COOK KOREAN! by Robin Ha

January 28, 2017
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A Comic Book with Recipes

I loved Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley, which came out a few years ago, but never really expected to find another graphic novel with recipes. I was wrong. Apparently graphic novel cookbooks are now a thing.

There was a really interesting article on eater.com about it, Why Cookbooks are Looking More Like Comicbooks. They point out:

But comic cookbooks can do something for home cooks, too — make recipes less daunting and easier to follow. Cookbooks are still in demand, but many — with their overly aspirational food photography — wind up as coffee-table books for the kitchen.

An interesting point, for sure. And click through to an older article, The Golden Era of Food Comics is Happening Right Now. Also interesting.

When I heard about Cook Korean!, I knew I had to take a look at it. I don’t know a lot about Korean food. Korean BBQ restaurants are around, and kimchi is hugely popular pretty much everywhere now, so it seemed like a good time to learn. And learn I did.

Table of Contents:

Introduction
Kimchi and Pickles
Vegetable Side Dishes
Meat and Poultry
Seafood
Soups and Stews
Porridges
Noodles and Rice Cakes
Snacks and Street Foods
Cocktails and Anju
Korean Fusion

I included the introduction because it’s not your typical “here’s why I wrote this cookbook page.” Instead, it’s 20 pages or so of ingredients used in Korean cooking, the Korean refrigerator, the Korean pantry, Korean meal guide, Bap: Cooked Rice, Rice and its delicious by-products, Korea’s regions and foods and finally Dengki’s dress. In other words, lots of super useful information. With illustrations.

All the chapters are heavily illustrated, thus the graphic novel genre. I mean if you just picked it up without knowing it was a cookbook, it probably wouldn’t occur to you as you glanced through it. No, it’s not a novel, it’s cookbook/memoir and nonfiction while we usually call fiction books novels. But what I called comic books as a kid are now called graphic novels, regardless of whether or not the books contain fiction or nonfiction. My library shelves them in the nonfiction. I have noticed that some graphic novel memoirs are shelved in biographies, and I’m not sure who is making that distinction (Library of Congress? The Online Computer Library Center, better known as OCLC?) or why that distinction is being made. Congressman John Lewis just won a bunch of awards for the third book of his graphic novel trilogy memoir, March: Book Three (congrats!) which is shelved in biography. But I digress.

Other things I noticed when looking at the table of contents. I admitted up front I am pretty ignorant about Korean food. I didn’t know there were stews or porridges, for instance. Now I do. Kimchi Stew, for starters. And a Spicy Fish Stew. I learned that pine nuts are not just for pesto and are used in Pine Nut Porridge.

So kimchi. There is a little gastro pub near my house that makes killer kimchi. And by killer I mean they warn you if you try and order it that it is very hot, so I haven’t tried it. A kimchi loving friend (hi Dave!) has had it and really enjoys it. So everything I know about kimchi is that historically, it was made from cabbage in clay jars and buried in the dirt. The smell was supposedly horrific. And very, very spicy. But after reading this book, I learned that my suppositions were correct, but there are ways to make it much more palatable for my delicate American taste. Use less Korean chili, for starters. I also learned that kimchi can be made from a variety of vegetables, not just cabbage – radish, cucumber and green onion, just to name a few. I feel kimchi educated now.

Noodles are big in Asian cooking and Korean food is no exception. The recipe for Handmade Knife Noodles is about as close to pasta as you can get. Rice cakes are called Tteok and there are dozens of different kinds, mostly eaten as snacks or dessert.

The cocktails chapter includes a lesson in Korean Drinking Culture, including the admonishment to “always pour your elder’s drink with both your hands,” to never refuse a drink from your elders and “always refill drinks for others and never refill your own drink. You must wait for others to fill it up for you.”

The recipes are all explained and illustrated so that even someone as ignorant of Korean food and customs as I am, could successfully prepare anything in this book. I loved the watercolor type paintings that illustrate each chapter title page, and the drawings throughout the book really added to my understanding of technique. It’s funny, I never really cared for illustrations in cookbooks, for instance the beloved Silver Palate Cookbook, as I much prefer photographs. But for some reason, I love the illustrations here and didn’t miss the photos at all.

Finally, I was trying to figure out how many recipes there are but it was difficult as so many have variations included. The author does mention in her acknowledgements that her mother helped with 64 of the recipes though. Always nice to acknowledge your mom!

If you are curious about Korean cuisine and culture or you love Korean food and want to try making some yourself, this is the book for you.

