Sunday, 19 September 2021

Cookery Book: The Little Library Cookbook


At the end of the summer holidays, I spent a very happy couple of weeks cooking my way through a beautiful cookery book: The Little Library Cookbook: 100 recipes from our favourite stories by Kate Young. It is a lovely book, full of recipes inspired by fictional meals in literature, some famous, some not so much. I love both cooking and reading - my favourite part of any book is when the author describes what the characters are eating - and I knew I would like this book, and I did. It would make a really good gift for anyone who enjoys both reading and pottering in the kitchen. 

The book itself is arranged loosely around meal times and types, but with extra chapters tantalisingly entitled "midnight feasts" and "parties and celebrations".

I worked my way through the book, trying to cook something from every chapter, although I didn't have much use for the Christmas or party food section in August. As ever, I am hoping for more ideas for everyday weeknight dinners, always the element of cooking that I least enjoy.

I began with the chapter "before noon", containing delights such as marmalade (Paddington), pancakes (Pippi Longstocking), baked beans (Little House on the Prairie) and cold apple pie (The Railway Children). I chose Green Eggs and Ham (Dr Seuss, of course) which is basically pesto scrambled eggs on toast with ham.

Now, I love pesto and I love scrambled eggs, but I have never thought to put them together. I made parsley pesto (parsley, parmesan, oil, garlic and almonds) and stirred this into the eggs just before they were cooked.

What a revelation! The result looks a lot like avocado, but with a million times more flavour. It is completely delicious, and a really easy way to add something to simple scrambled eggs on toast. Definitely something to make again.

From the afternoon tea chapter, I could have made every recipe. I enjoyed trying these Anzac cookies, a cross between flapjacks and cookies, chewy with oats and coconut. They were perfect for mid-morning or afternoon snacks with a tea or coffee and kept really well in the tin for ages. (Inspired by the book Possum Magic by Mem Fox, these cookies are well known and were originally made and sent to the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, or Anzacs, during the First and Second World Wars. Kate Young lives in the UK now but grew up in Australia, hence the connection.)

I tried hunny and rosemary cakes (Winnie-the-Pooh), which were rather grown-up cupcakes, made with dark brown sugar, honey and chopped rosemary, before being finished with a cream cheese frosting.

Next time I would line the muffin tin with cupcake cases though, as despite greasing and flouring the tin, they did require a bit of persuasion to leave the tin in one piece.

I definitely had to try the madeleines (In Search of Lost Time by Proust, who else?), if only to get out my not-much-used madeleine tin. 

Madeleines are tiny sponge cakes with a crispy shell and soft sponge. You have to chill the batter for a couple of hours with madeleines - to help the sponge rise into the little peak I believe - but otherwise they are very easy to make and even easier to eat. 

From the dinner table chapter, we tried lots of things. There was "a fine curry", (Vanity Fair) for which we substituted the goat for lamb. 

I like my curries to have a little more punch and flavour than this one, which felt more like a spiced stew. However, the kids really loved it. 

We tried spaghetti and meatballs (The Godfather) which I knew we would all like but I was curious to try a different recipe. These involved making meatballs from scratch before lightly rolling them in flour and chilling them in the fridge. Normally I buy a pack of ready made ones from the supermarket and make my own sauce.

You fry them, remove them while you make the tomato sauce, then add them back in to simmer while the spaghetti is cooking.

There was something mindful and enjoyable about making the meatballs from scratch, rolling the balls in my hands, lining them all up on the baking tray. Nice cooking to do on a weekend afternoon when you're not in a hurry.

We tried spanakopita (from Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides). This involved emptying a 1 kg bag of frozen spinach into a pan and frying until it's all hot and you've removed as much water as possible. After that you drain it in a sieve and it's amazing how much more liquid keeps appearing as you squeeze the mixture. Once it's as water-free as possible (to avoid soggy pastry) you add the feta cheese. I could have just eaten this mixture from the bowl as it was.

Spanakopita requires filo pastry which I don't use much because, I don't know, I just think puff or shortcrust are nicer. But I layered my shop-bought sheets with melted butter and filled it with spinach, and tried to roll it up into a coil, as per the recipe, but it broke into two big sausage shapes. I decided to bake them like that and they were really good despite the unappealing presentation. John and I shared half each of the smaller pie for dinner with some salad, and the larger one I chopped into pieces which I then ate for lunch and it was still delicious. I would add more feta next time though. 

From the chapter entitled "midnight feasts" we tried sausage rolls and ramen, neither of which we ate at midnight. The sausage rolls (from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) were really good and very easy, simply a well seasoned and flavoured mixture of sausage meat, pork mince and vegetables inside puff pastry. Easy to make, fun to assemble with the children, and easy to eat for lunch. Good hot and cold. 

