Friday, September 15, 2017

F*ch, That's Delicious #AbramsDinnerParty

No, that's not my opinion of a recipe, that's the title of another book from the Abrams Dinner Party. They're sending me a whole bunch of new cookbooks at no cost to me. Wheeee!

First of all, Action Bronson, the author F*ck, That's Delicious, seems to be someone famous. Apparently, I'm not quite hip enough to know who he is, but that's fine. I don't know much about most of the authors of books that I read.

Yes, I said read.

While this has recipes, it's not really a cookbook in the traditional sense. The subtitle on this one is "An Annotated Guide to Eating Well." Okay then. 

In this book eating well does not have anything to do with wellness, or with drinking kale smoothies, or with eating quinoa casseroles. Instead, it's about what the author likes.

The blurb on the Contents page probably explains it best: "My list of one hundred amazing things - the moments that got to me, the meals I ate, the places, the people, the artifacts, and the accessories." Each of the 100 things are food related. Some are recipes, some are about restaurants or places he's had meals, and some are other reminiscences. There are some odd bits and pieces, too, like his thoughts on toothpicks or on reading while on the toilet.

This is a book that's kind of hard to classify. The recipes that are included look interesting (although I'll admit that I haven't tried any of them yet) and the reading matter is certainly quirky. The language can be colorful (as you might have guessed from the title) and there's good information and even a little science thrown in. There's slangy language and there's some that's more straightforward. There's a little of everything.

The one thing it isn't, is boring. If you don't like one thing you're reading, move on to the next page, where there's probably something completely different. and possibly delicious.

This post is sponsored by ABRAMS Books, as part of the ABRAMS Dinner Party.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Chicken with Red Rice from Slow Cook Modern #AbramsDinnerParty

The Abrams Dinner Party isn't really a party ... it's a group of bloggers who are receiving free cookbooks from Abrams for the next couple months. Since I'm a cookbook fiend, I'm giddy happy about participating in this.

I just got Slow Cook Modern by Liana Krissof, and dived right in.

The hook with this book is that it tells you want to toss into the cooker in the morning before work and then there's usually another step after work, usually adding ingredients that cook quickly or need to be warmed.

I've made one recipe so far. It was called chicken with red rice. The rice was red from tomatoes, not the naturally red rice. It wasn't a particularly pretty dish, but it was comfort food for sure. I mean, chicken, rice, tomatoes and spices ... yeah, that's good. There was a cilantro-lime topping that was included as a garnish, but I didn't make that. My cilantro plants were ... very dead ... so that wasn't going to happen.

That was probably the most simple recipe in the book, but I had leftover rice and I had chicken thighs, so it was a perfect fit. Basically, it was skinless chicken thighs, cumin, oregano, paprika, crushed tomatoes and salt going into the slow cooker for the first part of the process. When the chicken was done, it was tasted to adjust seasoning, and the the rice was added so it could warm up for serving.

It wasn't the prettiest dish on the block. That green garnish would have made a huge difference in the presentation. Or even some slices or chunks of avocado. But it was dinner time, I was hungry, and I wasn't about to run to the store for cilantro. I devoured it. YUM! This was a keeper. But my presentation was ... ugly.

Also, the lighting wasn't great. But ... yeah ... not pretty.


See! Even food bloggers eat ugly food sometimes. Gah. That's really ugly.

However, I got smarter with the leftovers. I still didn't have fresh cilantro, but I pulled out a bottle of cilantro-jalapeno-lime sauce that I happen to love. I artfully garnished ... uh ... not-so-artfully poured some sauce on top of my reheated leftovers, and it looked a lot prettier.


You want this. You really really want this.

The flavors also enhanced the chicken and rice, so I completely endorse the original garnish. A couple of sprigs of fresh cilantro would have made this photo even better ... but remember that dead cilantro? Yeah, still dead. And I haven't been to the grocery store today.

So, now that I'm not hungry any more, let's talk about the book a bit, mkay?

The recipes in the book don't shy away from using ingredients you'll probably have to shop for. Most of the vegetables are fresh, so you'll be shopping for those, right? At that point, you can pick up the fresh herbs or other things you don't have. However, most of the ingredients are common enough that a well-stocked grocery store should have most of them - no need for scouring obscure websites for odd things that you've never heard of. So ... it's not pantry cooking, but it's also not project cooking where you have to plan weeks in advance. It's good for weeknight dinners.

