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cookbook reviewWe tested this late in the summer, actually, but the review’s just coming out now.

I remember it really clearly because this was some of the most delicious food I’ve had in my life.  Night after night I sat at my plate making savage nom-nom noises and going caveman on the bones.

It wasn’t always easy cooking, as you’ll see in the review, but it was unforgettable. The matzo candy has become a household staple (and a reason to keep halvah around, just in case).

Read the review of Susan Feniger’s Street Food here.


I’ve already said much about Susie Middleton’s The Fresh and Green Table on NPR–it was a favorite in my summer roundup–but today’s paper has a more in-depth review which explains a bit better what I like so much about this book.

I noticed both in this book and the last one that Middleton never compromises on texture and flavor, even if it means taking one more little step or adding one last brightening ingredient.  As a result, a relatively high proportion of the testing recipes have turned out to be keepers.

They are also a good argument for the long-form recipe–I’ve always believed that it’s better to over-explain in recipes than leave room for doubt.  Even Middleton’s simpler recipes can be on the longer side, because she cares enough to explain exactly what you need to look for/smell for/taste for etc.  But that doesn’t mean they’re hard to pull off.

Click here to read today’s review of The Fresh and Green Table in the Boston Globe.

We tested this cookbook (by the celebrated chef of the gastropub The Spotted Pig) quite a while ago, in early spring, so many of the recipes have a cool-weather feel.

It’s a terrific book for the mindful cook who thinks with his or her hands.  JJ Goode does a beautiful job of conveying April Bloomfield’s detail-oriented yet unfussy, sensualist’s  approach to food.

That said, there are definitely days when I am not interested in turning each individual Brussels sprout half in the pan to achieve perfect bronzing.

Click here to read today’s review of A Girl And Her Pig in the Boston Globe. 

Here’s an informal write-up from my friend and fellow chowhound Mark Lattanzi.  The featured title is My Pizza, by Jim Lahey–the same Lahey whose no-knead bread made such a splash a few years back.  Mark and his wife Cindy are part of my own local food-wackjob community, and this foray was solidly in their tradition of beta-testing recipes most people either avoid or don’t have time to try more than once.

Incidentally the problematic broiler he mentions is the one we both have–ceramic infrared broilers built into our Blue Star ranges.  I like mine  and find it powerful enough, but I agree it’s too small.

Thanks for lending me the My Pizza book. I tried out Lahey’s technique twice (once with dough Cindy made, once with his no-knead dough).  The technique has promise but frankly, I think Blue Star broilers suck – too small to get good coverage on the pie, and kind of wimpy to boot.  So I can’t completely endorse the technique as I think our ovens are at a distinct disadvantage.

I also think that switching from oven to broil settings, while giving you a char on top, robs heat from the stone. The dough was never cooked enough on the bottom by the time the top was done. I could move the rack one setting lower and see if that helps, but I think with Blue Stars the way to go might be 500F + convection.

What failed to inspire was the dough. As Cindy said, “none of that no-knead dough has any flavor.” It did have a 21 hour rise, but was unremarkable. It’s not enough that it bubbled and charred; I want my pizza dough to contribute to the overall flavor. It might improve after a few days in the fridge, which he suggests.

I think absolute beginners would be unprepared for the serious challenge of taking a very wet, very slack lump of dough and shaping it. I got better by the 4th pie but Cindy says that was because the dough sat out on the counter and got another rise. I disagree – there was no second rise, as there was no punching down and no kneading. The dough sat there like a wet, untouched lump, silently challenging me to make something remotely circular without tearing holes in it.

I think the book has interesting topping ideas. I made the shaved asparagus pie and it was fantastic. Lots of the others look very tasty too.


Boston Globe cookbook reviewI’m a sucker for chicken romances, which are practically their own whole new genre of cookbook these days.

Jennifer Trainer Thompson’s has a good mix of story and information, but at first I didn’t think I’d find much new in it as a cookbook.  Yet it grew on me over the days of testing, until I finally realized that it was becoming one of the ones I liked best.

I’ve gotten two major additions to my regular cooking repertoire from it–scrambled eggs with Indian flavors (tomato, cilantro, cumin etc) and a classic egg salad–which is more than one gets from many cookbooks. It may not seem like much, but think for a moment about why you love your favorite cookbooks–it’s probably due to just a handful of recipes.

Meanwhile, in other household news, we’re getting our own first chicks tomorrow.  Wait up, bandwagon! the Chang-te Veldes are finally jumping on.

Click here to read today’s review of The Fresh Egg.

A very sympathetic and heartwarming review of A Spoonful of Promises in the International Examiner, a Seattle-based biweekly publication focusing on the Asian American community.

