the light whipped cream for a heavier, more decadent vanilla custard. 

The shortcake recipe is made with White Lily flour, which I recommend for anything in the biscuit family.  It is made with soft winter wheat so it is more delicate and has less gluten and protein. In fact, I adapted this shortcake recipe from a few others, including the one on their website. The flour is hard to find if you don’t live in the south, so if you don’t have it, just use a scant 2 cups of flour instead. 

The custard is my mom’s recipe that she uses as a base for cream pies like banana or coconut. It adds more vanilla flavor than just whipped cream, leaving hints of strawberry ice cream and orange dreamsicle.


Strawberry Clementine Shortcakes with Vanilla Custard

An amped-up strawberry shortcake that is great for slightly out of season strawberries that need a little help. 

  • Author: Beth Gannon
  • Prep Time: 30 mins
  • Cook Time: 40 mins
  • Total Time: 70 mins
  • Yield: 8 shortcakes 1x
  • Category: Dessert



  • 2 cups White Lily all purpose flour (or a scant 2 cups all purpose flour if using other brands)
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • ½ cup (one stick) cold butter, cut into pieces
  • ¾ cup whole milk


  • 2 lbs strawberries, hulled and sliced
  • Zest of 1 clementine
  • Juice of 1 clementine
  • ¼ cup sugar

Vanilla Custard

  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3 Tbs cornstarch
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 ½ cups whole milk
  • 2 egg yolks, beaten
  • 2 Tbs butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 egg whites
  • ¼ cup sugar


For the shortcakes: 

Preheat oven to 425F. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and 6 tbsp sugar in a medium mixing bowl.  Cut in the butter until it is the size of peas by criss-crossing two knives or using a pastry blender.  Gradually add the milk and toss with a fork until the dough comes together.  You may not need all of the milk.  Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and continue to knead 4-5 times until the dough comes together.  Roll the dough out to ¾ inch thick and cut with a biscuit cutter.  Re-roll the scraps and cut until the dough is gone.   Place the shortcakes on a cookie sheet covered with parchment. Brush with milk or cream and sprinkle with demerara or regular white sugar.  Bake for 10 minutes, until golden.  Remove from the pan and cool on a rack until room temperature.

For the strawberries:

In a bowl, sprinkle sliced strawberries with ¼ cup sugar.  Add the orange zest and juice and toss to coat.  You can add more sugar here if needed but remember it will get sweeter and juicier as it sits. Chill until ready to assemble.  

For the custard: 

Whisk together the 1/3 cup sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a medium saucepan.  Add the milk and beaten egg yolks, and cook over medium to medium-high heat, stirring constantly until thick and bubbly, 25-30 minutes. Once the mixture thickens and boils, remove from heat and add the butter and vanilla.  In the meantime, beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks.  Add the ¼ cup of sugar and whip until they form firm peaks. While the yolk mixture is still hot, very slowly begin to drizzle it into the egg whites, stirring as you add it to avoid scrambling the egg whites as you mix. Chill mixture in the refrigerator for 2 hours before serving.

To assemble:  Slice a shortcake in half.  Spoon strawberry mixture and juice over the shortcake.  Add pudding and put the other half of the shortcake on top.  You can add more strawberry and pudding mixture to the top if you want (you do, trust me). 


  •  Alternatively, if you don’t care about the round shape, you can roll the dough into a rectangle and cut into 8 squares.  This way, you can avoid re-rolling the scraps which will make the subsequent biscuits tougher.
  • Eggs are safe to be eaten at 140 degrees.  The yolk mix stays very hot so unless you let it cool too much before adding the egg whites, they should cook thoroughly.  You can put the pot back on the burner for a minute to bring it to temperature if it gets too cool, or use pasteurized egg whites if you prefer.

Keywords: strawberry, shortcake, custard

In Defense of Being a Regular

I wrote this piece a few months before the COVID-19 pandemic but am publishing it now. Now more than ever we are being reminded how important our favorite places and food service providers are to us. Support your favorite businesses and workers during and after this pandemic in any way you can.

