Archive for the 'Cookbooks' Category

Review: Slow Cooking for Two: Basics, Techniques, Recipes by Cynthia Graubart

Monday, April 14th, 2014

Slow-Cooking-Front-Cover-266x300I know a lot of people think of a crockpot as a winter thing – full of chili or pot roast or beef stew. Fact is, a crockpot is great for cooking in the summer. You don’t heat up the house, there’s not standing over a hot stove, but you still get a hot meal at the end of the day. And you are certainly not limited to stews and chili; you can make seafood, vegetables, lasagna, even bake a cake in your crockpot. I have been having some fun, testing out new recipes for the coming months.

Slow Cooking for Two: Basics, Techniques, Recipes is a very handy resource for single folks and small families, especially if they are new to slow cooking. There are excellent sections on tips for using a crockpot, cooking times, and equipment. The recipes really run the gamut – everything from Spiced Mixed Nuts (page 136) and Banana Bread (page 126) to Cornish Hen Dijon (page 54) and Mushroom Risotto (page 106). There is a great section of desserts – Vanilla Custard, Lemon Cake and Apple Crisp – as well as a good section on some recipe basics. I never thought of roasting garlic in the crockpot, but you would really get that low-and-slow taste with this method.

In my house, my crockpot is a stock machine – I make chicken stock, beef stock, vegetable stock, all in the crockpot. My favorite method is to throw all the ingredients in, pour boiling water over them, turn the crockpot on low and then go to bed; I wake up in the morning to a house that smells like heavenly and I’m ready to make a terrific soup or stew.

Probably the most interesting section for me was the chapter on “Double Dinners” – basically, take a big chuck roast or pork tenderloin, cut it in half, then make two dinners at once in the same crockpot. Of course, the secret is using those crockpot liners (terrific for sticky, messy dishes). you simply put half the meat in each bag, add the other ingredients, and place the closed bags next to each other in your big crockpot. It’s perfect if you don’t like eating the same leftovers day after day until they’re gone. This way, you’ve got two entirely different meals.

All in all, a good reference with some great recipes. I like the Potato Gratin, the Pork Tenderloin with Cabbage, and I am looking forward to trying to Spinach Lasagna. My copy of Slow Cooking for Two: Basics, Techniques, Recipes came from my personal library.

 

Review: Cooking with Love: Comfort Food that Hugs You by Carla Hall

Monday, April 1st, 2013

Disclaimer: I voted for Carla Hall for Fan Favorite on Top Chef.

I loved Carla’s attitude and I loved the look of her food when she was on Top Chef. I always prefer the low-drama, high-teamwork folks who are focused on the cooking. Because of that, I was really excited to check out Carla’s cookbook.

Now, I am always a little cautious of anything that talks about comfort food. I love comfort food, but for me, that means mac and cheese, meatloaf, fried chicken, and food covered in good gravy. And I shouldn’t be eating that! I am trying to eat healthy, and comfort food is seldom healthy.

Not everything in this cookbook is healthy, but there is plenty of good stuff in here to cook. Carla talks about “lightening up” dishes by boosting the flavors and using smart cooking techniques. Besides, you wouldn’t really want your comfort food to be too healthy. It would lose most of its comfort.

I’ve only made a few recipes so far (the creamed chicken with broccoli and mushrooms, the groundnut soup), but I’ve read through the book and I love her stories and the recipe introductions. One thing I am really looking forward to cooking is “Swamp Thing” – how could you resist something with a name like that? It’s braised pork shoulder in smoked pork-corn broth with sweet potatoes and collard greens. It sounds fabulous! This is the dish that she made on Top Chef for the Ancestors challenge and I am going to wrangle one of my good cooking-buddies and give this one a try.

What makes for a great cookbook? Great recipes, of course. And I separate “great recipes” into two categories: things I can cook, and things I wish I could cook. My French Laundry cookbook is full of things I wish I could cook, but Cooking with Love is full of things I could make for dinner tonight. I want good pictures, very important, since you want to know what the final dish is supposed to look like. Clear directions are vital — good explanations of the process and no metric measurements. Finally, a really great cookbook tells a story. Sometimes, it’s aspiration, like the French Laundry book, or my books of Indian and Asian cuisine. Sometimes, the story is utilitarian. This cookbook tells a love story. It’s full of Carla’s love of cooking and her love for her family. Her stories and descriptions are a pleasure to read.

