January 2, 2017
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A New World of Israeli Baking–Flatbreads, Stuffed Breads, Challahs, Cookies, and the Legendary Chocolate Babka

Raquel Pelzel, contributor

This is an intriguing and unusual cookbook, aimed at the bread baker. If you’ve never baked bread, start with Jim Lahey’s No Knead Bread and leave this cookbook aside for a bit, but if you love baking bread and would like to expand your repertoire, this is an excellent book to turn to. While there is a chapter on Sweets & Cookies, and they are unusual and like the rest of the recipes, clearly laid out and easy to follow for a baker with some skills, the emphasis of the book is on specialty breads.

Scheft opened his first bakery in Israel but is best known in this country for his beloved Manhattan “Breads Bakery” (3 locations,) where people flock for his amazing chocolate babka (and Nutella!) and chocolate rugelach. As the subtitle intimates, Middle Eastern and especially Israeli influences abound. But Scheft also trained in Europe as a pastry chef, so he has some serious skills that he is able to simplify for the home baker.

The chapters:

A Few Classics & New Discoveries
Stuffed Breads
Sweets & Cookies
The Baker’s Pantry
The Baker’s Toolkit

The chapter titled “With…” includes recipes for Hummus, Tahina, Babaghanouj, Kalamata Tapenade, and other savory tapas like dishes. These are used throughout the recipes in this book but can certainly be used on their own. Set a table with a few of these delicacies, and your guests will clamor for more.

The pictures are stunning and really add a lot to the book. Like most serious bakers, Scheft uses metric weight for his recipes, so break out your digital scale and slide it over to grams. Be sure to take a good look at the Baker’s Pantry before attempting these recipes – I bake a lot, and I didn’t have a lot of these things; apricot kernels, bitter almonds, dates, dried chickpeas, nigella, marzipan, labne, etc. Scheft also prefers specific brands like Plugra butter, King Arthur flour, Valrhona or Callebaut chocolate, etc. The Baker’s Toolkit consists mostly of items bakers will tend to have on hand like bench scrapers, digital scale, parchment paper, rolling pins and so forth, but even here there are a couple of unusual items like a kugelhopf pan and couche.

I have to say this is not a cookbook for a new baker or the feint of heart. Many of the recipes are complicated but again, clearly laid out so if you are familiar with baking bread and understand how dough needs to be handled, then you will love this book. The babka recipes alone are worth the price of admission and come two ways, with a Basic Babka Dough and an Advanced Babka Dough, which is a laminated dough. If you’ve never attempted a laminated dough, the pictures are positively inspirational and make the whole process look completely doable.

Scheft offers a basic challah recipe, then takes it further with all sorts of ways to braid and seed it that you have to see to believe, then takes it another step further with a Whole Wheat and Flax Challah, Chocolate and Orange Confit Challah, and next on my list, Sticky Pull-Apart Cinnamon Challah Braid.

If you’ve ever wanted to attempt to make an apple strudel like grandma used to, or hamentaschen or rugelach, then this is your cookbook. I know I will be working my way through it for years to come.

1/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

BREAKING BREADS by Uri Scheft. Artisan (October 18, 2016). ISBN 978-1579656829. 352p.

FOOD52 A NEW WAY TO DINNER by Amanda Hesser & Merrill Stubbs

November 23, 2016
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A Playbook with Recipes & Strategies for the Week Ahead

When I first received this cookbook, it reminded me of Rachael  Ray’s Week in a Day cookbook. It’s for those working moms or anyone who likes to plan their week’s meals ahead, do a bunch of cooking on the weekend and minimal fuss during the week to get dinner on the table. It’s a great concept, and I know people who have been doing this sort of thing religiously for years. I’m not one of them, but I can appreciate the thought behind it.

The book is divided by seasons and by authors, and the chapters reflect that. The chapters are Merrill’s Spring, Amanda’s Spring, Amanda’s Summer, Merrill’s Summer, and so forth. Each chapter has two weekly plans with menus, grocery lists, what needs to be cooked ahead and what needs to be done day of. Lots of substitutions are easily available and tips for saving more time abound. And of course, the recipes.

Looking through it I soon realized that Amanda’s food was more to my aesthetic, but both have interesting ideas. I love that they also suggest leftover lunches that will work with the menus, and tips like how to use up leftover herbs or cheeses make planning even more specific.

