Archive for the ‘Books’ Category


The Kitchen Reader: Will Write for Food

January 31, 2011

January’s book for The Kitchen Reader is Will Write for Food by Dianne Jacob, selected by Sarah of Simply Cooked.

Jacob is a food writer and also teaches food writing. She explains that she wrote the book in answer to students and clients who asked her to recommend a book about food writing. She didn’t know of any, so she wrote the book! It’s chock-full of how-to advice related to food writing. The book covers topics including restaurant reviewing, recipe writing, cookbook writing, memoir and nonfiction food writing, writing about food in fiction, and getting your book published. Each chapter ends with some writing exercises, which Jacob really wants the readers to do. As I skipped them, I could hear her scolding me. She also recommends books for further reading.

The chapter on recipe writing was my favorite. I have dishes that I’ve made a lot of times, and when someone asks for the recipe, I realize that it needs a rewrite. Jacob discusses recipe development and testing, titles, ingredients, method, and sidebars. She also includes sample questions to give to testers (noting that you might be your own tester). You don’t need to be writing a cookbook to benefit from the information in this chapter.

I requested the book from my local library and started reading it as soon as I picked it up. I wasn’t too far in when I started thinking, hmmmm, this is a little outdated. Then I got to the short paragraph about the web and thought hmmm…this is really outdated! Then I saw the book mentioned here on David Lebovitz’s blog (you’ll have to scroll down a bit).  Ooops, there is a new 2010 edition and I have the 2005 edition. A lot has changed in those five years. Taking a look inside at the table of contents on Amazon, I see that the book has a new chapter titled Get Published with a Food Blog. I missed out on that chapter and the updates were made to the other chapters. Considering that the older version of the book was pretty good, I’m sure that the new version is worth a read. This would be a great book to have as an ongoing reference rather than just having it on loan from the library. Maybe I’d even do the writing exercises if I had my own copy of the book. Maybe.

If you’re interested in learning more about the world of food writing, check out this book and Dianne Jacob’s blog. Check out Sarah’s super-nice blog too!


The Kitchen Reader: Hungy Monkey

September 30, 2010

This month, The Kitchen Reader gang read Hungry Monkey: A Food-Loving Father’s Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater by Matthew Amster-Burton. Meryl, from My Bit of Earth, selected this book. As it just so happens, Meryl is cooking up her own Hungry Monkey right now, and will soon be experiencing the adventures of feeding a small child.

What I liked about this book was the writing; I think Amster-Burton is very funny. I don’t have kids, so I can’t relate to his experiences on that level. He fully admits that his situation is not like that of most families: he’s a writer and works from home, he spends a lot of time in the kitchen, and he goes to the grocery store on a daily basis. He’s telling his story, not necessarily trying to tell other parents that he’s figured out how to feed kids.

When Amster-Burton and his wife Laurie had their daughter Iris, they decided that they would eat dinner together as a family: no mac and cheese at 5:00 and then an “adult” dinner later on when she was sleeping. When Iris was old enough to eat solid food, they began their quest to eat together. And Iris ate enchiladas and lobster, and even fish eyeballs at one point. But pickiness came and went, and of course she didn’t always eat what they were eating, although they worked hard to adapt so that they weren’t making a whole separate meal. Dishes that could be “built,” like something with rice, vegetables, and meat, worked well because each person could put together a different combination. The recipes in this book are not what you’d expect in a book about eating with kids: Pad Thai, Stacked Green Enchiladas, Shredded Beef Tacos, Thai Shrimp Curry, and Potstickers to name a few. Yes, Iris ate these things, or at least parts of these things, at least some of the time. Like most children (and many adults), she’d prefer a cupcake with extra frosting most of the time.

A few of the many funny things in the book that made me laugh, and kept me reading:

  • On the subject of sugar: “And as much as I enjoy playing the iconoclast, I can’t advocate turning kids loose on the dessert cabinet. (Okay, I don’t have a dessert cabinet. I want one now, though, because it sounds awesome.)”
  • Discussing how kids start out not picky and become picky as they get older: “I didn’t realize Iris would gobble a huge plate of Brussels sprouts one day and then decide two days later that Brussels sprouts were grown in Hell and sent up via dumbwaiter to torment her.”

Want a sample? You can download the first three chapters of the book here. Also be sure to check out what the other members of The Kitchen Reader thought about this one.


The Kitchen Reader: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

August 31, 2010

The August book for The Kitchen Reader is Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Thank you Karen of Shortbread South for this interesting selection!

