Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A Feast of Four New Cook the Books Selections

Greetings Everyone! I hope you are all snuggling in with our current book selection, Sarah-Kate Lynch's The Wedding Bees and dreaming up something fun to cook and blog about. In the interim, I and my Cook the Books co-hosts have been rustling up some new book selections for us to read and cook from and I am pleased to announce the literary line up that will take us through the next year:

August/September 2015 Book Pick:

Yes, Chef, by Marcus Samuelsson (2012)
Hosted by Rachel, The Crispy Cook

You may know Chef Marcus Samuelsson from hearing about his New York restaurant Red Rooster or his time as head chef at Aquavit or from appearances on Top Chef and Iron Chef, but I found the story of his youth tremendously interesting in his memoir, Yes, Chef. Marcus was born in rural Ethiopia and when he and his mother and older sister contracted tuberculosis in a 1973 epidemic, his mother walked 75 miles with her children to a hospital in the capital city of Addis Ababa, where she unfortunately succumbed to the disease. Marcus and his sister were adopted by a Swedish family, where he squeezed in Saturday cooking lessons with his grandmother, Helga, when he wasn't on the soccer field. A sports career didn't pan out, so he poured his extensive energies into cooking school and various apprenticeships at world-class hotels and restaurants around Europe.

Samuelsson is passionate about "chasing flavors", and experimenting with ingredients and cuisines from around the globe, and I learned a lot about layering taste and texture in dishes from this book. I hope you all will enjoy it as much as I did.

Submissions due: Wednesday, September 30, 2015


October/November 2015 Book Pick:

The Hundred-Foot Journey, by Richard C. Morais (2011)
Hosted by Deb, of Kahakai Kitchen

"People have recommended The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais as a great foodie read to me over the past few years but I just have not gotten around to reading it. I did see the film adaptation, and it made me want to delve into the book, so what better way to get it onto my reading list than to choose it as my October/November 2015 pick? From Bombay to Paris, this novel traces the culinary journey of Hassan Haji from his childhood above the humble family restaurant in India, to discovering French cooking in a small French village, and then finding celebrity as a chef in Paris. I think there will be plenty of delicious food to inspire us in this book.  

Special Note: The fabulous Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla is hosting November's round of the monthly foodie movie event Food 'N Flix and has selected the movie version of The Hundred-Foot Journey. We will be pairing up and doing an optional tie-in of this book with Food ‘N Flix for those of you interested in both reading and viewing this charming story. Details to come!

Submissions due: Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015

December 2015/January 2016 Book Pick:

A Place at the Table, by Susan Rebecca White
Hosted by Debra, of Eliot's Eats 

Do you like a good traditional pound cake recipe and inspired Southern cuisine?   Do you like a novel with Southern charm (and that Southern Gothic element as well)? What about a good quirky character ensemble?

Suzan Rebecca White's novel, A Place at the Table, combines all of these elements.   The novel's prologue describes a disturbing scene in Emancipation, North Carolina during the late 20s, but the bulk of the novel takes place during the 80s and 90s in Georgia, Connecticut and New York City.  How does a character from an era of lynchings and fear intertwine with more modern characters trying to make their way in NYC?  

I hope you enjoy finding out the answer and following the three main characters of Alice, Bobby, and Amelia as they all make their way to find peace with themselves and the world around them.


Submissions due: Sunday, January 31, 2016

February/March 2015 Book Pick:

The Unprejudiced Palate: Classic Thoughts on Food and the Good Life, by Angelo Pellegrini (1948)

Hosted by Simona, of Briciole

What did America look like to an immigrant Italian child? How did this child applied his philosophy of life, rooted in Italy, to his new home in Seattle? In this book, the first he published, Pellegrini tells his story but also the way he sees life and in particular the way he approaches growing, making and eating food (and wine too).
Pellegrini’s prose is pleasant and precise (in his “day job” he was an English professor), with the affectionate intensity typical of Italians when they talk about things that are dear to them.
He was not part of any school of thought nor did he follow any fashion: with grace and kindness, he told things as he saw them and as he did them.

