September 17, 2014

The Food of Myanmar by Claudia Saw Lwin Robert

The Food of Myanmar: Authentic Recipes from the Land of the Golden Pagodas
My rating: 4 of 5 spoons

"The Food of Myanmar" is well worth it just for the first 35 pages of history, information, cooking techniques and guide to a typical Myanmar pantry. The early recipes cover dips, sauces, pickles and other condiments. From there it covers Appetizers, Rice, Soups & Noodles, Salads, Fish & Shellfish, Meat & Poultry, Vegetables and Desserts. The recipes are varied and fascinating, but if you don't have a good Asian grocery nearby, you might have trouble actually cooking them. There is an interesting array of ingredients that if you're not very familiar with Asian cooking might be new to you or hard to find such as roasted pea flour, curry leaves (you can buy curry powder around here, but I've never seen the leaves), lephet (fermented tea leaves--if you want to make them yourself, be prepared to wait 6 months before you can use them!), dried fermented soya bean cake or dried lablab beans. Some have substitutions listed such as cilantro leaves for saw-leaf herb, but many do not. The instructions are clear, and there are beautiful full-color photographs.

If you are looking for authentic Burmese food, look no further--just make sure you have a source for the harder-to-find ingredients.

I received a copy of this book from Tuttle Publishing for my honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

The B.T.C. Old-Fashioned Grocery Cookbook by Alexe van Beuren

The B.T.C. Old-Fashioned Grocery Cookbook: Recipes and Stories from a Southern Revival
My rating: 5 of 5 spoons

So much more than 'just' a cookbook, "The B.T.C. Old-Fashioned Grocery Cookbook" is filled with stories and history, some that just make you laugh out loud! I love the tidbits at the beginning of the recipes. Some of us ladies were chatting during potluck at church Sunday about dressing vs. stuffing, and I had to share from this book. All the Southerners fully agreed that it's cornbread dressing (NOT stuffing) and it never goes inside the bird!

There are so many great recipes in this book, many of which I grew up on. I love Chess Pie and while this recipe will make a good pie, I recommend switching the tablespoon of flour to cornmeal (straight cornmeal, not the cornmeal mix) and adding a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar. I know, I know. Vinegar in a pie? Trust me on this one, it's fabulous! So many classic Southern recipes are in here such as Red-Eye Gravy, Apple Salad, Red-Rind Pimento Cheese, Cornbread Dressing and Fried Pies. I grew up on Fried Dried Apple Pies. My mom would dry apples in the summer, and then all through the fall and winter, she would take some out, cook them with her own concoction of spices and sugar and fill the pies with that. Oh, my! Part of me feels like that's the only real fried pie, but part of me is definitely wanting to try her recipe for peach pies! Along with some old favorites are some newer recipes that definitely weren't on our table growing up, but sound great such as Roasted Fennel Mashed Potatoes, Crab-Meat Stuffed Mushrooms, and Watermelon Salad with Feta.

The only drawbacks I found in this book is some of the recipes have a lot of ingredients (for instance, her recipe for sausage gravy has 14 ingredients. I'm a bit of a purist in some things, and this would be one of them. I'm going to pass on all the ground anise, dried mustard, Tabasco, etc and just stick with sausage, oil, flour, salt, pepper and milk. It tastes great!), and too many recipes have alcohol in them. I might occasionally buy a cooking wine at the grocery store, but I don't drink, and I'm not buying beer, tequila, rum, etc. That, however, is a personal thing and does not lower my rating. I'll work around it when I can, and just not make that particular recipe if I can't. Give this book a try. I think you'll be very happy you did!