1/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

COOK KOREAN! by Robin Ha. Ten Speed Press (July 5, 2016). ISBN 978-1607748878. 176p.

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FOOD CITY by Joy Santlofer

November 24, 2016
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Four Centuries of Food-Making in New York

When a book is a labor of love, it shows on every page, and it truly does in Food City. Joy Santlofer was chair of New York University’s Food Studies Program, and she passed away in 2013, leaving her book to be published posthumously. Her colleague Marion Nestle wrote the forward.

This book explores the history of New York City through food. I was expecting bagels, roasted chestnuts and Chinatown. Instead, I got a fascinating education about beer, bread and so much more. I learned that the early Dutch settlers in the 1600’s drank beer – all of them, including the children, because it was cleaner than the water. I learned that the hipster paradise of Brooklyn was all farmland, and later on that giant of the food industry, Nabisco, got its start there making hard crackers for the Union army. I learned that there was a New York Tea Party four months after the Boston Tea Party.

German frankfurters paved the way for Coney Island hot dogs. Many of our most beloved foods started out in New York – Oreos, Hellman’s Mayonnaise, Thomas’s English Muffins, Gulden Mustard, and Twizzlers.

Santlofer isn’t just dispensing facts here, she makes it really interesting and fun to read. I loved the stories about George Washington being sworn in as president (which for some reason I assumed had been done in Philadelphia,) John Jacob Astor’s first job as a delivery boy for a bakery, and I could easily visualize the herds of cattle being moved across 42nd Street to the slaughterhouses. I learned what life was really like for those first New Yorkers and how those lives changed over the years.

You don’t have to be a New Yorker to appreciate this book. Foodies will love it, as will history buffs. There really is something for everyone.

It seemed somehow fitting to write about this extraordinary book on Thanksgiving, a time when we are all thinking about food, and maybe thinking about those no longer sharing our table. I miss my mom and dad every day, but especially on Thanksgiving, it was her favorite holiday.

I didn’t know Joy, but I know her husband, the über talented Jonathan Santlofer – author, artist, and teacher at the Crime Fiction Academy at the Center for Fiction in New York City. It was Jonathan’s diligence and determination to honor his wife’s work, and their daughter Doria’s to honor her mother, that got her book published, and readers everywhere should be grateful. I know I am. 

11/16  Stacy Alesi AKA the BookBitch™

FOOD CITY by Joy Santlofer. W. W. Norton & Company (November 1, 2016). ISBN: 978-0393076394. 480p.

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MAD GENIUS TIPS by Justin Chapple

November 19, 2016
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& the Editors of Food & Wine

Over 90 Expert Hacks and 100 Delicious Recipes

This may be the most useful kitchen book/cookbook you’ll ever read. I am completely enthralled with Justin; I’ve been watching and sharing his videos for years, so I was delighted to see they gave him his own book.

I learned to halve cherry tomatoes and grapes between two plastic container lids, to pit cherries with a wine bottle and a chopstick, and to cut the corn off the cob in my Bundt pan (don’t scoff, try it once and you’ll never do it any other way.) Plus he includes recipes for a variety of terrific dishes, like taking that corn and making Corn-Studded Corn Muffins with Honey Mascarpone Whipped Corn Dip with Chili Oil. Yes, I said that. That same Bundt pan is used to make a terrific Buffalo-Style Roast Chicken with Potatoes.

Use your box grater to DIY Your Bread Crumbs, then make Braised Leeks with Fennel Bread Crumbs. It’s as good as it sounds. Loved the grilled cheese hack where you end up with Stuffed Grilled Cheese just using a fork. Learn to pipe using a Ziploc bag then make Frozen Yogurt Dots with Strawberries and Pistachios.

This book is laid out by kitchen tool, for lack of a better word. But what I love most is that the whole idea here is not to go out and buy a multitude of one-job kitchen tools. Justin uses stuff you already have. The chapters:

Aluminum Foiljustin-chapple
Baking Rack
Box Grater
Bundt Pan
Cheesecloth
Cookie Cutters
Floss
Food Processor
Fork+Spoon
Knife
Mason Jar
Microwave
Muffin Pan
Oven
Plastic Baggie
Plastic Lids
Scissors
Sticks+Skewers
Waffle Iron
Wine Bottle

 

There’s a workable index and lots of great photographs, including many with Justin’s irrepressible smile. I love this book and hope you will, too.

11/16 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

MAD GENIUS TIPS by Justin Chapple. Oxmoor House (November 1, 2016). ISBN 978-0848748425. 256p.


