America’s Best Breakfasts

9780553447217With the publication of America’s Best Breakfasts, I can now consider myself a breakfast junkie and fanatic. I grew up with the notion that breakfast can be consumed anytime of the day, and some of my best dinners consisted of an egg or French toast casserole, or what I recently discovered—the strata. Other than Ramen noodles, my college diet consisted of breakfast items. An article written about the Horseshoe sandwich by Jane and Michael Stern reinforced my desire to explore the world of early morning eating even more.

If I could have a culinary travel experience, my choice of dining would be breakfast. Breakfast is one of those universal meals that is highly neglected, and yet so rich in diversity, creativity, and flavor; America’s Best Breakfast brings all those things together by creating a breakfast menu from restaurants all over the country to be recreated at home.

I’m a southern chick, so I appreciate a classic southern breakfast recipe; however, it was nice to learn what other people’s ideas of breakfast is as well as the many spins on traditional breakfast dishes. A lot of the recipes I was able to recreate at home with no problems because I already prepare them now, the only difference was maybe a substitution here or there. My favorite to prepare was the Oeufs En Meurette, a Swedish dish. It was sort of a hybrid of breakfast and lunch/dinner, but my goodness was it good. I literally had to hide a plate from my family otherwise I would not have gotten seconds. The recipe includes a sauce which made me nervous because me and sauce do not work well together—to this day, I still have problems making hollandaise sauce whether it’s on the stove or a blender—but the step-by-step instructions helped me feel more comfortable making it, but not by much. Sauces hate me.

I liked the combination of traditional breakfast dishes and nontraditional dishes because I think, like with mixology, breakfast is one of the cuisines you have total freedom of creativity; the creativity with some of the dishes in America’s Best Breakfasts has definitely left its mark on me and my kitchen.

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Around The Fire

9781607747529With an unusual chill in the air for Florida in the month of April, I have eagerly been anticipating the start of barbecue season. Anxiously waiting to put my newly improved barbecue skills to test—or at least hang around a nice, warm fire to escape the chill in the air.

I found Around the Fire to be one of the more sophisticated grilling books I have read thus far despite the straightforward and family oriented recipes. The recipes in Around the Fire are composed of various cuisines from places authors Greg and Gabrielle Denton have visited which produces different flavor profiles for each dish, but the same essence of what a good barbecue is.

Expert grilling skills are not required for recreating the recipes in your own backyard, or kitchen for that matter, however, I would suggest to anyone who picks up this book to at least have basic knowledge of grilling techniques, equipment, and supplies because it will make following along with the recipes a lot easier on yourself and more edible for your family and friends. The book briefly touches on grilling techniques and equipment in the beginning, but I found it to be extremely helpful with prepping and cooking when I was confident with my knowledge of grilling.

Because you are grilling there will be some prep time and patience involved with the cooking process, but the best thing about this book is that the recipes can be recreated on an old-fashioned grill outside, or in the kitchen with a stovetop grill; the only difference is you will not get that smoke flavor that tends to run through barbecue food.

I loved the diversity of Around the Fire when it came to the recipes because it covered everything from starter courses to desserts and cocktails. The only thing I wish I could change about the book is the cocktails section. I wish there were more non-alcoholic and alcoholic drink recipes available because at the end of the day it is a barbecue which tends to bring different age groups together, and I think the drink recipes could have reflected that more.

Koreatown by Deuki Hong and Matt Rodbard

9780804186131Koreatown is unlike any other Asian cookbook because it is composed of experiences of both the authors and those who frequently indulge in Korean food. Chef Deuki and Matt wanted to give the Korean food enthusiasts and the home cooks a look inside the Korean culture, what exactly makes Korean food so darn addictive, and how to prepare authentic Korean dishes at home.

Koreatown has by far been my favorite cookbook to read because not only does it effectively teach you how to make Korean dishes at home, but it shines a light on Korean culture. I loved reading the headnotes because I got to understand the history and the origins of the recipe—like bedtime stories, but for the appetite instead of sleep. Although informative, the headnotes were really personal which made it easier for me to connect to cuisine and culture even more, and made it easier for me to tackle the dishes in my kitchen even though I had to chase down a few ingredients unbeknownst to me.

