Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Announcement: Our Next Four Selections

This is the moment you've been waiting for: the announcement of the next four selections of our book club. Drum roll, please!

Deb (Kahakai Kitchen) opens the series with Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci (October 2021) for the April / May 2022 edition

I adore Stanley Tucci! Ever since watching him in Big Night, I have been a fan of his acting and since seeing his show, Searching For Italy, and following him on Instagram, I have become a fan of his passion for good food and drink. I have been wanting to read Taste: My Life Through Food since it came out this past October and bought both the e-book and the audio book, thus sealing it as my choice for our April/May round of Cook the Books.  

From the Publisher:

Named a Notable Book of 2021 by NPR and The Washington Post From award-winning actor and food obsessive Stanley Tucci comes an intimate and charming memoir of life in and out of the kitchen. 

Stanley Tucci grew up in an Italian American family that spent every night around the kitchen table. He shared the magic of those meals with us in The Tucci Cookbook and The Tucci Table, and now he takes us beyond the savory recipes and into the compelling stories behind them. 

Taste is a reflection on the intersection of food and life, filled with anecdotes about his growing up in Westchester, New York; preparing for and shooting the foodie films Big Night and Julie & Julia; falling in love over dinner; and teaming up with his wife to create meals for a multitude of children. Each morsel of this gastronomic journey through good times and bad, five-star meals and burned dishes, is as heartfelt and delicious as the last. 

Written with Stanley’s signature wry humor, Taste is for fans of Bill Buford, Gabrielle Hamilton, and Ruth Reichl—and anyone who knows the power of a home-cooked meal.  

I am excited to read Stanley's memoir with all of you and to see what delicious dishes it (and maybe his two cookbooks and television series) inspire!  

Deb, Kahakai Kitchen

Deadline for contributing your post is Tuesday, May 31, 2022

For the June / July edition, Claudia (Honey from Rock) chose A Cook's Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines by Anthony Bourdain (November 2002) [note that this is the paperback edition; others have the subtitle In Search of the Perfect Meal]

I've settled Anthony Bourdain's A Cook's Tour based on the raves of others, having never read anything of his or even watched him on TV. Totally a Bourdain newbie here :)

From the Publisher:

The only thing "gonzo gastronome" and internationally bestselling author Anthony Bourdain loves as much as cooking is traveling. Inspired by the question, "What would be the perfect meal?," Tony sets out on a quest for his culinary holy grail, and in the process turns the notion of "perfection" inside out. From California to Cambodia, A Cooks' Tour chronicles the unpredictable adventures of America's boldest and bravest chef.
Fans of Bourdain will find much to love in revisiting this classic culinary and travel memoir.

Claudia, Honey From Rock

Deadline for contributing your post is Sunday, July 31, 2022

For the August / September 2022 edition, Debra (Eliot's Eats) has chosen Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

This past summer, our local art museum hosted an exhibit of Salvador Dali’s illustrations for a 1969 edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I loved these panels of color and surrealistic images. I bought one of the copies of the book in the museum shop. I recently picked it up to read and spent an enjoyable afternoon spiraling down into Wonderland and deciphering Dali’s accompanying illustrations. Being that it is in the children literature genre, it was a quick read. I was surprised how much I enjoyed it and realized I don’t think I had read it before even though it is a staple of Victorian literature and references to Alice’s adventures can be found everywhere from Walt Disney to Tim Burton. I was also surprised by the amount of culinary inspiration that I found within this slim volume. Some may be inspired by the “EAT ME” and “DRINK ME” scenes or the Mad Hatter’s tea party. Others may find inspiration in Alice’s mushroom eating wanderings. There actually are scholarly works written on the food and drink depicted in Wonderland if you want to dive deep. I also found this site interesting: Children's Literary Classics: An Alice in Wonderland Menu and Party Plan. I invite you to revisit this tale from your childhood and become inspired to create a culinary wonderland of your own. Pick whatever edition you want—a classic one or the Dali illustrated one (on the left in the collage above), 

Debra, Eliot's Eats

Deadline for contributing your post is Friday, September 30, 2022

To round up the list of selections, for the October / November 2022 edition Simona (briciole) chose the novel Cooking with Fernet Branca by James Hamilton-Paterson (September 2005)

Right around the time when we started talking about our next selections, I read an article on The Guardian titled Top 10 cooks in fiction written by Annabel Abbs. Number 10 is Gerald Sampler, protagonist of the novel I chose:   
Gerald is a ghostwriter for C-list celebrities who likes inventing recipes. From his Tuscan hilltop he cooks with great gusto, using copious amounts of an Italian digestif called Fernet Branca. The plot is fast-paced but daft, the characters ludicrous but hilarious, and the recipes imaginative but ridiculous. Mussels in chocolate, garlic ice cream, a pie made from cat and kerosene, all doused in Fernet Branca, and described by one reviewer “lingering in the mind like poems”. This farce of a novel is a perfect reminder that no cook should take themselves too seriously.  
I'm looking forward to reading how Gerald uses Fernet Branca in the kitchen, since when I was growing up in Italy it was strictly drunk as a digestivo.  

