Review: Pasta

Pasta: the beginner's guide by: Carlo Lai

Let's get something straight right away. While I'm certainly a beginner when it comes to making pasta, I am definitely an experienced pasta eater. This book was literally written for me. (Well, not literally, it was written for Frank, an American who stated that he loved to eat pasta but could never make it himself, but close enough.) This book walks you through the basics of pasta, from ingredients and tools, to recipes and shaping. This would be an absolutely wonderful book for anyone interested in learning how to make pasta. The recipes included are relatively simple (e.g. Fettuccine Primavera & Fettuccine with Walnut Sauce), but the clear directions and photographs make this a great beginner's book. It would be especially lovely bundled with a pasta machine as a gift.

Note: I received a free eGalley of this book from NetGalley (being a librarian has its perks!)

Book Review: Seven Spoons

Seven Spoons by Tara O'Brady

I've been reading Tara's blog (also named Seven Spoons) for years and I love pretty much every cookbook published by 10 Speed, so I had high expectations for this book. The design is beautiful - somewhat understated, with lovely photography and a stylish but easy to read font. (This is a personal pet peeve of mine - cookbooks with beautiful, but difficult to read fonts.) Recipes range from the basic (soft-set scrambled eggs, avocado toast, blitzed ricotta with peas, lime ginger ale, and homemade yogurt), to the more complex (chaat tostadas, bee-stung fried chicken, and Vietnamese coffee ice cream). To be perfectly frank, I feel silly reviewing this book, since I'm not sure I have anything to say that hasn't been said a dozen times before by bloggers with many more readers than me. This will be a very popular book among people who already follow Seven Spoons.

Note: I received an eGalley from NetGalley to review (being a librarian has it's perks!)

Book Review: Crumb

Crumb: A Baking Book by Ruby Tandoh

I loved this book. I've been baking since my early teens, so it's rare that I find a baking focused cookbook that I feel like adds something to my collection - this book does. It's well designed, but not precious like some other recently released books. There are tips to help you figure out why your cake is too dense or too dry or why is my bread dough rising so slowly. The author, Ruby Tandoh, also has my eternal respect for not requiring me to go out and buy a special pan just to bake madeleines.

The recipes are unusual enough to add to an already large cookbook collection (whether public library or personal), but familiar enough (and detailed enough) that a new baker could be successful. While these recipes are not particularly healthy (something which the author is very up front about), neither are they filled with ridiculous amounts of sugar and unnecessary adornments. There are simple and classic cakes, a good selection of basic breads, some delicious looking doughnuts, cookies (arranged by texture!), cheesecakes (without a water bath!), and other decadent desserts. (As an aside, this is the only non-Russian cookbook I've ever seen that included a recipe for Vatruski! I made a lot of friends in my Russian theater class by baking vatrushki for our Saturday morning rehearsals.)

As a primarily self taught baker, I particularly appreciate the photographs and detailed instructions for things like bun shaping, butter creaming, and frying. I also appreciate the artful, but not overly styled photographs. Each recipe includes a note telling where the accompanying photograph is. This is such a simple thing, but SO HELPFUL. I hate trying to guess where the photo of that one recipe will be.

Verdict: This book is immediately going on my personal wish list and I will recommend it to anyone looking for a good baking book.

Note: I reviewed an eGalley provided by the publisher on NetGalley (being a librarian has it's benefits!)

Oh look, I created an awesome new website and then barely wrote anything for it! How shocking! (Or, you know, exactly what I expected.)

2014 was a crazy year for a lot of the people I know, including me. I spent a good portion of the year feeling generally gross, until we figured out that it was my gallbladder. Once they yanked that sucker out, I suddenly had energy again! (Well, I did once I was over the recovery period. Surgery is no joke! I spent two weeks on the couch with cats, who were wonderful about not standing on my incisions.)

Professionally, this was a really great year. I presented two webinars (one in the US, one in Canada!), presented at ALA (Vegas!) and the Depository Library Conference in DC, and successfully chaired my first work committee. We're working on some really fun projects, none of which are ready for public consumption, but which will hopefully result in some fun papers and/or presentations!

Most importantly - I finished my tenure portfolio! It hasn't been submitted yet (that happens automatically at 5pm on January 5th), but I feel relatively good about it. I know that sounds sort unenthusiastic, but I've worked hard on it, gotten feedback, and revised a million times. I am proud of the product that I created and I feel like it represents my work and my growth over the past 5-ish years. But I also think it's hard to feel really great about something that you've put that much time, effort, and self reflection into. I wonder if this is what authors feel like when they publish a book - happy it's done, excited to hear what people think, but also slightly terrified. (This portfolio, after all, is the deciding factor on whether I get to keep my job. The tenure review is all or nothing.)

