Double-Cheese & Pepperoni Pizza Nachos for Movie Night


Pizza Nachos are a family moment in the making.

You know what’s always a family dinner winner? Pizza piled high with everyone’s favorite toppings. The only hitch is that it can be a bit of a pain to make at home. Stretching out the store-bought dough never goes smoothly for me: half of the dough might puff up too high with thin holes in the other half. I can never get it perfect. So behold an easier, quicker way to get your pizza fix: Pizza Nachos, tying into Netflix’s September theme of “Pizza and a Movie.” It’s quick to make and easily devoured in front of a movie.

And the best thing is that you can use whatever pizza toppings you want. I went the pepperoni and double cheese route: there’s a layer of garlicky fondue-like cheese sauce made from a 6 Cheese Italian blend. I think the cheese blend is the best route since it’s a combo of mozzarella, provolone, Parmesan and more—but all mozzarella can be used instead. Then, I layered with my favorite toppings: mushrooms, roasted peppers, olives, tomatoes, jalapenos, and two types of pepperoni (turkey and regular). My toppings are lined up below but you can add any pizza toppings that your heart desires to these nachos.


The options are pretty endless at this point—pineapple and ham; cooked sausage crumbles and peppers; crisp bacon and jalapeno. Make two batches of nachos, so kids and adults can design their own just like they would a pizza. Then, another layer of shredded cheese is spread on top of these toppings for double cheesiness. A stint in the oven makes these all oozy and warm.

Note that the measurements for the toppings are what worked for me–feel free to increase/ decrease any toppings. Like more pepperoni? Pile it on! Don’t like mushrooms? Nix it all together. Turn this into a family activity before movie night to brainstorm the best ultimate pizza nachos you can make.

Double-Cheese & Pepperoni Pizza Nachos

Yield: 4 servings


2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 ½ cups whole milk

2 medium cloves garlic, finely minced

2 cups finely shredded 6 Cheese Italian blend, divided

Tortilla chips, as needed

3/4 cup to 1 cup halved pepperoni slices

3/4 cup to 1 cup diced roasted red peppers

3/4 cup to 1 cup diced tomatoes

1/4 cup finely diced red onion

3/4 cup sliced white mushrooms

1/3 cup sliced olives

1 jalapeno, finely chopped (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 450 F degrees.

2. First, make the cheese sauce: In a medium, heavy duty pot, let butter melt over medium-high heat. Add flour, using a whisk to combine with butter. Pour in milk, again whisking to combine, until thick, just about 1 minute. (If mixture cooks too long and get too thick, just add a little more milk to thin out.) Reduce the heat to low. Stir in garlic and 1 cup shredded cheese, stirring until cheese is melted and incorporated into the sauce. Remove from heat.

3. Next, make the nachos: In an oven-proof dish or a foil-lined baking sheet, lay out one layer of chips. Pour some of the cheese sauce over the chips and layer with half the toppings: pepperoni, red peppers, tomatoes, onion, mushrooms, olives, and jalapenos. Sprinkle with ½ cup cheese. Top with another layer of chips, again drizzling cheese sauce over them (you may have extra cheese sauce leftover). Add remaining toppings and another ½ cup cheese.

4. Place nachos in the oven until the top is melty, about 5 to 7 minutes. Devour.


(Salted) Caramel Monkey Bread


Don’t you just want to dig in?

Netflix’s August movies take the message of the Netflix Original Series, Derek, one step further under the theme of “kindness is magic,” encouraging acceptance of everyone of all ages and abilities. A perfect recipe for togetherness is Monkey Bread, a classic shareable family pull-apart treat.

So how do you improve on a classic like Monkey Bread? It’s already  a tower of dough pieces rolled in a cinnamon-sugar mixture drizzled with butter. But adding caramel–even salted caramel–takes it up a notch. Using brown sugar in place of granulated white sugar decreases the cooking time for a homemade caramel, making it less of a pain to accomplish. And what a show-stopper this is once magically flipped-over onto a plate. The caramel adds a gorgeous brown hue to the Monkey Bread, along with a nutty sweetness. The salt in the caramel is completely optional, of course. But it’s an added taste that adults can appreciate, all the while being the same ooey, gooey Monkey Bread that kids devour.