We had to try the ramen recipe (inspired by Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto) because Bella is obsessed with ramen and would eat it every night for dinner. I have never gotten near creating a ramen stock as flavourful as one I have eaten in a restaurant, so don't make it very often. 

This was one of the best recipes I've tried though - I think it was the addition of shitake mushrooms to the stock - and completely, wonderfully delicious. Angus doesn't really enjoy ramen ("I can't tell if it's a stir fry or a soup!") so I tend to serve his with hardly any stock, but the rest of us loved it. I also need to invest in some proper ramen bowls and spoons, as pasta bowls and soup spoons don't really work that well. 

So, altogether, a delightful book which is as lovely to cook from as it is to simply read in bed. It had the added bonus of making me think about books I hadn't done for a long time, such as Kitchen by Japanese author Banana Yoshimoto. I loved this book when I read it twenty years ago, and have a few of hers, and think it's time for a re-read. Plus all the hundreds of books out there which I really want to read at some point, old and new. I would love to know if you have any favourite food-related fiction books or authors you would recommend. 


  1. I think I said yum at every single recipe. It all sounds so tasty

  2. The recipes look delicious...that's a book I'll have to look for. With harvesting almost done, there will be more time for experimenting with new recipes...a great way to settle into a cozy fall! Thanks for sharing them, Mary

  3. That sounds like a really good book of recipes. I have a similar book that I picked up a while ago but this sounds like a real winner. Your food photos look great too.

  4. you are such an inspiration and now i am hungry!!!

  5. Lovely post. Have you read The Art of Eating by MFK Fisher? It's my all-time favorite book of food related essays. I still think of her heating mandarin orange slices on a radiator until the interior is hot and the skin of each segment crispy. Or melting bit of chocolate speared on a pin over a candle flame. I own two hardcover copies of the book because I can't decide which one feels better. 😆

  6. Ramen is eaten with chop sticks out of big round porcelain bowls, and slurping while you do. I think it adds to the pleasure ;>p

  7. I have been reading the Inspector Brunetti crime series by Donna Leon. It takes place in Venice and food and meals are often described in detail. I found a used copy of the cookbook that accompanies the books! What a delight. Venetian cuisine is different from the southern Italian/ Sicilian that I grew up with. [too bad the text font is tiny tho]. Also Inspector Gamache [by Louise Penny], Canadian [Quebec] policeman....the books , esp the early books, feature food and cooking and holiday meals. There is a website that shows the locations of the books and has recipes for the meals. I love the added dimension these books/ websites bring to a reading series.


  8. Hi Gillian. Everything looks so delicious - especially the cupcakes and meatballs and the Madeleine's, too! I've ordered a new cookbook (Vegetables - A love Story) by Renee Kohlman and it should be arriving on Friday. I'm so excited to try some new recipes soon! I have her first cookbook - (All The Sweet Things) and it is delightful. I'd definitely recommend her books whenever you are in the market for new cooking inspiration.

  9. Iris Murdoch often writes about food in her books, usually leaving me with a rumbling tummy while I read. And it's not quite the same but I haved loved the Inspector Gamache books by Louise Penny. His sergeant always brings him a Double Double from Tim Horton's. One has recently opened near us (in Washington, Gateshead) and I took great pleasure in having my own Double Double. Come to think of it, Gamache enjoys a lot of very good food in those books!

  10. Writing on any subject is not an easy task, when you write on any subject it is very difficult. Anyone who thinks that he will write something easily on any subject, then his thinking is very wrong, I do not know that perhaps those people will have to put so much mind. Whatever you have written in your post, it has been written very beautifully, you are a person writing a good post, the more you are praised, the less it is.

  11. Your writing and photographs are so beautiful, and so many of the cookery books that you have mentioned, I have bought. There is just one thing please, Anzac Biscuits, not cookies! My grandfather was an ANZAC during WW1 and the biscuits that were sent overseas to our soldiers would never have been called cookies. Seeing those Madeleines makes me want to buy a pan and make them and everything else is making me hungry. The amount that you cook and create is truly inspirational.🖤🖤

  12. I really would like that book and have popped it onto my Christmas list.
    Recommend Mary Berry, she is reliable and all the recipes turn out well.
    Love your posts.

  13. Wow, You have been busy! What a great, creative cooking and baking project. I have just downloaded the eBook version of this cookbook from our library. Can't wait to have a look through it. Thanks for recommending it. Hugs, Rose from New Zealand x


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