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Food-Related: Books, Movies & Product Reviews
Since I attended Mixed last year, I’ve been considering refocusing this blog a bit. Since it’s inception,I have blogged about two of my interests – books and food. But attending the conference made me think about that. The two topics, while I love them both, are a bit disconnected in the current blog format.
Over the past year, I’ve been thinking about how to change this. I’d like to move in a direction where I directly tie in books with menus or recipes inspired by the books. I’ve already done that a few times, when blogging about book clubs that I’ve hosted, but not with the vast majority book reviews (or recipes and menus) published. My intent would be to blog about a book and include at least one menu or recipe inspired by the book.
Consider this post a test drive. I’ve reviewed a book and included a couple different menu options at the end of it. (In the future, I’d post recipes either with the book review or later in the week). What do you think? Would you like to see Books n’ Cooks post more like this? Or are you happy with whatever book reviews and recipes that I share? Please, take a minute and complete the poll at the bottom of this post or leave me a comment with your opinion (or suggestions!)
Apron Anxiety: My Messy Affairs In and Out Of the Kitchen
By Alyssa Shelasky
Celebrity journalist Alyssa Shelasky moves from New York to Washington DC to be with her boyfriend, Top Chef contestant only identified as Chef. In a new, unfamiliar city and knowing nobody other than Chef, Shelasky feels lost and uninspired. She has no friends to pass time with and no work to lose herself in. She can’t even connect with Chef’s peers and coworkers because she can’t relate – she can’t even boil water! She continues on this path until her attitude starts to negatively impact her relationship with Chef. In an attempt to fill her time, do something positive, and reconnect with Chef, Shelasky takes up cooking. In the end, cooking not only helps repair her relationship with Chef but also helps Shelasky rediscover herself and her own happiness.
Review/Recommendation: Apron Anxiety was a quick read but I wouldn’t say that it was anything extraordinary. It followed a format that is becoming increasingly common nowadays: storytelling + recipe. I admit that this is a format I enjoy when I feel like the recipes are unique or add something to the book. In this case, I didn’t feel like the most of the recipes were all that original or added any value to the story.
Shelasky was funny and sarcastic, I’ll give her that. But sometimes she seemed to take the self-pity a bit far. I enjoyed reading about Shelasky learning to cook – reading about her mistakes, her excitement when a meal turned out well, and her discovering the joys of grocery shopping. But I’m not going to lie, my interest in the story might have been heightened by my obsession with Top Chef. I really wanted to figure out Chef’s real identity. (I googled it after finishing the book – Spike Mendelsohn!).
Overall, Apron Anxiety wasn’t bad. As I said, it was a quick read but certainly nothing extraordinary.
Plan A Meal Around It: From Apron Anxiety
- “The Pasta” (pasta with olive oil, fresh tomatoes, basil & Parmesan)
- Neiman Marcus Cookies (my recipe, using espresso powder instead of shredded chocolate, is actually pretty similar to the one in the book)
Plan A Meal Around It: Inspired by Apron Anxiety
- Your favorite burger + milkshakes (inspiration: Chef’s restaurant, Good Stuff Eatery)
- Cheese toasts + pastitsio (Greek lasagna) + baklava or fresh fruit (inspiration: Chef takes Shelasky to Greece)
In honor of National Ice Cream Month last month (July), I decided to read The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World’s Most Glorious – and Perplexing – City written by the author of the proclaimed ice cream cookbook, The Perfect Scoop, David Lebovitz. I was going to make Levovitz’s Chocolate Ice Cream too. Well, I finished the book but never got around to posting or making the ice cream. I know, shame on me. But, it does mean that National Ice Cream Month lasts just a little bit longer for you. If you missed out on some ice cream, Lebovitz’s vanilla ice cream recipes posted on Annie’s Eats are fantastic (my favorite is the French-style while my hubby loves the Philadelphia-style). I also really enjoy this Strawberry Cheesecake Ice Cream from Cooking Light.