While you’re serving it, watch Curious George to tie into the monkey theme and other programs that promote the universal kindness theme like Thomas & Friends: Hero of the Rails, Mulan: Special Edition (a love of mine, even as an adult), and Charlotte’s Web.

(Salted) Caramel Monkey Bread

Shaking the dough pieces in the cinnamon-sugar Ziploc bag is a kid-friendly task. Just be warned: the caramel is still quite warm while using, so make sure the kids stay away from the caramel-drizzling part of the recipe.

6 to 8 servings


 For the caramel:

¾ cup packed brown sugar

½ stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter

¼ cup heavy cream

¼ teaspoon sea salt (optional)


For the monkey bread:

1 cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

4 cans (4.5-ounce) Pillsbury buttermilk biscuits

1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

1/3 cup melted butter

Make the caramel: In a heavy-duty medium pot, add brown sugar and butter. Warm over medium-high heat. Stir together with heatproof spatula, getting rid of any brown sugar lumps. Let sugar cook, stirring constantly, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in heavy cream and (optional) salt.

Make the monkey bread: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Coat a 12-cup or 10-cup fluted tube pan with cooking spray. In a large Ziploc bag, mix together sugar and cinnamon until combined. One at a time, remove each batch of biscuit dough from the can. Cut each biscuit dough in half, adding into the cinnamon and sugar mixture. Shake in the bag until dough is coated in sugar.

In the bottom of the pan, pour ¼ of the reserved caramel and ¼ cup walnuts. After each biscuit batch is arranged into the pan, top with ¼ caramel and ¼ cup walnuts. When all the dough is used, pour the melted butter over entire dough. Bake in the oven about 30 to 40 minutes until dough is golden brown and fully-cooked inside. Remove from oven and let cool about 10 minutes. Turn monkey bread upside down onto a plate, serving warm, if desired.

Brain Booster: Strawberry-Yogurt Swirl Popsicles


The swirling is the best part of making these–for adults and kids alike.

I’m obsessed with brain foods. In a sense, these foods have been scientifically dissected and are known to wire your brain with a focused energy. They’re also assumed to keep your mind sharp for years to come. Berries are one of the best brain foods there are–blueberries seem to have the highest amount of brain power, but all berries rate very high. (Other honorable mentions are salmon, eggs, and nuts.) I took that knowledge to create the most brain-boosting popsicles possible by merging berries with brain-friendly pomegranate juice and the protein powerhorse, Greek yogurt. Watermelon juice is added for sweetness, so less honey is needed.

In light of the dog days of summer, where kids’ brains are also on hiatus along with school, Netflix has rolled out featured educational shows like Leap Frog: Math Adventure to the Moon to documentaries like National Geographic: Secret Yellowstone and When We Left Earth: The NASA Missions. My husband is a teacher and will sometimes incorporate documentaries like these to jazz up a science lesson for his students. So he’s especially grateful to these year-round. Pair a popsicle with an educational program via Netflix to keep your kids’ brain active throughout summer. The popsicles are so refreshing and scrumptious, kids don’t need to know that they’re good for them as well. I won’t tell if you won’t.

Strawberry Yogurt Popsicles2

These brain-powered babies aren’t just for dessert–they also work as a snack or for breakfast.

Strawberry-Yogurt Swirl Popsicles

Two cups of any type of berries can be used, whether that’s blueberries, blackberries, or raspberries.

Yield: 6 to 8 Popsicles, depending on mold size

1 cup chopped watermelon

2 cups sliced strawberries (about 1 pound strawberries)

3 tablespoons pomegranate juice

3 tablespoons honey, divided

1 cup no-fat or low-fat Greek yogurt

1. In the bowl of a food processor, add watermelon, strawberries, pomegranate juice, and 1 tablespoon honey. Process about 1 minute until mixture turns into a puree. Taste; add just a bit more honey, if needed; a lot of this depends on the sweetness of the watermelon and strawberries.

