Saturday, December 17, 2011

Want to be an Outlaw in Your Own Kitchen?

I am hereby announcing our formal kick-off  for the next round of Cook the Books.  I (Rachel, The Crispy Cook) will be your host and hope you all will enjoy reading John and Matt Lewis Thorne’s book “Outlaw Cook” as much as I have.  My friend Myra has been a fan of  Thorne’s food writing for many years and when I finally got my hands on a copy of “Outlaw Cook” last year it went right to the top of my teetering bedside pile. I have been reading and re-reading bits of this collection of food writing ever since and am so pleased to share it with you all in our online book club.
John Thorne has graciously agreed to serve as our Guest Judge for this round, which will end January 23, 2012.  From now until then, anyone is welcome to join in the fun by reading the book and then posting up your thoughts about it and any dish (or two) that you may be inspired to cook up. Let me know that your post is live by leaving a comment below or by sending me an email at oldsaratogabooks AT gmail dOTcom.
I hope that everyone finds some time to relax and read during this busy holiday season.
-Rachel, The Crispy Cook
(Extra Crispy this time of year!)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Hello everyone!
We have a winner for CTB “Harlot’s Sauce”. Below you will find Patricia’s email:
Dear Cook the Books Book Club:
Many thanks ─ many, many ─ for choosing Harlot’s Sauce as one of your selections. I was honored. I truly delighted in reading all the comments about the book. They were all carefully thought out and well-expressed, and the range of opinions was very educational to me as the author.  Most importantly I soooo enjoyed the recipes. Yum. Some were very creative responses to the story. I’ll have you know I tried each one, and they were all so good that I posted every one of them, along with your blogs and the pages on which the recipes can be found on my author website. If you’d like to see that, they are at this page below:

This is a subpage of the “About Patricia” tab called “Recipes by Me and My Readers.” A number of readers have sent me recipes and photos of their own versions of  pasta puttanesca, and I’d have them all up on my site at one time or another. But at no time has any group come up with such varied and unique recipes inspired by this book. That’s why picking a winner for this was extremely difficult.

I loved Foodycat’s “Tisane” for digestive problems, and laughed at her descriptions of food as punishment, as manipulation and control, because she was absolutely correct, and it’s the first time it’s ever been pointed out in a review. Vital part of the story, that.  Anyway, since the old Patricia spent so many years with an upset stomach, boy, oh boy, I surely could have used a good tisane back in those days.

Or at least, a great deal of Kahakai Deb’s ouzo sorbet.

The play by Deb on my drunken evening spent with the flying cockroaches by making that ouzo sorbet was terrific, I thought, as was Eliot’s and Ann’s idea of pizza because of the fact that Patricia and Gregori bonded over pizza.  Jo’s idea to make a version of moussaka made by Greeks from Istanbul celebrated the blending of cultures theme that’s discussed throughout the story and I thought her idea was also brilliant. Also, I’d never tasted this dish, so I was anxious to try it. We all thoroughly enjoyed it. 

A point of interest for some of you might be that the original version of Harlot’s Sauce had much more description of Greek life in it, and a great deal more about food in it, along with a number of recipes, one of which was a version of lasagna that I made just for my Greek husband because, as you know, he didn’t like the Italian tomato sauce. It was much like a combination of traditional lasagna and a Greek pastichio. He loved it, my grandmother’s husband (Grandpa Sal II) loved it, but my sister hated it, and was rather miffed that I even dared call it “lasagna.”  (Time for that tisane again.) However, when the book went to the publisher most of the food stories, the Greek life stories and the recipes were edited out so the book wouldn’t be as long, and I always thought that was shame. But the editors saw this book as mostly a women’s empowerment story and therefore perceived those stories and recipes as “filler.” In fact, this is the first group that seemed to enjoy those parts of the book more than the main idea which was the character’s development as an individual, and I’m thrilled about that, because frankly, those were the parts of the past I most enjoyed writing about . Perhaps now I’ll put some of those combo recipes that were unique to my life back them on my website, since you’ve all inspired me again.

So which recipe to pick as a winner? Let me tell you ─ this was tough. I focused on the recipes that had some real creative thought put into them based on things taken from the story. Both versions of the pizza intrigued me, because they were created just because of the story, but as it was pointed out by both Food Junkie Jo and my son, Niko, (who at 24, now knows how to cook very well, FYI ─ you should taste his salmon pasta with vodka cream sauce sometime) the hummus is really not Greek. So that left the pizza puttanesca at first place. For me, it was because it was a new take on the recipe for which the book is named, which is usually only used for pasta.  And let me not forget the fact that it’s  because it was also delicious.