Oftentimes as a foodie, I feel the pressure to constantly try new foods, new places, new cuisines.  I live between two small cities with some great restaurants, and I am embarrassed to admit we hardly ever venture out to either of them. (The New York Times even did a feature on the Lancaster food scene last year.)

The pressure to try new places even infiltrated my New Year resolutions: we have committed to trying at least six new restaurants in our area this year.

Yet every special occasion, or every time we want to take friends out for a great meal, hubs and I always have the same conversation: Should we try someplace new, or just go up the hill?

You probably have an “up the hill,” too.  Or an “around the corner,” or a “down the street.”  For us, it’s BG, or Black Gryphon Dining and Spirits, and it’s the place that makes us wonder why we ever go anywhere else. It’s also the place that makes our friends ask “why don’t you ever go anywhere else?” or “Are you guys stuck in a rut?”

Trying new things is great, but here’s why it’s ok to have your usual spot, too.

It’s Close

Our spot is quite literally “up the hill” from our house.  No traffic, and no long drive there or back, which means more post-date night couch snuggling. It’s the first available spot when we are starving after an hour of debating what we want for dinner. It’s also walkable, which we have done on nights when we have had too many cocktails.  (Ok, that may have been more stumbling and rolling than walking.)

It’s Reliable

I always have some trepidation about trying a new place. What if it’s terrible? Dirty? Boring? Crowded?

But you know you will not have a bad meal at your favorite restaurant.  It’s going to be delicious, and there will be something you like.  You trust the chefs, the specials will be fabulous, and you probably have several favorites to choose from on the menu.

I don’t just have the menu memorized at BG, chances are I am craving something on it (usually chocolate hot wings.) And luckily, they change the menu frequently, so I can still try something new and know it will be great.

It’s Something and Someone You Want to Support

When you go to your usual place, you aren’t just dining out, but investing money in a business that you love and want to see thrive in your town or neighborhood.  You’re also putting money into pockets of people who may have become your friends.  You’re helping someone you know and love build and grow their dream.

At BG, specifically, I also know I am getting locally grown and harvested meat, produce, and products, so I am also supporting local farmers, butchers, brewers, and other food purveyors, not to mention rotating local artists who use the restaurant as a gallery.  BG also participates in numerous fundraisers for other local organizations.

In short, when you support the establishments you know well, you are putting your consumer dollars back into your communities and the things you care about.

Live art during a local artisans event

It’s Home

I grew up with a big family, and big family dinners, and moving just three hours away from them was a hard adjustment.  But finding a second home at our usual place has made it a little easier.  I know when I walk in, at least a few staff and patrons will be happy to see me.  Along with a great meal, I’ll get at least one hug before I head out for the night.

A blurry picture with the owner (sorry, but like I said, they make good drinks)

And the love is reciprocal.  When the restaurant had a fire a couple years ago, we helped with a fundraiser to keep some money in the employees’ pockets while they rebuilt.  I don’t doubt for a second they would do the same for us.

Having certain meals at your favorite place becomes tradition.  New Year’s Eve would just be wrong if I didn’t hear the owner’s dad sing Auld Lang Syne, have the veal pot roast special, and close down the bar with the kitchen staff.

I hope everyone is lucky enough to have a usual spot that’s as great as ours.  But even if your spot hasn’t become a replacement for family dinners, there is no shame in being a regular at your favorite restaurant where you know the food and service will be great and you won’t be sorry you came.

Caramelized Onion and Cream Cheese Toast with Runny Eggs

Toast seems to be having a moment, and I am here for it.  It’s about time it got some appreciation, really.  A typical food day for me is metaphorically sandwiched between two pieces of toast – a buttered slice with runny eggs for breakfast and a piece (or two) with homemade jam and butter for dessert or that “I just want a little something else” after dinner.

I never quite got on the avocado toast train.  It’s ok, but it’s what I ate for a week after I got my wisdom teeth out.  It’s a little boring, really. But what avocado did do for toast is remind us that there are all kinds of savory things we can smear on it. 