There's also not a lot of processed food in this book, except for the occasional frozen vegetable or canned tomato products, like the crushed tomatoes in the recipe I made. The chicken stock (or other stock) occasionally called for in recipes could be your own homemade stock, or you could buy it, whichever is better for you. But otherwise you can assume you'll be shopping for individual. mostly-fresh ingredients rather than canned soups or packaged mixes.

While slow-cooked food tends to be sort of monochrome as everything cooks together, this book pays attention to eye-appeal, suggesting side dishes or garnishes that will add some color and punch to the plate.

Some of those side dishes aren't cooked in a slow cooker - like cornbread or pesto or quick pickles - but it gives you a good idea what sides or garnishes to use with the dishes. I mean, if you happen to pick up some corn muffins at the store or you open a jar of mixed pickles instead of making every bit from scratch, that's fine, too.

The recipes in this book aren't your basic soups and stews. Sure, there's chili and chicken soup. But there's also Herb Butter Braised Turkey Breast, Jungle Curry Stew, Lamb Harira, and home made Quark. Lots of recipes that are pretty darned creative. Tarragon and Creme Fraiche Chicken might be next on my list.

Or maybe the Caldo de Pollo, because sometimes chicken soup isn't just chicken soup.

This post is sponsored by ABRAMS Books, as part of the ABRAMS Dinner Party.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Slow Cooker Favorites Chicken

Just got this little cookbook to review ... did I mention that it's kind of small? It's a little larger than a standard paperback novel, and kind of thin, too, but it's got "150+" recipes, according to the cover. I didn't count them, but I believe it.

Slow Cooker Favorites Chicken is kind of an eclectic collection. Which means something for everyone, and also something for everyone to hate.

What I thought was particularly interesting was that many of the recipes seemed to avoid wheat products, calling for rice flour where I normally would have used all purpose flour, and calling for gluten free noodles or buns.

But nowhere on the cover or introduction did it say anything about having gluten free recipes. Which I thought was odd, considering that gluten free is a pretty popular niche. I mean, why not promote that?

Perhaps it's because a number of the recipes rely on canned soups, spice mixes and other packaged products which could contain gluten. And some recipes did include flour. And there were sandwich recipes that didn't suggest gluten free. So, although some recipes were designed to use alternatives to gluten, many others did not.

Hmmm. 

Salt was another ingredient that seemed to come and go. Some recipes used soy sauce, bacon, and canned soup mixes. Some included salt itself. Some were totally salt free.

Hmmmm again.

Some recipes were completely from scratch, while others used shortcuts.Some were super-simple, and some had a giant list of ingredients. Some seemed to be avoiding fat, while others included cream cheese.

Double- and triple-hmmmmmmmmmmm

It's almost like the book was compiled from a bunch of different sources. Which it was. There was no author listed, but the copyright page notes that recipes are compiled and adapted from a number of other Adams Media cookbooks.

Aha ... that explains everything.

And there's nothing wrong with that. They own the rights to the content, and they found a way to compile a new collection that might appeal to a whole new audience. It makes sense.

So I'm right back to my original thought. There are a LOT of recipes for cooking chicken in a slow cooker in this book. You'd have to have a serious slow cooker chicken fetish to ever make all of the recipes in this book. Or half. Or a quarter. So it probably doesn't matter that there are going to be some recipes that don't appeal, since it's likely you'll find others that are juuuuust right.

If you're looking for slow cooker recipes and you love chicken, this could be a good book to browse through, either to make the recipes or to be inspired to adapt them yourself.

If you're looking for a book that has one "voice" with one author's perspective, this isn't it. And there are no photos or illustrations in this book, so you'll have to use your imagination as you browse.

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

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Eat to Live Quick and Easy

There have been exactly three people in my life who have spontaneously told me that, "I eat to live; I don't live to eat." This was said proudly, as though it was some sort of virtue. Like the rest of us humans spend way too much time eating food that we like.

To be honest, I don't think I know anyone who literally lives to eat. Sure, I have a bunch of food-loving friends, and we all enjoy eating good food. But we all have other things in our lives that are important. Many of us enjoy cooking food, and seeing the pleasure that others derive from our efforts. But I can't name anyone who actually spends their entire existence seeking out the best morsels of food.

