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Cookbook Review: Tartine by Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson

Note: I received a digital advance reader copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Tartine is easily one of the most famous bakeries in the country, possibly the world. One of my biggest regrets on our last trip to San Francisco is not carving out some time to visit this pastry Mecca. I was therefore very excited to receive an ARC for their classic cookbook, now updated with new recipes as well as old ones that have been slightly modernized.

Every recipe is something that I want to drop everything and make. From Matcha-Glazed Croissants (!!!) to Chocolate Salted Buckwheat Cookies to Sweet Potato Cake with Meringue Topping, it's all here and it sounds delicious. There are also the traditionals--one of the first things they cover is step-by-step how to make the best croissants of your life. Their flavors range from the French (brioche and cannelles) to American (coffee cake and Dutch apple pie) to Mexican (conchas and Mexican wedding cookies) with a little bit of everything in between.

One thing that's new in this cookbook is the inclusion of gluten-free recipes and recipes that use other flours, such as buckwheat, rye, and even teff. While I'm not gluten-free, I have many friends that are and would certainly appreciate these additions. It's by no means a gluten-free cookbook, but rather friendly to modern diets.

The cookbook is filled with beautiful photos, and the recipes are well-written, clear, and designed for the home baker to follow. Some of the recipes are very complex and would benefit from a good deal of baking expertise. It's definitely not a cookbook for the beginner baker, but one for the baker who aspires to churn out tarts and French pastries from their home oven with ease.

Even though I was only supplied with the pdf version with a watermark, this is a book that will definitely be making it in my collection. Look out for the inevitable day when matcha croissants end up on this blog!

Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Cookbook Review: Modern Mediterranean by Marc Fosh

Note: I received a digital advance reader copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I love Mediterranean food. While I'm not well-versed in cooking it, it's one of my favorite cuisines when I go out to eat, so I'm always eager to review a Mediterranean cookbook. That's how I ended up diving into this book blind without realizing that the author is a Michelin-star chef! It's a real beauty of a cookbook, from stunning pictures of Mallorca to close-ups of the main ingredients around which he builds his recipes. In the text, he makes a case for why Mallorca and Mediterranean food are so special, and it's brimming with imagery that makes me want to hop on a plane tomorrow and settle down in his island paradise.

As Mallorca is part of Spain, the recipes are mostly Spanish, which is not a cuisine I usually equate with the Mediterranean. Don't seek out this book if you're looking for a recipe for falafel, as you won't find it here. What you will find are thoughtful, creative, and sophisticated recipes for dishes such as Crispy Sobrasada Croquettes with Honey and Manchego, Roasted Rack of Lamb in a Feta, Olive, and Rosemary Crust, and Fresh Mussel Escabeche. The cookbook is divided into sections based on ingredients that are essential to Mallorcan cuisine, almost like a celebration of each ingredient. It differs in that way from cookbooks that are usually divided by course.

The recipes here are really chef-caliber, and Marc Fosh doesn't dumb it down for the home cook at all. I appreciate that, but at the same time, some of the recipes, particularly the desserts are quite involved. However, if you master them, you can turn out dishes that would fit right in at a Michelin-star establishment, and one day I hope to conquer them all. This is a cookbook best devoured by "foodies", or at least somewhat adventurous eaters.

While it's an excellently done cookbook and clearly a labor of love for Chef Fosh, I'm not convinced it would be a regular on my bookshelf, purely because the recipes often contain ingredients that are hard to find or prohibitively expensive in my neck of the woods and the recipes are more involved than I would like for a weeknight, but it is a great source of cooking inspiration nonetheless.

Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Cookbook Review: The Backyard Fire Cookbook by Linda Ly

Note: I received a digital advance reader copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I'll admit, I'm intimidated by grilling. I never grew up anywhere near the grill when my dad was using it, and it's always been seen as the "dad's domain". So I was pleasantly surprised to see that the author of a book all about backyard fire cooking is a female. I realized in the process of writing this review that I've actually read a Linda Ly cookbook before. I gifted my brother-in-law and sister-in-law her book, the New Camp Cookbook, last Christmas and found myself unable to stop myself from flipping through it. All the recipes sounded delicious, and the photography was gorgeous. This book continues in the same style, right down to the cover, but with a different focus.

