I’m a long-time visitor to Reddit.com, a user-generated news aggregation site that can be, at various times, utterly fascinating, a huge time-waster and not safe for work. Redditors — as users are called — can submit questions, links, photos, videos…pretty much anything for others to view, critique and enjoy. Topics are broken down into categories called subreddits. Users with a free Reddit account can subscribe to these subreddits, and that’s what shows up on the front page of the site when you log in.
One evening recently a user submitted a question to the Books subreddit: How big is your library? Within a few hours about 60 people replied to the question. (And in the world of Reddit, 60 is not many at all; some discussion threads generate thousands upon thousands of comments.) I answered with a guesstimate of about 2,000 books in our library, with 300 or 400 of those being cookbooks. Then the user mentioned the site FiveBooks.com — where experts in particular topics recommend five books in their area of expertise. He or she then asked me about our five favorite cookbooks, which led us to comb through our collection. We browsed the five-shelf bookcase in our dining room, the two shelves in the kitchen, a couple of shelves in the laundry room and the rolling library cart in the den, and we came up with these five. These are actually Abby’s favorites, since she’s the chef and everything.
— “Changing Thymes: New Traditions in Texas Cooking” by the Austin Junior Forum
— “Chocolate Cake: 150 Recipes from Simple to Sublime” by Michele Urvater
— “Dallas Dish” by the Junior League of Dallas
— “France The Beautiful Cookbook” by Gilles Pudlowski and the Scotto Sisters
— “On Baking: A Textbook of Baking and Pastry Fundamentals,” Third Edition, by Sarah R. Labensky, Priscilla A. Martel and Eddy Van Damme (This was one of Abby’s textbooks during her time in the culinary arts program at Texas State Technical College. It’s been used enough that all 827 pages have separated from the binding.)
I would have a hard time narrowing my favorite cookbooks down to five, but there’s a couple that deserve mention. For Christmas lunches in my department at Baylor over the last few years, I’ve made bread pudding. Last year, I made Donut Bread Pudding. But the bread pudding custom started with a pretty traditional recipe: Mike’s Comforting Bread Pudding, from “Peace, Love and Barbecue: Recipes, Secrets, Tall Tales, and Outright Lies from the Legends of Barbecue” by Mike Mills and Amy Mills Tunnicliffe. I wasn’t planning on making the same dessert every year, but after I brought it the first time, my colleague Jamile Yglecias has insisted on it.
And one of the first cookbooks I ever bought was “The Fat White Guy’s Cookbook,” by the Southern writers Ludlow Porch and Diane Cox Porch. In the book, Ludlow mentions his stepbrother, the late Atlanta newspaper columnist Lewis Grizzard, and this book is as funny as much of Grizzard’s writing was. I made the Microwave Fudge recipe when I was a poor college student living in the Bellmead Apartments and didn’t have a working oven. The stovetop worked and I had a microwave, so I managed to survive, but it’s hard to make dessert without an oven. So Microwave Fudge it was. But my favorite recipe from this book is for Hungarian Goulash. The preface to the recipe says, “My friend Nora is from Hungary. I called on her for this authentic recipe.”
Then the recipe is written in what I assume is Hungarian.
We created a menu based on some of Abby’s favorite recipes from her favorite cookbooks. These recipes aren’t taken directly from the books because, you know…copyright.
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons garlic, minced
- 1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed and coarsely chopped
- 1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
- 1/4 cup red wine
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon (or more) crushed red pepper
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 tablespoon capers, drained
- 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
- 4 fresh basil leaves, torn
- Pinch dried oregano, or more to taste
- 16 ounces linguini, cooked al dente and drained
- Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and add the garlic. Sauté until almost golden brown, then add the sausage. Cook, stirring frequently, until the sausage is browned. Add the undrained tomatoes, wine, sugar, red pepper, salt and pepper. Mix well. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring and breaking up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon. Stir in the capers, parsley, basil and oregano. Simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
Pour the mixture over the hot pasta and top with freshly grated Parmesan.
Makes about 8 servings.
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
- 1 1/2 cups warm water
- 4 cups flour
- 2 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
- 1/4 cup chopped onion
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons fresh herbs, such as rosemary, thyme or oregano, or a combination of these, finely chopped
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the sugar, yeast and water. Let it sit until it gets frothy. In another bowl, whisk together the flour and 2 teaspoons salt.
With the mixer on low, add the flour, 1 cup at a time, to the yeast mixture until all the flour has been added. Continue to mix until smooth.
Turn the dough out into a well-oiled bowl, cover with a clean towel and let sit until doubled in size, about an hour.
Heat the oven to 400 F. Pour the olive oil into the bottom of two round 8- or 9-inch cake pans, 2 tablespoons each.
Punch down the dough and then divide into two equal pieces. Place each piece in the prepared pan. Use your fingertips to make indentions into the top of the dough while spreading it to the edge of the pan. Let the dough rest for 15 minutes.
Right before placing the pans in the oven, sprinkle the fresh herbs and 1/2 teaspoon salt evenly over the top of the dough. Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.
Makes 2 loaves, about 16 servings.
Toasted Coconut Chocolate Cake
For the cake:
- 2 1/2 cups loosely packed sweetened coconut flakes
- 2 cups cake or pastry flour
- 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
- 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
- 1 1/4 cups sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1/2 cup canned unsweetened coconut milk
For the glaze:
- 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 1/3 cup canned unsweetened coconut milk
- 1/2 cup toasted coconut flakes, reserved from cake
To make the cake, heat a 9-inch skillet over medium-low heat for 1 minute. Add the coconut flakes and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, for 3-4 minutes, or until the coconut begins to turn a light golden brown. Transfer the cooked coconut to a bowl to cool.
Place a rack in the lower third of the oven and heat oven to 325 F. Lightly butter a 9-inch Bundt or tube pan, dust with flour and tap out the excess.
Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt, twice. Set aside.
Using an electric mixer on low speed, beat the butter for 1 minute. Slowly add the sugar, about 2 tablespoons at a time, and continue to beat on medium speed for 5 minutes, scraping down the bowl and beaters as needed, until the mixture is fluffy.
Add the eggs and yolk, one at a time, beating for about 10 seconds between each, then beat for 1 more minute or until the mixture is smooth.
Using a large rubber spatula, beat the sifted ingredients into the batter in three additions, alternating with the coconut milk. Remove and set aside 1/2 cup of the toasted coconut, and fold the rest into the batter.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top and bake for 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cook the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pan and turn the cake out onto the wire rack and cool to room temperature.
To make the glaze, place the chocolate in a bowl. In a small skillet set over low heat, bring the coconut milk to just under a boil, then pour it over the chocolate. Let the mixture stand for a minute, then whisk until smooth. Use an offset spatula to spread the glaze over the top and sides of the cake, then sprinkle with the toasted coconut.
Makes about 12 servings.
- 5 cups powdered sugar
- 1/2 cup cocoa powder
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1 tablespoon vanilla
- 1/2 cup chopped nuts
Sift together the sugar and cocoa into a medium microwave-safe bowl. Cut the butter into pieces and add to the bowl. Add milk and microwave on high for 2-3 minutes or until the butter melts.
Stir until the mixture is smooth, then stir in the vanilla and nuts. Spread into a buttered 8-inch-square baking pan. Cool and cut into 64 one-inch square pieces.
Makes about, you know, 64 pieces of fudge.