But then, there were those beans. Hmmm. That cook wondered if I still hated beans. Well, frankly, they’re usually just not to my liking. (Except for cold fava blended with olive oil. That is just amazing.)  Everyone in my family said it wouldn’t be fair not to try making the beans according to Simone’s recipe, just to see if I’d like them. So, though we didn’t get the exact beans Briciole made, they were close enough. My son cooked the beans for us,  and ─ my goodness ─ were those beans marvelous. I’m not sure if it was the thyme that did it or the type of bean we used but either way, I have a new appreciation for legumes. A miracle.

So we have a tie for first place: Pizza puttanesca and Christmas lima beans, with ouzo sorbet in second place. Yes, I know I was supposed to choose only one. It couldn’t happen.
Jo says no one really wins any prizes other than the mention of ‘Winner’ on their food blogs, but I would love to offer to anyone who participated one of my other two books, The Diva Doctrine or Tales From the House Band. If you think you’d like a copy of either of those, please send me an email and I’ll be happy to mail it out to you. I’m sorry to say that neither have any food in them.

Once again, many thanks for reading and cooking, Harlot’s Sauce. I hope our paths cross again.

Warm regards and best wishes for happy holidays,

Congratulations to our winners and thank you again Patricia for your offer, I will definitely take you up on it!
Have a great holiday everyone!


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Harlot’s Sauce Roundup

Hello everyone!
First of all thank you all for participating in another round of Cook the Books. I know that many of you had mixed feelings about the book, as I did, but I guess true stories can sometimes be difficult to read.
I would also like to thank you for your kind words about my shoulder. Apparently it is a genetic defect and the other one will soon be giving me trouble as well. Pilates has really helped, I highly recommend it for any myo-sceletic problems.
Now, down to business: below you will see everyone’s entries. I hope you will enjoy them as much as I did and soon we will have a winner, chosen by Patricia herself.
1. Eliot of Eliot’s Eats  made Greek Pizza . Eliot in her post gives a very in-depth review of Harlot’s Sauce, with all the pros and cons, happy and unhappy moments. Since the book has few insights about Greek food, Eliot decided to make a pizza, the dish which brought Gregori and Patricia together. Her pizza is delicious and Greek-inspired, although I will point here that hummus, albeit really tasty,  in not Greek at all, as many people might think, but Middle Eastern.
2. Alicia of Foodycat made tisane, a fragrant warm infusion “good for the digestion, soothing for the soul”. Alicia points out that “This is not a book of lavish feasts bringing families together….” it is “all food as a weapon, lacking joy”. I actually think that the lack of joy towards food reflects Patricia’s complicated psychological state, rather than anything else.
3. Ann of La buona Cucina being Italian-American many things connecting her with the book and Patricia herself. Ann loved the book and she admits that the recipe for the spicy tomato sauce is now her family’s favourite. Instead of cooking something Greek, she opted for an Italian dish and made  a spicy Pizza alla Puttanesca. How Italian of her!
4. Danielle of The Growing Foodie, another Italian-American, strongly connected to the book, not only because of her cultural heritage, but also because she and her boyfriend are going through a rough patch lately. She really appreciated Patricia’s writing  and notes “[Patricia]writes her book in hindsight which allows you to look deeply into her life in a unique way.  For instance, there are many times where you can tell looking back allows her to tell a story more comically (like getting caught nude on a Greek beach) than it was at the time. Danielle made a delicious baklava, which will hopefully sweeten her life bit.
5. Simona of  Briciole,  being of Italian origin herself, really enjoyed the book, especially the way it so successfully describes the importance offigura:  “It’s a fundamental tenet of education in an Italian family: you are supposed to always fare una bella figura (literally, to cut a fine figure, in the sense of making a good impression), which then reflects well upon your family. The worst thing that can happen is fare una butta figura (literally, to cut a poor figure, in the sense of making a bad impression), which of course embarrasses the whole family”. During a trip to her homeland she brought back monete del Papa Christmas Lima Beans , which she cooked with some onion and thyme. Delicious! 
6. Deb of Kahakai Kitchen liked the book but admits that she wanted “to grab her [Patricia] and shake her for some of her choices”. She also points out something most of us noticed that food didn’t feature that much in the book.  However, being the cook that she is, Deb decided that a trendy Ouzo Sorbet would fit the bill perfectly. What a refreshing ending to a dinner!
7. Although Rachel of Crispy Cook  enjoyed many things in the book, such as the translations of various Greek words and expressions, the Orthodox rituals, and the comparisons of American and Greek attitudes towards children, stray dogs, and education, sometimes she found it hard to follow the story, since it was mostly about a failed marriage and less about Greek cuisine. Rachel decided to cook  Greek Fisherman’s Stew, “fit for a Harlot or Fisherman or whomever shows up at your table”.
8. Finally, I,  Jo of Food Junkie not Junk Food,  made beef stew in tomato sauce with a smoked aubergine puree AKA Hünkar Beğendi , a classic Ottoman dish, which was part of the cooking repertoire of the Greeks in Istanbul. If you like moussaka, I suggest you give it a try, it is really delicious!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Our current CTB read: Harlot’s Sauce by Patricia Volonakis-Davis