While "backyard fire" sounded vague to me at first, it becomes apparent that Ly aims to make the process of cooking over a fire, no matter what kind of vessel you use, both approachable and gourmet. The first section of the book really takes the time to demystify the process of setting up a grill in your backyard. As someone who doesn't yet have a backyard or a grill, I wasn't able to put her wealth of knowledge to the test, but it seemed like a very thorough introduction to setting up your own grilling paradise.

The recipes themselves are interesting, creative, modern, and things I could totally see myself making. There's dishes like Smoky Ember-Roasted Eggplant Dip, Grilled Brie with Sweet Cherry Sauce, Feta-Stuffed Flank Steak (um, this sounds utterly delicious), Shrimp in Coconut Sauce (made in a foil pack!), Korean Grilled Chicken, and Dutch Oven Jambalaya. There's a great diversity of techniques and cuisines here, and I really enjoyed flipping through and seeing what new ideas would pop up next.

As expected, the photography is top-notch and really makes you want to go into your pantry and start cooking as soon as possible. The rest of the cookbook is clean and well-designed. I would totally buy this for any grillers in my life. I'm already adding this to my list of Christmas gift ideas.

Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Cookbook Review: Fresh Flavors for the Slow Cooker by Nicki Sizemore

Note: I received a digital advance reader copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

In the era of the Instant Pot, it feels like the slow cooker has been long forgotten. In fact, my own slow cooker has been relegated to the back of the pantry while my Instant Pot has a spot on my kitchen island. Let's face it--there are definitely some drawbacks to slow cookers (very long cooking times, having to be home on time to turn it off, sometimes having to prep things in the morning before work in order to start the recipe), but there's nothing like the feeling of coming home and knowing that your entire dinner is already done, and you don't even have to lift a finger.

Nicki Sizemore is here to prove that a slow cooker can still be an integral part of your kitchen, and you can cook modern, fresh, delicious food in your slow cooker. It's set up like your traditional cookbook dedicated to the home cook, with sections basically split into your veggies, meat, seafood, and breakfast. I wish there was a dessert section, but I know there's plenty of other cookbooks that fill that niche.

I was expecting the recipes to be simple comfort food, but I was pleasantly surprised by how diverse and eclectic the recipes were. The recipes include Thai Vegetable and Peanut Curry, Chicken Tikka Masala with Garlic Naan, Sticky Ginger Spareribs with Napa Cabbage Slaw, Morroccan Lamb Shanks with Pomegranate and Mint, and Green Curry Shrimp Noodle Bowls. If American classics are more your speed, there is also a recipe for Chicken Noodle Soup, Beef Chili, and a recipe for a whole garlic roast chicken, among others. A particular standout was the seafood section, which was filled with delicious and interesting recipes. I bookmarked pretty much all of them.

The design is colorful, accessible, and easy to read. The little blurbs before each recipe are well-written, helpful, and make me excited to cook the recipe. I can't wait to cook from this book and break out my slow cooker again.

Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Cookbook Review: Curry & Kimchi by Unmi Abkin and Roger Taylor

Note: I received a digital advance reader copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I can't resist an Asian cookbook, and the title of this one instantly had me hooked. I love curry. I love kimchi. I was excited about what this cookbook could teach me.

I had never heard of the authors' restaurant, Coco & the Cellar Bar, before even though it turns out I live only a couple of hours away. Their story is inspiring, and I love hearing how the various cultures that both authors come from have influenced their philosophy on cooking. Every recipe is thoughtful and designed to be a more sophisticated, elevated version of Asian food. It's a philosophy that is intriguing, even if I'm not completely sold on it. Coming from a Chinese family and having eaten extensively through China and various Chinatowns, I know that some of the best food comes from the most humble of places and is far from refined. Still, I'm always willing to try new recipes and am always looking for ways to elevate my own cooking.

