THE AFRICAN AMERICAN STRUGGLE FOR LIBRARY EQUALITY by Aisha M. Johnson-Jones

October 3, 2019

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The Untold Story of the Julius Rosenwald Fund Library Program

From the publisher:

The African American Struggle for Library Equality: The Untold Story of the Julius Rosenwald Fund Library Program unveils the almost forgotten philanthropic efforts of Julius Rosenwald, former president of Sears, Roebuck, Co. and an elite business man. Rosenwald simply desired to improve, “the well-being of mankind” through access to education.

Many people are familiar with Mr. Rosenwald as the founder of the Julius Rosenwald Fund that established more than 5,300 rural schools in 15 Southern states during the period 1917-1938. However, there is another major piece of the puzzle, the Julius Rosenwald Fund Library Program. That program established more than 10,000 school, college, and public libraries, funded library science programs that trained African American librarians, and made evident the need for libraries to be supported by local governments.

The African American Struggle for Library Equality is the first comprehensive history of the Julius Rosenwald Fund Library Program to be published. The book reveals a new understanding of library practices of the early 20th century. Through original research and use of existing literature, Aisha Johnson Jones exposes historic library practices that discriminated against blacks, and the necessary remedies the Julius Rosenwald Fund Library Program implemented to cure this injustice, which ultimately influenced other philanthropists like Andrew Carnegie and Bill Gates (the Gates Foundation has a library program) as well as organizations like the American Library Association.


I am stepping out of my usual review mode here. This book is obviously not a romance, nor women’s fiction, nor a thriller, nor cookbook. I probably should read more library texts, it is my profession after all, but I rarely do since I graduated with my masters in library and information science. That said, I am very glad I read this book, and think anyone who cares about libraries should read it as well.

When I went to library school, one of the required courses was on the history of libraries. At the time, I thought it was a silly class that should have been reduced to a single lecture, instead of an entire semester long course. In fact, much of the curriculum was based in ideology rather than practical matters. I had worked in libraries for about a dozen years by the time I went to library school, so I definitely had some inside knowledge, at least of how public libraries worked and the work that librarians did. I did learn some important skills to be sure, but I thought then, and I don’t know how much it has changed since, that there were big gaps in what they taught and what we actually needed to know. The merest hint of budgeting was mentioned, and literally nothing about designing libraries or equipping one, skills that I saw librarians struggle with regularly. I graduated in 2011, and did not take one class on web design or coding or anything remotely techie, and trust me, technology is an unavoidable and important part of the daily work-life of librarians.

But through all the classes I took, required and elective, I never heard of Julius Rosenwald or his program, and that is a disgrace. Carnegie is seen as the patron saint of libraries, and apparently we (the library community) have been shamefully remiss in not anointing Rosenwald as well. The fund financed all sorts of libraries, and even health care, for African American communities. It also funded fellowships and scholarships for African Americans. The fact that this wealthy white man took umbrage with how African Americans were educated and treated, is inspiring. Rosenwald’s influence should not, and cannot, be left unrecognized any longer.

This is an exhaustively researched story that should be included in the curriculum for “History of Libraries” at library schools everywhere.  It is a compelling story, and the pictures are enlightening. It is a short book, and one well worth reading, especially for librarians.  Julius Rosenwald deserves to be celebrated, and I am very glad Ms. Johnson-Jones has given his story to us.

10/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE AFRICAN AMERICAN STRUGGLE FOR LIBRARY EQUALITY by Aisha M. Johnson-Jones. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (September 17, 2019). ISBN 978-1538103081. 120p.

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VEGETABLES UNLEASHED by José Andrés & Matt Goulding

September 30, 2019

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I have to be honest here. There is no way I could not love anything with José Andrés’ name on it. Or anything from the Anthony Bourdain imprint. So it is with extreme prejudice that I come to this review. If you are not familiar with Andrés, and the amazing work that he does, please visit his website: José Andrés

Andrés has a unique vision of food’s place in the world, as well as a very unique voice, which is on display here. I realized that before I even got to the first recipe. There is a page called “Translating the Language of José,” which has nothing to do with his English, but everything to do with his sense of humor and wonder. Like this:

         LET’S GO! YOUR FAST IS MY SLOW: A rallying cry for all of those around José whose fasts are his slow.
Example: Just 108 more recipes to develop. Let’s go!

 

There are incredible (and unusual) photos throughout the book. Like this one with the table of contents:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not only are there gorgeous pictures, there is a ton of information on all manner of vegetables, how we eat them, and why we don’t eat enough. There are astounding statistics:

Did you know that 87 percent of American adults don’t meet their daily fruit requriement? Or that 40 percent of kids’ vegetable intake comes from French fries? FORTY PERCENT!