That person might exist, but I don't know them.

On the other hand, most of us understand that we need to eat food in order to survive. It's just that we prefer it to be tasty. Eating well-made food (and possibly the occasional junk-food indulgence) is one of life's simple pleasures.

The interesting thing is that the "eat to live" people I knew were all very different from each other, aside from their declarations of food-as-fuel virtuosity.

The first fellow wasn't particularly picky about food, but did enjoy things that were well-made. He preferred simple homemade and peasant foods over restaurant meals, and he preferred from-scratch cooking over boxed or frozen products. He thought that diet sodas were the stupidest things ever, since you were paying for something with no nutritional value at all, and he disliked full-sugar sodas just slightly less, because they were all sugar with no other benefits. While he didn't seek out "fancy" foods and didn't follow food fads, he could be perfectly happy eating pretty much anything set in front of him. And while he certainly indulged in ice cream or cookies on occasion, he preferred foods that were more nutritionally balanced.

The second person was nearly the polar opposite. He said he didn't "need" fancy foods, but what he actually meant was that he didn't like them. He said that he didn't need anyone fussing over him, and that he wasn't picky - he was fine with simple foods. But, in fact, he was very picky. The list of foods he wouldn't eat (mostly vegetables) was quite long. But he patted himself on the back that he didn't require anything fancier than green beans and carrots and simply cooked meats. While he enjoyed going out to restaurants, he was likely to order a steak, lest he end up with something too fancy for his simple tastes.

The third person was a woman who would literally eat anything that wasn't actively trying to kill her. That included food that didn't taste good, had been long-dead of freezer burn, or that anyone else would say, "I'm not risking getting sick by eating this." Food was fuel and she had little interest in what it tasted like, particularly if she was cooking. If someone else was cooking, she could enjoy or critique their efforts, but she would eat it all. As far as restaurants, she always complained that she could make the same thing at home for much less. She was a big fan of McDonalds.

When the book Eat to Live Quick and Easy Cookbook by Dr. Joel Fuhrman showed up on my doorstep, I wondered what the author thought that phrase meant. Since it said quick and easy, I assumed I wouldn't be asked to stir a sauce for 20 minutes. Since the author was an MD, I assumed the recipes would be healthy.

But what sort of healthy?

I mean, seriously, there are dozens upon dozens of diets these days that purport to be the best way to stay healthy. Which one did this doctor embrace?

The extra text on the cover said: 131 Delicious Recipes for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss, Reversing Disease, and Lifelong Health. So there ya go. Delicious healthy diet food. But still, how is this magic accomplished?

A quick glance through the book tells me that he doesn't use salt or oil, and not much black pepper. His "simple vinaigrette" uses vinegar, water and arrowroot powder with no other ingredients. He does like vinegar, Bragg Liquid Aminos, raw almonds and other nuts, and nutritional yeast.

He doesn't mind using packaged or canned products, and he doesn't mind cooking in the microwave. The first main dish uses frozen artichoke hearts that are microwaved and garlic that is microwaved then chopped. Then, tomato sauce (I'm imagining it's canned because it doesn't say otherwise) is poured on top of the microwaved artichokes, the minced garlic is placed on top of the sauce, and then whole shebang is microwaved again.

Pasta recipes in the book suggest bean pasta. While gluten is scarce, he's not entirely gluten free, since he calls for whole-grain bread crumbs in one recipe and whole grain pita bread in another. Presumably, if someone is following a gluten-free diet, they'd have gluten-free bread and pita bread for use in those recipes.

He's fine with grains in general, as long as they are whole-grain. He's also fine with beans, lentils, and all sorts of nuts.

The book seems to be dairy-free. Recipes that might otherwise use milk will use dairy-free alternatives. I didn't notice any recipes that used cheese, but I didn't scrutinize every recipe in the book.

He doesn't avoid soy since some recipes use tofu, and soy milk is listed as one of the choices for a dairy-free milk.

While the book isn't completely meat-free, the ones I saw used chicken or turkey rather than beef or pork. I didn't notice any recipes that used eggs, although it's possible I missed one.

Dessert recipes contain no sugar, but most (if not all) use dates as a sweetener. I didn't notice any other sweeteners, like honey or agave, and he doesn't use artificial sweeteners.

