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Smokin’ Hot in the South, by Melissa Cookston

5 Jul
smoking hot in the south melissa cookston

Five of Five Stars

I just got a new gas grill this year, but my BBQ experience has been limited to single pieces of chicken, or veggies veggies veggies. So I bought this book hoping to learn how to actually “barbecue”.

True to my nature, I started with only the grilled vegetables, but as I became more adept at using my gas grill, I finally became comfortable enough to attempt the Asian pork tenderloin with watermelon mint salad. My tastebuds could not differentiate the salad from just plain watermelon, but it was still delicious. But what everyone raved about was the pork tenderloin, especially the sauce. Although everyone gave me an A+ for that recipe, I give myself a B+ because I think the pork could have been taken off the grill just a couple minutes earlier. But the dinner guests are still raving about it, days later.

Then I went for the big time (in my mind). A giant pork shoulder that would take a day and a half to make into pulled pork. First I had to make the Memphis BBQ Rub and put that all over the pork and set overnight. Then I got up early to put the pork on the grill. Of course, then I realized that the propane tank was already empty (at least I didn’t discover this at the end of the day!). So I went to get a refill, and started the grill a bit late.

Twelve hours later I had the most delicious smoked pulled pork I have ever had, anywhere. First I served it on tortillas with the chimichurri recipe – DELICIOUS. The next day we put it over hamburger buns with the Memphis Mother Sauce. ALSO delicious.

I give myself an A+ after that. Next I’ll be trying the grilled cilantro-lime slaw, and the grilled peach cobbler (back to my veggie/fruit roots). But I will definitely be referring back to this book when it’s time for meat. Melissa Cookston took out all the guess work, made sure I understood exactly what I was doing and what I was looking to accomplish. It is definitely a great book for those just getting into “barbecue” but also great for the pros, as Cookston is an award winning smoker herself. I will likely get her earlier book as well, once I’m done with this one.

Caramel, Caramel & More Caramel!, by Michal Moses, Ivana Nitzan

25 Apr
caramel caramel and more caramel moses

Five of Five stars

This is the kind of book that makes you fat. It’s the kind of book that makes your mouth water, that makes your taste buds yearn, that makes you want to head to the nearest grocer to buy out all the sugar.

I don’t know what else to say about this book. It’s more than just caramel, it’s much more than just desserts and candy, it’s perfection. The most scrumptious photos accompany the recipes. You can feel the juice from the Honey Candy Apples running down your throat, you can imagine the crunch of the Salted Caramel & Peanut Bars, taste the hot Caramel Lava sauce from the Molten Chocolate Cakes on your tongue. The Savory chapter has everything from Salmon with Soy Caramel Sauce to Chicken in Cider Caramel to Caramelized Onion Tart to Salads and Nuts and Cheese and even Steak with Brandy Caramel Sauce.

There are gosh darn Marbled Pavlovas with Chocolate Caramel Mousse.

I just want to cry with desire as I turn through these delicious pages, I want a vat of caramel in front of me to just smash my face into.

If you like caramel, this is the book. This is the caramel book to end all caramel books. I can’t imagine wanting anything else in caramel. There is everything you could imagine and more. There is simple and complicated, sweet and savory, snack to main dish to dessert.

This is a book I need for my shelf. I need caramel recipes in my repertoire. I need sweet, salty, thick caramel flowing over my tongue. I need to pretend I won’t gain twenty pounds just from attempting as many recipes that I can.

The only possible rating for this book is five stars.

Thanks to NetGalley for the advance copy in exchange for an honest review.
No thanks to NetGalley for all the cardio work that’s in my future.

Layered: Baking, Building, and Styling Spectacular Cakes, by Tessa Huff

23 Feb
layered tessa huff

Five of FIVE stars

There is no possible way to give this book anything but five stars, even though I know if I tried any of these ideas my cake would end up as the banner pic for one of those “Pinterest Fail” sites.