In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Kingsolver chronicles her family’s move from Arizona to Virginia and their commitment to one year of eating primarily local foods. When I read the description of this book, I hoped for fun and funny stories, sort of like All Creatures Great and Small. And there are fun and funny stories, along with a large dose of education about things like genetically modified plants, high fructose corn syrup, and factory farming. The stories of “harvesting” chickens and turkeys fell into the not-so-fun category for me, but I’ll admit that the turkey breeding details were pretty interesting.

Back to the fun stories, one that made me smile was about her younger daughter Lily missing part of the day at school so she could go to the post office to pick up the chicks for her egg business. Throughout the book, Lily’s egg business thrives and she proves herself to be quite the businesswoman.

Another time, the cherries on the cherry tree were ready for harvest the day before the family was leaving for a vacation. The serious fruit lovers couldn’t miss out on their bounty, so they spent the next day and into the night harvesting the cherries. Plants wait for no man.

I was overwhelmed just listening to her stories of harvesting many pounds of tomatoes each day and canning them, drying them, and making them into sweet and sour sauce and salsa. I have a few tomato plants, and I’m having a good day if I have two ripe at the same time!

As serious as they were about the project, they weren’t 100% strict. Each member of the family was allowed to select one non-local item, to be consumed in moderation. Her daughters chose hot chocolate and dried fruit, her husband chose coffee (I can relate to that!), and she chose spices. They did eat out sometimes, and of course didn’t insist on local foods when dining at friends’ houses.

I listened to this book on CD, read by the author with sidebars read (and written) by her husband and oldest daughter. I’m not sure if the printed version of the book has recipes, but they are published on their website. I haven’t tried any, but all of their meals sounded delicious, from their weekly Friday night pizza to the more elaborate spread they served for Kingsolver’s 50th birthday.

Am I going to try this? No. But it did get me thinking, and did get me to the local farmer’s market where I bought cucumbers, cauliflower, carrots, kohlrabi, and an especially delicious cantaloupe. All of it was less expensive and tastier than what I can get at the grocery store. The growing season is short in the upper-midwest, but I’ll take advantage of the fresh local fruits and vegetables while I can. I’m happy to let someone else do the farming though!


The Kitchen Reader: Some recipes from Mark Bittman’s Food Matters

June 30, 2010

This month’s book for The Kitchen Reader is Food Matters, by Mark Bittman, which was selected by Elizabeth of Spike Bakes. The first 100 or so pages of the book are full of facts and figures designed to convince the reader that we should be eating less meat and processed foods, and more fruits and vegetables, because it’s better for your body and for the environment. The rest of the book is full of recipes that support his theory of eating. I’m not all that keen on facts and figures, and I didn’t need a lot of convincing, so I skimmed through the first part and then dove into the recipes. While this wasn’t my favorite book to read, I found a number of recipes that sounded great.

The first recipe I tried was Tabbouleh. I’ve made it before but it’s been a while, and I don’t know what recipe I used in the past. The first thing I thought was – where are the cucumbers? Isn’t that a staple in this salad? Then I thought – peas? What the heck is he thinking putting peas in there? I decided to have faith and I mostly followed the recipe and it was awesome! Especially the peas!

I was planning to eat this for lunch all week, but my husband tried it and declared “I like things like this a lot,” so I had to share. The recipe is at the bottom of the post. Give it a try! By the way, I’ve always called this Tabouli, but Bittman calls it Tabbouleh…I think it’s the same salad regardless of the spelling.

Next up was Vegetable Spread. This is a really loose recipe that you can customize according to what you have and what you like. Basically, you cook 2 pounds of vegetables and then puree them with olive oil. I roasted onion, carrots, red bell pepper, broccoli, and cauliflower with a little olive oil, then put them in the food processor with a little more olive oil, salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Roasted vegetables are so flavorful, and after pureeing, this spread was a lovely mosaic of colors. My veggie-loving husband was really looking forward to this after he saw the roasted vegetables and asked what I was doing with them.

We ate this with this cracker bread; it would be great with any kind of crackers or bread. The roasted flavor and the combination of vegetables was so delicious! Another keeper that I’ll make again and again. Scroll down for the recipe. I wish I would have measured the amount of spread that the recipe made. Two pounds of vegetables sounds like a lot, but they shrink when roasted, and by the time they’re pureed, the amount doesn’t seem so huge.