Since we are in the fall season, here’s an idea from Merrill’s Fall:

Baked Pasta, Chicken Thighs, Zucchini, Applesauce Cake

That turns into 5 meals and 9 recipes, including Rosy Chicken, Roasted Zucchini with Chile and Mint, Warm Chicken Salad, Boiled POtatoes, Baked Pasta with Sausage Ragu, Baked Sweet Potato with Sausage Ragu, Applesauce Cake with Caramel Icing, Roasted Applesauce, & Apple Fool

And since we are heading into winter, here’s an idea from Amanda’s Winter:

Bolognese, Blood Oranges, Potatoes, Chocolate

That turns into the 5 meals and these recipes – Blood Orange Salad, Avocado and Blood Orange Salad; Luciana’s Porchetta; Bolognese; Oven-Roasted Polenta; Garlicky Greens; Spinach Salad with Pancetta, Wheat Croutons and Egg; Porchetta, Pickled Onion, and Garlicky Greens Sandwich; Chocolate Rosemary Pudding

If you like to plan ahead, this is the cookbook for you. Virgos, I’m talking to you here. One of these ladies is a Virgo, FYI, and I’ll let you figure that out!

11/16 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

FOOD52 A NEW WAY TO DINNER by Amanda Hesser & Merrill Stubbs. Ten Speed Press (October 18, 2016). ISBN 978-0399578007. 288p.

OUTLANDER KITCHEN by Theresa Carle-Sanders

November 22, 2016
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The Official Outlander Companion Cookbook

Diana Gabaldon wrote the forword for this unusual cookbook, thus granting it legitimacy for fans of the books and Starz TV series.  Carle-Sanders has a blog, also called Outlander Kitchen, and contributed a chapter, “The Diet and Cookery of 18th Century Highlanders”, to The Outlandish Companion Volume Two by Diana Gabaldon. So she definitely has some authority here. While most Outlander fans might expect to find a Scottish cookbook, Carle-Sanders explains in the introduction that it is not the case, neither is it historical. She says, “It’s an Outlander cookbook, meaning we have two centuries and several different countries’ cuisines to explore, along with a diverse cast of characters, many of who scream their kitchen inspiration to me from the pages of Diana’s books.” So now you know why there is a chapter on Pizza and Pasta, which frankly, had confused me.

The chapters:

Basic Recipes
Fish and Seafood
Pizza and Pasta
Side Dishes
Breads and Baking
Sweets and Desserts
Drinks and Cocktails
Preserves and Condiments

The first chapter is actually called “My Outlander Kitchen” and is about the pantry: “A time-traveling kitchen requires a versatile pantry…you won’t find a lot of exotic ingredients [here.] So the pantry includes things like butter, oats, oil, salt and pepper, flour, and so forth.

What I love about this book is that all the recipes include a quote from one of the books that inspired that recipe. And all that said, Scottish recipes abound if that is what you coming here for. Pumpkin Seed and Herb Oatcakes, Fergus’s Roasted Tatties, Cherry Bounce, Jocasta’s Auld Country Bannocks, and the ubiquitous Scotch Eggs are all here. But there are French dishes like Conspirators’ Cassoulet and Cheese Savories (Gourgeres,) standard British fare like Shepherd’s Pie, and meatballs and spaghetti and pizza.

There are beautiful photographs throughout. The recipes are clearly laid out and explained, and many have notes at the end to help as well.

A perfect gift for the Outlander fan, or treat yourself.

11/16 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

OUTLANDER KITCHEN by Theresa Carle-Sanders. Delacorte Press; First Edition edition (June 14, 2016). ISBN 978-1101967577. 352p.

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
Cookie Cutters
Food Processor
Mason Jar
Muffin Pan
Plastic Baggie
Plastic Lids
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.

MEAT ON THE SIDE by Nikki Dinki

October 23, 2016
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Delicious Vegetable-Focused Recipes for Every Day

When Nikki Dinki talked about her “meat on the side” food focus on Food Network’s ninth season of Next Food Network Star, I was immediately in her corner. Portions being what they are, and my own attempts at dieting, have definitely revealed a proclivity towards way more of everything than is healthy. One portion size of meat is supposed to be 4 ounces – have you ever seen a 4 ounce steak on a restaurant menu? I haven’t.  Meanwhile, diets all over tell you to amp up your veggie intake.

And so of course when Dinki’s cookbook hit shelves, I had to add it to my collection. Lo and behold, not only are the veggies the “star” but the book also fills a much needed gap in the cookbook world (in my opinion) – recipes that can easily be adapted for various diets. Dinki includes three extras throughout the cookbook: some recipes have a “Make it Meaty” tip, outlining Dinki’s favorite meat addition to the meal; some recipes have a “Family Friendly” tip, because Dinki herself admits to having been a picky eater as a child; and (my favorite) some recipes include a “50/50” tip, or how to make a meaty meal vegetarian and vice versa.

All that aside, Meat on the Side isn’t really a diet cookbook and definitely shouldn’t be viewed that way. Though Dinki does take the time to point out which recipes are under 500 calories, many of them are cheesy and creamy to the extreme (in other words TASTY.).

