Monday, April 27, 2015

Rose Water and Orange Blossoms

I got a sneak peek at a ebook proof of Rose Water and Orange Blossoms by Maureen Abood, a Lebanese-American who recently took her first trip to Lebanon. When she arrived, she found family who welcomed her with open arms.

And of course, she ate.

Abood had always liked to cook, and she liked to cook Lebanese food, and always thought about writing Lebanese recipes for others to make. She spent time in kitchens of family members who cooked, and eventually she went to culinary school.

The stories in Rose Water and Orange Blossoms came from family history, and many of the recipes are classic Lebanese dishes. Others are inspired by Lebanese ingredients and style of cooking, but are new inventions.

The recipes emphasize spices, fruits, vegetables, lean meats, grains, and fresh herbs - for a lot of healthy recipes.

Since I have a proof version, I can't share any recipes - editing and corrections were likely done before the book was sent to print. But I can tell you that the recipes look pretty amazing, and unlike some ethnic cookbooks, the ingredients shouldn't be too hard to source. Pomegranate molasses is one of the more unusual items, and that's not too hard to find these days.

There are little stories throughout the book that make the recipes more personal and the photos are lovely. I'm looking forward to snagging a finished copy of this book,

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Perfect Scoop

I have a lot of cookbooks. Obviously. 

But there are some cookbooks that I turn to over and over again. Sometimes it's to check a cooking time, or to check an ingredient ratio.

And then there are some books that I turn to because they have recipes that I love, and I make them over and over.

When it's ice cream season, The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz is one of those books that I use regularly. I certainly haven't made every recipe in this book, but I've made quite a few of them.

You can tell which ones are my favorites. The book opens automatically to the Chocolate Ice Cream that includes both cocoa powder and melted chocolate. It's rich and it's creamy and it's just about perfect.

Recipes also include "perfect pairings" which might add-ins that would work for the ice cream flavor, or they might be serving suggestions like using the ice cream to make ice cream sandwiches, or serving the ice cream with coffee poured over the top.

While my favorite recipe in the book might be the chocolate, there are plenty of others to choose from. There are less-usual ice cream flavors, like Green Pea Ice Cream or Orange-Szechwan Pepper Ice Cream. And there are also classics, like peach, strawberry, mocha sherbet, espresso granita, and pineapple sorbet.

Besides ice cream and other frozen treats, there are sauces and garnishes and even cookies (for making ice cream cookies or serving ice cream on top) and also ice cream cones. If you're an ice cream fan or if you've just gotten an ice cream maker, this book is definitely one you should have on your shelf.

The book came out in 2007 (and I've had it almost that long), but it's still being sold - so that tells you something!

For more David Lebovitz, check out his blog.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Artisan Cake Company's Visual Guide to Cake Decorating

I aspire to be a better cake decorator. I'm a heck of a lot better at it than I used to be, now that I've mastered the technique of piping flowers all over a cake.

I thought it might be nice to up my game a bit, so I have in my hands a cake decorating book. It's the Artisan Cake Company's Visual Guide to Cake Decorating. And there are a lot of photos, for sure.

The book starts with information about tools you'll need, then moves on to some important basics, like a few cake recipes, baking tips, and several different frosting recipes. Then it moves on to other basics, like tips on filling a piping bag.

It sort of eases you into the scary stuff. Like actually assembling and decorating a cake.

What I thought was really interesting was the section where good cake design and bad cake design were compared. In some cases, I looked at the "bad" and thought that although it wasn't stunning, it was okay.

Then, after I read the explanation of why the design wasn't great, I could see the flaws. Aha!

There are a lot of fondant-covered cakes, but also a section on texturing buttercream. I'm definitely going to try that, the next time I'm faced with a cake that requires frosting. I'm not a huge fan of the flavor of fondant, so I'm much more likely to use buttercream. Or some other similar frosting that isn't fondant.

The book doesn't hang around with beginners forever, though, and it gets into some quite complicated techniques, like using modeling chocolate, gumpaste, or fondant to form decorative figures and flowers. There's instructions for making a cute little elf that looks like it should be easy ... maybe.

The sugar flowers look amazing. I don't know how successful I'd be at making one of them, but the instruction seem clear, and the photos would be very helpful if I wanted to give it a shot.

To be perfectly honest, I have a feeling that I might never get too far beyond the cake and frosting recipes and the most basic decorating projects, but it's nice to know that if I ever do want to tackle something more complicated, I have somewhere to look.