Simona, briciole

Deadline for contributing your post: Wednesday, November 30, 2022.

Remember that membership in our book club is open to anyone and we hope you will join us by reading these selections and creating inspired recipes. For more information about participating, click here.  

As always, specific announcement posts can be found at Cook the Books at the beginning of each two-month period and the current selection is always shown on the right side of the homepage.

To recap:

April / May 2022: Taste by Stanley Tucci (hosted by Deb at Kahakai Kitchen)

June / July 2022A Cook's Tour by Anthony Bourdain (hosted by Claudia at Honey from Rock)

August / September 2022: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (hosted by Debra at Eliot's Eats)

October / November 2022: Cooking with Fernet Branca by James Hamilton-Paterson (hosted by Simona at briciole)

Happy reading and cooking!


Saturday, February 5, 2022

Midnight Chicken Round Up

Midnight Chicken (& Other Recipes Worth Living For) by Ella Risbridger was the feature work at Cook the Books for December/January.   You can read the announcement post here.

Risbridger's book is much more than just another cookbook.

This may have looked like a cookbook, but what it really is is an annotated list of things worth living for:  a manifesto of moments worth living for.  Dinner parties, and Saturday afternoons in the kitchen and lazy breakfasts, and picnics on the heath; evenings alone with a bowl of soup, or a heavy pot of clams for one.  The bright clean song of lime and salt, and the smoky hum of caramel-edged onions.  Soft goat’s cheese and crisp pastry.  A six-hour rag├╣ simmering on the stove, a glass of wine in your hand.  (277)

If you're like me, you will find yourself revisiting it often, not only for recipes but for wisdom.  

Let's see what the other readers thought about Midnight Chicken.  Please note that the round up is in no particular order.  

Cathy from Delaware Girl Eats found herself curling up with this book on a cold winter's day while looking for good and warming comfort food.  She was intrigued by Risbridger's “Saturday Afternoon Charred Leek Lasagna” (201-213).  Cathy quotes the author:
Lasagna can be party food, picnic food or leftovers, but most of all it is proper comfort food.  Done well, it’s both a joy to eat and a joy to cook.  It’s endlessly flexible lazy, lovely weekend cooking" (210).  So true!
She adapted the recipe to make Lasagna Rollups.  I love the vegetarian ingredients and flavors and Cathy's take on the original recipe.

Amy's Cooking Adventures rated the book 3 out of 5 stars. Because of Risbridger's honesty and candidness about her own trials and tribulations, it left Amy feeling a bit melancholy.
Overall, I felt myself wishing for a bit more. Often, I would be hooked into a story, wondering who exactly the Tall Man was to her (friend, boyfriend, husband?) or what happened with her relationship to her dad's entire side of the family. I'm looking forward to trying a recipe of two.

Amy did find a recipe.   Here's her Roasted Tomato and Garlic Soup (slightly adapted with what she had on hand.)

Claudia (a fellow CTB co-host) from Honey from Rock created a mega post.  Claudia made four recipes from or inspired by Midnight Chicken:  Big Hearty Black Bean Soup (146), Trashy Ginger Chicken (102), Sourdough Black Russian Bread (inspired by Risbridger's Wicked Stepmother Black Bread) (75), and finally Carbonara for Caroline (151).
Claudia borrowed Midnight Chicken from her library but after these recipes she's buying it!  :)  You can read about her recipes here.

Wendy states that this is a great book for new outlooks in a new year.  She enjoyed the author's tone and voice:  "Ella Risbridger is from the other side of the pond and you can almost here her accent as you read her candid, friendly, relaxed stories that revolve around the recipes that she shares."   Wendy further identified with Risbridger's tale of finding strength in the kitchen and having a Tall Man to make things better.  

She has tons of other recipes earmarked to make.  I must try this chicken recipe as soon as I am able!

Welcome to Deb from Readerbuzz.   Deb made Aga Mamma's Milk Bread.
What a lovely loaf and Deb gives detailed directions with photos with this recipe.  She loved the book:  "What an amazing book this is! Ella Risbridger tells the story of her journey back into life through cooking and baking. I loved this memoir/cookbook/book about happiness."  Her favorite quote was also the one with which I opened this post. 