2. In a small bowl, combine together yogurt and remaining 2 tablespoons honey.

3. Fill the popsicle molds: First, pour the strawberry mixture in the bottom of each popsicle mold. Spoon yogurt into it; again, top with strawberry mixture and then yogurt. Use a wooden popsicle stick or a skewer to swirl the strawberry mixture and yogurt together. Place in the freezer overnight.

4. To remove from popsicle molds, hold under warm water until popsicle can be easily pulled free of mold. Serve.


Snack Like a Scandal Gladiator: Red Wine Spritzer and Pizza Popcorn


Scandal snacks: red wine spritzer and pizza popcorn

I like to spread the Scandal love.

“You haven’t seen Scandal?” I’ll say. “Stop what you’re doing and watch now.” I’ve started many Scandal addictions this way–for friends, family, strangers. I’m basically a walking, talking Scandal promo. The first two seasons I watched on Netflix with this past third season in real time. Can I admit something? This fast-paced, soap opera-esque thriller is best for binge watching, which is great because Netflix now has all three seasons of Scandal.

Because everyone deserves a little me-time to refresh and recharge from hectic lives, I devised these Scandal-worthy snacks for the ultimate viewing experience. It doesn’t take many episodes of Scandal to realize main gladiator, Olivia Pope, basically consumes nothing but copious amounts of red wine and bowls of popcorn. So naturally, a Red Wine Spritzer and Pizza Popcorn were in order. While these recipes were inspired by Scandal, they’ll also work for other guilty-pleasures, like Orange Is the New Black, House of Cards or such.


pizza popcorn

First, this is the popcorn to beat all popcorn. I could barely stop snacking on it long enough to take a photo. Pizza seasonings like dried oregano and basil are mixed with chopped sun-dried tomatoes and Parmesan for an addictive twist on popcorn. And, of course, you’ll need to pair this salty snack with a drink. If you’ve never had a wine spritzer before, it’s a light and refreshing–not to mention easy–wine cocktail for the summer. If you can’t find the Italian orange-flavored San Pellegrino Aranciata, there are a variety of other options like Sprite, 7-Up, or even seltzer with a squeeze of lime. Spritzers are a 1:1 ratio of wine to soda/ seltzer. If I know a spritzer is in my future for the evening, I’ll go ahead and put the red wine and Aranciata in the fridge to chill for later.

So crash on the couch, pull up Scandal on the iPad and eat like Gladiator.

Pizza Popcorn

Makes 8 cups

8 cups popped popcorn (around ½ cup popcorn kernels)

1 tablespoon melted butter

2 tablespoons finely chopped sundried tomatoes

1 tablespoon sun-dried tomato oil

1/8 teaspoon each of dried oregano, dried basil and garlic powder

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon finely grated Parmesan cheese

1. Make popcorn via either microwave popcorn or the stovetop. If going the stovetop route, I highly recommend Mark Bittman’s method.

2. Add 8 cups of popped popcorn to a large bowl. In a small bowl, mix together, melted butter, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, sun-dried tomato oil, herbs, and salt. Mix to combine.

3. Slowly drizzle sun-dried tomato mixture over popcorn, tossing to coat all the popcorn. Top with Parmesan cheese, again tossing to combine. Serve.


red wine spritzer

Red Wine Spritzer

Any type of red wine can be used for a spritzer–just utilize whatever you already have around.

Makes 1 drink

½ cup red wine

½ cup San Pellegrino Aranciata

Slice of orange

In a glass, add red wine and Aranciata. Squeeze the orange slice into the glass and then garnish with it. Add ice to chill if needed. Serve.

A Parfait Shrek Would Love


I never would have thought to take food advice from a cartoon character, but Donkey in Shrek made a valid point:

Donkey: You know what ELSE everybody likes? Parfaits! Have you ever met a person, you say, “Let’s get some parfait,” they say, “Hell no, I don’t like no parfait”? Parfaits are delicious!

Shrek: NO! You dense, irritating, miniature beast of burden! Ogres are like onions! End of story! Bye-bye! See ya later.

