DINING IN by Alison Roman

April 13, 2018

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Highly Cookable Recipes

This book was quite a surprise. I wasn’t really familiar with Alison Roman but last fall I kept seeing this recipe for “Salted Chocolate Chunk Shortbread Cookies” all over social media. So I made them and they just blew me away. It probably helped that shortbread is my favorite cookie but everyone (at least online!) loved them. Then Bon Appetit published an article about it, “EVERYONE Is Making These Chocolate Chunk Shortbread Cookies…So you probably should, too.” And then the cookbook came out.

I wasn’t able to get my hands on a review copy (Clarkson Potter is making it up to me) but when it showed up at my library, I took it home and started playing. Then I ordered a bunch more copies for my cookbook discussion group and shocker of all time, not ONE complaint. Everyone loved it. I’ve been doing this cookbook discussion group since 2012 and I can’t remember another book that was unanimously loved. My library is in Boca Raton, Florida, and trust me when I say people who live in Boca are not known for being indiscriminately nice!

It is a really great cookbook, mostly because the recipes are truly accessible. Nothing takes days to make, a rare esoteric ingredient pops up (my group had a whole discussion on nigella seeds) but for the most part these recipes are easy to source, easy to make and easy to enjoy.

The chapters:

Vegetables
Knife-and-Fork Salads
Fruit Salads
Savory Breakfasts
Grains and Things
Fish
Meat
Sweets

It is also a beautiful book, nice heavy pages are actually sewn into the binding. I can’t remember the last time I saw that, most books today are glued together. The sewing makes the pages lie flat, always helpful with a cookbook. It starts out with the ubiquitous “pantry,” a list of items to have on hand which I generally find helpful. And there are recipes for some of the pantry items, like preserved lemons which I’m very excited about; I have a Meyer lemon tree and it is loaded with baby lemons at the moment.

If you’re a fan of Trader Joe’s “Everything But the Bagel Seasoning” which I believe is a seasonal item, no worries, there is a recipe in this book for a similar product. Some of the basics are really terrific, like the Lemony Tahini Salad Dressing. Easy to make and what I really love is that unlike most salad dressing recipes, this recipe makes enough dressing for a salad, not enough that I have to worry about what to do with the rest.

The stories sprinkled throughout are wonderful and Alison is just adorable. How can you not fall in love with a woman who writes, “When I was about seven or eight, I had a thing for supermarket shoplifting.”

So on to the vegetables – “Roasted Broccolini and Lemon with Crispy Parmesan” is a staple at my house. I’ve made something similar for years, but just squeezed some lemon at the end. This recipe includes thinly sliced lemon that is roasted along with the veg.  When a cookbook author has a favorite recipe, I try and make it and in this case it’s “Butter-Tossed Radished with Fresh Za’atar”.  This is a quick (about 5 minutes prep, 5 min cooking, tossing and serving) and is a really beautiful, unusual use of the lowly radish. I also really enjoyed the “Vinegar-Roasted Beets with Spring Onions and Yogurt” as I had all the ingredients already and had been putting off dealing with the always messy beets. This is a play on the oh-so-popular beet salad with goat cheese, subbing in the yogurt instead and I liked it. A friend made the “Baked Summer Squash with Cream and Parmesan Bread Crumbs” and said her son, who refuses to eat anything green, even liked it.

We are a pasta family (I know, I know, dreaded carbs!) but still, I am in love with Roasted Tomato and Anchovy Bucatini. Bucatini, if you are not familiar, is like fat spaghetti with a small hole running down the center and is usually available in Italian markets although I have seen it at my Publix lately. This sauce is made by taking fresh tomatoes, dousing them in tons of olive oil, shoving a bunch of garlic in there (no need to peel!) and slow roasting in the oven for hours. It is one of the more time consuming recipes, but the time is mostly hands off, it does its thing in the oven. The actual prep time is minimal. Best of all, you can do this with your glorious summer tomatoes and freeze them for deliciousness all year round.