Well, I was shocked. He even admits his own daughters prefer burgers to broccoli, which shouldn’t shock anyone. And this:

5.2 million annual deaths worldwide attributed to a lack of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Which makes this even sadder:

338 million pounds of produce Americans throw away every day

He gives advice on everything from gardening and composting, to kitchen tools and spices. And recipes. Lots of recipes.

Andrés introduces the idea of boiling your vegetables. You know, like your grandma used to. He claims it gives you the best method for maintaining texture and seasoning. He also admits that you will never see an Instagram photo of boiled cabbage. I’m not completely sold myself, I love roasted vegetables and do not want to move back to boiling. That said, I made his vegetable stock and it was wonderful. I made it in the Instant Pot and made enough to freeze for when I need some again. It was flavorful, not always easy to achieve with vegetable stock.

I like that at the end of the recipe, for instance Miso-Roasted Asparagus (yum!), he also suggests other vegetables that this would work with, along with other tips like if you want a sweeter finish, add a spoonful of honey or maple syrup. I like recipes with wiggle room. There are also some “chef-y” recipes like Carrot “Pasta,” which he indicates is not something “you’re going to serve on a Tuesday night to your hungry family of five.” True that. It is one of those recipes that consists of multiple recipes, the carrot sauce, carrot oil, and finally the carrot pasta. I have not attempted this.

I love the salad recipes, especially the ones where he explains the proper way to clean the lettuce. I know I’m weird but I avoid those bagged salads like the plague, or the ebola, or whatever horrible diseases they are contaminated with that scare me to death. I buy heads of lettuce. Different kinds, too. I love arugula, but my husband hates it. More salad for me that night. We all love romaine and butter lettuce and leaf lettuce and have you tried Little Gem? There is a recipe here for Little Gems with Warm Garlic Dressing that I have added to my list to try. It’s a very simple recipe with those flavor bombs, thinly sliced garlic and anchovies.

My daughter tried the Microwave Cacio e Pepe and it is now a favorite. Very simple recipe for one, made in the microwave. Now she has a new reason to use that oft-ignored appliance. I tried the Empanadillas de Espinacas (Spinach Empanadas) and they were really delicious, sort of a Greek spanikopita-like filling with spinach, scallions, feta and dill. I skipped the wonton wrappers and used the empanada wrappers I had in my freezer. I also tried the Vegetable Fried Rice, which was very good although my daughter said she would have liked it better with less “stuff” mixed in and more rice, which would have defeated my purpose in making it. That Beefsteak Sandwich was as good as it looks (see picture below) and super easy and quick, perfect for a no cooking night without ordering takeout.

All in all, I think this is a good cookbook and one I will be referring to often. As my vegetables start aging out of the fridge, I now have a good resource to help me avoid pitching them. Instead, I can turn them into something delicious.

More photos:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

VEGETABLES UNLEASHED by José Andres & Matt Goulding. Anthony Bourdain/Ecco (May 21, 2019). ISBN 978-0062668387. 368p.

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SAVE ME THE PLUMS by Ruth Reichl

April 13, 2019

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My Gourmet Memoir

Ruth Reichl has led a very food-centric life and has written extensively about it. In a bit of exciting news,

“Former Gourmet editor and New York Times critic Ruth Reichl says that a memoir about her early days as a food writer [Comfort Me With Apples] is going to be the subject of a new eight-part series on Netflix.”

This book is about how Ruth came to be editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine, the changes she made, and how it all went away. In case you weren’t sure if she was traumatized by the magazine’s closing, Ruth has written a novel about it, Delicious! and a cookbook, My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life (and I loved both those books.) Now she has finally written the memoir that she seems to have been avoiding, and it, too, is terrific.

As a long time fan of Gourmet magazine, I was sad when it shut down. But it wasn’t my life, as it was Ruth’s, so the feelings cannot even be compared. She starts at the beginning, from her first meetings with the publisher and owner, while she was still the New York Times restaurant critic. (I loved her book about that experience, Garlic & Sapphires.) She met with friends to discuss the possible job change, and when she finally got the job offer, the money was six times what she was making at the Times, and impossible to resist. Off she went and her life changed dramatically.

This book contains a few recipes, including one for a Jeweled Chocolate Cake, which sounded great. I was curious about the possibility of turning that cake into cupcakes. I held this review for a few days and tweeted at her, but sadly, I was ignored. I will figure it out myself – necessity is the mother of invention. And I have the Google-verse at my fingertips.

