Bibliobites in February: The First Ten Years; and, No Sugar, Please!

Yes friends, in February our Bibliobites group celebrated its first decade!  In the past ten years we’ve plowed through over one hundred cookbooks, and have undoubtedly produced thousands of meals and treats in the name of rigorous review.  In honor of this momentous occasion, we met for a potluck lunch, where members contributed some of their favorite dishes from past titles, as well as some new ones from our February book, The Savory Baker from America’s Test Kitchen.

I also asked members to tell me about some of their favorite recipes and/or books from the past ten years.  Though there was quite a diversity of opinions, a few titles were mentioned repeatedly.  Once Upon a Chef Weeknight/Weekend produced many keepers, among them greek style shrimp with tomato and feta, drunken style noodles with shrimp, turkey, spinach, and cheese meatballs, smoky chickpea, red lentil, and vegetable soup, lasagna soup, and the universally acclaimed french apple cake.  The trendy sheet pan got some Bibliobites love with Sheet Pan Suppers; top picks included roasted sausage and red grapes with polenta and gorgonzola, quick chicken and baby broccoli with spicy peanut sauce, swordfish cacciatore, chicken legs with fennel and orange, and honey-orange shrimp with baby bok choy.  We’ve reviewed two of the prolific Dorie Greenspan’s books, Everyday Dorie and Baking With Doriedark chocolate pudding, mushroom bacon galette, and lower east side brunch tart were particularly praised.

Several other titles generated keepers, among them Pasta Modern (soup in a sack), Dinner in French (savory gruyere and ham bread), Maangchi’s Real Korean Cooking (steamed eggplant), Grains For Every Season(broccoli, tuna, and wheat berry gratin; roasted carrot; avocado, pistachio and quinoa salad), Vietnamese Food Any Day (charred brussels sprouts)Indian-ish (malaysian ramen), Cook Like a Pro (parmesan pesto zucchini sticks), The Food You Crave (three bean chili), Dinner Just For Two (chicken parmesan meatballs), The Apple Lovers’ Cookbook (cider donut muffins), Midwest Made (buckeye bars; chocolate zucchini bread), Pastry Love (thin crispy chocolate chip cookies; double chocolate rye cookies), and any of the Smitten Kitchen titles.  These and so many other cookbooks are available at the Chelmsford library.  Check them out and see if you find a keeper or three!

After our delightful and filling lunch, we discussed February’s title, The Savory Baker.  When most of us think about baking we have a sweet treat in mind; but with this book we put away the sugar and focused on the savory side of things.  There were plenty of successes; dill feta zucchini bread with zucchini butter was “yum!  The house smelled great!”  This tender quick bread was loaded with fresh veggie flavors and was easy to put together.  Gochujang and cheddar pinwheels were a “great combination” of crispy, buttery puff pastry and swirls of spicy gochujang paste.  Though the pinwheels were addictively delicious, they unfortunately didn’t travel well, so eat them soon after you make them!  Broccoli cheese cornbread was, as advertised “very moist.”  The classic broccoli/cheddar combo was tasty, “I would make again.”  Also in the cornmeal department, corn muffins with cheddar and scallions were an elevated take on the standard corn muffin.  Cooking a portion of the cornmeal in milk to make a “porridge” made for moist, less-gritty muffins that kept well.  Cheddar and scallions added welcome assertive flavor.

We baked our way through lots of main dishes: two people tried chicken pot pie with savory crumble topping.  As many casseroles are, this one was “lots of work” to put together.  The crumble topping turned out to be the star of the show, with its hits of Parmesan and black pepper.  The filling was classic comfort food, with plenty of tender chicken, peas, and carrots; mushrooms added depth.  It’s a worthwhile project, especially if you need to feed a crowd.  Vegetable pot pie was also a winner, and also a bit of a project.  The filling featured mushrooms, chard, and turnips (“I loved the turnips!”) for a hearty, yet light main dish.  Butternut squash galette with gruyere was a satisfying combination of nutty, flaky, whole wheat pastry, sweet squash, and mellow gruyere.  It reheated well, too, “a keeper!”  A more springlike tart, asparagus and goat cheese tart, was easy to put together with store-bought puff pastry and tender thin asparagus.  Goat cheese added just the right accent to this French-inspired tart.  Cheese pupusas (“I made chicken”) were just plain “fabulous!”  These filled corn griddle cakes were a bit fussy to assemble, though the “pie plate technique” detailed in the recipe made it easier.

In the yeasted department, pletzel was so good, “I made it twice!”  This thin, super-light foccaccia cousin featured lots of sweet sauteed onions and everything bagel seasoning (“I couldn’t find poppy seeds!”).  It’s a great go-with for soups, or on its own as a snack.  Thin crust pizza with pumpkin, cashew ricotta, and apple-fennel slaw was something of a project (as well as a mouthful to say!).  The ridiculously simple slaw was “the best part” and worth making on its own.  According to the recipe, the dough was supposedly easy to stretch, but it was frustratingly prone to snapping back, and required lots of time and patience to roll out thinly.

For our (mostly non-baking) group, the savory aspect of this book made it more enjoyable than your average baking book.  It was fun to take your typical scone or muffin and have the flavors go sideways.  And many of the categories, like tarts and pot pies, made for delicious cozy winter dinners.  We also loved the fantastic and copious photos.  There are pictures of almost every recipe, as well as some photo sequences illustrating a particular technique.  FYI the print is pretty small, but at least it was a sharp black that made it easier to read than the now-prevalent gray.  Our rating for this title averaged out to a 3.5 (out of a possible 5), a vote of confidence from this group!

Please join us at our next meeting on Friday, March 22 at 11 AM in the Fireplace Room.  We’ll be ushering in our next decade with Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street Tuesday Nights Mediterranean.  Copies are available at the main circulation desk or via curbside pickup.  See you there!