So ... when you add it all up, it doesn't seem like he follows any of the named diets out there. But overall it seems like we could call it Unseasoned Dairy-Free Gluten-Lite Nearly-Vegan.

Seriously, though, I'm sure this diet speaks to someone. And if you want to add a pinch of salt, a splash of olive oil, and a shake or two of black pepper, I'm sure nothing will explode.

This book is currently available for pre-order and will be released on May 2, 2017. Please note that there are two previous books with a similar "Eat to Live" graphic and title on the cover. I'm not sure if these are a series or if they're revisions of the same book.

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



Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Chicago Coloring Book

Since I grew up in Chicago, I thought it would be fun to review a coloring book with scenes of Chicago. So, when The Chicago Coloring Book arrived, and I got to work.

Hahaha ... work.

Just like when I get a new cookbook and I choose something to cook, this time I had to find something to color. There were buildings, artsy things, signs, pizza, hot dogs ...

And of course I decided to color the hot dogs. I also wanted to eat the hot dogs, but Chicago-style dogs aren't exactly ubiquitous in Colorado. Sigh.

So I colored the hot dogs and got hungry.

This is one of the simpler items in the book - the difficulty ranges from pretty darned simple to things like the interior of the Auditorium Theater (which is where my college graduation was held) where there are a lot of bits and pieces to be colored.

Overall, I like the book. I probably will be coloring the buildings in crazy colors, and I'll be sure to add some graffiti to the train ... and I might add some crazy topping to the pizza, too. Because, what the heck, coloring is just plain fun.

Meanwhile, have a hot dog. Or two.


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


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Weeknight Paleo

A while back, a publisher asked me if I wanted to review Weeknight Paleo by Julia and Charles Mayfield. I said, "No thanks, I don't do a lot of special-diet books," and didn't think any more about it ... until the book arrived.

*sigh*

I paged through it, thinking that I probably wouldn't like the recipes. If you know me at all, you know I'm not afraid of carbs. I like bread, rice, potatoes ... not that I eat them with every meal, but if I'm eating Chinese food, there's probably rice, and if I want a sandwich, it's going to be on bread.

The more I paged through the book, the more I was surprised. For the most part, these were recipes that I would have been happy to make or eat. I mean, I might have cooked a carb as a side dish for some of them (a shrimp and vegetable dish was looking for rice, for example, and the pork mole would have been nice with some tortillas), but the recipes themselves looked fine.

There were a couple recipes in the book where squash was substituted for pasta, like a "lasagna" that I'm a little more skeptical of. I mean, I might try it and like it, but I don't think I'd give up regular lasagna.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised, and happy that this accidentally got sent to me. While I'm not going to suddenly embrace the paleo lifestyle (at least not today, because there's rice in the rice cooker) I'll probably be making some of these recipes.

Honestly, this could have been named something else, and I probably wouldn't have noticed the lack of grains and starches, because the recipes are fine as they are. And the chicken and Brussels sprouts skewers wrapped with bacon look pretty darned good.

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


Monday, February 20, 2017

The Devil in the White City

Okay, so this one might not be current (the copyright on it is 2003) but I just read it, so ....

Maybe there are some other folks who missed out on reading this book. Which was apparently made into a movie that I also didn't see.

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson has two different plot lines. One is the story of how the Columbian Exposition was planned, built and run in Chicago in the late 1800s. It was supposed to be better than the World's Fair that had been hosted in Paris (which was when the Eiffel Tower was built, by the way).

The second plot involves a handsome, charming fellow using the alias H. H. Holmes. He also happens to be a serial killer.

This is all set in the backdrop of Chicago in a time when city stunk from the stockyards and the horse droppings in the street. The air was sooty from burning coal. Blech.

The Columbian Exposition brought us a lot of innovations, like the first paint sprayers that were used to paint all the buildings white. The fair also had water filters, so fair-goers would have clean water to drink. And they wired the whole thing with electric lights, which were still pretty new.

Meanwhile, Holmes came to town, bought a pharmacy and proceeded to build a building that was well suited to his particular needs. To keep costs down, he would hire tradesman and the fire them after a short time, refusing to pay them because their work wasn't up to par - even though there was nothing wrong with their work. This strategy also meant that no one really had a good overview of the building, so his peculiar additions went unnoticed.

