Saturday, March 21, 2015

Soul Food Love by Alice Randall and Caroline Randall Williams

It's not often that I get emotionally involved in a cookbook, but the stories at the front of this book really touched me. The history of the women, the reasons why they cooked the way they did, and the emotional ties to food, cooking, and kitchens is a huge part of why I love this book.

And it's that history that makes the recipes make sense. Because on first glance, I wasn't sure how an avocado salad fit into a soul food cookbook.

Caroline Randall Williams is the now-generation of a long line of black women who grew large as they grew older. She decided to break that cycle and eat healthy while keeping her soul food heritage, and she also wanted to help her mom break out of the cycle as well.

I generally shy away from diet books or those that claim to be healthy because they often tend to eliminate food groups, embrace fads, or feel like deprivation. This book is none of that. It's good food that you can eat almost every day, with a few indulgences thrown in.

But, as she points out, the food that many know as soul food - rich and salty and fatty - was not meant to be everyday food - it was celebration food. And if you eat celebration food every day, it becomes less special.

Salmon Croquettes are one example of a well-loved family recipe that she updated. My own mother also used to make something similar, although in my house they were simply called salmon patties. Williams noted that in "back in the day," the salmon croquettes were filled with rich binders and fried in an inch of bacon grease, while these patties use egg as the binder and are seared in olive oil.

I like her version better.

Williams noted that this book has recipes that you can make without requiring trips to fancy food stores, and without ordering online. You can make these whether you shop at Walmart or Whole Foods, whichever fits your budget or your mood.

I like that. While I love hunting for new ingredients, I also like making easy and approachable dishes that I can decide to make, shop for, and have on the table in the same day. I've got a handful of recipes bookmarked - including that Salmon Croquette recipe, and others that will have to wait for summer produce to hit the markets and a salad that might show up on the Easter table this year.

As soon as I've got a recipe to show off, I'll have it over at Cookistry. Stay tuned for that.

I received Soul Food Love from the publisher at no cost to me.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Hit and Nun

I was totally amused by Hit and Nun by Peg Cochran. From the title, you might think it's about a convent ... from the cover, you know there's pizza involved. But how do nuns and pizza tie together?

The heroine of the story, Lucille Mazzarella, is an old-school middle-aged Italian wife and mother who works part time for a church. That doesn't sound like the setup for a mystery novel ... but then Lucille is the sole witness when the owner of a nearby pizza parlor stumbles into the church and dies.

But he's not dead from natural causes - of course, he's been murdered.

Lucille apparently has a reputation as an amateur detective ... of course ... so she and her gal-pal Flo get themselves involved in figuring out who the murderer is.

No only does Lucille feel responsible because the guy died in front of her, but he was also the owner of her favorite pizza place.

Lucille goes as far as applying for a job at a competitor's pizza parlor - she suspects he might be involved -  and all while she manages to cook for her husband and extended family, and annoy her adult daughter who has moved back into Lucille's home with her husband and infant..

A running joke through the book is that Lucille read about the paleo diet in a magazine at the "Clip and Curl" while she was waiting to get her hair done, and she decides to give it a try. Of course, she didn't read the whole article, so the reasoning she uses to decide what "cavemen" ate is pretty funny.

Lucille is an interesting character. She goes from being down-to-earth and traditional to being goofy and flighty in the blink of an eye, but somehow it works. By the end of the book, some of the decisions she makes are downright daft, but it still works. By that time, we're used to her goofiness, and we follow along on the ride.

This is definitely a lighthearted mystery that won't give you the creeps late at night, but will leave you shaking your head and laughing.

I received a digital version of this book at no cost to me for the purpose of a review.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Pi Moment of the Century - and lots of PIE cookbooks

Happy π Day! Are you ready to party like a pastry chef? Or a pie eater?

Today at 9:26 a.m. plus 53 seconds, the date and time will give us the first 10 digits of the number π which we spell as Pi, which is pronounced just like Pie.

So the foodies among us tend to celebrate the day with food rather than algebra. Specifically, pie.

For my own celebration, I made a cheesecake (because cheesecake is more pie than cake) from the book The Great Big Pressure Cooker Book.

It's not a pie book, or even a baking cookbook, but I really liked the cheesecake recipe. I wrote about that book herealong with the recipe for the cheesecake..

The first time around, I used the basic recipe in the book, but this time around, I used the alternative method of whipping the cheesecake filling before cooking, to make it more fluffy as opposed to more creamy.

It was good ... it was more of a New York style cheesecake - light and fluffy and airy. But I'm a midwesterner, so I prefer the creamy version. I'll be making it again, I'm sure. But I wouldn't refuse the fluffy version, if someone served me a slice.

Here's the whipped one - I topped it with a sweetened sour cream, because I felt like it.

And here's the creamier version:

That's my pie, but how about some books about pie and pastry? I've got a ton of general baking books, and baking books that exclude pies, but not that many that are only about pies and pastries.

On my bookshelf right now is:

The Pie and Pastry Bible by Rose Levy Berenbaum

Pie in the Sky by Susan G. Purdy

The Complete Book of Pastry by Bernard Clayton Jr.

Junior's Cheesecake Cookbook by Alan Rosen and Beth Allen

Pie it Forward by Gesine Bullock-Prado

Pie it Forward was the book I wrote about for Pi Day in 2012, and there's a lovely blueberry pie recipe on the post, too. Mmmm. Pie.

I have one pie-centric cookbook in my Amazon cart that I haven't purchased yet, but I intend to:

Mrs. Rowe's Little Book of Southern Pies by Mollie Cox Bryan

And ... this is really cool - I've got a book coming. It was just released today - on Pi Day. I'll be reviewing it after I've had some time to have fun with it:

The Norske Nook Book of Pies by Jerry Bechard and Cindee Borton-Parker.