If you’ve read Reichl’s other memoirs, you will undoubtedly enjoy this one. If you haven’t, it’s as good a place as any to start. For foodie fans everywhere.

4/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

SAVE ME THE PLUMS by Ruth Reichl. Random House (April 2, 2019).  ISBN 978-1400069996. 288p.

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SALT, FAT, ACID, HEAT by Samin Nosrat

October 28, 2018

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Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking

Illustrated by Wendy MacNaughton

I remember when this book was getting nominated for all kinds of awards, and from the reviews, I thought it was going to be a beginners cookbook so I didn’t pay it much attention. Then came the Netflix show.

My husband and I watched the first episode one Saturday night a few weeks ago. Samin is totally adorable, smart, funny and just, well, lovable. That first episode takes place in Italy, which didn’t hurt either. So we said, okay, we’ll watch the next one. That one was in Japan. An hour later, we thought, why not, let’s watch the episode in Mexico. And then there was only one episode left so we watched that, too. Yes, I lead an exciting life, binge watching Netflix on a Saturday night. It wasn’t the first time, and probably won’t be the last. But it was fun, and inspiring, and thoroughly enjoyable and it led me back to her cookbook.

To be honest, I liked the TV series more than the book, and that is a very odd thing for me to say. It is, as I feared, very much a beginners cookbook. The first two hundred pages of the book just explains salt, fat, acid and heat. The rest of the book is called, “and now that you know how to cook…” and includes “recipes and recommendations.”

The first part of the second part? Not recipes, “Kitchen Basics” starting with “choosing tools, choosing ingredients, a few basic  how-tos” with illustrations. Like how to slice an onion, how to turn garlic into a paste, how to chop parsley and other info on knife cuts. Then, finally, recipes. Sort of.

There are pages on salads but nothing that looks like a recipe you’d find in any other cookbook until you get a ways in. There are pages about ingredients used in salad, a chart with suggested combinations, and then some actual recipes. Avocado, Beet and Citrus Salad. Shaved Carrot Salad with Ginger and Lime. Then some dressings – progress! After the salads come stocks and soups. beans, grains and pasta, fish, chicken, and so forth, even a handful of desserts. There is no table of contents, but there is an extensive index.

All that said, there wasn’t a whole lot I would make. It’s just too basic, I’ve been making most of this stuff for years. So it’s not a cookbook I would cook from, if you will, and for me, that defeats the purpose.

A reviewer from the Atlantic called it a “meta-cookbook” and I totally get that. Other reviewers felt that it changed the way they cooked or even the way they thought about food. It didn’t do that for me. That said, it would make a terrific gift for a beginning cook or someone who doesn’t like to cook or even worse, thinks they can’t cook. Samin is a remarkable teacher, and that shows on every page. Her love of food comes shining through, along with her will to make everyone feel the same way – and she truly is a force to be reckoned with – but in the most irresistible way. Buy it for the novice cooks in your life. And definitely watch the show!

10/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

SALT, FAT, ACID, HEAT by Samin Nosrat. Simon and Schuster; 4th edition (April 25, 2017). ISBN 978-1476753836. 480p.


DEEP RUN ROOTS by Vivian Howard

September 16, 2018

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Stories and Recipes from My Corner of the South

WINNER OF AN ASTONISHING FOUR IACP AWARDS, INCLUDING COOKBOOK OF THE YEAR AND THE JULIA CHILD FIRST BOOK AWARD

Vivian Howard, star of PBS’s A CHEF’S LIFE, celebrates the flavors of North Carolina’s coastal plain in more than 200 recipes and stories.

This was a serendipitous find of a cookbook. First, it showed up on several lists of cookbooks to look for. Then it won the IACP Cookbook of the Year award. Then I was looking around PBS and stumbled on this show called “A Chef’s Life” and it took a few episodes before I realized that this show starred the author of this cookbook I kept hearing about. Kismet!

I selected it for my cookbook discussion group (there is such a thing and I’ve been facilitating this group for several years at my library,) ordered 15 copies and waited. We met yesterday to discuss and watch the “Broccoli” episode where Vivian begins her book/food truck tour. Yes, this chef went on tour with a food truck. How brilliant was that? Made me wonder why all chefs weren’t doing that.

The consensus of the group was that we loved reading the book – her stories are just wonderful. However, cooking from the book was an entirely different thing. A few people felt intimidated by it, and remember, this is a group of people who cook regularly from cookbooks, most for many years so that really surprised me. Most people felt the recipes were overly long and complicated and a few others didn’t care for the style of the food but loved reading the book. Southern cuisine is not for everyone, and this is a very specific, eastern Carolina style of food. One of the group is actually from eastern Carolina and has relatives still living in the area and she probably enjoyed this book the most. Vivian Howard is a hero there.