Donkey: Parfait’s gotta be the most delicious thing on the whole damn planet!

And who can argue with that? In celebration of Netflix’s new slew of musical-themed titles like Shrek the Musical, I created a green parfait that Shrek and Donkey can both dig their spoons into.


A Jell-O layered Shrek Parfait in the back with a Jell-O free one in the front.

Parfaits can be a great wholesome breakfast or a light dessert. Here’s the key to get kids to dig all the way through the granola, yogurt, and fruit—there’s a layer of Jell-O cubes at the bottom. I discovered the idea of adding Jell-O into layered desserts when working on developing recipes for Knickerbocker Glories—yes, like those in Harry Potter. They have layers of fruit, ice cream, nuts, cake, Jell-O and  more, with the Jell-O adding a jiggly, fun dimension to the treat.


As another nod to Shrek, this parfait harnesses green elements like the Lime Jell-O, kiwi slices and green grapes. Placing the grapes into the freezer the night before gives an added cold, crunchy element. If you haven’t discovered the allure of frozen grapes, you’re in for a treat. I try to always keep some on hand in the freezer–they’re perfect to pop into your mouth, especially during the summer months. Here’s another tip—I used to consider it such a war trying to get the kiwi fruit out of its skin until I learned this trick: cut a ripe kiwi in half and then work a small spoon around the edge of the fruit’s flesh, rotating throughout the kiwi until the kiwi half is loosened from the skin.

Shrek’s Kiwi-Yogurt Parfait

For an adult version of the parfait, skip the Jell-O; stir in 2 teaspoons lime zest into the Greek yogurt along with the honey and add a layer of shredded coconut into the parfait for a tropical flair.

Yield: 2 to 4 parfaits, depending on glass size. 

Jell-O optional Parfait

Jell-O optional Parfait

1 (3-ounce) package Lime Jell-O (optional)

2 cups green grapes

1 (17.6-ounce) container plain 0% or 2% Greek yogurt

1 tablespoon honey

4 to 6 ripe kiwis

1 to 2 cups granola or cereal

If using Jell-O, the night before making the parfait, prepare Jell-O according to package directions. And while you’re at it, add washed grapes into a large Ziplock bag and place in the freezer.

To prepare, if using the Jell-O, cut into cubes. Open the yogurt container and swirl honey into it, stirring to combine. Slice the grapes in half and chop or slice each kiwi.

The exact amount of fruit and yogurt used in the parfait will depend a lot of the size of your glass—I like to use a parfait glass like the one pictured, a wine glass or even a small mason jar. Start layering the parfait by adding a couple spoonfuls of yogurt into the bottom. Then, layer with optional Jell-O, grapes, kiwi slices, more spoonfuls of yogurt and then lastly topping with granola.

Homemade Jell-O Pudding Pop Recipe


Are you drooling yet?

For April, Netflix has assembled an assortment of movies and television shows that wax 70s and 80s nostalgic. We’re talking classics like Saved by the Bell (a total favorite of mine), Baby-sitters Club, Family Ties, Smurfs, and more. When you think 80s in food terms, what enters your mind? I go straight to Fun Dips, Pop Rocks, and none other than those Jell-O Pudding Pops. As a child of the 80s, I remember sweater-clad Bill Cosby constantly on television with those Pudding Pops commercials, making my mouth water each and every time.

Even though Jell-O Pudding Pops were somewhat of an 80s phenomenon, they pulled a disappearing act in the 90s for reasons unknown. But don’t fret, because they are easily recreated. Now, you can show your kids exactly what they’ve been missing.

Pudding Pops are essentially frozen chocolate pudding using a cornstarch-based, dairy-rich pudding. I think 2 percent milk strikes a perfect balance but feel free to use whatever type of milk is hanging out in your fridge, whether it’s whole milk or skim. For a dairy-free option, soy milk or almond milk is a great substitute. There are also two ways to go with how to freeze them–either in whatever Popsicle mold you have on hand or by using those cute Dixie cups to recreate that Jell-O Pudding Pop look:


Using Dixie cups as molds harnesses the more traditional Pudding Pop look.

