Monday, December 28, 2009

Where Shall We Travel for A Taste of Adventure with Anik See?

I hope everyone is enjoying a lovely holiday season full of good times with friends and family and festive food and drink, peppered with quieter times for relaxation and reading.  If you haven’t found out already, my CTB co-hostess in Athens, Greece welcomed a miniature Food Junkie into the world a few weeks ago.  You can find out the details about   Johanna’s new baby girl and I know we all wish mother, father and family much happiness with their sweet little one.
Our armchair travels with our featured author, Anik See, in her book “A Taste for Adventure” take us to many parts of the globe, and we travel along with her at a leisurely pace by bicycle.  This perambulation allows for an immersion in the local environment and interaction with residents that are immediate and intense.  I love the chapter on Georgia, where Anik and cycling mate Doug are flagged down by two men who had passed them in their truck earlier in the day and had shot ahead to set up a six hour impromptu feast for their new friends that evening.  The next day, this avalanche of hospitality is reproduced at the home of a farmer the two merely hail for information about where to camp overnight and again and again during the “knee-aching climbs” through the Georgian landscape, our traveling pair is loaded with produce, food gifts, overnight stays, impromptu feasts and wine, wine and more wine.
Thank you to the Graphics Fairy for this image.
I am still savoring this book, wondering which part of the world as described so vividly in See’s book, will inspire my Cook the Books post and yours.  Will it be Georgia?  Or Malaysia?  Patagonia or Armenia? Or Turkey, Iran, Mexico, Canada, Singapore, Indonesia, Argentina or Thailand?  Or perhaps I will be inspired to hop on my own bike and navigate the snowy crusts of upstate New York to find an adventure of my own?
Looking forward to your thoughts on the book and your posts……

Thursday, December 3, 2009

December/January Book Selection: A Taste for Adventure

Hi everyone!  I am Rachel, the Crispy Cook, and I am happy to be the current host of Cook the Books, the foodie book club started last year by me and my two blogger friends, Deb of Kahakai Kitchen and Jo of Food Junkie, Not Junk Food. Our current book selection is Anik See’s book “A Taste for Adventure: A Culinary Odyssey Around the World” (NY: Seal Press, 2002). See traveled by bicycle through Malaysia, Singapore, Patagonia, Thailand, Georgia, Turkey, Armenia, Indonesia, Argentina, Iran, Mexico and Canada, and her observations about this intimate tour of these lands and the people she met in transit is absorbing reading.   This book was also published in Canada under the title “A Fork in the Road”.
I am also delighted to announce that our author, Anik See, has graciously agreed to serve as our guest judge.   See previously worked as a researcher for the Canadian television cooking show “The Urban Peasant” and now lives in The Netherlands, where she continues to write, as well designing and repairing books (be still my bibliophilic heart!).  You can see examples of her bookbinding and book arts at her website.
To join us at Cook the Books, all you have to do is read the book, blog about it and something you cook up that is inspired by your reading. The deadline for doing so is Friday, January 22, 2010. I will post a roundup of blog posts afterward and then our guest judge, Anik See, will read them and  pick a winning post. The winner receives a badge for their blog, addition to the Cook the Books blog roll and all the accolades one can put up with. Sound fun? Please do join us, we love reading everyone’s thoughts about our book picks and seeing the creative entries from kitchens around the world.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

WE HAVE A WINNER!!! Announcing the “French Lessons Winner” for Cook the Books

Hello again!
Sorry to have kept you waiting.  Beth, our guest judge from Beth Fish Reads, has chosen a winner, so please read below. I have included her whole email:
Thanks so much for contacting me about being the judge for
the Cook the Books experience with Peter Mayle’s French Lessons. I was
so flattered to be picked. Once I got over that, however, I realized
that is an incredibly hard job. I have a new found respect for all your
previous judges.
First let me say how impressed I am with each entry. Wow, you are all
so ambitious and did such a great job with your dishes whether you
loved French Lessons or not. I now also understand why every judge
mentions how hard it is to pick a winner. The quality is amazing, and
I could clearly see the thought and effort and research that go in to
creating or finding a dish that fits with the selected book. Everyone
gets my admiration and applause.
I reviewed French Lessons on my blog last January, and although I
liked A Year in Provence better, I enjoyed following Peter around
France and virtually sharing in some good meals and festivals.
Okay, enough about me and let’s get on to the judging. Well, one more
thing about me: I’ve added several recipes to my must-try-really-soon
list. Thanks!
The runner-up is Beth of Seventh Level of boredom with her Poulet a la
 There was more than one entry that used this fabulous dish;
each was different and each looked wonderful. But I loved Beth’s write
up, and I could totally relate to her surprise of how amazingly easy
it is to make chicken this way. Too bad, as she says, we can’t eat
this every day. I love the idea of serving the sauce in a dipping
bowl. I would have never thought of that, but it expands the
possibilities of making a pretty presentation on the table.

