Showing posts with label book. Show all posts
Showing posts with label book. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Cookbook Review: Diabetes and Heart-Healthy Meals for Two

Author: American Heart Association and American Diabetes Association
Published: 2008 by The American Heart Association Consumer Publications
Available for Purchase: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powell's

Neither of us is diabetic, nor do we have heart problems, but I think the best way to keep those statements true is be careful before issues start.

There are more than 170 recipes in the book, in the following categories: Appetizers, Snacks, Beverages; Soups; Salads; Seafood; Poultry; Meats; Vegetarian Entrees; Vegetables and Side Dishes; Breads and Breakfast Dishes; Desserts.  There is a very short (6 pages) introduction on making healthy food choices, and a double index that isn't fantastic because it lists the recipes first by name, then by "subject", and many of the subjects are the same as the chapter headings.  It's just as easy for me to go to the first page of the poultry chapter and look at the recipe list that's printed at the start of the chapter with page numbers, as it is for me to go to the index, find the poultry section of the index, and look at that list of recipes.  If the index were sorted more specifically, for example chicken vs turkey, that would be more useful.  There are a few pictures in the center of the book, all in full colour, showing a total of 15 recipes.

Lots of recipes that look tasty, good nutritional information, and real "for two" recipes, none of that "freeze leftovers" nonsense that some small-yield cookbooks try. A couple recipes do call for "half a can" of diced tomatoes or whatever, which is frustrating, but most either use all of an ingredient or explain how you can purchase just half to begin with. There are a surprising number of processed ingredients in some of the recipes, and in order to make the nutritional analysis accurate you have to be careful to note that most of the ingredients required are "fat-free" or "low fat" or "low sodium" versions.

I've cooked from the book on several occasions, and have had good luck with everything I've tried, but for one soup that was far too heavily spiced. The dishes are good, filling, and the recipes are complete and easy to follow. Nothing so far has felt as if we're eating "light", there's no flavour lacking.  Admittedly, I sometimes use a recipe but don't get the "fat-free" sour cream that it calls for, but mostly I follow their guidelines. 

The vast majority of the entrees are in the 200-300 calorie range (some fall below that, a few go as high as 450 calories), and the sodium levels are generally amazingly low.  There are a lot of options, and recently this has been a cookbook that I find myself checking fairly often.  It's nice to have a good meal that is also relatively good for us. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Cookbook Review: Essentials of Cooking

Author: James Peterson
Published: 1999 by Artisan, my copy--with the cover shown above--published 2003
Available for Purchase: Amazon, Powell's, Barnes and Noble

This is a departure from the cookbooks I usually purchase, as it's not a specifically "cooking for two" or small-yield book, and it's not really even a cookbook.  Truly, it's a cooking reference book, and if you've only got space for one on your shelf, this should be one of the top contenders for that spot. 

This really does offer the "essentials", plus several new ideas that would never have occurred to me.  The book starts with full instructions--including step by step photos--on peeling vegetables (each type of vegetable is demonstrated separately), and ends with preparing and braising a large rabbit.  In between is everything from making tomato sauce to making chicken liver mousse; making french fries to cooking squid; poaching eggs to boning a whole round fish.  And there are clear photographs for each and every bit.  Even the 25 page glossary has some pictures, and it provides more than just definitions for each term.  The entry for "steam", for example, defines what cooking in steam is, how to do it, when it is usually done (with cross-reference to earlier text), descriptions of the four main types of steamers available for purchase, a description of how to improvise your own steamer, and instructions for how to use two different types of steamers.

I've never had to fillet a salmon, because my sweetheart takes care of that aspect for me when he catches the fish.  But I truly believe that if I were faced with a whole salmon, I could use the 19 photos here to take me from cutting away the fins to removing the pin bones.  At the same time, there are instructions--I hesitate to call them recipes, as most give ratios, not measurements--for all sorts of dishes, and I could use this book to make mayonnaise, chunky vegetable soup, baked tomatoes with garlic and fresh basil, gnocchi, or any of 18 classic sauces for sauteed chicken. 

Complete and sensible index, well-arranged table of contents, and colour-coded page numbers correlating to sections make it easy to find what's needed quickly.  There was not a single technique that left me feeling a jump had been made from one step to the next, and anything that requires previous knowledge tells you which page to find that particular bit of knowledge on.  For example, on "How to poach chicken in a pot", there are references to "to truss a chicken, page 146", "to core and section carrots, page 21", "to make a bouquet garni, page 31", and "to carve a roast chicken, page 149", plus the related glossary entry (poach) is listed so the reader knows where to go for more.

I am completely unsurprised that this guide was nominated for a James Beard award.  It is a condensing of years of training for those of us who will never attend culinary school but want a solid foundation for our home cooking.  As it says on the inner jacket: "Knowing how to execute a technique makes you efficient; knowing why you've chosen that technique makes you a master."

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Book Review: Yes, Chef

Author: Marcus Samuelsson
Published: June 26, 2012 by Random House
Available for Pre-Order: Amazon, Powell's

This was a seriously good book. Before I received it I didn't know a lot about Marcus Samuelsson. I haven't watched any of the seasons of Top Chef Masters, and I missed season 7 of the regular Top Chef (which is when he appeared as a judge), so my awareness of him as a chef has been name recognition only. I'm very glad that has changed with reading this memoir.

Immediately upon finishing the first chapter, I started checking the copyright page, "about the author" paragraph, and author's note to see if he had written the book entirely on his own or with a ghostwriter. Less than 5 pages in, I was that struck by the writing. After brief Google searches I still can't be sure, but I suspect that the acknowledgment of Veronica Chambers 'helping to tell his story' and 'the fine touch on the words being all hers' tells the reader that she was a big part of the writing. Either way, whoever was involved should be proud.