So about the book – the positives. There are stories, lots of stories, and they are wonderful. The book itself is beautiful, sturdy, heavy paper sewn into the binding so it lies flat pretty much at every page. Towards the end of the book (it is a big cookbook, over 500 pages) the sheer weight of the book tends to snap it closed. There are also instructions on how to can fruits and vegetables, which seems important to a cookbook like this.

There is a table of contents (which is odd, by any standards) and then a very detailed Recipe Guide which is in a completely different order and sectioned differently from the table of contents. At the end of the book is an index, which is a sorry thing that often refers back to the page of the Recipe Guide to find the actual page number of the recipe. Confusing? Yep. So for clarity’s sake, on the left side of this picture is the actual Table of Contents, with the chapters:

Looking at just the table of contents, one would think there were no chicken, beef or fish recipes, for instance, but there are. There is an explanation given as to the way the book is organized. Vivian says,

…the way I ordered the chapters and recipes is personal, driven more by story than anything else. But it’s a cookbook, after all, and I want you to cook from it, and that’s why I’ve included this more practical guide (that would be the Recipe Guide.)

On the right side of the picture is the beginning of the Recipe Guide. It is divided into sections that make a bit more sense, more like a traditional cookbook, with sections called Breakfast and Brunch; Sandwiches; Pickles, Preserves, and Relishes; Sweets etc. I do like that she included a box at the end of this guide with “Eastern North Carolina Traditions”, a list of recipes that are truly native to that area like Collard Kraut, Fresh Corn Roasted in Chicken Drippings, Squash and Onions, and so forth.

One of my members made the Squash and Onions and said she made the rookie mistake of not reading the recipe all the way through before beginning. By the time she realized that these vegetables would be cooking for hours, she was already into it. She said that to her, a Yankee born and bred, this dish epitomized everything that is wrong with Southern food, taking beautiful, fresh ingredients, like summer squash straight from the farm, and cooking it until it is an unrecognizable mush. She ended up taking the mush, adding in quinoa and finely chopped mushrooms and turned it into a most delicious veggie burger. The mushy squash acted as the glue in holding it all together.

Another member of the group, the one from eastern North Carolina, made the Stewed Collard Greens with Ham Hock. She said this recipe is very similar to the way she grew up making this dish and it was delicious.

We all noticed that citrus plays an important role in many recipes, and we all liked that. I loved the Citrus Sweet Potato Butter although I did leave out the sugar, and found it more than sweet enough. I will be making that again. When I have some time off from work, I am going to attempt the Sweet Potato Onion Bread, which is a four page long recipe that requires a lot of attention, this is no mix it, knead it and wait recipe. I also am planning on making the Stuffed Butternut Bottoms, where butternut squash “bowls” are roasted then stuffed with a mixture of sausage, leek, turnip greens (or kale) and cheese, then topped with bread crumbs and baked again. She doesn’t specify the type of sausage so I’m thinking maybe a spicy chicken sausage would be good here. It sounds really good and winter squash season is almost upon us.

I did not care for the Watermelon Tea – basically a mixture of tea and pureed, strained watermelon that I thought would be akin to a sweet tea without adding actual sugar, but I found it an odd combination of flavors. Another member of the group made the Peaches and Cream Cake, another four page recipe (including pictures) and loved it but said it really was overly complicated. I also made “Viv’s Addiction,” a spiced pecan that was delicious. The nuts are folded into a stiffly beaten egg white with lots of spice then baked. I love these things, but this was the most complicated spiced nut recipe I’ve ever made. Breaking apart what is essentially a sweet & spicy praline required a bit of attention but I think the end result was worth it.

I mostly enjoyed reading this cookbook more than cooking from it, if that makes sense. But if you are looking for unusual recipes, and you like Southern food, and you enjoy the challenge of long, complicated recipes, you may love this cookbook.

9/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

DEEP RUN ROOTS by Vivian Howard. Little, Brown and Company; y First edition edition (October 4, 2016). ISBN 978-0316381109. 576p.

 

 

 


SIX SEASONS by Joshua McFadden

June 23, 2018

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A New Way with Vegetables
with Martha Holmberg

Let me start by saying that while this is a vegetable forward cookbook, it is not vegetarian, so if the thought of chicken or fish or pork touching your veggies makes you ill, this is not your cookbook. But if you enjoy occasional vegetarian dishes or just love veggies and are trying to find new ways to make them, then run out and buy this book immediately. It is terrific.