The winner is Claudia of Honey from Rock with her Omelette aux
Truffes. I admire her search for the perfect (or, well,
not-so-perfect) truffle and her willingness to expose the emperor’s
nakedness. Thanks to her, I know a lot more about truffles and what to
buy if I ever decide to try them myself. Besides that, I loved the
omelet recipe and the pairing with the asparagus — so lovely on the
plate and a nice foil for the richness of the eggs.
Thanks so much for letting me be a judge for your great
cooking/reading event. I’ve been a follower of the Cook the Books blog
for a while and I just love the whole idea of it. One day I’ll find
the time and energy to enter one your cook-offs! In the meantime, I’ll
be watching, reading, cooking, and eating!
So, CONGRATULATIONS Claudia! You did it again! As you will all know, Claudia was also our previous Cook the Books winner (Last Chinese Chef), so she does have a Winner badge already and her special place on the HALL OF FAME blogroll! And of course congratulations to you Beth!
See you all on a couple of months

Saturday, November 14, 2009

French Lessons: the roundup

Hello everyone!
I am Jo from Food Junkie, this term’s host of Cook the Books, and it is time for all of you to meet our contestants, who read and cooked from Peter Mayle’s French Lessons.
I was sure that the book would inspire some mouth watering dishes with an inclination towards cream and cheese, and I was very excited to see the results. I was also intrigued by the fact that the book was not so popular with all of the contestants, some found it mediocre while others completely uninteresting, but I admired their frankness and I think that this is more important than keeping everyone happy all the time. After all we all have very different tastes in food, so why not in literature too?
Ok, so here is a list of all participants with a small description of their dish. Our judge  will be Beth from Beth Fish Reads, who maintains a very thorough literature blog and is a passionate foodie too!
Crepes aux Epinards et Fromage
Natashya of Living in the Kitchen with Puppies was inspired by the chapter on the “Thigh Tasters of Vittel” and especially the early morning wine pairings that Mayle describes in the book. So she made Crepes aux Epinards et Fromage (Spinach and Cheese crepes) for breakfast and had them with some red wine. A very decadent way to start the day for sure!
Honey from rock
Claudia of Honey from Rock moderately liked the book, but was inspired enough by the three-Michelin Star restaurant descriptions of the last chapter when Mayele enjoys a spa and gastronomic weekend at Eugenie-les bains spa. So she set out to make Omelette aux Truffes, a rather extravagant dish because of the use of the expensive fungus, but admittedly one of the best ways to showcase the aroma and texture of good truffle. Unfortunately she couldn’t find any fresh ones and the preserved one she used didn’t have a very strong taste. However, this plump omelette surely looks inviting enough!
Macaroni and Cheese with Gruyere and Mushrooms
Joanne of Eats well with others also didn’t like the book that much, but she did enjoy the chapter on the Marathon du Medoc. I actually agree with her that it was one of the best chapters in the book. Being a runner herself she was amazed by the heavy meal the runners had the day before the race, but since she wasn’t going to run any time soon, she made Macaronis et Fromage Avec Des Champignons (Macaroni and Cheese with Gruyere and Mushrooms) a “play on the macaroni and cheese we all know and love. I don’t know about you, but I think this is perfect comfort food!
Seventh level
Beth of Seventh Level of boredom really enjoyed the book, despite the fact that at first it struck her “as an arrogant account of one man’s travels through France on a no-holds-barred mission to eat and get drunk, with a seemingly limitless line of credit”.  She actually found the meal that Mayle had in Bresse very inspiring, so she cooked the kind of dish I always associate with French bistro cooking,  Poulet a la creme (chicken with cream). She suggests you eat this the minute you make it and I couldn’t agree more!
Chicken with creme and mushrooms
Maria of Organically Cooked liked the book and found that the French have many similarities with the Greeks living in Crete. She notices that “they both love smoking and find it frigging hard to obey the recently introduced smoking bans in their countries. Then they both love their long extended lunches and siestas. They both also take pride in their institutions, which may sound a little old-fashioned in some ways, as if they have not moved on with the times, but hey, that’s the Greeks (or the French) for you”. I would also add that they both take great pride in their cuisine. Anyway, Maria left her Mediterranean diet aside for a while and made Chicken with creme and mushrooms, also inspired by Mayle’s meal in Bresse. She tried to get hold of an excellent quality chicken and to make do with ingredients that were available in her part of the world and from what I see the results were excellent!
Simona from Briciole , an Italian-English blog, was inspired by the chapter dedicated to the wine auction in Burgundy. Although she doesn’t like wine that much, she was intrigued by the puff pastry nuggets Mayle tried together there, so she made Gougères a la Gouda. And guess what, the Gouda she used she made herself too! Now HOW COOL IS THAT!?
Gratin Savoyarde
Porc a la Normandie
Judy of Judy’s Gross Eats liked the book and particularly the chapter on the Marathon du Medoc. So she cooked up not one but two dishes: a gratin Savoyarde and Porc a la Normandie. Unfortunately she doesn’t give us any of these recipes!
Alicia of Foodycat didn’t like the book that much and wasn’t moved to either taste any of the food described in there or visit any of the food festivals. Inspiration for cooking up something French-related only came while watching Eating in the Sun on BBC television and their visit to Alain Ducasse’s restaurant La Bastide de Moustiers.  So she cooked up a squash and truffle spelt risotto which would tie in nicely with the whole chapter on truffles that Mayle had in the book. The final result was not as good as expected truffle-wise, because, like Claudia (of Honey from Rock) she didn’t use any fresh truffles, only jarred ones (I have now decided never to buy anything but the real thing). Other than that, however, it was a yummy dish and I certainly believe her!
Coq au riesling
Deb of Kahakai Kitchen, co-founder of Cook the Books Club, liked the book and since she had a hard time finding something entirely related to the book to cook she decided to stick to something French instead, so she made Coq au Riesling. This is a traditional an Alsatian variation of the more well-known Coq au vin, where the red Burgundian wine is substituted by the white fruity Riesling wine which is abundant in the area. She actually prefers it to Coq auVin and I couldn’t agree more!
Pastry Wrapped Brie
Last but not least the Rachel of The Crispy Cook, also a Cook the Books co-founder, really loved the book and  was inspired to visit some food festivals in her area (Bennington’s Garlic Festival and the Washington County Cheese Tour)! Rachel loves cheese so she decided to make a pastry wrapped Brie, which sounds like an easy thing to do but isn’t if you are making it gluten free (her blog specializes in wheat and gluten free recipes).
Finally,  my own entry for Cook the Books, which, compared to all the lovely food presented above is going to be very boring indeed, was a wedge of Livarot cheese inspired of course by the chapter “Love at first sniff” which describes Mayle’s visit to the village of Livarot for a cheese festival. I was actually so surprised and excited to be able to find this cheese in Greece, that I didn’t think twice about cooking up anything. Plus, since I am the host, I am not being judged!