Whole-Wheat Pasta With Brown-Buttered Mushrooms, Buckwheat, and Egg Yolk is unusual and delicious. I don’t do egg yolks, but my family loves them and this is super easy. I love buckwheat and it’s one of those things I usually have in my pantry, I make something with it once and then eventually I toss it. I am happy for another recipe that uses it, and there are a couple more in this cookbook; “Decidedly Not-Sweet Granola” (yes!) and “Savory Barley Porridge with Parmesan and Soy,” which I haven’t tried. Yet.

Another internet famous recipe worth mentioning is “Crispy Smashed Potatoes with Fried Onions and Parsley.” Tiny potatoes are steamed, cooled, then smashed flat with a pot or the palm of your hand, then fried – preferably in chicken fat (kill me now) until crisp. They are set aside for a few moments while raw onion goes into the pan until it softens and browns a bit and then it is all put together and nirvana is reached.

There are some really good protein recipes, like “Soy-Brined Halibut with Mustard Greens, Sesame, and Lime” – I subbed cod and arugula and it worked beautifully; “Swordfish-Like Steak with Crispy Capers” is just yummy, and anytime there is a sheet pan recipe I’m in – “Paprika-Rubbed Sheet-Pan Chicken with Lemon” is a keeper.

I know this is a long review, but bear with me a bit longer and let’s talk desserts! The shortbread cookie is the only cookie recipe in the book, but there are other desserts. Plus Roman started out as a pastry chef and her Milk Bar roots show as in “Choclate-Tahini Tart with Crunch Salt.” I haven’t tried the “Luckiest Biscuits in America” yet but I will – biscuits are my nemesis, the only successful ones I’ve ever made are “Evil Cheese Biscuits” from OLD-SCHOOL COMFORT FOOD by Alex Guarnaschelli.  “Blueberry Cake with Almond and Cinnamon” is made with a combination of almond flour and all purpose and is one of those deceptively simple coffee cakes that is just wonderful. There are fruit desserts, “Sorbet in Grapefruit Cups” is just beautiful, “Jen’s Key Lime Pie” and a “Cocoa Banana Bread” that has me intrigued. Finally, the last recipe in the book, “Brown Butter-Buttermilk Cake” is described as “something that tastes like an old-fashioned donut” and is next up in my kitchen.

My only criticism is that I wish there was a photograph of every recipe. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots  of pictures – Roman has a huge Instagram following so knows the value of good food porn, but there are recipes without photos that I would have liked to see.

Obviously, I’m not done yet. All I can say is I love this book and hope you will, too.

4/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

DINING IN by Alison Roman. Clarkson Potter (October 24, 2017). ISBN 978-0451496997. 303p.


THE LAST BATTLE by Peter Hart

March 29, 2018

Victory, Defeat, and the End of World War I

Hart is a renowned historian whose particular interest is World War I, its battles, politics, and results. The Last Battle deals with the final year of the war to end all wars.

The continuation of massed charges through no man’s land existing between the two sides setting men against all the mechanized killing machines that were developed to kill as many of them as possible. The book is scheduled for publication at a time that roughly coincides with the hundredth anniversary of the armistice that ended hostilities on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year 1918 and provided for a short period awaiting the more definitive Treaty of Versailles that set out the formal terms of the surrender of Germany to the allies – England, France, and the United States.

Battles during the months prior to the armistice included the fifth battle of Ypres, the Sambre, the Selle and the scene of the United States’ greatest contribution to the war effort: the Meuse- Argonne. Hart utilizes a method he has perfected in his other books  dealing with the war which is to find written pieces by men fighting in the battles, that describe what they felt and experienced and incorporate those pieces into their proper places allowing the reader to get more of a feel for what happened.

There are , in effect, three sections of the book. The first is a description of the battles with the horrendous slaughters that are part and parcel of massed charges across a short stretch of land between two sets of trenches separating the two sides. The next segment concerns the participation by men with the feeling that the war will shortly be over and wanting to live and return to normal life. The final section brings into play the somewhat reluctant feeling of many soldiers about leaving the comradeship of being part of a band of brothers and having to go it alone in civilian life. They have had decisions made for them for the years spent in the trenches and now will go it alone.

