Tuesday, December 13, 2016


Have you joined the adult coloring book craze yet?

It's fun. It's very relaxing and meditative when coloring sections. It can be a little challenging when picking the next color, if you want it to be. There's a little precision required when coloring small areas. And you can get creative by shading colors rather then keeping one solid color per section.

When a was offered a butterfly color-by-numbers book to try, I figured I might as well give it a go. I wondered whether I'd like that much instruction. But then I remember the paint-by-numbers pictures I did when I was a kid. Those were good.

Butterflies are a colorful subject, so that's good. And they don't need to be super-realistic to be pretty, so that's good too. I dove right in, using both pencils and gel pens.

The book is great for beginners. It explains the different types of media - pencils, gel pens, etc., and what sorts of results you can get, and what kinds of techniques can be used.

And of course you can use different colors than the ones suggested in the book - either completely different palettes, or swapping a few colors. I mean, it's a coloring book, so it's supposed to be fun an relaxing and not something to stress about not having the exact shade of blue required.

In the beginning of the book the pictures are mostly numbered. Here's one that I colored. There were just a few sections that didn't have numbers to follow.

In the middle of the book, the pictures have some numbers to follow, and you get to choose the rest of the colors. Here's what I colored according to the book's suggestions.

And here it is, finished.

At the end of the book, there are no numbers, so you choose whatever colors you like.

The one slight problem I had was matching the pens and pencils I had to the colors suggested in book, even though I have a couple sets of pencils and pens. But I wasn't too worried about it. I got close enough, and if my shade of green was a little too light or dark, I don't think the butterflies cared all that much.

The one thing that would have made this book a little easier to use would have been to have a color key on each page. Of course, that would have meant printing color on each page, which would have added to the cost of the book. So it's understandable they didn't do it.

This would be a good book for beginners who want a little instruction on materials and techniques, and who want a little guidance on colors Or anyone who's a big fan of butterflies. There are other color-by-numbers books as well as other art books available from the same publisher, if you're looking for a different subject, too.

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

Friday, December 9, 2016

Let's Cook French: A family cookbook

Okay, so this is the post where you start to imagine that holiday stress or perhaps turkey poisoning has started to addle my brain.

You see, I'm sure I wrote this book review ... months ago. 

I even remember some of what I said. How Jacques Pepin did the illustrations for this book, Let's Cook French, that was written by his daughter, Claudine Pepin.

How the recipes are in English on the left-hand side of the book and in French on the right-hand side, so you and your kids can learn a little French while you're making Cauliflower Soufflé (Soufflé au chou-fleur) or Poulet à la crème (Chicken with cream sauce).

I looked through this blog and my recipe blog, and it's nowhere to be found. No review, no photo, no recipe, no nothing.

When the review disappeared, you also didn't get a chance to know that while the book is aimed at getting kids into the kitchen to cook, it's not childish. Sure, there's a recipe for melted cheese - okay, it's actually a cheese fondue - but there's also a recipe for spinach. And lamb chops. And creme brulee.

I'm not saying kids would dislike any of those recipes, but this is not a book about 101 ways to eat chicken nuggets. It's real food. Which I whole-heartedly endorse.

So, now you know what you missed. Me, I'm just looking for my mind. It's got to be around here somewhere.

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

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Anna Mae's Mac n Cheese

Are you a mac and cheese freak?

Are you looking for new and different recipes to spice up your mac and cheese experience?

Then Anna Mae's Mac n Cheese by Anna Clark and Tony Solomon might be the perfect little stuffer for your stocking. It's not a tiny book, by any means, but it's a tad smaller that some. But it's loaded with cheesiness, that for sure. And mac.

The book is written by the owners of a British mac and cheese food truck, so there are plenty of Britishisms. Like calling ground beef "mince" or asking for American mustard or burger cheese or mature Cheddar. There are also a few oddities, like asking for "a jar" of red jalapeno chilies, but never specificing the size of that jar.

But the book points out that its perfectly acceptable to swap cheeses to use what you have on hand or what you like, and that it's also fun to mess with the flavors. So if you're not sure what burger cheese is, just use whatever it is you'd put on a burger, I guess.

There are recipes here for different types of mac and cheese, but then it gets really crazy, using mac and cheese in nachos; using mac and cheese in a breakfast dish that includes sausage, hash browns, and eggs; making a mac and cheese ... creation ... that tastes like a Big Mac; or making mac and cheese fries.

There are also recipes for things that go with mac and cheese, like guacamole, hot sauce, quick kimchi, and desserts.

It's a fun little book.

My ONE quibble is the font used. It looks like a typewriter and it reminded me of old-school community cookbooks, which at first make me think the book was going to be cheap or not well-written. Once I got over my initial dislike of the font, though, I started liking the book a lot.

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

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Modern Salad

I love salad.

Yup. Love it. I'm perfectly happy with a big bowl of lettuce and other things, dressed wit something flavorful. Sometimes I eat salad as a snack.

So when I got The Modern Salad by Elizabeth Howes, you'd think that I'd run to the kitchen and start tormenting vegetables, right?