My copy of Cooking with Love: Comfort Food that Hugs You is from my private library.

Review: The Punch Bowl: 75 Recipes Spanning Four Centuries of Wanton Revelry

Friday, February 8th, 2013

If you think of punch as something in bowl with ginger ale, melting rainbow sherbet and fruit juice, this book will change your mind. The Punch Bowl: 75 Recipes Spanning Four Centuries of Wanton Revelry aims to take you back to the glory days of punch, when it was brewed from spirits, spices and not-too-clean water. Our sanitation has improved and so has our taste, which leaves me eager to try some of these recipes.

The book begins with a history of punch, which is actually more interesting than I anticipated.

“…in its golden era, punch embodied all things exotic and expensive: spice, sugar, fruit, imported spirits, and, if the imbibers were trult fortunate, clean water.”

Punch bowls were considered the ne plus ultra of wedding gifts and when not in use for punch, they could be found employed as fruit bowls, ice buckets, even baptismal fonts. Some had metal straws attached and revelers drank right from the bowl (I think I’ve been to a few parties like that). While they were primarily beautiful containers of ceramic, glass and finely-finished metal, sometimes simpler but larger vessels were employed:

“And what could be more madcap or festive than a mossy, outdoor fountain converted into a massive punch bowl, as one Admiral Edward Russel did in the Spanish port city of Alicante in October 1694? Out came the ornamental fish and in went cask after cask of spirits, lime juice, sweeteners, and spices, as well as a miniature navy of boys who took turns sailing around the fountain in a skiff, ladling punch into cups for the attendees.”

I don’t suppose they washed…nah. Probably not.

The recipes are terrific and remind me of the classic cocktails that have come back into fashion. I love these old concoctions and recently surprised a bartender in an historic hotel by ordering a Harvey Wallbanger. Really fun. These are not the kiddy-punches you’ve served at wedding showers; they are primarily alcohol, without much in the way of mixer to lessen the impact. For example, Gothic Punch (from an 1862 bartenders guide) calls for 5 bottles of red wine, 1 bottle of champagne, 1/2 cup of sugar and 3/4 cup of orange juice. Spread Eagle Punch (you know that’s going to be a helluva party) calls for 1 bottle of single malt scotch, 1 bottle of rye, 1/2 cup of sugar, 1 cup of boiling water and some lemon zest. It’s basically one big cocktail.

The Punch Bowl is an excellent choice if you’re into classic cocktails or looking to make something special for your next party. Many of the ingredients are exotic and might require an order from a specialty store, but there are plenty of punches you could try with ingredients from your local liquor store. My copy was a gift — and one I hope to get some use out of soon!

A FREE Cookbook!

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

I talked in an earlier review about looking for simple recipes for this abnormally hot summer weather – preferably recipes that did not require cooking.  Well, I believe I have found just the thing and the best part — it’s absolutely free!

A friend suggested I check out that Stone Soup Cookbook and what a terrific find!  The cookbook is available as a free download, which makes it even better.

I did some reading on The Stone Soup blog and it is definitely one I will be going back to.  Jules Clancy is a recipe writer focused on minimalist cooking: minimal time spent cooking, minimal number of ingredients, minimal amount of kitchen equipment.  As much as I love preparing an elaborate meal, sometimes — especially in the heat of summer — I want something simple and quick.

The first recipe that really struck me was the Bocadillo with Jamon.  This is basically bread and ham, very similar to the lunches we have at my company’s office in Amsterdam, and to the sandwiches I’ve had at Paris cafes.  Very good bread, very good ham, and you don’t need dressings or fixings.  And there are a dozen side salads in the book that would be a perfect accompaniment.  I love the looks of the Chickpea & Parmesan Salad (and I have all the ingredients in the fridge!) and the Shaved Cabbage Salad with Parmesan and Balsamic.  Simple and tasty.