The world is different after the conflict: attitudes and mores have been shaped by a global conflict that killed and wounded millions, a flu epidemic that strikes and causes probably more casualties than the war did. The conditions of the participants are radically changed with the U.S. emerging as a great power, Germany bankrupt after funding their war and having to pay reparations assessed against them by the allies that placed the blame for the conflict on them. England and France drained of young men and with their own enormous war debts. Worse, another world war less than 20 years after WWI ends looking like a continuation of the first and merely waiting for another generation of men to be readied to rush into combat.

Woodrow Wilson, the U.S. president, presented Germany with a 14 point program to accept in order to reach an agreement to end the conflict. This was basically accepted. Wilson was in a unique position to place himself into the group that handled the details to end the conflict. He had won the presidential election in 1916, taking office in 1917 with the slogan, “He Kept us out of War.” Then several months after the election he found cause to enter the war on the ally’s side. With neither side having sufficient strength to make war on the U.S. it may have been a carrot handed to Wilson to entice him to enter the war on the ally’s side in order to have a strong voice in setting the terms of any peace treaty.

Peter Hart has the gift of being able to present nonfiction as an interesting read with his audience coming to an understanding of what it really meant to be subjected to the horrors of war and the battlefield. Very well done.

3/18 Paul Lane

THE LAST BATTLE by Peter Hart. Oxford University Press; 1 edition (March 1, 2018).  ISBN 978-0190872984. 464p.


SMITTEN KITCHEN EVERY DAY by Deb Perelman

February 5, 2018

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Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites

Deb Perelman has a wonderful food blog that has endured for many years, probably because her recipes are great and she is so personally involved. Her cookbook feels just like her blog, and every recipe has a story that goes with it – maybe where the recipe started from, or why her kids like it, or why her husband likes it, or how and why she tweaked it. In other words, her voice shines through and it is a voice worth listening to. She got me at the introduction –
against drudgery.”

The table of contents:

Introduction: Against Drudgery

Breakfast
Salads
Soups and Stews
Sandwiches, Tarts, and Flatbreads
Vegetable Mains
Mean Mains
Sweets

Cookies
Tarts and Pies
Cake
Puddings, Frozen Things, Etc.

Apps, Snacks and Party Foods

To be fair, a not so healthy chunk of this book is dessert based. Deb is a great baker, and her recipes are easy to follow if not always easy to make, if that makes sense.

Deb’s cookbook philosophy is that you shouldn’t have to turn a page to make something, and she fails at that spectacularly here, but I didn’t care.

I made her “Perfect Blueberry Muffins” and while they were good, I wouldn’t say perfect, though to be fair, I’m not sure what a perfect muffin is. I expected these to be larger than they were for some reason, probably because in the explanation of the recipe Deb says, “this makes 9 much prettier towering muffins.” Not so towering, they looked like regular muffins to me. And they stuck to the paper muffin liners. On the other hand, “Loaded Breakast Potato Skins” may be my daughter’s new favorite food. Think of a regular loaded potato skin, all cheesy, with bacon and scallions, and then bake an egg in it. Pure joy! Up next in my kitchen will be “Chicken and Rice, Street Cart Style.” I’m waiting for my husband’s next camping trip, he hates chicken so I’ll make it while he’s gone.

The thing that has been getting the most buzz is “The Party Cake Builder,” an easy solution to making birthday cakes (or any other occasion cakes.) This is well thought out, easy to follow and make your own. Worth the price of admission!

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2/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

SMITTEN KITCHEN EVERY DAY by Deb Perelman. Knopf; First Edition edition (October 24, 2017). ISBN 978-1101874813. 352p.


THE STOWAWAY by Laurie Gwen Shapiro

January 18, 2018

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A Young Man’s Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica

A rousing non fiction book written by an author who has successfully done fiction,and is also a well known filmmaker. In it she tells an almost forgotten story of a boy fresh out of high school in New York City that successfully stowed away on a ship leaving for Antarctica.