Book Review: Tamales

Tamales: Fast and Delicious Mexican Meals by Alice Guadalupe Tapp

I'll be honest, I've never made traditional tamales, only a simplified tamale pie (all the delicious tamale flavor with none of the shaping and tying of a traditional tamale). Still, I LOVE the flavors and I've been looking to expand my tamale repertoire, so I was excited by this book. I'm definitely planning to pick up a copy of this book!

cool: freezer instructions!; 10 different ways to wrap the tamale (with instructions and illustrations)

Masa: Multiple recipes for Masa (with different ingredients, which is great if you can't get one type of masa where you live), includes one made with polenta and one with vegan ingredients; even a sweet masa if you're making dessert tamales

Sauces and Salsas: walks you through how to make a salsa and then a sauce from that salsa (a basic template recipe using what you have); includes a few basic recipes that can build off each other and the template recipe for lots of variety (nice way to look at it! more flexibility, but maybe not great for someone who is less confident with improvisation)

Inside-Out Tamales: "Tontos" made of masa with fillings on top. E.g. Corn Salad Inside-Out Tamales, mexican tuna inside-out tamales (uses canned tuna!), Shrimp Inside-Out Tamales (because shrimp would get rubbery being cooked twice)

Meat Tamales: This part is less interesting to me, since I'm vegetarian, BUT my husband still eats meat, and it would be great to make up some for the freezer for him. Chicken Curry Tamales, Chorizo Corundas (these have the filling mixed into the masa, which makes them really easy to make), chorizo and egg tamales

Nose-to-Tail Tamales: I love that this is its own chapter, since Mexican food often includes all of the pieces. Bone marrow tamales, tongue tamales, oxtail tamales, cow's foot tamales.

Vegetarian and Vegan Tamales: Yaaaay. Huevos Rancheros-Inspired Tamales, Easy Green Corn Tamales, Tamara's refried bean and jalapeño rajas tamales

Dessert Tamales: Banana Nutella Tamales, Rice Pudding Tamales, Coconut Lime Corundas, Dulce de Leche Corundas

 

Note: I received a free e-ARC from NetGalley.

Book Review: Will It Waffle

Will It Waffle by Daniel Shumski (also the author of the blog Waffleizer.com

Have I ever mentioned that I love waffles? Well, I do. I love belgian waffles, freezer waffles, plain waffles, chocolate chip waffles, and pretty much any other kind of waffle you can think of. So when I saw a galley for Will It Waffle, I pretty much had to take a look.

The author opens the book explaining the differences between styles of waffle irons and the tools that will be most helpful. The good news is that basically all you really need is a waffle iron - everything else is just an extra "nice to have". One of the most useful parts of the introduction is the section on how to clean your waffle iron. If you've ever made a specialty waffle (e.g. we once made s'mores waffles!), you've probably ended up with gunk all over your waffle iron, taking it temporarily out of commission. Shumski has been there too, and gives you multiple strategies for cleaning out the waffle iron. I wish I'd had this section a couple months ago when my waffle iron was covered in toasted marshmallow!

The recipes start with the most familiar use for a waffle iron - Breakfast and Brunch. But remember, the book is called Will it Waffle, so the recipes aren't actually for waffles! This chapter has recipes for Crispy Waffled Bacon and Eggs, Sweet and Savory Waffled Sausage Patties (made with ground pork and spices rather than pre made sausage!), and Blueberry Cinnamon Muffles (Waffled Muffins). I really appreciate the detailed notes on each recipe, noting which type of waffle iron can be used (almost all of them are good with both belgian or standard), how long it will take, and tips for storing batter or waffles. I can't emphasize enough that this book is all about non-traditional waffle iron usage. For some reason, I was constantly surprised by the many, many ways that a waffle iron could be used to cook different foods!

The next chapter, Main Courses, includes sandwiches (e.g. a Waffled Cuban Sandwich), quesadillas (Green Chile Waffled Quesadillas), and even steak (Waffled Filet Mignon?!?!). I will admit that I was a little worried when I first started looking through the book that there wouldn't be many vegetarian options apart from plain waffled carbohydrates (the first recipe was for bacon after all), but happily, I was wrong. Although there are recipes for meatballs and BLTs, there is also a waffled portobello mushroom cap and Fawaffels (waffled falafel).

The fourth chapter consists of Snacks, Sides, and Small Bites. I wasn't sure what was left to waffle at this point, but I was pleasantly surprised. The Walloumi (waffled halloumi cheese) looks delicious, and like a great way to use an amazing but slightly challenging cheese. (If you haven't had halloumi, it's a grilling cheese - you can either fry it in a pan, or grill it, or waffle it I guess!) There were also Waffled Chicken Fingers, and a Caprese Salad on Waffled Eggplant. I'm a little confused on how some of the recipes in this section differ significantly from the Main Courses section (I probably would have put the Sweet and Sour Waffled Shrimp Wontons in mains), but that doesn't have a significant impact on the book's usefulness.

