Book Review: Sweet by the Editors of Food Network Magazine

9780804137683Disclosure: This book was provided free of charge by Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Anyone who bakes as a hobby or professionally knows that baking is an exact science. No ifs, ands, or buts. If you add too little, too much, or subtract ingredients here and there, the outcome of your recipe will be completely different.

As a way to ease the fears of those new to baking and desserts, the editors of Food Network Magazine and the chefs of the Food Network Kitchens came together to create a cookbook which brings simplicity to baking. Visually appealing desserts, uncomplicated techniques, and simple ingredients are the building blocks of Secret: Our Best Cupcakes, Cookies, Candy and More.

If you’re an addict of amazing food photography, then you will be completely smitten by the pictures the way I am. I wanted to make everything I saw because it appealed to every reason why I love making desserts.

Not only are the desserts simple to make, they are also desserts you can make throughout the week. The best thing about this book is there is a chapter for every baker which are accompanied with picture tutorials. I like baking any and everything so I utilized every chapter.

For the past week I have had a strong desire to make a pineapple upside-down cake–both from scratch and a box mix. As I was flipping through Sweet trying to find my first recipe to make, I came across a recipe called Grilled Pineapple Upside-Down cake. It was the best shortcut, no fuss recipe I have made thus far. All I needed was pound cake from my local grocery store, brown sugar, butter, maraschino cherries, pineapple rings, and aluminum foil. Grill for 12 minutes. The recipe also works well in an oven.

If you’re a Food Network Magazine reader, you will be equally pleased, if not more, with Sweet: Our Best Cupcakes, Cookies, Candy and More. If you’ve never picked up a copy of their magazine but enjoy the network, you will be just as pleased.


Book Review: The VB6 Cookbook by Mark Bittman

9780385344821Disclosure: This book was provided free of charge by Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Mark Bittman is one of my favorite cookbook authors, so I’m really glad to have had the opportunity to review The VB6 cookbook.

If you’re unfamiliar with VB6 (vegan before 6), it is a dietary solution Bittman came up with after being diagnosed as a pre-diabetic. He lives a vegan lifestyle until six in the evening, and after six he allows himself to indulge in his guilty food pleasures–in moderation of course.

The VB6 cookbook is the follow-up to Bittman’s VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health For Good. It consists of 350 vegan recipes which are flexible for those new to a vegan lifestyle. A great example of this is his steak su poivre with mushrooms recipe. It was an easy recipe to prepare and perfect for someone like me because I like the healthiness of the vegetables in the recipe, however, the carnivore in me appreciated the steak as well.

If you’ve ever read a cookbook written by Bittman, you will quickly see his passion for food and cooking, and that he is extremely passionate teacher on the subject. Before you get to the recipes, Bittman makes sure you are knowledgeable in cooking techniques and ingredients, and this book is no different. If you’re not familiar with the vegan diet, like I was, you will know the proper foods and dietary restrictions before you reach the first recipe chapter.

The recipes in this book covers every category from breakfast to dinner to dessert, and are relatively easy to make; however, if you lack a decent supply of spices and vegetables, you will find yourself making frequent trips to the grocery store.

Because Bittman’s cookbooks have such beautiful photography and picture tutorials, which is why I wish I would have seen more of them in this book. However, the quality of pictures are still on a level of perfection on Bittman can achieve.

The great thing about The VB6 cookbook is that it takes away every stereotype about the vegan diet. You can make a dish of nothing but vegetables and still have it come out as a 5 star steak dinner. This book is great for both vegans and non-vegans alike.



Book Review: Extra Virgin

9780385346054Disclosure: This book was provided free of charge by Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Reading Extra Virgin by Gabriele Corcos and Debi Mazar reminded me why I fell in love with Italian cuisine. The homemade feeling I get when an Italian dish hits the table because I know how much love, effort, and time was spent on making it. The old world feeling that fills the room because so much history and culture is infused into every dish, and if you’re really lucky, you may hear some really great stories. The staple and fresh ingredients used because it’s not really an Italian dish if it’s not made from scratch or capers, olive oil, or squid isn’t used somewhere.