This concoction, like all the best concoctions, was made from necessity and desperation to find something good for breakfast.  I don’t remember for sure, but it probably went something like this:

Me, laying in bed on a Saturday morning:  “Ooh, there’s a bagel downstairs! That’s worth getting out of bed for!”

Me, searching the entire kitchen for said bagel: “I know it’s here somewhere!”

Me, looking defeated and realizing the hubs probably already ate it:  “Damnit, David!”

However it went down, I know I was about to settle for my usual runny eggs and toast, but then had an idea – take the best parts of runny eggs and toast, and an onion bagel with cream cheese and *poof* – Caramelized Onion and Cream Cheese Toast with Runny Eggs.

I like this with literally any kind of toast and cream cheese.  Pictured is some good Tuscan bread that I buttered and toasted in the pan as the onions finished, but I have done this with a slice of Pepperidge Farm Oatmeal or 12-Grain in the toaster, as well.  Here I just used plain Philly cream cheese, but veggie or salmon would be good, too. 

The time consuming part is caramelizing the onion, and honestly, if I don’t feel like hanging out in the kitchen in the morning, I just fry them up a bit and they are fine.  But when I want to put the time in, I get the onion in the pan right away and then take some time making a pour-over before starting my toast and eggs.

And here you have it.  It’s barely a recipe.  It’s toast, for crying out loud.  But it’s delicious.

Caramelized Onion and Cream Cheese Toast with Runny Eggs

1 small onion, thinly sliced

2 tbs butter

2 slices of bread, toasted in a toaster or in the pan

Salt and pepper

Cream cheese (about an ounce, but who am I to tell you how much cream cheese to put on your toast?)

2 eggs

Optional:  something green (chives, parsley, thyme, dill) and/or something spicy (chili crunch, red pepper flakes, hot sauce, gochujang, sriracha)

Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat. (Or, if you want to make your toast at the same time, use a larger skillet).  Add the onions.  Once the onions start to become transparent, add salt and pepper.  Continue to cook low and slow, adding a pat of butter, a drizzle of olive oil, or a tablespoon of water if the onions become dried out.  A good caramelization can take 15-20 minutes, so be patient. (Or don’t and just fry them up in the butter – I promise it will still be good).  As the onions are close to finishing, push them to one side.  You can use the rest of the pan to toast your bread and cook your eggs over easy (or to your liking).

When the onions are finished, spread cream cheese to your liking on the toast and top with the caramelized onions.  You can stop here if you want – this alone makes a delicious snack or breakfast.  Or add your over easy egg to each slice.  Sprinkle on any optional add-ons and enjoy.

Why Gooseberries and Beans?

My food journey is a little bit nostalgia and a little bit adventure. It’s a little bit of the things I took for granted and a little bit of finally being courageous to try something new.

Gooseberries and beans are both of these things for me.

On my grandparents’ farm as a kid, summers were waiting for the first gooseberries to ripen on the bush behind their house, and indulging in the sweet-tart pop of the berry in my mouth while I helped Grandma hang sheets on the clothesline. Summers were sitting on the porch, or at the picnic table in the shade, snapping green beans for canning. Green beans are still my favorite fresh garden vegetable.

Because of this, when I bought a house with my husband, I insisted we plant a gooseberry bush in the front yard and a small summer garden in the back. That gooseberry bush has produced a bounty of gooseberries for the past several years, but gooseberry recipes are in short supply in the US. This became a turning point for me, when I realized I had the confidence in my cooking and baking abilities to experiment and create my own recipes.

And beans seem to show up in all the best food experiences. My husband’s chili. Making my own hummus for the first time. Eating my first chana masala. The jelly beans my now-husband brought me on our first date. And of course the best beans – fresh ground coffee beans.

Maybe something here will spark some nostalgia for you, too. Maybe it will make you brave to try something new. Maybe it will help you find confidence in the kitchen or teach you something new. I hope this blog feeds all of those hungers and more.