Mark Bittman’s Tabbouleh

From Food Matters, also published online here My notes are in (red)

1/2 cup fine-grind (#1) or medium-grind (#2) bulgur (I bought some from the bulk section at my grocery store; I don’t know what size it was)
1/3 cup olive oil, or more as needed (I used 1/4 c, and would start with less next time)
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, or to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup parsley leaves, roughly chopped
1 cup fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped (omitted)
1 cup peas or fava beans (frozen are fine; run them under cold water to thaw) (used peas)
6 or 7 radishes, chopped
1/2 cup scallions, chopped
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
about 6 black olives, pitted and chopped, or more to taste (optional) (not optional! They’re great!)

Soak the bulgur in 1¼ cups boiling water to cover until tender, 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the grind. If any water remains when the bulgur is done, put the bulgur in a fine strainer and press down on it, or squeeze it in a cloth (be sure to squeeze as much water out as you can). Toss the bulgur with the oil and lemon juice and sprinkle with salt and pepper. (You can make the bulgur up to a day in advance. Cover and refrigerate; bring to room temperature before proceeding.) Just before you’re ready to eat, add the remaining ingredients and toss gently; taste, adjust the seasoning, adding more oil or lemon juice as needed. Serves four.

Mark Bittman’s Vegetable Spread

From Food Matters, also published online here

• About 2 pounds any vegetables, trimmed and cooked until tender by any method
• 3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more as needed
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the veggies, any cooking method will work: Steam, boil, sauté, grill, or roast — though grilling and roasting concentrate flavors and make the spread more complex. Just make sure everything is quite tender.  Make sure the vegetables are relatively dry before starting. If you need to drain them, reserve the cooking liquid. To puree the vegetables, put them in a blender or food processor with the olive oil and as much of the cooking liquid (or water or more olive oil) as you need to get the machine going; or run the vegetables through a food mill. In many cases, you can simply mash the vegetables with a large fork or potato masher, adding the olive oil and cooking liquid as needed to reach the consistency you want.
Taste, then sprinkle with salt and pepper and taste again. Serve warm, cold, or at room temperature. It will keep in the fridge for several days.

Veggie variations:

Eggplant spread
Eggplant, trimmed and cooked until tender
Flavor with tahini, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, and parsley

Beet spread
Beets, trimmed and cooked until tender
Flavor with walnuts and dill, serve garnished with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt

Butternut squash spread
Butternut squash, cooked until tender
Flavor with fresh ginger, orange zest, and cilantro

Broccoli Spread
Broccoli, trimmed and cooked until tender
Flavor with Parmesan cheese, pine nuts, and olive oil

Flavoring veggie spreads:
* Add up to 1/2 cup of fresh parsley, mint, dill, cilantro, basil or other mild herb leaves before pureeing.
* Add up to a tablespoon of fresh rosemary, oregano, or thyme leaves before pureeing.
* Squeeze some citrus juice — lemon, lime, or orange — into the puree.
* Include a few coins of peeled fresh ginger or a garlic clove or two with the vegetables as they puree.
* Puree the vegetable mixture with fresh (or reconstituted dried) chiles to taste, or add a pinch of cayenne or red pepper flakes.
* When you add salt, add a pinch of ground ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, mustard seeds or nutmeg.
* Add chili powder along with the olive oil.
* Instead of the olive oil, use peanut oil or coconut milk, and season with curry powder.
* Instead of the olive oil, use a combination of sesame and peanut oil, and season with five-spice powder.


The Kitchen Reader: Tender at the Bone

May 29, 2010

This month’s selection for The Kitchen Reader is Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl, and it was selected by none other than me!  I read Garlic and Sapphires, Reichl’s stories of her days as the New York Times restaurant reviewer, and enjoyed it, so I wanted to read another one of her books.

Tender at the Bone starts when Reichl is a small child and ends when she’s about 30. She states up front that the stories are true but not necessarily factual. Well, if the book is even half true, she’s led quite an interesting life! It’s hard to sum it up and I don’t want to give anything away, but would it pique your interest if I told you that she spent part of her high school years in boarding school in Quebec? That after high school, she was a camp counselor in France? That she later moved to California and bought a house with a group of friends, turning it into a commune? Yes, she did all that and so much more.

Not surprisingly, one of the themes throughout her life is food. She started cooking and appreciating food at an early age, and some of the funniest stories are about her mother’s lack of cooking skills. Not so funny is her mother’s mental illness, which casts a shadow on Reichl and her father throughout her life. Funny stories, serious stories, and recipes sprinkled throughout make this an enjoyable book. She continues her story in Comfort Me with Apples and I can’t wait to see what comes next.


The Kitchen Reader: On the Line

April 30, 2010

This month’s selection for The Kitchen Reader is On the Line, by Christine Muhlke. It’s a behind-the-scenes look at Le Bernardin, chef Eric Ripert’s 3-star Michelin restaurant in New York City.

