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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Jean Anderson Cooks: Her Kitchen Reference & Recipe Collection by Jean Anderson

ISBN-13: 978-0688013257
ISBN-10: 0-688-01325-2
Original publication date: 1982
Edition publication date: 1982
Format: hardcover
Publisher William Morrow & Company  
Pages: 560 w/index
Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 1.7 inches
# of recipes: 289 (more if you count the different variations of many recipes included)
Dietary scope: (Atkins, fat-free etc): none
Intended audience: regular cooks who want to broaden their horizons
Photos: none
Index: yes
Arrangement: main ingredient, plus a section by menu
Other information (i.e. - tips, history, etc): also contains through reference information
Lists Nutritional information: no
Lists Servings: yes
Utilizes packaged foods: no
Low fat: no
Low sodium: no
Low sugar: no
Low carb: no
Cost per recipe (listed cover price/#recipes): $.07 (using cover price on the dust jacket)
Recommended skill level:
Journeyman – I’m done with boxes – what’s next?

Points – (each question can have up to 5 points) 4
Hits the intended audience? 5
Picture to recipe ratio? 0
Good format? 3
Good table of contents? 3
Good index? 4
Cost per recipe (listed cover price/#recipes) 4
Anthropology rating: 5
% of recipes I would make (1 point per 20%): 5
I like? 5

I have to admit right off that the only reason that I originally bought this book was the author’s name.  We have a Jean Anderson where I work (who doesn’t cook), the book was in great shape and was $2.50, I didn’t bother to look inside.  I was very pleasantly surprised once I got home and started looking at the recipes.  I think that this cookbook could easily be a go to cookbook for someone who only wishes to own a handful of cookbooks.  It is interesting to note that the measurements are both given in “American” and in metric.

The author’s purpose is “to share my fascination with the alchemy of cooking and also pass along some favorite recipes that I’ve gathered from many parts of the world.”  Modern parents will be horrified by the author’s account of her first solo cooking experience the day she turned five.  Yes, there was a time when we allowed our children to learn from making their mistakes on their own.
The basics on choosing & buying ingredients are covered, along with basic recipes, but this book really stands out for the recipes where the author introduces the foods that she has loved from around the world like Kolja (Swedish-Style Haddock baked with dill, wine and cream), Stir-fried Green cabbage the East Indian Way, and Fauchon’s Fabulous Chocolate-raspberry Torte, to name just a few.  I was very surprised to find Anatolian Roast Loin of Pork with Cinnamon since Anatolia is in Turkey, an Islamic country, where they do not eat pork. A fact that the author also explains, this particular recipe is an adaption of a lamb recipe.  Cappadocian Lamb Shanks with Pea Beans and Mint was another pleasant surprise.

In our household vegetables seem to be the hardest thing, we seem to lack imagination for them, they always seem to be an afterthought, the meat dish is always the star.  I think we will be adding some very tasty recipes to our weekly menus thanks to this book.

The recipes each have a least a sentence or two about the recipe that either give a bit of its history or give you ideas on what to serve it with.  I am a great fan of cookbooks that include information about the recipes. Recipes do not spring ready made to the page, they evolved and it is interesting to see a bit of that evolution.  This information can perhaps be applied to other recipes, other situations.  Why not learn from other people’s mistakes or inspiration? 

Friday, May 18, 2012

The I Hate to Cook Book by Peg Bracken

Library of Congress: 60-10919
Original publication date: 1960, first edition
Edition publication date:
Format: hardcover
Publisher: Harcourt, Brace & World
Pages: 176, including index
Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.3 x 0.8 inches
# of recipes: 175-200 (176)
Dietary scope: (Atkins, fat-free etc): none
Intended audience: people who hate to cook
Photos: none
Index: yes
Arrangement: by category
Other information (i.e. - tips, history, etc): includes, tips, advice, sample menus
Lists Nutritional information: no
Lists Servings: yes
Utilizes packaged foods: does used items like canned soups
Low fat: no
Low sodium: no
Low sugar: no
Low carb: no
Cost per recipe (listed cover price/#recipes): $.13 (using the cover price of the current edition)
Recommended skill level:
Apprentice – I can’t make dinner without a box, or the telephone
Points – (each question can have up to 5 points) 3.56 – a perfect 4 without pictures
Hits the intended audience? 5
Picture to recipe ratio? 0
Good format? 5
Good table of contents? 4
Good index? 5
Cost per recipe (listed cover price/#recipes) 4
Anthropology rating: 4
% of recipes I would make (1 point per 20%): 4
I like? 5

The scope of the cookbook is stated with its first words – “Some women it is said, like to cook. This book is not for them.”
Can a cookbook be witty? 
“Don’t recoil from the odd sounding combination of ingredients here, because it’s actually very good.  Just shut your eyes and go on opening those cans.” So says the comment before the recipe for Beef a la King.

Regardless of what the books says if you like to cook you will enjoy this cookbook too.  How could you not want to make things like Cancan Casserole, Hurry Curry, or Tia Juana Tamale? 
It is written as if your older sister is initiating you into the secret sisterhood of hopeless cooks, guiding you through the most horrific situations.  Potlucks?  No problem.  Holiday dishes to bring to the family get together? You’re covered.  With this book in hand you can walk boldly into your kitchen and come out with dishes worthy of fancy cooking magazines.  Do you have company coming and wonder what to cook?  Wonder no more, this book walks you through it.  How about Orange Sunday’s for dessert?  Hold on to your seats, this is pretty complicated!  Take slightly thawed frozen orange juice and pour it over vanilla ice cream, then sprinkle with either orange zest or bitter chocolate shavings.  I would go with the chocolate, for some reason people find that impressive.
This cookbook shows you that with a few ingredients you can make meals that not only taste great but look impressive too.  Friends and family will be oohing and awing over your dishes and they will have not one inkling that you hate to cook.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Cookbook Reivew - Paleo Comfort Foods

Paleo Comfort Foods by Julie and Charles Mayfield

ISBN-13: 978-1-936608-93-5
ISBN-10: 1936608936
Original publication date: 2011
Format: paperback
Publisher: Victory Belt Publishing
Pages: 336 pages
Dimensions: 10.8 x 8.4 x 0.9 inches
# of recipes: 125-150
Dietary scope: (Atkins, fat-free etc): Paleo and gluten-free
Intended audience: people who want Paleo comfort foods
Photos: 1 photo per recipe or more
Index: yes
Arrangement: by course
Other information (i.e. - tips, history, etc): long introduction, section on basic foods and tools
Lists Nutritional information: no
Lists Servings: no
Utilizes packaged foods: no
Low fat: no
Low sodium:  most recipes use no or little salt
Low sugar: sweetener of choice is honey
Low carb: yes
Cost per recipe (listed cover price/#recipes):
Recommended skill level:
Journeyman – I’m done with boxes – what’s next?

Points – (each question can have up to 5 points) – 3.89
Hits the intended audience? 5
Picture to recipe ratio? 5
Good format? 4
Good table of contents? 4
Good index? 2
Cost per recipe (listed cover price/#recipes) $29.95/139 = $.22 - 3
Anthropology rating: 2
% of recipes I would make (1 point per 20%): 99% - 5
I like? 5

We have 4 Paleo cookbooks so far, and I am pretty sure that this one is going to be my favorite for a very long time.  It does have a few minor issues, at least one of the recipes is missing some steps (if I noticed it, it is pretty obvious since I don’t normally pay too close attention to the directions.)  The index could also use some work.  There is a pie crust recipe called “Nutty Pie Crust”, you will not find it under ‘pie crust’ in the index.  It is not in the dessert section either, so you had better remember the name of it unless you want to look through the second table of contents which lists all of the recipes in order.

Otherwise I just have to say – Lemon Bars, banana bread, and tortillas.  If you are trying the Paleo lifestyle and are missing your lemon bars or banana bread you need to check this book out.  And tortillas are always a good staple to have to wrap stuff up in.

My hubby made fried chicken the other day, using boneless skinless chicken breasts and he only used the almond flour, garlic and salt & pepper and it was the best fried chicken I have had in forever!  It tasted almost as if it had the skin on, and this was even after it was re-heated.

Also, unlike a lot of cookbooks for non-mainstream lifestyles, this book uses very few strange or premixed items.  I hate the recipes that say use 1 cup of X’s flour substitute, I want control of what I am using, and I don’t want to have to pay for a brand of something.  Besides, what happens when that company goes out of business or decides to stop making that mix?  And my food intolerances include almost any kind of high-carb foods that are usually used in gluten-free cooking.

I know some people will say, but they use almond flour in a lot of the recipes, where do you get almond flour?  We actually have almond flour on hand because we make homemade almond milk to use instead of dairy.  It makes an amazing hot cocoa or chai.  So the fact that the recipes use almond flour is a plus for us.  So if you are trying the Paleo lifestyle you should try making your own almond milk.  I like it a lot better than the store brands that I have tried. We take the skin off the almonds which makes a difference, and don’t use any additives like honey.

If you only get one Paleo cookbook, this is the one to get.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Weekend adventure – United Noodles

Ok, I admit, we go to United Noodles once in a while, so it’s not that big of an adventure, and really it's not that far away. Or maybe not as big of an adventure that it could be. I swear every time we go I say to myself we need to come here on a regular basis, and then it is months before we go again. We had to go this time because I wanted some rice for a little project of mine – non-dairy milk alternatives. I thought that it would be fun to do not only white rice milk but also rice milk made with red and black rices. I know that many people are getting into alternative foods (like gluten or dairy free) because of their kids and I think that kid food should be fun!

You may have seen United Noodles on the Food Network (both Rachel Ray and Andrew Zimmern have been there). They are located in Minneapolis and are the largest Asian grocery in the Midwest (or so their web site states.) They carry a vast array of Asian items from tableware to fresh fish. This weekend I saw belt fish in the fresh fish case. There is no mistaking the reason for the name.

We also got some noodles, one is called ‘oriental noodles’ and is made with sweet potato starch. They look sort of like rice noodles that were dipped in squid ink, since they have a sort of black tinge to them. The other kind we bought for ourselves is black rice vermicelli. I also got some pumpkin and tomato carrot noodles for our niece. We should not have gotten any noodles for ourselves, since this week we are going to go back on the Paleo diet. But I figure since I eat potatoes once a week at work, we should have one day a week where we can be ‘bad’ if we have been good the rest of the week without guilt if we so decide. Also since we are going through our cookbook collection and working on organizing, rating and reviewing them.

My new toy – bamboo steamer

I have always wanted one, but for some reason I have never actually bought one until now. I have no idea why not!

Of course we had to try it out right away so I got some beef and cabbage buns to steam as soon as we got home. They were very yummy!

Now I need to find or create good Paleo recipes that use a steamer.

Cookbook review - Turkish Cookery by Inci Kut

ISBN-10: 975-479-100-7
Original publication date: 1992
Edition publication date: 1993
Format: paperback
Publisher: Net Turistik Yayinlar
Pages: 141
Dimensions: 7.5 X 8.5 x 3/8
# of recipes: 175-200
Dietary scope: (Atkins, fat-free etc): Turkish Cuisine
Intended audience: people who want to cook authentic Turkish food
Photos: 1 or more photos every 2 pages
Index: no
Arrangement: by course
Other information (i.e. - tips, history, etc): there is a some historical or cultural notes
Lists Nutritional information: no
Lists Servings: yes
Utilizes packaged foods: only in a couple of recipes
Low fat: not really
Low sodium: not really
Low sugar: not really
Low carb: not really
Recommended skill level: Journeyman (I’m done with boxes – what’s next?)
Points – (each question can have up to 5 points) – 3.14
Hits the intended audience? 5
Picture to recipe ratio 4
Good format 3
Good table of contents 5
Good index 0
Anthropology rating: 1
% of recipes I would make: 75%
I like? yes

The only way this cookbook could have been more Turkish is if it was written in Turkish, my copy even has a price sticker in Turkish Lira. It could have possibly benefited from being proofread by a native English speaker, but that does give it a bit of charm. I can’t help but smile every time I look at a recipe with Egg-Plant in it even though this is one food that I can truly not eat, which is also why the % of recipes that I would make is smaller then it could be. If you take out the recipes with eggplant I would probably make over 90% of the remaining at least once. I am not a huge fan of liver or tripe, and there are a few other recipes that the ingredients would be a bit hard to come by in Minnesota, fresh anchovies for example. It is not written with American measurements, and at first you might look at a recipe and see that it calls for a ‘glass’ of something. There is a nice table at the front of the book that lets you know that a ‘glass’ equals 1 American cup, or 5/6th of a British breakfast cup.

It has a lot of pictures, not quite a picture for every recipe but pretty close. One of the things that I liked about the pictures is that if you are unfamiliar with the food most are photographed in such a way as to show you what the finished product looks like, for example baked Borek. Now I understand what I didn’t from a previous book. Yes, you place the filling on the dough and roll it up like a cigar, and then you shape it into a big, flat snail shape.

The format, while not totally bad is, busy. The pages are separated into columns, two wider columns with a narrower one separating them which wouldn’t be bad. But then those two wider columns have a line on either side, and each ingredient listed has a line underneath it, all this just adds visual noise. Also the page numbers are a bit unusual; each individual number is in a black box, so page 26 has two black boxes each with a number in it. You will know what section of the book you are in because each page has top boarder in black with the section name in it. I don’t think that this was needed since it is pretty obvious what section you are in once you look at the recipe. So visually there is a lot going on on each page.

The table of content is almost as good as an index, which is good since there is no attempt at an index. You could argue that with a cookbook this small it doesn’t need an index, but really with a book this small how hard could it be to add one?

This cookbook could easily get a 4-5 rating except for the lack of index, historical or cultural information and the busy formatting.

Note: my husband, who is the kind of person that does exactly what the recipe says had difficulty with the recipes that he tried. I am a more of read the ingredients and interpret what it says to do. So depending on your ‘style’ this book may be more difficult to use.



Cookbook review - Gourmet Mustards: The How-Tos of Making & Cooking with Mustards by Helene Sawyer and Cheryl Long

(Sorry, for some reason the picture wants to be on it's side!)

ISBN-13 :978-1889531045
ISBN-10: 1-889531-04-9
Original publication date: 1987
Edition publication date: 2002
Format: paperback
Publisher: Sibyl Publications

Pages: 116
Dimensions: 7.5 x 6.6 x 0.3 inches

# of recipes: 125 - 150
Dietary scope: (Atkins, fat-free etc): mustard
Intended audience: people who want to make mustard from scratch
Photos: none, some black & white drawings
Index: yes, but it is more like an expanded table of contents
Arrangement: by course
Other information (i.e. - tips, history, etc): some tips and mustard related quotes
Lists Nutritional information: yes
Lists Servings: yes
Utilizes packaged foods: only items like prepared horseradish, and jams
Low fat: yes
Low sodium: yes
Low sugar: mostly
Low carb: mostly
Cost per recipe (listed cover price/recipes): about $.06/recipe
Recommended skill level: 
Journeyman – I’m done with boxes – what’s next?
Points – (each question can have up to 5 points) = 2.65
Hits the intended audience? 4
Picture to recipe ratio? 0
Good format? 5
Good table of contents? 2
Good index? 2
Cost per recipe (listed cover price/recipes): 3
Anthropology rating: 1
% of recipes I would make: 80%
I like? 3

I had high hope for this book, but sadly it fell short of them. There is only one ‘basic’ mustard recipe and it is a Dijon style mustard, which really isn’t that ‘basic’. I would have liked to have seen at least one or two more really basic recipes. As for the history of mustard there is a mere 4 sentences on the subject. Another thing that I didn’t like was even the basic recipe is based on powdered mustard, everyone knows that spices start to lose their pungency as soon as you start to crush, or grind them. If you are going to the trouble of making your mustard from scratch, you are certainly capable of starting with the mustard seed, in fact you are probably wanting to start with the seeds.

The recipes themselves look good. I almost wonder, however, if there is a recipe missing, since a few recipes call for "basic prepared bright yellow mustard". To me it seems silly, in a book about making mustards to have store bought mustard as an ingredient. There is another item about this book that I find annoying. There is a recipe called "Christmas Mustard" which looks like it would be a lot of fun to try because it is unusual, how many mustards have you seen with candied fruit in it? I think that since it is so unusual there should be some suggestions on what to use it with, and at least one recipe containing it. Unless I missed the recipe in the two or three times I have gone through the book there is not one mention of Christmas Mustard aside from the recipe itself. How hard would it have been to make sure that there was at least one recipe to go with each of the mustard recipes in the book? Christmas ham or turkey at the very least. Or perhaps a turkey, cream cheese and Christmas mustard wrap?

There are very short comments for each recipe, and many are followed by helpful ‘tips’. There are many mustard related quotes through out the book which adds a bit of fun to it.

For the most part I was looking for recipes on mustards, and maybe a recipe or two that contained some of the more unusual ones. And while there are almost 40 recipes for mustard (if you include all the variations) it clearly lacks on the basic mustard recipes.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Cookbook reviews

I am planning on doing reviews for every cookbook that we have, no small task since we have almost 400. We are also currently working on making sure that all of our cookbooks are listed on Library Thing.  And with a small house you can well imagine that they are not all in the same place.  Yes we even have a shelf of them in the hallway above a door.  You know that foot or so of space just below the ceiling is totally overlooked in most homes.  You can be so creative with that space.  It doesn’t need to be books, it could be whatever you collect.  Or instead of putting up a wide shelf put one up that is only a couple inches deep and use it to display photos or your children’s artwork and awards.

How do you rate a cookbook?  How do you get consistent ratings? I use a form for my reviews on books of fiction. I find that it helps me remember what I should be looking at, and this way I am comparing the same items, like plot, character, theme etc. I am working on a blank cookbook review form so I can approach it the same way.  A form will also make sure that I am listing the same information about a book. 

What would I like to know about a cookbook before I buy it? So many cookbook reviews I see give the book a bad review because it wasn’t what they expected.  I think that it is unfair to give a book a bad rating if you weren’t the ‘target audience’.  For example some of the reviews for the Hungry Girl cookbooks that I have looked at give them a bad rating.   Because the person who got the book clearly did not fit into their target audience, or did not understand what the concept was they gave it a bad review. It’s like getting a Sandra Lee Semi-Homemade cookbook and complaining that she uses prepared foods.  To me the Hungry Girl cookbooks are books, really hit their target audience, they are for people who really do not cook, or have no idea how to cook healthy. While they are not necessarily healthy recipes, they are healthier recipes.  They really are good for making you look at your food choices and teaching you how to make informed decisions.   My daughter, who is a diabetes health educator, uses the Hungry Girl cookbooks at work and she says that they are extremely helpful. 

So not only do you have to understand what the target audience is, for many of our books you need to understand the time period that they were written in.  Do you rate a book written in the 1930’s or 50’s the same way that you would written currently?  What makes a cookbook a truly great cookbook?  What is important to one person isn’t necessarily important to another.  So lots of questions to answer.