Today’s post is good for you and bad for you!

We’ve had a bounty of asparagus from the garden for the last 4 weeks.  Little did I realize when we planted them, in two batches some 10 years and 4 years ago, that we’d be talking about one bunch a day right through spring.  Finding new ways to prepare asparagus has taxed my ingenuity – but I’ve shared some of my favorites in today’s story.  After it went to press, I discovered I also love asparagus lightly oiled and grilled…not that you even need a recipe for that.

Then, some of the most memorable testing in months happened a couple of weeks ago when I tackled Fried & True - an entire book’s worth of fried chicken recipes.  My editor took pity on me and said I didn’t have to fry chicken all week, but I still did it twice (plus one oven-fry), and tested a whole bunch of high-octane sides for good measure.  Many thanks to our good friends Mark, Mark, Cindy and Bella for helping us make our way through glistening heaps of poultry.

Click here to read today’s asparagus story and review of ‘Fried & True’ in the Boston Globe.   Hit the paywall?  Click here for the PDF version of asparagus story or PDF version of Fried & True review

On  Cookbook Finder, my cookbook-rating app, you’ll find write-ups of 250+  of the latest cookbooks, and regular cookbook news.  It’s the only up-to-the-minute cookbook app anywhere!

What, you say you’re already too much of a cookbook addict?  Ah, but you see, Cookbook Finder will help you get control of your problem.  Now you’ll only buy the good ones.

Available for  iPhone/iPad and Android devices.

Hooray for summer cookbooks!

 After a year’s budget-induced hiatus, NPR is back with the summer roundup!  10 new and juicy, sun-kissed, wave-splashed cookbooks for the well-intentioned and the self-indulgent alike.

Click here for the official NPR summer cookbooks roundup.

Here’s a quick and dirty rundown in case you just want to check out the list:[Please note that I'm taking a leaf out of Stephen Colbert's book this month to show solidarity with those publishers struggling with Amazon's monopolistic recent moves: This summer roundup list features Powell's affiliate links instead of Amazon links. Powell's has excellent prices, fantastic customer service, and ethical business practices, so shop with confidence.]

Top 10 Summer Cookbooks of 2014

And here’s the shortlist:

Because Kale Is Only the Beginning
Brassicas, by Laura Russell.

Memoir/Cookbook for Lovers of Whimsical Food Writing
Slices of Life, by Leah Eskin

Slightly Less Guilty Pleasures
Honey and Oats, by Jennifer Katzinger (Sasquatch)

Best Barbecue Book by a Former Baseball Star
The Nolan Ryan Beef & Barbecue Cookbook, by Nolan Ryan (Little, Brown)

Because Backyard Chickens Don’t Take a Vacation
Egg,  by Michael Ruhlman (Little, Brown)

Most Empowering Buttercream Book Ever
Sensational Buttercream Decorating, by Carey Madden (Robert Rose)

Eye-popping Tropical Savories from Our Island Neighbors
Caribbean Potluck: Modern Recipes from Our Family Kitchen, by Michelle Rousseau and Suzanne Rousseau

Now that NPR’s Kitchen Window series has come to its bittersweet conclusion, I’ve found myself once again with a little more time for local food reporting.  My first foray back on the beat took me an hour north to New Hampshire, where I spent the afternoon at a dairy farm owned by a family that’s lived and worked there for 200 years.

The realities of small farming being what they are, the family has diversified into cheese and small-batch ‘switchel’ vodka.  Never heard of switchel?  It’s a traditional farmhand drink also known as “haymaker’s punch” – and unique to New England.

Food reporting is a little more involved than cookbook reviewing, but I enjoyed learning about switchel – not to mention sampling it after – and seeing some less-well-known corners of the region.  More food-beat-cop work to come.

Click here to read today’s Boggy Meadow Farm story in the Boston Globe.   Hit the paywall?  Click here for the PDF version

I’m a sucker for regional cookbooks (see regional Chinese cookbook review from 2 weeks ago).  I love learning about the nuances of a country’s many rich subcuisines – who eats bread, who eats rice; who grazes cattle and eats dairy, who doesn’t mind pork.  I feel like I’m getting some value, as if I’m going to a seminar or at least a weekend workshop to learn something a little more lasting than usual.

But ultimately,  it comes down to the recipes.  It’s often the case that international buy-ins are hard to use, as cookbooks.  The conversions hold endless possibility for typos and in a book of some 300 recipes, how likely is it that the Americanized versions were all tested?  So there are some snafu’s.  But the exhaustive step-by-step photos help, and more often than not the flavors hit it out of the park.

Click here to read today’s review of ‘The Complete Indian Regional Cookbook’ in the Boston Globe.   Hit the paywall?  Click here for the PDF version

On  Cookbook Finder, my cookbook-rating app, you’ll find write-ups of 250+  of the latest cookbooks, and regular cookbook news.  It’s the only up-to-the-minute cookbook app anywhere!

What, you say you’re already too much of a cookbook addict?  Ah, but you see, Cookbook Finder will help you get control of your problem.  Now you’ll only buy the good ones.

Available for  iPhone/iPad and Android devices.

“A Cookbook of Big Flavors!” shouts the cover – and boy, is that true.

It was a week of sheer adrenaline and constellations of flavors I’d never tried together before:  Dill yogurt – lemon-apricot-harissa! Lamb-scallions-Coke!  Coffee-sun dried tomato-currants!!  And all of them worked!

As flavor combinations, anyway, they worked.  But a lot of them broke my heart anyway for other reasons, as you’ll see.

I found great consolation in the splendid backstories, tips, and history scattered throughout the book.  But I still hope they fix the heartbreak in the reprint.

Click here to read today’s review of ‘Bold: A Cookbook of Big Flavors’ in the Boston Globe.   Hit the paywall?  Click here for the PDF version

On  Cookbook Finder, my cookbook-rating app, you’ll find write-ups of 250+  of the latest cookbooks, and regular cookbook news.  It’s the only up-to-the-minute cookbook app anywhere!

What, you say you’re already too much of a cookbook addict?  Ah, but you see, Cookbook Finder will help you get control of your problem.  Now you’ll only buy the good ones.

Available for  iPhone/iPad and Android devices.

recipe testing bw

Behind the scenes at Roundup Testing Central.

Thrilled to report that the NPR Summer Cookbook roundup is back! I’m deep in testing right now. Keep an eye on this space for the announcement and link, first week of June.

If you haven’t tried a Terry Tan cookbook before, you could do worse than to try this series finale (it follows books on Shanghai/East China, Sichuan/West China, and South China).

I don’t suggest you drop your Grace Young and Fuchsia Dunlop books and rush to buy the complete set.  The recipes are not foolproof, and there is some loss in translation from international metric.  But with their lavish photography, carefully curated recipes, and good production values, the Tan books are worth considering as an addition to your Chinese regional cooking collection.

Click here to read today’s review of ‘Mandarin Food & Cooking’ in the Boston Globe.   Hit the paywall?  Click here for the PDF version

On  Cookbook Finder, my cookbook-rating app, you’ll find write-ups of 250+  of the latest cookbooks, and regular cookbook news.  It’s the only up-to-the-minute cookbook app anywhere!

What, you say you’re already too much of a cookbook addict?  Ah, but you see, Cookbook Finder will help you get control of your problem.  Now you’ll only buy the good ones.

Available for  iPhone/iPad and Android devices.

A cookbook might be the nicest thing you can give for Mother’s Day – it lasts longer than flowers or dinner, it’s less expensive than a trip to a spa, and it’s not as hard to pick as a scarf.  Chances are, if you have a mom who loves to cook, you already know what kind of cooking she likes.  So you might already have a sense of what kind of book she’d appreciate.

Just in case you’re stuck, though, I’ve compiled a list of hard-to-resist books in various categories.  Beautiful books, books that read as well as cook, books that are just plain fun are all good choices.  Steer clear of diet books (unless specifically requested) or books that basically say, “Feed Me” – most entertaining books; in short, or anything that might make Mom feel overworked or resentful.

Visual Feasts: You can’t go wrong with a beautiful book – especially these days, when food photography has gotten so phenomenal you can practically eat the dishes with your eyes.  Books like Canal House Cooks Every Day ($45) and David Tanis’  One Good Dish ($25.95) make you want to catch your breath when you open them, and linger for an hour to browse before you rush to the kitchen.

Armchair Traveler:  Charm,  out-of-the-ordinary flavors, clear instructions – well-edited ethnic and regional cookbooks have it all,  bringing the world’s table to your doorstep. The Little Paris Kitchen ($35) offers up sweet chic, Indian Cooking Unfolded (19.95) is colorful and accessible – and then there’s always the ever-popular Jerusalem ($35).