Some of the recipes were easier to prepare than others due to lengthy lists of ingredients, however, when I sat down to try some of the recipes I made, I truly understood the necessity for the ingredients and how the complemented each other. Toasted rice ice cream is a must to make first because it is so simple to make, and no eggs and heat are required. It’s really quick and a new favorite treat of mine; and even if you don’t want to recreate the recipes from this book at home, the pictures alone are worth your time.

Food Network’s The Best and Lightest

9780804185349We are two weeks into the New Year which means subscriptions to diet programs and gym memberships are probably through the roof. I always hated the terms “diet” and “healthy” and “clean” eating because they all sound so restrictive. As if I am reduced to bread and water, and I probably wouldn’t even be able to have the bread due to some no carb diet plan. However, I was really interested in Katherine Alford and Claudia Sidoti would come up with in their latest Food Network book, The Best and Lightest.

The Best and Lightest is not your usual healthy eating cookbook. There are 150 hearty and fulfilling healthy recipes catering to the top three healthiest diets: Vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free. Although there the majority of the book is dedicated to vegans and vegetarians, there are a couple of sections that are dedicated to meat lovers such as myself. All are easy to prepare with the majority of the ingredients found in your home pantry which is why I love cooking from Food Network’s books—the simplicity of their recipes.

Above each recipe is a key or notification letting you know which recipes are vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free; each recipe is also accompanied by a photo of the finished dish which is another reason I love Food Network’s books. One of the things I like most about the recipes is that they are not heavy and can be modified if you want to add some form of meat. I highly recommend trying the steak and hummus sandwiches and the potato leek soup with bacon.

Slow Fires by Justin Smillie

9780804186230I am one of those cooks who hates sitting around and waiting for summer to come to gather up family and friends for a nice outdoor barbecue. I recently read The Barbecue Bible which explained a variety of cooking appliances that can be used indoors for stovetop barbecuing which is where my fascination for Slow Fires was born.

Slow Fires is a cookbook loaded with recipes to barbecue a variety of ingredients with various cooking techniques. If you are a beginner pit master, then you may find this book to be a little challenging because some of the ingredients listed tend to be quite long, and if you are new to cooking, I always recommend sticking to five ingredients of less.

The food photography is so rustic in this book which I think is due to the matte finish of the pages which made dive deeper into reading it. Author Justin Smillie makes reading the recipes as straightforward as possible despite feeling as if you are holding a textbook at The Culinary Institute of America, which are not difficult to consume but can be overwhelming when you when first start reading and applying the information.

Chef Smillie takes you on one of the best cooking journeys you will probably take in your life, all while using the simplest of cooking techniques that you learn when you first start learning how to cook. The only difference with this cookbook is that he pushes the boundaries of what you think you can and cannot slow cook. This book opened up a world of ingredients in which I can create the perfect slow fire meal.

Donabe: Classic and Modern Japanese Clay Pot Cooking

9781607746997One of the things I love about Asian cooking is that no matter how many recipes, ingredients, and cooking techniques there are, there is still always something new to learn. When I chose to receive my new Japanese cookbook, I had no idea what Donabe was; in fact, I thought it was a Japanese cuisine I had never heard of, until co-authors Naoko Takei Moore and Kyle Connaughton taught me otherwise.

Donabe is a Japanese traditional clay pot cookware that is used for just about every cooking method there is. The donabe can be used in both homes and restaurants, and it is similar to the crockpot in America. One of the things I found fascinating about the history of the donabe is that its main purpose is to bring family together through the sharing of a one pot meal. I thought it was interesting how ingrained the donabe is in the Japanese family structure, and that it isn’t necessarily holiday driven as an excuse to get family together. Moore and Connaughton do an amazing job of illustrating how the donabe is created through the use of their beautiful photography. The only thing that would make me hesitant to use a donabe myself is the fact that it must be used on a gas stove top. I do not like gas stove tops because I am accident prone and that is a 911 emergency waiting to happen. However, I could see myself using a donabe on a grill.