The recipes are mainly Asian fusion cuisine with influences from China, Japan, and Korea. Recipes include dishes like Honey Miso Noodle Salad, Shoyu Ramen, Hoisin-Glazed Baby Back Ribs, Coriander Shrimp Chow Fun, and Miso-Glazed Cod Rice Bowl. There's a Mexican influence from Roger Taylor with a recipe for Carnitas Tacos, Chili Con Carne, and a salsa recipe. And there's also oddly enough, a recipe for macaroni and cheese. It reflects the multicultural background of the two chefs, and it really makes the cookbook feel personal and special.

I actually tried one of the recipes, that for Claypot Miso Chicken, which is a misnomer since it's made in an Instant Pot (or other slow cooker) rather than a claypot. I don't often jump up and make a recipe from cookbooks that I review, so that just goes to show how compelling the book was. I also realized that I had all the ingredients already in my fridge and pantry, so it was an easy weeknight dinner. My husband enjoyed it, but I felt like it was missing something. I have a lot of similar recipes in my collection that taste better, so unfortunately, I won't be in a hurry to make it again.

My other main gripe with the cookbook is something that plagues a lot of cookbooks written by restaurant chefs. There are a lot of basic components that appear in multiple recipes, so be prepared to make a batch of togarashi oil or spicy miso paste to keep in your fridge. The Korean Bolognese sounded great, but requires me to make Spicy Miso Paste (a recipe located on a different page) and Korean Hot Pepper Sauce (also located on a different page) first, which sounds needlessly complicated.

Despite that flaw, the rest of the cookbook is enjoyable. The design is clean and elegant, which adds to the restaurant style of the book. I wish there were more recipes, as it feels rather small compared to other cookbooks these days. Overall, a good first cookbook from these authors and a compelling reason for me to visit their restaurant next time I'm in western Mass.

Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Cookbook Review: Umami Bomb by Raquel Pelzel

Note: I received a digital advance reader copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Even though I love meat, I appreciate a solid vegetarian cookbook. If someone has ideas to get me to eat a meatless meal without feeling like something is missing, I'm all about it! With this cookbook, Raquel Pelzel set out to create truly crave-worthy vegetarian meals, relying on her knowledge of umami, that mysterious fifth taste that adds savoriness and depth to normal foods, and how to incorporate it in everyday foods to make them addictive. She breaks the cookbook down into chapters based on key ingredients that are renowned for their umami content, such as cheese, soy, tomato, mushrooms, caramelized onions, miso, nutritional yeast, and smoked ingredients. Some of these recipes include multiple of these "umami bombs", and she helpfully depicts this with a umami bomb key next to each recipe.

The recipes are mostly spins on classics, so they aren't ground-breaking but are tasty comfort food recipes with a small twist to bring out their umami potential. Recipes that stood out as unique included Gouda-Apple-Thyme Galettes, Crispy Cheddar Cheese Waffles, No Reason Chocolate Cake (the frosting includes soy sauce!), Everything Bagel Caramelized Onion Focaccia, Miso Cacio e Pepe, and Molten Chocolate Truffle Bomb Cookies with Smoked Salt (try reading that description without drooling!). Then there are recipes like a tomato soup composed of blended roasted tomatoes and miso that are simpler but no less complex in their flavors.

It's a fun concept, and Pelzel leans into it with bright pop-style fonts and exciting pictures. I really like the whole design of the book. It really makes you excited to cook from it. While it's not the biggest cookbook, I have my eye on a number of recipes to try in the future, and will update when that happens. None of them made me want to get up and cook them immediately, but I'm intrigued by the idea of soy sauce in a chocolate frosting and miso in my butterscotch sauce.

It's not a cookbook that's essential for your cookbook shelf, but it's a fun read nonetheless and will give you some new cooking ideas if you like to try new things in the kitchen.

Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Honeymooning in Italy, Part 1: Florence

Way back in late May of 2018, Andrew and I went on our honeymoon to Italy. We planned the whole thing ourselves and had such a good time that I wish we could go back to Italy every year! A lot of people have asked me for details, and I've been meaning to blog about it ever since, but never found time to do it until now.