I hope you will enjoy this food writing classic.

Note: As this book was originally published decades ago, it exists in various editions, the most recent of which is part of Random House's Modern Library Food series(the ebook is also available). I have the 1984 edition, which has an afterword by MFK Fisher, describing the rather inauspicious beginning of her acquaintance, and later friendship, with Pellegrini. 


So there you have four mouthwatering books that we hope will tempt you to read, cook from and blog about in the months to come. Please join us at our virtual table with your submissions for the roundup every other month. New bloggers are always welcome. 

Gotta buzz off back to The Wedding Bees.....


Thursday, June 4, 2015

Our June/July Cook the Books Selection: The Wedding Bees

A few years ago, I read the novel Blessed Are the Cheesemakers by Sarah-Kate Lynch and quite enjoyed it. In fact, I featured it in a post on my blog. As a home cheesemaker, I particularly appreciated the descriptions of making cheese and also the musings on life by one of the characters. 

Therefore, when I read Betty's note on our suggested reading page mentioning another novel by Sarah-Kate Lynch, The Wedding Bees (2013) I took notice. My usual readings are fairly dark, as I have a passion for crime novels, but every now and then I enjoy reading a sunny, sweet story. 
Sugar Wallace did not believe in love at first sight, but her bees did. . . .
Every spring Sugar Wallace coaxes her sleepy honeybee queen—presently the sixth in a long line of Queen Elizabeths—out of the hive and lets her crawl around a treasured old map. Wherever the queen stops is their next destination, and this year it's New York City.
Sugar sets up her honeybees on the balcony of an East Village walk-up and then—as she's done everywhere since leaving South Carolina—she gets to know her neighbors.

I don't associate NYC with hives and honeybees, so this introduction got piqued my curiosity. Would you like to know what happens to Sugar, her queen and her motley crew of neighbors? Then get hold of a copy of the book and join the Club this month and the next as we read it. The novel does not include recipes but it mentions a number of dishes and celebrates a precious ingredient, honey, which can be used to make a variety of dishes. I am looking forward to seeing what Sugar's story inspires you to make.

Submissions for this round of Cook The Books are due by end-of-the-day Monday, August 3, 2015. Anyone can join by reading the current selection, preparing a dish inspired by its contents and writing about it. Let me know when your entry post is up by commenting on this post and/or sending me an email at: simosite AT mac DOT com. 

New to Cook the Books? Check out our About and Guidelines pages or leave a question in the comments on this post. 

Simona of briciole

Monday, June 1, 2015

April/May Round-Up: The Feast Nearby

Welcome all to the April/May round of Cook the Books.

This month’s Cook the Book round featured Robin Mather’s The Feast Nearby.   In this book of essays, Mather describes “How I lost my job, buried a marriage, and found my way by keeping chickens, foraging, preserving, bartering, and eating locally (all on forty dollars a week).”

I found Mather to be plain spoken and although passionate about her lifestyle, she is not preachy or judgmental.  She is practical.   I learned a great deal from her such as trying to purchase cheese trims from a local cheese monger, drying cherries, and making mead.   I love that she also likes to have a meal of “nibbles” in the summer months.   And, I applaud that she not only advocates for local farmers, but also for local purveyors and businesses like grocers, millers, and meat packers.
I have a new idol in Mather so I appreciate you, the CTB membership, for allowing me to host this round.
Now, let's get to the round-up.
I have to feature Wendy, from A Day in the Life on the Farm, first.   Wendy posted her recipe and review way back in March.   
Wendy loved Robin and loved the book because it is not only  "about eating and shopping locally, which is near and dear to my heart and a lifestyle I try hard to emulate, but the author lived on only $40 per week for food right here in my home State of Michigan."  Wendy wondered why she had not heard of the book before CTB.

Since it was still 40 degrees in Michigan at the time of her posting, she chose to make Mather's Navy Bean Soup.
Wendy was the early bird this round so she deserves to go first.   The rest of the round-up is in no particular order.

