Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Secrets of a Sauce Queen

I was going to pull the plug on blog posts until after the holidays, but I had to write about this book. It was published in New Zealand (which means it's a tad hard to find if you're in the states), but you might be able to track down a copy online.

Secrets of a Sauce Queen by Trudie Burnham is a danged good book. Tasty.

And sauces, while not as essential as, let's say, instructions on how to grill a piece of food without killing it, are things that can make your plain food much more spectacular.

The sauces range from salad dressing so moles to fruit sauces to hollandaise to ... well pretty much any sort of sauce you might drizzle, baste, dip, slather, mop, or use as a marinade. It's all here.

I just finished wiping the last bits of barbecue sauce off my face, and I have to say that it was a freakishly simple recipe that was amazingly good.

Sure, a lot of books include a few sauces, but I think this will be the sort of book that cooks will turn to when they think, well, I'll grill the fish ... but maybe I should make a sauce.

Definitely recommended.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A Kitchen with a View and a #Giveaway

This book is straight out of Italy.

And I mean that literally.

The author contacted me and offered her book, A Kitchen with a View, plus a copy for one of my readers, straight from her Italian kitchen. How wonderful is that.

She offered to ship a book to a winner, but I know how that international shipping can be. It sometimes takes a loooooong time, so I offered to ship to the winner and save everyone that little bit of extra angst.

So. About the book.

The author, Letizia Matticiacci, is both a home cook and a cooking teacher, so the recipes are the sort that you'd find in a modern Italian home, and the instructions are clear. Measurements are in both metric and in spoon and cups, so you don't need to convert anything.

And the recipes are quite tempting. And doable in an American kitchen. And, like many Italian recipes, they rely on good ingredients instead of a lot of bells and whistles.

One recipe that I found interesting was an Umbrian-style chicken cacciatora which had no tomatoes. Pretty much every other cacciatore I've seen or eaten relied heavily on tomatoes, but this one got its flavor from fresh herbs, garlic, balsamic vinegar, and a little bit of lemon juice.

There's a pasta sauce recipe that's so brilliantly simple - dried porcini mushrooms, garlic, wine, and cheese play starring roles. Another pasta sauce uses Italian sausage, onion, cream, wine, and cheese. So simple, but just think about the flavors!

It's not all about dinners, though. There are salads and dessert (mmmm. hazelnut and chocolate gelato!) as well as information about ingredients as well as the lifestyle in the area. Like the olive harvest! It made me wish I had olive trees.

If you're interested in Italian home cooking that's being done today - as opposed to restaurant dishes that have been etched in stone - then this is a great glimpse into what you might find if you wandered into a home in the Umbria area.

The giveaway is over, but you can still buy your own copy of A Kitchen with a View!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Food52 Baking

The latest book from the folks at Food52 is a baking book, appropriately titled Food52 Baking.

The concept (and books now all have concepts) is that you can make these desserts (and other baked goods) on a weeknight and not have to stay up until the wee hours to get the job done.

That doesn't mean the desserts ordinary. Browned butter cupcake brownies, for example, would make a nice dessert for a dinner party. Cherry almond crumb cake looks both elegant and homey. Fifteen minute olive oil and sesame crackers are rustic and, well, who can argue with crackers that can be done that fast?

Some of the recipes in the book are available on the Food52 website, but others are only in this book. Some are from contributors and others are from the Food52 staff. Some are old fashioned, while others are more trendy. But they all look pretty good.

If you love baking books (they're one of my weaknesses, for sure!) this would be a good addition to your shelf. If you're looking for a fun cookbook for a gift, this would fill that stocking, too.

I'm a little backed up on cookbook recipes over on Cookistry, but I'll have an adapted recipe for you over there soon. Yum!

Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook Simple Pleasures

How can I describe this book?





Hmmm. light and homey seem like they could be contradictions. But... somehow it makes sense.

If you've never heard of Annabel Langbein - and I never did before I got this book - she is a television personality in New Zealand. These recipes are all from her television show, where she focuses on home-grown and farmer's market seasonal foods.

But there are also desserts, like molten chocolate cakes, brownies, lemon pie, tarte tatin, and plenty of others. Might I note that the brownies seems pretty spectacular.