From my reading, I learned the recipes in Extra Virgin are not the sole driving force of the book–even though the recipes are very good and authentic to Italian cuisine. The love between Debi Mazar and Gabriele Corcos is the foundation of this book, and it puts an entirely different spin on what it means to cook. Their love for one another, especially in the kitchen, shows you don’t have to slave over a five course meal in order for someone to really appreciate your selfless act, and how that person’s response can sometimes feel you up more than the plate of food sitting in front of you.

The food photography in this book is amazing! There is something about Italian dishes that transport me to Italy, even though I have not made my first trip. I swear I plan on traveling to Italy within the next three years. There is just something so rustic and homemade about the photographed food that it commands you to try a recipe or two.

The great thing about this book is that you really are learning the basics of Italian cuisine, and the recipes are a reflection of that. You learn to make pasta from scratch as well as their companion sauces, and there are a few visual teaching moments such as bread making. If you want a little taste of Italy in your home, I recommend getting a copy of Extra Virgin. You may just discover your love for Italian cuisine, too.

Book Review: Treat Yourself by Jennifer Steinhauer

9780385345200Disclosure: This book was provided free of charge by Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Treat Yourself by Jennifer Steinhauer is one of those baking books that reminds you what was great about being a kid: junk food favorites. Not only does Steinhauer share her most beloved snacks as a kid, she also teaches you how to prepare them.

The introduction gives you the gensis of how the author’s love for snacks and the initial concept for this book. The book, in her words, is not about emulating famous name brand snacks, but how to successfully make them as your own; by developing her own recipes, Steinhauer does just that.

With this book, I was able to walk down memory lane of my favorite childhood snacks, and some of which, to my dismay for quite some time, are no longer in production. I was able to make my own frosted oatmeal cookies which are practically on their last legs on store shelves, as well as my favorite oatmeal pies. For those who lack the heart for sweets, there are plenty of savory recipes included balancing the book out nicely.

If you like a little history about your food, you’ll enjoy the introductions to all the chapters, and the anecdotes above each recipe are a must-read. The recipes are especially made for the home baker: they are easy to read and follow, and the ingredients can be found in any grocery store including Wal-Mart.

My one piece of advice for buying this book is to buy it for both the recipes and nostalgia it brings. I can’t even tell you how long my mom and I reminisced over all our favorite snacks from when we were kids until now, and how our tastebuds remain trapped in our childhoods.



Book Review: The Big-Flavor Grill

9781607745273Disclosure: This book was provided free of charge by Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

The Big-Flavor Grill: No-marinade, No-hassle recipes is all about two things: Big flavors and simple cooking.

Grilling is one of those cooking techniques that is taken head on by dare-devil cooks and masters, while the timid seem to walk the tight rope of fear and lack of skills. However, grilling masters Chris Schlesinger and John “Doc” Willoughby skillfully prepare cooks, and non-cooks, to successfully tackle grilling with straightforward information and simple recipes.

The introduction is the most important part of the book, and by not reading it, you’re pretty much guaranteed to burn down your house. You learn why rubs are the best for infusing flavor to your meats, and how grilling is a worldwide practice. How few gadgets you need, how to set a proper fire, and techniques to help your food cook the best.

The best thing about The Big-Flavor Grill is that no food category is left unmentioned. Everything from meats to seafood to drinks are covered, and at the beginning of each chapter is a brief overview of the ingredient you’ll be using which I found to be beneficial for beginners like myself.

The layout is probably one of the best I’ve seen for a cookbook. It’s setup almost like a blog: easy to read and not congested with a lot of fillers just to take up space. The food photography is amazing because it visually puts you in the world of grilling, and it excites every sense making you even more eager to grill.

The recipes are great for any skill level cook, but they are best for beginners because they are simple and extremely short. The thing I love the most about the recipes is how simple the ingredients are. They can be found in any cook’s pantry–even those that don’t cook, and the directions are even shorter.

