October 16, 2014

The Surf Cafe Cookbook

Surf Café Cookbook: Living the Dream: Cooking and Surfing on the West Coast of Ireland
My rating: 4 of 5 spoons

The Surf Cafe Cookbook falls into that small category of cookbooks that are as much fun to curl up in a comfy chair and read as it is to cook from. It has a homey feel and is such fun.

The recipes are mostly simple and scrumptious. From the classic 'Eggs and Soldiers' breakfast--and they even include the pattern to knit your own egg beanies!--to grilled sea trout and from a classic Irish soda bread to 'Perfect Bangers and Mash', there is such a lovely variety of foods and flavors. I was a little disappointed that they call for baps (a type of roll) in more than one recipe but, while they make a point that everything in their restaurant is homemade, they never give you a recipe to make the baps. Unfortunately, baps are not something I can just go out and buy, so I'll have to find a recipe somewhere else.

The egg beanies noted above are not the only non-food instructions included, which just adds to the fun of this book. There is everything from 'The Perfect Irish Larder' to tips to make the perfect cup of coffee, how to gut a fish, local walks, foraging and the classic Irish cheese board. This is such a fun book. I love it and highly recommend it!

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

Little Vietnam by Nhut Huynh

Little Vietnam: From Lemongrass Chicken to Rice Paper Rolls, 80 Exciting Vietnamese Dishes to Prepare at Home
My rating: 4 of 5 spoons

My first introduction to Vietnamese cuisine was two sweet Vietnamese ladies who took my parents, my sister and I to a lovely Vietnamese restaurant in Anchorage, AK of all places. I, unfortunately, was very timid when it came to new foods at the time and played it safe, ordering mixed fried rice. Now, that fried rice was absolutely the best fried rice I've ever had (still to this day!), but I really regret not being more adventurous in my food choices. There was a soup everyone had before the meal that was amazing, but the name of it has been lost in the mists of time (that was over 20 years ago!). I've had a little opportunity to eat more Vietnamese food since then, but not near as much as I'd like. How exciting to get this cookbook to make my own!

This gorgeous book is well laid out with a comprehensive plan. It starts with 'A Passion for Vietnamese Cooking' with some facts and history. Four suggested menus are then given--Dinner, Lunch, An Elegant Dinner, and A Weeknight Dinner--each feeding 6-8 people. The author then gives his personal story of growing up in Vietnam through the Communist takeover and his eventual escape to Australia and life beyond. After this, we move into 'Setting up Your Vietnamese Kitchen', 'Stocking a Vietnamese Pantry' and a beautiful, illustrated guide to 'Essential Vietnamese Ingredients'. Now we get to the good stuff--recipes!

I decided to start of easy with a basic recipe. Just because I'm more adventurous now doesn't mean my kids are! I decided to make the Carrot and Daikon Pickles on page 27. I didn't have the daikon radishes and didn't want to make a trip to the store since I'm still recovering from the flu, so I halved the amounts of the pickling liquid and just sliced up two large carrots with a food processor. Personally, I like them. They are definitely not what I'm used to, but it's a nice, fresh yet acidic flavor that makes a nice accompaniment or just a little snack. My kids are still trying to make up their minds. I don't try to force my kids to like new and exotic things, but I do strongly encourage them to at least give them a try!

For supper, keeping in mind the reservations with the first dish, I decided to go with Vegetarian Fried Rice. Fried rice is always popular with my kids, and I wanted to make something they would enjoy--and get some great veggies along with it! I had some very small leeks I just pulled out of the last of my garden, so I used the small ends in place of part of the onion, and some of the green ends in place of the scallions. This is not your classic, greasy fried rice you find in a lot of Asian restaurants. I had a bit of an issue with my rice tonight, but other than the rice being a tad too wet, the dish was light and flavorful. My youngest wasn't a huge fan, but she is my pickiest eater. The other three all went back for seconds. I guess the pickled carrots grew on them as well as all four took a helping on their own.

Now that I made my family happy, I'm ready to branch out into more involved and unfamiliar dishes. I really want to try the Crispy Stuffed Pancakes, Fresh Rice Paper Rolls with Pork, Grilled Beef with Lemongrass and Rice Noodles and Mussels with Basil, to name a few.