After the main course comes Desserts! Personally, I think waffles are highly underrated as a dessert food, so I was excited to look through this chapter. There's a lot of variety in this chapter, which is fun. From Waffled Pineapple to Waffled Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies to Red Velvet Waffle Ice Cream Sandwiches. I could see most people getting a lot of use out of this chapter, since it pushes the limits of what we expect to get out of a waffle maker, without going so far that it requires completely reconceptualizing what the appliance is for. (I'm not sure I'll ever forgive the author for waffling homemade pierogi. I may only be about 25% Polish, but that's Polish enough to be mildly outraged. Obviously I'm joking, but still!)

Finally, the book closes out with a chapter on Waffles that has two fairly standard waffle recipes. I feel like this more basic chapter may have been better at the beginning of the book rather than the end, but I can also understand why the author wouldn't want to put the most standard recipes right at the beginning.

There were times when this book made me go "Really? Why did you need to cook that in the waffle iron?" Example: Bibimbaffle, bibimbap cooked in a waffle iron. On the one hand, it's genius - traditional bibimbap is cooked in a hot stone bowl so that the rice gets crispy on the bottom. The waffle iron would probably do a really good job of approximating that. But at the same time, it's waffled bibimbap - which is kind of ridiculous.

 Overall, I would say this is a really fun book. The photography is well done and does show that the food was waffled, rather than being cooked some other way. And I will admit that I now look at my waffle maker in an entirely different way. If you're a fan of the author's blog or looking for more ways to use your waffle iron, I would highly recommend this book. I would also recommend it to public libraries with somewhat diverse cookbook sections - this is the kind of book I could see people borrowing for curiosity (and then for the delicious recipes).

note: I received a free digital review copy from NetGalley (this is one of those perks of being a librarian!)

Book Review: Simple Thai Food

Simple Thai Food by Leela Punyaratabandhu

My husband and I really enjoy thai food (for some reason Grand Rapids, MI has dozens of thai restaurants), and I own a number of thai cookbooks, but I still rarely cook thai at home. Why? I think I let myself think it's too difficult or too involved or too something else. That's one of the reasons why I was interested in reviewing this title, because I would love to cook more thai at home, and I was interested in seeing how the emphasis on "simple" worked in practice. I actually do think that this book lives up to the simple name - the instructions are detailed and address likely spots where the cook might get confused. (Example: in the recipe for Sweet Potato Fritters with Peanut-Sweet Chile Sauce "The batter will be thick and pasty which may send your Spidey sense tingling. But do not worry, as that is the way the batter is supposed to be.") Another thing that's really great about this book, which makes it fabulous for someone who is new to Thai food, is that each chapter includes an introduction to what that sort of thai food is about - how it's eaten, what the name means, and the types of food in that category.

Just as a note, this book isn't great for vegetarians - not shocking, since most Thai dishes include fish sauce, but I thought I should make sure to mention this.

Chapters and recipe examples:

Noshes and Nibbles:  herb-baked cashews, leaf-wrapped salad bites (includes some specialty ingredients you'll need to go to an Asian market for - palm sugar & dried shrimp), corn fritters (I appreciate that it includes fresh OR frozen corn amounts - I hate when recipes only have one!)

Rice Accompaniments: The literal translation of this chapter from Thai is "[that which is eaten] with rice". This section has a variety of familiar recipes as well as some less common ones: chicken-ginger stir-fry, stir-fried pumpkin with eggs (this sounds DELICIOUS), crispy wings with three-flavored sauce, stuffed egg-crepes (like a cross between a crepe and an omelet - I've seen photos of this from other bloggers and I'd love to try it), chicken-cashew stir-fry, coconut-galangal chicken soup, ox-tail soup

One-plate Meals: Many of the dishes in this chapter are the ones that are served at American Thai restaurants: pad thai with shrimp, curry noodles with chicken, rice noodles "drunkard's style" with chicken (AKA my favorite dish EVER), chicken in brown sauce on rice, spicy basil chicken and fried eggs on rice, 

Sweets: I love Thai desserts - they tend to be a little creamy and little sweet, and different enough from American desserts to be a little adventurous: no-bake almond cookies, chewy banana-coconut griddle cakes, bananas in sweet coconut cream (apparently also known as: bananas in nunhood), mango and sweet coconut sticky rice, sticky rice pearls in sweet coconut cream with poached eggs.

Basic Recipes and Preparations: The book finishes with a section on basic sauces and rices: how to steam rices, how to make your own coconut milk, curry pastes, chile jam, sriracha sauce, sweet chile sauce, 

The First Post

Have you ever noticed that the first blog post is always the hardest?

It's like the act of writing that first post will set the tone for the rest of the blog so you'd better not screw it up! Because then you'll have wasted a really fabulous domain name on terrible content.

I'm probably over thinking this. Sometimes the first post is just a first post. The first step in a journey and the first of many posts with an evolving style. (Was that a little too philosophical/cliche? It probably/definitely was. But hey, first post! It's bound to be cliche!)

I expect this blog to be a mixture of many things - food, books, professional musings, and whatever else I feel the need to write about. I'm sure it will evolve over time, but for now, I'm just going to go with it!