That was it folks! I hope we will see all of you for our next November-January Cook the Books event where Rachel, The Crispy Cook will be hosting. She will take us on an adventure around the globe with her pick the foodie/travel memoir, A Taste for Adventure: A Culinary Odyssey Around the World by Anik See.
Till then au revoir! 

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Announcing Our Next 3 Cook the Books Titles!

Due to all the positive feedback on announcing our Cook the Books selections in advance so you all have time to locate the book, here are the next three picks that will follow our current selection, Peter Mayle’s “French Lessons: Adventures with Knife, Fork and Corkscrew” being hosted by Jo at Food Junkie Not Junk Food(Remember the deadline on French Lessons has been extended to November 8th).
Once again we tried to come up with great books, a little variety, and books that you can find in paperback, used or at your local library.
Cook the Books Selection: November – January
Rachel, The Crispy Cook will be hosting this round and decided to take us on an adventure around the globe with her pick the foodie/travel memoir, A Taste for Adventure: A Culinary Odyssey Around the World by Anik See. (NY: Seal Press, 2002).  (Originally published in Canada by Macmillan under the title “A Fork in the Road”). The author is a Canadian currently living in the Netherlands, writing and working as a bookbinder and letterpress printer.  She interspersed her years as a food researcher for the Canadian television show “The Urban Peasant” with many cycling trips around the world and showcases these travels in this collection of essays, with many recipes and photos sprinkled throughout.  See travels to Malaysia, Singapore, Patagonia, Thailand, Georgia, Turkey, Armenia, Indonesia, Northern Argentina, Iran, Mexico and British Columbia, so there will be a smorgasbord of culinary cultures to ruminate on in our blog posts.
Since this book hits around holiday time, we are taking an extra few weeks and extending the deadline into January. You should have this selection read and your dish posted by Friday, January 22nd.
Cook the Books Selection: February-March
For me, Deb at Kahakai Kitchen, finding a new book to love is fun, but I also like to revisit a favorite book that I haven’t read in a while. For my pick, I am taking us back to a classic and a novel I love, “Like Water for Chocolate: A Novel in Monthly Installments with Recipes, Romances, and Home Remedies“  by  Laura Esquivel. Many of you may have read it or seen the movie (also wonderful), but for those who have not, “Like Water for Chocolate” is set in turn-of -the-century Mexico, and tells the story of Tita, the youngest daughter of a well-born rancher. As youngest daughter, her destiny is to remain single and care for her aging widowed mother but she falls in love with Pedro anyway. Her mother quickly takes care of that by making her sister marry Pedro. Tita pours all of her emotions into cooking and the results make for a fun, fanciful and often poignant story of love, life and of course FOOD! A recipe starts each chapter of this classic book and since this is a good excuse to delve into some traditional Mexican cooking, get out any Rick Bayless and Diana Kennedy cookbooks you have lying around.
Our deadline for reading this selection and posting your dish is Friday, March 26.
Cook the Books Selection: April-May
Jo from Food Junkie Not Junk Food is back as host for this round and is jetting off with us to Britain to find out from a favorite chef and food/cookbook writer just what those Brits eat!  Eating for England: The Delights & Eccentricities of the British at Table, is Nigel Slater’s personal portrait of the British and their food. With his witty, warm and nostalgic tone Slater addresses favourite British cuisine staples (high tea, scones, black pudding, Sunday roast etc.) and products (biscuits, chocolates etc) sometimes with love and others with apprehension. He is both entertaining and informative, often focusing on the sociological aspect of foods, painting a vivid portrait of nation whose relationship to food “is unlike any other“.  If you have never read any of Nigel Slater’s books or cooked his recipes you are in for a treat, the man is amazing! We can’t wait to see what dishes everyone comes up with for this one.
The deadline for reading and posting your dish for this selection is Friday, May 21st.
And there you have it–our next three selections! We hope that you can join us as we travel the globe these next few months, reading great books, cooking and eating wonderful food and sharing it all with good friends.
Now collect your knife, fork and corkscrew and get back to your “French Lessons“!
Your hosts,
Deb, Rachel & Jo
Note: If you are new to Cook the Books, welcome! We are a bi-monthly virtual book club, reading great food-related books and cooking and posting dishes inspired by them. Anyone is welcome to join our group. If you have any questions, you can find the details here, or leave a comment and we’ll get back to you.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Next Cook The Books Selection: French Lessons, Adventures with Knife, Fork and Corkscrew