Much of what's in this book came from historical documents, along with the interesting phrasings and spelling of the day.

All of this happened just a little over 100 years ago, yet it seems so foreign. A time when electric lights were rare, when pollution was the norm, and when people could go missing so easily. But there are parallels to today, along with people cutting corners to get work done, political cronyism, and also the good guys.

If you like history, thrillers, or murder mysteries, this one's for you. With the added bonus that it's a true story.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Migraine Relief Plan

When I posted a link to The Migraine Relief Plan by Stephanie Weaver on my Facebook page, a lot of people commented that there's no one-size-fits-all diet that can eliminate migraines.

While I agree, as a former migraine sufferer, I have to say that if someone had offered me any sort of plan, I would have followed along.

That said, I don't know if I could have followed a super-strict diet to combat the migraines. I think I might have slipped a lot. But then again, the point is to find out what our own personal triggers are, so you can eliminate those and continue eating other foods that aren't triggers.

While this book does have recipes, I think the most important part, for migraine sufferers, is the plan itself. It's a very structured way to figure out which foods are triggers and which ones are safe. There are some foods that affect a lot of people, and some foods that affect fewer people. So it's kind of important to know what your personal triggers are. And to be honest, I was surprise at how many foods are possible triggers. I knew a few of them, but ... wow, there are a lot! This book talks about all of those foods as possible triggers, but I'll bet that most folks aren't triggered by all of them.

My personal relationship with migraines started when I was very young. So young that I don't remember a time when I didn't occasionally have headaches once in a while. I was probably four years old, or even younger, when I first started getting migraines, so I lived with them for a looooong time.

Now, I can't really remember the last migraine I had. It's been a while. Many years. Two of my triggers were not food-related. One was hormonal swings, and I've outgrown those. The other was stress, and I've learned how to handle that a lot better.

My major food trigger, which might or might not still exist as a trigger, is red wine. While not all red wines affected me, I found it was pretty simple to just stick to white wines. I still avoid red wines, but it's not a big sacrifice. I've had some red wine over the years - a small glass at a tasting, or a sip here or there. But you won't find me splitting a bottle of merlot at dinner. Nope.

I suppose that at the height of my migraine episodes, there might have been other foods that were mild triggers, but I guess I'll never know. And I don't want to.

As far as the recipes in the book, I've looked through them, but I haven't made any of them, mostly because I don't stock a lot of the ingredients that are used for substitutes for migraine-trigger food. The recipes look good, but I think I'll leave them for someone else to try.

If you're a migraine sufferer and you want to figure out what your triggers are and you want to see some recipes that might work for you, take a look at this book. If you don't get migraines ... well, consider yourself lucky. Migraines are awful.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Cinnamon Girl

I've been making time for doing more reading these days ... and not just reading cookbooks.
But I still have a bit of a soft spot for books that have a food or cooking theme. So, I picked up a copy of Cinnamon Girl by Valerie Horowitz. And, by "picked up" I mean that I ordered it from Amazon.

Cinnamon Girl is a murder mystery, and the main character, Bonnie Emerson, owns a store that sells cookware, cooking gadgets, and cookbooks. Some of the chapters start with recipes from cookbooks, and the recipes are mentioned in the stories. There are also cookbooks and cooking items mentioned in the text, as Bonnie interacts with customers and other folks at her store.

But those are just window dressing. The real story is the dead body that Bonnie and her husband found in their back yard. Opps. I hate when that happens.

And then it gets more complicated from there. Another murder, a book signing and cooking contest at the store, and the Secret Service people lurking about, since Bonnie is the daughter of an ex-President and he's still got pull with the White House.

The characters are likable ... even the murderer, and the story is fun. Fairly light reading, but engaging enough to keep me turning pages.

If you like mysteries and food and cookbooks (there's one that was mentioned that I actually stopped reading so I could slip it into my Amazon cart) I think you'll like this one. Oh - and although this isn't really a cookbook, the recipes chosen are winners. So you just might end up cooking from it.

Oh, and this is billed a Book 1, so it looks like there will be more to come.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Washington Post - Digital Deal

I don't usually post about deals, but I found this, and thought it would be worth passing along since I had a little difficulty figuring out how to sign up to get the better price. And I do love a bargain.

