Add one part culinary know-how to one part passion for cooking, sprinkle with Michigan flavor and add a pinch of nostalgia. That’s the recipe for the perfect Michigan-themed cookbook, “My Little Michigan Kitchen” by Mandy McGovern.
Michigan is the foodie’s Emerald City, known for fare seldom found elsewhere, such as pasties, cherry-everything, Boston Coolers — which feature Vernors soda and was created in Detroit — Mackinac Island Fudge and Michigan salad with versions including dried cherries, bleu cheese crumbles and walnuts or pecans.
McGovern, 34, spent nearly two years creating and perfecting recipes for “My Little Michigan Kitchen,” available at Schuler Books & Music, The Found Cottage in Hudsonville and numerous boutique shops from Sault Ste. Marie to Saugatuck and Royal Oak to Mackinac Island.
McGovern, a native Grand Rapids resident, first fell in love with cookbooks after getting engaged to her husband. With a mother and mother-in-law she describes as “wonderful cooks,” the tradition of fabulous family meals had to be continued. Thus, began her passion for cookbook collecting. Yet, it wasn’t until her husband’s career led the couple to live in Italy that she was inspired to write a Michigan cookbook.
“We love to travel, we love the world, but Michigan is home,” McGovern said. “At the time, there wasn’t really anything like a Michigan-themed cookbook … I felt Michigan deserved to have a (cook)book.”
Setting aside her career as a dental hygienist to raise her two daughters, now 1 and 3 years old, McGovern bought a multipack of yellow legal pads and began experimenting with ingredients, making copious notes and recruiting taste testers, each given a feedback form to complete.
“Most of the time I start from scratch, it’s more about ratio, like one part flour to a ratio of yeast and water. … I get tons of inspiration from my cookbook collection. My favorite thing is to just mess around in the kitchen and test new recipes,” McGovern said.
Just one interruption caused a delay in her cookbook-writing process: McGovern discovered she was pregnant with her second child and had morning sickness throughout her pregnancy. She also couldn’t trust her taste buds at the time. Her partially complete cookbook had to be shelved until after her second daughter was born.
“I wanted to have it done for Michigan’s birthday,” McGovern said. “I had started it February 2017 and sent it to the publisher on Jan. 26, 2019 (the day Michigan turned 182 years old). It was released in March.”
The cookbook is filled with wonderful recipes including grilled asparagus and salmon fillets with balsamic glaze (one of McGovern’s personal favorites), cherry almond Bundt cake, blueberry rhubarb crumble, mulled cider and basil lemonade. McGovern’s family’s favorite Thanksgiving recipes are all included, as is a favorite from her childhood: her mother’s meatballs.
McGovern notes some recipes included aren’t Michigan specific. Some are recipes she discovered while living in Italy, including the favorite Caprese salad.
In its first four months since being published, the first printing of 750 copies sold out, and an impressive 1,200 more copies have sold from the second printing. Even more impressive, McGovern not only developed and wrote the recipes in her cookbook, she did most of the photography for the book, created the layout and even drew the state of Michigan illustrations on the inside covers.