This is a beautiful book with lots of gorgeous photos. I love that the dishes are usually photographed as they'd be served and not in high-fashion, stylized photos. Simple food served on simple dishes as they should be.

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

Madeleines by Barbara Feldman Morse

Madeleines: Elegant French Tea Cakes to Bake and Share
My rating: 4 of 5 spoons

Oh, my! I'm baking more madeleines as I type, and they are amazing!! I'm currently baking the Classic French Madeleines, and they are a huge hit with my family. Light and airy, they melt in your mouth!

There are so many different recipes for madeleines in this lovely little cookbook. I had no idea there were that many variations. One down side; there is a typo in the recipe for the Pumpkin Madeleines. It says 1/ c. pureed pumpkin. I guessed and added 1/2 c, but I think it probably should be closer to 1/4 c. They were absolutely yummy, but I think a bit on the heavy side for a madeleine. I haven't found any other issues so far. Definitely try the Mapley Granola Madeleines!

I didn't have a madeleine pan, and I couldn't find one in the stores around here, so I ordered one online. Unfortunately, I didn't see the smaller print which was the only place it stated that it was a miniature version. I don't recommend a mini madeleine pan as the shell shape doesn't seem to stay in the little cakes, and it takes lots of pans or refills to finish one recipe. At one point, I threw some of the batter in some mini muffin tins just to help finish up! If you need a pan, I highly recommend getting a full-size madeleine pan!

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

October 11, 2014

Indian for Everyone by Anupy Singala

Indian for Everyone: The Home Cook's Guide to Traditional Favorites
My rating: 5 of 5 spoons

I have fond memories of going to a huge Indian festival in Texas (of all places!), and just enjoying the culture and food--especially the food! Real curries, kabobs and the most incredible desserts have long remained a delicious memory for me. I was delighted to receive this book to recreate some amazing Indian food for myself and my family.

This beautiful book is well laid out in a very thoughtful manner. You start with 'Tools of the Trade', letting you know what tools are necessary for recipes in this book. From there you move to 'Indian Spices and Herbs', a sort of glossary of the different spices used. 'The Fridge and Pantry' come next, and then you move right into the recipes. Instead of trying to buy pre-mixed versions of spices such as Tandoori or Garam Masala, why not make your own? Multiple spice mixes are laid out here before moving on to Chutneys and more. I love that you won't find a store-bought curry powder in any of these recipes. Instead, you have a delightful, mix of authentic Indian spices.

The author leans vegan, so there is tofu recipes scattered throughout, but meat dishes are included as well. On the other side, if you're vegetarian or vegan, there are often substitutes listed to make the dish available to you as well. My daughters love Naan (bread), so they were delighted to see the recipe included here. I forsee a baking day with all of us in the kitchen trying our hand at this luscious Indian bread.

This is a lovely, high-quality book that is wonderful to cook from, but is equally at home on the coffee table available for browsing at any time. A delight to cook from, I highly recommend this cookbook!

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

French Regional Food by Loic Bienassis

French Regional Food
My rating: 5 of 5 spoons

Come along for a gourmand's tour of traditional cuisine and culture in rural France! Divided into 27 chapters which are 27 regions, each chapter is further divided into local areas. For instance, the chapter on Normandy is further divided into The Contentin, Rural Normandy, The Auge, The Caux and The Bray. Discover each region's cuisine, specialties and ingredients as well as iconic recipes and the traditions behind them. Not every local area has a recipe included, but the majority do.

Recipes are clear and easy to follow. Preparation time is clearly marked along with the level of difficulty shown by the number of asterisks. I didn't see any that had more than three, so it seems to be a simple easy, medium and hard classification. There is a nice blend so that anyone can find something they can easily cook.  From the delectable simplicity of 'Truffade' to the more complex 'Daube de Boef a la Dauhinoise', there is something for everyone. I do wish they had included the English translation of the recipe name. Not all recipes have a photo, and so you either have to look up the translation, or read the recipe and guess what it is if you don't speak French. 'French Regional Food' is not just a cookbook, though. It works as well to just curl up and read, soaking up French history, tradition and culture.

The book itself is a beautiful, high-quality hardback with nice, thick pages, a sewn binding and even a ribbon bookmark. It was clearly made to last a long time, and I really appreciate that in a book. This is a great book that I highly enjoyed and wholeheartedly recommend!