Hello everyone!
Sorry for the delay of this post, but I am suffering from a partly dislocated shoulder which means that I have to avoid heavy-lifting and writing for prolonged periods of time, both of which are really difficult to stay away from. Anyway, this is just a reminder to let you know that the book we are currently reading is Harlot’s Sauce: A Memoir of Food, Family, Love, Loss, and Greece, by Patricia Volonakis Davis.
Harlot’s Sauce  is the story of Patricia herself who falls in love with Greek Gregori, follows him to Greece and tries to make her marriage work. In the meantime however she gives us vivid descriptions of Greek life, culture food and more.
Patricia V. Davis (, is also the founder and editor-in-chief of the non-partisan Harlot’s Sauce Radio e-magazine and podcast, as well as the president of Harper’s Davis Publishing.
The round hosted by me, Jo, of Food Junkie, Not Junk Food and entries are dueTuesday November 29th, 2011.  Patricia has kindly agreed to be our judge, so when your post is up please leave a comment below or email me you entry at: jdimopoulos AT
Looking forward to reading your entries!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

And Here They Are… The Next Three Cook the Books Selections!

Before we officially set off to Greece with Johanna and Harlot’s Sauce: A Memoir of Food, Family, Love, Loss, and Greece, by Patricia Volonakis Davis, it is time to announce our reading list for the next six months. We have three very different books to read, share, and inspire us to cook delightful dishes.
December-January 2012
Rachel, The Crispy Cook, picks the best books to start during busy December and entertain us in dull January. Her pick is  Outlaw Cook, by John Thorne and Matt Lewis Thorne (NY: Farrar, Straux, Giroux, 1992) Rachel says: “Thorne and his wife have written a very opinionated, very interesting collection of essays (with recipes) about edible ingredients, cooking, cookbooks, fellow food writers and traditional foods that I look forward to sharing with my CTB buddies. Outlaw Cook is the couple’s second book and covers such intriguingly titled subjects as Meatball Metaphysics, My Paula Wolfert Problem, Forty Cloves of Garlic, Russians & Mushrooms, Plowman’s Lunch and An Artisanal Loaf. The Thorne-y food philosophy rejects standardized cookbook stylizing with brief, honed down lists of ingredients and cooking instructions and instead, believes in much more elaborate research and discussion of how to approach various dishes and cuisines. I think there are chapters there that will delight, infuriate and captivate us. The Thornes also publish a culinary newsletter, Simple Cooking, which you can sample at before diving in”
The deadline for your entry for Outlaw Cook is Monday, January 23.
February-March 2012

At Kahakai Kitchen, I wanted us to get in touch with our inner children, so I selected the classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. Originally published in 1964, (According to Wikipedia) “The story was originally inspired by Roald Dahl’s experience of chocolate companies during his schooldays. Cadbury would often send test packages to the schoolchildren in exchange for their opinions on the new products. At that time (around the 1920s), Cadbury and Rowntree’s were England’s two largest chocolate makers and they each often tried to steal trade secrets by sending spies, posing as employees, into the other’s factory. Because of this, both companies became highly protective of their chocolate making processes. It was a combination of this secrecy and the elaborate, often gigantic, machines in the factory that inspired Dahl to write the story” The book was a favorite of my childhood and both movies (The Gene Wilder and the Johnny Depp version) are in my DVD collection and I wanted to revisit the book with my CTB friends. Consider this your golden ticket to come up with the most scrumdiddlyumptious dish you can imagine.
The deadline for your entry for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is Monday, March 26.
April-May 2012

Jo from Food Junkie Not Junk Food will wind up our spring with her foodie history pick ofUnited States of Arugula: The Sun Dried, Cold Pressed, Dark Roasted, Extra Virgin Story of the American Food Revolution by   David Kamp. From the author’s site: United States of Arugula is a book about one of the happiest developments of our time: the quantum leap forward in food choice, food quality, and culinary sophistication in America in the last sixty years or so. The book examines not only the social forces that effected this transformation, but the visionaries who changed American food for the better: among them James Beard, Julia Child, Craig Claiborne, and Alice Waters.” We should all find plenty of inspiration to cook from this fun look at the world of food.
The deadline for your entry for United States of Arugula is Monday, May 28th.
So beg, buy or borrow these picks and kick of 2012 with some terrific new books.
Happy cooking and reading!
Deb, Rachel and Jo

