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.

August 13, 2014

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August 12, 2014

Under the Shade of Olive Trees by Merijn Tol

Under the Shade of Olive Trees: Recipes from Jerusalem to Marrakech and Beyond
My rating: 3 of 5 spoons

The title is what first drew me to this book. Doesn't it make you want to pack you bags and go exploring other countries?! I couldn't wait to start cooking! Unfortunately, that's where I ran into problems. Many of the recipes in this book contain ingredients that aren't easily obtained--at least not where I'm at. Many of these ingredients I'd never even heard of! Freekeh, special lamb sausages, "grains of paradise", "gum mastic pieces or meska horra"...the list goes on. I finally settled on making "Our Own Arabian Flatbread" using the pita roll instructions. I love flatbread, and have made various kinds over the years. I was not impressed with this one. The recipe called for too little water, but that was easily fixed. I cooked them on my pizza stone as directed at the proper temperature, and they just didn't cook well. It said cook two minutes until they bulge and turn light brown. It took 5-7 minutes for them to brown, and then they were either too chewy, or too brittle. I've made pita bread many times with great results, but I never could get a single, decent pita from this recipe. Very disappointing!

I really wanted to love this book and cook many, many recipes. Unfortunately, there just aren't that many recipes that are a good fit for my family, and my desire to try them dropped dramatically after the poor outcome of what should have been one of the simplest recipes in the book.

On the plus side, there's some great information in this book (though the "Basic Arabian Glossary is a joke with only seven words!), including "How to enjoy an effortless festive Arabic meal at home" "Music to accompany a wonderful Arabian dinner party", Arabia menus, listings for grocery stores (both physical and online) and more. This could be a great book for people with access to Arabic ingredients, and love for Arabian food, it just wasn't a good fit for me.

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

My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz

My Paris Kitchen: Recipes and Stories
My rating: 5 of 5 spoons

This cookbook arrived at the perfect time! I had taken a bag of chicken leg quarters out of the freezer and thawed them in my refrigerator, but I had no idea how I was going to cook them. As I sat down and started flipping, I came across "Poulet a la Moutarde" (Chicken with Mustard). It looked so scrumptious, and I had everything I needed--it was meant to be! I have to admit, it took a little longer to make than I expected, so supper was a little later than normal, but it was worth every minute. All four of my girls LOVED it--and that's saying a lot! They'll eat what is put in front of them, but for ALL of them to love it makes it a keeper.

Next I moved on to "Naan au Frommage". I didn't have the Laughing Cow cheese, so I just omitted that and made the straight Naan bread. The dough was a joy to work with, which was great as I don't have a stand mixer. It cooks quickly and has a wonderful flavor, even without the cheese! It's nice and soft as well, not chewy at all. Another huge hit with my girls!

Oh, my! "Cherry Tomato Crostini with Homemade Herbed Goat Cheese", classic "French Onion Soup", "Chicken Pot Parmentier", "Butternut Squash Crumble", "French Cheesecake"...I could cook from this book for a long time!

This book is filled with more than great recipes, though those abound. Interesting facts and anecdotes abound. I was particularly interested in his bit on salted butter vs unsalted butter. I don't enjoy unsalted butter on my bread, but with butter prices, I can't afford to buy both. Therefore, when I bake I typically use salted butter even when it calls for unsalted. I've never had a problem with how any of it turned out, but always felt a little guilty, like I was breaking some huge rule. It was great to read that some of the top chefs are now using salted butter, at least in some things.

I really love this cookbook. It overflows with great recipes, information, gorgeous photos and an obvious love for good food.  It's been a little while since I've given a cookbook my highest rating, but this one definitely earns it. I highly recommend this not only to those who love (or are learning about) French food, but to food lovers everywhere.

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

August 5, 2014

National Trust Complete Country Cookbook by Laura Mason

National Trust Complete Country Cookbook
My rating: 4 of 5 spoons

This is not my first "National Trust" cookbook. I loved "Simply Baking", and couldn't wait to get into this one. I was not disappointed. This is classic British food. From the simplicity of a "Welsh Rarebit" to a classic "Roast Goose with Sage and Onion" (on my list for Christmas this year!) and from a simple "Light Sponge Cake" to the quintessential "Staffordshire Fruitcake", this cookbook is perfect for Anglophiles. The sponge cake is easy, but the flavor is amazing. A little tip, though. When they tell you to grease and line the cake tin, line it!! I tried the old faithful grease and flour the pan, and it didn't want to come out of the pan. Ah, well. That's an easy fix--just cut it up and whip up a trifle! Speaking of which, I was a little surprised that this cookbook lacked a trifle recipe.

"Cornish Pasties" are a favorite with my girls. I know she says not to use minced beef instead of steak, but I used what I had and they're still great. "Champ", the classic Irish comfort food--mashed potatoes with buttermilk and chives--is so easy, but so delicious.

If you are looking for quick, easy recipes with only common American ingredients, this might not be the book for you. If you love British food, or just want to expand your horizons a bit, I highly recommend this cookbook.