Simona (briciole) is another CTB co-host.  Her review includes the following:  
Risbridger talks about her life and about how cooking helped her in moments of particular difficulty. She is open about her mental health and her struggles. She lives in London and her shopping and cooking are influenced by the urban environment. She favors prepackaged vegetables, like cleaned and cut winter squash, and canned legumes and wonders who makes homemade puff pastry (I do). Her ingredients are British, like self-raising flour.

Simona was not inspired by any of the recipes but she was inspired by what the British refer to as beetroots and her farmers market bounty.   

If her Butternut Squash and Red Beet Soup is as delicious as this photo is beautiful, I'm sure it was a success.

Culinary Adventures with Camilla added another delicious bread offering:  Braided Challah Bread.  
Camilla also tried several recipes from the book as well but decided to feature something here that she had never attempted before---braiding bread.   She also points out why challah bread is featured in Midnight Chicken.  
Challah helped Risbridger grieve for her grandfather. 'Me, I grieved with bread. ...The rules of grief were written somewhere I couldn't see, but the rules of bread-making were clear. I don't know how to grieve, but I knew how to make bread. A six-strand challah bread: knead in anger, rise in grief, plait to find a pattern in it all.' (85-86)

Another CTB co-host, Deb from Kahakai Kitchen, posted up in the nick of time.  Deb's thoughts on this cookbook?

Midnight Chicken is a charming book in the vein of a cookbook/memoir which is my favorite kind. I enjoy cookbooks that don't just give me a recipe, but give me a story about that recipe--what inspired it, why it's a favorite, when they first cooked it, or how they enjoy it. Ella Risbridger does this well, and when accompanied with the beautiful watercolor illustrations by Elisa Cunningham, it makes for a pleasurable read to meander through. 
Deb was another reader that wasn't really inspired by any of the soup recipes but she followed Risbridger's lead and cooking style to make something comforting and easy:  Low Effort But Fully Loaded Baked Potato Soup.

As for me, the host for this round, I enjoyed everything about this book, the honest voice, the tongue-in-cheek recipes, the illustrations.

My first foray into Midnight Chicken had me inspired to make the Maslen Bread (68-69) and Whiskey and Rye Blondies (254-255).  You can see my post here.

You MUST make these blondies.   

My book is totally full of post-it notes marking recipes I want to make.  I actually have made her Wildly Easy Hummus (with Za'atar) (114-15) and that Wicked Stepmother Bread (75-77).  Both recipes are amazing!

Thanks to everyone you participated and I can't wait for our next round and reading Red Sparrow. 

I hope everyone had a great start to 2022.  Here's to your health and happiness.



Wednesday, February 2, 2022

February/March selection: Red Sparrow

For the February / March 2022 edition I chose the novel Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews (2013)

Have you ever heard of a spy novel with recipes? I had not until I read the description of Red Sparrow (the first volume in a trilogy) written by a former officer of the CIA’s Operations Directorate.  

From the Publisher:
In contemporary Russia, state intelligence officer Dominika Egorova has been drafted to become a “Sparrow”—a spy trained in the art of seduction to elicit information from their marks. She’s been assigned to Nathaniel Nash, a CIA officer who handles the organization’s most sensitive penetration of Russian intelligence. 
The two young intelligence officers, trained in their respective spy schools, collide in a charged atmosphere of tradecraft, deception and, inevitably, a forbidden spiral of physical attraction that threatens their careers and the security of America’s valuable mole in Moscow.
The combination of espionage thriller and recipe was too intriguing to pass. You can get a taste of it in the Excerpt available on the publisher's website

As you might expect, the author also possesses an extraordinarily deep knowledge of his subject. I have rarely encountered a nonfiction title, much less a novel, so rich in what would once have been regarded as classified information. From dead drops to honey traps, trunk escapes to burst transmissions, Matthews offers the reader a primer in 21st-century spying. His former foes in Moscow will be choking on their blinis when they read how much has been revealed about their trade­craft. The author’s unrelentingly bleak depiction of the post-Soviet espiocracy also rings depressingly true. 

There is also a movie with the same title, released in 2018

I am looking forward to reading this book and being inspired by it in the kitchen with all of you.

The deadline for contributing your post: Thursday, March 31, 2022.

Leave a comment below with a link to your post or email me at simosite AT mac DOT com.

Remember that anyone can participate in Cook the Books: simply pick up a copy of the selection from your local bookstore or library, take inspiration from said reading, cook and post the inspired dish. We look forward to having you read and cook along with us in this selection period and beyond. New participants are always welcome. (Leave a comment here or check out our Guidelines page if you have any questions.