And the recipes are definitely that – tasty. My first attempt was the “Tomato Tart with Gruyère and Thyme, ” which was not only easy and quite excellent, it allowed me to use up some of the massive amount of tomatoes from my own garden. The same can be said of the “Eggplant Pasta Bake with Fresh Mozzarella and Thyme Bread Crumbs,” which also uses the “Eggplant Sauce.” The sauce was amazing, we used eggplant from our garden, and the pasta bake was hearty and honestly sinfully good. This was also one that included both a “Family Friendly” tip – pointing out the eggplant sauce looks and tastes much like a tomato sauce – and a “Make it Meaty” suggestion for adding Italian sausage to the dish.

And while all of these are things that make this a definite favorite in my cookbook collection, there’s one more detail that I absolutely love: throughout the book, Dinki has included extra table of contents entries by vegetable. So in addition to the regular table of contents: Breakfast and Brunch; Appetizers and Nibblers; Salads; Sandwiches, Tacos and the Like; Pizzas and Flatbreads; Pasta and “Pasta”; Light Meals; and Main Meals, there are extra TOC pages throughout for things like tomatoes, winter greens, mushrooms, cauliflower, etc.

If you can’t tell, I do love this book. My copy is already a mess of notes on recipes I’ve tried and flagged recipes still to try. Definitely a recommended cookbook for anyone looking to incorporate more vegetables into their meals or anyone simply looking for a great collection of new recipes to try.

10/16 Becky LeJeune

MEAT ON THE SIDE by Nikki Dinki. St. Martin’s Griffin (June 7, 2016). ISBN 978-1250067166. 288p.


August 15, 2016
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One glance at this book and I realized it is unlike any other Rachael Ray cookbook. For one thing, it is this shorter, boxier rectangular shape. It will not fit on the bookshelf like her other books but will stick out some, which I kind of like. The second thing I noticed was that there are several recipes – I hope you’re sitting down – that take significantly longer than 30 minutes to prepare. Even for Rachael Ray. Bolognese Sauce takes 2 hours, which is about how long it takes to make Mario Batali’s version.  On the other hand, Marcella Hazan’s recipe takes minimum 4 hours.

I confess Rachael Ray’s thirty minute meals generally take me about an hour. It can take fifteen minutes for me just to gather the right pans, herbs, and ingredients. I tend to like things chopped finer than she does, and I’m just not that quick about things. But I do like a lot of her recipes. So I’m not too concerned about how long it takes to make some of this stuff, as long as it is good. And for the most part, it is.

Having married into a Sicilian family, and grown up in NY, I cook a lot of Italian food. So it is always with some trepidation that I open an Italian cookbook. I’m happy to say Rachael Ray did not disappoint.

The chapters:

Starters, Salads and Small Bites
Pizza, Calzones and Focaccia
Pasta, Gnocci, Polenta and their Sauces
Risotto and Grains
Pork and Lamb
Beef and Veal

Just looking at that list, I knew this was a cookbook I’d want to dive into. Separate chapters on pizza, pasta, and risotto? I’m in for sure. Her One-Hour Dough for pizza is very good, but the Naples Pizza Dough that rises for 2-3 days in the fridge is even better.

This is her most personal cookbook for sure, having grown up in an Italian family. She shares a lot of their recipes, most of which she has tweaked and there is not a better recipe tweaker around. I loved her mashup of Veal Saltimbocca and Marsala, which is something I’ve often done myself. It just works beautifully. She also offers that chicken cutlets can be subbed for the veal, and I’ll add that so can pork cutlets – which is usually what you are getting when you order veal parm and it costs less than $25. But I digress.

Another winning mashup is her Penne alla Vodka with Prosciutto and Peas, which is fantastic. Anytime I can add prosciutto to something I’m happy, and the peas are a sweet bonus.

Ray offers tips, variations and substitutions throughout the book, which I think is one of her hallmarks. She makes every recipe seem accessible to cooks at any level.

The Gorgonzola Sauce is a snap for a quick after work dinner, everything gets zapped in the food processor then simmers on the stove while the pasta cooks. I tried this with spiralized zucchini and it was awesome. On the other hand, I wasn’t a fan of the Marinara Sauce, it had fennel in it which to me, makes it something other than marinara. Same with the Pomodoro Sauce, she adds chicken stock which is just weird to me.

The Cioppino, AKA Christmas Eve dinner, is a wonder and takes a bit of work, as it should. Chicken Piccata with Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus, well, you know how I feel about prosciutto and it certainly works here.

Desserts are probably the weakest chapter, but as Ray herself proclaims, she is not a baker. Nonetheless, there are some very good recipes here for classic Italian desserts like Sesame Cookies, Zeppole and Ricotta Cheesecake.

Finally, cocktails. She had me at the Creamsicle. You know what it is, just boozed up. I subbed some orange soda for the phosphate, wouldn’t know where to get that. As Ray would say, Delish!

8/16 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

EVERYONE IS ITALIAN ON SUNDAY by Rachael Ray. Atria Books (October 27, 2015). ISBN 978-1476766072. 408p.