The book reads almost like those written by Jack London, revolving around the men that go down to the sea in ships. The events depicted took place at the end of the roaring twenties beginning in 1928. Richard Byrd had organized an expedition to visit the mysterious seventh continent and planned to use “aeroplanes” to more fully map out the Antarctic area. What they might also discover remained a most intriguing question. animal life?  Areas of more temperate climate? Strange creatures? It was an adventure that might be likened to the furor about the first landing on the moon a few generations later.

Billy Gawronski was the son of Polish immigrants that had settled in a section of Queens county a borough of New York City.  The father successfully started an upholstery business and had visions of taking Billy into it to help build it up.  But Billy developed a mind similar to many other people at that time.  He was in love with the idea of making the trip to Antarctica with Byrd.  When he was not selected as part of the crew going he decided to sneak aboard the ship as a stowaway and try and convince the captain to take him along in any capacity.

Billy was successful in sneaking aboard and began an adventure without parallel.  The adventure took him to Panama, going through the canal, to Tahiti and than to New Zealand as the jumping off place for the trip to Antarctica.  Ms Shapiro uses a style of simply relating the facts she has garnered through research.  The amazing adventures of this young man are described without trying to put conversations into his mouth.  This approach makes the story even more realistic.  Billy had passed away when Shapiro made the decision to write about him, but his widow was still alive and contributed letters and photographs to the  telling of the story.

A final section is dedicated to Billy’s further career which continued to involve great adventure.  A well told story about a heretofore little known event.

1/18 Paul Lane

THE STOWAWAY by Laurie Gwen Shapiro. Simon & Schuster (January 16, 2018).  ISBN 978-1476753867. 256p.


COOKING WITH MY SISTERS by Adriana Trigiani

December 29, 2017

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Co-author Mary Yolanda Trigiani, with Lucia Anna, Antonia, Francesca, and Ida Trigiani

One Hundred Years of Family Recipes, from Italy to Big Stone Gap

I adore Adri, and loved the first version (2004) of this cookbook. This is an update and is filled with fabulous recipes – real Italian family recipes, and the hallmark Trigiani charm. Stories abound, making this part cookbook, part memoir, and a total joy to read.

I love that they include some of the basics of Italian cookery; pizza dough, basic tomato sauce, homemade pasta, meatballs, and Zabaglione. But there is so much more – Potato Pizza, Trigiani Lasagne with Vegetables and Cheese, Grandmom Trigiani’s Green Beans in Tomato Sauce, and a really delicious Crostini Yolanda – a bruschetta topped with peppers and anchovy.

The table of contents:

Forward: Welcome to Our Table
Introduction: How We Found the Recipes

The Big Life

The Pasta, or as We Called It, Maccheroni
The Sauce

The Big Dish

Family Dinners
Light Suppers
On the Side

The Big Finish

Dessert, or Dessertina

The Big Wow

Snacks and Treats
Things We Hated as Kids but Love to Serve Now

Afterword: What I Learned on the Journey Through Our Kitchen
Epilogue: Make Your Meal Time Magical

I included the forward, introduction, afterword and epilogue because these chapters sing and bring the family to life. There are tons of pictures of the family and the food, and I especially loved the old pictures. Try and find little Adri in the midst of all her sisters!

If you are somehow immune to charm, then go straight to the recipes and you won’t be disappointed. My husband’s family is from Sicily, so these recipes are often different than what I’m used to. The Trigiani clan is from “the Lombardy region in the Alps of northern Italy, the Veneto region, and to the south, Puglia on the cusp of Bari.”

There are tips sprinkled throughout, given by different sisters and always worth reading. If you are new to real Italian cooking or want something out of the ordinary, you will find it here. Mangia!