On May 27, we flew from Newark to Rome. Our flights were a dirt-cheap $450 on Norwegian.

We picked the lowest fare option, which meant we only had carry-ons and there were no in-flight snacks or drinks. But who needs peanuts when we were going to be feasting on prosciutto soon enough?

As soon as we landed in Fiumicino airport, we hopped on a train to Florence. We didn't spend any time in Rome because I've been there before, and it wasn't my favorite. I wanted the extra time in Tuscany instead.

Did we really save any money flying into Rome rather than Florence if you factor in the cost of the train tickets? We probably saved a couple of hundred total, and the train ride was an hour and a half. Ultimately up to you.

As soon as we arrived in Florence, we checked into our Airbnb, which was about a 10-minute walk from Santa Maria Novella train station. Florence was just as hard to navigate as I remember, and we were pretty sweaty by the time we got to our cute little Airbnb. I didn't take any pictures of the room, but I did take a very grainy picture of their gorgeous cat.

We were starving at this point, so we hurried to Trattoria dall'Oste for our dinner reservation.  As soon as I stepped off the train, I was ready to eat some bistecca alla fiorentina. It's a giant hunk of steak, cut from the loin of a special kind of Tuscan cow called Chianina, and the beef is usually hung for a longer period of time than the average beef before it's butchered. It looks like a porterhouse on steroids.

Seemingly every restaurant in Florence makes bistecca alla fiorentina, but I picked a place that was well-reviewed and was offering 20% off with a reservation on the Fork. Yay!

We opted for the three-course set meal, which included cured meats and cheese...

I may have lifted a few pieces of prosciutto before taking this...

the main event--a giant Florentine steak for two with roasted potatoes...

Seriously, this could've easily fed three

...torta della nonna (a cake made of two layers of pastry crust with lemon cream inside) for dessert, and a bottle of wine to go with everything.

While well-priced and tasty, it wasn't the revelatory steak experience that we were expecting. We made the mistake of telling them medium-rare when they asked us how we wanted our steak cooked, when we should've known that Florentine steak should always be rare. As a result, the outside of our steak was more like medium-well. Oops.

We waddled out of the restaurant very much stuffed, but wait--it was only 7PM and the night was young.

"What do you want to do?" I asked Andrew.

"Well, what are the options?"

"We could walk around. We could get gelato."

"Let's get gelato," he said immediately, reminding me why I married him. Our stomachs suddenly heaved, reminding us that we had just eaten a three-course meal of pig, cow, potatoes, and cake and that a walk would be required first.

So we walked across the river Arno, down darkening streets, past Italians eating dinner at their normal hour (aka too late for us), until we stumbled upon a piazza with the best vibe, Piazza Santo Spirito.

It featured this sweet church.

The church, which is the Basilica di Santo Spirito, was built in the 15th century and apparently features a crucifix carved by Michelangelo when he was only 17. Unfortunately, we did not go inside, but we did sit beside the fountain in the middle of the piazza and admire how local and authentic it felt. People came and walked their dogs right in front of this magnificent Renaissance church. 

After more walking, we arrived at Gelateria la Carraia, which I mostly chose because it was near the river and the flavors sounded interesting. 

Here's my cone with 1) white chocolate and pistachio and 2) ricotta and pear. Both were awesome. 

Here's Andrew's cup of 1) pistachio and 2) hazelnut. This was his first encounter with real Italian gelato, and it was love at first bite. 

We sat on the bridge looking over the Arno, eating our gelato and still in disbelief that we were in Italy.

Afterwards, we walked back across the river towards our Airbnb. The streets of Florence are pretty at night. 

Like this one
And also this one
We ended up outside the Uffizi and Palazzo Vecchio at one point.

I guess this is where everyone else decided to hang out.
The Uffizi looks extra impressive at night.

Finally we ended up along the river again and got our first glimpse of the Ponte Vecchio, home of way too many jewelry stores.

I think we spent two hours just aimlessly walking around with a stop for gelato in between, which was perfect for us.

We went to bed, ready to climb the Duomo the next day.

Cookbook Review: The Peach Truck Cookbook by Jessica Rose and Stephen Rose

Note: I received a digital advance reader copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I usually avoid niche cookbooks like this that only focus on one ingredient, but I was intrigued by the idea of a peach truck. I've never heard of the Peach Truck before, but they must be doing something right, because in the introductory pages, the Roses tell you their story of how they started from just an idea to a now-booming business. The Peach Truck delivers the freshest, most perfect peaches straight from Georgia to cities all over the South and Midwest. If you've never had the pleasure of biting into a fresh Georgian peach (*raises hand*), their mission is to change your entire perspective on the fruit.

Given their access to such great peaches, it's no surprise that all 100 recipes in their book revolve around the almighty peach. I already knew that peaches are excellent in anything from pies to scones to salads. But they've thought of even more creative ways to use them, and I found myself bookmarking almost all the recipes. How about peach candied bacon or a peach-filled sticky bun for breakfast? Savory recipes include creative peach and sausage empanadas, peach gazpacho, and peach roasted chicken. There's even a section for drinks, because duh, all the best cocktails have peach inside. The peach milkshake sounds heavenly. By the time you get to their dessert section (fried peach pies, anyone?), you have a new appreciation for the humble fruit.

I absolutely loved that every recipe came with a gorgeous photo next to it. The design is simple and fresh, and the cookbook is well-organized. The cookbook itself is bursting with summer vibes and would make great coffee table reading in addition to earning a spot in your cookbook library, especially if you are savvy and freeze your fresh peaches for the rest of the year. I would definitely purchase this myself. Props to the Roses for turning their love of peaches into a thriving business and gracing us all with your personal recipes for peach nirvana.

Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Cookbook Review: Steak and Cake by Elizabeth Karmel

Note: I received a digital advance reader copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Steak and cake--it's not only a fun rhyme, but it's also a legitimate menu plan. I can't think of anyone who would be upset coming over for dinner and finding out that the menu was steak and cake. Okay, maybe a vegetarian. Or someone watching their figure. But apparently when Elizabeth Karmel used to teach a cooking class called Steak and Cake, there was an overwhelming demand, and for good reason. Learning how to grill a steak and bake a cake are two essential skills in the kitchen. Not to mention, they're sure to make you popular with friends.

Where Elizabeth Karmel excels is taking this simple concept and spinning it into a number of different combinations with her culinary expertise and flair. She pairs a classic cowboy steak with whiskey butter with a whiskey buttermilk bundt cake. I can't think of a more perfect combination to celebrate the South. A very technique-driven prime New York strip steak roast cozies up to her chocolate layer cake (with cocoa-Frangelico frosting of course), because nothing in this book is your run-of-the-mill recipe. Her little twists on classic recipes really make this cookbook an interesting read and gives Elizabeth Karmel credibility as the patron saint of steaks and cakes.

As someone who bakes quite a bit, but is very much intimidated by steaks, this book served two purposes. 1) Acclimating me to the art of cooking big hunks of meat, whether that be on the grill, stove, or oven. And 2) introducing new and fun cake recipes for me to try! There's something for everyone here, both traditionalists and innovators, both bakers and big-meat fanatics. Not to mention, the photos are beautiful and make you inspired to cook.

While it's ultimately too niche of a concept for it to justify a spot on my cookbook shelf, I really enjoyed reading this, and it's sure to be a conversation starter no matter who you gift it to.

Overall Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Cookbook Review: Orexi by Theo A. Michaels

Note: I received a digital advance reader copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

When I think of Greek food, I think of the freshest ingredients prepared simply and humbly to create something greater than the sum of its parts. I think of my trip to Greece 6 years ago and the most amazing feta-stuffed cherry tomatoes, moussaka, and grilled octopus. I'm so glad I was granted an advance copy of Theo Michaels' book Orexi, because he truly captures the spirit of Greece in his new cookbook.