My favorite recipe to prepare was the grilled corn with basil and parmesan. I’ll admit while my corn on the cob is edible, it can be bland sometimes, and adding the parmesan with the basil, salt and pepper made it bold but in a simplistic way. Very few ingredients and easily prepared any day of the week.

If you’re a cook looking to expand your skills to grilling, then I highly suggest you pick up a copy of The Big-Flavor Grill.

Book Review: Unlucky 13 by James Patterson

Disclosure: Unlucky 13 is part of the Women’s Murder Club series, and I highly recommend you read the previous books in the series.

The day was an ordinary day for detective Lindsay Boxer and her partner Richie Conklin, until she receives a phone call from her closet friend, and San Francisco Chief Medical Examiner, Claire Washburn. There has been an one car accident, and Washburn wants Boxer’s second opinion on the scene.

Once on scene, Boxer is shocked by what she is staring at inside the mangled jeep: two dead bodies, one male and one female, whose insides were literally blown inside out. Because of the possible use of bombs, the FBI is called in to investigate whether or not it’s a terrorist act.

As Boxer and Conklin investigate the bridge homicide, they learn the victims were local college students and had no enemies. Until, Boxer goes to the M.E’s office and discovers a magnesium compound was ingested by the victims causing them to explode. This new clue sends Boxer and her partner to a local food chain, Chuck’s.

As Boxer goes deeper into her investigation, she learns the customers of Chuck’s are being targeted with belly bombs, and that the bomber still has unfinished business.

Along with all the craziness of a bomber running around, Boxer also has to worry about Mackenzie Morales being on the loose. Mackenzie Morales is a psychopath and former lover of Randy Fish, a serial killer who was obsessed with Lindsay, who later dies. Bent on revenge, Morales has her sights on Lindsay and travels to San Francisco to make sure her revenge is carried out.

Even though I was a little lost with the history of the characters, which is why I suggested reading the previous books first, I still could not put the book down. The plot had depth and I couldn’t turn the page fast enough trying to discover who the bomber was, and just how crazy Mackenzie Morales was. Another classic penned by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro; I guarantee you will not be disappointed!

Book Review: Kissed By An Angel by Elizabeth Chandler

untitledKissed By An Angel by Elizabeth Chandler is the first book in the Kissed By An Angel trilogy. It is a young adult novel filled with  love, loss, friendship, family, and the supernatural.

I first experienced this book as a freshman in college, but I was unable to finish it and ended up returning the book to the library. So when I discovered my library had copies of this book I thought it was  my second chance to finish reading a love story I’ve been obsessed with for years.

The story revolves around two main characters: Tristan Carruthers and Ivy Lyons. Tristan is the all-american high school guy that girls are
in love with. He’s athletic, book smart, a great friend as well as
good looking. From the moment Ivy transferred to his school in the
spring he had been madly in love with her, except the only problem was
she didn’t know. Ivy is a girl who walks to the beat of her own drum
and she doesn’t let the popularity and money that runs her new school
disrupt that. She is completely clueless to the fact that Tristan is
head over heels in love with her, and that’s mainly because she is so
distracted with the upcoming wedding of her mom who was actually the
mistress of her future husband, Andrew, and his son Gregory is not
really pleased to be gaining another family.

Ivy’s friends, Suzanne and Beth, try to convince her that Tristan is
in love with her, but all she can see is a jock that she’ll never be
interested in. Although Tristan and Ivy have had encounters in the
past, they never really had a successful one until Tristan and his
friend Gary decide to work as waiters at the wedding reception to earn
money for an upcoming swim competition. Tristan ends up proving how
horrible of a waiter he is and ends up being fired. He spends the rest
of the night in a closet adjacent to the kitchen when a little boy
decides to hide out, too. The boy is Phillip who just happens to be
Ivy’s little brother. While trying to keep Phillip entertained,
Tristan puts food in his nose, teeth, ears when Ivy walks into the
room and is shocked by what she sees, and Tristan is horrified because
he thinks Ivy will never like him after his display of immaturity.