This book gets five stars just for the photos. Gorgeous and spare, there are photos of each completed cake (all impeccably decorated) and also of one slice to show the beautiful layers inside.

It gets five stars for the gorgeously decorated cakes.

It gets five stars for all the cake recipes and individual frosting and filling recipes (often several different ones for each cake).

It gets five stars for all the prep information included. There’s the requisite “stocking the layered cake kitchen”, tools needed, terms used, and helpful hints.

Five stars for making my mouth water.

Five stars for including many recipes using alcohol (a sure-fire way to get five stars from me).

Five stars for the section on Holiday Cakes, all of which I want on my kitchen counter NOW, all gorgeously decorated, all wanting to be in my belly ASAP.

The only way I would mark this book down is in how little attention it gives to the difficulty of actually making a several-layered cake. If you have tons of baking experience, you’re good to go. If you just want to drool over the pictures, get this book now. But if you want to start making layered cakes (several layers, not just two), I am giving you some free advice here: start practicing on your own before you decide to dive into any of these from the book. I give you this advice purely from my own experience of ONCE trying to layer a cake. I made a cake with six layers and frosted it the night before my daughter’s fourth birthday party. It was going to be her “Princess Cake”.

There is not much that will destroy a newly-four year old girl more completely than to wake up and find her beautiful Princess Cake toppled and crumbled and destroyed by gravity overnight. It didn’t lean over and fall, it developed cracks in the middle and just came apart from the inside out. That birthday required an emergency visit to the grocery bakery to pick up a new, non-princess cake.

There are a few warnings about this crumbling that layered cakes tend to do, but not much that solidly says “HEY. Be careful because your cake may destroy itself!” or “HEY. Pay attention to this helpful hint that will save all of your very very hard work and high expectations!” So I’m giving you that part now: READ ALL THE DIRECTIONS. READ all the notes and hints and help!

But once you do that and once you make at least one practice layered cake, then go stock up on sugar, flour and eggs and start your baking! And then bring over all your samples to my house. I’ll buy the book for the photos, but my layered cake making days died with the Princess Cake twenty years ago.

Thank you so much to Netgalley for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review. My honest review: This book is amazing and gorgeous and you should get it.

Ballpark Eats, by Katrina Jorgensen & Blake Hoena

23 Feb
ballpark eats kristina jorgensen

Five of five stars

This book is Fantastic.
It’s somehow billed as a kid’s book, but many of the recipes here are geared towards people with experience in the kitchen, and without a doubt adults will want to eat this food. I’m not even a baseball fan and I absolutely want this food. I mean, the food is the best part of the game, right?? But I wouldn’t classify this as a “child’s” cookbook by any means. Teenager or older.

This very colorful cookbook brings several recipes from just about every single major league baseball field in America, and at least one from Canada. My lack of baseball knowledge is requiring me to say “just about” and “at least” because I’m only guessing but I can confirm there is A LOT.

My daughter asked “Won’t that mean just hot dogs and beer?” No. Absolutely no.

Hot dogs, yes, many different kinds of hot dogs. Pork sandwiches, steak sandwiches, grilled shrimp, poutine. Different popcorn, onion rings, Boston Cream Pies. Several different (non-alcoholic) drinks (just add vodka!). An endless variety of any kind of food you’ve ever had at a ballpark.

There are interesting notes about each ballpark, and maps, and interesting sidebars such as “Identify the condiment”. And loads of beautiful photographs on every page.

This book is for any baseball lover in your life, and is an excellent book to have handy for celebrating games at home: pick out some favorite foods, mix up some delicious drinks, and have a fantastic ballpark experience while watching the game from the comfort of your couch.

Thank you to Netgalley for the advance copy in exchange for an honest review – I may not be a baseball fan, but I’m now a baseball food fan thanks to this book!

The Part-Time Vegetarian: Flexible Recipes to go (Nearly) Meat-Free, by Nicola Graimes

13 Nov
Four of Five stars

Four of Five stars

The world doesn’t really need another vegetarian cookbook, and a “vegetarian” cookbook that also includes recipes with meat is needed even less. However this one is different enough that it might be an exception.

