On My Shelf: Baking: From My Home to Yours

cookbookshelfIt’s pretty apparent that I bake a lot. I make cookies, cakes, cupcakes, quick breads, anything that will encourage a sweet tooth. So I pretty much always keep an eye out for the next awesome baking book. I’m always looking for a book of fail-safe recipes that will offer consistent and reliable baked goods that I will love, because here’s the thing – there are a LOT of cookbooks out there, each more complicated then the last and some not offering good or reliable information. That’s one of the reasons I started this series on the blog. I want my readers to know what I bake from because it’s what I find reliable consistently. I never give you a book I’ve only cooked from once, I must have cooked a couple of things from the book and liked them. There’s no point in sharing a recipe I’m not in love with and there’s ABSOLUTELY no point in telling my readers to spend money on something without making sure it’s perfect. I feel this way about a lot of things – kitchen ware, cookbooks, electronics, I like consistency and reliability. I like Dorie Greenspan.


Every time I look for a new baking recipe I turn to Baking: From My Home to Yours, from cookies to cake to cheesecake, the girl owns her recipes. They are well tested and reliable, but not represented as practically perfect – because lets face it, none of us are. This book offers real recipes, and real variations that make sense. She doesn’t suggest you use fifty bowls for one cake or ask for weird, obscure ingredients that are hard to find, or worse, expensive. These are tested recipes for early morning baking and perfect birthday cakes.

When I bake from this book it’s the cake portion of the black and white celebration cake, or the black and white banana loaf, or the basic cheesecake, or, well you get the idea. I can’t choose a favorite recipe because everything I’ve made from it has been successful, and I’ve never received a complaint on something I made. Is there a better recommendation than that?

On My Shelf: The Joy of Cooking

When I was little we didn’t have many cookbooks – we made a lot of family recipes and cooked from books that were more familiar to us than the furniture, they were books that had been in the family for a long time.  One of those books we reached for most frequently was The Joy of Cooking.  I don’t remember which volume it was that we owned but I remember the weight of it in my hands when I opened it and the satisfying crinkle of the dust jacket whenever the book was moved.

My copy of Joy (as I playfully refer to it) is a library reject that my mom picked up at a library sale.  The cover lacks any glossy coating and any time you put the book down it shoots up a little pile of white dust.  I call this character building, others refer to it as messy, but it’s my Joy.

Joy is now and always will be one of my favorite cookbooks because it never fails; from the basics like a perfectly flaky dinner biscuit to the more complicated things -chocolate truffle cream frosting and almond crusted pork loin Joy has been in my life.  Not only is this a cookbook but it’s a reference book – with useful information like how to create your own spice mixes (I made Garam Masala based on the suggestions here and it was delicious) to the ratios for homemade baking powder or the conversion of eggs to cups it’s all here in one easy to handle book.

My favorite recipes are Spanikopita, Chocolate Truffle Cream Frosting, and Almond Crusted Pork Loin.  Be warned though – Joy is constantly going through new revisions and printings so my copy may not be the same copy you get and thus may not have the same recipes.

Chicken Marsala Ravioli and Mushroom Bake

Note: These pics are not my best.  This dish is just NOT photogenic.

Some days I am lazy and want nothing more than some al dente pasta with butter and salt and pepper for dinner.  This is a regular (if moderately unhealthy) meal in my house.  I am always please by it, BF can make it if i’m not motivated, and it’s more or less fail proof.  When Buitoni contacted me about creating recipes for their delicious new refrigerated pastas I just couldn’t say no.  If I’m buying pasta in the refrigerated section of the grocery store I reach for theirs anyway – having fresh pasta is a great an simple way to fancy up a meal that can be a bit boring (pasta, butter, salt and pepper) or bring something that is awesome anyway to the level of extraordinary.
What I was not expecting was a thoughtful package that contained an ultra-soft bamboo fiber hand towel, an apron, and a cutting board from Vermont all artfully branded with the buitoni logo.  Not to mention the pasta – both bf and I fell in love with the pastas we were sent; a chicken marsala one that tasted of earthy mushrooms and sherry and a lovely butternut squash one that tasted like thanksgiving.
After indulging in each pasta doused in butter (I had to sample them to look for pairing flavors…) I started to plot recipes.  Initially I thought I would end up working with the butternut, it was definitely my preferred flavor, but then I had an idea sort of based on an old episode of The French Chef where Julia Child makes a mushroom lasagna with cream sauce.  I wanted to bake with the Chicken Marsala Ravioli, I wanted those complex flavor layers good mushrooms would give me.  I wanted rich heavy cream and butter.  I wanted cheese.  I wanted to make something for colder months because that’s when I most like stuffed pastas – when it’s cold and I want something hearty, filling, and rich. And that is exactly what this is. It is also great with a salad 🙂  Also, make sure to read down to the bottom for a fun giveaway!

Chicken Marsala Ravioli and Mushroom Bake

Note: I don’t care for mushrooms and as I ate my second bowl of this I was exclaiming that I couldn’t believe how much I liked it. Just saying.