Hello everyone!
Just a reminder that our next book is Peter Mayle’s “French Lessons: Adventures with Knife, Fork, and Corkscrew”a joyous exploration and celebration of the infinite gastronomic pleasures of France. Mayle ( visits France’s most exciting foodfestivals, such as the Foire aux Grenouilles (frog thigh festival) in  Vittel, la Foire au Fromages (cheese festival) at Livarot or the Medoc Marathon in Burgundy where runners refresh themselves with bottles of expensive red wines. His tone is funny and relaxed and he makes you feel you’re on holiday too!
Mayle loves France and her people. Born in Brighton U.K. he and his wife live in Provence (South of France) . He is the author of  many books, such as “A Year in Provence”, “Chasing Cezanne” and “A Good Year” and has has contributed to The Sunday Times, the Financial Times, The Independent, GQ, and Esquire.
THE DEADLINE IS: Sunday, November 8th.
Please email me ( when your post is up and remember to link both here and to my blog (, as I am hosting this round.
Thank you!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

We Have a Winner! Announcing "The Last Chinese Chef" Winner for Cook the Books

OK, Cook the Books Members...We have a winner for this round of our bi-monthly book club selection, the wonderful foodie novel "The Last Chinese Chef" by Nicole Mones. I'll let you read Nicole's email below so you can hear her choice in her own words (Since she is going through the process of making edits to her current book, I promised her not to edit this!) ;-)

I think picking the winner from all your wonderful participants was harder than writing the novel. What a great circle of readers and cooks you have! I have never seen a book group so perfectly attuned to this novel. Then again, it would be hard to cherry-pick readers more ideally suited to resonate with The Last Chinese Chef
Everyone put so much imagination and energy into their dishes and menus! I really hate to have to pick one. Some things were truly creative—like lapsang souchong panna cotta with star anise plums – plus she made trotters, which is brave. And the Beijing wontons in rich broth looked PERFECT, worthy of a Chinese restaurant, the embodiment of xian (the pure natural flavor of a thing) and SO Beijing. The steeped chicken almost made me cry. That is the single most emotionally charged dish in the novel… and also far and away the dish most readers have told me they longed to taste. Maybe it is because of what Deb said, that they wanted to be fed by Sam.
All of you put so much heart into your creations. But ultimately, I had to choose, so…

My runner-up choice was Heather of Girlichef’s Salmon Wrapped in Banana Leaf. It may be odd for me to pick this since ‘fusion’ is traditionally a very un-Chinese concept (historically, in China, all art forms strove for mastery and perfection rather than originality)…but what a great idea! I think it would be wonderful with lotus leaf too… I am definitely going to try this at home. It was thoughtful and highly original in its application of the wrap-and-steam process to another, very non-Chinese ingredient—salmon. Indeed, one of the challenges of making the pork ribs steamed in lotus leaf is that the package forms a sealed container, trapping in not just flavors but any fat contained in the ribs. One wants to prep the ribs to be fairly lean so that there is not too much fat in the finished dish. This must be done by trimming, since parboiling (a good trick before grilling) does not really work in this case. But converting the concept to salmon reverses the equation and turns the challenge into an advantage – salmon, with its healthy fats and tendency to dry out, can only benefit from the extra moisture and ‘containment’ of the package. Good dipping sauce too. Excellent idea!