Although I liked quite a few of the recipes, the idea of following a recipe to make a salad seemed sort of ... too much work ... for me. Which is totally weird, but that's how I felt about it.

But ... I took a lot of the ideas from the book. The Charcuterie Board Chopped Salad reminded me that I should put some salami on my salads once in a while. The Shaved Asparagus Salad reminded me to put asparagus on salads once in a while. The French Lentil and Poach Eggs Salad reminded me to add beans to salads now and then. And it also made me think fondly of poaching or soft-boiling an egg rather than used hard-boiled eggs when I'm in and eggy mood. The Romaine on Romaine salad made me think about adding seafood to salads. That one has shrimp, but other seafood could work really well.

So, even though I didn't make any single recipe in the book as-is, it still motivated me to change up my usual fare.

Does everyone need a salad cookbook? Good question. If your salads are just some lettuce and tomato, maybe it's time to up your game, right?

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

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Remarkably Average Parenting

I've got a nice relationship with the folks at General Foods Cereals. They sometime send me fun stuff. Well, cereal, usually, but then there's usually something else, often from small independent folks, like when they sent me a personalized bowl.

This time, they sent me some Corn Chex cereal and a book.

I'm not sure what the cereal had to do with the book, but I like Chex. The book was about parenting and I have a friend who is about to become a parent, so I figured I'd pass the book along.

But first, I read it.  The Mommy Shorts Guide to Remarkably Average Parenting by Ilana Wiles isn't a how-to book. It's more of a humor book with some suggestions here and there.

Even though I'm not a parent, I thought it was well written and pleasant to read. I mean, I read the whole darned thing. So it must have been okay, right? And the photos are cute.

The book would be a great present for parents-to-be or new parents. And the photos are a hoot.

Thanks to General Foods for the crunchy stuff and the book!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Liberation Soup

When I opened Liberation Soup, the first thing I saw was a recipe for Cow Skin. Um ... I'm pretty sure I've never seen that at my local grocery store. I was a bit worried that I had a book in my hands that I wouldn 't be able to cook from.

I thought, well, okay, maybe the stories are good. The book is from The Whole Planet Foundation and the recipes are from families being helped by the foundation's microfinance program.

Each recipe is paired with information about the people being helped by the loans and what they do with the money. It's pretty interesting what a very small loan can do to help people in developing countries, and it makes my life look crazy luxurious in comparison.

After paging through the book, I realized that there were a lot of recipes I could make pretty much as-is, and there were more that would be easy enough to make with some substitutions.

The ones I had on my short list were a spiced chicken stew, a chickpea stew, and a rice and beans.

I'll be honest and say that it's pretty obvious that some recipes were written by people who never wrote a recipe before. The stuffed zucchini, for example, listed ingredients, but no amounts. And the instructions simply said to "cook the mixture" for the filling but didn't have any more details. But, let's be serious. Anyone making the recipe could probably work it out for themselves and make it to their own taste.

Most of the recipes are more detailed. No worse than a community cookbook in the US.

Overall, it's a nice book. Probably not what I'd suggest for a new cook, but definitely nice for people who love cookbooks.

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

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The London Cookbook

When I first get a cookbook, I browse through it to bookmark recipes I want to make. Later, I browse through those to see which ones I want to make right away. Usually, those are the ones I have ingredients for, or that don't need anything that will be hard to find.

When I got The London Cookbook by Akessandra Crapanzano, I bookmarked a LOT of pages. The short list included a risotto with bell peppers, chicken scallopine with mushrooms and marsala, Iberian rib stew, and incredibly decadent-looking chocolate cake, a custard that used muscovado sugar, a crazy-looking tart with several layers, and an apple and calvados cake.

Oh, heck, how do I choose from those? What should I make first?

While some of those recipes might not sound particularly British, the book isn't necessarily about British food - these are all taken from restaurants in London. Which is why it's The London Cookbook. So, needless to say, you'll find a variety of recipes.

Some are more complicated than others, some are more fancy while others are more homey. But, for American cooks, you'll be happy to know that the recipes use US measurements, so you won't need to figure out whether a liter is smaller or larger than a quart.

I finally decided on the Chicken Scaloppine with Mushrooms and Marsala. It was a simple recipe - the sort you could make on any weeknight, which is great. And it tasted soooooo good. Normally, I would think a scalloppine would pair with pasta, but I ended up serving it over rice, and it was amazing.

I'll definitely be making a lot more recipes from this book. A lot.

I might be publishing this recipe on my blog ... or I might find another one. There are so many great options in the book!

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

Thursday, November 10, 2016

A Rainbow of Smoothie Bowls

I like learning new things. That's one thing my dad impressed upon me - that you're never too old to learn new things.

I particularly like learning things about myself. Which doesn't often happen with a cookbook. But it did with this one.

As I was browsing through A Rainbow of Smoothie Bowls by Leigh Weingus, I realized that not only do I like vegetables more than fruits, but I also am more picky about fruit combinations than I am about vegetable combinations.

I am a weirdo. I admit it.

So, as I was going through the book, I realized that while I probably would have eaten pretty much any recipe in the book if someone served it to me, I'd be unlikely to want to make them.

