Cookbooks: A Gift that Keeps on Giving

Two new cookbooks, “Dinner at Home” and “The Eli’s Cheesecake Cookbook,” have strong ties to Chicago, and both would make wonderful gifts for anyone who likes to cook.

“Dinner at Home” is by JeanMarie Brownson, whose column “Dinner at Home” appears in the “Chicago Tribune” every Wednesday. Trained both as a chef and a nutritionist, Brownson is as creative as she is knowledgeable. Flip through the book, and you’ll be struck by the range of the recipes, everything from Braised Turkey with Moroccan Spices to Slow-Cooked Choucroute Garni, Chocolate Mocha Cakes, and a Blueberry-topped French Toast Casserole.

Diversity is a plus, but in the end, clarity and reliability are even more important. And if you’ve ever used any of Brownson’s recipes, you know they merit an “A” for both.

Chocolate Cherry Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies

Chocolate Cherry Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies

Chocolate Cherry Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies
Prep: 25 minutes Cook: 12 minutes Makes: about 90 cookies
¼ cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup each: granulated sugar, packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 ¼ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup extra-crunchy natural peanut butter, at room temperature
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
½ cup salted, toasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas), roasted hulled sunflower seeds or roasted peanuts
½ cup dried cherries (chopped if large), dried currants or small dark raisins
8 ounces milk or semisweet chocolate bars, roughly broken into ¼-inch pieces
1.Heat oven to 350 degrees. Beat together butter and sugars in large bowl of electric mixer. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until smooth and creamy. Beat in baking soda and vanilla. Beat in peanut butter until incorporated. Use a wooden spoon to stir in oats, pumpkin seeds, cherries and chocolate pieces.
2.Use a teaspoon to make balls about 1-inch in diameter. Place on two parchment paper-lined baking sheets spacing them about two-inches apart. Flatten slightly with a spoon. Bake until set and bottoms are slightly golden, about 12 minutes.
3.Cool cookies on pan, 5 minutes. Transfer with a metal spatula to a wire rack to cool completely. (You can use the paper-lined baking sheets to bake the remaining cookies.)

Reprinted with permission from “Dinner at Home” by JeanMarie Brownson, Agate Midway, 2015

Eli Schulman was still running Eli’s The Place for Steak on Chicago Avenue when I started writing a weekly column for the “Chicago Sun-Times,” and I have fond memories of an interview focused on the origins of Eli’s Cheesecake. Schulman said dessert was the last thing people ate for lunch or dinner, and if it wasn’t good, that’s all they’d remember. No problem. His cheesecake was always better than “good.”

The recipe for the original cheesecake is included in “The Eli’s Cheesecake Cookbook” by Maureen Schulman, Tara Lane, Diana Moles and Jolene Worthington. Looking at the still pristine page in my copy of the book, I envision it splashed with vanilla extract, egg yolk and sugar. You can always tell which recipes are favorites by checking to see which ones have the most splotches.

But make no mistake, this book offers a lot more than the recipe for Eli’s original cheesecake. A brief recounting of Eli’s professional career comes first, followed by recipes for the restaurant’s signature dishes. Think classics like Shrimp de Jonghe, Liver Eli, Eli’s The Place for Steak House Dressing, and Chateaubriand.

And then there are the cheesecakes, a compendium of delights that includes recipes for a relatively simple banana cheesecake to the more complex “Sabayon Cheesecake with Rhubarb.” Also included are recipes for crusts, toppings, and seasonal favorites like the eggnog and pumpkin cheesecakes.

Strawberry Compote with a slice of Eli's cheesecake

Strawberry Compote with a slice of Eli's cheesecake

Strawberry Compote
Yield: 2 ½ cups
2 cups (14 ounces) whole strawberries, washed, dried and halved
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Zest of one lemon
1. Macerate the strawberries by placing them in a large mixing bowl and sprinkling the sugar, lemon juice, and zest over them.
2. Stir well, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and set aside at room temperature for 2 hours, until the compote has taken on an intense red color and its flavor is very sweet.
Reprinted with permission from “The Eli’s Cheesecake Cookbook” by Maureen Schulman, Tara Lane, Diana Moles, Jolene Worthington, Agate Midway, 2015

Filed under: Cooking the Books

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