The Sweet Life in Paris:
Delicious Adventures in the World’s Most Glorious – and Perplexing – City
By David Lebovitz
Following the unexpected loss of his partner and months of mourning, Lebovitz needed to rejoin life. He needed a change of scenery, a change of pace from his life in San Francisco. Thus, to Paris he went.
The Sweet Life in Paris is one story after another, chronicling Lebovitz’s everyday life. Every little thing is an adventure – learning to live and cook in a tiny apartment, going to the market or the hospital. He gets to know local shop owners (bribing them with brownies certainly helped) and works in local industry. And one day, he isn’t so much of an outside, but more of a Parisian.
Review & Recommendation: The Sweet Life in Paris feels like a mix of short stories, travel advice, and a cooking show. Stories about living in Paris are peppered with humor and are interspersed with recipes. Lebovitz makes a trip to the grocery store seem like an adventure.
Whether you’re going to Paris soon or not, this is a great book to read. It’s quick; it’s funny. For travel lovers, it’s an unusually honest insight into Parisian culture and attitudes. For food lovers, it’s a glimpse into the life of a cookbook author as he adjust to new ways of shopping, cooking, and living. For everyone else, this is simply a light, witty book worth reading.
About the Author: Professional cook and baker David Lebovitz is the author of The Perfect Scoop, Paris Pastry Guide, Ready for Dessert, The Great Book of Chocolate, Room for Dessert, Ripe for Dessert, and The Baker’s Dozen Cookbook. He can be found at his website, www.davidlebovitz.com.
Simply from Scratch
Simply from Scratch is Alicia Bessette’s debut novel. The main characters is Zell, a widow whose husband died in an accident while on a volunteer trip to help Hurricane Katrina survivors. As Zell struggles to come to terms with her husband’s death, she befriends her 9-year old neighbor, Ingrid. Together, the two enter a Desserts that Warm the Soul baking contest – Zell to win the $20,000 prize to donate to Hurricane Katrina efforts and Ingrid to meet cooking sensation Polly Pinch.
Simply from Scratch was well-written and witty. I enjoyed the creativity (i.e. Zell had “memory smacks” instead of flashbacks; the moments of pirate-speak when she talked to her dog, Captain Ahab) that was mixed into both happy and sad scenes. Bessette created a relatively light read, which was particularly impressive considering the emotional struggles of the main character.
This book was incredibly moving and had a bit of everything – a little romance, some sorrow, funny cooking adventures, lots of friendship and kindness… I laughed and I cried.
Congrats to Alicia Bessette for her first novel! While I’m looking forward to your next novel, friends and family are already fighting for my copy of your first!
Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise
By Ruth Reichl
Garlic and Sapphires is a quick read about Ruth Reichl’s years as a food critic for the New York Times. Each chapter begins with a one or more personal stories about a food, a restaurant, or her personal life, and goes on to include a recipe or two and a restaurant review.
I enjoyed Reichl’s incredible, elaborate descriptions about the food and her service in the various restaurants. The thing that amazed me was how she seemed to be able to identify almost every flavor in a dish. (As a fellow foodie, I hope to someday know food that well!) It was clear that the good dishes really transported Reichl to another world.
At the same time, Reichl struggled against critics to sample and review all types of food (instead of the traditional high-class French food of the previous critics) and struggled to come up with an honest review – how does the restaurant treat people who are not restaurant critics or wealthy persons? To achieve this latter goal, Reichl created characters to disguise herself, such as her mother or hippie Brenda. Its incredible to think that restaurant service and food depends in part on your appearance and I applaud Reichl for standing up and giving these restaurants poor reviews because of it. These characters also helped Reichl find and better understand herself.
Overall, this was a great book for food-lovers.
By Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme
I got this book while at an airport – I had finished the one I brought with me and was trying to choose something that I knew a relative or friend wouldn’t buy (because those usually get mailed to me!). Since I love cooking, am eagerly anticipating Julie & Julia from Netflix, and know nothing about Julia Child, I chose her book, My Life in France.