Cathy of Delaware Girl Eats, baked up some delicious looking  oatmeal cookies .   She was taken by the "homey pleasures" in The Feast Nearby and Cathy reminisced about her own challenges of living on $20 a week after she bought her first home in the 80s.   She baked her mother's "simple, homey cookies.   The recipe is similar to the one in the book for oatmeal, maple syrup drop cookies.  It never fails to please." 

I agree.  Who can't pass up a warm oatmeal cookie, especially with those memories behind it?

Amy of Amy's Cooking Adventures went with a warming soup like Wendy; however, Amy was less than enamored by the book.  Amy first attempt for CTB was a salt rise bread that failed to cooperate.  Being resourceful, she searched her freezer to find lots of veggies from the previous summer's farmers markets.  She created a delicious soup that was "sort of hybrid between Bacon Corn Chowder and Chicken Tortilla Soup."   

Sorry you didn't enjoy the book. Amy.  At least you were able to create a delicious new soup.  

Simona of briciole and a fellow CTB co-host created some delicious and delicate looking strawberry scones.  Simona was inspired by the seasons:  "The narrative starts in the spring (primavera), which since childhood for me is associated with strawberries. Strawberry season in California starts earlier and last longer than in Italy, but I don't think I will ever get used to it, which is good, because it means every year, the thrill of tasting the first strawberry carries the same intense sweetness as when I was a child."

I love that Simona oven-roasted the fragole.

Claudia writes at Honey from the Rock.   She "especially enjoyed the moments with Pippin, Robins's very clever parrot, having no idea that some varieties of parrot were so intelligent.  He understands and answers her.  Amazing."   As far as the recipes in the book go, the Jambalaya was calling her name.

She also points out the difference in growing climates between Mather's Michigan and her own home of Hawaii:  "We have a year-round growing season here in Hawaii, though preserving what we grow is still an excellent thing.  Using fruit that is abundant beyond what can be eaten out of hand, to prevent waste and save money.  Just think of all the wine I don't have to buy, because I grow the fruit and make it."   

I love a frugal wine maker!  (Claudia, do you ship overseas?)

Rachel, another CTB co-host, writes at The Crispy Cook.   She concluded that The Feast Nearby was "stuffed with good information on raising chickens, bartering (she swapped homegrown vegetables from her neighbor for a snug, handknit hat), grocery shopping locally, preserving and canning, roasting and grinding your own coffee. I learned a lot and enjoyed her down-to-earth writing and recipes. There's a lot of richness in living and eating cheaply, seasonally and well."  

She decided to experiment with baking with dried cherries and tackling Mather's Peppery Cherry Spoon Bread.   Rachel does suggest that next time she will adapt the recipe a bit and simply make "a cheesy, dried cherry-studded polenta" instead. 

I was glad to see Deb (the third co-host) from Kahakai Kitchen post her "Ethel Dip.".  (Deb, good to see you posting again.)  This dip was named after a family friend of Mather's and promised to be a crowd-pleaser. 

Deb realized that she already owned and read the book a couple of years ago but set about rereading it for CTB.   As she revisited the book, she found that "Mather's words and the food she cooks are simple, homey and great to curl up with at night before bed. It made me want to get a tiny cabin complete with a poodle, a smart African Grey parrot, and maybe a kitten, and try to live on $40 a week too. Since that's tempting but not realistic, Mather's book is the next best thing."

Last but not least is Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla.   A few of you have mentioned the long subtitled to the book (and one of our members refused to read it because of it). Camilla was also "completely put off by the subtitle: How I lost my job, buried a marriage, and found my way by keeping chickens, foraging, preserving, bartering, and eating locally (all on $40 a week)"  and she "envisioned a self-absorbed memoir that was more focused on grocery receipts than the actual food."   Camilla was pleased to be wrong by her first impression.

You can't always judge a book by it's title!  :)

Camilla presented Mujadara, a recipe that was new to her.   Looks delicious, Camilla.

