Category Archives: Book review

Foodie Mysteries + A GIVEAWAY

Some Enchanted Eclair

To celebrate my 1000th post, mystery author Bailey Cates has graciously offered to send one copy of her latest mystery novel, Some Enchanted Eclair, to one lucky reader of Hunting for the Very Best!

I love anything that has to do with a bakery, so when I saw the cover art for the first novel in this series, Brownies and Broomsticks, with its shades of pink, its magical swirls, and its pastry case filled with cakes, cupcakes and pies, I had to buy the book.  I’m glad I did because I fell in love with the characters and stories.  The novels follow Katie Lightfoot who moves to Savannah, Georgia, to open a bakery with her aunt and uncle.  Here, she learns that she is a hedge witch.  Before reading this book, I had no idea what a hedge witch was.  I’ve since found out that a hedge witch is a witch who uses herbs to create spells or for medicinal purposes.  Turns out, Katie’s aunt is a witch and Katie becomes part of the coven, a group of very colorful and interesting ladies.  Murder follows Katie wherever she goes.  With her special powers, she winds up being better than the local police at solving crimes.  Katie also has some romantic love interests who vie for her attention.

There are four books in the series so far , each as delightful a read as the first.  They are perfect for foodies like us!  Each book contains recipes of some of the goodies Katie bakes up in between sleuthing.  I love these books and am so happy to share them with you.

To enter the giveaway, leave a comment answering What is your favorite Hunting for the Very Best post? 

Don’t forget to like like Hunting for the Very Best on Facebook here and follow me on Twitter here though doing so will not count as another entry.  Winner will be contacted via email, so please be sure to include your email address in the field when you leave your comment (it will not be visible to the public).

Contest closes on November 30, 2014, at 12 Noon EST.  One winner will be chosen randomly.  Winner will be announced on December 1, 2014.  Open to residents of continental US only.  Winner will be mailed a copy of Some Enchanted Eclair by Bailey Cates.  Not responsible for lost mail.

Good luck and thank you for following me as I go hunting for the very best!

Key West Key Lime Pie Cookbook Winner

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I recently won a giveaway of The Key West Key Lime Pie Cookbook by David L. Sloan from Curly Girl Kitchen.  The cookbook features Curly Girl Kitchen blogger Heather’s photo of key lime tartlets.  How cool is that?  If you haven’t checked out her blog, you must.  Her photos are gorgeous and her recipes are beyond tempting.  I mean, don’t you just drool over this blueberries and cream cake?  Congratulations, Heather, for having your photographic talent recognized in this lovely cookbook!

Having lived in Florida, I’m a big fan of all things key lime.  So I’m very excited about this cookbook.  The cookbook has a lot of history on key lime pie, including news clippings of different recipes.  The book focuses on four components of a pie:  crust, filling, sauce and topping.  For each category, it gives you many variations, including traditional graham cracker crust or Papa’s pretzel crust (named so for Key West resident Ernest Hemingway), mango tango filling to makin’ bacon filling, Caribbean coconut sauce to Cuban coffee sauce and agave cream topping to saffron meringue topping.  You can mix and match the components to come up with your favorite version of key lime pie.  How fun!

Southern Living’s The Southern Cake Book

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Yay!  I won Southern Living‘s The Southern Cake Book in a giveaway on Cookbooks365Cookbooks365 is a very cool blog by Fran and Shelly who feature recipes from new cookbooks on many different subjects.  This one is all about Southern cakes.

I want to make one of the cakes in the book for an upcoming birthday.  The cover cake is ambrosia cake and it looks pretty fabulous.  The strawberries-and-cream  cake is also a contender, as is the most requested Southern Living recipe, the hummingbird cake.  Having spent much time in the South, I love red velvet cake, caramel cake and pound cake.  The book has traditional recipes for each of these.  There’s a recipe from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Mama Dip’s carrot cake.  So I look forward to trying a recipe!

Two for Tuesday: Israeli Cookbooks

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I love Mediterranean food.  It’s so healthy and delicious.  So I was intrigued by two cookbooks that came out this past year on Mediterranean/Middle Eastern cuisine, primarily Israeli, Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi and Balaboosta by Einat Admony.

Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

Jerusalem is a great cookbook with traditional as well as contemporary dishes from the varied cultures that make up the title city.  The authors, who are Israeli and Palestinian, respectively, while sensitive to the tensions in the area, choose to focus on the food–the richness that all those cultures bring to the cuisine.  As many writers and chefs would agree, food is a binding agent; however, it can also separate people when cultures disagree on who created a popular dish.  Rather than debate issues, Jerusalem celebrates the cuisine.  The authors note that there are some food elements that are crosscultural in the area, such as chopped salad, stuffed vegetables with rice, rice and meat, meat and pickled vegetables, olive oil, lemon juice, olives and baked cheese pastries.  But they mention that the cuisines of the area are very diverse and different, and their focus in the book is on foods that they grew up with and what they like to cook themselves.

The book has some history on the area and explains in more detail some aspects of cooking like what za’atar is and how it is used.  There are recipes for more familiar dishes like fattoush, hummus, tabbouleh and falafel.  Some recipes that sound amazing to me are sabih, an eggplant dish brought by Iraqi Jews.  The minty kohlrabi salad with Greek yogurt and sumac sounds wonderful.  Pureed beets with yogurt and za’atar would be a great dip for some pita bread!  There’s a recipe for shakshuka, the poached eggs in tomato sauce dish that reminds me of a similar dish my Italian grandma made.  I’m intrigued by the pasta cooked in hot yogurt sauce, as in the conchiglie with yogurt, peas and chile.  This book is great for vegetarians as well, as there are so many meat-free dishes.

Balaboosta by Einat Admony

Balaboosta by Einat Admony, on the other hand, isn’t just about food but more about a way of life.  A balaboosta is a Yiddish word for a housewife, but not just any housewife.  According to Admony, a balaboosta “made sure her table was crowded not just with food but also with laughter.”  She was the nurturing woman who cooked, cleaned and cared for her family.  Admony is a wife, mother and professional chef with successful restaurants Balaboosta, Taim and Bar Bolonat.  Not only is she all of these things, she is one cool lady and as Wendy Williams would say, a friend in my head!  Her favorite comfort food is a jelly doughnut.  Hello!  We would so be BFF. 

Her book is divided into chapters that cover all the things a balaboosta needs to know.  There are dinner party dishes, recipes for kids, quick meals, romantic foods, comforting dishes, outdoor party recipes and healthier options.  She is too funny when she talks about trying to lose weight.  She says she took pills, did the cabbage soup diet, the master cleanse, boxing  and something called Zerona that she said was like “being fondled by an octopus that shoots fat-melting lasers into your flab.”  Ultimately, she says that she doesn’t want to give up her love of cooking and eating.  Yay!  Enjoying life is part of being a balaboosta.  Sign me up!

There are so many wonderful recipes in this book.  While Admony’s parents are from Yemen and Iran, she focuses on all Middle Eastern/Mediterranean cuisine.  She has her version of shakshuka, which I’ve had at her restaurant Balaboosta.  There’s a cauliflower dish called “cauliflower everyone loves” that looks like a delectable crispy fried cauliflower.  I have a sweet tooth, so I love her homemade kit kat made with Nutella and corn flakes. OMG.  The coconutty milk chocolate popcorn may be in the kids’ section but it’s for kids of all ages!  I like the ricotta, pine nut and honey bread pudding with some Italian elements in there.  She includes one of her mom’s recipes, rice stew.  She says that it represents the changing relationship she and her mother have had.  She substitutes chicken neck in her mom’s version with chicken wings.  Funny–my mom loves chicken neck too.  The Palestinian Arab dish, sinaya, with layered tahini and ground meat, looks and sounds amazing.  I love, love, love labne and the fried olives with labne look delish.