The theme of Donabe: Classic and Modern Japanese Clap Pot Cooking is about tradition, Japanese tradition to be exact, and I was glad to see the book was loaded with traditional Japanese recipes. I had a hard time pronouncing some of the Japanese ingredients and comprehending them on my own, but the co-authors did a wonderful job putting notes at the top of the recipes for how to pronounce the word, what the ingredient is and what it is used for. Although most grocery stores are good about maintaining an ethnic aisle, I discovered in order to get the traditional Japanese ingredients needed for some of the recipes I would have to visit a few Asian markets and thank goodness my city has quite a few.

My favorite recipes were the drunken steam-fried drummettes in shochu sauce, salmon chowder with miso soy-milk broth, and all of the shrimp recipes. I really liked the green tea shrimp because I never knew you could use tea leaves in dishes and have it come out so well. I am so traditional with my tea meaning I drink it, but now I think I will experiment with tea leaves in other dishes and see how they turn out.

Donabe: Classic and Modern Japanese Clay Pot Cooking is definitely a cookbook that couples rich Japanese history with traditional Japanese recipes.

5 in 5 for Every Season by Michael Symon

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Chef Symon is by far my favorite chef! I have followed his career ever since he competed and won Food Network’s “The Next Iron Chef.” He later went on to be quite successful as a chef on Food Network, and later branched out to be a co-host of “The Chew” on ABC. He is so lighthearted in the kitchen and passionate about cooking that it is both contagious and infectious. 5 in 5 for Every Season is the sequel to 5 in 5 which is based on the idea of having a home cooked on table in five minutes.

When I first began reading the book, my main question was how can you have a meal cooked from scratch on the table within five minutes when you have to consider cooking times for poultry or beef, or root vegetables? The answer I received from Chef Symon was simple: Choose fresh ingredients that can be cooked within five minutes. I consider myself to have a well-stocked pantry, however, I do have both a deep freezer and top freezer loaded with frozen meats, vegetables, and fruits. So I would have to break the “fresh” rule half of the time by thawing what I had and buying the rest fresh.

5 in 5 for Every Season is broken into five seasons: Spring, summer, fall, winter, and holidays. Each season consists of at least 28 recipes or more based on the ingredients of that season, which Symon gives you a list just before each chapter so you can review and become familiar with the recipes and ingredients. If you think you are going to read novel headnotes, then think again. All the headnotes are both informative and entertaining in a one paragraph format which makes it easier to be engaged with the recipes, without the tangent some cookbook authors tend to go on, and the recipes are as equally short.

As promised, the recipes are composed of five ingredients, but they are hearty and leaves you craving a second helping. Although Michael Symon does come from an Italian heritage, he manages not to overload the home cook with a lot of pasta dishes, but he does incorporates a few. My favorite recipe, and I do have a lot of them, is the Autumn Panzanella which can be served as either a side or an appetizer. I love salads and I am always looking for new ways to create them and I was glad that it was included in this book. Although the Autumn Panzanella is a Tuscan bread salad, it was similar to the Asian slaw with the extra crunch from the baguette. It was the perfect combination of flavors, and I ended up making it a one person salad.

Visually the book is appealing and has a lot of quick, great recipes for any home cook to work with. Although the book is based on the idea of a home cooked meal on the table in five minutes, it does not skimp out on quality, fresh ingredients which is the foundation of the book and the recipes.

Martha Stewart’s Appetizers

9780307954626Martha Stewart’s Appetizers is a revision of her original appetizers book, Hors d’ Oeuvres. It consists of over 200 appetizer recipes that covers everything from starters to small plates to drinks. I was a fan of the original appetizers book, and I am loving this one just the same.

When it comes to preparing foods for parties I host in my home, appetizers are my favorite to prepare. They are mood makers when it comes to serving full course meals, the can be icebreakers for guests, especially when a lot of them do not know each other, they can be the meal themselves, and overall they are so easy to make.