Antipasto:

Serves 6 for dinner, 10 for appetizer

Romaine lettuce (usually only 1 head, have another just in case)
Two 16-ounce cans white albacore tuna in water
9 hardboiled eggs sliced in half
One 15-ounce jar red roasted peppers
Two 4-ounce cans anchovies rolled with capers
8-ounces pitted black olives
8-ounces pitted green olives
½ pound Genoa salami, sliced thin and rolled *
½ pound prosciutto, sliced very thin and rolled
One 12-ounce can artichoke hearts
One 7-ounce can mushrooms packed in olive oil
½ pound cheddar cheese sliced in strips – ½ x 2 inches**
½ pound Monterey jack cheese sliced in strips – ½ x 2 inches**
12-ounces pepperoncini peppers
Fresh Italian parsley for garnishing
Olive oil to drizzle

* Other meats we’ve used: cotto salami, capicola, soprassata

** You can go for more authentic Italian – we use the “American” varieties for color

The key to this recipe is to make the platter attractive and artistic. Line a 12-inch platter (we like a round shape) with the larger lettuce leaves, which will serve as the base of the antipasto as well as a way to measure a portion. (Ideally a person should be able to pull a whole lettuce leaf off the finished antipasto with a little of everything on top.) In the center of the platter place the tuna; it’s best to use a canned variety so that you can turn the can upside down and remove the tuna intact, retaining the shape of the can. Add the roasted red peppers and place them around the platter in a symmetrical pattern, like the rays of the sun. Continue in the same pattern with the remaining ingredients until the tray is covered and all the ingredients have been used. Drizzle with olive oil and serve.

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12/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

COOKING WITH MY SISTERS by Adriana Trigiani. Harper Paperbacks; Reprint edition (November 7, 2017). ISBN 978-0062469915. 224p.


OBAMA: AN INTIMATE PORTRAIT by Pete Souza

December 23, 2017

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Pete Souza is the former chief official White House photographer and the former President himself wrote the forward to this big, beautiful coffee table book (10.4 x 1.2 x 12.5 inches, hardcover, with beautiful heavy pages.)

The photos move in chronological order, starting with Inauguration Day in the first term. But these just aren’t state photos, there are lots of intimate, family and personal photos that help create the Obama legacy in a most personal and profound way.

Souza is obviously a gifted photographer, he wouldn’t have gotten the gig nor held on to it for eight years otherwise. I have to say the photographs are spectacular, interesting and often visceral. Some will be familiar, like when the President bowed down to let the young African American boy touch his head, much like his own, and that devastating picture taken after Sandy Hook. But there are also some really fun photos, like the Obamas and friends watching a 3-D movie, with glasses on. There are photos of famous signings, parties, speeches and more, but I admit I most enjoyed the family photos and the less formal shots. Obama shooting hoops in the Department of Interior gymnasium; Bono playing guitar for the President and Alicia Keys in the private dining room; even the President and First Lady making an unannounced visit to Arlington National Cemetery and surprising a widow there.

There are interesting shots like Obama ducking under the ropes on the lawn to get back to the Oval Office. A shot of Obama sitting on the desk, meeting with three women on staff but all we see are their shoes. Obama racing the new Chief of Staff, Denis McDonough’s children down the Colonnade outside the White House. Obama throwing a football at Soldier Field, home of his beloved Chicago Bears, during a break at the NATO summit.

This is a book I wish I owned, but I borrowed a copy from my library. It is a beautiful homage to one of my favorite Presidents.

12/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

OBAMA: AN INTIMATE PORTRAIT by Pete Souza. Little, Brown and Company (November 7, 2017). ISBN 978-0316512589. 352p.


CHASING LIGHT by Amanda Lucidon

December 22, 2017

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Michelle Obama Through the Lens of a White House Photographer

From the publisher:

A collection of striking and intimate photographs of Michelle Obama—many never before seen—coupled with personal reflections and behind-the-scenes stories from Official White House Photographer Amanda Lucidon, presented in a deluxe format.

Michelle Obama is one of the most admired First Ladies in history, known for her grace, spirit, and beauty, as well as for the amazing work she did during her tenure to promote girls’ education, combat childhood obesity, and support military families. In Chasing Light, former White House photographer Amanda Lucidon, who spent four years covering the First Lady, shares a rare insider’s perspective, from documenting life at the White House to covering domestic and overseas travel. This collection of 150 candid photos—many previously unreleased—and Amanda’s narrative reflections reveal just what makes Mrs. Obama so special. From an affectionate moment with her daughters atop the strikingly empty Great Wall of China to exuberant moments with schoolchildren and quiet moments between the First Lady and President Obama, the photos are a vibrant, candid, and beautiful celebration of the First Lady, capturing the qualities and strengths that have made Mrs. Obama so beloved.