Aside from strawberries (which are totally not in season now) I prefer most berries cooked or dried. So the recipes with fresh berries on top weren't all that appealing to me because I didn't want to buy all those berries and have them hanging around.

And then ... I have a love-hate relationship with mangoes. Sometimes I like them (the small champagne mangoes are my fave, but I don't see them very often) but I've gotten a whole lot of bad mangoes that were mealy or otherwise weird. So, the chance of me buying mangoes ... not so good.

I like bananas and I probably buy more of them than any other fruit. I love peaches and nectarines and plums, but they're not in season. Grapes are great, too. But not in season. So my fruit choices were kind of limited.

I found one recipe that I was going to make (and I might still make it; just not for this review) but I don't know if it's a great representation of this book. The "bowl" part of it had a frozen banana, almond milk, hazelnuts, and cocoa powder all blended together. That sounded awesome. And then it was topped with chocolate chips and hazelnuts.

Oh heck to the yum.

But it was much less fruit-laden than typical recipes.

Another that looked interesting had frozen cherries, banana, almond milk, and almond butter blended up for the bowl and then blueberries, almonds, and honey on top. But cherries aren't in season, and I'm not inclined to buy a bag of frozen ones for a single recipe.

But, you know, that's just me. I'm sure other people would go crazy about these recipes.

So anyway, I guess I should explain smoothie bowls. They're kind of like regular smoothies but served in a bowl with a bunch of chunky toppings, so you'd eat them with a spoon. That would make them more like food than like a drink, right? There was even a Halloween-themed bowl with candy on top. So it's not like these are all super-green and chewy, although there are some with spinach or oats or goji berries.

If you're a big fan of smoothies to begin with, you're going to love this book. Me, it's making me think about my fruit eating habits. And when strawberries come back in season, I'm going to try a bunch of these. Maybe with some little adjustments.

I received this book at no cost from the publisher.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Stuff Every Cook Should Know

Does this book have absolutely everything that every single cook should know? Perhaps not, but this little book is full of useful information. It would be a great book for someone just moving out on their own, for a stocking stuffer, or a tucked into a wedding or shower gift.

When I say "little book" I mean that Stuff Every Cook Should Know by Joy Manning really is a small book. Yet it has 130 pages of information. Everything from caring for a cutting board to what to cook for a date.

It covers basics, like how to mince, julienne, and dice. It has information on how to salvage some cooking disasters. It talks about how to test different foods for doneness, as well as temperatures for meats.

The book doesn't have an index, so looking up something in particular means you'll have to browse the book or go to the front where the table of contents lists all the subject titles. It's not as chaotic as it seems, since the book is organized in groups. First tools, then ingredients, then "three meals a day," then entertaining.

While this isn't a cookbook - there are no recipes - it's definitely the sort of book you'd tuck onto your cookbook shelf.

The one thing I found odd about this book was a design decision. The pages are unusually thick. That's not a pro or a con, just an observation.

I received this book from the publisher for the purpose of a review.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Life of the Party

I don't usually read business books, but when I saw that Life of the Party was about Brownie Wise, I was intrigued. So I requested a copy.

You don't know who Brownie Wise was?

Yeah, I didn't either. And that's kind of the point.

Brownie Wise was the woman who was instrumental in organizing and managing and growing the home party concept for Tupperware. You might say she was the first Tupperware Lady.

Her rise was meteoric. She went from selling products for the Stanley company (Fuller brushes!); bringing what she learned there to selling Tupperware; to being the face of Tupperware, running the home party division and living in a company-owned mansion. She had enough money to buy a small island. She was a success story.

Unfortunately, meteors fall. And she came crashing down petty spectacularly. The owner of the Tupperware company, Earl Tupper, decided to fire her and no one could change his mind. Maybe he was jealous that she became the spokesperson for the company, or perhaps it was that she believed her own publicity and she got too over-bearing to deal with.

Whatever the reason, he fired her, booted her out of the company mansion, buried copies of the book she wrote, and erased her name from the official company history. Boom! She was gone.

The current management of the company has put her back into the history, and even re-released a book she wrote.

Her story was interesting, particularly because back in the early 50's many women didn't work, and the ones that did were secretaries or sales clerks. But she wasn't an average woman. She started her own business and parlayed it into becoming vice-president at a huge company.

What she did isn't all that different from what a lot of food bloggers do, except we're sitting behind computers and she was going door-to-door, selling cleaning products.

Brownie Wise didn't start out wanting to be the executive of a company. She just wanted to make enough money to feed herself and her son after her marriage fell apart. But along the way, she made some good decisions, got noticed by the right people, and took opportunities (and their associated risks) when they arose.

But she wasn't the only woman who was a go-getter. Another woman (along with her husband) grew her Tupperware distributorship until she was getting shipments from the company by rail car. That's a freaking LOT of plastic. She had ambition, she was hard-working, and her ideas on how to motivate the people under her were successful.

But Brownie was the one who became vice president, maybe just because she was in the right place at the right time. Reading the book, it seems she made a lot of right decisions, but she made some wrong ones. She was really good with people. Some people. The Tupperware dealers loved her. Idolized her, even. The Tupperware managers, one step up from the dealers, also loved her. But she was less concerned about the distributors. Less in touch with them. And for sure she didn't handle her relationship with the company's owner very well. And that's probably what went wrong. Not a bad business decision, but a bad personal relationship.