Sunday, October 2, 2011

We Have a Winner! Cook the Books: A Homemade Life

Yes CTBers, we have a winner!  But first, a very big THANK YOU to Molly Wizenberg, our wonderful author and judge, for taking the time out of a busy writing schedule to select the winner for this round. I think we will all be putting her new book on our “must-have” lists when it comes out.
Molly says…
Well, I have to confess that I was nervous enough about judging these entries that I had to go make myself a mint julep before I could begin.  Why, why, WHY did I say yes to this?!  How do I pick a winner?!  This mint julep is saving my life.
In any case, before I say anything else, I want to thank everyone for being so incredibly kind.  Writing a book is such a strange, lonely process, and it can make a person feel so vulnerable… so it was a relief and a pleasure to see it received well by all of you in Cook the Books!  Thank you for that.
And now to the pesky judging.  My criteria were very simple and mostly instinctive: did the post grab me and pull me in and keep me there until the end?  A number of the entries did, but the one that really jumped out at me was Foodycat’s.  I loved the details about her mother and the Elizabeth David recipe, and I love that she used a cheese-making mold!  Foodycat is my winner for this round.
But I also want to name a couple of honorable mentions.  I loved the story about the failed marshmallows (sorry!) on Eliot’s Eats.  And I can’t get over how many recipesTina (of Life in the Slow Lane at Squirrel Head Manor) made.  Amazing!  Made my day.
Thanks so much for choosing my book for your club, and for inviting me to play along.  And even more, thanks for the kindness.
Cheers to you,
Congratulations to Foodycat and her White Chocolate Coeur à la Crème!  Another winners badge to add to her collection! Great job to our honorable mentions Eliot Eats and Tina too!
Mahalo to all of you who joined in. I’ll be back very soon to announce the next three books, then I’ll be passing the hosting torch to Jo for our October/November book, Harlot’s Sauce

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Homemade Life: The Cook the Books Roundup

Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life seemed to fit into the end of summer reading for a lot of our Cook the Books participants. Whether it was devoured in just a few sittings, savored chapter by chapter, or “reheated” and returned to as an old favorite, everyone found something to respond to in this wonderful foodie memoir full of stories and recipes.
Elizabeth from The Law Student’s Cookbook says, “I really enjoyed the book and how Molly connected stories with her recipes, stories that reminded her of the recipes or were the inspiration to those recipes. Because really, everything we cook tells a story – even the shrimp over ramen noodles I made for dinner tonight. The story with that was, I didn’t have anything planned and was trying to just use stuff in the house that wasn’t promised to other dinners for the week.” Elizabeth was inspired by tales of Molly’s mom’s pound cake to make this decadent Pound Cake French Toast, full of plump blueberries. A perfect start to any day!
Having grown up eating bread and chocolate as a snack, Simona of briciole chose a chocolate theme and made some pretty Noci Pecan Ricoperte di Cioccolato (Chocolate-Covered Pecans. She says, “I decided I would try to do something I had had in mind for a while. Two events combined to direct my actions. First, an appreciation for chocolate-covered pecans, a kind of nut with which I became familiar only after moving to California. Second, in doing some research for an article on chocolate making, I ran across this piece by Shirley Corriher about chocolate tempering. Tempering chocolate is something I was apprehensive about doing at home, mostly because it uses a quantity of chocolate that goes beyond what I want to deal with in one session. Armed with the information in the article, some good chocolate and pecans, I got down to work. I did not look at any recipe, because I knew what I wanted: simply toasted nuts covered in bittersweet chocolate.”
Our friend Foodycat was new to Molly and her blog and says, “It means that the current Cook the Books book club selection, Molly Wizenberg’s book, A Homemade Life, was an entirely unknown quantity for me. What a treat it was! Warm, funny, very moving, it’s a series of short pieces that hang together as autobiography, interspersed with recipes. There were a number of dishes I wanted to try, and in fact a number I have and still will, but it wasn’t long before I realised that it had to be the White Chocolate Coeur à la Crème. Unlike Molly, I don’t have a strong association between the 80s and white chocolate (I thought the 80s was all about kiwi fruit with meat and strawberry vinaigrette) but I do have strong nostalgia for coeur à la crème.”
girlichef says, “Dare I voice the fact that I always thought, when I wrote a book, it would be in this same style. Wizenberg writes in thoughts and memories.  There are no sections, rather a collection of short pieces brilliantly written to conjure up her memories and how they relate to food.” In addition to writing style, Heather shares Molly’s penchant for Banana Bread and has her own family recipe which she partnered with Molly’s Stewed Prunes with Citrus and Cinnamon. She says , “I mentioned that I love a warm slice for breakfast, right?  Well, I decided that after hearing Molly Wizenberg’s description of one of her family traditions passed down from her father, that I needed to make a batch of luscious stewed prunes to eat with my banana bread.  Molly says she likes them best cold.  I found that I did enjoy them cold with some thick and tangy Greek yogurt, but I love them even more warm alongside some warm banana bread and coffee…or meltingly swirled into hot oatmeal or grits.
Kaye of In Kaye’s Kitchen says, “Since I’ve been an Orangette reader off and on for several years, A Homemade Life was a fun read. It was nice to get to know Molly a bit better. And many recipe pages are adorned with stickies, so that corner of the book looks a bit like a pink hedgehog. Family cooking. This was the most appealing part of the story for me. Molly grew up in a family where food was appreciated and cooking was done with love. Sadly her father died much too early, and the book could be considered a tribute to him, bits of memoir interspersed with recipes.” Kaye made an entire meal of Moroccan Zucchini Salad, Papa’s Posole and Crème Caramel.Thus, I was inspired by this book to cook a meal in honor of my father. I chose one recipe I thought he might have liked, one I “inherited” from him, and one he recommended. Luckily the weather held out so we could eat al fresco, and enjoy a bit of time with Papa.” Check out the entire meal on Kaye’s post.
Eliot Eats first encounter with Molly was memorable due to an unfortunate marshmallow-making incident (not Molly’s fault she declares!), and she says, “I could not believe it when Cook the Books announced this was our September foodie read.  And I was elated that Molly would actually be judging the posts.  (I hope she doesn’t hold the marshmallow fiasco against me.) I first read Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life:  Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table  last summer.  I was hooked. I was laughing out loud in most sections and bawling into a Kleenex after some of the other chapters. … I decided that since I had LOTS of basil and had recently been the recipient of a friend’s surplus of zucchini that I would make Zucchini Noodles with Pesto. Also,my husband is not a big pesto fan, so I thought that if he knew the dish was for one of my blog posts,  he might have a different attitude.  Always the realist though,I thought it would be good as a cold leftover pasta  salad for my lunches.” The results? “I love this dish.  It is healthy,light,and helps showcase some of the late summer’s best offerings:  basil  and zucchini (and offerings that most people have lots of.)
Claudia of Honey From Rock was inspired to get into the kitchen and experiment. She says, “Something about this book just got me trying things.  Often I can have a cookbook on my shelf for years, without actually making anything from it.  However, for the past few months I have been enjoying an unprecedented  number of recipes from A Homemade Life. For instance, normally, I’m with Brandon on the cabbage question.  I love raw cabbage and rarely cook it, so of course, I first had to make his Cabbage Salad with Lemon and Black Pepper, which was excellent of course, but then I wanted to try the cabbage cooked in cream method.  It just sounded so decadent.  And, since the recipe made enough for four, it gave me two meals’ worth. More also rans from Wizenberg’s book were the Bouchons au Thon (a kind of tuna muffin), were tasty both hot and cold; the delicious Turkey Meatballs with Lemon Yogurt Sauce (which as it turned out, I liked better with the sauce cooked); and a most excellent Butternut Squash Soup with Pear and Vanilla.  Also her Ratatouille, a dish I’ve made for years (though still prefer my simpler method),  inspired me to add Scampi, bringing about a wonderful new combination of two old standards.” In addition to Claudia’s meal of Cream Braised Green Cabbage with Seared Ahi, check out the other dishes she tried on  her post.