Now doesn’t this look like what you grew up on? If you use Dixie cups to mold the Pudding Pops, after they’re frozen, use scissors to cut away the cup from the Popsicle. It’s a quick and simple trick to remove the Pudding Pop in one simple motion.

Using Jell-O Instant Chocolate Pudding is totally ok; just make 1 box of 3.4-ounce pudding mix according to directions. Pour it into 4 to 6 Popsicle molds and freeze overnight. However, this recipe has more of a pow of chocolate than the pudding mix can provide and is made in less than 10 minutes flat. Either way, if your family is anything like mine, coming home to a late afternoon snack of Pudding Pops (for kids and grown-ups alike) is greeted with total excitement. And a hastily-eaten Pudding Pop.

Homemade Chocolate Pudding Pop Recipe

Any extra chocolate pudding that can’t fit into a popsicle mold can be devoured once it cools, much to the satisfaction of kids.
Yield: 8 to 10 pudding pops

1 cup granulated sugar
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
⅓ cup cornstarch
Pinch salt
3 ½ cups 2-percent milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Make the chocolate pudding: In a heavy-duty medium pot (that is off the heat), add sugar, cocoa powder, cornstarch, and salt. Use a whisk to mix it together, essentially creating your own Jell-O instant pudding mix. Add in the milk and vanilla; turn the heat to medium-high, whisking the mixture vehemently until no clumps remain. Continue stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to bubble, about 4 to 6 minutes. Once mixture is at a roaring simmer, cook 1 minute longer, still whisking constantly, until thickened to a pudding consistency. Pour into a heat-resistant measuring cup, because the spout helps pour the pudding into the molds mess-free.

Make using Popsicle molds: Immediately pour the hot chocolate pudding into 8 to 10 Popsicle molds. Let them sit until cool, about 1 to 2 hours. Fasten the handles into the Popsicle molds and freeze overnight. To unmold, hold the Popsicle under hot running water for about 15 to 30 seconds. Press onto the mold to remove the pudding pop, gently twisting and keeping mold under running water until it is released. Whatever you do, don’t fiercely pull the handle! The handle will come right out without the pudding pop (And, yes, I learned this the hard way.).

Make using Dixie cups: Immediately pour the hot chocolate pudding into 8 to 10 small Dixie cups. Let them sit until cool, about 1 to 2 hours. When pudding is cool, insert wooden Popsicle sticks into the middle of each cup; freeze overnight. To unmold, use scissors to cut down the side of the Dixie cups, peeling off the cup from the pudding pop.

Egg Cream: What’s in a Name?

Chocolate Egg Cream from Artisan Soda Workshop

I’m obsessed with the fresh, constant supply of seltzer water pumped out by my small SodaStream. So much so that I wrote a cookbookThe Artisan Soda Workshop, revolving around syrups that can be mixed into the seltzer for DIY soda. And then it was a thrill to write a blog post for SodaStream featuring a recipe from the cookbook. I chose to highlight my Egg Cream recipe, which is misleading as far as names. As I convey in the post, my Northern-raised mom would tell this Southern kid about how she missed Egg Creams. Of course, I thought the drinks actually contained eggs–a raw yolk floating in the mix of a drink. As an adult, I learned that an egg cream is actually nothing like that. It’s a splash of rich, chocolate syrup mixed with dairy and topped with seltzer. I use cream versus the more traditional milk because it makes the drink oh-so-much-more fizzy. Also, add a splash of booze like Kahlua turns this into cocktail magic.

Ginger-Scallion Sauce, Two Ways

One of my first *wow* moments from culinary training was learning how to correctly peel gingerroot. Using a peeler never worked quite right due to the knobbiness of ginger. Cutting off the peel with a knife made me feel like half the ginger was ending up in the trash. The trick is to use a spoon to scrape the peel away, which works like kitchen magic.

