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!