The first recipe I tried from The Free Range Cook was an onion and herb frittata, which was similar frittatas I'd made before, but with a few little twists. Which is what I like. New ways to make normal things.

The recipe called for using a large pan, but it fit perfectly in my 10-inch Anolon skillet, and I could have added more ingredients, if I needed to.

The recipe called for four potatoes, but I used five because mine weren't huge; it called for two onions, but I used one because I had a huge one from the farmers market. For something like a frittata, you don't need to be super-precise about amounts, so in theory, I could have used another giant onion and one less potato.

In the end, it was a pretty nice frittata.

Browsing through the rest of the book, I didn't find any recipes that would require odd ingredients, and measurements are in cups and tablespoons, so you needn't worry about converting anything for use in an American kitchen - the US edition is all ready for you to use.

The book also has menus that suggest recipes from the book that go together. That's not a feature I'd use, but I'm sure some folks would find it handy. And it's something she does on her show, so that's why they're included.

The book includes all of the recipe that were aired on the show, plus some extras. While the show was originally aired in New Zealand, it's now showing on some PBS stations across the US, so you can look for it and get to know her!

Overall, it's a nice, fresh, lively, market-and-season-driven book with recipe that are simple enough for everyday meals, but still interesting.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Holiday Kosher Baker

The great thing about holiday cookbooks is that there's always another holiday coming. That calendar just keeps on turning pages.

The Holiday Kosher Baker by Paula Shoyer is all about Jewish holidays. But, hey, just because a recipe can be used for a particular holiday, it doesn't mean you can't use the recipe for any old day.

I mean, no, you're not going to decorate a cookie for a holiday and serve it for another holiday - and there are certainly some recipes that are tied to certain holiday ... but good baking is good baking.

A case in point is the shortbread cookie recipe in this book that I recently made. The cookies could be used for a specific holiday, or you could make them next Tuesday. Or for the cook club. Or a birthday. They're nice cookies.

One thing you'll see a lot in this book is the use of margarine where other books might use butter. The reason is the dietary prohibition against mixing meat and milk during a meal. So, the shortbread cookies I made used margarine, which means they could be served after either a meat meal or a milk meal.

It also means that the shortbread cookies I made would be good for vegans or for people who have dairy allergies or who have other reasons for avoiding milk products.

Want the recipe? It's waiting for you right here.

Want to know all about the cookie stamps I used? Follow the link to my review!

But the book isn't all cookies and desserts. Of course there are cookies, cakes, cupcakes, pies, pastries, bars ... well you know.

But there are also breads (who doesn't love brioche?), crepes, cheese blitzes, and kugel.

But most of it is sweets. Because, well, for a holiday, you need desserts, right?

Overall, I'm loving this book. While I'm not a big user of margarine, it's nice to have recipes that are designed to use margarine for times when I need to make something dairy free. And there are other recipes that use butter and other dairy products.

I received the book from the publisher and the cookie stamps from the manufacturer.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Food Whore by Jessica Tom

It's no surprise that my fiction reading often has a food theme, right?

Food Whore by Jessica Tom is all about a grad student in a food program who gets involved with a major New York City food critic.

And by "involved," I don't mean dating. I mean she starts working for the food critic. And of course, the food critic isn't exactly who he appears to be. Which is kind of funny, because food critics often remain anonymous. Or at least they try to.

But anonymity is the issue. The issue is that, although he used to be a well-respected food critic, he's hiding a medical condition than makes it difficult to do his job. So, he enlists Tia Monroe, the grad student, to help him.

But, since he needs to stay anonymous, Tia can't tell anyone about her job, which makes it difficult for her at school, with friendships, and at her internship at a restaurant. And it strains her relationship with her boyfriend.

But is he really helping her? And what about that super-sexy chef she meets? And what's up with the roommates? And co-workers?

Overall, this was a fun read and Tia was a believable and sympathetic character, even when she made a few bad decisions.

I really wish the book was a tad longer. The last chapter of the book wrapped things up perhaps a little too quickly, but it was a satisfying end, so there's that.

I'd suggest this to anyone who likes reading food-related novels.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Fried Chicken

Fried Chicken by Rebecca Lang is a small book, but it's packed with deliciousness.