I received a copy of this book through the program Blogging for Books for my honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

The Cook's Essential Kitchen Dictionary by Jacques Rolland

The Cook's Essential Kitchen Dictionary: A Complete Culinary Resource
My rating: 5 of 5 spoons

Have you ever been reading a recipe and wondered, "What is that ingredient?" or are you a novice cook that isn't quite sure what some cooking terms are? Have you ever wondered what flageolet, harusame, macerate, nam pla, udon or orgeat was? If so, this is the book for you! From ajowan to tzatziki and clary to vindaloo, cooking ingredients and terms are defined for you in this handy resource. There are nice, boxed sections throughout the book that contain things like varieties of apples, grades of butter, clam varieties, flour types and more. Set up alphabetically, it is easy to find what you're looking for quickly. As someone who loves to try different cuisines, I sometimes come across terms or ingredients I haven't heard of. If you'd have asked me yesterday what Appenzeller was, I wouldn't have been able to tell you. Now I know it is a Swiss cheese that is more "more moist and creamier than Emmental and much more robust than Gruyere"--and now I'd love to try it! I definitely recommend you add this to your bookshelf.

I received a copy of this book from Robert Rose Inc. for my honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

September 16, 2014

Eating in Maine by Malcolm and Jillian Bedell

Eating in Maine: At Home, on the Town and on the Road
My rating: 4 of 5 spoons

I love Maine! We spent nearly a month there a few years ago, and I left a little part of my heart there. From the scenery to the food to the people, I loved it all and couldn't wait to get my hands on this book!! Part cookbook and part restaurant reviews and travelogue, this book is filled with great recipes, gorgeous full-color photos, restaurant reviews and lots of little tidbits of information.

I figured if I was going to fully review this cookbook, I HAD to make a lobster dish. Maine is known for it's lobster, and it has a good showing in this book. When I read the recipe for Lobster with Sweet Corn Linguine, I knew I had to make it. I have never cooked or taken apart a lobster before, so that was a little intimidating. That along with the concern that my youngest (okay, actually my oldest as well!) might freak if they saw the lobster alive first, I cheated a little and let them cook it for me at the store. However, now that I've successfully taken one apart, I feel confident that I could do it from scratch next time. This is a wonderful recipe!! My husband and daughters weren't too sure about it, but were willing to try it. I have two that don't like lobster (I know, I don't understand it, either!), but other than that it was a big hit. The flavor was wonderful, like summer on your plate. The crispy corn was such a nice, contrasting texture to the lobster and noodles (I used fettuccine instead of linguine), and of course, butter and lobster are just made for each other!! Other than the cost, I highly recommend this dish. Actually, that is part of what lowered my rating for this book. If you live in Maine and can get lobster for a great price, this is a great cookbook. If you live elsewhere, some of these dishes just aren't doable for people that aren't rich. For instance, there is a recipe for Lobster Macaroni and Cheese that sounds absolutely heavenly, but it calls for 16 oz of lobster meat--approximately FIVE 1 1/4 lb lobsters! Lobster around here has been running $16.99/lb. Even at the sale price of $13.99/lb that I paid, you'd be paying nearly $90 JUST for the lobster meat for this dish!! It sounds amazing, but unless I get to move to Maine, I'll not get to taste it!

There are other great recipes in this book that I can't wait to try. Other than Baci, an amazing hazelnut/dark chocolate candy from Italy, Ferrero Roche candies top my list. Nutella is high on my list as well. Well, if you love these flavors, you're in luck. There is a recipe for Ferrero Roche Stuffed Chocolate Cupcakes with Nutella Buttercream!! Oh, my! I nearly went into a diabetic coma just reading the recipe--and I'm not diabetic! These are definitely on my "to make" list!! I can't wait to try the Tomato Pie, Brown Butter and Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies (yes, that says BACON!), and Spinach and Gruyere Strata. If I can get my hands on some haddock--not a fish I usually find around here--I dearly want to make the Haddock Chowder as well.

One other thing that dropped my rating a bit is that this book is supposed to be about all of Maine, but of the restaurant reviews, the majority are in and around Portland. There are reviews for twenty-five restaurants in Portland. Brunswick has the next highest amount with four, and there are a few with two, but most only have one restaurant reviewed. Bangor's one and only review was for a truck-stop, of all things, and August which is the CAPITOL of Maine, isn't even mentioned! I fell in love with Rockland, Maine while we were there and was tickled that Rockland was included until I found that the two restaurants reviewed from Rockland was a hot dog place and a sushi bar. I had the most amazing seafood chowder EVER at the Rockland Cafe, and was told later that for the area, that was THE place to go for seafood chowder. How disappointing that instead sushi and HOT DOGS were highlighted. If you ever get to Rockland, Maine, go to the Rockland Cafe and order their seafood chowder. Lobster, scallops, clams, haddock, shrimp, etc were heaped up out of the broth, even, and the flavor was amazing!! My husband had the haddock and loved it as well. Take my advice, skip the hot dogs and get some real Maine seafood there!