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

August 4, 2014

My Irish Table by Cathal Armstrong

My Irish Table: Recipes from the Homeland and Restaurant Eve
My rating: 4 of 5 spoons

I have a dear friend that now lives in Ireland, so I'm always excited to see an Irish cookbook come across my desk. I love the "down home" feel of their food, from something as simple (and divine!) as "Cheese on Toast" to the deep flavors of their stews to a lovely "Bakewell Tart". I needed a main dish to take to potluck at church on Sunday, so Saturday I decided to make "Beef Stew". I had most of the ingredients on hand, and everyone knows it's better the second day. After a quick trip to the store for carrots and celery, I started cooking. I proceeded to drive myself and my family crazy for the rest of the evening with the amazing smells! I cooled and stored it, and the next morning I popped it in my slow cooker so it could simmer during church. Wow!! Heaven in a bowl! It was odd to me that a beef stew, especially from Ireland of all places, didn't have any potatoes in it (I even re-checked the recipe to make sure I didn't just overlook them!), but once you were eating it, you really didn't miss them. The meat just melted in your mouth, and the flavor was amazing. I've never seen a slow cooker empty so quickly, and I now have several people wanting my recipe! If you buy this book, you HAVE to make this stew!!

This is a lovely cookbook and, while there aren't photos for every recipe, there are many great, full-color photos throughout the book. Ingredients and directions are well laid out, and the bits of history over each recipe and scattered throughout are interesting.

My only caveat with this cookbook, is the author comes across--especially in the introduction--as a bit of a braggart and a name-dropper, which can be annoying. Skip the introduction if that's something you don't enjoy. Otherwise, I thoroughly recommend this book!

August 2, 2014

The Taco Revoltion by Brandon Schultz

The Taco Bible: Over 100 Delicious Recipes for Stuffings, Seasonings, Sauces, Shells, and Sides!
My rating: 3 of 5 spoons

So many tacos, so little time! I really like Mexican food, but my passion is Italian food. I was pretty sure I'd died and gone to Heaven when I found the "Caprese Taco"! All the classic Caprese salad recipes with some cumin thrown in on a tortilla? Yes, please! "Sausage and Peppers Taco", "Falafel Tahini Taco", "Turkish Soft Potato Taco"....You'll never look at tacos the same way after this book!

There is one fairly big downside to this book. I love a cookbook that has photos of the food, but the quality of these photos are terrible! Almost every single photograph is out of focus and it just ruins a lot of the quality of the book for me. If you can overlook the photos, this is a great book. If the photos are really important to you, this may not be the book for you.

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

The Healthy Slow Cooker by Judith Finlayson

The Healthy Slow Cooker: 135 Gluten-Free Recipes for Health and Wellness
My rating: 4 of 5 spoons

As a home school mom with kids ranging from K to 9th grade this year, I LOVE my slow cooker!! We also have potluck every week at church, so I use my slow cooker a LOT! This book was an eye-opener, though. I had no idea you could make things like "Salty Almonds with Thyme", poached salmon, polenta and even poached pears in a slow cooker! I just recently learned you could cook rice in the slow cooker, so "Brown and Wild Rice with Bay Leaves" was right up my alley. Try the Chicken Cassoulet or Zesty Braised Beef with New Potatoes.

I was surprised to find some recipes in here that had nothing to do with a slow cooker such as "Oven-Baked Kale Chips" and "Yogurt Flatbread". Otherwise, this is a great cookbook for people who either love their slow cooker, or are just getting into using one.

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

300 Best Homemade Candy Recipes by Jane Sharrock

300 Best Homemade Candy Recipes: Brittles, Caramels, Chocolate, Fudge, Truffles and So Much MoreMy rating: 4 of 5 spoons

Who doesn't love homemade candy?!? If you have a serious sweet tooth, this is the book for you. From toffee to pralines, taffy to buckeyes and truffles to fudge, this book has it covered! Have a love for history?--host a taffy pull or make some old-fashioned horehound candy! Crazy over fudge?--you probably haven't seen this many kinds of fudge in a long time! (Who knew they had banana, orange, lemon-white and even PINEAPPLE fudge!). There's over 50 pages--many with more than one recipe--of fudge alone!! Glazed nuts, popcorn balls, lollipops, divinity, s'mores and brittle all make appearances in this amazing book.

This book is a little light on photos, but the recipes are clear and easy to follow. I love that at the top of each recipe you can find the skill level, how much it makes and equipment needed. That was a very nice touch. This is a great book packed with mouthwatering goodness, and I highly recommend it. What are you waiting for?!? Let's make candy!!

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

Authentic Mexican Cooking by Scott Myers

Authentic Mexican Cooking: 80 Delicious, Traditional Recipes for Tacos, Burritos, Tamales, and Much MoreMy rating: 4 of 5 spoons

There's nothing like a good Mexican dinner. I'm quite comfortable with some of the basics, but I've never really delved very deep into this fascinating cuisine. I'm not big on really spicy foods, and there is that reputation that Mexican food is very spicy and that has kept me away from it for too long.

I have had a secret longing for several years now to learn how to make tamales from scratch. I've had no problem diving into French pastries, Italian breads and other complicated recipes, but tamales felt overwhelming to me. While I haven't made them yet, this book has inspired me to try! I just have a couple more ingredients to pick up, and then we can have some family time making tamales!

I first fell in love with flautas in a tiny restaurant in Emporia, KS of all places. I was thrilled to find the recipe in here. YUM! The churros are great to do with kids, though of course they don't last very long afterward! The Burrito de Desayuno (Breakfast Rolls) took me back to Texas and the huge breakfast burritos we used to get with everything in them.

I was disappointed to find there there wasn't a single recipe for making your own tortillas. I've made my own flour tortillas many times, but haven't tried my hand at corn tortillas. I was really hoping for a corn tortilla recipe. A few less drink recipes would have left plenty of room for a tortilla recipe.

Overall, this is a great cookbook of Mexican cooking. Lots of gorgeous, full-color photographs and clear directions. I would highly recommend it.

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