This book was a really interesting read, and although it's not really a how-to-do-it book, I think that it gives some food for thought for anyone who's thinking about running their own business.

I received this from the publisher at no cost.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Beyond Ice

If there's one thing that most self-published books have in common, it's the lack of editorial guidance. I'm not talking about checking for spelling errors. I mean the sort of editing that can be brutal to a fragile writer's ego.

If you can get beyond the sorts of mistakes that creep into a self-published work to find the gems within, that's fine. If errors make you want to whip out a blue pencil, you might want to stick to commercial works.

Beyond Ice is self-published. So, let's get through the technical problems.

First, it's written mostly in present tense. Most books these days are written in past tense, and that's what readers expect. It's what's normal. If a writer chooses to write in present tense (and can do it skillfully), the book should stay in present tense. But this book bounced around, and every time it leaped into past tense, I would be jolted out of the story. A good editor would have caught that. Whether most readers will notice ... I really don't know.

Second, this book suffers from what I call CSI Syndrome. This is the plot device where characters have a conversation simply to give the audience facts, but the people in the conversation probably know these facts and don't have any need to discuss them. Done well, it works. You find out facts you need and the story moves on seamlessly. Done poorly, you're left wondering if these people have some sort of mental disorder that makes them tediously explain things to people when the people already know everything you're telling them.

The CSI shows would often have the main character go into a lab and the lab technician would explain something to the CSI. Or the CSI would explain something to an intern or civilian. Most of the time it worked well enough, but there were times when it stretched credulity a little too far.

In this book, there aren't a whole lot of extra characters who can explain (or be explained to) so you have two guys who have worked together for years and set up a secret lab for experiments who say things like "But what if the power goes out?" and "That's what we bought the generators for!" Um ... I knew there were generators. I'm pretty sure these guys didn't need to tell each other why they bought the generators.

Worse yet, a power outage never happened - and it wasn't even threatened - so this exchange didn't move the plot forward.

Other times, it was family members having these sorts of conversations. It was strange and unnatural.

On television, you have the choice of showing action or having dialog. But in a book, there can be that narrator-voice who explains things to the reader. Much of the conversations in the book could have been handled outside of dialog.

There are other conversations that didn't need to exist at all. Several times, characters went out for lunch, and we're treated to, "Hi my name is *whatever* and I'll be your server. Can I get you a drink?" and this trudges onward through the characters ordering whatever it is they order. If one of them came down with food poisoning from a bad anchovy, their lunch order might make sense. But otherwise it's just filler.

And ... since I'm talking about dialog, much of it wasn't realistic. People don't talk like that. They just don't. I have a feeling someone read a first draft of this book, told the writer more dialog was needed, and this was the result. Oh well.

But, maybe it's just me. After working for years as an editor, I see things like this and my editor brain shifts into gear and I want to start fixing things. So I lose interest in the plot. It's like artists who start looking at brush strokes in a painting and miss the fact that Waldo is still hiding in there. Forest for the trees, and all that. I can't turn off that editor-brain, but people who can, or who don't care about technical issues, are probably more interested in the story, yes?

So ... the story.

Hmmm. It gets off to a really slow start. The first chapter could fall right out of the book and we'd lose nothing. It almost feels like it was tacked on after the rest of the book was written. And here's the thing that struck me as really odd. There were three references to a particular brand of insulated beverage container (I'm not going to name the product) that listed the brand name along with the little registered trademark symbol. Who on earth does that in a novel? There was no need to mention the brand name, it had nothing to do with the plot, and the trademark symbol was completely out of place. I have to wonder if that was a paid placement.

Call me skeptical. Go right ahead.

But that might have been just a quirk. Like the use of footnotes. Which was also very weird in a novel.

So anyway, it started slow. Way slow for the first 100 pages or so. There's a woman with what might be a terminal disease. She becomes interested in having herself frozen after she dies. Brrrrrrr.

Meanwhile, two scientists build a secret lab. They have been able to freeze dead mice and bring them back to life but they think that the public will be upset if they freeze live mice and bring them back to life. And bringing these live frozen mice back to life is somehow more difficult that bringing dead frozen mice back to life, so that's the focus of their work at the beginning. Okayyyyyyy ......

So they build this lab in an underground bunker with a general store above for loggers that acts as a disguise for the lab. They move on from mice to gerbils and other rodents to finally freezing and thawing a monkey.

Anyway, these stories run parallel to each other until the woman goes to a symposium where one of the reclusive scientists is giving a speech. And then it starts getting tangled. The woman disappears. Ruh roh. Where could she be?

Towards the end of the book, it fast-forwards by about 20 years and I couldn't help thinking that some of those 20 years might have been much more interesting in terms of fleshing the book out than the first 100 pages. But that's just me.

The story, once it gets going, is pretty good. I liked the good guys enough, but I sort of wish I hated the bad guys a little more. They seemed like reasonably nice guys (who are way too concerned about what "tree huggers" will think of them) up until they do the heinous thing they do ...