This is a beautiful book with gorgeous photos and a great layout. When I started reading this, I thought about my own limited restaurant experience (bussing tables at a country club in high school) and felt that I couldn’t relate to the goings-on in a four-star big city restaurant. But then I realized that in the end, Le Bernardin is a business. There is a team of people who must work together to deliver a product. Coming from the corporate world, I can relate to that. But they are delivering that product several times a day – there is no room for lengthy delays and endless meetings!

Of course there are recipes for delicious-sounding seafood dishes and fabulous desserts. But the book contains five other sections: The History, In the Kitchen, The Dishes, The Dining Experience, and The Business. I found it especially interesting to read about the different roles in the kitchen and to learn that all cooks must work every station in the kitchen, no matter how experienced they are when they are hired. Cooks who do a good job and can take the heat, so to speak, have a good chance of moving up.

One of my favorite sections was the Cardinal Sins – the list of 129 details that employees should keep in mind at all times. I had to laugh, because I’ve experienced many of these while dining out! A few that I heartily agree with:

  • Approaching a table with another table’s dirty dishes.
  • Inability to answer basic menu questions.
  • Not continuing to service the table once you have presented the check.
  • Watching while the guest completes the credit card slip.

I took at look at Le Berdnardin’s website. The tasting menu is $138 per person ($225 with wine pairings) and a prix fixe dinner is $110. After learning about all of the people involved behind the scenes and the commitment to quality of food and service, I better understand why prices are so high. Whether you can afford it and whether you think it’s worth it is another story.

Thank you to Jennifer for this month’s selection. Come back next month, because I selected the book for May!


The Kitchen Reader: Eat, Memory

March 31, 2010

This month’s selection for The Kitchen Reader is Eat, Memory: Great Writers at the Table. The book is a collection of essays from the New York Times, edited by Amanda Hesser.

I enjoy reading essays, and I especially enjoyed this book. Each essay is about four pages long, so if you don’t like it, you’re almost finished! But if you do like it, you’re almost finished too! Yes, these are really short, and I believe it’s an art to tell a story using so few words.

“I have gradually realized that there is consolation to be found in any baked good that calls for more than one stick of butter.” That quote is from Eau God, by Henry Alford. This essay, about Alford’s trip to Morocco, was one of my favorites, and one that I had read before. I had never forgotten it, and was so happy to read the first few words and realize that it was the story I remembered enjoying so much when I read it in the New York Times Magazine.

Another favorite essay was Bean There, Tucker Carlson’s story of working at the B&M baked bean factory in college. There are funny stories, touching stories, sad stories, each ending with a recipe. As with all of the books I’ve read for The Kitchen Reader, I did not make any of the recipes from the book. The timing never seems to work out for me. Someday, though, I will have a write-up and a recipe.

Want to see what others thought of this book? Pop over to The Kitchen Reader to see the blogroll!


The Kitchen Reader: It Ain’t All About the Cookin’ by Paula Deen

February 28, 2010

This month’s selection for The Kitchen Reader is It Ain’t All About the Cookin’ by Paula Deen (with Sherry Suib Cohen).

image from

I didn’t know a lot about Paula Deen before reading this book. I knew that she had a cooking show, which I’ve watched here and there. I knew she had two sons who she’s crazy about, and that she got married a few years ago and the wedding was on the Food Network. I knew that she used a lot of butter because people joke about that all the time. And one thing that I didn’t want to know about her: a friend of mine attended the South Beach Food and Wine Festival last year and told me that Paula Deen appeared there and mooned the audience. That is a side of Paula that I don’t want to see! My friend didn’t know who she was, but she sure made an impression on her…unfortunately not a good one. In her book, though, she comes off as a pretty likeable person. This was an entertaining, easy read. I give her a lot of credit for telling stories about things that most of us would keep to ourselves. I don’t know if she tells all, but she tells some things that I’m sure were hard to talk about.

The book starts at the beginning and takes us to about 2007. It really is a rags to riches story, and I’ll admit that I got sucked into the drama of her life. She grew up very poor, had a not-so-great marriage, and suffered agoraphobia. When she was 42, she started her own business selling bag lunches and that was the start of her success in the food world. The lunch business led to a restaurant, then another restaurant, then a cookbook, and then the Food Network.

A few fun facts:

  • Before she had her own show on the Food Network, she appeared on Door Knock Dinners and Ready…Set…Cook! I used to love watching those shows!
  • Paula’s husband Michael is 9 years younger than she is. I never would have guessed that!
  • Former president Jimmy Carter appeared on her show twice.
  • She had a small part in the movie Elizabethtown.