There are stories and tidbits scattered throughout written by the authors. This is simply a personal preference, but while I find Malcolm to usually be interesting and funny, Jillian more often than not comes over as pretentious and/or simply trying to hard to impress the reader with her writing. I found myself simply skipping portions that she wrote.

If you love Maine, or are perhaps planning a trip there, I highly recommend this book. Just be aware that depending on where you're going, you may not find much to help you on your trip.

I received a copy of this book from Tilbury House Publishers for my honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

September 9, 2014

Kitchen Garden Experts by Cinead McTearnan

Kitchen Garden Experts: Twenty Celebrated Chefs & Their Head Gardeners
My rating: 3 of 5 spoons

I don't really have a great space for gardening, but I like to try. I have been doing some container gardening this year, and love cooking with fresh produce that I have grown myself, so this book interested me very much. Twenty celebrated chefs and their head gardeners share information, tips and recipes.

There is good information throughout the book from each chef/gardener combo's "Kitchen Garden Secrets" to crop calendars, how to make your own garlic spray for pests and so much more. This book is set in the UK, so you have to take that into account when using the information. Some of it may not be entirely accurate for whatever zone you're in, but there's still plenty of good information in it. I really enjoyed reading it and gleaning usable tidbits.

The recipes are a mixed bag. There are simple recipes such as Ratatouille, Leeks Vinaigrette, Plum and Almond Flan (you HAVE to try this!) and the amazingly simple Fig, Mozzarella and Basil Salad as well as the pretentious Citrus-Vanilla-Cured Vinegar Trout (I'm sorry, but I couldn't even bring myself to try to make this it sounded so bad!), Whitby Lobster with Quail Eggs and Garden Beans and Gray Mullet, Broccolini & Pickled Nasturtium Seeds. Really?!? Pickled nasturtium seeds? I'm sure there are people who love that sort of thing, and if you are one of them, I highly recommend this book to you as it's filled with that sort of thing. This book is great for people who want some good gardening information with some recipes thrown in. For people who love food and love to cook but aren't trying to make grandiose, extravagant dishes to impress someone, this might not be the book for you.

I received a copy of this book from Quartos Publishing Group for my honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Anniversary Dinner at The Peddler Steakhouse

My rating: 2 of 5 spoons

My husband and I recently celebrated our anniversary with a short getaway in Gatlinburg, TN (which, along with another trip for a family reunion, is why I haven't posted in a few weeks!).  We honeymooned there and hadn't been back since, so it seemed a good fit for a long weekend.  We rented a cabin for the weekend and planned to have a nice dinner Friday night to celebrate.  We were told by many people that we HAD to go to The Peddler.  They don't take reservations, but you can call ahead to lessen your wait time.  We called ahead and requested a table on the creek.  We arrived a little early (they don't start seating people until 5:00pm) and were seated quickly.  I found it interesting that the person that seated us walked past many nice creek-side tables to place us at one in the corner with probably the worst view of all the creek-side tables, but decided not to worry about it.  The wait staff were very nice, and arrived to take our order quickly.  One man takes all the orders, and he shows up at your table with a slab of rib-eye and a slab of NT strip steak that he will cut to order, or you can order off the menu.  We were told to go hungry and expect to take food home as there is a nice salad bar, and meal portions are very large.  I have been in the mood for seafood lately, so I ordered the combo plate with the Fresh Fried Trout and Stuffed Shrimp (hand battered fried shrimp stuffed with seasoned crab meat, covered with a creamy seafood sauce) and the Grilled Vegetable Skewer as a side.  My husband went with the combo plate with an 8-oz Rib-Eye Steak and the Stuffed Shrimp as well, with Sweet Potato Casserole as his side. 