The great 18th century food critic Yuan Mei wrote that the greatest and most sophisticated dishes were the simplest and most rustic ones… that sublime execution of what is basic constitutes the highest refinement of all. He admired a great dish of tofu more than a platter of imported bird’s nest, though the latter was as costly as pearls. To him, too much of the hautecuisine of his era was about showing off rather than creating great food. He called this ‘eating with your eyes’. You can see this in high-end Eurocentric cuisine today, too – a lot of showing off (witness our era’s increasingly precious, architectural presentations – and often plated for one, too; how un-Chinese!) But his convictions struck me for another reason, too: a great story is also simple, even as it is devilishly difficult to write. It may sound counter-intuitive, but to write a complex story is easier. Simplicity is the final thing… it may be the hardest thing. I hope in my lifetime someday to get there.

So…my choice for the winner is Claudia from Honey From Rock’s Sichuan Tofu with Vegetables. She took plain, simple ingredients and with them achieved a fairly complicated textural dish. She kept trying until she nailed it. And she created a dish that expresses one of the time-honored artistic ploys of Chinese cuisine: it presents as if it is a humble, everyday plate of food but in fact is texturally manipulated to produce a surprise. This jolt of surprise is the beginning of going beyond the senses we usually associate with cooking and eating, to engage the mind with interest and amusement. As I write this I am spending a few days in a house on a cliff above the blue Pacific… Claudia’s recipe makes me want to run up north to the next town, buy some crabs, pick them, and use the shells to make a reduction sauce to try with her spongy tofu technique. Not 30 though, as Sam used… maybe 3… Congratulations, Claudia. You did a terrific job.

All of you did. Your entries were a perfect procession of interesting, mouth-watering recipes and photos. While we’re on the subject, I must single out Deb’s congee even though her entry could not be considered... talk about your homey family meal! To me this recipe/photo more than any other captured the feeling of guanxi and friendship and family so central to the novel. Maybe that’s because there is no meal more intimate than breakfast (which is why breakfast is the book’s last scene.) But I also commend Deb’s entry for making congee seem not just appealing but downright irresistible. Next time I go for dim sun I’m going to pass up all those exotic dumplings and have a bowl.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for reading my novel and even better, for letting it spark your own creative ideas. I am honored… and so glad you all enjoyed it. I cannot promise another book about food, at least not anytime soon; right now I am writing one about music, a historical novel about African-American musicians in the Chinese jazz age (1930s). I hope you will like it, too.  

Thank you!
Congratulations to Claudia of Honey From Rock! As the winner for this round with her Sichuan Tofu with Vegetables, Claudia receives a Cook the Books Winner’s Badge for her blog and will be added to the Cook the Books blogroll.
cook the books award
Thanks to everyone for participating in this round and a special huge thank you to Nicole Mones for devoting so much thought and time to being a part of Cook the Books. 
I will be back in a couple of days to announce our next three book selections so that you can start locating them, and then will be passing the CTB torch on to the host, of our current selection, Peter Mayle's French Lessons: Adventures with Knife, Fork and Corkscrew, Johanna of Food Junkie Not Junk Food.  
Happy Labor Day!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Last Chinese Chef: A Cook the Books Round-up

What a great response to this round of Cook The Books! It seems like everyone fell in love with "The Last Chinese Chef" by Nicole Mones and that we all wanted to be cooked for and fed by Sam! In reading all of your posts it seemed that everyone responded to something; the food, culture, romance, Maggie's self-discovery, the excitement of whether Sam would win the cooking competition and the book within a book  "The Last Chinese Chef", written by Sam's grandfather. What fun to see all the different interpretations of the book come out in the dishes it inspired. I am happy to just be doing the round-up and not have to pick the winner. I think our wonderful author and acting judge, Nicole Mones is going to have a difficult time deciding on just one entry! So without further ado, let's take a journey to mysterious China and feed our souls with some delicious food! 