When I first heard about this book, I wondered how there could be enough fried chicken recipes to fill a whole book. Would there be a lot of filler? Would the recipes start getting redundant?

But no, the recipes are truly different from each other - different techniques, different cuisines, and different sauces and extras.

There isn't a separate chapter with "things to serve with chicken" but there are a few recipes that aren't chicken, like the waffles to go with chicken and waffles and the tomato gravy that goes with the southern fried chicken.

What I thought was really unique about this book was the "combination fried" recipes that included a smoked and fried chicken - have you ever heard of that before?

If you're a fan of fried chicken and you want to try some new recipes, this book is highly recommended. Since it's small and not expensive, it would also make a great stocking stuffer, or an gift to go along with other cooking tools.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

"Healthy" Books for 2015

So ... healthy eating is a ticklish topic, because one person's healthy is another person's poison. And of course, people with allergies and sensitivities have to avoid foods that the average person can eat every day of the week.

These six books cover a wide range of healthy topics. Maybe one of them will resonate with you.

By Amy Shirley

Apparently there's a television show about Lizard Lick Towing in North Carolina. If you've see the show, you know what it's about. If you're me, you're just looking at this like a cookbook.

As far as gluten-free cookbooks go, this one has the things you expect to find - a custom gluten-free mix, followed by quite a number of recipes that make use of the mix. Many of the recipes have a southern slant, like biscuits and gravy, cornbread, cobbler, and hush puppies.

Besides the recipes that were revised to make the gluten free, there are also a number of recipes that are naturally gluten-free, like mashed potatoes, beef tips with rice, and deviled eggs. The interesting thing about that last one was that it called for a gluten-free mayonnaise and recommended Hellman's. I didn't realize that any mayonnaise had gluten - so I guess that's a good reminder to make sure all packaged ingredients are totally gluten free.

As far as photos, they're all grouped in one section rather than throughout the book. They're not the best photos I've ever seen, but they're certainly not the worst.

If you're looking for a gluten-free book and like southern food, this could be a good addition to the bookshelf.

By Nick Nigro and Bay Ewald

Of all the organized diets, the Mediterranean Diet is the one that I think I might actually be able to stick to for more than 15 minutes or so. The diet focuses on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, but it's not vegetarian - meat, seafood, and dairy are also allowed.

You could make pretty much any recipe in this book, and no one would point to it and say, "hey, this is diet food." It's just simple good food with a Mediterranean slant. There's not a lot of pasta or white flour, but the book does have recipes for homemade pasta dough using either all-white flour or half white and half whole wheat flour. There's also a pizza dough recipe with the same options.

There are a few recipes that aren't quite traditional, like zucchini lasagna and barley risotto. But even so, most folks aren't going to feel deprived or think it's diet food - they'll just think it's just an interesting variation.

This is a small, thin book, but it's got some great looking recipes.

Speaking of looking, the photos are nice. Not hanging-on-the-wall art, but they're attractive photos of appealing food.

By Mandy Levy

Calorie accounting isn't really a cookbook, although it does have some recipes. And it's also not a diet book in the traditional sense of telling the readers to avoid certain foods or food groups. Instead, it's more of a food-math book.

The book tells the reader to keep track of calories consumed and calories used to come up with a plan for losing weight. You can certainly eat that chocolate bar, but you'll need to do some treadmill time to burn it off.

Much of the book is Mandy's own experiences, what she ate and what she avoided, and how she made it work for her. Needless to say, this sort of diet works for weight loss. Whether it works for health in general depends on your food choices. The good thing is that you never have to give anything up entirely. The bad thing is ... well, doing all the tracking.

If you've tried other diets and you're still looking for one that works, you might want to take a look at this one. And, as a bonus, it's kind of funny.

By Jo Pratt

In this book, healthy food is defined as food that will "make you feel full of vitality and not full of guilt." In other words, this isn't a book full of comfort food. But it's also not following any particular diet theme. It's more about making all the foods on the plate work together.

Recipes for proteins are accompanied by salads, vegetables, beans, whole grains, and other good-for-you ingredients. There are plenty of spices and herbs to make everything super-flavorful. While the recipes aren't terribly complicated in terms of technique or the number of steps, the ingredient list for most of them are fairly long.