REAL FOOD FAKE FOOD by Larry Olmsted

August 12, 2016

REAL FOOD FAKE FOOD by Larry OlmstedWhy You Don’t Know What You’re Eating and What You Can Do about It

I’ve had this book on my Kindle for a while now, and I would start reading, get upset, close that book and go on to something else. After several false starts, I steeled myself and got into it. It’s not that it’s a difficult read in the sense of being wordy or high brow or too scientific for this English major, but rather that I found the subject matter upsetting.

Several years ago my husband had a very mild heart attack followed by not so mild surgery. Since then I’ve been intent on feeding my family healthy foods, and let me tell you, those parameters seem like they change weekly sometimes. Drink coffee, don’t drink coffee, drink coffee. Same with wine. Eat lots of fruit, eat only berries, limit fruit. Vegan or Paleo? Vegetarian or pescatarian? Mediterranean, carb free, gluten free, dairy free, the list goes on and on and on.

What I finally decided on, what works best for me and my family, is basically living by Michael Pollan’s golden rule:

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

 We usually limit red meat – grass fed, organic – to a couple of times a month. Wild fish. Organic, free range poultry. Same with eggs. Mostly organic fruits and vegetables, I try to shop with the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 as my guide whenever possible. You get the idea.

So to read this book and learn that I may be spending money, lots of money, on foods that aren’t what they purport to be is upsetting. The Tampa Tribune did that year long investigation into restaurants and how they lie about grass fed and organics and so forth and that was bad enough, but this book takes it even further.

Extra virgin olive oil? Don’t hold your breath, you’ve probably never even tasted it. What is commonly sold in American supermarkets is something that may have started with olive oil, then had other oils like soybean or sunflower oil added to it, which is bad enough, but also has chemical additives. I’ve been buying olive oil from California, which is delicious and even more importantly, is what it professes to be. I used to have to buy it online, but now most supermarkets carry at least one or two varieties, from Walmart to Publix to Fresh Market. I’ve heard that there are some Florida farms that were devastated by the citrus greening that are now experimenting with growing olives for oil, but it will take a few years to see how it works out.

Fish? Unless you’ve caught it yourself, you just have no idea what you’re getting. Red snapper is one of the worst, it’s usually tilapia or tilefish. And shrimp? OMG – Olmsted writes:

In 2007, the FDA banned five kinds of imported shrimp from China; China turned around and routed the banned shrimp through Indonesia, stamped it as originating from there, and suddenly it was back in the US food ­supply.

And that’s not even the worst seafood culprit. Escolar is a fish so toxic that it is outlawed in Japan, but somehow it makes its way to US tables, often as white tuna in sushi restaurants. In fact, Olmsted says the odds of actually getting white tuna in an American sushi restaurant is about 0%.

I could go on and on, and Olmsted does – but he also offers some good news. Big box stores like Costco, BJs, Trader Joe’s and even Walmart are as stringent with their food labeling as the much more expensive Whole Foods. Bison is a cleaner and healthier alternative to beef. If you buy food live – like lobsters – that can’t be faked. Buy coffee beans and grind them yourself at home or the supermarket, at least you know you are getting 100% percent coffee in your bag. Check the label for country of origin when purchasing cheese, and the rinds – Reggiano Parmigiano and Pecorino Romano are stamped on the rind of those cheeses from Italy.

If you care about what you eat, or are a foodie of any kind, this is fascinating and elucidating reading.

For more information, check out Diane Rehm’s interview with Larry Olmsted:

drshow_logo_sm_1285 Foods You Can Trust-And 5 To Avoid, From The Author Of ‘Real Food/Fake Food’ – The Diane Rehm Show

Larry Olmsted titled his book ” Real Food/Fake Food,” instead of “Fake Food/Real Food,” he told us during his July 6 interview on our show, because he’s passionate about high-quality, natural meals – and he wants others to have the same approach, too. “These real foods are so good,” he said.

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8/16 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

REAL FOOD FAKE FOOD by Larry Olmsted. Algonquin Books (July 12, 2016). ISBN: 978-1616204211. 336p.


1,000 FOODS TO EAT BEFORE YOU DIE by Mimi Sheraton

April 10, 2015
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A Food Lover’s Life List

So let me get the food metaphors out of the way by saying this book is yummy – do not read on an empty stomach!

I remember when Mimi Sheraton was the restaurant critic for the New York Times, back in the 1970’s (yes, I am that old!) She is a James Beard award winning journalist and has written about food for more magazines that I can name. Oh, and she’s also written several cookbooks. So what I’m saying is Mimi Sheraton is uniquely qualified to write this book. And it was a joy reading it.