How about you? Are you ready to take on a project like that elf in the top left corner of the book cover? Or the flower or the balloon cake?

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

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Perfect Egg

The book, The Perfect Egg, landed on my doorstep right after I put 12 extra egg yolks in the refrigerator. Seemed like fate.

We like eggs here. A lot. When I'm not in the mood for cooking, or when I'm feeling a little off, it's a good bet that scrambled eggs are for dinner.

While I don't need a recipe for scrambled eggs, this book has one (in a section on basic cooking techniques) and it also had nine variations for deviled eggs. And egg pasta, egg sauces, and some eggs-cellent-looking recipes for egg-based ice cream.

There's pretty much nothing in this book that I don't want to make ... well, except I probably won't make the few recipes that include coconut. But that's not the eggs' fault. We're just not big fans of coconut.

On the other hand, the egg-lemon soup, the savory macarons, the nine variations of egg salad sandwiches, and the chocolate mousse all sound pretty good.

With most new cookbooks that I get, I bookmark a bunch of recipes and then narrow it down to which one I'm going to make first. Sometimes it's based on what I feel like eating, and sometimes based on how difficult it will be to source ingredients.

In this case, the decision was simple. I'll probably make one of the nine variations of frozen custard, because the recipe calls for exctly 12 egg yolks. The ice cream recipe will be over on Cookistry shortly.

It's fate, I tell ya. Fate.

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

Monday, April 20, 2015

Patsy's Italian Family Cookbook

Patsy's is a restaurant in New York, and Patsy's Italian Family Cookbook by Sal Scognamillo is filled with classic Italian restaurant dishes - which makes me really happy.

When I lived in Chicago, I spent some time working in an area near the "Little Italy" section of the city, and I loved going to the old-school Italian restaurants where the classics were still classic.

No fusion food, no molecular gastronomy, and a share-a-plate special for lunch that still sent me home with leftovers.

This book has a lot of my favorites, like Chicken Cacciatore, Linguine Puttanesca, Mussels Marinara, Chicken Pizzaiola, Baked Clams, Pasta Fagoili, Beef Braciole, Veal Scalloppini, Penne with Vodka Sauce, and Eggplant Parmigiana.

There are even classic desserts, like biscotti and gelato and panna cotta.

There are also dishes I'm less familiar with, but I want to try. Like any restaurant menu, there are some dishes I'm more interested in, and some that I'm less interested in, but there are very few here I'd outright refuse. Even better, the recipes usually call for ingredients that are easy to find.

One exception to that "easy to find" rule might be the Penne with Wild Boar Ragu, but I might make it anyway, with pork or beef instead of that boar. No, it won't be the same, but it still looks like it should be pretty darned good.

I've already made a few recipes from this book (and more are on the agenda) and I've been pleased with the results. The instructions are simple and clear, and the recipes have turned out as good as expected. I should have a recipe over on Cookistry for you very soon.

If you're looking for a book with classic restaurant recipes, this one is highly recommended. If you're looking for Italian-Thai-Modernist-Fusion, you're out of luck.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Mastering My Mistakes in the Kitchen

The premise of Mastering My Mistakes in the Kitchen by Dana Cowin is interesting. Unlike other cookbook authors who talk about their cooking experience, Cowin readily admits that she was never much of a cook.

However, as editor-in-chief of Food & Wine Magazine, Cowin had access to a whole lot of accomplished cooks and chefs who helped her correct her mistakes in the kitchen. Marcus Samuelson helped her conquer fried chicken, the Food & Wine test kitchen crew talked her through bechamel, David Chang helped her with kimchi, and Renato Poliafito and Matt Lewis (from Baked) helped her with brownies.

At least 65 chefs helped her with the 100 recipes in the book, so it's as much about the different chefs as it is about Cowin's kitchen adventures.

Since she talks about the things that went wrong with her cooking, it reassures novice cooks that they can conquer the revised recipes, while at the same time her errors help warn new cooks of the pitfalls they might encounter.

The recipes here seem solid - the ones I tried have worked well. And for the most part, the recipes use ingredients that should be easy to find without hunting the ends of the earth. That's also great for newer cooks who might not want to use ingredients they aren't familiar with.

But this book isn't just for beginners. More accomplished cooks will appreciate the tips from the well-known chefs, like Bryant Ng's explanation of the differences between red and green curry, how to season curry, and what else to use curry paste for, or Mario Batali's tips about pasta, canned tomatoes, bread crumbs, and more.