  • 2 Packages Buitoni Chicken Marsala Ravioli
  • 1 lb Cremini mushrooms gently cleaned and sliced
  • 4 Tbs butter, separated
  • 2 Tbs flour
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 tbs brandy
  • 1/4 cup swiss cheese
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese (or any other hard cheese)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • Preheat the oven to 350. Spray the inside of a medium sized casserole dish with cooking spray
  • In a medium saute pan melt two tbs of butter over med-high heat. Once the butter is fully melted and the pan is hot add the mushrooms. Saute the mushrooms gently until they are a nice golden brown all over, 5-7 mins.
  • Add the ravioli straight from the package to the mushrooms and gently toss everything together so it seems evenly mixed. Put the ravioli and mushrooms in your casserole dish and set it aside.
  • In a medium sized saucepan combine the two tbs of butter and the flour. Stir them until they form a paste then let them simmer for one minute without browning.
  • In a second saucepan (I know a lot of dishes, I’m sorry!) warm your milk to hot but not boiling or simmering. Gently stir the hot milk into the butter/flour roux, in pan 1. This will help prevent clumping. If you add the milk cold (like I usually do) you will have lumps; be okay with the lumps or have the patience to sit by while the whole thing cooks over low heat and you whisk it.
  • Add the brandy and mix well. Once the brandy has incorporated into the base white sauce add the Swiss cheese. Stir to combine and allow the cheese to melt into the sauce, it should take a minute or so.
  • Pour the cheese sauce over the ravioli/mushroom mixture. Top this with the Parmesan.
  • Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes, until bubbly and light brown.
  • Remove it from the oven and let it rest for 5-10 mins. This is a perfect meal to make when your partner is dawdly about coming to the table.
  • Enjoy. Eat this with gusto. It’s pasta, that’s how you eat pasta.


Now the fun part! Did you see that pretty picture up there? That one with the snazzy apron, sexy cutting board and pretty kitchen towel? You could totally own ALL.THOSE.THINGS. and I will send you four coupons so you can hunt down and try some of this delicious pasta yourself! Just leave me a comment telling me what your favorite way to eat ravioli is. I will give you until July 13th to get your comment in. I like mine with a rugged red sauce if it’s ricotta filled or with a browned butter-sage sauce if it’s butternut squash. 🙂

Disclaimer: I was provided this pasta and the kitchen goods free of charge in return for this recipe/review. All opinions here are my own, I would (and do) buy this pasta on my own dime in the future.

On My Shelf: Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume 1

Recently I’ve noticed more and more people are asking me for cookbook recommendations because I bake and cook a lot. Which is true. I always have a recommendation – so my lovely and wonderful Big Sister asked me to start posting quick reviews here. I’m starting with Julia because she is one of my personal heroes and she is the reason that I challenge myself in the kitchen.

I’m starting with Mastering the Art of French Cooking because it is THE cookbook to have in your kitchen if you are only going to have one or two. You can learn everything from how to coddle an egg to what happens when you break a hollandaise from this illuminating book. Though mostly credited to Julia Child it was also assisted along be Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle (though if you read My Life in France you can see just how much of the book Louisette actually wrote). I have been cooking from this book for a very long time (My mom owned a copy and I remember flipping through it when I thought the whole book large) and always find it useful – from key illustrations in things like trussing a chicken to well written instructions this book is a great glimpse into the world of French food. Even if you’re not a cook you should read it for gorgeous illustrations and engaging writing. It is a book that talks to you like a friend sharing their favorite recipe. Everything is presented in an unpretentious and thoughtful way that is easily digestible and logically laid-out. A must read for any food aficionado and a must have for any home cook, because is their anything more magical than boeuf bourguignon on a cold winter night? My favorite recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking are Boeuf Bourguignon, Mayonnaise, Hollandaise, and Crepes.

Brunching and Lunching at Common Ground in Allston

I am typically easy to please so if a brunch doesn’t wow me I feel like it probably won’t satisfy other people either. Now, I’m not saying I’m the super judge – I’m not at all but I do tend to like things that are really good and become sorely disappointed by those things that are not. I went to Common Ground with no expectations and no real idea of what I was getting – they were a blank slate that could swing one way or another. So I risked it.

I was disappointed, they offered a lot of standard fare set up in a brunch buffet style at a totally reasonable price point (6.99 on Saturday and 9.99 on Sunday) but I felt just sort of meh about the food they offered us there. The eggs I found dry, the home fries were lackluster, and the bloody mary woefully unoriginal (one of my biggest pet peeves is a bloody mary that isn’t distinct in some way). Please don’t think Common Ground did everything badly – their homemade meats were stellar there was perfect breakfast sausage which I could have eaten pounds of and corned beef hash that would have made BF weak in the knees. Also, ordering the bananas foster french toast off menu is a brilliant plan. You will want to put that sauce on EVERYTHING, maybe even in your coffee.

Now then, so I went to brunch and found it lackluster but decided to fortify and try again since Common Ground was kind enough to invite me back for a lunch later in the week. I went to lunch with low-ish expectations, I’d been disappointed by brunch so lunch wasn’t going to blow my mind – was it? How wrong I was. Common Ground’s savory menu is superb. I would have given them a glowing recommendation based on just the margarita chicken skewers that I ate, but overall they nailed it with lunch. There were perfectly cooked chickpea and lentil veggie burgers – I usually skip the veggie burger but this one I will be eating again. They doted on my dining companion, Jess’s Bug, bringing him cups of fruit when he wasn’t a fan of anything on the menu (which made them heroes in my eyes).

So it was that Common Ground was able to redeem themselves in my eyes. I will definitely be back soon, probably with BF, and probably for a Geeks Who Drink night for Geek Trivia (total score in my book). I will stick to the savories and skip brunch, but regardless they had fantastic service and a great atmosphere (even when full of rowdy college kids on a graduation bar crawl).

Disclaimer: I was given both of these meals free of charge but all opinions based here are my own.