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

October 10, 2014

150 Best Dips and Salsas by Judith Finlayson

150 Best Dips and Salsas: Plus Recipes for Chips, Flatbreads and More
My rating: 4 of 5 spoons

From the simple (Feta and Roasted Red Pepper Dip) to the sublime (Chocolate Mousse Spread), this book as your passion for dips and salsas covered! Make a classic Caremelized Onion Dip, or get adventurous and try the Taramasalata. Laid out nicely in sections, it moves from Vegetable Dips and Spreads to Dairy Spreads, Fish Seafood & Meat Spreads, Savory Salsas, Fruit Salsas, Bean Dips Spreads & Salsas, Desserts and finishes with Chips, Crostini, Flatbreads and Other Dippers. I love that they included recipes for things to dip WITH, not just the dips themselves. I can't wait to try making my own bagel chips (seriously, these are so addicting!). I think they'd go wonderfully with some homemade hummus. Now I just have to decide which of the six hummus recipes I want to try next!

If you like to entertain, or just snack on your own, this is a great cookbook with a myriad of tastes from savory to sweet. I definitely recommend it!

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

Chinese Feasts & Festivals by S. C. Moey

Chinese Feasts & Festivals: A Cookbook
My rating: 4 of 5 spoons

The cover and illustrations of this book, done in beautiful, soft pastels, give it the appearance of a children's book, but it is so much more than that! History, folklore and tradition are side by side with a delightful collection of authentic Chinese dishes. Divided into two parts, the first is The Chinese Feast with recipes separated by type--Poultry, Meat, Seafood, Vegetables, Rice Soups & Noodles and Desserts. The second part is Chinese Festivals. Five major Chinese Festivals are here with their history and traditional foods. Some of the recipes may be a bit more than you want to attempt to make yourself, but this book is worth just reading as well. I homeschool my daughters, and this book will be a lovely supplement when we start studying China later this year!

I highly recommend you have a good Asian market nearby or find somewhere online to buy the more unfamiliar ingredients such as prepared shark's fin, black sea moss, dried bean curd skin, bamboo leaves and lotus seeds. If you're looking for quick, Americanized "Chinese" food, this is definitely not the book for you. Interesting, and sometimes long ingredients lists, unfamiliar cooking styles (such as holding a chicken by one leg over a pot of boiling broth, slowly ladling the broth over and through the chicken until it is thoroughly scalded), and time-consuming processes may put off some, but the sheer authenticity of it makes it worth the time and effort to turn out a jewel of a dish from this intriguing culture.

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

A Little Sneak Peek!

Well, after being down with a lovely case of the flu for a couple of weeks, my cookbooks have started piling up.  I thought I'd give you a little sneak peek of the upcoming reviews!  Which looks most interesting to you?!?

Cookbooks I'm working on right now!

October 9, 2014

Cooking with Fire by Paula Marcoux

Cooking with Fire: Techniques and Recipes for the Firepit, Smoker, Fireplace, Tandoor, or Wood-Fired Oven
My rating: 5 of 5 spoons

It's been a long time since I've been so completely fascinated by a cookbook! Cooking with Fire is so much more than just a cookbook. History, information, fire-building techniques and more abound. I had to chuckle first thing in the book when it showed matches, knife, kindling and wood like you had to be shown what you need to build a fire, but it didn't stay that simple. From the basics of toasting a marshmallow, to how to build your own masonry oven (I REALLY want one of these!), this book keeps your attention and entertains as it informs you. Who knew with a rock and a basket of pine needles you could make your own amazing smoked mussels in minutes?!? Scallops wrapped in prosciutto on a flat grill over a wood fire, Twine-Roast Leg of Lamb over an open fire, an old-fashioned Lobster Bake and even Campfire Baklava, there is an amazing array not just of recipes but of a myriad of ways to cook using fire. (Hot Poker Mustard anyone?!)

You don't need to spend lots of money for fancy ways to cook outside. Build your own fire pit with instructions and photos to go along with. The directions for the masonry oven cover nearly 12 pages with tons of step by step photos. Even if you don't want to actually make any of these, the history included makes for enjoyable, informative reading. I love this book and highly recommend it.

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