I’m a self-admitted ginger-aholic. I can’t get enough of it and I’m always on a quest to use it in everything (even drinks…see here.), so this was a time-saver. One of my favorite ginger concoctions this past year has been whizzing gingerroot, scallions, canola oil and salt in the food processor. I make a pot of rice, saute chicken thighs and then serve it with ginger sauce to dip it. It transforms ho-hum chicken and rice to fabulous. I’ll saute shrimp and pour the sauce over it, or even drizzle a bit into butternut squash soup. It’s massively versatile, and I plan my dinners around the sauce when a vat of it is in the fridge.  But then I stumbled on Francis Lam’s version, which uses hot oil instead of cold. Results are below.

Gilt Taste’s “hot” version of the sauce


 Garlic-Scallion Sauce, Two Ways

The version using cold oil and just a food processor: about 4 ounces gingerroot (peeled and chopped in 1-inch pieces), 2 to 3 roughly chopped scallions, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or more) in a food processor. Puree it all, while pouring 1/2 cup canola oil down the feed tube. Puree until emulsified. Taste the sauce, and adjust the seasoning if needed.

The version using hot oil, a food processor and many pots: about 2 ounces gingerroot (peeled and chopped in 1-inch pieces), 2 bunches of scallions and salt whirled in the food processor and then put in a large heat-proof pot. 1 cup of canola oil is heated until smoking and then poured over the scallion-ginger combo. The complete recipe is on Gilt Taste.

The Verdict: There’s no denying that the hot oil gently cooks the scallions and ginger, mellowing out both. In a hurry, go for the version using cold oil. It’s quicker with easier clean-up. If time’s on your side, the hot oil version rocks. Just make sure to double or triple the amount. You’ll eat it all.

Chocolate Fondue.. Easy as Can Be

Who knew chocolate fondue could be so easy? Photo courtesy of Dalboz17 on Flickr.

While chocolate fondue isn’t quite difficult to make, it involves tempering chocolate and all that jazz–which, let’s face it, can kind of be a pain. But, while working on my cookbook, The I Love Trader Joe’s College Cookbook, I discovered a quick, practically fool-proof way to get chocolate fondue the easy way. And that’s by melting chocolate chips and chocolate syrup together. The chocolate syrup from Trader Joe’s is already a pretty good quality–that’s what helps the most. Also, make sure to use a good-quality brand of chocolate chips. This is a quick way to impress a loved one with your (ahem) chocolate culinary talents. Just make sure to hide the chocolate syrup bottle, ok?

Chocolate Fondue 

Yield: 2 servings

Accompaniments like sliced strawberries, banana chunks, pound cake pieces, marshmallows, etc
1/2 cup Chocolate syrup, like Trader Joe’s Organic Midnight Moo Chocolate Flavored Syrup
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided

1. Cut the fruit and other accompaniments into bite-size pieces. Arrange them on a plate.
2. In a small microwave-safe bowl, stir together the chocolate syrup and 1/4 cup chocolate chips. Microwave on high until melted, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes (depending on the strength of your microwave).
3. Remove from the microwave and stir in the remaining 1/4 cup chocolate chips.
4. Place into a fondue pot to keep warm. Serve, dipping the fruit and cake pieces into the fondue with toothpicks or fondue forks.

Great Cookbooks for Holiday Gifts: Make the Life of a Mom-to-Be Easy(er)

A collection of cookbooks for the holidays.

When a friend of mine—also an avid cook—had her first baby recently, she was trying to figure out how to cook with a baby bouncing on her hip. “If only someone would write a cookbook on one-handed cooking,” she said. Soon after that conversation, I met Debbie Koenig, who was working on a cookbook with that very premise (and more) in mind. The giant tome (400 pages!) will be published in February, and I was lucky enough to get a sneak peak. This was good timing, since I had promised another friend with a baby-on-the-way that I would stock her freezer with food this weekend, hopefully before her little boy made his appearance. She and her husband had requested Italian, so I browsed Debbie’s cookbook, titled Parents Need to Eat Too: Nap-Friendly Recipes, One-Handed Meals & Time-Saving Kitchen Tricks for New Parents.

