Friday, August 3, 2018

Sourdough Announcement

I'm excited to announce the August/September selection: Sourdough by Robin Sloan (September 2017). An NPR review by Jason Sheehan describes the novel in this way: 
Think of it like Candide without the pirates. And set in San Francisco. Wait, that's not quite right. It's like Fight Club meets The Great British Bake Off. It's like Fight Club if no one got punched. It's like Fight Club if Fight Club was written by someone concerned with a different, quieter kind of revolution, and if Fight Club was all about bread.    
I had to host Sourdough for this round if not only for Sheehan's goofily spot-on review.  That leads me to the following question:   Do you like quirky?

I hope so because the August/September round is quirky galore!

Sourdough by Robin Sloan starts out, honestly, very believable.

The plot revolves around a young coder, robots, food, sourdough (obviously), farmers markets, geeky foodies, and mysterious strangers.

Sounds good, right?

Sloan riffs on the whole foodie angle with a plot that borders on a sci-fi mystery.

OK, if you are not intrigued and pulled in by now, I don't know what to do.    As the end of summer nears, pick up this book for your final day on the beach or your last lazy day.  You'll be glad you did.

Robin Sloan is also the author of Mr. Penumbra’s 24‑Hour Bookstore (which I am currently devouring---it's kind of an upbeat Club Dumas).    

Publisher blurb bio:

Robin Sloan grew up near Detroit and went to school at Michigan State, where he studied economics and co-founded a literary magazine called Oats. After college, he worked at the intersection of media and technology, first at the Poynter (pronunciation: pointer) Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida, and then at Current TV and Twitter, both in San Francisco. 
His first novel, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, was a New York Times Best Seller, translated into more than twenty languages. George Saunders called the book “a tour-de-force” and Robin kindly requests that no one say anything else about any of his writing, ever. We are done here. 
With his partner Kathryn Tomajan (pronunciation: TOM-uh-jun), Robin manages a leased three-acre grove of olive trees in the San Francisco Bay Area. Their first batch of extra virgin olive oil will be available in 2018. 

I do hope you join in the fun and pick up Sourdough  for the August/September round.  The deadline for Sourdough is September 30, 2018.  Anyone can join in 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  

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


P.S.  I hope there are lots of yeasty things to post up for this round.  As for me, I have killed two sourdough starters thus far.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Garlic and Sapphires -- The Roundup

Once again we at Cook the Books Club are aligned at the corral gate, with a rousing Roundup of all the participants in our selection, Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl. And, what an adventuresome ride it's been!  Reichl is such a gifted writer, unusually able to not only distinguish, but to vividly communicate the subtle nuances of flavor in food, distinguishing obscure tastes and seasonings. This facility is combined here with her wacky sense of humor, and ability to illuminate personalities, and, adopt them when necessary in the course of her work!  It's been such fun, and the appreciation seems to have been almost unanimous.  Please take the time to read and enjoy all of the posts.  I've included just a short snippet from each to whet your appetites.  Thanks so much everyone for joining in.

First up was Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla, who made us a tasty batch of Afghani Scallion Dumplings.  She enjoyed reading about the various disguises Reichl used in the course of her job as a critic for the NY Times, and writes: "And when I write 'exploits' I mean fully costumed escapades in which Reichl adopted different personae in order to get an unbiased take on a restaurant."  And sums up by saying: "Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Reichl is not only a culinary powerhouse, but she has an appealing prose that makes her vibrant personality shine."

Next in was Debra of Eliot's Eats who made us a lovely dish of Strozzapreti with Tomatoes, Olives and Herbed Goat Cheese, Oh Yum!  She said: "I have every single one of Reichl’s books along with the aforementioned Gourmet Today and the huge yellow The Gourmet Cookbook.   If I were ever to do a “Julie/Julia” type project, I would cook my way through every single one of her books.  Love her! ... one of our true food treasures."

Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm came to the party with sassy, tangy Roasted Rhubarb.  She says that she "was extremely excited when another of her (Ruth's) memoirs was chosen this time.
Did I love it as much as the previous mentioned memoir? I daresay, I loved it even more. This is a laugh out loud, very interesting picture of what life is like to be a restaurant critic. It had never occurred to me that if you were a restaurant critic you needed to be able to dine in restaurants without being recognized. Otherwise, you will only know the service and food you are given as a celebrity instead of a normal Joe, like you and me."  

Claudia, (moi)of Honey from Rock, prepared some of Ruth's Scalloped Potatoes for the blog party, served with salmon and a salad one night, and the next with grilled steak and some of her pureed watercress.  I mentioned that "I am a woman who goes through life seeing the comic absurdity at play all around me. Perhaps why I so appreciate her writing. The disguises she literally got into here!  And, I absolutely love her many transfixing culinary descriptions".

Cathy of Delaware Girl Eats gave us yummy Gougeres - Delicious Cheese Puffs by any namet!  She commented: "Ah but the food. What Brenda, Molly, Chloe, Emily and all the other Reichl ladies ate was mouthwatering and her descriptions of those delicious courses were so enticing that I wished fervently for the opportunity to taste just one or two of the dishes she savored."

From Amy of Amy's Cooking adventures, we have tasty Pasta Carbonara!  Amy said: "I read one of Reichl’s previous memoirs for CtBC a couple years ago (I made a twist on French Onion Soup and it was delicious) and I enjoyed reading about her then – this time I loved it even more.  It was fascinating to read about Reichl’s time as the Times Food Critic!  I loved reading about her disguises and that she included some of her reviews and recipes to go along with them.

Lynda, of Reviews, Chews & How-Tos joined our party with a "simple" Celebration meal, featuring Reichl's Garlic Roast Lamb.  She commented that: " By far the hardest part of this challenge was trying to narrow down what to make, as almost every recipe and a great many of the passing references to food stirred a longing to make that... and that... and that!  For me, that is what a food memoir should do - it should create a sense of desire and longing to commune with food and the many ways of relating to one another through the preparation and eating of food."

Tina of Novel Meals brought some delicious home cooking to the event -  Roast Chicken with Potatoes, Onions and Garlic. Yum!  She said: "This is a second time around with this book but it was my first Ruth Reichl book several years back.  I liked it quite a bit; it’s always good to revisit an excellent foodie book. I’m usually attracted to books about food and restaurants, behind the scenes stuff and recipes included are a bonus."

Fellow Hawaiian blogger, Deb of Kahakai Kitchen came in with dessert, a luscious looking Lemon Panna Cotta, that I've absolutely got to try!  She says: "Reichl's food writing--whether her books, her blog, her work at the now-defunct Gourmet Magazine (Sniff...sniff... has it really been almost a decade since it folded?! So sad...), never fails to make me hungry and happy. The descriptive passages in Garlic and Sapphires make me feel like I am hanging out with her, exploring the nineties New York restaurant scene. A very happy revisit."

Just under the wire, Simona of Briciole came in with her creative round Stuffed Zucchini, a dish I'd like to make myself, though I've never seen those little potbellied vegetables in our markets. Maybe one day.  She commented: "While reading the book, the word "stuffed" kept coming to mind, blinking like a neon sign. I took that as my inspiration and was aided in my recipe development by the appearance at the farmers' market of beautiful round zucchini that just begged to be stuffed.

I think we're all looking forward to the August/September selection: Sourdough by Robin Sloan (September 2017), hosted by Debra of Eliot's Eats.  Get yourself a copy at the library, bookstore or online and join in the fun by reading, cooking up a dish inspired by the book, and posting about it.  For newcomers, there's more about us and a how-to at our Guidelines page.  Thanks again to everyone who participated.