But! For many of the recipes, you're really making two recipes to make a complete meal. So, for example, there's a frittata and a salsa. Or a protein and a noodle dish. Or fish with a watermelon salad. Not everyone is going to make both parts of the meal, even though they're designed to work together..

This book also includes a chapter with some interesting desserts.

Photos in this book are quite attractive, if that's something that sways you one way or another when making a purchase.

By Virginia Willis

Virginia Willis is an established southern cookbook author who has a track record of producing top-notch books. This is the first one (that I'm aware of) that has focused on lighter cooking.

If there's any cuisine that could use a little lightening, it's southern cuisine, for sure.

Some of the recipes include lighter ingredients, like lowfat or lighter cheese, mayonnaise, or similar ingredients. Others, like the baked onion blossom, change the cooking method from frying to baking. Dirty rice gets a re-do that's less fatty and includes collard greens to lighten it up.

Meatloaf and chili get a remake by using turkey, while mac and cheese includes broccoli and uses whole wheat noodles. Cornbread is stuffed with vegetables, including okra and peppers. There are also lovely salads and braised vegetables that are great for lighter eating.

While there are some recipes here where the lower-calorie options might be more noticeable to some folds (I really dislike lowfat mayonnaise, for example), other recipes don't really point to themselves and claim their healthiness. That cornbread looks really interesting with all the vegetables - I might have to try a variation of that soon.

If you love southern cooking and want to see what an established cookbook author has done to lighten up the dishes, this is the book for you.

As far as the photos, they're lovely and make the food look delicious. They're not as highly styled as some books - props are minimal, an the focus is on the food. It's a style I happen to like in a cookbook.

By Candice Kumai

The author says that this book is about eating real food, prepared deliciously, and that good eating isn't about trends. But the book does delve quite clearly into currently trendy things like super greens (hello, kale!), super food boosters, and cleansing. There's also a chapter about smoothies and juices.

As might be expected, the recipes do include a lot of greens, amino acids, coconut oil, olive oil, and raw honey. And a whole lot of kale and arugula. While it's not really a diet book in the sense of weight loss, it does follow rules for eating certain foods.

This type of eating is certainly popular these days, so if it's a lifestyle you want to embrace, this is the book for you. And the photos are definitely pretty.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Three for the Grill

Barbecue season is in full swing, and despite the appearance of Halloween candy at the grocery store, everyone I know will be grilling at least until the snow falls. Perhaps while the snow falls.

And on those days when the snow is too deep to find the grill, there's always a grill pan, right? Or and indoor smoker. Or braised beef in the slow cooker, slathered with home made barbecue sauce.

Yup, barbecue isn't just summer food. In fact, barbecuing in the fall can be even better than standing in front of a hot grill on a 90-degree day.

And barbecue flavors never go out of season. Think about a lovely winter meatloaf, brushed with a smoky barbecue sauce. Or a roast pork sandwich with a generous slather of sauce.

Have you ever had a warm ham sandwich with barbecue sauce? Yep, barbecue is forever. There is no season.

To help you get your grill on all year long, here are three barbecue-centric books you might want to add to your bookshelves. AND! I'm giving away ALL THREE!

By Cheryl and Bill Jamison

If all your grilled and barbecued food tastes the same because you tend to buy the same bottled sauce and you use it for everything, this book will make you seem like a rockstar. Not only will you have over 200 sauce recipes to choose from, but you'll be able to brag that you made your own sauce.

And it's a great way to learn about sauces from different regions of the US and different countries. without bothering with all that pesky travel.

It's not all sauces, though. There are rubs, mops, marinades, spritzes, salsas, butters, pastes, and more.

The recipes in this book are fairly easy when it comes to technique, so it would be great for newer cooks who want to pump up the flavor of their food. But since there are such a huuuuge number of recipes, it's also great for more accomplished cooks who want to get a little more adventurous with their flavors.

One thing I particularly liked was that the index, besides having normal ways of looking things up, also listed recipes based on what they would pair well with. So, sauces for fruit or sauces for pork, sauces for seafood, etc.

By Cheryl and Bill Jamison

This book starts with a short primer about grilling in general, then launches right into recipes for everything from burgers to pizza to steak, poultry and fish. Oh, and vegetables, too.