Danielle from The Growing Foodie has been reading Molly’s blog Orangette since college and says, “The recipes are always delicious and she has a great writing style.  I knew the book was going to be amazing.  Ms. Wizenburg (can I call her Molly?  I want to pretend we are friends) and her writing literally jumped off the pages and I devoured the book in one sitting.  It helped that I was on a train to NY at the time.  She has a ton of recipes in the book which made it hard to pick just one to feature here. … Incidentally, bread and chocolate are two of my favorite things, so it was probably no surprise the combination stuck in my mind.  And then, I was hit with a ton of bricks.  I found this recipe at Dishing the Divine for “Chocolate Things.”  Call it a more complex recipe for Chocolate and Bread, but a delicious one all the same.” Danielle recommends, “If you’re anything like me and feel like life is comprised of cooking, food, and family, this is the type of book you will love.
Tina from Life in the Slow Lane at Squirrel Manor says, “Molly really spoke to me. I read this book and I felt I was having a conversation with her. Some bits were like reading a letter from someone I knew well, someone who poured out their heart and feelings. She is so much younger than I am but I sure could relate to so many things she wrote about. From the unresolved feelings regarding her father’s death to the cautious delight of falling in love with her soul mate. The calm and focus that creeps in when you are immersed in preparing food for people you love and her unapologetic Francophile side. (seems so many are determined to hate the French these days…)” Finding it difficult to choose just one recipe, Tina made a bunch; Ed Fretwell Soup, Spring Salad with Endive, Avocado and Goat Cheese, the Dutch Baby Pancake, and Cornbread with the Creamy Middle. Check out all her dishes on Tina’s post.
My co-host Rachel, The Crispy Cook says, “There are times when you are in the mood for a light read to let you escape into another world; there are times for a chunky doorstop of a novel to distract you from the miseries of a stubborn cold; and then there are those occasions when a great book of essays or short stories is just the thing to see you through bouts of stop-and-start appointments and other life interrupters. Molly Wizenberg’s “A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from my Kitchen Table” was the perfect book to tuck into during a busy last few weeks and I thoroughly enjoyed reading and dog-earing the pages of this lovely book of food essays.” For her dish, Rachel went savory saying, “The book is stuffed with recipes for desserts and sweets, but I was lured in by her recipes for savory delights. Someday I will try her intriguing recipe for Pickled Grapes with Cinnamon and Black Pepper and those Tuna Buchons, but for a recent dinner, I made up a batch of her homey Cream-Braised Green Cabbage. The cabbage sections come out caramelized, yet sweet and this simple, luscious recipe has won a place in my brassica recipe rotation.
Jessica, The Literary Foodie says, “I would not normally do two posts from the same book but when the Cook the Books club chose Molly Wizenbergs A Homemade Life, I couldn’t resist another go at it.  Some of you will remember back in January when the other online book group I take part in, This Book Makes Me Cook, did the same book.  The fact that I have tried and loved quite a few of Molly’s recipes, either from her blog Orangette or from the book was my driving force in doing another post.  Unlike some other food related pieces of literature the recipes from A Homemade Life have not only all worked for me but have often been very nice surprises.” What to make for this round? Jessica says, “Trying to pick between the recipes is fruitless, I want to try them all, and so I have placated myself by saying that eventually I will try most of them I just need to pick one for today.  Okay maybe two.“  She selected Molly’s Spicy Pickled Carrots with Garlic and Thyme and Pickled Grapes with Cinnamon and Black Pepper. You can see both recipes and what she made for her first go-round on her post.
CTB co-host Johanna of Food Junkie Not Junk Food says, Orangette was one of the first ever food blogs I read and I was really looking forward to finding out more about Molly’s life, loves and fears. Not that one doesn’t through her blog, but books are always more focused, plus the title was so inviting: A Home Made Life. Writing was never my strong point in either language, so I am easily impressed when others write so well, especially about mundane, every day things most of us take for granted, making them sound and feel special. Molly is one of those people. One feels at home with her stories, as they come from the heart.” For her dish Jo selected Chana Masala and says, “I love chickpeas and curries, so that dish brought the two together and could not, but become a house favourite. But the most life-changing piece of advice I got from the book and this recipe in particular, is one you wouldn’t expect to have passed me after years of blogging and cooking: brown your onions. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, I never did. And now that I do, all my food tastes even better. Thank you Molly!”
Finally at Kahakai Kitchen,  I have been a fan of Molly’s since I stumbled across Orangette searching the internet for a banana bread recipe before I started blogging myself. I can’t believe it took me so long to read this wonderful book. I love Molly’s warm, lets-have-a-cup-of-tea-and-chat conversational style and each and every recipe sounded amazing. But since banana bread was my first introduction to Molly, it seemed only fitting to pick the Banana Bread with Chocolate and Cinnamonfrom Orangette that I made several years ago and  this time make it into muffins as my  CTB selection. The warm notes of the cinnamon when  paired with the chocolate is delicious and the lightly crunchy cinnamon-sugar topping makes them a delight to eat. To try to adhere to portion control, I put my muffins in the freezer and there is nothing better than heating up one and enjoying it with a cup of tea. Perfect comfort food!
What a great collection of entries! I do not envy our judge Molly Wizenberg in having to pick a winner for this CTB round. Every entry looks delicious and each post was written from the heart. Thanks to everyone who joined in–I am glad you all enjoyed the book and I hope you get a chance to get around and see each others’ CTB posts if you have not had a chance to yet. Stay tuned for the announcement of the winner, as well as a post announcing our next three book picks for 2012. Until then, try to secure your copy of our October/November selectionHarlot’s Sauce: A Memoir of Food, Family, Love, Loss, and Greece, by Patricia Volonakis Davis, hosted by Johanna and get to reading!

