Pandemic Bestsellers; Pioneer Woman's Cookbook #7

Plus: Jalapeno Popper-Stuffed Chicken! I KNOW

Howdy cookbook fans!

And happy Tuesday, hoping you are doing well. It’s a gorgeous day here in Austin, bright and sunny and mid-60s. Days are getting longer, things are looking up. I’m currently trying to figure out what recipes I want to make from the March and April cookbook club pick: The Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden! Become a paid subscriber to join us—the first cookbook club issue for this book goes out Saturday:

Paid subscribers will also be treated to an interview with cookbook author Julia Turshen on Friday. Turshen’s recipe for Jalapeño Popper-Stuffed Chicken (yes, I said Jalapeño Popper Stuffed Chicken) is at the bottom of this very issue. The recipe is from her new book, Simply Julia, out today. News! Okay.

I collect absolutely everything, I’m indiscriminate…The issue isn’t whether they are good or bad, it’s that they exist.

Dr. Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett on her “staggering” 1,200-volume collection of Jewish cookbooks, which contains books “out-of-print and contemporary, Ashkenazi, Sephardi, and Middle Eastern, printed in Yiddish, German, Hebrew, and English, among many other languages, professionally published and spiral bound.” [Tablet Mag]

What 2020’s Bestsellers Tell Us About Pandemic Cooking

I spoke with Kim Severson at the New York Times for today’s piece on the cookbooks of the pandemic, and was thrilled to spy the NYT 2020 top ten bestsellers listed at the bottom. People can talk a big game about baking sourdough bread during quarantine, but they’ll put their money where their mouth is when they buy cookbooks. Or they’ll put their money where they want the food that’s going to go in their mouth to be. Or something.

So! No surprise here: Madame Magnolia Joanna Gaines had both of her cookbooks in the top ten, with this year’s Magnolia Table Volume 2 in the top slot and 2018’s Volume 1 at number 4. This is likely news to la contessa Ina Garten, who is used to finding herself at the top of bestseller lists—yet whose Modern Comfort Food came in at number 2.

Generally speaking celebrity books were big last year, with reality star Kristin Cavallari and musician Jessie James Decker’s books coming in at number 9 and number 10, respectively. Ex-Bon Appetitster Claire Saffitz’s Dessert Person was at number 7, and perennial favorite Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat was at number 5. The rest of the list was rounded out by diet books and a book by a Fox & Friends guy. Nary a sourdough book to be found. (Though I know more than one person who was obsessed with Samin’s focaccia last year.)

What will next year hold? The NYT piece has some guesses. My guesses: more specific regional cookbooks, even city specific. Homestead-y stuff like pickles and fermentation. (People planted gardens! Now what?!) Grain cookbooks. And dinner parties. So, so, so many dinner parties. Gosh I can’t wait for dinner parties. Stay tuned!

CALENDAR: DC synagogue and arts center Sixth & I continues their cookbook author talk series, and since they’re online, you can join in from wherever you may be. Coming up: Julia Turshen discusses her new book Simply Julia on March 4 (that’s Thursday!), Jake Cohen will talk about his new book Jew-ish on March 9, and, for those who plan ahead, Pepper Teigen (Chrissy’s mom) will talk about her upcoming book The Pepper Thai Cookbook on April 19. [Sixth & I]

Ree “Pioneer Woman” Drummond Announces Cookbook 7

According to Drummond’s website, the book will be called The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Super Easy! and it’s, you guessed it, full of easy recipes. According to the book’s marketing copy, the book will have 120 recipes including “Butter Pecan French Toast Skillet, Buffalo Chicken ‘Tot’chos, White Lasagna Soup, Broccoli-Cheddar Stromboli,” and much more. This is Drummond’s 7th cookbook in her The Pioneer Woman Cooks series. William Morrow, October 19, 2021. [Pioneer Woman]

A Cook’s Tour of San Francisco has been haunting me for over a year. On a whim, I’d bought the 1963 cookbook at a used bookstore. Flipping through its many recipes, all contributed by the trendiest restaurants of the day, I thought it would be fun to try a few. Surely, I thought, there’s something weird in here. And there it was on page 158: Chicken Cynthia à la Champagne, a horrifying combination of chicken, mushrooms and a sauce of cooked champagne, curaçao and cream…I told the food editor I would try it.