Chasing Light is a beautiful book that really honors Michelle Obama and her legacy. This has been a very difficult year for me politically, and this book was a balm for my soul.

12/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

CHASING LIGHT by Amanda Lucidon. Ten Speed Press (October 17, 2017). ISBN 978-0399581182. 224p.


VALERIE’S HOME COOKING by Valerie Bertinelli

December 16, 2017

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More than 100 Delicious Recipes to Share with Friends and Family

I’m a long time fan of Bertinelli, and I enjoy her Food Network show. She’s not a chef, she’s a home cook with a lot of really great recipes. This is her second cookbook and if you like easy to prepare food with an Italian bent, it’s a good one. Not everything is Italian, but it definitely leans that way. But there are other recipes for sure, like Bargecue Chicken with Spicy BBQ Sauce, Chicken a la King Crepes, Brown Sugar Sriracha Bacon Bites, and Chocolate Peppermint Ice Cream Sandwiches, among many others.

The table of contents:

Rise & Shine
Getting Through the Day
Happy Hour
Around the Table
A Side Note
Finishing Sweet

There is also a handy chart with metric equivalents and a good index. I enjoyed the introduction, too – Valerie’s voice is evident.

It’s a really pretty cookbook, too, the pictures are swoon worthy and make every dish look delectable. A few favorites are the BLT Pasta (recipe provided here by the publisher!) and the Egg White Frittata (although I used a couple whole eggs rather than all egg whites.) My daughter wants me to try the Hamburger Helpa next, a ground beef, cheese and pasta casserole; what could be bad? I think my husband is secretly hoping I’ll make the Homemade Cannolis and I have to admit, Valerie takes a lot of the fear out of that process, so maybe over the Christmas break when I’m home and have some time. She estimates it takes 2 1/2 hours so it’s not something I’d do after work, but is definitely something to look forward to!

BLT Pasta

Serves: 4, Hands-on: 25 minutes, Total: 35 minutes

If you are looking to whip up a rich pasta awash in flavor, one that gives you the sense of being especially indulgent yet you want to avoid both cream sauce and lots of preparation—you have found the perfect recipe. One day when I found myself considering Tom’s and my dinner plans, I looked in the fridge and found bacon, arugula, and fresh basil. I already had tomatoes in a bowl on the counter. And I thought, “Wait a minute. This is a BLT. What if I put it all together?” I did, and the result was a splendidly tender pasta with a lightly acidic tomato-wine sauce that went perfectly with the smoky bacon. With the peppery kick of the arugula, it really was a BLT. You don’t want to overlook the basil, either. For the nuance of its sweetness, pluck it from your garden or pick it up that day at the grocery store. This serves very simply from a large bowl and is enjoyable year-round, especially with a glass of wine.

Ingredients
  • 12 cups water
  • 1/4 cup plus 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 pounds plum tomatoes (about 10 tomatoes)
  • 6 thick-cut bacon slices, chopped
  • 1 medium yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 12 ounces uncooked spaghetti
  • 4 cups fresh baby arugula
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • Grated fresh Parmesan cheese
Instructions

1- Bring the water and 1/4 cup of the salt to a boil in a large saucepan over high. Hull the stems from the tomatoes. Cut a shallow ‘x’ through the skin on the bottom of each tomato.

2- Place the tomatoes in the boiling water, and boil about 30 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, remove the tomatoes, and submerge in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Reserve the salted water in the saucepan.

3- When the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, peel back the skin using a paring knife. Cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise; squeeze out and discard the seeds. Chop the tomatoes into 1/2-inch pieces.

4- Place the bacon in a cold large skillet; cook over medium, stirring occasionally, until crisp, 10 to 13 minutes. Drain the bacon on a paper towel-lined plate. Reserve 2 tablespoons drippings in the skillet.

5- Add the onion to the hot drippings in the skillet; cook over medium, stirring occasionally, until soft and lightly golden, about 10 minutes. Add the wine; cook until the liquid is reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes, black pepper, crushed red pepper, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt to the skillet; cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes begin to break down, about 5 minutes.