Monday, August 8, 2011

What We’re Reading Now: A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg

Food is, of course, a social thing, one of the most positive, primal ways of spending time with people, but eating alone is also an affirmation. It’s a way of enjoying me.
–Molly Wizenberg, A Homemade Life
Summer is beginning to wind down and as we transition into autumn, it’s time to wander in from conjuring spells in the garden and hunker down with a new book. For our current Cook the Books pick, I have selected the foodie memoir / cookbook,  A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes From My Kitchen Table  by Molly Wizenberg.
Molly is the creator of the popular blog Orangette and a frequent contributor to Bon Appétit magazine. After her father’s death from cancer, getting back to her studies and life in Seattle didn’t feel right for grad student Molly, instead she headed for Paris, ostensibly to do research on her dissertation, but there she found herself following her heart and her stomach and turning instead to a life of food and food writing.  A Homemade Life takes us into Molly’s kitchen with the skillful combining of her reflections and recollections along with delicious recipes inspired by them–making it an excellent fit for our virtual foodie book club.
With the book, her blog, and her magazine work, everyone should find plenty of inspiration to cook along with Molly. And guess what?!?  Even though she is in the thick of writing her second book, Molly Wizenberg has graciously agreed to be our judge for this Cook the Books round and she is very excited to see what delectable dishes her book inspires.
Everyone is welcome to join in the fun–just read A Homemade Life and make a dish or meal inspired by it. Write a post featuring your dish and your thoughts about the book before the deadline of Monday, September 26th. Please leave a comment below to let me know that your post is up and/or send me an email at: And of course, feel free to leave your comments about the book as you are reading it, anytime. ;-)
Happy reading, cooking, and eating!

Monday, August 1, 2011

A Garland of Garden Spells Needs a Winner

Thanks to our wonderful guest judge Jenna of Literature and a Lens for taking a look at all of the entries for this round of Cook the Books featuring Sarah Addison Allen’s novel “Garden Spells”.  She has reviewed them all and here’s her pronouncement:

“First off, I want to thank this round’s host Rachel of The Crispy Cook for having me as your guest judge for the Garden Spells entries. This really is an honor to get to be a part of such a fantastic club, especially for a book as entertaining as this one. I absolutely adore Sarah Addison Allen’s writing and love the emphasis she places on food. After reading all these wonderful entries, all I can really say is wow. The dedication and enthusiasm exhibited by each person really shows and made making my decision that much harder. Plus, reading about all these delicious dishes definitely stirred my appetite.

After multiple re-readings of each post and careful deliberation I finally chose a winner. Congratulations to Heather of Girlichef for creating a colorful Fruit and Grains Salad with Edible Flowers and Strawberry Vinaigrette. The pictures of this salad were lovely and really caught my eye first. I loved that the colors represented the novel by reflecting the cover of the book with all the reds, blues, and leafy greens. What kept my attention was the writing. I thought Heather did an excellent job replicating the magical and whimsical tone of Allen’s writing with her food descriptions. This was a solid entry all around and a great idea for a fun summer salad.

There are also two entries that I would like to spotlight with honorable mentions. The Lemon Verbena Crème Brûlée by Deb of Kahakai Kitchen looked quite scrumptious, and I loved her description of Garden Spells as “a fairy tale for foodies.” What an awesome and accurate statement. Also, I thought the Lemon Lavender Bread by Maria from A Platter of Figs was a great interpretation of one of Claire’s signature dishes. Her love and enthusiasm for the book (she’s read it six times!) really shows in the wonderful pictures of the moist bread.

Thanks again for allowing me to be part of Cook the Books, especially for a great story like Garden Spells. This is a great idea for a blog, and everyone shows such dedication and research in choosing the dishes each round.  I can’t wait to see what everyone comes up with for the next book!”

