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Archive for the ‘Cookbook reviews’ Category

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Do you have a favorite game day appetizer, casserole, or crowd-pleaser recipe? If so, head on over to Stir It Up! to enter a fun recipe challenge. If your entry is chosen as the winner you will receive a signed copy of ESPN‘s cookbook “Taste of the Town” by Todd Blacklege, a former quarterback for Penn State and the Kansas City Chiefs, and current college football analyst.

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VegetableLiteracy

The phrase, “eat your vegetables,” has long been used by stern-looking parents desperate to make their offspring eat something besides pasta and chicken fingers. To children everywhere, “vegetables” has meant mushy, bland tasting things that stand in the way of dessert. Unfortunately, many people carry the disdain for leafy, root-y edibles far into adulthood.

Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison may be the cookbook to change all of that.

“Vegetable Literacy,” breaks new ground because it focuses on the relationships between the veggies that grow in your garden. Madison’s theory is that if you understand these relationships, you’ll find new freedom in the kitchen to mix and match flavors in away that allows zucchini, peas, squash, and so much more to harmonize their flavors instead of being tolerated like unwanted guests on your dinner plate.

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France, it has long been known, has the power to ignite a passion for food.

Julia Child overcame prejudice and disdain for Americans to earn her culinary badge from Paris Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in the 1950s. Her memoir, “My Life in France,” details her love affair with the country and its culinary masterpieces. Food writer Amanda Hesser wooed a grumpy peasant caretaker in a walled kitchen garden at Chateau du Fey in Burgundy, France, and wrote about it in “The Cook and the Gardner.” And even food blogger-turned author Molly Wizenburg of Orangette fame traces her food writing epiphany to the streets of France in “A Homemade Life.”

A street in Paris from "Cowgirl Chef" by Ellise Pierce (Steve Legato/Courtesy of Running Press).

A street in Paris from “Cowgirl Chef” by Ellise Pierce (Steve Legato/Courtesy of Running Press).

There are countless other Americans who traveled to France and suddenly found a new direction in life centered on food. So revered is French cuisine that its principles are a bedrock in Western culinary schools. In November 2010, French gastronomy was added to UNESCO’s “intangible cultural heritage” world list.

And then there is Ellise Pierce, the Cowgirl Chef, who followed a Frenchman to Paris only to get homesick for Texas. There, in the romantic culinary capital of the world, the former journalist found herself yearning for cornbread, hot chilis, and even – gasp – Milky Way candybars.

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Forget about buying the same old boring bottles of soda from the supermarket. There is a much better and creative way – with a little bit of effort –  to bring a bit of sparkle to your next party. The Artisan Soda Workshop by Andrea Lynn (Ulysses Press, 2012, 127 pp.) has more than 70 recipes that will help you to make your own sodas at home using fresh fruit and the real flavors of spices and herbs.

With sections ranging from “Homemade Soda Copycats” (Natural Golden Cola Syrup, Root Beer Syrup), to “Soda Adventures with Herbs and Spices” (Sea Salt-Lime Syrup, Mango-Chile Syrup), to “Seasonal Suds” and “Agua Frescas and Shrubs” there’s a lot here to explore and enjoy.

“Soda didn’t start out as a mass-produced uniform product,” Lynn writes in the introduction to “The Artisan Soda Workshop.” “A hundred years ago, soda could be enjoyed at local shops that offered it in a wide variety of house-made options. Now, more people are looking back to the history of soda and recognizing all the possibilities; they’re applying modern ideas about food to make new and exciting soda recipes.”

While homemade sodas may seem like a chore, when one could simply twist off the cap of a mass-produced drink, there are some added benefits. Homemade sodas are made with real fruit, not artificial flavoring, and you can control the sugar levels to your preference. The syrups just need to be stirred into seltzer water, and Lynn says purchasing your own seltzermaker is worth it. (She likes www.sodastream.com.) There are also plenty of other uses for your fruit syrup, such as drizzling it over pancakes or atop big bowl of ice cream.

We had a Cowboy Chili Cookoff at work this week, and instead of trying to compete among all the other chuck-and-beans creations I decided to go another route and bring homemade soda punch. It was a good decision I think – there were 19 crockpots of chili but only two homemade sodas: Prickly Pear Agua Fresca and Sparkling Watermelon-Jalapeño Agua Fresca.

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I’ve been meaning to tell you about this cookbook for awhile. For all those of you out there who are raising chickens, pickling, and making your own crackers, you’ll find good wit and wisdom in “Make the Bread, Buy the Butter” by Jennifer Reese (Free Press, October 2011, $24).

Having chickens cluck in the yard and filling your pantry with preserves that you picked and canned yourself is rewarding – but is it worth all the time battling persistent bugs and rodents just to say, “I made this sauce with heirloom tomatoes I grew myself”?

Reese, who blogs at www.tipsybaker.com, took on an ambitious project when she applied her journalistic skills to figure out what is worth making at home (croutons), what is worth attempting for the experience (Camembert cheese), and what is an accomplishment but a true pain in the rear (prosciutto).

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It’s getting really complicated around here. Our next storm is on the way and conversations at work are beginning to take on new levels of strategic intricacy:

I’m planning on driving in after rush hour and get a snow pass for my car to leave it in the garage over night and then I’ll take the early train home because the snow storm is supposed to hit just as the evening rush hour begins. If I can’t make it in tomorrow on the train then I’ll have to work from home and hope the power doesn’t go out again.

When you work for a news organization that doesn’t recognize “snow days,” surrendering to the weather is not an option. Ever. This is why I keep wading through blizzards wearing my ski goggles on my way to the train. (Strangely, whenever I wear my goggles walking down the sidewalk neighbors out shoveling always say hello to me and tell me what good idea I had to wear my goggles. These are people I don’t know. I’m not making this up. Try it sometime.)

So. Since we have no control over the complicated weather, this calls for simple food. Really, really simple food. Like blue cheese melted on sourdough toast, slabs of thick bacon, drizzled with honey, and sprinkled with cracked pepper. If you want to get fancy, you can brush each side of the sourdough bread with olive oil and broil it for 2 minutes a side in the oven. Or just toast it in your toaster. Whatever you want. Do I need to say more? No, I do not.

I found this recipe in “Harvest to Heat” by Darryl Estrine and Kelly Kochendorfer. It is a wonderful cookbook that tells you where your food came from, how it was grown, and who loved it before it arrived on your plate. Their Blue Cheese Tartine (a fancy French word for open-faced sandwich) is the first recipe and says hello just the way it should. (more…)

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I have never made a homemade chicken potpie. Until now.

Woah. I feel like I just got let in on some secret toward finding eternal happiness. This is encouraging, particularly at this time of year when it is completely dark by 5 p.m.

Chicken potpie is one frozen food that I will admit to eating. Maybe it has some childhood nostalgia for me. My parents had busy careers and even though we enjoyed lots of home cooked meals, an upside down chicken potpie straight from the mini aluminum pie tray with a slosh of applesauce on the side was one of my favorite dinners. It was one of the first things I got to make as kid all by myself, which means, I got to poke fork holes into the top of the frozen pastry and slide it into the oven. By the time I finished watching an episode of “Laverne & Shirley,” my dinner was ready. (more…)

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