Glennis from Cantbelieveweate's Weblog says, "A few pages in I found myself lost in a fog of imagined aromas (chicken and five spice for the most part, but with ginger and garlic wafting through on a magic carpet of braising pork).  I love good Chinese." She created her Twice Dressed Beef Under Snow saying, "So I was inspired to think about layers of flavors…perfect little bites…each bite tasting exactly the way I want it to.  Lying atop a bed of shredded iceberg & hearts of romaine lettuce lightly dressed with a teriyaki-inspired dressing are marinated and grilled broccoli, carrots and cauliflower along with bites of very rare seared beef.  The salad greens were shredded and hand-tossed in a bowl with the dressing, then plated.  The veggies went straight from the resting plate to the salads.  A few fresh-from-the-garden cherry tomatoes were added because tomatoes go well in salads!  The meat was grilled, rested, carved, cut into bite sized pieces, dressed again and plated.  Snow, in the form of fried bean threads was added to the plates for contrast and crunch at the last moment."
Although initially she thought the book might not be for her, Betherann of Kitchen Courage changed her mind upon reading it saying, "Mones writes with delicate and luscious detail, both about her characters and some truly exquisite Chinese cuisine. I could virtually taste every dish that Maggie, the food writer, samples, and share her delight with each new experience." Betherann tried her hand at a Chinese-inspired Book Savvy Stir-Fry in Almond Sauce. "I'm not sure how Chinese my stir-fry dish really is, but it did hit a sweet spot. This dish reminds me of the mountains of stir-fry we helped make while serving at a Malaysian soup kitchen. There, the master chef threw tons of bean sprouts, tofu, onion, and chicken into a vast, sizzling wok and turned out plate after plate of a hearty meal which we served to the waiting poor and homeless. I threw together my own version of his stir-fry-for-a-crowd as yesterday's lunch, and it was exactly what my soul and stomach needed. And that, I think, it what a lot of Chinese cooking is all about."
Being a self-proclaimed "food-obsessed reader with a voracious appetite for good food and entertaining reads," Arlene at The Food Of Love says, "More than any of the other books we've read in the past, this novel resonated with me. My premise that food is how we show our love for family and friends was echoed in this story of a food writer and a Chinese-American chef. ...Not having access to many of the regional recipes alluded to in the novel, I determined to cook something that would use the freshest ingredients in a simple way, but in a way that would focus attention on the essence of the ingredients. After literally hours of searching through my cookbooks and the internet, I decided to try to replicate a wonderful dinner I had just recently at a favorite restaurant, Steamed Lobster in a Scallion Ginger SauceIt was a delicious dinner and far more economical to eat at home than at a restaurant. While I still dream of eating lotus leaf spare ribs and beggars' chicken and sesame cakes, I will have to content myself to the far more pedestrian fare available in New York."
Suzie from Munch & Nibble made an entire Chinese Supper for her CTB post. She says, "When it came to choosing a meal to cook inspired by this book, I had lots of thoughts on what I wanted to achieve: I wanted to illustrate "guanxi" or relationships and connectedness because I was cooking for my family. I decided to make the Poached Chicken that Sam makes for Maggie early in the book. When Sam made this chicken, he reached across the usual journalist / subject divide and paved the way for their friendship to develop, as well as setting her on the path to healing. Maggie says "It was as soft as velvet, chicken times three, shot through with ginger and the note of onion....I may never have tasted anything so good." I had to have a go at it! I wanted vegetable dishes to complement the chicken. I chose Braised Soya Beans which were in Kylie Kwong's book "My China" as a Beijing dish, and are therefore hopefully true to the sort of thing that Sam would make. Soya beans are also symbolic of the continuance of society (more guanxi). The Snowpea and Garlic Stir Fry introduces the colour of jade to the table, while snowpeas are a Chinese symbol of unity, and garlic symbolizes luck and health. I wanted to make a reference to a Chinese fable, as many of the book's dinners referred metaphorically to literature as well, and so I chose the story of the Moon Lady, Chang Er. We ended the meal with Ginger Cookies in the shape of a moon with a little speck of candied ginger to represent Chang Er sitting on the moon."
chinese banquet
Foodycat says, "Putting together my contribution for the latest Cook the Books was challenging. Nicole Mones' novel, The Last Chinese Chef has many layers - there is cooking (of course), there is grief, love, dispossession, betrayal, nostalgia - the whole box and dice. One aspect of the book that I really loved is the lack of a villain. It would have been quite easy to write a scheming woman pursuing a paternity suit, or rival chefs plotting sabotage. But Mones has avoided the facile and has given validity to conflicting motivations. Where disaster strikes, it isn't through enemy sabotage, it is through the agency of a much-loved uncle. I wanted to do justice to the book by having a many-layered menu and somehow show some of those themes in my food."  Inspired by the planning Sam goes through for the competition in the bookshe came up with an entire gorgeous feast; a Vegetarian Appetizer Platter, Pigeon Sang Choy Bao, Trotters in Black Vinegar, Spring Onion Flower Rolls, and Lapsang Souchong Panna Cotta with Star Anise Plums Here are a couple of the pictures but go visit her post to see the rest of her dishes. 