The reviews on Amazon (all [both] of them ...) are positive, so maybe normal readers aren't as bothered by the technical issues as I am. Both of them actually call it a page turner. So there ya go. I thought it was slow, they thought it was enthralling. Everyone's got an opinion.

If you read this one, I'd be curious to know what you think.

I received the book at no cost to me.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016


I read a kid's book, and I liked it. There were no wizards. But there was a lot of cooking.

Dex Rossi, the main character of the book Dex, by Sheri Lynn Fishbach, is a middle-schooler who likes to cook. He has a business in front of his house selling sandwiches before his school day begins, and he sells more at school.

A geeky sort of kid with a crush on a classmate who seems to favor jocks, Dex faces all the same sorts of problems that average kids face, but he's also got worries about the family restaurant and his desire to save money for an exercise machine that will help him bulk up to impress the girl.

A strange turn of events lands him a cooking show on television, but then everything gets even more complicated...

As as adult, there were a few times when I shook my head and said, "no, that's not likely," but then I had to step back and realize that the book is, of course, fiction. And it's written for kids who will breeze right past the little inconsistencies.

This is exactly the sort of book I would have read as a kid - I loved Nancy Drew mysteries. But the fact that this kid is really into cooking was the icing on the cake. Hehe. Icing ... cake ... get it?

This would be a fun book for kids who like mysteries or for kids who love cooking.

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Cook Korean

I have soooooooooooo many cookbooks. But I still love them and I love looking at new ones. What I really love is when I find one that's different from the rest of the genre. That's true of Cook Korean by Robin Ha.

It's a cookbook and a comic book. It's not a comic cookbook in the sense of being funny. It's a cookbook in comic book style. With drawings and stuff. It's certainly different.

The ingredients, fortunately, are always in a box where they're easy to find and read. Instructions are in a flowing comic book style as opposed to panels, so you need to make sure you follow the correct path from start to finish.

The drawings are cute, and sometimes helpful, like when they show what slices should look like. The front of the book also has helpful information about Korean ingredients, which will come in handy when you're shopping.

As far as recipes, this has everything from home made kimchi to main dishes to drinks to Korean fusion recipes.

Some ingredients might be hard to find locally, but that's where Amazon comes in handy. Things like buckwheat noodles or gochujang might not be at your grocery store, but they're easy to find online. Other ingredients might be trickier, like fresh vegetables or unusual types of seafood ... but that's when creative substitutions come in handy, right?

I thought that the comic book style would be the hard part about working with this book. However, sourcing ingredients has been a bigger challenge. If you're up for that, the recipes look pretty darned good. Me, I'm going to be subbing a lot of things as I use this book, because some of them are going to be too much of a problem to find locally.

Still, it's a fun book, and I do like a challenge!

I got this book from the publisher for the purpose of a review.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

150 Best Meals in a Jar

If you've spent more than 10 seconds on Pinterest, you've probably seen photos of food layered into canning jars. It looks so pretty, right, with multicolored salads or desserts?

The current cookbook on my reading list, 150 Best Meals in a Jar, puts every possible thing you can think of in a jar - soup, salads, main dishes, pasta, rice bowls. There is shepherds pie and lasagna and paella and spaghetti.

The more I look at this book, the more I think that some foods just don't belong in jars. The salads make some sense, except that if you plan on eating it out of the jar, you're going to be eating one layer at a time rather than getting that perfect bite of lettuce and tomato and cucumber.

But carrying salad in a solid container is a good idea, and dumping it into a bowl is fine. You want it all mixed up, right? Shake the jar to coat it with dressing and then pour into a bowl for serving. Perfect.

On the other hand, the shepherd's pie confused me. Not that it wouldn't look pretty layered in a jar. It would. But ... how do you eat it? If you eat out of the jar, you're going to be eating one thing at a time, starting with the potatoes that are on the top. If you dump it out, it's not going to be pretty at all. Which I guess it's not horrible if you're eating at your desk at work. But there are other options. The other odd thing was that the recipe makes 2 servings and each serving fits into a quart jar. That seems like a lot of food to me, but I don't eat as much as I used to.

Soup in a jar makes sense to me, but my quibble is with the serving size. Many of the soups call for a quart jar for a single serving. Maybe the recipes don't fill the quart, but in that case, why not adjust the recipe to make ... oh, let's say two full pint jars? Or a pint? Or three pints, since most recipes say they can be kept refrigerated for three days.

If someone is happy eating a quart of food for lunch, that's perfectly fine with me. I just thought that it was a pretty big serving size to use throughout the book, particularly since there are some recipes that use pint jars or smaller.

The recipes are interesting. Components are cooked separately then put into the jar to be microwaved later. This makes sense with foods where you want the separation of flavors. But method is also used for soups. Components are often put into the jar and a prepared broth poured over the top. So you're not cooking and tasting and then putting it in a jar for lunch. Instead, you're assembling and relying on the recipe to give you something that tastes good. It's not the way I cook, but I think some folks would really love this idea - they get a lunch that isn't a leftover from dinner.