6- Return the reserved salted water in the saucepan to a boil; add the spaghetti, and cook until al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water. Add the pasta and 1/4 cup of the reserved cooking water to the tomato mixture in the skillet; toss to coat. Add more cooking water, if necessary, until the mixture reaches the desired consistency. Transfer to a large bowl; toss with arugula and half of the chopped bacon. Divide evenly among 4 serving bowls; top evenly with the basil, remaining chopped bacon, and Parmesan.

Variation: This is easily adaptable to whatever you have on hand, like spinach and linguine instead of the arugula and spaghetti.

Cooking Tip: This is another time I like to sauté my bacon instead of using the oven. All those yummy hot bacon drippings.

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12/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

VALERIE’S HOME COOKING by Valerie Bertinelli. Oxmoor House (October 10, 2017). ISBN 978-0848752286. 272p.


CASA MARCELA by Marcela Valladolid

September 16, 2017

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Recipes and Food Stories of My Life in the Californias

Not a Saturday passes by without my looking forward to tuning in to Food Network’s The Kitchen. Hosted by Jeff Mauro, Sunny Anderson, Katie Lee, Geoffrey Zakarian, and Marcela Valladolid, the show is my weekend wake up and the thing that gets me excited about cooking through the next couple of days. That paired with my fondness for Mexican food, and the fact that I was a fan of Valladolid’s previous show, Mexican Made Easy, meant that of course I had to get my hands on a copy of Casa Marcela for my own kitchen.

If you like Mexican flavors and comfort food, you’ll love Valladolid’s new cookbook. Packed with tasty dishes, fabulous photography, and personal stories, the book is a wonderful blend of traditional flavors and Valladolid’s own favorites. And while some might say this isn’t a wholly traditional Mexican cookbook, recipes like Roasted-Cauliflower Steaks with Pickled-Jalapeno Vinaigrette, Roasted Salmon and Pesto-Stuffed Anaheim Chiles can be found alongside Tamales de Pollo en Salsa Verde, Green Hominy and Pork Soup (Pozole), and Conchas.

Valladolid’s recipes are seated in tradition and adapted for ingredients local to Tijuana and San Diego, perfectly reflecting Valladolid’s own influences. There are Tuna Empanadas and Coke-Braised Pork Tacos. There’s even a Mexican Ramen recipe.

The first dishes I dove into were the Creamy Beer Shrimp-Stuffed Poblano Chiles (using poblanos from my garden), a decadent and cheesy dish that we served alongside the White Rice with Basil and Corn; the Peppercorn-Crusted Flank Steak with Mustard Cream (the sauce really made this dish.) that we served with Pickled Poblanos; and the Ground Pork Patties in Tomatillo Salsa served, as per Valladolid’s recommendation, with rice and avocado slices.

The book is divided into eight sections: Small Bites/Botanas; Salads and Soups/Ensaladas y Sopas; Entrees/Platillos Fuertes; Sides/Guarniciones; Salsas; Breakfast/Desayunos; Drinks/Bebidas; and Desserts/Postres. Recipes range from easy family friendly/weeknight meals to more elaborate dishes perfect for entertaining. Saying that, though, none of the dishes I’ve tried so far have been beyond a home cook’s skills, something I definitely appreciate. Another thing I loved about the book was the abundance of produce-heavy recipes, which I especially appreciate during the summer months as there are plenty of dishes that make use of ingredients from my own home garden.

Whether you’re a fan of Valladolid or simply a fan of gorgeous cookbooks with approachable and appealing recipes, Casa Marcela will make a great addition to your cookbook collection.

9/17 Becky LeJeune

From the publisher:

Creamy Beer Shrimp–Stuffed Poblano Chiles from Casa Marcela

Serves 4 to 6

This is a showstopper right here. If you are lucky enough to travel through Mexico, you’ll find that there are countless versions of stuffed peppers: with cheese, with meat, with beans, with dried fruit, and here with seafood. This simple, rich, creamy perfection fills the optimal pepper for stuffing: the poblano. Be careful, though, because depending on the crop, they can range from totally mild to pretty darn spicy. Don’t be afraid to smell them at the market: if it stings your nose a little, you’re probably gonna get some fire from the pepper. If spice is what you are looking for, you can certainly use a jalapeño. They are smaller, so you’ll have to purchase a few more to use up all the stuffing, but they also come out great.