If I may vent for a moment…some of the writing in this book drove me up the wall. She writes words as if they’re being spoken in a Southern accent: weddin’, fixin’, et (instead of ate). I know how Paula talks and I could hear her voice in my head when I was reading the book, but I didn’t need it spelled out for me. I think she reads the audio book, and that would have been fun to listen to, but it wasn’t available at my library.

Not surprisingly, each chapter ends with a recipe: Shaggy Man Split Pea Soup, Pan-Fried Corn, and Beef Stroganoff are just a few, plus there are desserts such as Baked-Savannah Alaska and Mississippi Mud Cake.

This was an interesting story. If you like rags to riches stories, or if you want to know more about Paula Deen’s background, this may be the book for you. Take a look at what the other Kitchen Reader members thought!


The Kitchen Reader: What We Eat When We Eat Alone

January 31, 2010

January’s book selection for The Kitchen Reader is What We Eat When We Eat Alone, by Deborah Madison and Patrick McFarlin.

Madison, a food writer and cookbook author, and McFarlin, her artist husband, used to travel extensively on culinary trips. During those travels, they started asking people what they cook for themselves when they’re eating alone. The book contains descriptions from people about what they make for themselves – some people are very detailed and others are vague. And there are many mentions of sardines, which really surprised me! I couldn’t tell you the last time I had sardines or thought about having them.

The book’s chapters cover topics such as men’s vs. women’s solo eating habits, people who eat alone most of the time and people who eat alone occasionally. It discusses younger people just starting out, older people who are single again, people who are cooks by profession and those who don’t cook much at all. These aren’t the kind of dishes that have recipes, but the authors created recipes for them – there are 100 recipes in the book, all of them simple, such as an omelet with crunchy buttered breadcrumbs. It’s a quick read and I thought it was fun to take a peek into what other people eat when they’re only trying to please themselves.

The whole time I was reading this book, I was relating it to my personal experiences and trying to remember what I cooked and ate when I was first out on my own, and then through other longer- and shorter-term phases of eating alone…sometimes happy to be alone and sometimes not happy. While I can’t remember all of the details of what I ate during the different periods, I know that my solo eating preferences changed along with the phases of my life. Right now, the most likely thing that I will eat if I’m eating alone is a baked potato and broccoli, with LOTS of broccoli. They’re two of my favorite foods and I’m thrilled to make a dinner out of them. I’ve also been known to spread peanut butter on marshmallows for dessert, but only if no one is there to see me do it!

Take a look at what the other Kitchen Reader members have to say about this book!


The Kitchen Reader: My Life in France by Julia Child

October 31, 2009

This month’s selection for The Kitchen Reader is My Life in France by Julia Child. Until I read Julie and Julia, I didn’t know much of anything about Julia Child. That book was a bit of an introduction, but I really got bitten by the Julia Child bug after seeing the movie Julie and Julia. The movie went into some detail about her life in Paris and how she got involved in writing Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I walked out of the movie wanting to know much more about all of it. My Life in France did not disappoint! I loved this book so much that I was sad when it ended.

The book is written by Julia Child with her great-nephew Alex Prud’homme. They cover a lot of ground in 333 pages! The book begins in 1948 when Julia and her husband Paul arrive in France and ends in the early 1970s when she is living in the US and filming her television show (plus there is a brief epilogue). I enjoyed all of the book, but I especially enjoyed reading about the process of writing Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The extent of the research she did alone was amazing (and she didn’t have the Internet!). And then there was the testing, the writing, the rewriting, and the sometimes tenuous relationship with the two French women she was collaborating with, not to mention the process of getting the book published.

We learn a lot about Julia’s personal life too, including her strained relationship with her father, who couldn’t accept her opinions about politics and the world. On the flip side, she had a wonderful relationship with Paul; the two not only loved each other, they genuinely liked, respected, and supported each other. There are stories about Julia’s time at Le Cordon Bleu cooking school, Paul’s job (very interesting, and a mini history lesson to boot!), and of course life in France. I was delighted to learn that Julia was a cat lover and included some fun cat stories.

Sprinkled throughout the book are photos, many of which were taken by Paul. The photos add a great personal touch to the book; if you’re on the fence about reading the book, at least page through a copy and look at the photos. Maybe they’ll intrigue you enough to give this book a read!

Be sure to take a look at The Kitchen Reader blogroll to see what the others thought of My Life in France.

For a little more interesting reading about Julia Child, Dorie Greenspan wrote four Tales of Julia posts on her blog. They were fun to read and I wish she’d write more! Here are the links to her posts:

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