The book is divided into “six seasons” –  the usual four that we all know, except summer is divided in thirds; early, mid, and late. The book is laid out in seasonal order, too, so if it is fall and you look in that section for recipes, you should easily be able to find those ingredients at your market or farm stand because they are in season. Get it? All that said, I live in South Florida so I had to throw all of that out the window since our growing “seasons” (and I use the plural loosely) are pretty much summer all year long except in summer, when it is just hot as Hades and not much grows except the mosquitoes.

There is an interesting forward and a few terrific essays:

How Getting Dirty Helped Me Become a Cook
How This Book Can Help You Become a Better Cook
What I learned While Writing This Book with Joshua

Then there are a few chapters that are out of season, if you will:

My Larder
Go To Recipes
Pickles: Six Seasons in a Jar

The rest of the book is laid out seasonally, starting with Spring.

It is also a beautiful book, nice heavy pages are actually sewn into the binding. I mention this because not a lot of cookbooks are that way, and it is a definite plus, especially with a big book like this one. It just means that the book will like flat on the counter when you cook from it. Did I mention it has about 275 recipes and is almost 400 pages long? Another physical feature of the book that I liked was that the pages are tipped in color so you can easily see the seasons.

McFadden has an interesting way of creating salad dressing that I haven’t seen before. He recommends adding the vinegar and seasonings to the salad and to keep tasting until you like it, then add the oil at the end. You don’t end up with an emulsified dressing but rather a well seasoned salad and I liked it. Not all the time, but when I get beautiful veggies from the farm and want to make a platter or simple salad, it just seems to work really well this way.

Besides recipes, there are lots of tips on how to buy, clean, and store your veggies which is very useful. There is an entire page on broccoli, then several recipes like Rigatoni with Broccoli and Sausage, which is a personal favorite. What I like about this recipe is the addition of “Whipped Ricotta,” although I would have liked it better if I didn’t have to flip to another page for that recipe, as well as for the dried breadcrumbs – not out of a can but yet another recipe within the recipe. I do like how clear the directions are for preparing the broccoli for this dish:

1 pound broccoli, stems trimmed and peeled, stems sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch coins, and tops cut into florets

Just takes the guessing out of it, which works for me. By the way, broccoli is a ‘midsummer’ vegetable. Early summer vegetables includes fennel, beets and the usually overlooked celery (a side note: check out the hilarious celery episode of “Portlandia“) and then make one of 7 celery recipes like “Celery Salad with Dates, Almonds, and Parmigiano” or “Braised Celery and Radicchio Salad with Perfect Roast Chicken.”

Late summer includes corn, eggplant, sweet peppers, and chiles among others. Recipes like “Corn and Tomato Salad with Torn Croutons” and Red Pepper, Potato, and Prosciutto Frittata Topped with Ricotta” are just light and easy summer suppers or sides.

Fall veggies include carrots, Brussels sprouts, artichokes and kale. Winter has these plus cabbage, turnips, kohlrabi and potatoes, and of course, winter squash. Recipes include “Pumpkin Bolognese,” “Turnip, Leek, and Potato Soup,” and a really unusual and delicious “Battered and Fried Cabbage with Crispy Seeds and Lemon,” a kind of cabbage leaf tempura that is heavily spiced and makes a wonderful appetizer.

Circling back around to the beginning of the book is Spring veggies, starring asparagus, English peas, Fava beans and lettuces. There is an adulterated version of carbonara with the lovely addition of those English peas that works really beautifully, and if you haven’t tried raw asparagus, spring is the time to do it with “Raw Asparagus Salad with Breadcrumbs, Walnuts, and Mint.” Add fresh mint to anything and I’m on board.

The “go to” recipes includes vinaigrettes like “Caper-Raisin Vinaigreette,” Pancetta Vinaigrette” and a wonderful “Lemon Cream” dressing. Also there are, butters like “Brown Butter,” “Pistachio Butter” and “Alla Diavola Butter” – yum! You’ll also find the “Whipped Ricotta” and a “Tonnato” sauce, an Italian tuna sauce. There are also come breads, like “Slightly Tangy Flatbreads” and “Pecan Dough” and really useful instructions on how to cook farro, freekeh and couscous. Pickles include a “Basic Vegetable Pickle Brine,” “Cold Brine,” and a”Hot Brine.”

Photographs abound and they are glorious. There is also an extensive index that is very useful as well. All in all, this is a beautiful cookbook that deserves a place on the bookshelf within easy reach.

6/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

SIX SEASONS by Joshua McFadden. Artisan; 1st Edition edition (May 2, 2017). ISBN 978-1579656317. 384p.


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.


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.


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.


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.