One of the great things about this book is that it provides variety which is what I try to strive for when making appetizers. I always try to create a variety of appetizers to appeal to everyone without isolating anyone such as vegans or vegetarians. There are recipes for different types of nuts from savory to sweet, side dishes such as potato bites and beans are included, and bite size main courses such as hand pies. The drinks chapter was only okay for me because they are recipes I can find in any bartending book. I was hoping there would be some mixology creativity because I have been inspired by Tipsy Bartender to step up my drink making game.

Throughout Martha Stewart’s Appetizers, it stays true to the idea of appetizers: bold flavors with minimum effort. All the recipes are easy to make and quick on time. They can be made ahead of time and some can be either refrigerated or frozen until serving time. A lot of the recipes I was already familiar with, but I did find a couple of new ones to make.

Happy Cooking by Giada De Laurentiis

9780804187923Giada De Laurentiis is one of my favorite chefs on Food Network because her cooking embodies the feeling of home and welcoming. I have been wanting to purchase her cookbooks, however, the opportunity to do so has always passed me by until I had the opportunity to review Happy Cooking for free.

Happy Cooking is essentially a healthy—or clean eating—cookbook which presents a lot of healthy recipes without the loss of flavor. The recipes are mainly built on ingredients that provide nutritious benefits as well as make you full longer. The thing I love about this cookbook is that all the recipes—even though they are considered healthy—are actually appetizing and worth serving to my family as well as dinner guest. Another pro to this book is that the recipes can be used all year long, instead of just during the summer or the fall which tends to be the two most popular cooking seasons.

One of the things I love best about this book are the beautiful illustrations. I am definitely someone who eats with their eyes, and overall I just love recreating recipes from cookbooks that have pictures for each recipe just because I want to make sure the finished product is made correctly. The food photography alone are enough to make you want to go out and purchase yourself a copy.

Another great thing about this book is that even though the book sticks to the healthy theme, Giada makes sure to get you a lot of food choices outside the typical vegetables and salads that are usually accompanied with the term clean eating. For example, she has an amazing chicken and roasted potatoes with leeks recipe that is full of flavor, but made with simple, fresh ingredients and low sodium broth. So don’t be fooled by the term healthy because there are plenty of hearty recipes in the book, just made with better nutritious ingredients.

I am so glad I was able to get a copy because of this book because it has become my November cooking project. Hopefully I can master Giada’s recipes while creating and reinventing a few of my own.

Kitchen Matrix by Mark Bittman

9780804188012Mark Bittman, in my opinion, is the Godfather of cookbooks. I was so excited to see he had a new cookbook because he’s a great teacher to learn from, his recipes are simple, easy, and foolproof, and he brings out the joy in me as a home cook.

Kitchen Matrix is the basic blueprint for cooks to expand upon basic recipes they have mastered. Within the 304 pages there are over 700 recipes based on basic recipes that are mixed in a variety of ways so that you can get more out of one dish. For example, Bittman illustrates 12 ways to use tomatoes in a dish ranging from appetizers such as tomatoes, ricotta cheese, and mint, to fancy tomato soups as the main course. All in which are made with simple, fresh ingredients.

Bittman is a great storyteller which is why I am always enveloped in his headnotes for recipes. I am obsessed with reading the headnotes as much as I am making the recipes because I know there will be a great story from which the recipe originated, and it gives me inspiration for my own recipe development.

The recipes in the Kitchen Matrix covers the usual categories: Drinks, appetizers, soups, sandwiches, meat, vegetables, etc. No dish is left unturned, and Bittman provides you with plenty of options to put a spin on any classic dish.

I enjoyed all the recipes, even those ones where I was unfamiliar with the ingredient. The majority of the recipes are 30 minutes or less to prepare, while there are some they may take up to 1 hour to prepare. The ingredients used in the book are readily available in your home pantry or at your local grocery store.

Overall, I highly recommend buying a copy of Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Matrix. It’s great for mastering basic dishes as well as inspiration for future dishes.