Finally (and I almost forgot to highlight my own recipe here), I also went into unfamiliar territory.  I had never cooked with lamb before and couldn't resist Mather's Marinated Grilled Lamb with lots of herbs, garlic and red wine.

We enjoyed this for our Easter dinner at Eliot's Eats.

Thanks to all who read The Feast Nearby and participated this round.   I hope we all found some tidbit of wisdom (or a new recipe) from Mather.   Since the books publication, Mather has vacated the cold climate of Michigan and currently resides near Topeka where she writes for Mother Earth News.   

Please join Simona for the next round of Cook the Books.  She has selected The Wedding Bees by Sarah-Kate Lynch.  You still have plenty of time to get your hands on a copy.  Posts will be due at the end of July.  Please look for an announcement post here soon.  (Simona, so far I am really enjoying the characters in The Wedding Bees.)

Saturday, April 4, 2015

April/May Announcement: The Feast Nearby by Robin Mather

What if you lost your job, saw your marriage crumble, had to move  to a small abode, and tried to live on a seemingly unrealistic budget?

Could you survive?   Would you prosper?

If I am honest, I really don't know how I would make it.   I know I could eke out a subsistence living.  Would I prosper though?   Could I maintain this lifestyle?

I really don't know how I would do.

Robin Mather not only prospered, she wrote a book about her experience.

In The Feast Nearby, she chronicles "How I lost my job, buried a marriage, and found my way by keeping chickens, foraging, preserving, bartering, and eating locally (all on $40 a week)."

The Feast Nearby is not a preachy treatise on living locally.  Instead, it is an honest collection of essays (with accompanying recipes) that chronicle Mather's journey to experiencing a simpler way of life while, along the way, finding a new self.

I actually read this book a year ago and briefly featured it last April with Old Fashioned Strawberry Shortcake.   I have revisited it often as the seasons go by.

Please grab a copy and join us for the April/May round of CTB.  Post by June 1st and you are in the running.   I hope you enjoy this practical, informative, and inspiring book of essays and recipes.  If you're new to Cook the Books, please check out About or Guidelines or simply leave a question in the comments below.    Once you post, just shoot me an email ( or leave a comment here.

I hope you pick up Mather's book and are inspired to create something local or foraged or preserved or bartered for the next CTB round.

Debra (Eliot's Eats)

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Comfort Me With Apples (and Other Lovely Dishes!): The Roundup

It is a truth universally acknowledged that when Ruth Reichl writes about food we will read it and devour her prose like the feast that it is. Comfort Me With Apples, one of Ruth Reichl's foodie memoirs, was our February/March selection for Cook the Books. While everyone may not have agreed with some of Reichl's life choices, we all certainly were inspired by the food and we ably comforted ourselves with many wonderful dishes inspired by the book.

Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm was our first entry in this month and she had a lovely time with Ruth saying, "Here is what happened when I got the book: I sat down one evening and I opened the cover, I read a couple of pages and then there was a knock on my door.  I opened the door and there was Ruth, with a smile and a bottle of wine. We opened the wine, kicked off our shoes, sat down by the fire and began to talk.  Ruth shared her life with me, the good, the bad, the happy and the sad. We laughed and we cried. And then we laughed again. We gossiped about all the celebrities that Ruth has met and we shared our innermost fears and secrets." Amy made Basil and Lemon Pasta inspired by the pasta in lemon butter sauce that actor Danny Kaye served Ruth.

Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla says, "While I found myself wishing for a little bit more restraint as she described her personal life, I longed for her descriptions about the food to go on and on." Camilla made Butternut Squash Soup a la Bonneville saying "I was compelled by Ruth and Michael's spectacularly disastrous Thanksgiving dinner at The New Bonneville Hotel. ... Instead, on a chilly, grey evening while the fire crackled in the living room, I whipped up a pot of butternut squash soup. "The squash purée was bright orange with an earthy sweetness. Cream was drizzled through it, making patterns. Chives were strewn across the top. 'Okay,' said Michael. 'I'll admit it. It's the best soup I've ever tasted. I could eat ten bowls." Unlike the Bonneville, I do not have a luscious vegetable garden, but I do have access to amazingly fresh and delicious vegetables through local-to-me farms."