Combining her love of all things pasta with inspiration from the food descriptions in the book, Joanne from Eats Well with Others made Shredded Piquant Pork With A Red Bean Surprise. Joanne says, "I enjoyed reading about Sam's endeavors in the kitchen as well as his description of the theory behind traditional Chinese meals. There are so many aspects to take into consideration that no food is ever as simple as it appears...there are surprises behind every bite. One recipe that I kept coming back to was one for a local dish of shredded pork in piquant sauce that was served in a tofu wrapper. After some googling around, I came across a recipe for Mandarin Shredded Pork and Sweet Bean Sauce. This seemed piquant to me! What I liked about this dish was that one looks at it expecting it to be savory and then bites into it, only to be met with a delicious and unprecedented sweetness. The pairing of the red bean paste, which is almost always associated with desserts, with the pork is one of those suprises that Sam talks a lot about in the book. I also decided to put this over pasta because, well, I like pasta."
Maria of Organically Cooked says, "Authentic Chinese cooking uses the same kind of locally grown or foraged produce that local Cretan food usesMoreover, due to the sharp rise in the numbers of resident foreigners in Hania, Asian bottled sauces and fresh root ginger are now being stocked at most supermarkets all over the town; had I been making trying to cook authentic Chinese dishes in my Mediterranean kitchen a few years ago, it wouldn't have been possible to find ingredients like oyster sauce and chili paste. "I decided to cook a common-looking Greek meal in our house using Chinese flavours, something that I knew the whole family would enjoy, introducing, in a subtle way, the flavours of a foreign culture into our house, whose food customs are not at all as foreign as they soundMy experiments in Asian cuisine do not look very Chinese; only if one can smell the food will they realise that this is Asian cuisine - otherwise, it looks very Cretan." Maria's meal included Stuffed Squash Flowers with Chinese Flavors, Goat Meat Wrapped in Vine LeavesYangshuo Country Eggplant, and Asian-Flavored Souvlaki. Here are a couple of photos, the rest can be found in her wonderful post.
Heather of girlichef loved the book and says, "I'm pretty sure I wanted to try each and every single bit of food that was mentioned throughout this book. But the one that I have not stopped thinking about was Pork Spareribs in Lotus Leaf. I was bound and determined to make this and knock all of your socks off. When Sam loving and painstakingly works on perfecting these...I can feel my cheeks starting to tingle and my mouth begins to water." Although Heather was able to make her  own rice powder scented with 5-spice, she had a little trouble sourcing another key ingredient, "Do I even need to tell you that I could not locate Lotus Leaves. Anywhere. Ugh. Okay, switch gears...but just slightly. I ended up making a salmon dish that was totally inspired by my desire to try the Pork wrapped in Lotus Leaf." It all worked out in the end and she ended up with a lovely Salmon Wrapped in Banana Leaf instead. Heather says, "This is a meal I will be making again...and don't worry, I'm not giving up on the Pork wrapped in Lotus Leaf! I have some scented rice powder just waiting for my upcoming trip to the Asian Market. Now, are you writing another foodie novel Nicole? Because I want to be early in line."
ctb salmon collage 1
My fabulous co-host Rachel, The Crispy Cook says, "I devoured this lyrically-written story in two sittings, and went back several times to savor the various passages I had festooned with bookmarks. It was a love story of many dimensions: between a man and a woman, between father and son, uncles and nephew, between old passions and new ones. Mones introduced me to many things about Chinese culture. She weaves many concepts about cooking and history into her story." Rachel used several different sources of inspiration to create her feast, the novel of course, "The China Moon Cookbook" by Barbara Tropp and the classic Chinese foodie movie, "Eat Drink Man Woman". She ended up with many wonderful dishes, Strange Flavor Eggplant on Toasted Baguettes, Rainbow Vegetable-Noodle Salad with Chili-Orange Oil, Steamed Rice, Sliced, Chilled Suyo Long Cucumbers, and Dragon Well Shrimp and Steamed Red Noodle BeansHere are a couple mouth-watering photos, check out her post for even more.  
Simona from briciole was inspired to make her Corn Soup with Tofu and Tomato by the scene where "the platter of "plain food" prepared as part of the banquet menu lands on the floor, a mishap that destroys the carrier of the flavor of 30 crabs What intrigued me was the concept of tofu boiled until it becomes spongy and able to absorbs a sauce, crab reduction sauce in this case. The guest thinks he or she is eating plain tofu, but at the first bite, the unsuspecting taste buds get a jolt. Making a reduction sauce from 30 crabs was outside my range of possibilities, but I thought this would be my chance to finally do something I had never done before: prepare a dish with tofu as one of the ingredients. The four ears of sweet corn I found in this week CSA box provided another inspirational element to the enterprise. I had just made some vegetable stock using corn cobs... so the idea of corn soup took shape in my mind. The question was: would spongy tofu soak up creamy corn soup? The result? "I am happy to report that the soup was excellent. The spongy tofu experiment did not work as expected, but that detracted nothing from the dish. Tofu added texture without cluttering the flavor space, which was dominated by the roasted sweet corn, underlined by the fresh herbs and complemented by the tomato."
