Our Bibliobites group enjoys a survey as much as anyone else. In fact, that’s pretty much what we do every month– we (thoroughly!) survey a cookbook by reading it and cooking our way through it; then we discuss our results and render a verdict. So, before we begin a new session in September, let’s take a brief look back at where we’ve been.
I asked group members to send me their top “keepers” from 2022-2023. For us, these are the best of the best: the ones that have made it into our regular rotations, the ones we get excited about eating the minute we pull out the recipe. Check them out! They could become your favorites, too.
Unsurprisingly, our top-rated book of the year (4.4 out of a possible 5), Once Upon a Chef Weeknight/Weekend by Jennifer Segal, generated several keepers. Among the many highlights were smoky chickpea, red lentil, and vegetable soup (“hearty with lots of smoky flavor….super!”), drunken style noodles with shrimp (“I want to go back to this one!”), bbq soy and ginger chicken thighs (“super on the grill!”), ciabatta pesto pizza (“a go-to for a quick supper”), pan-seared halibut (“the sauce makes the dish…very rich…easy”), and, for dessert, french apple cake (“the rum is perfect…a nice small cake”) and brownie pudding (“rich and buttery, yet light and delicate!”). It’s worth noting that most of the above recipes were highly praised by multiple people.
Despite the fact that several in our group are avowed non-bakers, Dorie Greenspan’s Baking With Dorie was our second highest-rated title of the year (3.77 out of a possible 5). After many decades in the cookbook biz, it’s apparent that the author knows her way around a cookie sheet, and a recipe! Our keepers from this book included mocha walnut torte (“dairy free and gluten free so great for those with food restrictions”), olive oil brownies (“excellent fudginess!”), grain and seed muffins (“really delicious…not too sweet”), and bakewell tart (“tender almond sponge cake, raspberry jam, pastry crust….hit all the right notes for me!”).
Even titles that generated a lukewarm response overall could surprise us with flashes of brilliance. Dada Eats Love to Cook It by Samah Dada, while squarely in “meh” territory (2.9 out of a possible 5) had us falling in intense legume love with chana masala, dal makhani, and the best dal ever. Jew-ish by Jake Cohen also garnered a very average rating (3.0 out of 5), but our cooks were passionate about a few recipes: pomegranate bbq chicken wings (“one of the best wing sauces ever!”) and iraqi roasted salmon (“awesome tomato-lemon topper– perfect with the salmon!”). Moving a bit further down the ratings, Grains For Every Season by Joshua McFadden (2.75 out of 5) also had a couple of well-loved dishes: both farrotto in the style of cacio e pepe (“enjoyed this more than a rice risotto…nice flavor!”) and buckwheat cream scones your way (“rich yet light with delicate buckwheat flavor”)are on repeat, or will be when the weather cools off a bit!
As always, there were titles that just didn’t speak to us, even if they’d been well reviewed by those who probably know way more about food and cooking than we do. However, in our defense, we actually make the recipes in a book, not just read them and drool over the photos. Sometimes dishes that sounded wonderful on the page wound up needing more time, pots, bowls, or expensive ingredients than we anticipated. Some dishes didn’t taste as described, or as good as we’d expected. But even titles we didn’t enjoy all that much had their moments. One Pot, Pan, Planet by Anna Jones (2.3 out of 5) had a “sleeper hit” with quick squash lasagna. Stir by Barbara Lynch (2.5 out of 5) had old fellow marinara sauce, “the one recipe I have used the most this year.” And from In Cod We Trust by Heather Atwood (1.9 out of 5) two cooks raved about roasted cherry tomato sauce, a zippy relish that keeps well and tastes fantastic on almost anything.
For all you numbers people out there, this year’s highest rating was a 4.4, and the lowest a 1.9. Our combined average for all titles was 3.05. That’s very…..average! Check out any or all of the above titles and see if you agree with our group’s opinions. And please join us at our next meeting, Friday September 29 at 11 AM in the Fireplace Room. Speaking of keepers, we’ll be road-testing Deb Perelman’s newest, Smitten Kitchen Keepers. Copies are available at the main circulation desk or via curbside pickup. See you then!