The desserts, made in small jars, look pretty good. The salads make sense, if you're going to dump them into a bowl or on a plate. The soups make sense to eat (or drink) of of a jar. But I'll admit that some of the main dish recipes puzzled me. Rice and other ingredients layered in a jar isn't paella. It might be good, but it's definitely not paella. And for many of them, although I could see how they'd be pretty while they're layered in a jar, eating them would likely require dumping them out, which would make them look so much less attractive.

Considering the popularity of food in jars, I'm sure there are a lot of people who love this style of cooking. For me ... well, I work at home, so I don't really need to make my food ahead and carry it with me, so it's not as useful for me. Interesting, though.

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

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Eating Clean in Costa Rica

The recipes in this book are from a retreat and spa in Costa Rica called Blue Osa. They aren't necessarily traditional Costa Rican foods. In fact, as I browsed through the book, it seemed like the recipes could be from just about anywhere.

The author points out that she's cooking "in the middle of the jungle" so she can't get things that are common in supermarkets, so she has to rely on what's available locally. That makes sense. Then she goes on to say that she created a "original cuisine" with French flair.

So there you go. If you go to the spa, this is the sort of food you might expect to eat. Among other recipes in the book, there was quiche Lorraine, black bean soup, puttanesca sauce, vegetarian pad Thai, blinis, and lemon meringue pie.

There are some recipes that have more of an island flair, featuring coconut, mango, or other tropical fruits, but many of the recipes are from pretty far-flung locations.

The recipes are fairly simple, but there are some instructions that could be confusing. In some cases, oven temperatures are in fahrenheit, while others are centigrade. Many measurements are in grams or milliliters, but there are also teaspoons and tablespoons.

One recipe called for "one can" of tuna without specifying what size can and another asked for "one glass" of white wine. If you're used to cooking by taste, these sorts of things shouldn't be a problem.

Another recipe called for separating eggs, but the yolks were never used. That was a recipe for "macaroons." If it was supposed to be a recipe for macarons, they don't use yolks, so the instructions were correct. But it would have been clearer if the instructions had said to just use the whites and save the yolks for something else. Or perhaps there's something called a "macaroon" in Costa Rica that isn't either a macaron or the macaroons that have coconut in them. I'm really not sure.

I'm not saying this is necessarily a bad book. But if you're looking for Costa Rican food, this might not be the book for you. And if you do make these recipes, be prepared for instructions that might not be perfectly clear.

I received this book from the publisher for the purpose of a review.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Skinny Suppers

Let's be honest. I'm not a big fan of diets or diet books. I'd rather eat a little bit of real ice cream than a quart of low-fat/low-sugar ice cream. I'd rather have a little bit of a good yogurt than a lot of a yogurt that tastes like sadness.

But I have no problem with recipes that cut back on calories without making flavor suffer. I have no problem with portion reduction. I have no problem with using lighter ingredients if they don't mess up the recipe. I use Greek yogurt instead of sour cream in a lot of recipes ... unless the recipe really needs sour cream.

So, when I got Skinny Suppers by Brooke Griffin, the first thing I looked for was any weird ingredients. Recipes in this book sometimes call for light mayonnaise, fat-free milk, or unsweetened jam. I'd probably use regular mayo and milk, because that's what I buy. I do like unsweetened jam, though. But I'm not morally opposed to any of those substitutions.

One recipe that called for cream cheese listed 1/3-less-fat cream cheese. That's not too bad. I've used that cream cheese and it works just fine in recipes. I've tried the fat-free cream cheese and disliked it, so I was happy that wasn't required. So that was a fine substitution.

I was a little skeptical about sugar-free maple-flavored syrup, though. I'd probably just use less of the real stuff and call it a day.

So, the ingredients passed my test - I was either okay with them, or I could substitute if I wanted to.

One surprising thing was how many brand names were specified. A pasta recipe, for example, called for Prego Light Smart Traditional pasta sauce. That's helpful as long as that product is for sale, but I thought it might be too specific. Does every store carry this particular sauce? I don't know. Other times, the recipes called for something generic (parmesan cheese) and then mentioned the brand that the author liked (for example, she often mentioned Barilla ProteinPLUS pasta as a favorite).

That specificity makes sense for diet recipes, since one brand of pasta sauce might have a lot more added sugar than another. Again, if you like another brand better, it's not going to kill the recipe. The calorie count might not be the same, but a lot of things affect the calorie count. Just how big is a medium onion?

The book has an interesting organization. Since it's all suppers, it couldn't be organized in the usual breakfast, appetizer, soup, salad, main ... sort of thing. And it's also not by seasons, as is pretty common these days.

Instead, it's beef suppers, casserole suppers, chicken and turkey suppers, pasta suppers, pork suppers, seafood suppers, soups and salads, vegetarian suppers, and side dishes. The edges of the pages in each section are a different color to make it easier to see where sections start and end.

The recipes are all things that I'd be happy making, and many of them are things that I already know how to make. But that's fine. I'm always willing to try new versions.

Some of the highlights in the book are the apple-stuffed pork tenderloin with Dijon mustard sauce (but I'd leave the raisins out), Italian chickpea salad, butternut squash risotto, slow cooker creamy chicken and wild rice soup, and blackened fish tacos with cilantro-lime slaw.

