Category Archives: Book review

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.

Review & Giveaway of New York Sweets: A Sugarhound’s Guide to the Best Bakeries, Ice Cream Parlors, Candy Shops, and Other Emporia of Delicious Delights

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New York Sweets: A Sugarhound’s Guide to the Best Bakeries, Ice Cream Parlors, Candy Shops, and Other Emporia of Delicious Delights by Susan Meisel, published by Rizzoli on April 2, 2013, is a comprehensive listing of all the places to get your sugar fix in NYC.  Whether you are an ice cream person, a bakery person or a candy person, there is something in this book for you.  Personally, I tend to lean toward ice cream and bakeries.  The book includes some of my faves:  Doughnut Plant, Jacques Torres, Payard, Villabate, L’arte Del Gelato, Sockerbit, Tea & Sympathy, Vosges, Ferrara and Van Leeuwen. This is one of those books I wish I had written!  The book is divided into neighborhoods, so you can do a sweets tour in each NYC ‘hood!  I want to try Puddin’ on St. Mark’s Place–a shop with puddings and toppings.  There’s plenty of eye candy in the hardcover book with color photos of goodies from all the shops listed and recipes for you to try at home.

If you are in New York and have never been, the Rizzoli Bookstore on 57th Street is worth a trip.  I love this store.  Rizzoli has wonderful art and photography books and a great international magazine section.

You can win a copy of this fun book by entering the giveaway.  If you win, Rizzoli will ship you a free copy of New York Sweets: A Sugarhound’s Guide to the Best Bakeries, Ice Cream Parlors, Candy Shops, and Other Emporia of Delicious Delights by Susan Meisel.

To enter the giveaway:

Leave a comment below, answering this question:

What is your favorite sweet shop or bakery?  (It doesn’t have to be in New York).

For additional entries, become a fan on Facebook or sign up for my Tweets on Twitter and let me know you signed up in a separate comment.  One winner will be chosen at random and announced on Friday, April 12.  Contest closes on Thursday, April 11 at 12 PM EST.  (Rizzoli will ship the book to the winner.  U.S. residents only.)  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).  Good luck!

Contest is closed.

Two for Tuesday: Ingrid Hoffman’s Latin D’Lite

Ingrid Book Cover

Ingrid Hoffman stars in Food Network’s Simply Delicioso, also the title of her first cookbook.  Her latest cookbook, Latin D’Lite, Delicious Latin Recipes with a Healthy Twist, is available today, April 2, 2013 from Celebra, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

When it comes to Latin cuisine, I don’t know very much.  Luckily, I live in Manhattan where I have access to many different types of ethnic cuisine, and right in my neighborhood, there are Mexican, Cuban, Brazilian, Peruvian and Argentine restaurants.  Last year, I tried empanadas for the first time and found out what I had been missing! 

Like any unfamiliar cuisine, Latin American cooking is a little intimidating to me with ingredients I’m not used to using, like adobo seasoning or chiles.  What I like about Ingrid’s book is that she uses these ingredients to create recipes that are easy for the home chef.  I also like that she represents many of the diverse Latin cultures, lightening up traditional dishes like huevos ahogados, or drowned spicy Mexican eggs, and aguadito de mariscos, or Peruvian seafood soup. 

In addition to her healthy recipes, she has a feature she calls “Indulge!” where the recipes are fuller fat versions for the days you want to indulge.  Mexican corn soup with heavy cream sounds delicious.  I’d love to try the creamy chipotle mashed potatoes made with cream cheese and the plantain fritters with avocadolicious dip. 

This Two for Tuesday includes two recipes I made from Ingrid’s Latin D’Lite this Sunday for Easter.  Torrijas, or French toast, is a traditional Easter dish in Spain.  Last year, I had torrijas for dessert at the Spanish restaurant, Gastroarte, which was my first introduction to torrijas.  Ingrid says the classic version is fried in olive oil.  Her lightened version uses just cooking spray to fry.  The accompanying banana-yogurt mixture is a pleasant addition to the torrijas.  This healthy breakfast is quick and easy enough to make on a weekday.

torrijas

I also made her mom’s creamy fruit salad for Easter.  This was very fun to make!  I have never toasted coconut flakes before and didn’t realize it was so easy to do.  The salad is like a healthy ambrosia salad with a bit of dark rum.  I used my favorite Kraken spiced rum.  It adds a sweet, spicy flavor that complements the fruit.  The mint adds a refreshing kick to this creamy and sweet salad.  (I didn’t use cantaloupe or honeydew because I’m not a big fan, but they weren’t missed.)  This salad is going to be my go-to summer salad for cookouts and potlucks.

mom's creamy fruit salad

I’d like to try salt and vinegar kale chips and baked plantain chips.  I think both of these would be great snacks to bring to work.  The hibiscus flower and ginger agua fresca sounds like the perfect refresher for summer parties.  I’ve been looking for recipes to cook calamari without frying them, and the Catalan noodle paella (fideua) cooks them unbreaded in a saffron-based broth.  Her shrimp and mango adobado salad has a grapefruit-lime-sweet paprika marinade, yum!  It’s served with her creative salsa, roasted corn-red onion-avocado-pepper.  Roasted corn salsa is definitely getting me in the mood for summer!  I look forward to making these recipes from Latin D’Lite.