Testing recipes from old cookbooks can be dangerous. [SFGate]

Listening as my father cooked, I realized he was a gifted, natural storyteller. But he was a storyteller who believed himself without a medium – one whose stories unfolded like incense from a burning stick, redolent and all-encompassing only for a moment before they were gone. But I know different. His medium was his recipes, and they still remain long after his death, each one a chapter in the long story of his life.

—Cookbook author Ramin Ganeshram was the one to write them down, in her book Sweet Hands: Island Cooking from Trinidad & Tobago. [ckbk]

Jalapeño Popper-Stuffed Chicken

Excerpted with permission from Simply Julia by Julia Turshen. Harper Wave: 2021. All rights reserved.

One of the most ideal ways to take boring boneless, skinless chicken breasts in a very fun direction, here they get filled with cream cheese and cheddar cheese for richness, fresh jalapeño for kick, and cilantro for brightness. Serve with rice, a stack of warm tortillas, or crusty bread to sop up the delicious pan juices. A pot of black or pinto beans would be nice, too, as would thick slices of avocado and tomatoes seasoned with lime and salt. Iceberg wedges with Jalapeño Vinaigrette and chopped cilantro, pictured here, are also a great accompaniment.

Serves 4.

Four 6-ounce [170 g each] boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1⁄4 cup [60 g] cream cheese

1⁄2 cup [60 g] coarsely grated sharp cheddar cheese

1 fresh jalapeño, stemmed, seeded, and minced

3 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro (a little stem is fine)

kosher salt

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1⁄2 teaspoon ground cumin

1⁄2 teaspoon pimentón (smoked spanish paprika)

1⁄2 cup [120 ml] water

  1. Preheat your oven to 425F [220C].

  2. Place one of the chicken breasts in a large resealable plastic bag and use a meat pounder, rubber mallet, or the bottom of a small-but-heavy pot to pound the chicken so it’s 1⁄4 inch [1⁄2 cm] thick. Repeat the process with the remaining chicken breasts.

  3. Place the cream cheese, cheddar cheese, jalapeño, cilantro, and 1⁄2 teaspoon salt in a small bowl and stir well to combine. Evenly divide the mixture among the pounded chicken breasts and use your fingertips or a rubber spatula to spread it to cover, as if you were buttering toast. Starting with one of the narrower ends of each chicken breast, roll each one up as if it were a miniature yoga mat. Secure each chicken breast with a toothpick or two. Place each chicken breast in a baking dish (or an ovenproof skillet), toothpicks down (seam sides down).

  4. Place another 1⁄2 teaspoon salt in a small bowl with the olive oil, cumin, and pimentón and stir well to combine. Evenly divide the mixture among the chicken breasts and use your fingertips or a pastry brush to coat the exterior of each chicken breast. Pour the water around (not on top of) the chicken breasts.

  5. Roast the chicken breasts until they’re nicely browned, firm to the touch, and register at least 165oF [74oC] on a digital thermometer, about 30 minutes. Let the chicken breasts rest for at least 10 minutes before removing the toothpicks. Slice the chicken breasts and serve hot with any extra juices from the baking dish poured on top.

I believe that if I’m interested in a topic, there’ll probably be at least 10 other people that are interested in the topic — maybe, hopefully, more…That’s why I’m not a bestseller.

Jennifer McLagan wrote the book on cooking with Blood. [WaPo]

That’s it for today! Please have an excellent week, make a jalapeño popper chicken dinner, and I’ll see Friday folks on Friday.