I'll admit it's been a while since I subscribed to a print newspaper - I mostly read online and I tend to bounce around to different publications. Sometimes I run into a paywall when I've read more stories for free than the paper allows, and that's been happening a lot more often with the current political climate. So, I started looking into subscribing to a paper that carried a good range of national news.  And of course, interesting food articles and features are nice. Crosswords are a bonus. Sports, meh. Sorry.

After looking at all the deals, I settled on the Washington Post. Digitally, because the last thing I need is more paper to recycle. If I had an endless supply of money, I would have liked the Wall Street Journal, too, but that's out of my price range for now. And I can still selectively read articles from them online. I've seen ads for the New York Times lately, but at $3.75 per week, that's $195 per year. Not horrible, but definitely not the best price.

The best deal I found was that if you have Amazon Prime, you can get six months of the Washington Post FREE, followed by $3.99 per month. Cancel any time. This is the digital online issue and not the Kindle one, but still you can read it on any device that can go online. Which I think is better than being restricted to Kindle reading.

Amazon Prime Membership is currently $99 for a year (you can also get shorter memberships) and comes with other benefits. So you do need that first before you get the newspaper deal. If you never ever use any prime benefits, it might not be as wonderful. But I've found that Prime has been pretty good to me.

To get the deal from the Washington Post (this is a little convoluted, and it took me a while to find it myself) you have to start with the Washington Post rather than Amazon. From the Post site, you sign in to your Amazon account to verify that you have prime. If you start with Amazon, you'll see other offers, but not this one. Weird, I know.

Here's the right page on the Washington Post site to get started. It should be easy to find your way from there.

You can also get a free trial of Prime. I'm not sure if the subscription to the Washington Post would be affected if you didn't renew the Prime subscription, but some free prime time is a good thing, even if you don't want to subscribe to the newspaper. Try Amazon Prime 30-Day Free Trial.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Seven Minutes in Heaven

I don't usually read romance novels, but I decided that I was going to take time off over the holidays and reading a romance novel was certainly something that wasn't cooking-related.

Seven Minutes in Heaven by Eloisa James is set in the early 1800s, with all of the formality of that era.

Mrs. Snowe, the heroine of the novel, runs an agency for governesses, and she runs it with a very firm hand. When she sends a governess to take care of the children of a local nobleman and he fires the governess ... Mrs. Snowe is not pleased.

She believes her governesses are pretty much infallible, in the sense that she picks the right ones for the families. But when she meets Ward Reeve and his children, she realizes that the children need a different sort of governess than she had chosen.

At the same time, Mrs. Snowe and Ward Reeve have a bit of a flirtation. Because of course this is a romance novel, and romance needs to happen. Mrs. Snowe is a widow and is also a woman who owns and runs a business, which is very unusual. And that complicates things.

Despite the complications, the flirtation leads to much more. Of course. And of course, there's the back and forth. Will it work? Won't it?

Yes, there's a bit of a formula to romance novels, but that's sort of the fun of them, isn't it?

Ahhhh, romance.

It was a fun read. I don't think I'll be reading nothing but romance novels in the future, but it certainly was a fun flirtation with the genre.

I received an advance copy at no cost to me. The book goes on sale on January 31, 2017.


Thursday, January 26, 2017

Mincemeat

It's a little bit weird for me to read the autobiography of someone I don't know.

I mean, usually when I'm reading a biography or autobiography, I'm doing it because I'm interested in the person. Maybe it's someone in history or someone currently somewhat-famous, but generally I know something about them. I mean, at least I know what they're famous for.

I mean, the average person would never get their autobiography published. Because average isn't all that interesting.

Mincemeat is the autobiography of Leonardo Lucarelli.

Never heard of him, right?

Probably because he's an Italian chef. In Italy. The book was translated from Italian. Well, he might be a chef, but we don't know that (unless we happened to read the back flap first) because we're not Italians in Italy. The book talks about his earlier years in the industry and how he bounced from one restaurant job to the other.

He wasn't an immediate success. He did some drugs, got in some trouble. Had girlfriends or not ... and along the way he learned more about cooking and running a restaurant. And he moved a lot, mostly to places I really didn't know much about, except in the broadest sense.

I suspect that his experiences in Italy aren't all that different from what might happen in America. Or not. Since everyone's path is different.