So what’s in this book? Lots. Laura Kiniry of Smithsonian Magazine said it succinctly; “1,000 must-try dishes, restaurants, markets, cultural feasts, and even some relatively universal foods (such as bananas, olive oil, and whipped cream) that transcend regional categorization.” Sit down with this book, a pen and paper (or tablet or computer) and start making your own food bucket list.

Sure, it won’t be easy to get to some of these things. I think all the Chinese dishes are meant to be eaten in the various provinces of China, German food in Germany, and so forth but with many dishes, there are recommended restaurants in major cities like New York as well.

The book is organized more or less geographically, so if you’re an expert on French and Italian, skip over to the chapters on Belgian & Dutch or Scandinavian food or even Jewish food, for example. Lots of recipes are included if you want to try making some magic yourself. And if the recipe isn’t provided, there are usually notes on particular recipes that work. For instance, Candied Citrus Peel, not the dreck you find stuffed in fruitcakes but handmade candied citrus is explained, but then the notes suggest recipes from Chocolates and Confections by Peter Greweling, The Joy of Cooking (2006), The Fannie Farmer Cookbook (13th edition,) and Mimi’s own My Mother’s Kitchen.

The foods range from the simple – Sour Cream, Cape Cod Potato Chips, Oreos! to the sublime – the “great cheeses of Spain”, caviar, truffles. The research is meticulous. I’ve been eating Gefilte Fish my whole life and never knew its history, or even how it’s made. Even though a recipe isn’t provided, the basic steps are, as well as where to buy it – Barney Greengrass in NY, Kenny & Ziggy’s New York Delicatessen in Houston, and where to “dine-in” or mail order it, and finally referrals to recipes in The New York Times Jewish Cookbook, Joan Nathan’s Jewish Holiday Cookbook, and so forth.

This book is to be savored and is a real treat. (Sorry, thought I got the food metaphors out of the way earlier, guess not!) Buy it for your favorite foodie and they will thank you.

4/15 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

1,000 FOODS TO EAT BEFORE YOU DIE by Mimi Sheraton. Pinnacle (March 31, 2015). ISBN: 978-0786034239. 352p.


ROADFOOD by Jane & Michael Stern

July 26, 2014

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The Coast-to-Coast Guide to 900 of the Best Barbecue Joints, Lobster Shacks, Ice Cream Parlors, Highway Diners, and Much, Much More (9th edition)

Long before Guy Fieri hit the road (Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives,) indeed long before there was even a Food Network, Jane and Michael Stern took to the road to find the best places to eat on a coast to coast drive. Their first edition of Roadfood came out in 1978 and was subtitled, “the coast to coast guide to over 400 of america’s great inexpensive regional restaurants all within 10 miles of a major highway.” Their 9th edition of this classic book now includes more than twice that number of restaurants.

The first thing I looked for was Florida restaurants. That’s where I live, and most of my road trips extend to traveling around my state. Sadly, south Florida was seriously under-represented here, but the rest of the state seems pretty well covered.

That said, if I was driving across the country, I would treasure these recommendations. You will not find any chain restaurants here, but rather the best places that locals frequent.

The Sterns include location information, website and phone numbers, a brief history of the restaurant, a short review, suggested menu items, and pricing guidelines. Most restaurants are inexpensive, this is not the book  for the best restaurants in major cities. For instance, the few New York City restaurants recommended include Katz’s Deli (think When Harry Met Sally) and John’s of Bleeker Street (terrific pizza,) not Per Se, Peter Lugers or El Posto.

The book is divided into geographical regions – for instance Florida is in the “Deep South.” Other regions include New England, Mid-Atlantic (New York is here,) Mid-South, Midwest, Southwest, Great Plains and West Coast. The back of the book includes a quick guide, an alphabetical listing of restaurants by region.

Even with the price of gas, people still love road trips. And this is the best book you can take along for the ride.

7/14 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

ROADFOOD by Jane & Michael Stern. Clarkson Potter; 9 edition (March 4, 2014). ISBN 978-0770434526. 640p.


SOUS CHEF by Michael Gibney

June 22, 2014

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24 Hours on the Line

Everyone has eaten in a restaurant but do you have any idea of what’s involved in getting your food to the table? The small glimpses garnered from the Food Network and other cable TV shows merely hint at what is involved. Here, Gibney defines it for us and takes us along on his wild ride.

This is the first book written in second person that I ever loved – and I mean loved it. I read it in one sitting. Dibney takes us through 24 hours in the life of a sous chef, the second in command in a kitchen. In effect he makes the reader a fly on the wall of his kitchen.