Natashya from Living in the Kitchen with Puppies enjoyed the book, finding it to be "an adult adventure and romance that rises out of the sudden widow-hood of a childless food writer and her subsequent trip to China. There she takes part in the dual projects of investigating a paternity suit against her late husband and covering the story of a Chinese-American chef who is competing for a place in the Beijing Olympic culinary competition. A tapestry of food and history unfolds in this book that delights the senses as well as the heart, a wonderful summer read." Natashya chose to put her wonton making skills to good use to make a delicious, cozy dinner for her family. She says, "For my cooking selection, I chose Beijing Wontons in Rich Broth. A delicious meal that my family loved. Enjoy!"
wonton soup040
My other wonderful co-host, Johanna of Food Junkie Not Junk Food says, "I read the book in three days, as it is  a real page turner. The plot  is classic love story, but at the same time an in-depth look at Chinese food culture. I was mesmerised by the attention to detail and the philosophy behind this type of cuisine which is so largely unknown outside China. Used to the formulaic cooking of western Chinese restaurants, we have lost all the glory and subtleties of a type of cuisine that goes back thousands of years.I chose to cook something very simple, as Chinese cuisine greatly believes in simplicity, as much as in the complexity of things. It is a Steeped Chicken, that the American-Chinese chef in the book, Sam Liang, cooked for Maggie, the food writer, as a way to heal her grief. I thought this dish was pure brilliance, as it requires minimum effort and gives extremely moist and fragrant results. I am not in such a terrible emotional state as Maggie, but the plump chicken pieces, together with all the aromatics made me fuzzy and warm inside. The broth is wonderful too. I will be using it in a soup very soon!"
It took Claudia from Honey From Rock a lot of experimenting in the kitchen before she came up with her final dish for CTB, Sichuan Tofu with Vegetables. She tried a Lotus Wrapped Sticky Rice but found that it was, "Good, but not quite up to our Last Chinese Chef standards. And, I couldn't honestly say the lotus taste was distinguishable." Next she tried to get the right spongy  texture of tofu, "experimenting over the past month or so, with pressing the water out, then freezing, pressing the water out and boiling and pressing again, etc. etc., but still not achieving the desired sponge effect." Finally, with advice from a local health food store owner, she froze the tofu block without pressing the water out and  she says, "BINGO! to use an old expression.  It woiked"  About her final dish, Claudia says "I call it Sichuan because of the spicier ingredients in my sauce, typical of Northern Chinese or Mongolian style cooking. Served with a slice of tropical white pineapple on the side, and some brown rice, what a delicious meal this made."
Although she went through some "trials and tribulations" to get a copy of the book and make her dish, Judy from  Judy's Gross Eats, got it done. She says, "This is an awesome love story in every sense: love of country, love of food, love of history, and love between two people. I never wanted this story to end. It was inspiring.I started a search for a recipe that would engage the senses and related to the setting of the story. After perusing several cookbooks on Chinese cuisine, I chose Hangzhou Braised Pork from The Shun Lee Cookbook by Michael Tong. I did adapt it to the ingredients I had on hand. This led to my second 'trial and tribulation': the cooking liquid is supposed to be boiled down to make a syrupy sauce. Even though I boiled 3 times as long as the recipe stated, it never became syrupy. I decided I would try again when I reheated the leftover pork, but I was once again thwarted. My daughter beat me to it, eating all of the remaining meat and rice, without spinach and without sauce. She declared it was delicious and I should make it again. All that's left now is a container of sauce, waiting to be reduced. Guess I'll have to make it again."
Finally, over at Kahakai Kitchen, I decided to try my hand at Congee, after reading Sam describe it in the book, "Congee. It's the simplest food, the most basic. But it takes care. It's like love". I had never been a congee fan but was ready to change my mind after reading about the thick rice porridge and all of the toppings, "He gestured to at the side counter, which was crowded with little bowls he had been preparing while the aromatic rice was cooking. There were tiny squares of crunchy pickle, slivers of greens, velvety cubes of tofu, tiny smoked-dried Hunan fish mounded up in a crispy, silvery tangle. There were peanuts, shreds of river moss, crunchy soaked fungus, and matchsticks of salty Yunnan ham." And change my mind I did, it was the perfect comfort food and although I couldn't exactly replicate Sam's congee, I ended up with a dish I really liked. 
Thanks to everyone who joined us for this round of Cook The Books--you all really outdid yourselves. (I found myself drooling as I wrote this round-up!) As I mentioned before, I do not envy Nicole and the decision she has to make! I'll be back in a few days with the name of our winner for this round who will receive the coveted Cook the Books Winner's Badge for their blog and a place on the CTB blogroll. In the meantime, you can get a head start on our next book, Peter Mayle's "French Lessons: Adventures with Knife, Fork and Corkscrew", which will be hosted by Johanna. More details on "French Lessons" and the announcement of our next three books will be coming soon. 
Happy reading, cooking and eating!