If you've got a grill and you want to do more than the basics, there are plenty of recipes here to convince you to put down the hot dogs. The vast majority of the recipes use easy-to-find ingredients. I think the least likely to be at your local grocer is the elk - and that was just one recipe.

While the point of the book is outdoor grilling (shhhhh, don't tell anyone), a lot of these recipes - maybe even the majority - can be adapted for using a grill pan or cast iron frying pan indoors.

By Cheryl and Bill Jamison

While the first two books are for just about anyone, Smoke and Spice features recipes for smoking, which is a little more complicated. And, you need some kind of a smoker.

Or maybe not. There are a whopping 450 recipes in this book, and while the majority are recipes that require a smoker, there are also sauces, sides, and desserts and other recipes that don't require a smoker at all.

Speaking of smokers, the book describes all the different types of smokers, from high-end smokers, to using a barbecue grill as a smoker, to using a stovetop smoker. Yup, stovetop.

It's kind of hard to describe the recipes in this book, because there are so many ... and they're so varied. Sure, there's brisket and ribs and smoked fish. But there are biscuits and cornbread, too. Mushroom calzones. Clam dip. Ravioli. Meatloaf.

Just ... so much. It's hard to imagine that anyone could page through this book and not find something they'd want to make.

To give you an idea of how these authors write, here's a recipe:

Brown Sugar-Anise Barbecue Sauce
From The Barbecue Lovers Big Book of BBQ Sauces by Cheryl and Bill Jamison
Used with permission; all rights reserved

Mildly sweet and redolent of licorice-like ground anise, this sauce seems both familiar and mysterious at the same time. It’s terrific on barbequed beef short ribs or even a grilled burger – beef or bison.
Makes about 2 cups

1 1/2 cups ketchup
1 cup water
3/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons ground anise
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt or coarse salt
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce or other hot pepper sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

Mix all of the ingredients in a medium-size saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low and cook the mixture, stirring frequently, until it thickens and reduces by about one-third, 35 to 40 minutes.

Serve the sauce warm on or alongside the meat. It will keep in a covered container in the refrigerator for at least 2 week, but reheat it before serving.

The books were provided at no cost to me by the publisher for the purpose of review and they will ship all three books to the winner of the giveaway.
Three great grilling books

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Method of Procedure

On the back of the book, Method of Procedure, there is an explanation of author Thomas Gosney's reason for writing the book. It says (all quotes typed exactly, including errors):
Throughout his career people were always contacting him for recipes and advice on cooking. As he analyzed the problems they were having, he realized most of the issues were in the "method of procedure". This is the step-by-step process in preparing them. 
That sounds great, but I think Gosney might be a little too far removed from beginning cooks to realize what sort of written instructions they need.

For example, in a recipe for Tortilla Soup, ingredients include (in order) chicken stock, tomatoes, onion, chiles, olive oil, garlic, cumin, chili powder, fresh corn tortillas, corn, and chicken breast. The instructions begin:
Season liberally with garlic salt and fresh pepper. Sprinkle 1 tbsp. of cumin ...
Do you see what's going on here? He's giving instructions for seasoning the chicken, but the instructions aren't explicit about that. Given that most books these days list the ingredients in the order used, a new cook might season the stock rather that the chicken breasts. And yes, the instructions call for garlic salt while the ingredient list has fresh garlic but no salt or pepper at all.

The instructions continue with mixing the spices with the chicken, so if someone reads that far ahead, they'll be fine. That's a big if. A lot of new cooks take it one sentence at a time. And while an experienced cook could estimate the right amount of salt and pepper, a new cook might want exact measurements. Other recipes do indicate amount for salt and pepper, by the way.

Gosney also has a tendency to use cheffy terms without really explaining what he means. In a recipe for Oven Roasted Brussels Sprouts, he begins with:
Blanch brussel sprouts in boiling salted water until fork tender.
But he doesn't explain what he means by "blanch" so that could cause confusion.

In a recipe for chocolate mousse, after the mousse is finished, he says:
Once the chocolate is cooled properly (but not solidified) slowly temper into martini glasses, top with a dollop of whipped cream.
If he was standing next to you, he could tell you what "cooled properly" means, but a beginning cook would likely need a better description. As far as tempering it into glasses, I know what tempering chocolate is, if we're talking about warm chocolate, but I have no idea what procedure he envisions for tempering a finished mousse into a glass.