I settled on making Lasagna Ravioli, using a combo of cheese and meat ravioli. In the cookbook, Debbie lists variations on the theme with a mushroom-spinach version and a Southwestern beef. While the Southwestern one (full of enchilada sauce, corn and Cheddar) called to me, I decided to go with the straight-up Italian version, knowing that appealed more to my friends’ taste buds. Along with the Lasagna Ravioli, I also made Debbie’s Baked Macaroni with Ricotta, Spinach and Mint, which has all the usual suspects of a baked pasta: tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and pasta, of course. But there’s a mint and ricotta layer hidden into the middle of the dish. The mint adds a uniqueness to the pasta without making it too terribly weird for kids. Both recipes were so simple to make (Can you mix things in a bowl and boil pasta? Then you’re good to go.).

Mint mixed with ricotta and stuffed into this baked pasta makes for a yummy yet unexpected twist. And, yeah, I can’t figure out where all my spoons have disappeared too, so that is a plastic spoon you see.

Now to gloat about the cookbook a bit. It made me want to have a baby, just to have an excuse to utilize it on a daily basis. First of all, the cookbook is packed with a gazillion recipes that I wanted to try. But what makes it so special is how Debbie’s voice comes through, like a (non-creepy) whisper in my kitchen cooking alongside me. There are tips from other moms who have made the recipes, along with how their family reacted, and instructions on turning each meal into baby food. The book is exactly what it aims to be: a cookbook to guide parents on feeding themselves easily and well through the sleep deprived state of new parenthood.

If a new parent is on your Christmas list, your shopping just got much easier. Debbie has a special deal where pre-orders will be eligible for a free, signed bookplate.

And because this is the life of a cookbook author, I’m extremely fortunate to know other authors with excellent cookbooks to stuff in Christmas stockings. From beer geeks to sandwich lovers, the food fanatic in your life is covered with the cookbooks below.

The gooey cheesiness of the Baked Macaroni with Ricotta, Spinach, and Mint from Parents Need to Eat Too.

Baked Macaroni with Ricotta, Spinach, and Mint
Recipe adapted from Parents Need to Eat Too: Nap-Friendly Recipes, One-Handed Meals & Time-Saving Kitchen Tricks for New Parents by Debbie Koenig (William Morrow Paperbacks; February 21, 2012).

Serves 8
Cooking time: 60 minutes

1 (14.5- to 16-ounce box) whole wheat or whole-grain ziti or penne
1 (5- to 9-ounce) bag baby spinach
1 cup ricotta
2/3 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 cup chopped mint leaves
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 (24-ounce to 26-ounce) jar good-quality pasta sauce
1 cup shredded mozzarella

1. Preheat oven to 375°. Grease two 8-inch square baking dishes or one 9- by 13-inch dish.
2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta for 2 minutes less than directed on the package.
3. While the pasta is cooking, combine the ricotta, Parmesan, mint and pepper in a small bowl, and set aside.
4. When the timer rings, add the entire bag of spinach to the pot–it will wilt quickly—and cook for 1 minute more. (The pasta should be slightly undercooked). Drain well, then return pasta and spinach to the pot.
5. Add the entire jar of sauce to the spinach and pasta, and stir to combine.
6. If using the two 8-inch baking dishes, spread about one quarter of the pasta mixture on the bottom of each prepare dish (use one half of the pasta mixture if using one 9- by 13-inch dish). Spoon all of the ricotta mixture on top of the pasta layer (it will be too sticky to spread.) It will remain a separate layer, even after cooking. Top with remaining pasta mixture.
7. Sprinkle the mozzarella on top, and bake until the mozzarella is melted and golden-brown, 20 to 25 minutes.

More Cookbook Love:
100 Perfect Pairings: Main Dishes to Enjoy with Wines You Love
by Jill Silverman Hough
Chock-full of delicious, creative, and easy-to-make recipes for everyday cooks, 100 Perfect Pairings makes food and wine pairing easy and approachable. With recipes organized into twelve chapters by wine variety, simply turn to the chapter for the wine you want to serve, make any of the entrees you find there, and enjoy it with your wine. It’s that easy. Be it Pinot Grigio or Pinot Noir, a big dinner party or a simple meal with friends, “100 Perfect Pairings” promises wonderful recipes that make every pairing, well, perfect!