The salad bar was very nice with mixed salad greens or iceberg lettuce (which was very nice as I don't care for iceberg lettuce and that is what is on your average salad bar) and quite the array of ingredients.  All your classics were there from carrots and tomatoes to chopped ham and boiled eggs, but they also included anchovies, smoked mussels, chickpeas, sprouts, etc.

When we returned to our table, they had brought bread to the table which was quite good.  We settled into our salads, but before long our entrees showed up.  Hmm.  That was not what I was expecting.  One small piece of trout and 3 shrimp when you're told to expect a LOT of food is somewhat disconcerting.  I was now very glad I had got a large salad, as I would need it to take care of my hunger pains!  The trout was--interesting.  The flavor was very uneven.  One bite would taste like it had NO seasoning--not even salt--and the next bite would be nice.  The crab stuffing was amazing!!  I could have just eaten a bowl of it and been satisfied!  The shrimp, however, was overcooked, so once you ate past the stuffed part, the upper area was on the rubbery side.  The grilled vegetables were completely bare and very bland.  If they'd had a little drizzle of olive oil and a touch of salt, they would have been greatly improved!
My husband's steak, while not cooked enough for me, was perfect for him, and the meat was amazingly tender!!  The sweet potato casserole was nothing special

Over all, the service to this point was good (though they mixed up our food putting my veggies on his plate and his sweet potatoes on mine), the food somewhat mixed and the atmosphere nice, but paying the bill started a mess.  We had a VISA gift card we wanted to use for part of it, and then put the rest on our debit card.  The card had nearly $70 on it, but our server said she could only get it to run through at $55.  Not a problem, we said we'd put the rest and the tip on our debit card.  I checked the card when we got home and saw that they'd put the $11.00 tip on the gift card as well, but when I checked our bank account, it showed just the remaining amount of the bill, so that was fine--or so we thought.  Nearly a week later my husband was doing a routine check of our bank account and saw that they put the tip on our debit card, too, giving themselves a $22 tip!!! 

If you're heading to Gatlinburg and want a great steak, this might be the place for you.  However, I was not impressed over all, and with the double tip, I don't expect to ever return.

August 21, 2014

Harvest Maine by Crystal Ward Kent

Harvest Maine: Autumn Traditions & Fall Flavors
My rating: 4 of 5 spoons

A few years ago, my family & I were able to spend autumn in New England, and I fell in love with Maine. If I were given a choice of anywhere in the United States to live with nothing else to consider, I would choose Maine, so I could not wait to start this book. By the end of the second paragraph, I wanted to pack up and go! Now, this is not a cookbook, but more like a travel/history/science/food book. Yes, I actually said science. As a homeschool mom, I read chapter four, "Maine Outdoors" aloud to my kids as a science supplement one day and we looked up photos of the various trees, etc. For supper that night we had "Auntie's Baked Beans" and "Indian Pudding" for supper. My house smelled like autumn and just made me want to move to Maine even more!

Now, to the nitty gritty of the recipes themselves. As I said, this is not actually a cookbook and it shows. The baked bean recipe, for instance, doesn't tell you the quantity of beans or water to use, so if that's not something you've made before it might be an issue. I used a pound of beans and it made a good amount, but I had to add water at least once during cooking as the recipe just says to cover the beans with water and not to let them dry out during baking. The ingredients for the Indian Pudding are clearly spelled out, but it says to bake for 3 hours without telling you how to know if it's done. The author's note states that her oven cooks it in 2 1/2 hours, so to be on the safe side, I set my timer for 2 hours to check it. It's a good thing I did. Now granted, my oven is on the small side, but the pudding would have been way overdone if I'd waited another 30 minutes to an hour. I was really surprised that the one clam chowder recipe calls for cream of potato soup and cans of minced clams. I understand giving that alternative, but I'm pretty sure that's not how most people in Maine make clam chowder!

There are only about 14 recipes in this book, but most look good and are on my "to make" list. There are some nice color photos in the center of the book and some black and white photos scattered throughout.

Overall, I really love this book, but then I really love Maine! This book is a great read, and if you have some experience cooking, you really ought to try some of these recipes! I probably wouldn't recommend it for novice cooks as there's a little too much instinctive cooking here, but I highly recommend it for Maine lovers everywhere!

I received a copy of this book from The History Press for my honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.