The other bit of instruction that in the mousse recipe that baffled me was to "Chill mixing bowl and whip in the freezer for 10 minutes." The first three times I read that, I thought he was instructing to put the bowl containing the melted chocolate in the freezer and whip it in the freezer, which I could do if I had a walk-in freezer, but not really likely in my home freezer.

On the fourth reading, I realized he meant that a new empty mixing bowl and a whip (which I would have called a whisk) should be put in the freezer.

back cover
In the salad dressing section, another clue that Gosney is used to restaurant kitchens is his recipe for blue cheese dressing. A quick stroll through the ingredient list tells me that it's going to yield about 6 cups of dressing (1 1/2 quarts). While that's probably a reasonable restaurant amount, that's a lot of dressing for a normal family.

Those are just a few examples of why this book isn't aimed squarely at beginning home cooks. Suffice it to say that you need cooking experience to navigate your way through this book.

I have to say that I'm personally bothered that the ingredients aren't listed in order of use. A chef who sets up mise en place beforehand might not be as concerned about the order of ingredients in the list, but home cooks are less likely to set out and measure absolutely everything before they begin. So they might be flummoxed when they have to search the whole list to find the amounts.

Aside from the cheffy-quirks, the recipes look decent. There's a tomato soup that's very similar to one I make (except that I don't use V-8). There's a salad dressing with sherry that sounds interesting; I might cut that down to a more petite size for my own use. The tandoori chicken sounds like a winner, and I'm probably going to try the peach cream pie, too.

Whether this is the right book for you is going to depend on whether you can get past the quirkiness of the instructions. But I don't suggest giving it to a beginning cook; I they'd find it too difficult to follow.

I received Method of Procedure from the publisher for the purpose of a review at no cost to me.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Seven Spoons

The first thing I have to mention about Seven Spoons by Tara O'Brady is the photos.

They're pretty photos, but not in that stunningly beautiful super-styled artistic way. They're photos that make the recipes seem attainable. You see the photo and think, "yes, that looks good, I want to eat that." And then more importantly you think, "yes, I can do that."

And I think that's really important in a book that you want to cook from.

As far as the recipes, they're also pretty doable. While there are quite a few recipes that lean towards Indian flavors, the majority of the ingredients can be found at a reasonably large grocery store.

But this isn't at all an Indian cookbook. There are all-American recipes like burgers and cheesecake and biscuits.

Recipes range from super simple (scrambled eggs) to moderately complicated. Although I haven't memorized the whole book, I didn't see anything that would frustrate a competent cook. And the recipes range from very familiar (roast chicken) to more creative.

One recipe I was particularly intrigued by was a gazpacho that included yellow tomatoes and corn. I'm taking that idea an running with it very soon.

While this isn't my favorite book of the year, it's a nice book and the recipes are solid. It'll find a nice place on my cookbook shelf.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Make Ahead Bread #Giveaway and an appeal for #charity

If you think that most folks who are on government assistance or who ask for donations for specific causes are just lazy deadbeats, think again.

How long would your savings last if your primary wage-earner suddenly stopped earning wages? I know a whole lot of people who pay bills when the paycheck arrives, and when they're done there's not much left in the checking account. Some people have more than that set aside for a rainy-day fund or perhaps a vacation fund that could be tapped. So, that gets you another month or so.

Then what?

How easy would it be for you to find another job? If you're in your 20's or 30's, it might not be that hard. But when you hit your 40's and beyond, you find out that companies want younger folks who will work for less pay. Or you're overqualified for the entry-level positions they have open. Or, as you hit the higher numbers, they want people will potentially work for the company for a long time. They're not that interested in someone who is gazing longingly at retirement.

It's one thing to want to work, and it's another thing to be hired. It's one thing to want to work and it's another to find the perfect job with all the benefits you desire.

What would your choice be if you were paying bills and you could afford either the rent/mortgage or the health insurance - but not both? Most people would opt to keep a roof over their heads and roll the dice that they wouldn't get sick enough to warrant expensive care.

But what if they do get sick?