It was a good read, not too long. I think I might have enjoyed it a bit more if it was a chef I "knew," but it was still it was a good story.

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


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The 4-Ingredient Diabetes Cookbook

I don't usually review a lot of diet-related books, but the diabetic ones fit pretty well with the way I eat, as long as they don't use artificial sweeteners. But those aren't used in savory foods, so it's all good.

Not only is The 4-Ingredient Diabetes Cookbook by Nancy S. Hughes a book for special diets, but it's also one for people who don't fuss with their cooking.

There's a cookbook for everyone and I picture this one as targeting someone who just found out they're diabetic and need to change their eating habits, but they're used to the convenience of restaurants, take-out, and frozen entrees and box mixes.

The recipes aren't complicated - I mean, how can they be with only four ingredients?

Well, there's a little bit of a trick - for the orzo salad I made, it called for feta cheese with sundried tomatoes and basil. Um ... I don't think I've ever seen such a thing. So I used regular feta cheese, then added some roasted red peppers. It also called for a bottled salad dressing mix. I normally would have substituted a home made dressing, but I just happened to have a bottle of dressing that I got as a sample, so I used that.

Then it called for a Greek seasoning mix. That's something I've never seen at the grocery store, but I do buy it from Penzey's. So I was good to go with that.

But ... if it weren't for the use of combo products, there would have been a lot more ingredients besides orzo, feta, salad dressing, and seasoning mix. Parsley was optional, but I didn't have any on hand.

It was pretty good. I was tempted to add more ingredients - olives, artichokes, capers, cucumber, zucchini, fresh green bell pepper ... but I held back. I figured the roasted red peppers were enough of an addition to the recipe.

Oh, and I also used a flavored orzo mix instead of the whole wheat orzo called for in the recipe. I didn't happen to have the whole wheat version, and I did have orzo with lemon and parsley - so there was some parsley flavor, even if the fresh herb wasn't there.

It was good. I'd make it again. Actually, I've made salads like this before. But if I did make it again, I definitely would add things. Maybe just cucumbers, to add just that little bit of crunch.

Next up, I tried something called Black Bean and Corn Bowl. It was pretty simple. A can of tomatoes with peppers, canned black beans, frozen corn (I used canned), and some sour cream for a garnish.

Again, I'd made something very similar befire, but the one I made had been an uncooked mix that was a salad or could be used as a salsa. I was curious what it would be like after cooking, aside from getting rid of some of the liquid from the tomatoes.

I didn't happen to have tomatoes with peppers called for in the recipe, so I used regular diced tomatoes plus a can of Hatch diced chilies.

The book made sort of a big deal about using the 10.5-ounce can of tomatoes instead of the 14.5-ounce can. I'm guessing they were referring to a particular brand in the smaller can, because can size shouldn't affect flavor. But ... they didn't mention the brand and I had the diced tomatoes and peppers on hand. So that's what I used. Next time I'm at the grocery store, I'll take a look at what kind of tomatoes come in small cans.

I combined the ingredients and cooked according to the directions, and I have to say that while it was okay, it wasn't fantastic. The beans, since they were already cooked in the can, seemed sort of overcooked and the flavor was a little muddy.

But it wasn't bad.

Hot, it was sort of like a vegetarian chili, but if I was making a vegetarian chili, I would have added more ingredients. Then I tried it chilled, but I thought it needed more flavor, so I added more salsa and used it on top of chips. While I liked the combination of ingredients, I think next time around, I won't bother cooking, particularly if I use canned corn. If I have fresh or frozen corn, I'll cook that separately, but leave the beans as-is.

So ... while this probably isn't the book for me because I wanted to keep adding more and more ingredients, it would be an awesome book for someone who wants to cook diabetic-friendly foods without a lot of fuss.



Friday, January 20, 2017

Karma and the Art of Butter Chicken

I used to so community theater, often on stage and sometimes backstage. There is a certain tenseness that happens when the lights go out in the auditorium. If you're backstage, you can't see it happening, but you can here it. There's a hush that falls over the crowd, followed by a soft flurry of last minute comments, before the curtain rises and the crowd noises change and then silence falls again as the play begins.

The tension remains for a while - until the first spontaneous reaction from the audience. Sometimes it's a little giggle and sometimes an outright laugh. Sometimes it's a gasp.