First things first, this book is definitely not for vegans. Veteran vegan cooks can turn almost any dish into a delicious vegan meal, but these recipes are centered very heavily on non-vegan ingredients and it would be better to just buy a different book.

For my only other complaint, why even call this a vegetarian cookbook? If there are meat eaters in the house then just cook up a delicious vegetarian meal and allow them to add meat to whatever is being served. You never see titles such as “The Mostly Fat-Free Cookbook that Focuses Heavily on Cheese Fondue and Southern Fried Chicken and Gravy.” Or “The Cookbook for Diabetics Who Always Have Insulin on Hand and 911 on SpeedDial!” You know what I mean?

However, putting aside the title, this is a really great cookbook for experienced cooks looking for more Mediterranean, Asian and Southeast Asian recipes. There are no processed foods included, so the ingredient lists can be long. It’s not for the picky eater or beginner cook, as there are ingredients and cooking terms included which even I don’t know, and I’m a pretty advanced cook. Most of these recipes are not simply meatless dishes, neither do they revolve around meat substitutes, they are vegetarian dishes that focus on good clean eating and delicious sauces. Meals made up of rice and vegetables, curries, chickpea and tofu creations, and different takes on many familiar Asian recipes such as lettuce wraps.

Not all cookbooks need to have 10-30 minute recipes, and this is one of those that is instead for cooks who enjoy their time in the kitchen and love to create new flavors with unique ingredients – but not necessarily with complicated instructions. Very few of these recipes contain less than five ingredients, and most ranged around a dozen or more. For people who love to cook like I do, this means a longer time of meditation and creativity during the process, and it’s also a signal that processed foods are not included – better for you and more delicious! There are all sorts of vegetables and Asian inspired ingredients which may not be found in your local grocery (depending on where you live) but you should have no problem finding them at an Asian market. The money spent investing in a few new herbs and spices goes a long way as well. There are also a few names you may not be familiar with but which are actually foods we already have in our cupboards: Did you know a haricot bean is just a Navy bean? So if you see something unfamiliar, try Google first.

At the start of the book the author goes over many of the unusual ingredients, where to find them, how they are used and how to store them. And at the end of the book are several different menus for weekly meal planning and special occasions. In between are many gorgeous photos, and all the recipes include measurements in metric and US standard.

I am all about promoting healthy, clean, unprocessed cooking, and I think there are several very interesting dishes in this cookbook that I would love to try. This book is great for certain audiences:

Experienced cooks
Cooks who love experimentation and creativity
Cooks interested in more Mediterranean, Asian and Southeast Asian recipes
Adventurous meat-eaters

Would I buy this for a vegetarian? Well, no. There are too many actual vegetarian cookbooks out there and I never bought into the “flexitarian” idea. All meat eaters are flexitarian; it’s a rare person who has meat with every single meal. Blueberry pancakes are vegetarian, so is spinach quiche, so are hundreds of pasta dishes.

So my only real problem is the title, and it seems that it bothers me more than I realized now that I’m at the end of this review. I really do wish it was just promoted as what it is instead of what it is not. It’s a great cookbook that people who are solid meat eaters would still enjoy, but they may pass this up when they see the word “vegetarian”. I hope they don’t!

Thank you to NetGalley and Nourish publications for providing me with a copy for review. Now it’s time to get cooking!!

Mix + Match Cakes: A Batter, a Syrup, a Frosting, by Caroline Wright

12 Nov
FIVE of FIVE stars

FIVE of FIVE stars

You guys, this book is going to make you fat. You and everyone around you. But you are going to be fat and happy. I just went through this entire book and now I’m both starving and paralyzed with indecision as to which cake to make first. Can I make five at a time? If I make twenty at a time, can I eat them all before they get stale? If I invite friends over will I be willing to give up any of the cake? And if not, how fat am I willing to get in order to sample each and every one of these cakes??