Tell Me A Story: Sometimes you just want to read a cookbook for its anecdotes and tales, its glimpses of culinary mishaps or delicious adventures.  I’m partial to the quirky Southern charm of Screen Doors and Sweet Tea ($32.50), but who can resist a chicken romance? like Janice Cole’s Chicken and Egg ($24.95).

Down the Garden Path – For moms with green thumbs, a handful of cookbooks make great garden companions: the lavish and handsome Grow Cook Eat ($29.95) has seed-to-harvest guidance and lots of wise tips, while Eliot Coleman’s and Barbara Damrosch’s  4-Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook ($22.95) offers up two lifetimes’  worth of cooking and growing expertise.

Treats: Some like diamonds, some like candy, but everyday indulgences like drinks and desserts make any evening a treasure as far as I’m concerned.  An Illustrated Guide to Cocktails ($20)is a lighthearted guide filled with graphic flair, while Faith Durand of the Kitchn’s Bakeless Sweets ($29.95) offers a summer’s worth of cool temptations.

For lots more Mother’s Day cookbook recommendations, check out  Cookbook Finder, my cookbook-rating app.  You’ll find write-ups of the latest cookbooks and regular cookbook news, and links to all my Boston Globe reviews.  It’s the only up-to-the-minute cookbook app anywhere!

I think it says something good about mainstream food culture that a cookbook jacket can now not only not display something baked and golden-brown on the cover but actually instead feature a blue-black close-up of octopus tentacles.

My daughter was very concerned about the octopus, but – though I love me a cephalopod – we didn’t test any this time.  From Maria Elia’s last book, I knew to expect big flavors and new ideas, and Smashing Plates – mostly – did not disappoint.

Click here to read today’s review of ‘Smashing Plates’ in the Boston Globe.   Hit the paywall?  Click here for the PDF version

On  Cookbook Finder, my cookbook-rating app, you’ll find write-ups of 250+  of the latest cookbooks, and regular cookbook news.  It’s the only up-to-the-minute cookbook app anywhere!

What, you say you’re already too much of a cookbook addict?  Ah, but you see, Cookbook Finder will help you get control of your problem.  Now you’ll only buy the good ones.

Available for  iPhone/iPad and Android devices.

It was summer of 2005 when I wrote my first story for NPR’s Kitchen Window, a then-brand-new series on the NPR website. It was my first time working with NPR in any capacity, and I was beyond thrilled.

In the 9 years since the series launch, I’ve written regularly for Kitchen Window, most of it under the sage guidance of editor Bonny Wolf and producer Amy Morgan. For me, it’s been 62 stories in all. I’ve written about octopus, egg yolks, squash blossoms, edible weeds, and mint ice cream (I finished that one the day before my second child was born). I’ve baked my way through Halloween (soul cakes), Valentine’s (iced heart cookies), Easter (egg breads), and Mother’s Day (waffles and scones). I’ve enjoyed heartwarming praise and endured withering critiques from hundreds of readers.  And the kind of stories I learned to tell here formed the basis for my book, A Spoonful of Promises.

Next month, the series will conclude. This story, about the sous vide revolution lapping at the thresholds of home kitchens, will be my last Kitchen Window contribution. My first piece, Garden in a Glass, was a nostalgic reverie about the medieval art of herbal concoctions. It seems somehow fitting that my last should be such a modernist, future-forward piece, complete with thermocouples and vacuum sealers. We’ve come a long way in 9 years, both the food world and I.

NPR continues to provide excellent food coverage through The Salt blog, especially when it comes to food science, food sourcing,  and food trends. But I hope that NPR will someday once again have a place for the thoughtful rumination on food – the essay that takes us out of time and place and into a moment of pure sensibility.

As the immortal M.F.K. Fisher once wrote, “When I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it…” We live in a world frantic for connection, and sometimes it’s only food – primal, comforting, sustaining – that has the power to stop us in our tracks; to taste, to remember, to feel.

Click here to read Sous Vide Makes Its Way to the Home Kitchen at NPR’s Kitchen Window.  Or, if you like, browse all my Kitchen Window stories for NPR.

This story features a pork belly recipe from Nathan Myhrvold’s and Maxime Bilet’s  Modernist Cuisine at Home.  You can read more about this book – and over 250 other cookbooks worth getting or giving – on my cookbook-rating app, Cookbook Finder.  Available for both  iPhone/iPad and Android devices and updated regularly.

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