I went into this book with no expectations, and to be honest, didn’t want to put it down once I started reading. However, for some reason, I felt oddly unsatisfied when I finished the book… like I didn’t know what she talked about for 300 pages.
The first two-thirds of the book were when Child actually lived in France and was learning to cook. I enjoyed the bits and pieces about her cooking classes, I wish there had been a lot more about her trials and errors in the kitchen and her experimentation while working on her cookbook. I did appreciate the glimpses into the 1950s – life in France at the time and the American diplomatic bureaucracy as the Cold War was just beginning. However, I wish there would have been more about Child’s experiences in the kitchen.
The end of the book really focused on the publication of Child’s cookbooks and her work doing tv cooking shows – she traveled back and forth between Norway, France and the U.S. Definitely more about cooking here. However, what I appreciated most about this section was the descriptions of working together with her husband, who was retired at the time and was an amateur photographer and artist. The descriptions of the two of them working together on recipes or the cookbook were just wonderful!
Recommendation? I would recommend this book for a glimpse into Julia Child’s life and into the time period, but if you’re expecting full stories about how she learned to cook or her lessons, I would probably skip this book, as I found that lacking.
A couple years ago, I had read an article in Fine Cooking on boxed wines. Back then, I wasn’t a big wine drinker, but I knew that boxed wine didn’t have a great reputation. I decided to try it anyway – Fine Cooking had never steered me wrong; I didn’t drink or cook with wine often enough so wanted something that would keep for a while; and you can’t beat the price (most are under $20 for the equivalent of 4 regular 750 ml bottles).
I’ve only tried one of boxed wines recommended in FC and in a later issue of Food Network Magazine, not because I don’t want to, but because I haven’t been able to find all the brands or I forgot which ones were recommended. However, I wanted to share this list with you anyway.
If you’ve tried any of these, please leave a comment – both myself and future readers will thank you for your input! =)
Recommended White Wines:
Banrock Station Chardonnay, from Australia
Black Box Chardonnay, from Napa Valley
I have tried the chardonnay, pinot grigio, and shiraz and have enjoyed them all, although the pinot grigio is my favorite, with a nice light flavor.
Wine Block Chardonnay
Angel Juice Pinot Grigio
Also tried Bota Box Pinot Grigio (Dec. 2009) – it’s a sweeter pinot but still very good.
Recommended Red Wines:
Hardys Stamp of Australia Merlot
Delicator Shiraz, from California
Black Box Cabernet Sauvignon, from Paso Robles
I have tried the chardonnay, pinot grigio, and shiraz and have enjoyed them all, so I would recommend giving the cabernet sauvigon a shot (sadly shiraz is the only red wine I drink!)
Wine Block Cabernet Sauvignon
Banrock Station Merlot, from Australia
Boho Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon
Oct. 2010 Update: Since wring this, I have also tried various wines from Bota Box and Fish Eye Wine. Would recommend both.
Sources: Fine Cooking No. 79 (July 2006, p. 34-35)
Food Network Magazine (Nov/Dec 2008)
Photos compliments of Black Box and the Block Wines.
Peanut Soy Finishing Sauce & Black Sesame Ginger Puree
From Williams Sonoma
My mom gave me this combo from Williams Sonoma a little while ago. The black sesame ginger puree is supposed to be used like a rub, to season the meat or seafood, and the peanut soy sauce is meant to be drizzled on top of the finished dish.
I’ve made this twice so far, both with shrimp topped over rice, and some crushed peanuts on top. I enjoy the puree – its sweet with a little kick from the red pepper mixed in. I even liked the ginger, which I’m not normally a fan of.
I wasn’t such a huge fan of the finishing sauce. It was a little salty to me thanks to the soy sauce. I also didn’t taste the peanut in the finishing sauce much, hence why I added the crushed peanut on top (which really did make the dish pretty good).