This book is 95% photos. Photos of seriously imaginative and mouth-watering cakes. An overwhelming selection of sugary dreaminess which fortunately (or perhaps not) are made up of ingredients already on hand in your kitchen, just waiting to be lovingly mixed together. Once you find the photo of the cake you want to bake, just head to the back of the book to get the three recipes variations you need: One for cake, one for syrup, one for frosting.

The cover claims 100 recipes, but with these 100 recipes you can assemble an infinite variety of baked yummies. The formula is simple: Pick out a cake mix and bake, pour a flavored syrup over the cake and let cool, frost with the perfect frosting. The recipes are even more simple: flour, sugar, eggs, etc, with varieties for both vegan and gluten-free needs. If you want to get extra fancy-schmancy, there are recipes for toppings to add to your creation to make it even more original and unique.

How about a Triple Citrus Cake? Bake up a Lime cake, add Orange syrup, top with Lemon pudding frosting.
How about the Elvis Cake? Make the Peanut butter cake, add bacon syrup, top with Nutella frosting.
What about a Chai-Pear Cake with Honey Frosting? Does a Zucchini-Thyme Cake with Lemon Pudding Frosting sound perfect for today?

There is a whole chapter of Coconut cakes. An entire chapter of Mocha cakes. One for Nutty cakes. Berry cakes. Etcetera etcetera.

These creations look and taste like they came from an expensive bakery, but are hardly more complicated than a Betty Crocker mix. As far as I’m concerned there is no need for another cake book. The possibilities here are endless, and the only drawback with this book is the uncontrollable NEED you will have to start baking immediately. And these are all so easy, you won’t be able to find a reason not to.

Thanks also to NetGalley for providing me with an early copy for review and also to get a headstart on gaining 50 pounds.

Crossroads: Extraordinary Recipes from the Restaurant That Is Reinventing Vegan Cuisine, by Tal Ronnen, Scot Jones

1 Nov
Five of Five stars

Five of Five stars

I received an advance copy from NetGalley in exchange for a review.

Holy Cannoli, I’ve just gone through this gorgeous book and I cannot wait to start cooking. My mouth is watering as I write this. I’ve finished the book, but I want to try a few recipes before I submit an official review.

Be back soon!!! (After I gain a few pounds)

Weeks later…

I’ve had a difficult time with this review, not because I didn’t like the book but because every time I return to it I start making ingredient lists and envisioning what I can include for Thanksgiving dinner, and deciding if I should plan an earlier dinner party because I cannot wait to get started with these amazing dishes!! And then the review is forgotten and I’m lost in cooking dreamland.

This is a gourmet book, make no mistake. Even for long time vegans there are some new ingredients and possibly some difficult to find ones (black garlic??). Many of the recipes do not look like they can be whipped up in five minutes, or even 30 minutes, but then again most of these dishes do not look like something you’d throw on the table for the family on a Tuesday night. This is food to impress.

In the early edition I was shown, there was a gorgeous photo for every single dish – and again, that’s what makes it so difficult to get through, you just get stuck on the beauty of the pictures and wondering what these magical dishes will taste like.

Early in the book Ronnen talks of his Crossroads restaurant, and he makes a big deal about not using meat substitutes, just pure whole foods. When I told a vegan friend of mine about this book she says she went to Crossroads for her birthday last year and the menu was heavy on the Gardein dishes. I cannot verify this, perhaps she was confused about the restaurant, but I can tell you this cookbook has no Gardein anywhere to be found.

I was quite impressed with the book. This is gourmet vegan cooking like I’ve never seen before and I am excited about it. I would not recommend this for a beginner cook, especially anyone not used to vegan cooking, but anyone experienced in the kitchen would likely love it. Beginner cooks will love finding dishes to aspire to – and they won’t be left out, there are less complicated dishes as well. It would be a wonderful, original addition to your vegan cookbook shelf and an inspiration for many dinner parties (and dinners for two) in your future.