Jill Silverman Hough is a cookbook author, food and wine writer, recipe developer, and culinary instructor whose forte is making food and cooking simple yet special. On Jill’s blog: Tortilla Soup from Almost Meatless

Almost Meatless: Recipes That Are Better for Your Health and the Planet by Joy Manning & Tara Mataraza Desmond
Ideal for today’s conscientious carnivores, Almost Meatless is a timely new book featuring 60+ tasty recipes that go light on the meat. Without compromising flavor or protein, these dishes maximize health benefits while minimizing the grocery bill and impact on the planet.

Co-author Tara Mataraza Desmond is a writer, cookbook author and recipe developer focused on food for health and wellness, pregnancy and parenthood. On Tara’s blog: Yogurt Chicken with Yogurt Chutney Sauce from 100 Perfect Pairings.

The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook: Home Cooking from Asian American Kitchens by Patricia Tanumihardja
Asian grandmothers—whether of Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, Vietnamese, or Indian descent— are keepers of the cultural, and culinary, flame. Their mastery of delicious home-cooked dishes and comfort food makes them the ideal source for this cookbook. The 130 tantalizing dishes assembled in this tome comprise hearty food, brightly flavored, and equally good to look at and eat. Plus, all the recipes are translated to work in modern home kitchens.

Pat Tanumihardja is a food and travel writer currently based in the Washington, D.C. metro area and blogs at On Pat’s blog: Chickpea Curry with Tomatoes and Mango from Roz Cummin’s blog.

Brewed Awakening by Joshua M. Bernstein
Brewed Awakening is Joshua M. Bernstein’s definitive take on the craft beer revolution. The book is the deeply reported story of the wild innovations and passions driving craft beer, focusing on the tales of the risk-taking brewers, bar owners and the dedicated beer drinkers across the globe. There’s a story in every pint glass, and Brewed Awakening gives voice to each one.

Josh Bernstein is a Brooklyn-based beer, spirits, food, travel and bicycling (phew!) journalist, as well as an occasional tour guide. On Josh’s blog: The Jucy Lucy Burger from The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches.

The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches by Susan Russo
How do you keep a Dagwood from toppling over? How did the Hero get its name? And who invented the French Dip? Discover these answers and more in The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches—a chunky little cookbook dedicated to everything between sliced bread. You’ll find recipes for every sandwich imaginable along with fascinating regional and historical trivia. From the humble Sloppy Joe to the chic Nutella sandwich, from the iconic Po ‘Boy to the fresh-faced donut sandwich, The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches will satiate sandwich connoisseurs everywhere.

Susan Russo is a San Diego-based cookbook author, blogger (Food Blogga), and freelance writer specializing in food and lifestyle. On Susan’s blog: Highlights from Brewed Awakening.

Parents Need to Eat Too: Nap-Friendly Recipes, One-Handed Meals & Time-Saving Kitchen Tricks for New Parents by Debbie Koenig
Give a new parent the gift of sanity! Parents Need to Eat Too makes it easy for new moms and dads to take care of themselves as well as they’re caring for baby. Every recipe has been tested by a group of more than 100 moms, and every recipe also includes instructions for turning that dish into baby food. The book goes on sale in February, but author Debbie Koenig has created a special holiday offer, available now: She’ll send a free signed, custom-made bookplate and holiday card to anyone who pre-orders the book as a gift.

Debbie Koenig is a Brooklyn-based food and parenting writer and blogs at Words to Eat By. On Debbie’s blog: Olive Focaccia from The I Love Trader Joe’s College Cookbook.

Golden Afternoons: The Official Handbook of the Society for the Preservation of Ladies’ Afternoon Tea by Roz Cummins
Roz Cummins is a Boston-based food writer who specializes in sustainability. She also loves tea and baking. She has worked as an editor, a teacher, and an arts administrator. She is currently working on an e-book called Golden Afternoons: The Official Handbook of the Society for the Preservation of Ladies’ Afternoon Tea. Visit her website: On Roz’s blog: Steamed Meatballs with Tangerine Peel from The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook.