Friday, December 30, 2011

Recipe Tester: Cookbook Discoveries of the Year

While I love reading, my favorite books to buy and browse are definitely cookbooks.  We get a lot of cookbooks at the library that are fascinating to look at, but I'd never actually make anything inside because I lack the skills and ingredients to make most of the dishes (NOMA, Momofuku  Milk Bar come to mind this year).  However, my favorite cookbooks are ones that are accessible for every day cooking.  Below are the best cookbooks I discovered this year (whether or not they were actually published in 2011):

Slow Cooker Revolution by America's Test Kitchen. 
Call No.: 641.5884 SLO
Find it in the catalog!
I've had a slow cooker for about three years, but never got around to using it until last spring.  Now I use it every time I plan on having a late night dinner.  It's a super convenient way to cook for days that you know are going to be on the long side.  I especially love to make anything Indian or Moroccan this way, because very rarely to do I have two hours to let a tagine or curry simmer properly.  It's also ideal for preparing meats that need to be cooked slowly, like short ribs or pork shoulder.  Stand out recipes include Korean braised short ribs (p.103), red lentil stew (p. 76), chicken curry in a hurry (p. 52), and the chickpea tagine (p.74). 

Flour by Joanne Chang
Call No.: 641.815 CHA 
Find it in the catalog!
Flour is a fun, quirky baking book, with new twists on traditional recipes.  I really like her upscale versions of the fig newton (137-9) and Oreo (p.134-6), though both are a lot of work to make. The pie section is full of deliciousness of both the savory (smoked salmon, herbed cream cheese and red onion pie on p.241 is to die for good) and sweet (bittersweet chocolate truffle pie, p. 236) varieties.  Other yummy recipes include the rosemary shortbread (p.146), pumpkin muffins with pepitas (p. 56-7), and the chunky Lola cookies (p. 110-1)- a spin on kitchen sink cookies.

In the Small Kitchen by Cara Eisenpress and Phoebe Lapin.
Call No.: 641.5 EIS (on the You and Your Family--Wall Display)
Find it in the catalog! 
Read my earlier blog post about this book.

Tyler's Ultimate by Tyler Florence
Call No.: 641.5 FLO
Find it in the catalog!
Snob confession: My feelings towards anything on the Food Network are just a little gentler than Anthony Bourdain's.  However, I was lured in by a bacon and pea macaroni and cheese recipe (which is awesome, BTW).  Once I checked out the book, I discovered that there were tons of recipes that I wanted to try.  Favorites include the pear cobbler with cranberry streusel (p. 238), baked rigatoni with eggplant and pork sausage (p.162) and the chicken paillard with fresh fig salad and blue cheese (p.138- this dish is so pretty, it's a good summer dish to impress guests).

Speakeasy by Jason Kosmas and Dushan Zaric.
Call No.: 641.874 KOS
Find it in the catalog!
An excellent cocktail book, see my earlier review.

Jamie Oliver's Meals in Minutes by Jamie Oliver.
Call No.: 641.555 OLI (You and Your Family--Wall Display)
Find it in the catalog!
Oliver's book from two years ago, Jamie's Food Revolution, is one of my favorite cookbooks ever, so I psyched to see that he a new book coming out this year.  The format for the book is a little unusual.  Each recipe is for an entire meal essentially (main dish, side dishes and dessert), so it's a little confusing to follow if you are just making one dish on the page.  However, with a little bit of work, you'll figure it out.  This is a great source for fast meal ideas, especially for families.  Favorite recipes include Pregnant Jool's Pasta (p.30) and oozy mushroom risotto (p.64, seriously the cheesiest and most delicious risotto I've tried).  I really like Oliver's multicultural mix of recipes, including lots of Italian, Indian, Greek Asian dishes and some British ones too.

Micheal's Genuine Food by Michael Schwartz
Call No.:641.5973 SCH
Find it in the catalog!
This book made a lot of best of the year lists last December, which is why I checked it out.  It's easy to see why, the has excellent photography, an emphasis on seasonal cooking and making things from scratch, and an interesting mix of recipes.  Michael's Genuine Food is worth checking out for the Kimchi quesadilla (p.23) alone, which is a wonderfully cheesy, spicy, and unusual fusion concoction.  His Greek farro salad (p. 79) makes for an excellent lunch or side dish.  The fried gnudi with shaved Parmesan and lemon creme (p. 36-7) didn't turn out at all the first time I made them, but the second time they were so good that I'd definitely say it was worth the hassle.  The garlic herbed breadsticks (p. 35) were also a delicious side, even though I used store-bought pizza dough.  I haven't had the chance to try them yet, but the Bulletproof Manhattan (p. 222) and the tomato harissa (p. 243) definitely sound delicious.

Good Mood Food by Donal Skehan
Call No.: 641.563 SKE
Find it in the catalog!
This book has a lot of really yummy, super healthy soup recipes which are great for the winter months.  I'm especially found of the carrot ginger soup (p.249) and the boot camp soup (p. 59, though I use spinach instead of iceberg lettuce and add a pinch of cumin).  The Thai green chicken curry (p. 187) makes for quick and delicious mid-week meal, as is the Bulgar wheat, chicken rocket and parsley salad (p.189).  Best of all is the hummus recipe (p.133), which has become a staple of mine.  Sometimes, I skip the cayenne pepper and add other things to the hummus like kalamata olives or roasted red peppers. 

Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson. 
Call No.: 641.5636 SWA (You and Your Family--Wall Display)
Find it in the catalog!
This book is gorgeous to look at and has lots of quick, easy meals that are full of interesting flavors.  All of the recipes are vegetarian and super healthy, but taste so good that you don't even notice.  Stand out recipes from this book include the ravioli salad with black olives and pepitas (p.75)- an easy to make dish for lunches, the wild rice casserole (p. 155) which is loaded with delicious mushrooms and Gruyere cheese, and the white bean spread (p. 110) which makes an easy appetizer for parties. I am also a big fan of the harissa ravioli (p.131), cauliflower soup with cheese and Dijon mustard (p.152) and the broccoli orzo salad (p. 95).

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christopher Hitchens: 1949-2011

Christopher Hitchens, prolific author and journalist, died Thursday, December 15, after a long bout with esophageal cancer. He was 62 years old. A renowned columnist and literary critic for such publications as Vanity Fair and The Atlantic, Hitchens is probably best known for his controversial stance on, well, virtually everything. As erudite as he was outspoken, Hitchens wrote frankly and with a wicked sense of humor on myriad topics. His views on religion, politics, foreign affairs, and world history, were often divisive, but always frankly stated and elegantly written. Hitchens own life was, in many ways, as complicated and courageous as any of his written work.

What follows is a list of highlights from the author's extensive bibliography:

Arguably: Essays by Christopher Hitchens

Hitch-22: A Memoir

God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything

Thomas Jefferson: Author of America

Love, Poverty, and War: Journeys and Essays

Thomas Paine's Rights of Man

The Quotable Hitchens: From Alcohol to Zionism

Friday, December 16, 2011

Destiny of the Republic by Candace Millard

Part biography, part true crime, and part science, Destiny of the Republic by Candace Millard is a book in the vein of Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City. Millard follows multiple lives as they converge into a life-changing event for all and then splinter off again on individual paths.

Our twentieth president, James A. Garfield, was shot in a Washington D.C. train station on July 2, 1881 by Charles Guiteau. Only four months into office, Garfield had begun to show great promise as president: he championed civil rights 80 years before they became a reality and he stood up to political corruption. He had a Cinderella story, if there ever was one, having lived as a child in poverty only to rise to become a college president, congressman, and eventual U.S. president (interestingly, an office he did not actively seek). When he finally succumbed to death on September 19, he was beloved by Americans, both Northern and Southern-- a tough feat in the post-Civil War era. This would be a cut-and-dry book about his assassination and assassin if Garfield had died because of his gunshot wound, but, instead he suffered months of agonizing medical care administered by Dr. D.W. Bliss, who some might actually fault for the president's death. Many American physicians, including Bliss, had yet to adopt the sterilizing procedures introduced by Dr. Joseph Lister. Meanwhile, an unlikely protagonist emerges in Alexander Graham Bell, who fervently attempts to help the wounded president by inventing a metal detector of sorts in order to locate the bullet in his body.

The rare thing that comes out in this book is that the president and the inventor are infinitely more interesting than the killer(s?). As a society I think we tend to dwell on the perpetrator more than the victim, shadowing the life with the death. Garfield's and Bell's lives and accomplishments are much more interesting and impressive than Guiteau or Bliss could ever hope. Reading about the out-pouring of support for Garfield and the first family reminded me of the months following 9/11 and how people pulled together. Even vice-president Chester Arthur stepped up when the time came; citizens and colleagues alike were weary of his impending administration, but he managed to surprise people. It appears that Garfield had the ability to bring the best out in people, except, of course for his assassin and doctor.

Destiny of the Republic by Candace Millard
Find it in the Catalog!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Beyond Egg Nog: Get in the Holiday Spirits

Egg Nog is probably the most dreaded of holiday drinks.  Heavy, difficult to make (who wants to separate eggs for a cockatil!), and high in calories, you can probably do better.  Thankfully we have a whole bunch of cocktail drinks to help you discover the perfect drink for your next holiday party!:

Craft of the Cocktail by Dale DeGroff (2002).
641.874 DEG
Find it in the Catalog!

Dale DeGroff is one of the most well-known bartenders in the world and is credited with creating the modern Cosmo.  This book is a great reference guide to all things cocktails.  There are primers on cocktail ingredients, bar tools, and creating garnishes.  If you are starting to become a cocktail nerd, this book is perfect for you.  But even seasoned mixologist will find something to admire in DeGroff's 500 recipes!

Crowd Pleasers:  The Bloody Mary Buffet (p. 88-9) screams winter brunch.  DeGroff is known in part for the Cosmo, so you might want to check out either the original or one of his variants (Cosmopolitan Delight, Strawberry Cosmo, all on p. 108). 

Heather Recommends:  The Absinthe no.2 (p.72) is one of the more palatable ways to partake in the green fairy, but it's only recommended if you are familiar with absinthe's acquired taste and can handle it's extremely high proof.  It's a drink best sipped.  The Aviation (p.78) is a nice smooth gin drink accented with lemon and maraschino cherry liqueur. 

The Essential Cocktail by Dale DeGroff (2008) .
641.874 DEG
Find it in the catalog!

While Craft of Cocktail has volume on it's side, Essential Cocktail goes into greater detail about the drinks included.  Also, almost all drinks are accompanied by a picture (for you visual drinkers).  This is a great book to learn about the history of a drink as well as the techniques of making a drink work.

Crowd Pleasers:  The Chai Toddy (p. 52) sound like a nice twist on a classic winter drink.  Kir (p.82) is always a nice brunch cocktail or aperitif.  I make a variation called Rose Royale which use Chicago-based Koval Distillery's Rose Hip Liqueur.  Port-Whiskey Punch (p. 204) sounds like a fine winter punch, as I'm for anything with whiskey in the colder months.

Heather Recommends:  The Manhattan (p. 32) is probably my favorite classic cocktail besides the Old Fashioned.  Simple, elegant, it never goes out of style.  But I garnish with three cherries instead of DeGroff's recommend one.  

Jellyshot Test Kitchen by Michelle Palm (2011).
641. 874 PAU
Find it in the catalog!

I'm more of a cocktail person, but these jelly shots look really cute and impressive.  They are sure to liven up any New Year's Eve party. The author gives lots of instructions on how to make different shapes and recipes are ranked by difficulty.  They have Shirley Temple shots too. 