Two for Tuesday: Food Americana Books

A Century of Restaurants by Rick Browne

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The Taste of America by Colman Andrews

A Century of Restaurants by Rick Browne was released this past October 2013.  Browne is known for his Barbecue America series, and what a fun endeavor he created for himself with this latest book.  He traveled around the United States, dining at historic restaurants.  What could be better than that?  Included is a write-up on each restaurant as well as photos of the decor and food and a recipe from the restaurant.

To judge the authenticity of this book, I looked at the New York section to see what he chose.  A lot of my favorites were in the bunch.  His choices include restaurants I’ve been to:  Barbetta, Delmonico’s, Ferrara, Fraunces Tavern, Katz’s Deli, Keens Steakhouse, Old Homestead Steakhouse and  Peter Luger Steakhouse.  It is no mistake that so many steakhouses make the list.  These classic restaurants are some of the best in the city.  In fact, four of my favorite meals are on the list–Barbetta, Delmonico’s, Keens and Peter Luger.  He even included recipes for standout items like Delmonico’s lobster Newburg, Ferrara’s cannoli, Keens’s mutton chop, the Old Homestead’s toast tower, and Peter Luger’s fried potatoes.

While I’ve traveled to many states and have eaten at many local favorites, I have been to only a handful of restaurants in the rest of the book:    Columbia in Ybor City, FL; The Berghoff in Chicago; La Fonda in Santa Fe, NM; Union Oyster House in Boston, MA and Old Salem Tavern in Winston-Salem, NC.

I’ve learned about many new ones I want to try:  The Griswold Inn in Essex, CT, looks like an adorable old-time seaside tavern.  The lobster potpie looks amazing too.  The huge circle of ham at the Log Inn in Haubstadt, IN, looks great.  the huge circle of ham at Breitbach’s Country Dining looks great, but I’d have to eat half to save room for the crazy-good-looking raspberry pie.  I’d love to have an old hot brown at The Old Talbott Tavern in Bardstown, KY.  The creamy Mornay sauce looks divine.  OK, my favorite recipe is the blueberry cream pie from The Publick House in Sturbridge, MA.    The maraschino cherry-studded banana fritters at Stagecoach Inn in Salado, TX, look delish too.  The brandy ice at the Wilmot Stage Stop in Wilmot, WI, is ice cream, brandy and creme de cacao.  I’m all about that!

Seriously, Rick, if you need a dining companion for a second book, I’m in!

The Taste of America by Colman Andrews was also released this past October 2013.  Colman Andrews is a food writer known for founding Saveur magazine.  His book is divided into chapters based on food categories like dairy products or condiments.  Within each category is an alphabetical listing of foods that come from or are produced within the United States like cheese straws or kolaches.  There’s a short blurb about the food’s origin and who makes the food.  Some of the foods are depicted in colored drawings.  The book showcases 250 foods.

I was disappointed with this book for a few reasons.  First, I would have preferred a photograph of the food/shop/market rather than the drawing.  Many of the foods do not have a drawing, so there winds up being a lot of white space that isn’t aesthetically pleasing.  I do like the drawings; they are great and add to the feeling of nostalgia to the book.  But for a book like this that also serves as a guide book with contemporary information on each food, I’d prefer photos.  However, the main reason I don’t like the book is that it doesn’t list where you can get the products.  (There is an index at the back of the book, but I’m talking about listing it on the page that discusses the food.)  I would have preferred if it gave information on the origins of the food but then listed purveyors of each one in an organized and easy-to-use format.  Also, it would have been nicer to have a more comprehensive listing of American foods because many regional favorites are not included in the book (for example, Carolina BBQ or New Jersey taylor ham/pork roll).  In general, I think books of this type lend themselves to a lot of subjectivity on the part of the author because the author chooses what types of foods/states/regions/ethnic foods to include.