Congratulations to Girlichef for her winning post and to Deb at Kahakai Kitchen and Maria of A Platter of Figs for honorable entries. I will now turn things over to Deb, who will be coordinating the next round when we read Molly Wizenberg’s “A Homemade Life”.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen: A Cook the Books Roundup

Summer in the northern hemisphere is prime gardening season and it is also a great time to loll about with a novel in hand, so reading Sarah Addison Allen’s novel, Garden Spells, seemed to hit just the right chords with the participants in this round of Cook the Books. Most readers really got into using flowers and herbs in our cooking and using food ingredients to invoke certain reactions and I think we all had a lot of fun reading and cooking and writing this time around.
We have a couple of first time CTB entrants, and I would like to extend a hearty welcome to them. The more the merrier in these interpretations of our selected foodie book selections and so first off I will present our newbies to you all:
Elizabeth is the force behind The Law Student’s Cookbook, which chronicles her adventures in her California kitchen when she is not reading constitutional law textbooks.  She notes that the main character in our book, Claire, the caterer, made up a batch of cinnamon rolls in one chapter and Elizabeth knew that Claire probably would have thrown in some of her garden herbs for flavoring and magical attributes so she spiked her batch of cinnamon rolls with Lemon Verbena.
Also joining us for the first time at Cook the Books is Danielle, The Growing Foodie, who revels in her love for reading and cooking.   She made up a batch of Fresh Mint Ice Cream with Chocolate Rose Topping and served this sassy and romantic dessert to her favorite Boston bachelor.
Another welcome is extended to Maria from A Platter of Figs, who made a delicious looking Lemon Lavender Bread. Maria loved learning about the alchemy of food and herbs in this novel and sought to brighten up the clarifying effects of the lavender with the lemon in this moist and fragrant tea bread.
We can all thank Heather the Girlichef for the nudge to pick this great novel for our June/July CTB selection.  (Thanks Heather!)  For her re-reading of Garden Spells, Heather was inspired to make a technicolor Fruit and Grains Salad with Edible Flowers and Strawberry Vinaigrette. You can also check out an earlier post Heather wrote about this book and cooking with marigolds. Spectacular!
Voluptuous Veal Piccata was on Arlene’s dinner table over at the Food of Love.  Arlene notes that capers have long been noted for their aphrodisiac powers and so she liberally added them to her dish. A tasty and sexy looking offering indeed. I think Claire would approve.
English transplant Foodycat showed off a lovely photo of her own backyard apple tree in her blog post -unlike the tree in our featured novel, it does not fling apples or show people ominous events in their lives- and used her own rosebush petals to crystallise and garnish her Rosewater and Lime Pannacotta.
Rose geraniums are in the garden and on the menu at Texas-based Eliot’s Eats, in the form of Rose Geranium Sugar Cookies.  Eliot was inspired by a passage in Garden Spells about Claire’s magical Rose Geranium Wine, which has mystical powers of remembrance for those who imbibe.
Can’tbelieveweate’s weblog was captivated by the idea of using ingredients to achieve an emotional result and was transported into her own garden to use mint flowers for the first time in her “delightfully bright” Zucchini Carpaccio. Pass the fork!
At The Crispy Cook, I was taken with the character of Evanelle, Claire’s cousin who has the gift of providing people with strange little gifts which they will find the need for after a short time. I also learned that Bachelor Buttons, which are gorgeous little cobalt blue flowers, are edible, so I used them to garnish a simple summer salad of garden lettuce, radishes and raw asparagus.
There are more edible flowers in the post and recipe from Simona of Briciole, who used chive blossoms and sprigs of flowering lemon thyme in a rye bread recipe that was a great success.
Of my two fellow Cook the Books founders and co-hosts, Deb, of Kahakai Kitchen, enjoyed her rereading of this book and used some of the herbs she grows in her Honolulu garden to make a fragrant and luscious sounding Lemon Verbena Creme Brulee.  Just be careful when caramelizing the tops of your desserts if you use a kitchen torch, as Deb knowingly advises!
While on holiday, the other CTB cofounder and cohost, Johanna of the Athens, Greece-based blog Food Junkie, Not Junk Food, enjoyed our featured book and found it captivating.  She was inspired to make an old favorite with a new twist, Spaghetti and Meatballs with a splash of cumin, oregano and cinnamon. Sounds like a great variation!
Our final submission is from Honey from Rock, Claudia’s Hawaiian blog. She enjoyed “this little gem of a novel” and was pleasantly surprised to learn that chive blossoms are edible. She used the white flowers of her own garden-grown garlic chives and some dill to garnish a cold Russian/Estonian style borscht. Look at those gorgeous colors!
And now our guest judge, Jenna, of Literature and a Lens, is going to review these posts to pick a winner that strikes her fancy, so stay tuned to see who wins the fabulous Cook the Books Winner badge for her blog.  Thanks again to Heather, the Girlichef for recommending this great read and to Sarah Addison Allen for writing it!