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Sunday, May 15, 2011

The First-Timer's Cookbook...Review

About the book:
The First-Timer's Cookbook is the one cookbook that teaches all the basics. With simple techniques and easy step-by-step instructions for cooking almost anything, now you can learn how to cook, not just what to cook. Easy to follow step-by-step instructions. Lots of descriptive photos. Easy to understand and fun to use.

About the author:
Chef Shawn Bucher holds business degrees and a culinary certificate and has worked in the food service industry for over 12 years. Having been involved in most aspects of the industry “from grocery stores to restaurants, hotels, schools to corporate training and development,” he brings a unique and overall perspective to cooking and the food service industry.

When the book says it teaches the basics, it really does.  This is a book that contains no recipes, but photographic step by step instructions for basic kitchen procedures.  From menu planning and table set-up to cooking vegetables and using knives and food safety, this is a great beginner's cookbook.  This would be perfect for a teenager learning to cook or a college student or newlywed who has little culinary experience.

I'm a fairly experienced cook and I learned a few things as well.  It's a short, easy read.  I wish there had been a Table of Contents or an Index which would be nice if you just wanted to find the section on poultry or slicing a particular vegetable.

Thanks to Cheryl at Media Guests for the opportunity to review this book.  You can learn more about Shawn Bucher here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 4/11

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Friendship Bread...Review

About the book:
An anonymous gift sends a woman on a journey she never could have anticipated.

One afternoon, Julia Evarts and her five-year-old daughter, Gracie, arrive home to find an unexpected gift on the front porch: a homemade loaf of Amish Friendship Bread and a simple note: I hope you enjoy it. Also included are a bag of starter, instructions on how to make the bread herself, and a request to share it with others. Still reeling from a personal tragedy that left her estranged from the sister who was once her best friend, Julia remains at a loss as to how to move on with her life. She’d just as soon toss the anonymous gift, but to make Gracie happy, she agrees to bake the bread.

When Julia meets two newcomers to the small town of Avalon, Illinois, she sparks a connection by offering them her extra bread starter. Widow Madeline Davis is laboring to keep her tea salon afloat while Hannah Wang de Brisay, a famed concert cellist, is at a crossroads, her career and marriage having come to an abrupt end. In the warm kitchen of Madeline’s tea salon, the three women forge a friendship that will change their lives forever.

In no time, everyone in Avalon is baking Amish Friendship Bread. But even as the town unites for a benevolent cause and Julia becomes ever closer to her new friends, she realizes the profound necessity of confronting the painful past she shares with her sister.

About life and loss, friendship and community, food and family, Friendship Bread tells the uplifting story of what endures when even the unthinkable happens.

A charming, heartwarming story.   You will laugh and cry with Julia, Hannah and Madeline as you learn each woman's story, heartbreaks and regrets, and you will cheer as they discover joy and happiness among friends.

A lot of characters are introduced throughout the book and, at first, I was concerned that it would get confusing.  It doesn't.  The main, core characters stay the same throughout the story and the extra people we learn about all come together at the end in a fantastic show of small-town support and friendship. I didn't really like the prickly Edie, but as she is kind of the antagonist, I guess it's to be expected.  She redeems herself which is nice. 

I love Amish Friendship Bread.  I'm not one for passing around starter bags, so I just keep them flattened in my freezer and bake a couple of loaves whenever I feel like it. For some, a bag of Friendship Bread starter is a death knell and only good for a big dose of guilt and pressure.  I personally think it's a delicious treat and it never lasts long at my house.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading a story based around Friendship Bread.  Darien Gee completely captures the essence of community, friendship and good food.  This is a delightful story and one I can easily recommend.

My only complaint is the present tense narrative.  I hate present tense more than I hate first-person, if that's possible!  It's so awkward and I don't understand why writers choose it.  I find myself distracted and annoyed while reading and, for me anyway, it detracts from the story, which is sad because this is a terrific story.

I love the inclusion of Amish Friendship Bread recipes at the end of the book.  It never occurred to me that I could use the batter as a base for other things.  What an awesome idea!  I'm excited to try some of these new recipes.  I think this book would make a lovely gift for a friend and if you gave it with a bag of starter, all the better!

Thanks to Cheryl of Pump Up Your Book Promotion for the opportunity to review this book.  You can learn more about Darien Gee here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 2/11

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Pasta Carbonara

Printable Recipe

1 box (1 lb) pasta (many people like spaghetti or linguine, but we like penne or farfalle)
4 eggs
1/4 to 1/2 cup heavy cream
1 t. red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
salt and pepper to taste
1 12 oz package of bacon or about 8 slices, diced
1/2 cup diced onion
Parmesan Cheese

While the pasta is cooking, whisk together the eggs, cream, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.  Set aside.