The restaurant is nameless, but is described as a neighborhood French restaurant that is upscale for sure, but not the toast of New York City. We meet the crew, from the executive chef, the man in charge, through the line cooks, prep cooks,and even the dishwashers. Front of house staff – the servers, waiters, et al, – are merely on the fringe here. This is a book about cooking.

Everyone here is passionate but not everyone is ambitious, which is probably a good thing. Kitchens can be very competitive, and indeed Gibney describes competitions he has with himself in putting together his mise en place. But it is serving the customer that is at the heart of this kitchen.

The pacing is relentless, the writing superior, and all in all this is just a fascinating read. I loved it.

6/14 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

SOUS CHEF: 24 Hours on the Line by Michael Gibney.Ballantine Books (March 25, 2014). ISBN 978-0804177870. 240p.


FICTITIOUS DISHES by Dinah Fried

May 5, 2014

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An Album of Literature’s Most Memorable Meals

This is a most unusual and intriguing little gem of a book. I would call it a coffee table book, for that is where it belongs in any sort of book-lovers home, but it is small, a mere 6 x 8.4 inches. Nevertheless, it packs a big punch and is sure to be a terrific conversation starter. It was in my house.

Fictitious_Dishes_swannsway_WEB

Fictitious Dishes: Swann’s Way © 2014 Dinah Fried

 

Fried started this project while earning her MFA in graphic design at the Rhode Island School of Design. In her introduction, she talks about how food in books has always been so memorable for her, so she decided to create and photograph some of the most memorable meals in literature.

I loved how she compares eating and reading; both are consumed, both can transport you, or this: “Heavy books and heavy meals both require a period of intense digestion.” There’s more, and it’s funny and illuminating.

But the meat of the book, if you will, are the photos. Each page has a photo of the meal on one side, and the opposing page has information about the book. Fried really excels at parsing literature down to one bite. She includes a quote from the book that inspired the meal, some fun facts about the book or the author or the food, like Hemingway’s favorite drink was the martini, or from The Namesake, that Rice Krispie Treats first appeared a decade after the cereal debuted in 1928. Also included is a book summary, an annotated list of the titles used.

Fictitious_Dishes_themetamorphosis_WEB

Fictitious Dishes: The Metamorphosis © 2014 Dinah Fried

Some are obvious, like the Madeleines from Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way or the bucket of blueberries from Robert McCloskey’s children’s classic, Blueberries for Sal. All are imaginative, whether she is drawing on contemporary literature (The Corrections, Motherless Brooklyn) or a classic (Ulysses, Oliver Twist.) One of the most inspired probably has to be The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. Fried says she collected food and let it rot for weeks to create this photo.

 

There are several children’s books represented as well, like The Secret Garden, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Alice in Wonderland and more.

Fictitious Dishes: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Fictitious Dishes: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland © 2014 Dinah Fried

All told there are fifty books imagined and pictured. I really enjoyed this book – it would make a fine gift for the reader in your life.

5/14 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

FICTITIOUS DISHES by Dinah Fried. Harper Design (April 15, 2014). ISBN 978-0062279835. 128p.


FROM SCRATCH: Inside the Food Network by Allen Salkin

February 19, 2014

As a long time Food Network fan, I couldn’t resist picking up this book. Unfortunately, the first two hundred pages had me putting it down repeatedly. It was just the facts, all the facts in all their statistical glory but I wanted more. I finally got more in the second half of the book.

To be fair, the book wouldn’t have worked if Salkin hadn’t included all the money and machinations that went into creating the Food Network. The parade of presidents, the turnover of corporate suits, and the complete lack of interest in food beyond what sort of profits it could bring in was the story of the first several years of the company. Eventually, the Scripps network came on board, coughed up some real money and things started to change. And so did the book.

The second half was way more interesting and entertaining. Here is where we learned how Bobby Flay, streetwise and smart, worked his way into the corporate culture and why Mario Batali finally left. The Paula Deen story, including the mess she made in 2013, was included, and I would guess the paperback release will include her inevitable comeback. Rachael Ray, Guy Fieri, Robert Irvine, Anne Burrell and the rest have their moments in the sun.

Salkin is a freelance food journalist who has written for the New York Times among other publications, and he didn’t set out to write a sensationalistic type book, but rather a corporate overview of one of cable’s behemoths. He succeeded, and ultimately, I was glad I stayed with it.

2/14 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

FROM SCRATCH: Inside the Food Network by Allen Salkin. Putnam Adult (October 1, 2013). ISBN 978-0399159329. 448p.