Book Review: The Whole Fromage by Kathe Lison

One may be confused by the title of Kathe Lison’s book, The Whole Fromage:  Adventures in the Delectable World of French Cheese.  It is not a comprehensive listing or description of French cheese.  It is not a thorough history of French cheese.  It is a feature story on the state of French cheesemaking.  The author is a lover of cheese and departs on a journey to understand how French cheese is made, touring different regions and methods.  What she discovers is that some French cheesemakers are incorporating modern methods of cheesemaking.  She doesn’t directly impart a bias against doing so, although I would say she probably doesn’t like it.  I enjoyed the short read, as I know little about French cheese; however, I am a lover of all things made the handmade way.  Indeed, she writes, “We all like to hear about the guy who wakes up at 4:00 a.m. every day to milk his cows by hand and then make cheese in a big wooden bucket.  There is something about the thought of all that labor–of a human bringing something into the world by sheer dint of muscle–that we value.”  It’s true…and leads to a question, does it really taste better when it’s made that way or is that a delusion?  I think it tastes better (if the person making it knows what they are doing!).

If you are a cheese lover, a French cheese lover, or someone who enjoys artisanal or indigenous foods, you will enjoy this book.  In addition to the above thoughts, I also found it surprising that people will pay over $400 for cheese made from moose milk.  And I could’ve lived without the image of the cannulated cow, although once I googled it, the image wasn’t quite as bad as what I pictured but still appalling enough to make me rethink cheese and dairy.

Book Review: Paul Liebrandt’s To the Bone

I was interested to read To the Bone, chef Paul Liebrandt’s memoir (written with Andrew Friedman and released December 2013), after seeing A Matter of Taste.  I read some Amazon reviews of the book.  Some criticisms were that he’s too young to write a memoir and that it’s not a cookbook.  Well, the latter I’d have to agree with.  There are recipes but they are recipes for professional chefs.  The former, I completely disagree with.  And I’ll tell you why.  But first, I have to say that I enjoyed this short and easy read.  I think that if you are a chef, you will relate.  If you are a diner, you will appreciate the dedication that goes into creating the fine dining experience.  Finally, I think that if you are passionate about anything, you will relate to this book, as Liebrandt has the kind of single-minded focus on his craft that one needs to become successful at anything he attempts.  Liebrandt is to cooking what Tiger Woods is to golf.  I don’t see his book as bragging or as self-important.  In fact, he seems very grateful and very dedicated.  Which leads me to why I think Paul Liebrandt is not too young to write a memoir, and bear with me, because this is a bit of a tangent.  I admire youthful ambition because I relate to it–as a writer, not a chef.  Too often, in any industry, bright young people are not mentored, are not guided; instead, they are told they are too young to have any value, to have any original ideas, to deserve any validation.  This is due to the jealousy of an older, established group that should be mentoring instead of feeling threatened.  Paul Liebrandt had obvious talent or he wouldn’t have worked in half the places he did at such a young age.  What he did get, that I didn’t and a lot of people don’t, is 1.  the opportunity to work with some great mentors and/or 2.  those mentors taking an interest in him instead of being threatened (and/or sexually harassing, as I have to add for females like myself who have undoubtedly experienced it in the pursuit of a goal).  I feel strongly about this because I experienced it personally.  If I could save a bright young writer from some of the experiences I had in the writing world, I would gladly do it, as I don’t see the value of jealousy but instead, see the value in the legacy of experience.  These are the thoughts I had from Liebrandt’s book, as I think he is a bright chef who had the opportunity to learn from some of the great chefs in his field and some of those chefs were mentors to him.  There is a “recipe” for success, no pun intended, and that includes a bright individual who is dedicated to his/her passion, the right mentors and the right opportunities.  So as I read Liebrandt’s memoir, I related to his being a young loner, to going out on his own to study his craft and dedicate himself to it.

In addition, I enjoy reading about chefs and their creative process.  I love dining out at fine dining establishments.  The view on food is different from your average “bistro”–where Liebrandt felt stifled.  Liebrandt worked for what he got, he put in the hours, he lived in the dives, he put up with workplace abuse, he created despite it like so many people do who are passionate about their art.  But the somnabitch had the other thing–the luck–the opportunity that some of us don’t have.  I am sure there are frustrated chefs as well as frustrated writers, artists, musicians, actors, football players who will read this book and live vicariously through Liebrandt’s success, rooting for him and happy he made it–at a young age–when the odds and the older generation were against it.