So, now it's your turn. Do you have any other pie books that you recommend? Tell me about your favorites in the comments, and feel free to link to any reviews you've done.
For a whole bunch of pie recipes, check out today's post on Cookistry, where I have 55 pie and pie-related recipes!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Cognac Conspiracies by Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noel Balen

I love food, and I love a good mystery. A cocktail is nice, too. Cognac Conspiracies has it all. This book takes place mostly in the world of cognac-making, where a family business is in a bit of a turmoil, a murder is committed, and wine expert Benjamin Cooker and his assistant get themselves involved.

I recently reviewed another book by these authors, Deadly Tasting, and one thing that's different in this one is that we learn more about Cooker's past - one of his old girlfriends happens to live nearby, and he pays her a visit and meets her son -  but who's the father?

I'm not telling.

We also learn a bit more about Cooker's assistant, Virgile Lanssien, who also plays a more significant role in this book.

The one downside of this book is that since it's set in France (and originally written in French for that audience, and subsequently translated into English), names of places are thrown around casually, with the assumption that the readers will have a vague idea of the region - much like we'd understand the difference between Cape Cod, Brooklyn, Dallas, and Los Angeles, even if we've never visited any of those places.

But it's only a small blip, and it doesn't affect the actual story line.

Like the previous book, this is a fairly short book, and a quick and easy read. The end was satisfying, which is pretty much the best you can say about any book.

I received a digital copy of this book at no cost to me.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Root to Leaf by Steven Satterfield

I'll admit I had a bit of a giggle over the title - Root to Leaf. It's a play on the idea of nose to tail cooking. But no one's advocating that you eat the inedible parts of plants.

On first glance, I thought it might be a vegetarian book. But it's not.

There certainly are vegetarian dishes, but there are also recipes that include meats. The deal is that the recipes celebrate the seasons and the seasonal fruits and vegetables that are available and at their peak during different times of the year.

I've got quite a few books that talk about seasonality, but this is one of the few that completely embraces it, particularly in the winter when there aren't as many seasonal vegetables.

Too many times, cookbooks ignore winter, while focusing on beautiful fresh spring produce, sunny summer fruits and vegetables, and the bounty of fall.

But winter exists, and I'm in the midst of it.

I was happy to see that the winter recipes included root vegetables, cabbage, mushrooms, carrots, and other things that actually taste good at this time of year. And the dishes are hearty, too, like braised oxtails, celery root puree. There's even instructions for fermenting cabbage into sauerkraut.

The book is organized by season first, and then by the fruit or vegetable being featured, so when you come home from the store with a couple bunches of beets, you can find a group of recipes for roasting, sauteing, or even making a cake with beets. Yes, cake. This book is more than main dishes and sides - there are desserts, drinks, salads, pickles, and savory baked goods, as well - everything you need.

While these days we can get a huge variety of out-of-season produce in our grocery stores, I like that this book reminds us of what's really good during each season. I've got a whole bunch of spring recipes bookmarked in anticipation.

Meanwhile, I'm actually enjoying the creativity of the winter recipes - I'll have one on Cookistry soon.

Some recipes seem pretty simple, like a cantaloupe recipe with salt, lime and cayenne. It doesn't sound like much ... but have you thought of that particular combination? Other recipes are a little more complex, but still easy enough for most cooks.

If you want to pay more attention to the seasonal cooking, this is a great resource. The recipes don't require much more than some fresh produce and a reasonably well-stocked pantry, so you won't find yourself ordering a dozen exotic ingredients online to make one dish. This is a book you can actually use every day.

I'd definitely recommend this one, and I'm sure I'll be browsing through it at the beginning of every season and bookmarking even more recipes I want to make.

I received this book from the publisher at no cost to me.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Great Big Pressure Cooker Cookbook

I love cookbooks. That should be obvious. Some cookbooks are mostly for browsing and reading and inspiration.

Some cookbooks are mostly fantasy. The recipes look fantastic, but I'm never going to go make them.

Some books are there for the technical information. How long do I need to roast that beast? What's the correct ratio of salt to water for that brine? What are those buttons for on that appliance, anyway?

Some book are there for recipes, when I need them. Like for cakes and cupcakes and cheesecake. Oh, I've invented my own. But sometimes it's nice to open a book and know that someone else has done the math for me.

And then along comes a book like The Great Big Pressure Cooker Book by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough. First and foremost, it's a recipe book. I've made several recipes from it, and I've got more on my agenda. I've liked everything I made, and there are many, many more that fit my lifestyle.

It's also an appliance-specific book. It's all about working with pressure cookers, but unlike most (all?) of the other pressure cooker books out there, this one has instructions for both stovetop and electric pressure cookers, which is pretty darned awesome.

I have a couple other pressure cooker books, and I mostly use them to see how long I need to cook something, and then I use my own recipes ... but with this book, I'm pretty likely to try the recipes rather than wing it every single time.

Another great thing is that it's not just the usual soups, stews, and braises that are typical for a pressure cooker. Next on my agenda is a cheesecake recipe.

It's hard to say which recipe I liked the best, but the Ground Beef Chili was a winner, for sure. I'll be making it again, no doubt, and there's a good chance you'll be seeing the actual recipe over on Cookistry very soon.

Just for fun, here's a photo of the chili. Looks good, right?

The only thing that I need to mention is that I live at high altitude, so for most of the recipes I've tried, I've needed to add just a little more cooking time. This isn't a flaw with the book, it's simply a way of life up here where the air is thin and water boils at 202 degrees.

I received this book from the publisher at no cost to me.