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.

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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.

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.

The Great Big Pressure Cooker Book

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Disclaimer: This book was given to me courtesy of Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

I never realized what an asset I had in my pressure cooker until my mom made this mean chicken, onions, and potato stew. Because it was so good, I decided to replicate the recipe by serving the stew either over rice or mashed potatoes. That point is—I have been obsessed with my pressure cooker ever since.

What makes the pressure cooker such a vital component in the kitchen is that I can throw together a bunch of ingredients and let them slow cook in their own flavors for hours without the constant need to keep a careful watch over it. I have not had much experience with pressure cooking outside of my mom’s chicken stew recipe which is why I decided to enlist the help of co-authors Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough of The Great Big Pressure Cooker Book. Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough are masters with a pressure cooker, and they have been nominated for a James Beard award which means they know what they are doing in the kitchen and have been recognized as such.

The Great Big Pressure Cooker Book is compiled of 500 recipes that can be used by both novice and expert cooks alike. The introduction is very informative consisting of tips on how to use your pressure cooker and troubleshooting tips. Although most people think pressure cookers are solely for stews and rice, the authors debunk that myth by breaking the book down to the following categories: Breakfast, soups, meat, poultry, fish and shellfish, vegetables, beans, and grains, and desserts.

All of the recipes are really easy to follow, and consist of a basic ingredient list which is always nice for those of us who are either new to cooking or are too tired to slave over the stove. Each chapter has a nice quantity of recipes and are both simple and creative enough to make you challenge your own ability to put together unique flavors. My favorite part of the book is the desserts. I have heard of people making cakes and things of the like in a pressure cooker, but I never really tried it until I received this book. Recently, I just started learning how to make the pineapple upside-down cake. I am still working on my timing to where the entire cake is finished to my liking because I noticed that it takes a little longer to bake compared to the suggested time table. The foil sling was a bit of a challenge for me so I had to enlist the help of my mom, but other than that the cake came out perfect: It was evenly cooked and had a nice, even brown finish to it.

If you’re someone who is looking to start using their pressure cooker then I would highly suggest purchasing this book. The recipes are fantastic and are quick and easy to assemble; all you have to do is just relax until the time goes off. Also, it’s a book you can use all year long, and not just during the fall and winter seasons.

Sherry by Talia Baiocchi

Disclosure: I received this book for free from Blogging for books in exchange for an honest opinion. All opinions are my own.

I have a love-hate relationship with red wines, and being a novice to wine is what drew me Sherry. It’s a word that floats off the mouths of foodies and wino, and I wanted a greater understanding of the history of this wine, and how to be more knowledgeable when deciding how to drink and pair such a versatile red wine.

Sherry–once considered the world’s great wines–is produced in Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlucar de Barrameda, and El Puerto de Santa Maria aka The Sherry Triangle. Due to the various production techniques as well as the land and climate, some of the best sweet and dry wines are born in The Sherry Triangle.

There are three types of Sherries: Dry, sweet, and sweetened. In basic terms, a dry wine is an unsweet wine. Manzanillo and fino, amontillado, pal cortado, and oloroso make up the dry category.  Oloroso, however, is the only wine that does not undergo flor (the layer if yeast that sits on top of wine during production, giving the wine its flavor.

The sweet category includes Pedro ximenez and Moscatel. These wines are naturally sweet unlike sweetened sherries which consist of a lot of rich cream flavors.

Sherry has truly held its own throughout history from exoloration to the gensis of the United States, and the pubs and restaurants you may find yourself wandering into. Continued in next memo.

Not only has Sherry been the catalyst for many wines on the market, it still remains the juggernaut of all wines to this day.

Besides Wine for Dummies, Sherry has been one of my favorite books about wine thus far. The pages of this book are ingrained with knowledge of Sherry production,  Sherry wines, and the overall history and significance of where Sherry is produced and how it is consumed. The last two chapters of the book are solely dedicated to drink recipes made with Sherry, and food recipes you can pair with Sherry. Sherry is definitely a must-read for foodies, winos, and those seeking in depth knowledge about Sherry wine.

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.