It doesn't matter what the reaction is, just as long as there is a reaction. It shows that the audience is alive and paying attention and reacting to the actors in a positive way.

The tension evaporates with a long, collective exhale of held breath, and then the cast and crew kind of settle in to doing the jobs they've rehearsed for so long.

That sort of thing happens to me when I'm reading a book. There's a bit of unease as I begin, because I don't know the characters and I don't quite trust the author yet. I don't quite settle in until I read a phrase or a sentence that tells me that the author is taking me some place I want to go.

The terrible thing is that some books never bring that "settling in" moment when I know I'm headed somewhere good. I float along aimlessly with the story, but I don't actually snuggle into to it comfortably. The unease remains.

With Karma and the Art of Butter Chicken by Monica Bhid, that "settling in" moment came on the first page, when I read this sentence, at the beginning of the fourth paragraph:

He smiles as he realizes he may possibly be the only person ever to enter a cooking studio with a monk by his side.

That sentence has so much potential. Who is he? Why is he entering a cooking studio? Is he a cook or an audience member? Who is the monk and why is he there? We don't know any of these things yet, but now we want to know because it's such a compellingly peculiar sentence.

We also know is that this author has that gift of laying out words in a way that draws you in, makes you curious, and makes you smile a secret little grin, all at the same time. You buckle in and know that you're going on a good ride to ... well, somewhere.

While cooking plays a role in this book, it's not all about cooking. It's about love, hope, charity, goodwill, and humor. It's set in India, so the scenes and some of the words aren't entirely familiar, but that doesn't really matter. The story is freaking compelling. And heartwarming. And emotional.

Heck, I read this book weeks ago, and I'm tearing up thinking about it. If I ever need to water my eyeballs or collect tears for a magic potion, this book has the power. I think I cried through the last quarter of the book. In a good way. A very good way.

Unlike some books, this one ends just when it's supposed to. The end isn't telegraphed so far in advance that you slog through the rest of the book knowing what will happen. And doesn't conclude itself but then continue with tedious explanations. And the ending doesn't come crashing in too soon, so you feel like it all wrapped up on the last page because there was no more paper left, even though there was plenty of story that needed to be told.

Nope, this one ends at the end, and you don't know what actually happens until it does. Until then, it could go either way. Either ending could have been just as satisfying, too. Which makes it even better.

Yeah, go buy this book. If you're the teary sort, like me, make sure you've got some tissues nearby. And then settle down in a comfortable chair and spend an afternoon in India.

Monica Bhide is a food blogger and author. Go look for her on her blog, Monica Bhide.

I received an ebook version of this novel from the author, as well as a short ebook of recipes, both at no cost to me. Except, of course, puffy eyes.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The French Chef in America

"Is that rigor mortis?"

"No madame. That's a mackerel."

Those lines from The French Chef in America got a good chortle from me. I got the book, authored by Alex Prud’homme to review. Or actually, I got the audio book version. Which was completely different for me. I've never listened to an audio book before. I like to read.

It took me a while to settle in to listening to the book. Some folks listen to audio books while they drive, which makes sense. I wanted to do something else at the same time. I had nowhere to drive to. If I knitted, that might have been a good activity. Instead, I pulled out a coloring book. That worked well enough.

The good thing about listening to this book was that the author used a nice French accent when pronouncing French words.

The bad part was that the book was 11 hours long. I could have read it in less than half that time, and I probably would have skimmed over a lot of the lists the author was fond of. The other bad thing was that there was no way to search through the book after reading to find good quotes for this review. I wrote the one at the top of the review as soon as I heard it, or I never would have remembered it.

The story is basically the continuation of Julia Child's life, after she moved to America. But instead of being in first person, this was written in third person.

There are also some forays into the lives of people she knew. Like Jacques Pepin. I found out that he had worked for many years for Howard Johnson - and he liked that job. There was also quite a bit about Sara Moulton, who I'm quite fond of. And of course, there was quite a bit about other people in Julia's life, like husband, her co-author, and her editor.

The insight into her work on the televisions shows were interesting. I never realized she had to do her own fundraising to get the shows aired! And even better, she loved the Saturday Night Live skit about her, and even kept a tape of it that she occasionally played for friends who came to visit. I love that she was amused rather than annoyed.

If you're a fan of Julia Child, I'm sure you'll love the book.

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