Amy of Amy's Cooking Adventures says, "... boy, did she lead an interesting life in those years! I could not tear my eyes from the pages as she lived in a commune with her husband, and ate and drank her way through several extramarital affairs.I simply couldn’t put the book down!" Amy made the La Vieille Maison French Onion Soup saying, "This twist on a classic French Onion Soup was included at the end of the chapter and I was so intrigued! I happen to love French Onion Soup, but my recipe used beef stock (this one has chicken stock) and red wine (this one uses white) and there are eggs in the version (waaa???)  I knew it would completely change the flavor profile and I absolutely had to try it! The resulting soup was absolutely amazing and a nice change of pace from the classic. My only complaint was that it looks a little off putting…kinda pale with eggy little curdles floating about. But that’s why it’s covered with cheese!  Mwahahaha!"

Claudia of Honey From Rock inspired this Cook The Books selection when she requested a Ruth Reichl book. She says, "There was much in her memoir to tempt and inspire, as well as challenge our cooking skills. Reichl has the ability to communicate smells and tastes through descriptive writing, aided by an unbelievable palette, which is the premier gifting for a food critic or chef. I sometimes wish mine could be tuned up a few notches. It would certainly help in the area of wine tasting as well. I wonder if there is an herb that would help?? ... Since we have been having cold, rainy weather lately (yes, even in Hawaii), what finally called my name was her Swiss Pumpkin, nicely filled with half-and-half, Gruyere cheese, toasted bread, etc., and baked for 2 hours. I used one of our locally grown Kabocha pumpkins, which are just the right size for for two (with not too much left-over)."

Cook The Books co-host Simona of briciole says that in the book "there is a good amount of one person trying to dazzle another (not necessarily a husband)." So she was inspired to make handmade pasta-- "spindle-shaped, delicate Cecamariti (literally, husband blinders)" uniquely made with bread dough and she assures us that "no husband was hurt in the making of this pasta." Simona also notes that "The pasta cooks quickly and profits, in my opinion, from a light sauce. In the photo you see it dressed with my usual tomato sauce, but I have also made it with chèvre melted with a small amount of butter and also used it in my recipe for poulet yassa (Senegalese chicken)." 

Cathy of Delaware Girl Eats noted, "Ruth is an extraordinary writer and it’s a shame that Gourmet Magazine folded so soon. In her book she described a hedonistic life as well as cooking for her father and mother in later years. She reported that her father said that the two most important things in life are imagination and laughter. I can appreciate this bit of wisdom, especially in the kitchen." Cathy made an ultra-comforting Apple, Pear and Dried Cherry Crumble saying, "I love the aroma of apples laced with cinnamon baking in the oven so decided to literally interpret her work through a dish inspired from this book."

CTB co-host Debra of Eliot's Eats is a big Reichl fan and says, "You know that quintessential party-conversation-starting question, “If you could invite any person, living or dead, to your dinner party, who would it be?” My answer is simple. I would love to have dinner with Ruth Reichl. And, what would I cook for her? A simple but hearty dish pulled from her first cookbook. Soon after I immersed myself in my Ruth fanaticism by reading all of her books, I wanted to own a copy of her first cookbook, Mmmmm: A Feastiary, self-published in 1972. This is a pipe-dream of mine because vintage copies are posted on Amazon for $250. (Rachel, if your Old Saratoga Books ever has one in inventory, can you cut me a deal?) Fortunately, Reichl herself has recipes from A Feastiary on her website. This is where I found my go-to Spaghetti Carbonara recipe that I have used for years.