Tonight, I plan to try the Veggie Laksa – a coconut milk soup with curry paste and Singapore noodles.   I know that the Pasta with Pork Sausage and Crushed Peas will be on the menu soon, too.  I love Asian food and the 2 Minute Noodles with Bok Choy and Oyster Sauce looks fabulous.  I also think the Ricotta and Basil Open Omelette looks like a great brunch dish.

These are lovely, simple dishes, with clear instructions and no fancy equipment required.  The photography is beautiful and that’s always a plus.  And the recipes are all free!  How can you beat that?  So check out the blog, download the cookbook, and let me know what you’ve cooked!

Review: Rock & Roll Diner by Sharon O’Connor

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

The other day, as I was browsing my cookbook shelf, looking for something that didn’t actually require cooking, it occurred to me that I have a lot of cookbooks that deserve a review.  I’m a big fan of cookbooks — I like serious, gourmet cookbooks, ethnic cookbooks, theme cookbooks — all kinds of cookbooks!

Rock & Roll Diner (Menus and Music) is an older book (1996), but diner food is always in style.  The cookbook came as a box set with diner music!  Mustang Sally, Blueberry Hill, and Where Did Our Love Go? all remind me of those little jukeboxes you find on diner tables.  The only problem: it’s a cassette tape.  I don’t even own a tape player anymore!

O’Connor provides a cute introductory section.  There are sections on the history of the diner, descriptions of formica and blue plate specials and a glossary of diner terms.  Some of them are familiar (Adam and Eve on a raft), but others were new to me (like biddy board and splash of red noise).  There are little biographies of the featured diners and a lot of regional features.

The recipes are a mix of classic diner food and some things I have never seen on a diner menu.  There are at least 6 meatloaf recipes, pot roast and pie! Key lime pie, peanut butter pie, pecan pie, buttermilk pie…and when I think of diners, I think of pie.

There are also some oddball things.  I mean, I’ve seen liver and onions on menus, but never Calves’ Liver with Cream and Blueberries (Empire Diner, New York, NY).  Although they sound very tasty, Pumpkin-Ginger Flan (The Diner, Yountville, CA) and Creme Brulee (The Corvette Diner, San Diego, CA) are not what I think of as diner food.  Maybe it’s a California thing.

I definitely plan to try the Lemon Bars (Bette’s Oceanview Diner, Berkeley, CA) and the Portuguese Kale Soup and French Meat Pie (4th Street Diner, Newport, RI) – a savory, rather than a sweet.  And one morning soon, Gingerbread Pancakes (Jigger’s Diner, East Greenwich, RI) will be on the breakfast table.  I only wish I had a tape player, so I could check out the diner music while I cook.

My copy of Rock & Roll Diner (Menus and Music) was purchased for $6.00 at the NOBS Antiquarian Book Fair.  An excellent investment!


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Review: Michael Symon’s Live to Cook: Recipes and Techniques to Rock Your Kitchen by Michael Symon

Friday, December 4th, 2009

michaelsymon_thumbThis isn’t the first time I’ve reviewed a cookbook here, but Michael Symon’s Live to Cook: Recipes and Techniques to Rock Your Kitchen is kind of special. I grew up in Ohio and I was a frequent guest at Lola long before I ever saw its owner on TV Food Network. That face, that laugh…and that food! As often as we could afford it, we had a table or a seat at the bar and some of the very best food in town.

Lola Bistro is now Lolita and there’s a new Lola downtown. We don’t hear that laugh as often anymore when we come by for dinner, but we do hear it on Iron Chef America. And it’s still the best food in town. Even better, I’ve now got the recipes for some of my favorite dishes and Symon’s advice on how to be a better cook.

I’ve got a lot of cookbooks on the shelves, so when I buy a new one, I am always looking for something more than just recipes. I can download a million recipes from the internet, but what I need to make a good recipe great is technique. The great thing about Live to Cook is that it provides both – recipes that you’ll drool over and tips and techniques to make your guests drool over your food. It’s not a textbook, and the tips aren’t quite as in-depth as I’d like, but there is definitely information that a good home cook can use: why a microplane will change your life, the herb with the most impact (rosemary), and why you should never throw pig skin away.