Brown the onions and bacon together until done.  Drain all but about 2 T of drippings.  When the pasta is finished, drain it and immediately return it to the hot pan.  Pour the bacon/onion mixture over the pasta.  Pour the egg/cream mixture over the pasta and toss it together until coated.  The hot pasta is what sets the eggs.  Sprinkle with Parmesan and parsley if that floats your boat and serve.

Serves 4.

Holly's Note:
You can also add 1/4 cup of butter to the pasta when you add the egg mixture.  I cook the bacon and onions together because I think it gives a better flavor.  I also leave some of the bacon drippings in because of the flavor and, let's face it, this isn't a recipe you make when you're looking to count calories anyway.  So, why skimp?

As far as the eggs go:  you want at least 1 egg for every 100 g of pasta, so a one pound box of pasta would take 4 eggs.  Traditionally, you'd probably do about 1 cup of dry pasta per person, so a 1 lb box is about 4 cups. I usually use 1/2 a box of mini pasta and 4 eggs anyway.  It's creamier that way.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Kitchen Daughter...Review

About the book:
After the unexpected death of her parents, painfully shy and sheltered 26-year-old Ginny Selvaggio seeks comfort in cooking from family recipes. But the rich, peppery scent of her Nonna’s soup draws an unexpected visitor into the kitchen: the ghost of Nonna herself, dead for twenty years, who appears with a cryptic warning (“do no let her…”) before vanishing like steam from a cooling dish.

A haunted kitchen isn’t Ginny’s only challenge. Her domineering sister, Amanda, (aka “Demanda”) insists on selling their parents’ house, the only home Ginny has ever known. As she packs up her parents’ belongings, Ginny finds evidence of family secrets she isn’t sure how to unravel. She knows how to turn milk into cheese and cream into butter, but she doesn’t know why her mother hid a letter in the bedroom chimney, or the identity of the woman in her father’s photographs. The more she learns, the more she realizes the keys to these riddles lie with the dead, and there’s only one way to get answers: cook from dead people’s recipes, raise their ghosts, and ask them.

As a young woman with Asperger's, Ginny has always been protected and sheltered by her parents.  After their sudden death, Ginny is suddenly on her own.  Her dominating sister insists on selling their parents house and having Ginny live with her, even though Ginny prefers staying in the home she's always known.  Frustrated with the fact that Amanda won't listen to her, Ginny cooks, finding comfort in the order and ritual of recipes and preparation.  When she prepares her grandmother's soup, her Nonna appears to her and they are able to speak, but her Nonna disappears after giving her a cryptic message. 

As Ginny struggles with expressing her feelings to her sister, she discovers family secrets hidden in her home.  Wishing to find answers to her questions, she continues cooking, finding recipes from her mother and father which enable her to speak with them.  What their answers reveal teach Ginny more about herself than anything else and she learns that "normal" is different for everyone.

Ginny is a fantastic character.  Jael McHenry has completely captured the essence of Asperger's syndrome and the reality that it's a spectrum and it manifests differently in people.  I loved her notion that there is no "normal".  I have a son with Asperger's.  I could see much of him in Ginny.  He has coping mechanisms just like Ginny does.  He has some of the same tendencies as Ginny and many of her thought processes and reactions are what I see in him.

The narrative is lyrical and well written with mouthwatering descriptions of food and cooking. There is mild, non-gratuitous use of the F word.  There are also some great sounding recipes that I can't wait to try. With magical realism elements that evoke Sarah Addison Allen, this is a terrific, engaging story.  It's not a ghost story, but a story about determination, acceptance and family.

Thanks to Lisa at TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to review this book.  You can learn more about Jael McHenry here and here.  You can purchase your own copy here

You can see other tour stops and reviews here:

Monday, April 11th:  girlichef
Wednesday, April 13th:  Mockingbird Hill Cottage
Thursday, April 14th:  She is Too Fond of Books
Friday, April 15th:  Book Club Classics!
Monday, April 18th:  The Singleton in the Kitchen
Tuesday, April 19th:  Back to Books
Wednesday, April 20th:  Coffee and a Book Chick
Thursday, April 21st:  Books Like Breathing
Monday, April 25th:  Simply Stacie
Tuesday, April 26th:  Book Reviews by Molly
Wednesday, April 27th:  Kahakai Kitchen
Thursday, April 28th:  2 Kids and Tired
Monday, May 2nd:  The Brain Lair
Tuesday, May 3rd:  Stephanie’s Written Word
Friday, May 6th:  Book Addiction
Monday, May 9th:  Farmgirl Fare
Tuesday, May 10th:  Overstuffed
Wednesday, May 11th:  Books, Movies, and Chinese Food
Friday, May 13th:  The Literate Housewife Review

Read 3/11

* * * *
4/5 Stars