Overall, it's a solid book with recipes that are easy enough to be doable for most folks, but still with a lot of flavor. I doubt most eaters would feel deprived with any of these.

I received this book from the publisher for the purpose of a review.

Monday, August 8, 2016

America's Best Breakfasts

When I got a book called America's Best Breakfasts by Lee Brian Schrager and Adeena Sussman, I expected to see things like waffles, crepes, chilaquiles, pancakes, and lots and lots of eggs.

But no, this book has breakfast recipes from restaurants where breakfasts are much more creative. There are certainly egg recipes, but most of them aren't recipes I'd be awake enough to make first thing in the morning.

For example, an egg sandwich recipe called Yolko Ono starts with making the sausage that goes onto the sandwich. It notes that you can buy sausage patties, but it's still not a simple recipe, since there's a pesto you'd also need to make.

The sandwich sounds amazing, but I'd be more likely to make it for lunch or dinner than for breakfast.

Like I said, I'm just not all that awake first thing in the morning.

The good news is that I tend to like breakfast foods for dinner, and that's particularly the case with eggs. I'd rather have them for lunch or dinner than for breakfast. So Yolko Ono would be perfect for me later in the day.

There are also recipes here that you might not normally associate with breakfast, like pozole, shrimp and grits, spaghetti with clams and crab, and chicken fried steak. I'm not saying I dislike any of those recipes. To be quite honest, I'd rather eat dinner food for breakfast. I'm weird like that. But I wouldn't necessarily make dinner food in the morning so I could have it for breakfast. Like I said, I'm not perky enough to do that sort of cooking first thing in the morning.

But I'd be more than happy to have it as leftovers. Or for someone else to cook it for me. You know, if you wanted to come over here and whip it up for me. Then make coffee. Then wake me up.

But ... if you're looking for a book that's got recipes you're going to whip up on a whim on a normal day, there probably aren't too many of those sorts of recipes here. You can make components ahead of time to make the final cooking easier, or you could easily work these into a brunch menu. But you'd have to really be a morning person to get many of these on the table for breakfast.

On the other hand, the brioche cinnamon buns are probably worth making ... when you have the time.

There are a lot of recipes here that I'll make, eventually. Just not for breakfast.

I received America's Best Breakfasts from the publisher for review.

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Troll Cookbook

The problem with cutely-themed cookbooks is that sometimes the cuteness is what sells the book, and the recipes are less than stellar.

But still, I couldn't help requesting The Troll Cookbook.

To be completely honest, I didn't know if this was a book about cooking for trolls, cooking trolls, or for trolls who are cooks. It's actually two of those three. No trolls were eaten.

The recipes were solid. Eclectic. Something for everyone.

But let's face it, the troll theme is why people would buy this book, so let me give you a few examples of things that made me giggle.

The introduction to the Sweet Rice Dumplings says, "If the cook you've kidnapped has escaped, make your own dumplings by following this recipe." Okay, before the recipe there was a charming story about someone who was kidnapped by trolls and who cooked for them. But just I saw the introduction first and then went back and read the story.

The introduction to gnocchi says, "The trolls use their thick fingernails to press patterns into the hearty, dumpling-like gnocchi they make. The technique sometimes lends the finished pasta a peculiar flavor."

I guess the moral is that you shouldn't let trolls make gnocchi for you.

In a section about shopping, it explains how trolls are confused about our modern supermarkets: "Moving beyond the produce section, the troll is equally frustrated with much of the rest of the supermarket, with its aisles of packages plastered with photographs of the food inside, or worse,  of happy people. Trolls appreciate truth in advertising. Not once has a troll torn open a box of cereal and found actual people to eat inside. It's disappointing."

As far as recipes, you'll find instructions on making cottage cheese. paella, flavored salts, soups and salads, chili, jams, deviled eggs, and plenty more. There's information about pickling and preserving, making sausage, and even instructions for making vinegar.

The book is arranged by season, which makes sense for recipes that use fruits and vegetables, but seasonal doesn't make sense for things like yogurt, so it might take some browsing before you realize what you can make from this book. On the other hand, the pictures are fun and the text is amusing. So it's definitely worth a browse.

I received this book from the publisher in order to review it.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The 420 Gourmet #The420Gourmet

I get a lot of offers for cannabis-related cookbooks for review, but I generally turn them down. While that particular herb is legal where I live, I've never been all that interested in cooking with it.

To be honest, I probably still won't. But that doesn't mean I'm not curious about it. So this time around, I said, "Sure, send me the book."

I figured that at worst, I'd be amused. And since the book was from a legit publisher, I thought I might find some recipes I might make without the cannabis.

The first part of the book delves into the different strains of pot you might use, how to make oils and butters, and how to calculate the amount of THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) that you might be ingesting. All good stuff to know.

I pretty much skipped that and moved right to the recipes. These were not Cheeto-laden recipes, and they were pretty much made from scratch rather than using boxed and bagged and canned items. Potzo Ball Soup looked pretty good, as did the wild mushroom risotto. Whacky Mac and Cheese included both sharp cheddar and Emmenthaler cheeses and optional white truffle oil. Count me in.