Sunday, June 3, 2018

Our June/July Selection - Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise

Ruth Reichl has long been my favorite food writer, and I wanted to share Garlic and Sapphires, The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguisewith our Cook the Books Club. I think it's arguably, about the best of her memoirs. Reichl is the recipient of four James Beard awards as well as numerous other prizes, the author of five memoirs and a novel, host of TV shows and editor of several cookbooks.  Ruth Reichl is most noted for her entrancing food descriptions and delicious writing in general. At home, I frequently refer to her well edited, and comprehensive tome, Gourmet Today for everyday cooking tips and recipes

From her Publishers: 
As the New York Times's restaurant critic for most of the 1990s, Reichl had what some might consider the best job in town; among her missions were evaluating New York City's steakhouses, deciding whether Le Cirque deserved four stars and tracking down the best place for authentic Chinese cuisine in Queens. Thankfully, the rest of us can live that life vicariously through this vivacious, fascinating memoir. 
I love the way she assumed various disguises to find out how all sorts of customers were really treated —  so as not to attract any special service for a well-known critic — and Reichl pulls no punches. She can be hilarious, as well as a truly descriptive and evocative food writer.

Deadline for contributing your post is Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Remember that anyone can participate in Cook the Books. To join in the fun, just pick up a copy of our selection from your local bookstore or library, take inspiration from said reading, then cook and post with your thoughts and dish. Then, be sure to share your post link here in the comments or to my email:  New participants are always welcome! (If you have any questions, keave a comment here or check out our Guidelines page .

Enjoy your reading and cooking!
Honey from Rock

Friday, June 1, 2018

Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper--The Roundup

It's time to roundup the delectable array of dishes inspired by our April/May Cook the Books selection, Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China by Fuchsia Dunlop. Although the majority of our participants were not fans of the book--mostly due to the amount of Dunlop's rather graphic descriptions of the unappetizing things she ate--it still managed to inspire them in the kitchen, so let's take a look.

Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla did enjoy the book saying, "This memoir was immediately captivating, lagged about towards the latter parts, but wrapped up nicely. I will definitely seek out more of her books and thank you, Deb, for the introduction to this author." Camilla made Hui Guo Rou (Twiced-Cooked Pork Belly) and said, "The name hui guo rou literally means ‘back-in-the-pot’ meat, because the pork belly is first boiled, then stir-fried. Dunlop tries from her first Sichuanese shi fu (cooking master), Feng Rui. Note that you need to let the pork belly cool completely before slicing. I did the first part one evening and the second part - and serving - on the second evening. ... This attempt at cooking pork belly was definitely a hit with my family. Not a single piece was left. Success."

It was lovely to have Alicia of Foodycat back with us for this round. She was interested in reading the details of Dunlop's career but said, "I found it very hard to deal with the things she found herself eating. The almost blasé approach to animal cruelty and eating endangered species (although she did say she may end up vegetarian and gives quite an interesting explanation for the animal cruelty) was a kind of cultural relativism that didn't sit well with me." Alicia found her inspiration in a meat-free dish saying, "As it happens, the dish I personally most associate with Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan is 成都豆腐花 - Chengdu street tofu with soy chilli, peanuts and preserved vegetables as served at A Wong. Which is vegan."

And Alicia added a second dish, saying "The fish-fragrant aubergine that initially captured Fuchsia's imagination can also be vegan if you use vegetable stock, so I made that as our main course (following Diana Henry's recipe for Fragrant Sichuan Aubergine in Simple), along with some marinated mushrooms (which I reheated to serve). And then I let the vegan side down by serving it on egg fried rice. But it was delicious. And no endangered species died."

I think you could say that Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm was firmly in the dislike camp. She said, "I did not like Ms. Dunlop. She often complained during this book of how certain foods would make her stomach queasy. I can't think of any food that makes me queasier than Ms. Dunlop's total disregard and blatant disrespect of the resources that we have been given." For her dish Wendy made Broccoli Chicken saying, "I love Asian food as I have come to know it and to which in a small little blurb Ms. Dunlop described it. The second thing written in this book that I could actually agree with is found near the end when she writes:
"The traditional diet of the Chinese masses could be a model for the entire human race.  It's the way the older generation, the poor and the wise still eat: steamed rice or boiled noodles, served with plenty of seasonal vegetables, cooked simply: bean curd in many forms; very few sweetmeats; and small amounts of meat and fish that bring flavour and nourishment"
So with those words in mind I am sharing a quick, easy and flavorful stir fry. I hope that you enjoy it. Rant over....."


