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


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.