Of course there were desserts, like the Poundin' Amaretto Pound Cake and Heath Bar Canna-Cookie Butter Brownies. I mean, sheesh, that sounds good without the need for added herbs, right?

The good thing is that if you want to make these recipes without the "high" it's pretty simple to substitute plain butter or oil for the infused ones. And if you live in a state where cannabis is legal, then you've got some solid recipes here, along with calculations to make sure you're ingesting a sensible amount.

I have yet to try any of these recipes (with or without), but the ones I've looked at seem solid. No bizarre ratios or odd instructions. If you try any of 'em yourself, let me know.

You can by the book at: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble and find the author at jeffthe420chef.com, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

I received this book from the publisher in order to do a review.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Culinary Herbal

Culinary Herbal is not a cookbook, although it does have some recipes.

Instead, it's a book filled with information about different herbs - as well as other flavorful edibles, like garlic and horseradish and poppyseeds. There is information about how and where the plants grows, which cuisines use the plants, what they tastes like, and how to prepare and store the herbs.

What makes this book really handy is that while it talks about the herbs we're all familiar with, it also describes plants that are less common, and possibly less available in stores, like culantro, malva, and sow thistle.

At the back of the book there's information about growing herbs indoors and out, how to preserve the harvest, and typical problems you might encounter when growing your herbs.

The recipes are simple and useful, like how to make herb butters, vinegars. pastes, and syrups.

If you want to start using more herbs in your cooking, or you want to try growing some, or you're just tired of seeing the names of herbs in cookbooks with no information about them, this book is for you.

I received this book from the publisher for the purpose of a review.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Tasting Rome

When it comes to ethnic cookbooks, I think I have more Italian books than any other category. It makes sense. It was the first non-mom food I ever tasted, and I loved it from the first bite.

Tasting Rome by Katie Parla and Kristina Gill approaches the subject by including "traditional dishes and contemporary innovations, each selected for the story it tells about Roman cuisine and the way it transports the full spectrum of local flavors to the home kitchen."

While the book includes quantities of ingredients, the authors point out that typical Roman cooking doesn't get "bogged down with precise ingredient amounts or proportions." So you're welcome to adjust the recipes to taste while still being true to the spirit of the recipes.

Some of the recipes I've bookmarked for later include picchiapo (simmered beef with tomato and onion), concia (fried and marinated zucchini), coda alla vaccinara (braised oxtails), sformatino di broccolo romanesco (romanesco custard) and pizza romano (thin-crust Roman style pizza).

What's a little interesting here is the dishes that aren't in the book - no ravioli or lasagna, for example. There are pasta dishes - just not those very common ones. But there is gnocchi. And carbonara.

Overall, it's a good book to have in my collection, but I'm glad it's not the only one.

I received this book in order to to a review.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

What do these three books have in common?

At first glance these books would seem to have nothing in common. I mean, there's one book dedicated to a high-end appliance, one that's meant for super-simple cooking and another that's written by a celebrity chef.

There are at least two things these books have in common, and it's certainly nothing you'd guess. I got all of them at the Housewares Show in Chicago, and they're all autographed. Yup. Scribbled upon by the authors.

The Vitamix Cookbook was written by Jodi Berg, and it's the first cookbook from the company that's more of a general book than one dedicated to (and included with) specific blenders. Of course, all the recipes take advantage of the power of a Vitamix. Judy Berg, by the way, is the president and CEO of the company, and the great-granddaughter of the founder. The book has some great-looking recipes and beautiful photos. And the recipes seem very approachable for a home cook.

Obviously, the book is written for folks who own Vitamix blenders, but I'm sure creative cooks could find a way to make these recipes using a different blender or maybe even a different piece of equipment. But still, I like my Vitamix, so that's what I'm going to use.

The middle book, Dump Meals, is written by pitch-woman Cathy Mitchell, who you might have seen on late-night television pitching her Dump Cakes cookbook. Whether you like her or not, she sells a ton of cookbooks. People like quick and easy recipes, and that's what this book delivers. Well, the easy part, for sure. But since they're made in a slow cooker, they can take a while to cook.

Since the point of this book is fast, easy, and few ingredients, there are a lot of shortcuts, like using spice or soup mixes for flavoring. If you're opposed to those, you could certainly use your own individual spices.

The book is written specifically for Crock-Pot slow cookers, but I have no doubt they could be adapted to other cookers or even stovetop cooking.

The final book in the trio, Essential Emeril, is of course written by Emeril Lagasse. The photos are mouth-watering, and based on my experience with other Emeril cookbooks, I'm quite sure the recipes will work. No doubt. I kind of want to make everything in this book.

Well, maybe except for the risotto with truffles, because I can't afford that kind of stuff. Fortunately, most of the recipes are more in my budget range. Although the book isn't promoting a particular appliance, Emeril has his own line of cookware, gadgets, and other cooking goodies.

So ... there we go. You'll probably see recipes from these books on my cooking blog, Cookistry, when I have a chance to browse through them. Time will only tell which one gets used the most.