Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Cookbook Review: My Perfect Pantry

My Perfect Pantry: 150 Easy Recipes from 50 Essential Ingredients
Geoffrey Zakarian with Amy Stevenson and Margaret Zakarian
Clarkson/Potter Publishers, 2014

I'm thoroughly enjoying being part of the Blogging for Books program through which I get some truly interesting (and tasty!) cookbooks to preview and tell my readers about. Today's cookbook is such a one.

I cook just like this book's premise: keep essential ingredients on hand and buy the fresh ingredients that look good and/or are on sale (or come in the CSA box!) each week as I need them. Zakarian's 50 essentials comprise a solid list that is surprisingly ordinary. Anchovies and espresso powder are perhaps on the exotic end (although certainly not hard to obtain) and flour, cocoa powder, and baking powder on the more mundane end.

The book is organized around these pantry stars, so it essentially has 50 short chapters: one per key pantry staple. Chapters are organized alphabetically. Zakarian showcases each pantry staple's particular strengths in three recipes which cover a range of functions (appetizers, entrees, side dishes, desserts, breakfast). In addition to the three recipes in each short chapter are an introduction describing the unique qualities of the ingredient and a gorgeous page of photos of the three recipes.

Are the recipes tasty? Good question! No cookbook can be truly rated without a sampling of its cuisine. According to my usual pattern, I set out to try three recipes: Sweet and Spicy Popcorn (from the "Popcorn" chapter), Cast Iron Burgers with Secret Sauce (from the "BBQ" chapter), and the Almond-Crusted Pork Chops with Apples (from the "Almonds" chapter). Um, yum!! I had planned to sample a few recipes, rate the cookbook, and loan it to a friend. The night I made the burgers, I called her and told her no such luck. I'm hangin' onto this bad boy a bit longer. The recipes aren't complicated or even truly innovative-sounding; just goes to show that perfect technique and blending of flavors makes the difference from ordinary to extraordinary.

This is not an all-purpose cookbook, so it won't hold that function in a small cookbook library. But for folks who enjoy cooking and are curious to see some new recipes using ordinary ingredients, this is one to check out. An index that included recipes listed by course/meal would be helpful as would page numbers on the photo pages, but as the chef becomes more familiar with the cookbook, these organizational details will seem less necessary.

Further information:
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review

Friday, October 3, 2014

Cookbook Review: The Homesick Texan's Family Table by Lisa Fain

The Homesick Texan's Family Table: Lonestar Cooking from my Table to Yours
Lisa Fain
Ten Speed Press, 2014

The last cookbook I reviewed spoke to my mother's side of the family from Mississippi. But, y'all, I was born in Texas, so I come by this one honestly. My dad's from Texas, and we're right proud of that little fact.

The Homesick Texan's Family Table is a delightful cookbook to peruse. There are lots of recipes featuring the subtle heat from chipotles, some tried and true Texan favorites (chicken spaghetti and references to chicken fried steak--NOT "country fried"), and a host of true Tex-Mex recipes. I grew up eating burritos or tacos on a weekly basis and was rather shocked to find, when I got to college (out of the state) that not everyone had grown up eating similarly. Well done, tasteful food photography accents many recipes. Simplicity rules, and the organization follows suit. An index in the back as well as a mini table of contents for each section makes this cookbook easy to navigate.

Fain is a Texan by birth, but she lives in New York now. This cookbook springs from the work on her popular blog (Homesick Texan). The question is: does the cookbook work? Does it please fellow Texans? Do the recipes taste good? I've sampled three to date, but I plan to try lots more. So, yes, it pleases fellow Texans. The Cowboy Beans will be a regular feature around here. And the Caballero Cookies? YUM YUM. They remind me of the Ranger Dan cookies we ate at summer camp--in Texas, of course. Delicious!

If you know a Texan or enjoy Tex Mex, this is a fun cookbook to check out. You may also want to check out:

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review

Mr. Potato Head...for Real!

Part of my commitment as a virtual farmhand for the Colvins is to put up a recipe each week that showcases the produce we got that week--how to use it, how to eat it, how to store it, etc. This is our last week of the season, though, so I have been a little unconventional. Oh, we're using the produce, that's for sure. We just didn't eat it.

I was signed up this week to speak to my son's second grade class about a hobby of mine, my job, or some other interest. They already know I'm a teacher since I pop into lunch on a regular basis. They already know I read/review children's books since I've been a classroom reader already. What they didn't know before today was anything about my love affair with vegetables and my partnership with the Colvins.

This turned out to be a fantastic way to talk up vegetables, local or otherwise, with a group of kids. I held up specimens, all of which have come at some point during the season, and most of which are recent box finds. The kids could identify most (not the turnip!), had tried most of them (not the radishes!), and had no problems disagreeing on which ones were better. We talked about "not liking them yet" and trying new veggies. And then... we made Mr. Potato Heads with the various veggies! I introduced them to my new friend, Colvin (pictured above on the right), and encouraged them to make their own new friends. It was a great experience, and the kids loved it. They were even more creative than I'd expected, and I caught several of them sampling the extra veggies they were using. Bonus! So, in this last week of our CSA season, buy a handful of bigger potatoes and use your scraps from prepping your veggies to make a few Mr. Potato Heads. It takes remarkably few whole vegetables to make multiple Mr. Potato Heads, and it's a fantastic way to get kids excited about vegetables.