Alicia of Foodycat says, "Funny, warm, occasionally devastating and moving, it's part of Reichl's memoir, charting her rise from Berkley co-op restaurant cook and commune dweller to respected restaurant critic. It's an impressive accomplishment in a memoir: at times she manages to portray herself as unlikeable but it doesn't come across as false modesty." Alicia made Garlic Soup and Gruyere Croutons noting "Unusually for one of the Cook the Books Club challenges, I had no trouble at all deciding what to cook. Among the many delicious-sounding meals she describes, Alice Waters' famous garlic dinners stand out. The mention of garlic soup reminded me of the delicious, pungently wine-flavoured garlic soup we'd had in Switzerland, back in 2007 when I was but a baby blogger. I've tried a couple of different versions but I've never quite nailed the combination of fresh-tasting but cooked garlic and dry wine that I remember." Was this soup the one? Read her post to find out! ;-)

CTB co-host Rachel, The Crispy Cook likes Ruth's vivid and honest writing. She says, "None of the recipes peppering the book particularly grabbed me, but I thought most about how Ruth and her artist husband Doug lived communally at Channing Way in People's Republic of Berkeley in late 70s. Bushy bearded apartment patriarch Nick castigates her new gig as restaurant critic for New West magazine: "You're going to spend your life telling spoiled, rich people where to eat too much obscene food?" You can almost smell the patchouli and alfalfa sprouts." Rachel found her comfort in Carrot Salad a la Channing Way noting, "I was inspired to make a salad that might have appeared on the Channing Way dinner. Carrots are cheap and plentiful all year and would certainly have been available at the local food coop and grocery stores back then. And Nick would probably not have dismissed this dish as being "obscene"."

A new face to welcome to this round of Cook The Books is Amy of Gluten Glory's Kitchen, another Ruth Reichl fan. Amy says, "Re-reading the book reminded me of several things. I miss Gourmet Magazine. The newsstand version dropped off the shelves in 2009 just before the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s seasons. It was the go-to guide for fine food, good living and excellent writing. So, reading Comfort Me with Apples though it’s a memoir of Reichl in her pre-Gourmet days, brings to mind Gourmet Magazine to me." For her inspiration Amy noted, "A recipe that was in Reichl’s book was Dacquoise with Mocha Buttercream. Reichl ends a bittersweet chapter of her life with this recipe. It signifies a memory of hers of passions and emotions that cannot be bottled. My husband declared “only you would find Dacquoise comfort food.” This is comfort food. Food that brings back to you the nostalgia of something that you cannot relive, but you can taste. A taste that invokes a memory." Welcome Amy! We are happy to have you and your fabulous Dacquoise join in the CTB fun!

Finally, over at Kahakai Kitchen, I (Deb) ;-) often find myself lurking on Ruth's website whenever I need a hit of her writing. I love to read her descriptions of restaurants, dinners with friends, the food she is making, and even her simple pleasure in a tiny blue bowl. So when none of the recipes in the book really pulled me in, I headed there to find my inspiration. The recipe for Persian Rice Pudding or Sholeh Zard caught my eye both for the vibrant color and for Ruth's description, "Rice pudding is the chicken soup of desserts. Ultimate comfort food, it's an international dish that changes its style as it travels the world." I totally agree! I made just a quarter of the recipe's 12 servings--for portion control and I was a bit worried about just how sweet and floral it would be--but Ruth was right--it was delicious. Just sweet enough, and the rose and saffron along with the crunchy bits of almond and pistachio were wonderful with the aromatic basmati rice. Exotic comfort food at its best! 

What an array of amazing dishes we have assembled here! I love how everyone found their own inspiration from Ruth's words, and the creativity and passion around each entry. My only wish is to be able to taste the incredible food that everyone made. Someday... That Cook The Books gathering and potluck we dream of sounds better and better with each round that we do.

If you missed out this round and like food, books, and foodie books, consider joining us at Cook The Books for the April/May pick; The Feast Nearby: How I Lost my Job, Buried a Marriage, and Found My Way by Keeping Chickens, Foraging, Preserving, Bartering, and Eating Locally (All on Forty Dollars a Week) by Robin Mather, hosted by the wonderful Deborah of Eliot's Eats

Happy reading, cooking and eating!

Kahakai Kitchen