About six or seven chapters in, I was told that I was reading with a very expressive face. Smiling gently most of the time, occasionally furrowing my brow (I can only assume this was as I read a scene that took place on the playground). That has to be because the story of Samuelsson's life is truly fascinating and strangely accessible, considering how vastly different it is from my own experiences.

In tone Yes, Chef reminds me a bit of Jacques Pépin's The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen, which is a real compliment from me. Both memoirs show the same respectfulness toward family and kitchen staff, the same underlying sense of humor, and the same gratitude, optimism, and hard-working sensibility. One of the things I enjoyed most about Pépin's memoir was his humbleness and focus on the positive things in life, the ways he'd been fortunate. Samuelsson showed the same traits here.

I have no idea why someone would read a chef's memoir if they weren't interested in food, but for those of us who are: don't worry, there's plenty of gastronomic talk to satisfy most any foodie. I was especially pleased because there is so much discussion of dishes and flavour components of various countries and cultures around the world, which is wonderful. Most chef memoirs seem to focus on French cooking nearly to the exclusion of all else. While I understand that French traditions are the backbone of most restaurant work in the West, and I believe French food has a strong place in the culinary world, I don't believe that place is the only place.

I'm also a big fan of holding your head high enough and keeping yourself to a high enough standard to not feel the need of calling out your detractors in print when writing a book about yourself. Yes, Chef does not avoid this trap entirely. There are two professional clashes that are discussed, but the persons involved are not insulted and enough positive had been said about them in the previous mentions of them that it comes across not as a spiteful hit, but as a needed explanation of why those professional clashes happened. The incidents in question could not have been left out, so they were written about in the best way possible without attacking, and I appreciate that Samuelsson acknowledged his own responsibilities instead of placing all blame on the other involved parties. The only person truly called out in the entire book is a celebrity chef who conducts himself publicly in a style that I don't personally care for, so I can't be annoyed about seeing him taken down a peg. Even in that case, Samuelsson let the other man's words speak for themselves.

I live with enough privilege to have never thought of food careers as an arena where race would be a particular issue. My experiences growing up in California have been such that the idea of a professional kitchen being almost exclusively white chefs and Latino line cooks seems ridiculous (when I eat shawarma, qorma, adobo, mole, udon, mochi, tajine, phat thai, tandoori chicken, etc., I don't expect those restaurants' kitchens to be full of white faces, and in California those items are more available to me than coq au vin). I had my eyes opened to prejudices that still exist in the cooking world, and I appreciate that Samuelsson discussed it in a way that was clear and honest about the effect on him, but without changing the tone of the book from that of a story about a Chef who is black to a Story About a Black Chef. Race has been a factor in his life and his career, but it is not the entirety of the story, and I'm grateful that it wasn't written as if it were (though the last two chapters did start to get that way).

The quality of the book broke down suddenly and strangely for about 17 pages a few chapters before the end. Anecdotes that weren't relative or interesting were forced in with a shoehorn, then left lying there with no follow-up or reason for being. The writing through this section was choppy and backed me out of what I was reading, as I flipped backward and forward to see if maybe I'd accidentally skipped a page. It was this section that also made me think the book might be better off as a whole without titles to the chapters. Most of the chapters' content related directly to their titles, but others only tangentially or only 2 pages out of 10. The last two chapters were a lot of "wrapping up" language. They mused, felt nostalgic, and seemed to be trying to impart a lesson, when there was still more story to tell. It's unfortunate that this departure from the feel of the rest of the book is what the reader is left with, walks away with, as it's not the supremely enjoyable experience I had from the first 270-some pages. Fortunately it's not bad enough to dispel the good feeling, and I definitely feel good about recommending the book overall. As for me, I'm now off to watch Top Chef Masters Season 2, so I can see the man in action!

I received this book as an uncorrected proof "Advanced Reader's Copy" through a giveaway, from Random House, with no obligation to review or recommend.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Cookbook Review: Healthy Cooking For Two (Or Just You)

Author: Frances Price, R.D.
Subtitled: Low-Fat Recipes with Half the Fuss and Double the Taste
Published: 1995 by Rodale, re-released 1997 with a different cover but same contents
Available for Purchase: Amazon, Powell's

Within the first few months of purchasing this cookbook I had made around 50% of the recipes, and have since increased that to nearly 80%. There were only two occasions where we felt that a dish shouldn't go on the 'repeat' list, which is a great record, especially as compared to the other 'cooking for two' books I have. Great results come with basic skills, and the focus is on fresh ingredients as opposed to canned or frozen.

I love that this cookbook is focused on the recipes. There are two sections in the beginning with tips and techniques, and the occasional in-depth ingredient explanation fleshing out a recipe, but there is no space that's wasted that could better be devoted to recipes.

Each entry is listed in column format, with a column for the measurements to serve 1, and a column for the measurements to serve 2. A few recipes have a column for 2 and a column for 4, but they are the exception.

I never give cookbooks as gifts, because people have such different tastes and needs when cooking, but made an exception for this one. I bought a second copy for a friend and have considered buying copies for my sister and mom. All three households have two or fewer people and the variety of recipes would allow everyone to find dishes that satisfy them.

The only photo in the book is the one on the cover, so for those who need pictures of the completed dish to guide or inspire them, that may be a problem. This is actually the cookbook that cured me of that stumbling block, and I'm a better cook for it. Basic nutritional information is included for each recipe.

Recipes I've made from this cookbook:
Hong Kong Primavera with Spicy Peanut Sauce
Baked Potato Soup with Broccoli & Cheddar
Bachelor's Prize Chicken

***** 5 Stars: Excellent. A favourite for both of us, I cook from this repeatedly