People who are on the very low end of the income bracket can get food stamps, free health care through medicaid, and other government subsidies. People just above that level scrape buy on their wages, pay all their bills, and don't have spare cash for frivolous spending - like Starbucks coffee, vacations, birthday presents, or proper medical care.

My friend Janet Brand, who blogs at From Cupcakes to Caviar, is living life on that edge. She has six kids, two of whom are still living at home. And one of them has special needs and will always need care. Her husband works and the bills get paid, but his company doesn't provide medical insurance for Janet.

And now she needs medical insurance, because it's the only way she can afford treatment for something that would be overwhelmingly expensive otherwise. Let's face it, pretty much any medical procedure larger than a vaccination is overwhelmingly expensive these days, unless you have insurance.

At my urging, which included threats to bludgeon her over the head (virtually), Janet started a GoFundMe campaign to raise the money she needs for a year's worth of insurance premiums and to pay the deductible for that year.

She's not asking for a new nose or a tummy tuck. She's not asking for more than she needs, and she's hoping that a year of treatment will be all she needs. At least it's a good start.

Initially, she had resigned herself to letting the condition take it course, but I finally said, "do it for your kids," and she relented. If she wasn't able to care for her kids, her husband certainly wouldn't be able to do it since he would have to continue to work to support them. Chances are that her special needs son would end up in a home, since finding someone to care for him would be beyond expensive.

I've seen plenty of GoFundMe campaigns for things that were not necessary for survival - like travel or dishwashers or home remodeling. I've seen them for completely trivial things. And people get funding for those.

This campaign isn't trivial. It's ... well, it's life-saving.

If you're in the same position as Janet and every penny counts, then I'm not asking you to donate. You need the money just as much. If you can, please share this post or a link to the GoFundMe and help get others to donate.

But if you opened your wallet today and a $1 bill flew out and you wouldn't chase it, then maybe you can donate $1 to her fund. If you regularly spend $5 on fun things at the grocery store checkout, or you wouldn't think twice about buying a $4.99 toy for your kid, then maybe you can donate that $5. Just once. If you think nothing of spending $10 for movies to rent for the weekend ... well, you get the idea.

If you're living the good life and a $100 dinner is a cheap date, then maybe you can afford a little more.

You might be thinking that you don't know Janet, so how do you know this is real ... well, how do you know anything is real? How do you know that if you donate $10 to a charity at Christmas, that the $10 goes to the needy and not to the board of directors? You don't. So don't give more than you're comfortable with, whether it's $1 or $50 or any other number that feels right to you.

In order to help spread the word on this fundraising drive, I'm offering an autographed copy of my cookbook, Make Ahead Bread, to one lucky winner. You don't need to donate to enter to win. You don't need to enter to donate.

A few of the optional entries on the giveaway are for sharing links to the funding campaign. They're optional. But I do urge you to share. Please.

I may be offering extra books if donations entries and/or donations exceed my expectations.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

More Mexican Everyday

Okay, let me admit this upfront. I'm a huuuuge fan of Rick Bayless, and I think I might have all of his cookbooks. On his television shows he seems genuinely enthused about not just the food of Mexico, but the culture, as well. I think that makes him much more interesting that someone who simply knows the ingredients.

When it comes to his cookbooks, they are recipes you can actually make at home. While I love the idea of completely authentic cooking (whatever that is), when it comes to making a recipe I don't want to find out that I need a berry that must be used fresh and is only available during the full moon in July on a remote mountain peak.

And, his recipes are things I want to eat. The flavors make sense. The ingredients belong together.

Like for example, in More Mexican Everyday, his Spaghetti Squash Fideos with Chipotle, Chorizo, Crema and Avocado. He uses spaghetti squash in place of noodles (fideos are a type of noodle) and serves them with some typical Mexican ingredients. There's nothing in here that makes me wonder if the flavors will work.

And once in a while, he has a little bit of kitchen genius, like his recipe for cajeta (basically a caramel sauce) that is cooked in a slow cooker. I've made a similar cajeta on the stovetop and I have to say that watching it and stirring it was ... a long and boring process. Cooking it in a slow cooker makes a lot more sense. At the end of the cooking time, you do need to keep an eye on it, but for most of the 24 hours (yes, that long!) you just let it cruise along.