Overall, I'm pretty happy with the recipes, and the stories are an interesting read. Look for a recipe from this book soon on Cookistry.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Milk Bar Life

The first thing I have to say is that Milk Bar Life by Christina Tosi is absolutely not the book I expected it to be. I have the book Momofuku Milk Bar, which she also wrote, and I expected something ... similar, but perhaps more homey.

Momofuku Milk Bar is a somewhat difficult book to cook from, because a lot of the ingredients aren't very common. And many of the recipes build on other recipes. So you can't just make the cake, you have to make the things that go into the cake. It's definitely a "project" book and not one that you open on a whim and start cooking from.

Milk Bar Life isn't a simplified version of Momofuku cooking, it's a complete 180 in terms of recipe ingredients. You'll find recipes calling for cake mix, canned soup, crescent rolls in a can, Cool Whip, and Velveeta.

Now, not all of the recipes use those ingredients, and some are completely from-scratch. But I was surprised at the number of recipes that included convenience foods.

And then I got off that high horse I was on and looked around. I realized that if you work in a restaurant all day long, a box of cake mix and some canned soup probably looks like a really good idea. And let's face it, a lot of people cook with those ingredients.

Even me.

Yup, I said it. I have a few recipes passed down from my mom that include canned soups, and they're just not the same without them. And one of the best mac and cheese recipes I've made recently had Velveeta as an ingredient. We all have a few of those recipes in our closets, right?

The lemon bars in this book start with lemon cake mix, and Tosi says she hasn't found a lemon bar recipe that she likes better. It's her grandmother's recipe, and it sounds pretty darned simple. I might try it one of these days.

And, like I said, there are recipes that are completely from scratch, like a ranch dressing that I've bookmarked. Some recipes are decidedly strange, like the Tang Toast that calls for margarine (it specifically says not to use butter) and Tang drink mix. Some are simple, like the egg soup, which is essentially soft-boiled eggs in a bowl. And some are more complicated, like the enchiladas or jerk chicken.

There's something for everyone, although I suspect some fans of Momofuku and Momofuku Milk Bar will be ... not pleased with the simplicity of some of the recipes.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Mastering Pasta by Marc Vetri

I'll admit it. I love pasta. So I was pretty excited to get my hands on Mastering Pasta by Marc Vetri. The tagline is "The Art and Practice of Handmade Pasta, Gnocchi, and Risotto."

Well, okay then.

The book delivered everything I expected, and more. Along with the usual suspects - ravioli, spaghetti, and gnocchi - there are types of pasta that I never heard of before. Rotolo, for example, is filled and rolled like a jellyroll, and then sliced and baked. An egg yolk goes in the middle and it's baked just a little longer, until the egg is cooked but still runny. It sounds amazing, and the photos made me even more intrigued.

Another pasta starts with a batter that's cooked like a crepe and then cut and boiled. I never would have thought of it.

Or how about this: Gnocchi made with cabbage. Have you ever???

The cabbage gnocchi is on the short list for recipes I need to make, for sure. It might be the first one I make, actually. It's familiar and unusual at the same time.

And then we come to the risotto recipes. How about a tomato risotto? That sounds divine.

There are also more familiar pastas, like standard semolina pasta and egg pasta. There are instructions for making cut pastas, extruded pastas, filled pastas and formed pastas. Pretty much any kind of pasta you can imagine. The farfalle look like they'd be easy and impressive, while some of the other folded, formed, and filled pastas look like they'd take a bit more practice.

When it comes to filled pastas, there are these crazy things called Doppio Ravioli that are like double ravioli, filled side-by-side in long strips. That's cool to begin with, but these twinned ravioli are filled with two compatible fillings.

Wow. That would be impressive for dinner, right?

It's not just about the pasta dough, though. There are recipes for fillings and sauces as well, so each recipe is a complete dish. And then there are suggested pasta variations for most of them, so you know you can use penne instead of maltagliati with a particular sauce.

And did I mention flavored pasta? Yup, there are pastas with added herbs and flavorings, too, with helpful hints if you want to try your own flavors.

So, in short, this isn't just about how to cook pasta dishes. And it's not just about making noodles. It's a comprehensive book that'll get you making fresh pasta for dinner from start to finish.

Oh, but it gets better than that. Because of a glitch in the shipping system, I got not one, but two copies of the book, and the publisher doesn't want the extra back. So I'm giving my extra copy away. I will pay for priority mail shipping; I'm not responsible for mis-delivered mail or clumsy handling en route.

Good luck!