Ingredients

4 to 6 fresh poblano chiles

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

3 garlic cloves, chopped

3 dried chiles de árbol

2 pounds medium shrimp, peeled, deveined, tails removed, and quartered

Salt

1/2 cup dark lager beer

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 cup shredded Oaxaca cheese, or any other white melting cheese

Directions

Turn a gas burner to high. Char the poblano chiles directly on the burner, turning with tongs, until blackened all over. (Alternatively, roast in the oven under the broiler.) Place the chiles in a plastic bag and let steam for 10 minutes.

Gently rub the chiles with paper towels to remove as much skin as possible. Using a paring knife, make a slit across the top of a chile just below the stem, leaving the stem intact. Starting from the middle of the slit, slice lengthwise down to the tip of the pepper (cut through only one layer). Open the chile like a book and pull out the seeds and inner membranes. You may need to use a paring knife to loosen the top of the seedpod. Repeat with the remaining chiles.

Melt the butter in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and chiles de árbol and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the shrimp and cook, stirring, until lightly pink, about 1 minute. Season with salt to taste. Stir in the beer and cook until lightly evaporated, about 3 minutes. Stir in the cream and bring the mixture to a simmer. Remove the shrimp from the sauce and cook the sauce until thickened, about 6 minutes more. Return the shrimp to the pan and add 1/2 cup of the cheese, stirring until the cheese is completely melted. Turn off the heat.

Preheat the broiler to high.

Fill each chile with about 1/4 cup of the creamy shrimp and transfer to a large glass baking dish. Divide the remaining 1/2 cup cheese among the chiles and broil until the cheese is melted and golden brown, about 6 minutes.

CASA MARCELA by Marcela Valladolid. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (April 25, 2017). ISBN 978-0544808553. 288p.


MIDNIGHT CONFESSIONS by Stephen Colbert

September 5, 2017

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Co-authored with The Staff of the Late Show with Stephen Colbert

I am a long time Stephen Colbert fan, although I must admit up front that “Midnight Confessions,” the segment on the Late Show, is not my favorite bit. So I was somewhat surprised by how much I enjoyed this book, and how funny it is.

You would think if I didn’t like the segments much, I would really dislike a whole book of them but the reverse happened. Maybe because these are the best of these bits? I don’t know, but I read it rather quickly and was laughing out loud through most of it. I couldn’t resist sharing bits of it with my family, either. And I loved that they included tweets from fans with their own confessions! My personal favorite from @pjerickson, “Sometimes I make up words in order to sound more aproserial.”

Stephen Colbert has taken the show on a decidedly political/anti-Trump journey but this book does not reflect that. It is pretty much politics free, so would make a great gift for anyone, Democrat or Republican. (Maybe not strict Catholics who might find the whole confessions idea blasphemous, but what do I know.)

It’s still a bit early for holiday shopping but keep this book on your gift list. It’s a really pretty hardcover, with a padded cover and a non-book-like shape that would look pretty on a coffee table. And if you need a break from all the bad news in the world, do yourself a favor and buy this book. You’ll be glad you did.

A few favorites:

They say there’s no wrong way to eat a Reese’s, but I’m thinking a whole bag while you’re idling in the driveway is close.

I think women look great in stiletto heels, but if I were a woman and a man asked me to wear them, I would murder him with my shoes.

I’m a man in his fifties who eats like a man in his twenties who doesn’t plan to make it to his thirties.

A librarian pet peeve that I can get behind:

I have violent thoughts when people use the terms “sci-fi” and “fantasy” interchangeably.

“Oh, I love science fiction. I just read Lord of the Rings.”

I will end you.

9/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

MIDNIGHT CONFESSIONS by Stephen Colbert. Doubleday (July 11, 2017).  ISBN 978-0385541800. 304p.

Hardcover Book

Kindle

Audible