Co-host Simona of briciole was not drawn to the book and said, "I had heard praise for our club's selection and was therefore eager to read it: I cannot say it captured my attention with either writing style or content. Still, I am grateful to the book for making me try a new ingredient, a great spice that will keep its place in my cabinet and that I am looking forward to using in numerous other dishes." Simona found her inspiration in the Sichuan Pepper, using it to make a (Mild) Chili Oil, saying "The recipe that mostly inspired me blends chili oil and a vinegar and soy sauce mix to make a vinaigrette: I left the two separate so I can apportion each depending on the vegetable I am dressing: for example, a bit more vinegar on farm-fresh butter lettuce, less on roasted asparagus."


Co-host Claudia of Honey From Rock said she "thoroughly enjoyed" the book finding, "Dunlop writes a mostly delicious, sometimes revolting, entertaining, well researched and fascinating account of the food, culture and the peoples of that humongous country, mixed in with just enough history to punctuate her tale." Claudia chose to make a classic Chinese dish, saying "In one little eatery Fuchsia demonstrated her method of making Mapo Tofu to get the chef's approval. Now that is a dish I do love, and I wanted to try an authentic Sichuan version. Thus my recipe choice for this round of Cook the Books. The name translates from the Chinese to Pock-Marked Mother Chen's Bean Curd, and according to Fuchsia's remarks in her cookbook, Land of Plenty, the recipe "is named after the smallpox-scarred wife of a Quing Dynasty restaurateur, who delighted passing laborers with her hearty braised tofu.  It's one of the most famous Sichuan dishes and epitomizes Sichuan's culinary culture, with its fiery peasant cooking,"


Cathy of Delaware Girl Eats enjoyed the recipes in the book, saying, "My main interest was the book’s recipes, enlivened by her descriptions of eating those dishes. But while I consider myself an omnivore, the telling of consuming all manner of insects, rodents and other “delicacies” was a little beyond my appetite." For her recipe pick she said, "...I was drawn from the first to the description of DanDan Noodles, which at one time were the archetypal Sichuan street snack. Named for the bamboo shoulder pole carried by street vendors, they are incendiary hot. Dunlop says that they look quite plain, being just a small bowl of noodles topped with sauced minced beef. She goes on “But as soon as you stirred them with the chopsticks, you awakened the flavors in the slick of spicy seasonings that coated each strand with a mix of soy sauce, chili oil, sesame paste and Sichuan pepper. The effect of this was electrifying. Within seconds, your mouth was on fire, your lips quivering under the onslaught of the pepper and your whole body radiant with heat to the point where on a warm day you might even break out into a sweat.” I found them the same – spicy hot yet sweet and tangy. Dan Dan noodles are addictive, a fast and fresh introduction to Sichuan cooking since the amount of heat can be tailored to the eater’s tolerance."


Co-host Debra of Eliot's Eats had mixed feelings about the book and found it repetitive, saying, "I started out enjoying Dunlop’s memoir, even if parts were a bit redundant and lagged. I enjoyed her discussion of the Sichuan area of China and the regional differences that abound. Hats off to Dunlop for her total immersion into the culture. I couldn’t have done it. And, I found the bulk of the book just more of the same—weird eats. Dunlop (ad nasuem) describes (over and over again) eating odd and disgusting (at least to this Westerner) stuff." Debra reached for the Sichuan pepper too, making Sichuan Cucumber and Noodle Salad and saying, "I have experimented a bit with Sichuan peppercorns and I like the overall punch of acid of this unique spice. Although my Sichuan pepper went into the making of hot chili oil, I adapted a salad recipe to highlight the spice."