There are some fabulous recipes in this book. Symon is known for his love of pork — the man has pork tattoos! — and I have been known to swoon over a dish of pork belly at Lola. I cannot wait to try the Braised Pork Belly with Soft Polenta and Seared Mushrooms, the Roasted Pork with Grilled Peaches and Chestnut Honey, and the Bacon-Wrapped Pan-Roasted Walleye. (The Pappardelle with Pig’s Head Ragu is just too much of an undertaking.) I fell in love with the lobster pierogies at Lola and I am looking forward to making the Beef Cheek Pierogies with wild Mushrooms and Horseradish.

You’ll also find chapters on side dishes, condiments, pickles and salads. The Ohio Creamed Corn with Bacon is high on my list to try, as well as the Spinach Salad with Fried Egg and Bacon and the Pickled Cherries. It’s a good mix of things that I am confident I can produce, things that will take some practice, and things that I will most likely just read about. (A whole pig’s head? Really? I don’t think so.) That’s what I want from any cookbook; I want to be able to walk right into the kitchen and turn out some great food, but I also want some challenges and new techniques to try.

Live to Cook: Recipes and Techniques to Rock Your Kitchen is a cookbook that I will actually read, not just a source for recipes. I was so excited about this book that I broke down and bought a copy — no free copy from the publisher this time. Since I don’t have the publisher’s permission to share some recipes, all I can do is encourage you to check this one out: it’s a fun read, full of tips and tricks and some really great food.

Review: Kosher by Design Lightens Up by Susie Fishbein

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

I got this cookbook back in late October, but I wanted to wait until I had a chance to try out a few of the recipes before reviewing it. I have no need to keep Kosher but that certainly won’t stop me from trying out a great cookbook.

The cookbook has a terrific layout. My favorite thing: there is a picture for every recipe. The pictures are big – full page and clear, not overly styled. They look like things you’d be pleased to put on the dinner table.

One thing that disappointed me, especially for a healthy cookbook: there is no nutritional information provided. My father is a diabetic and I often check the carbs and sugars on holiday recipes and I always check the fat content of things I make for myself. While I don’t always rely on it, that information is always good to have.

Now, I should warn you that I’ve never met a recipe I couldn’t alter just a teensy, tiny bit. I tend to use recipes as a guideline and I am never afraid to try a cooking method or ingredient that I think will work better. So I’ll tell you up front that I…adjusted these recipes. They still came out great and, adjustments or not, I’m sure they would work for others.

The first recipe I tried was the Rib Eye Portobello Steaks. It’s a great, simple recipe – thickly sliced mushrooms, well-seasoned steak and a side of diced tomatoes. I love portobello mushrooms and I will be using this method for roasting them and serving them as side dishes with other meals. The cooking method is generally light (I used a lot less olive oil than the mushrooms called for), but it still uses basic ingredients; I am always suspicious of recipes that depend too much on fat-free, reduced calorie items to keep the calorie count down.

Another recipe I tried was the Marrakesh Carrot Salad – North African spices on nice, healthy carrots. Again, I modified the cooking method and the recipe. The recipe called for boiling the carrots, but I’ve always read that boiling leaches out a lot of vitamins, so I steamed them in the microwave. I also cut back a bit on the olive oil. That’s something I found myself doing a lot with these recipes. I cut down on the olive oil, I changed the cooking methods…lamb patties sound great, but why fry them in oil? There are healthier cooking methods you could use.

The third recipe I tried, I actually used for my Thanksgiving turkey. I roasted a turkey breast with cranberry-pineapple glaze based on the Glazed Turkey Roast with Cranberry Chutney. The flavor of the turkey was fabulous and the pan drippings were sweet and savory. Really a hit.

Overall, I like the cookbook and I have turned out some good meals with it. As I said earlier, I adjusted ingredients and changed cooking methods, but I would do that with any cookbook. There are some great recipes here with a definite emphasis on healthy ingredients and cooking.

Susie Fishbein has put out a series of cookbooks for cooks who want to turn out great Kosher food. You can find more information on her cookbooks here. My copy was an Advanced Reader Copy. Buy your copy at Amazon.com.