He is as authentically Greek as they come, as he suffuses that history and legacy into every page. From the very beginning, we learn about his childhood in Greece and the way his upbringing has influenced the way he views food and cooking. I have to add that his writing is some of the best I've read in a cookbook. I definitely appreciate when a cookbook author is as eloquent as he is inspirational in the kitchen, and the taste of writing I got in this book makes me want to read more of his cookbooks.

The recipes themselves sound delicious. He makes it clear from the start that they are a mixture of dishes he grew up eating and dishes he has picked up over the years. As a result, they are nice blend of the traditional and the modern. Some of the dishes I flagged to make immediately were Orzo, Roasted Tomato, and Feta Salad; Red Wine Marinated Pork with Coriander Seeds; Slow-Cooked Squid; and Prawns Baked in Feta and Tomato Sauce. Some of the recipes were things I remember enjoying in Greece--dishes like Filled Crispy Filo Rolls, and Courgette and Feta Fritters are a couple of examples.

Michaels is less focused on the classics and more focused on dishes that are special or have special meaning to him. There's no recipe for moussaka here, but there are lots of creative things to do with vegetables and many preparations of seafood that will challenge your skills. He even puts his spin on classics like baklava, providing a recipe for Smoked Chocolate Baklava. Most of the recipes are meant to be grilled up and shared with loved ones on a sunny summer's day. I love the way summer seems to leap off the pages here, and the bright photos and overall light color scheme of the cookbook help give off this vibe as well.

This is an excellent cookbook in every way. Excellent writing, creative inspiring recipes, beautiful photos (of every dish!), and an author with a lot of credibility. This ticks off all the boxes. If I had to give it any criticism, I would want it to be a bit longer, but I also realize that when you include a photo of every recipe, you sacrifice space in the rest of the cookbook. I would love to purchase this cookbook and add it to my shelf, and now I'm eager to read the rest of his cookbooks as well.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Cookbook Review: How to Bake by Nick Malgieri

Note: I received a digital advance reader copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This book won't win awards for style, and the recipes don't involve pumpkin spice or chia seeds, but after reading this, you will know how to bake, taught by an experienced baking master. I've never read a Nick Malgieri book before, but his name pops up frequently on lists of best baking cookbooks. Within a few pages of this cookbook, I understood why. These aren't just recipes. They are techniques and traditions, all distilled in an accessible book that even a beginner baker could follow with ease. 

Are you scared of making pies? I was. Nick Malgieri demystifies the intimidating pie crust and walks you through all the classics. There are basic breads. Basic pizzas. Tarts. Cakes. Everything you'd ever want to learn how to bake compiled into one book. At the end of the recipe, he lists a number of variations that add even more recipes to this giant cookbook. There are tips aplenty, and so many featurettes that focus on honing your baking technique.

Cookbook Review: Doughnuts by Lara Ferroni

Note: I received a digital advance reader copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Doughnuts are having a huge renaissance right now. Boston itself has a number of bakeries selling $4 doughnuts to doughnut-crazed customers. I mean, they're dessert masquerading as breakfast. They're deep-fried. They're portable. They're endlessly customizable. It's no wonder they're so popular now.

However, I've never made my own doughnuts at home. My mom used to deep fry her own eggrolls, so I know firsthand how annoying it can be to fry at home. Not to mention, it's daunting to heat up a pot of oil to a temp that can sear your skin off, and what do you do with all that oil afterwards? I suspect this is also why so many people love doughnuts and are willing to pay $$ for them.

Cookbook Review: 12 Bones Smokehouse by Bryan King, Angela King, Shane Heavner, Mackensy Lunsford

Note: I received a digital advance reader copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I am a cook and a baker, but I've never grilled or smoked before (and I'm certainly not counting my little cast-iron grill pan). There's something about it that's always intimidated me. That said, this book made me want to grill, and it especially made me want to get my own smoker asap. I had never heard of 12 Bones Smokehouse prior to getting the ARC for this cookbook, but their food certainly looks heavenly. Their claim to fame is their ribs, which President Obama was apparently a huge fan of. Well, if they're good enough for Barack, they're good enough for me.