Amy of Amy's Cooking Adventures recommends skipping around to the good parts only, saying, "By the end, I was skimming to get through it. The book should have ended 4 chapters earlier. The book became depressing and boring as the author felt the need to wax on about endangered species, pollution, and climate change. While all of these topics are real issues in modern day China, the way in which they were presented was pretentious and boring." It did inspire her to go in a different cultural direction for her recipe, "I wasn’t making offal (*hurk*) or pretty much any of the recipes included in the text – they were either vile or included such difficult to obtain ingredients (remember I’m in the sparsely populated great plains region) that I couldn’t do it. I thought of just making a stir fry. But since all of my stir fries are basically the same teriyaki-ish base it felt like a cop out. However, I kept going back to the end of the book – the depressing bit.  After becoming disenchanted with China, Dunlop goes to the Xinjiang region and is revitalized.  I was surprised to see Nan listed as a very popular bread in this area.  I had to look at a map to see exactly the blending of cultures that must have brought nan to China – and ultimately that it what I decided to make."

As for me, I liked the book. As a non-meat and poultry eater, there were definitely some sections that were against my basic values and had me squeezing my eyes shut or on the verge of queasy, but I found Dunlop's experiences and her insights into China very interesting. I could relate to her try-anything-put-in-front-of-you mantra having worked a lot in Asia and instructed by my boss to do the same--although I certainly did not have to eat nearly the depth of non-appetizing dishes and ingredients that Dunlop did. Because I procrastinated in coming up with a dish to make and did not get to Chinatown to source ingredients, I found myself drawn to one of the simpler recipes in one of Dunlop's cookbooks, making Shanghai Noodles with Dried Shrimp and Spring Onion Oil. This was my first time cooking with dried shrimps and while the texture wasn't a winner, the flavor of the noodles and the spring onion oil was. I think the recipe may become a staple in my house!

Mahalo to everyone who joined in! I triple-checked the comments and my email and I believe I have all of the entries, but if somehow I missed anyone, please let me know.

And now I'll turn things over to Claudia of Honey From Rock for our June/July pick Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl

Aloha and happy reading and cooking!

Deb, Kahakai Kitchen

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Our April/May Selection: Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper, a Memoir by Fuchsia Dunlop.

Almost every time I *talk* about great foodie books with online friends at my favorite book sites, Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China by Fuchsia Dunlop comes up as a "must read." I have had it on my (ginormous) TBR list for ages, I snapped up a Kindle Deal for it several months ago, and in order to get myself to finally read it, I made it our April/May selection.

Fuchsia Dunlop is a British cook and food writer who specializes in Chinese cuisine. She reads, writes and speaks Chinese and was the first Westerner to train as a chef at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine. Dunlop has spent years exploring China and its food and has written four award-winning cookbooks focused on Chinese cooking; Land of Plenty (originally published as Sichuan Cookery in the U.K.), Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook, Every Grain of Rice, and Land of Fish and Rice. She also has a website

Published in 2008, Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper chronicles her experiences cooking and eating in China. From the book blurb:
An extraordinary memoir of an Englishwoman’s attempt to immerse herself in Chinese food and Chinese culinary culture. In the course of her decade-long journey, Fuchsia undergoes an apprenticeship at a Sichuanese cooking school, where she is the only foreign student in a class of nearly fifty young Chinese men; attempts, hilariously, to persuade Chinese people that ‘Western food’ is neither ‘simple’ nor ‘bland’; and samples a multitude of exotic ingredients, including sea cucumber, civet cat, scorpion, rabbit-heads and the ovarian fat of the snow frog.
Cook the Books hasn't traveled to China in our reading in quite a while and I am looking forward to seeing the dishes that this book inspires--especially if anyone attempts a dish of scorpion, sea cucumber and/or snow frog. ;-)

The deadline for this selection is Thursday, May 31, 2018

Remember that anyone can participate in Cook the Books. To join in the fun, just pick up a copy of the selection from your local bookstore or library, take inspiration from said reading, cook and post an inspired dish. New participants are always welcome! (Leave a comment here or check out our Guidelines page if you have any questions.

Happy reading and cooking!
Deb, Kahakai Kitchen