Crowd Pleasers:  The Cucumber-Lime Saketini (p.80) looks so cute served in a soup spoon.  Grasshopper (p.100) is a minty holiday drink.  Peanut Butter and Jelly Martini (p. 144) and White Chocolate Martini (p.171) will probably appeal to drinkers who like sweet drinks.  The Pink Squirrel (p. 151) looks so adorable and has a great name.

Heather recommends:  I don't do Jelly Shots, but curiosity would make me try the Old Fashioned (p.143) or the Side Car (p.16).   The Lemon Drop sounds okay too (p. 115).

Mix Shake Stir by Danny Meyer (2009).
 641.874 MEY
 Find it in the catalog!

This book is for do-it-yourselfers who don't mind infusing their own liquor or making their own lavender syrup.  I'm a little too lazy to make most of the cocktails in this book.  However, I appreciate the author's selection seasonal cocktails.  Also, these drinks are definitely show stoppers.  So if you want to impress your friends and family, highly recommended.

Crowd Pleasers:  There are a whole bunch of winter drinks here that look delicious: Winter Vacation (p.113) which combines scotch, creme de violette, and lavender, Winter Solstice (p.136) a combo of rosemary pear nectar and brandy, and Winter Mojito (p. 166) which is accented with dark rum and drunken cranberries.  The Kentucky Cream (p.173) sounds like a classy version of egg nog.  Also, I love that it is served in a mason jar.

Heather Recommends:  Their version of the Old Fashioned (p.26) sounds like the dressed up version of my everyday version.

Speakeasy by Jason Kosmas and Dushan Zaric (2010).
641.874 KOS
Find it in the catalog!

This is by my far my favorite book on the list.  Written by the guys behind Employees Only, a hot NYC cocktail bar, this book is full of interesting twists on classic drinks.  They do have some syrups and bitters you have to DIY, but many of the drinks can be made with relative ease.  Best of all, Kosmas and Zaric are huge cocktail nerds, you get lots of cocktail history here!

Crowd Pleasers: Amelia (p.61) is a blackberry martini with hints of elderberry- fruity but not too sweet.  I haven't got around to making Fraise Sauvage yet, a which combines champagne, gin and strawberries, but it sounds like a winning combo.  It's on the shortlist for my own holiday party menu.

Heather recommends:  The Negroni (p.42) has steadily become my go-to-drink.  It's a smoky and complex combination of Campari, gin, and vermouth.  I use Old Tom gin, which helps eliminate any bitter aftertaste.  I'm also a big fan its sister drink, the Boulevardier, which has whiskey instead of gin. 

Web resourceCocktalia is my number one resource for drink recipes.  There is a big selection of both mainstream and more obscure drinks.  The site's blogger honestly appraises recipes: how they turned out and what he would change.  I've found many winners.

Crowd Pleasers:  The Calvados Cocktail is an appletini done right: it's not green, it isn't too sweet, and it doesn't have vodka in it.  However, it's accessible to pretty much anyone.  The Dingbat is a pleasant, sweet whiskey drink made with orange juice and Lillet Blanc.  The Gin-Gin-Gin Mule is a nice summer drink that would probably hold up in the winter.  Instead of ginger syrup, I use Koval's ginger liqueur. 

Heather Recommends:  I've linked to some of my favorites all ready.  Additionally, I love the French Gimlet, a combo of gin, St. Germain Elderflower liqueur and lime.  I use Ransom Old Tom gin which makes the cocktail look gold and cuts the bitterness.  Corpse Reviver #2 dates back to pre-prohibition times and is truly delicious.  This could be a crowd pleaser, but it's hard to make en masse.  Also, I serve mine with a maraschino cherry in the bottom and use 1 oz. of everything (instead of 3/4 oz.).  Finally, the Improved Whiskey Cocktail is a good lazy night cocktail. I skip the simple syrup and put in a maraschino cherry (no surprise there).

Happy holidays and drink responsibly!