When Ivy’s parents return from their honeymoon they notice the
furniture has been torn to shreds, and thus believe Ivy’s cat is
responsible. They come to the conclusion Ivy has to give away the cat,
so she posts ads about the cat only to receive a call from Tristan
saying he wants to take the cat. Ivy delivers the cat to Tristan’s
home when he learns Ivy is afraid of water and offers to give her
lessons. During one of their swimming sessions Tristan sees Ivy in the
deep part of the pool under the water, so he dives in thinking she was
in trouble. He learns that Ivy wasn’t in trouble and was actually
diving for a penny to show him that she could swim. He tries to storm
off telling her that he’ll never be her hero, and the light bulb goes
off for Ivy and they share their first kiss.

On a winding road to dinner, Tristan notices something is wrong with
the brakes and he can’t slow down. As Ivy is telling him to stop the
car, it accelerates even more and they end up in an accident in which
Tristan dies. Tristan doesn’t realize he is dead until he sees his
father standing over his body crying. Tristan decides he has to go to
Ivy and try to make it clear to her that he loved her. After Tristan’s
death, everything takes a left turn when Gregory’s mother kills
herself. Tristan soon discovers he has to keep Ivy safe from the
person who killed Gregory’s mother.

I loved this book from start to finish, and I finished it within a day
because I was so engulfed in the story that I couldn’t put it down.
The book switches from Ivy and Tristan’s point of view, so as the
reader I was able to experience the lives and love for each other
through each person’s point of view. Tristan had a love for Ivy that
most people wish they had regardless of what age it happens, and it
was so real for me because I have loved like that so I was able to
relate to his character, and I was also able to relate to Ivy because
she was so oblivious to the fact Tristan was in love with her. Then
she had to deal with his sudden death and weather or not he knew she
loved him, too.

With so many romance novels injecting love scenes, I was glad the
author was able to create true and intimate love without the physical.
The imagery of the scenes with Tristan and Ivy immediately thrusts you
into their world and you are being surrounded by their love and
drowning in it without wanting to come up for air.

The book really gets good when it turns out that Gregory’s mother
didn’t kill herself but was murdered, and the killer thinks Ivy saw
him and tries to go after her on many occasions. Since Tristan can’t
help her as an angel, he decides to enter the minds of her friends
Beth and Will to help protect her. Will and Beth end up being
important players in the story.

Book Review: Thrive by Arianna Huffington

9780804140843Disclosure: This book was provided free of charge by Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Just how far are you willing to go to achieve success? Painting a vivid picture of herself lying in a pool of her own blood after collapsing from exhaustion, this is just one of many questions Arianna Huffington had to ask herself.

Thrive: The third metric of redefining and creating a life of well-being, wisdom, and wonder is about not conforming to society’s ideology that money and power are the true measures of success. Armed with experiences, tips, and published scientific studies, Arianna Huffington challenges you to define what success means to you.

In Arianna’s quest to define what success means to her, she realized success isn’t complete with just money and power alone–it requires the Third Metric: Well-being, wisdom, wonder, and giving.

The Third Metric is all about self-care. Throughout the book, there are numerous examples of how in order to be successful, we tend to neglect ourselves and our relationships by being stressed and overworked. The Third Metric challenges that idea by saying you can find that balance of success and a happy life if we take care of ourselves–body, mind, and soul–and discover our values and what is important to us and start living our lives accordingly.

The two most significant things I took away from the book is that working myself into the ground does not help me be more productive, and it hinders my health if anything. The effects of the research and studies about how work related stress and burnout have serious consequences to your health–some even deadly–were mind-blowing because we’re so caught in status aspect of success that we don’t even consider the damage we’re doing to ourselves and our relationships. Thus, setting ourselves up for material rewards and accolades, but bankrupting our values and the really important things that humans value and need that no price tag can ever match.

I must admit while watching Arianna Huffington on her tour, I assumed from some of her conversations the book was an autobiography. However, I was just as pleased with what I read, and loved the tips included at the end of each chapter which are to help implement the Third Metric.