Thank you, Janet Brown!  I’m so very glad you enjoyed reading the book as much as I enjoyed writing it.

I first remember coming across Crescent Dragonwagon when I read her Alligator Arrived With Apples: A Potluck Alphabet Feast to my children.  Great message!  I thought, turning the colorful pages with their healthy array of fresh foods and whimsical animals.  Great name!  I thought, looking at the author’s byline.

It was a surprise when I realized she wrote cookbooks, too, and this month I finally had a chance to to try one.  Bean by Bean: A Cookbook is full of vibrant ideas for the often boring bean.  At least I thought so.  After a week of beans, my kids, predictably enough, thought she should stick with the children’s  books.

Click here to read my review of Crescent Dragonwagon’s Bean by Bean.

Well, here we go.  I’m officially jumping on the “Hunger Games ” train.  This review, however,  is completely unofficial, and here are 3 reasons why:

  • I’ve read the books, but haven’t seen the movie.  Husby and son have, but I was too much of a wimp to go along;
  • I haven’t tested the recipes (for cookbooks I’ve fully vetted, see my reviews page), so any judgements of culinary merit given herein are speculative;
  • in fact, I may never have a chance to review this book officially, as mega-author Suzanne Collins is an old friend of my husband’s…conflict of interest alert!

With all those caveats out of the way,  I have to say that the Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook is a pleasant surprise.  The headnotes and intro are sharp and clearly written by an avid fan.  There’s a sprinkling of insightful literary analysis regarding the role of food in totalitarian culture, and a dash of food-symbolism commentary.  Each recipe notes which chapter and book it references, which gives you an excuse to go get your copy and get sucked back in.

And the recipes?  Well, they’re a mix of indulgent Capitol food and subsistence District food, as you’d expect.

Some recipes merely fill out a sketchy reference in the book with a conventional recipe; these tend to be fairly pedestrian: Hot and Crispy Hash Browns, French Bread from the Mellark Family Bakery, Parcel Day Applesauce.  If the headnotes didn’t explain their origin in the books, these recipes would offer nothing you couldn’t find on the Internet or in mainstream cookbooks.  Their association with the Hunger Games is purely conceptual.

On the other hand, some recipes clearly wouldn’t exist without the trilogy’s explicit mention:   Grilled Tree Rat with Peanut Butter Dipping Sauce, Rue and Katniss’s Stir-Fried Milkweed Buds, Flowers, and Pods, and the Apple-Smoked Groosling, which is actually turkey.

How seriously are we to take the Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook?  Good question. Well, don’t look for any tips on skinning tree rat.  And any ingredient list that starts with “1 (6 pound) beaver, cut into pieces” seems to me to be assuming a lot.

But I am willing to guess that over half of the recipes can be taken just as they come; the author is an East Coast caterer and writer, and her technique looks solid enough.  The baking recipes in particular look like perfectly doable, normally edited recipes which ought to work in any home kitchen.  I have firm plans to try Katniss’ favorite lamb stew with dried plums, which is the only specific food my son specifically requested while reading the books.  (Remember, folks, dried plums are simply prunes! Don’t believe the hype!)

A final question: How faithful does a tie-in cookbook have to be, anyway?  The Hunger Games trilogy is the act of a bold imagination, and I don’t see why this unofficial companion shouldn’t be as well.  Indeed, the most jarring thing about the cookbook is the same as what’s jarring about the books and the film:  the sense that true human misery (hunger, warfare, brutality) can at some level always become a source of entertainment.  As consumers of The Hunger Games and its merchandise, we may be uncomfortably aware of that fact.  But it doesn’t diminish our appetite.


Today, a review of a fascinating oddity billing itself as “the re-envisioning of the modern cookbook.” By turns brilliant, offputting, and just plain different, the two-volume set seems designed to turn heads and invite commentary.

All that said, testing the book’s one recipe–the “Julian” cocktail-was one of the stranger, better dates Randy and I have had in some weeks.

Read the review here.

We tested this cookbook about a month and a half ago.  As is the case whenever I test a slow cooker book, this led to a very weird morning routine starting at 5 am:  Pack husband’s lunch for school, pack kids’ lunch for school, make dinner, make kids’ breakfast, make my breakfast.  But I loved the convenience of having dinner all set when the evening rush arrived.

I had the chance to hear Michele Scicolone at a panel at the cookbook conference in NY shortly after; she spoke compellingly about the need for greater authenticity in the understanding of Italian food.  It was an entertaining presentation, which I bought hook, line, and sinker.  It did, however, make me wonder about her French book, which I’d just tested.  Because while it may be decent cooking, and it may be well put together, I wouldn’t say it’s exactly authentique…

Click here to read the review.

Now cooking

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