Food Photography for Your Blog

Food photography is a topic of interest to any food blogger who wants to make the photos on her blog look professional and stunning.

photo property of Bill Brady used with permission

Bill Brady, professional food photographer, addresses everything food bloggers and those who aspire to a professional career in food photography need to know to take great food photos in his new book More Digital Food Photography from Course Technology PTR, a part of Cengage Learning.

used with permission

I met with Bill over lunch at Madison & Vine in Manhattan to discuss his book and career in food photography as well as his hints and tips for taking professional-quality food photography for food bloggers.  Bill says he doesn’t mind giving away the tricks of the trade.  Each photographer has his or her own eye, called the point-of-view, and would all have a different perspective when photographing the same scene.

photo property of Bill Brady used with permission

Bill says the top two important areas in photography are light and composition.  When photographing food in a restaurant, he says, the best seat in the house is one near the window where you can get access to natural light.  “Food likes to be lit from behind,” he says.  Direct sunlight is not the best though.  “On an overcast day, the light is perfect,” he says. “Food likes diffused light not harsh light.  If you’re sitting outside or by a window, you have a better chance of getting a good picture.”  Bill’s biggest no-no is a flash.  “Artificial light makes the food look off color,” he says. He recommends purchasing a small diffusion panel–easy enough to fold up and carry in your purse–to use to reflect light off of.  Either that, or a white plate held in front of the subject as you photograph.

photo property of Bill Brady used with permission

Composition is the second area to focus on when photographing food.  Bill says to move the dish around to find what part of the food looks best.  He says if you’re photographing a roll, which he proceeds to do as an example, tear it to show its texture inside, put a pat of butter on a butter knife and lay it across the front of the bread plate to create more interest.  “What you’re doing is manipulating the surroundings,” he says.  Then decide what angle you will shoot from.  “If you want more drama, you shoot from below, looking up at the food.  If you shoot from overhead, it’s more graphic,” he says.  “You could focus on a particular area and something else becomes a background element.”  Bill adds, “Compositionally, the closer you get to the food, the better.”

I take a picture of my dish as I normally would, with a camera phone and flash.

Then I take one with natural light and a close up.  (We were seated in the middle of the restaurant, so the lighting was not the best.)

Bill recommends a point and shoot camera over a camera phone.  “A good digital SLR is not that expensive,” he says and will last you at least five years.

Bill shoots with a medium format camera.  It’s more expensive, he notes, but more professional in terms of the results you get.  He also likes shooting manually so he can control every aspect.  Starting his career in photography in 1994, he worked with a food photographer and learned the food photography business, which he began doing in 1999.  A trip to Italy solidified his interest in food photography.  “The food was amazing–the way they presented it,” Bill says.  So he shot food on his own and found his niche.  His first assignment was to photograph every category of food for Food Emporium.  In the last 13 years he has been photographing food, photography has seen many changes–most importantly, the transition from film to digital, and the ways in which that made taking photographs easier.

photo property of Bill Brady used with permission

I recommend checking out Bill’s very cool blog where he pairs his food photography with reader recipes.  Also, stay tuned for my review of his book as I start my adventure into food photography for my blog.

Cookbook Ghostwriters

The New York Times’ Diner’s Journal article, “I Was a Cookbook Ghostwriter,” written by Julia Moskin, has created controversy, as it claims that some chefs were not solo authors of their cookbooks.  Rachael Ray and Gwyneth Paltrow are on the defensive.

First, do I believe that many chefs have ghostwriters?  Yes, I do.  They are chefs, not writers.  Writing is a skill just as much as cooking is.  In today’s world, people do not want to acknowledge nor pay writers for the work they do.  And writing is work.

After I read the article, I had respect for Bobby Flay for admitting he used a collaborator and for respecting writers as having a craft, or skill, that he doesn’t have.  I also think many chefs do not have time to write their own book.  I don’t see anything wrong with admitting, like Flay, that you hired a professional writer to do the writing.  How is that different from hiring a professional food stylist to style the food, or professional editor to edit the book, or professional photographer to photograph the pictures in the book?  I fail to see the difference.  I, for one, would respect a chef more for collaborating with and giving writing credit to an author who helps him write his book.  A ghostwriter, however, is different from a collaborator.  A collaborator implies acknowledgement.  The very name “ghostwriter” means that the writer is a “ghost” or unseen.

Now, it’s one thing to hire a writer to write your book, and another thing altogether to hire one to create your recipes.  A chef shouldn’t need someone to do that.  I can see someone in Rachael Ray’s or Martha Stewart’s position having staff who create recipes in her style.  They have TV shows, magazines and books, and there is no way they can do all that work alone.  In my opinion, it doesn’t detract from their credibility nor my interest in them.  Now, I would be disappointed to find out that a chef with his own restaurants would have a book with recipes created by someone else.  A chef is someone who perfects his craft, much like a professional writer does, and his craft is creating in the kitchen.  I want his authenticity. 

I’m not sure how Gwyneth Paltrow gets into the conversation.  She’s neither a professional writer nor chef.  Do I believe Gwyneth Paltrow wrote her own book, My Father’s Daughter?  I believe she thinks she is a professional writer and chef.  Therefore, I believe she wrote her book, or at the very least, the title, because she is her father’s daughter.

The Geometry of Pasta

I read an interesting article in yesterday’s New York Times by my friend, science columnist Kenneth Chang.  The article is about using software to generate a pasta’s shape.  Two architects, Marco Guarnieri and George L. Legendre, published a book called Pasta by Design where they show the mathematical equations for popular pasta shapes.  The article has a cool interactive feature where you can see the equations and shapes rendered.

Recipes Remembered: A Celebration of Survival

Recipes Remembered: A Celebration of Survival by June Feiss Hersh is a collection of recipes from those who experienced the Holocaust.  The recipes span the globe from survivors in Greece to Cuba.  Dr. Ruth Westheimer is featured in the book.  The book, which was published by Ruder Finn Press in association with the Museum of Jewish Heritage, goes on sale this Sunday.