Some of the recipes are formatted a little oddly, in a conversational style, but then there's a recap at the end in a more normal recipe style. I have to say that I didn't mind the format - it worked for the recipes where he chose to do it, like he was standing there saying, well, at this point I taste and and add a spoon of that if it needs it ...

I learned something useful from this book, too. You know how corn tortillas are never so great unless they're fresh? Well, his method of reheating is completely different from everything I've done. He suggests sprinkling the tortillas with about 3 tablespoons of water, wrapping them in paper towels or in a clean kitchen towels, placing that in a microwave-safe plastic bag and folding the top over (but not sealing it), microwaving at 50 percent power for 4 minutes. Then you let them rest 2 or 3 minutes before serving. I never thought about cooking them for that long! He also has instructions for steaming on the stove, if that's your preference.

Overall, I love this book. Yup, that's what I said.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Geeky Chef Cookbook

I've always been a bit of a geek and always a fan of science fiction, so The Geeky Chef Cookbook is right up my alley. Funny thing is that I wasn't totally familiar with all the foods covered in the book.

I knew the foods from Star Trek better than I should admit, and I was tickled to see the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

I knew some of the foods from Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, but I guess I was more interested in the plot than the food, so I wouldn't have thought of them until the book reminded me - and then I remembered them. Oh yeah. Lembas.

And I was a tiny bit frightened by Soylent Green.

On the other hand, I know about Mario Brothers and other games of that era, but I really didn't play them, so I wasn't at all familiar with the names of those foods. But that's okay - there's enough that I'm familiar with and enough other recipes that looked like fun. I mean, 1Up Mushroom Cupcakes from Super Mario Brothers and the cake block from Minecraft are cute.

But here's the deal. The recipes are real recipes for real foods that pretty much anyone would be happy to eat. There are drinks, appetizers, stews, meats, and desserts that look good, and the ingredients aren't weird. A few of the recipes use food coloring to match the original versions, but most are completely natural.

Even the Soylent Green could be good. It's mostly spinach, but I'm still not tempted to make it soon. There are too many other recipes that I'd make first, like the Popplers from Futurama, or the Dragonbreath Chili from World of Warcraft,  or the Cheese Buns from The Hunger Games or Rock Sirloin from Legend of Zelda.

Maybe I'll wash the food down with some Ambrosia from Battlestar Galactica. And for dessert, maybe some Chocolate Salty Balls from South Park or Treacle Tarts from Harry Potter.

If you're a fan of any of the sci-fi or fantasy genres, this book is a real hoot. If you want to cook some good food for people who like those genres, I think you'll like this book a lot. And if you just want to cook some fun food with quirky names, this one is worth a look.

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

Monday, July 27, 2015

Straight Up Tasty

At the beginning of the book Straight Up Tasty. author Adam Richman points out that while most people think of him as the guy who travels around and eats food, and while he's not a chef or restaurant owner ...

"These are the recipes I make, that my family makes, that my friends have made. They reflect the flavor combinations, techniques, and ingredients I've picked up on my travels these past few years, and all the wonderful and weird meals I have tried ..."

There are plenty of books written by people who aren't chefs. And to be honest, if you want a book that you'll cook from, a chef-driven restaurant-centric book might not be the best choice. Chefs and restaurants have access to ingredients that the average home cook might not easily find.

While I'm perfectly happy to hunt down fancy ingredients for "project" recipes, I cook every single day, and most of those days, I want to make things that are doable. I want to use ingredients I have on hand or that I can find without going to four different stores.

While Adam Richman certainly traveled a lot and sampled a lot, the recipes in this book are firmly planted in his kitchen at home. There are recipes for lemon ricotta pancakes, tortilla soup, a whole lot of interesting sandwiches, latkes, grilled shrimp tacos, chicken marsala, and even spaghetti pie.

Those are the kinds of foods that most cooks would be comfortable making at home. They're not super fancy, but they're solid. And of course, there are a few twists and turns that you might not expect, like the twice baked sweet potatoes that include some bourbon.

Overall, I'm happy with this book. There's not much here that I'm not familiar with - and for some of these I've made my own versions. But I'm always interested in trying someone else's recipes for things I make all the time. I have my eye on those latkes, for sure.

I received this book from Blogging for Books at no cost to me.