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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.

Cookbook Review: The Southern Living Party Cookbook by Elizabeth Heiskell

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

I've never read the original Southern Living Party Cookbook, but I have to say that Elizabeth Heiskell has done a fantastic job with this new updated version. From the cover to every picture-perfect table setting, the book is visually stunning and the recipes quintessentially Southern--but now with a little update. If this book is a snapshot of the work she does with her own parties, I want to be invited to her next one! She inspires you to be a better cook and a better hostess, and she all makes it sound so easy.

The book is split into little digestible sections with each section representing a different excuse for a party. While some of them are kind of flimsy excuses to feed people, I do admire the sentiment. I too like to host and will find every reason to get people together. Rather than divide the book by course, as cookbooks often do, each section provides its own menu, from hors d'oeuvres to mains to side dishes and dessert. I don't have a preference for any particular way of organizing recipes so I enjoyed this.

Cookbook Review: Instantly Sweet by Barbara Schieving and Marci Buttars

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

I'm excited by all the Instant Pot cookbooks coming out these days! As the proud owner of a new Instant Pot, it's been a delight to see all the dishes I can cook up in less time, and as someone who also loves baking, this book was definitely on my to-read list. While I've seen plenty of recipes for rice pudding and cheesecakes made in the Instant Pot, I was curious to see what other kinds of desserts would work well in a pressure cooker. It turns out there's a lot!

From coconut flan to s'more bread pudding to white chocolate macademia lava cakes to pineapple upside-down breakfast cake, the diversity of recipes here is impressive. They're creative, accessible, and sound delightfully decadent. It's definitely the kind of cookbook that inspires you to hop in the kitchen immediately. The photography is gorgeous. I mean look at that perfect cheesecake on the cover!

Cookbook Review: This Old Gal's Pressure Cooker Cookbook by Jill Selkowitz

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

We got an Instant Pot as a wedding gift, and since then, it's been fun to see what kinds of things we can cook up in it. While there are lots of internet recipes out there, the genre of Instant Pot cookbooks is still emerging. I've never visited This Old Gal's food blog, but I was excited to find a collection of recipes designed for the Instant Pot, and judging by her enthusiastic fan base online, this was sure to be a winner.

However, once I started flipping through the recipes, I was less impressed. The recipes are all comfort food, but after reading the book from start to finish, they all started sounding the same. For instance, she has multiple chili-like recipes and multiple meatball recipes, neither of which are things I cook often. There are a lot of recipes invoking classic American TV dinners, such as Salisbury steak, beef stroganoff, and pot roast. There are a lot of Asian-ish dinners, such as a thit nuong that isn't grilled, egg roll in a bowl, and orange pepper chicken.

Cookbook Review: The Edible Cookie Dough Cookbook by Olivia Hops

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

This book was a pleasant surprise. I've never loved niche cookbooks, nor am I a person who loves cookie dough so much as to make it just to eat on its own. But this was a cookbook that I happily read cover to cover, and it actually made me excited to get into the kitchen to make my own edible cookie dough. If you can make homemade cookies, you can make your own edible cookie dough, which is basically just a blend of butter, flour, and sugar with various mix-ins. Olivia Hops teaches you how to make it the safe way, without butter and with heat-treated flour.

The recipes include classic flavors, such as chocolate chip, peanut butter, oatmeal, and birthday cake. Everything you'd expect a cookie dough bar to offer. But there are also intriguing and unusual flavors such as white chocolate chai, mango tajin, lemon cardamom, and strawberry coconut daiquiri. There's a flavor for even the pickiest person, but I honestly bookmarked all of them. After she goes through her cookie dough flavors, she even includes recipes that use her cookie dough, such as layer cakes with cookie dough filling, cookie dough truffles, and cookie dough stuffed between baked cookies.

Cookbook Review: The Make-Ahead Sauce Solution by Elisabeth Bailey

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

As someone who works full-time and comes home with the daunting task of having dinner ready with enough time to spend doing all the other things I want to do on a weeknight, I really felt like the author was speaking to me. She gets it. Life doesn't slow down just because you have people to feed. The premise of this book takes a little getting used to. Rather than teaching you how to cook many different meals, Elisabeth Bailey teaches you how to make many different sauces, which you can then apply to any "starter recipe" for a whole host of possible meals. For instance, her pineapple ginger sauce can be spooned over rice, chicken, shrimp, scallops, pork, or beef for any number of meal possibilities. Once that premise sinks in, you realize just how flexible and open it can be. Any meal can be whipped up with something as simple as a cooked chicken breast and a pre-made sauce that's been thawed out of the freezer.

Ms. Bailey begins by teaching you how to prepare some basics, such as a flour-dredged, pan-fried fish to simple roasted pork loin to pan-seared steak. Then come a parade of sauces, so many that my head was spinning with all the possibilities. There are classics, like sausage ragu, red wine sauce, and pesto. And then there are delightfully creative sauces, such as coconut lemon and green peppercorn and tomatillo avocado. There are recipes for each sauce accompanied by meal suggestions. A particularly smart idea incorporated in the book is "my family's favorite", which denotes the meal suggestion that best suits the sauce. For instance, there are 9 listed meal suggestions for spinach pesto, but the "my family's favorite" is to spread the unique pesto on pan-fried fish fillets and serve it alongside couscous and tomato salad. That sounds like a delicious meal to me, and I envy Elisabeth Bailey for how well her family must eat!

However, at times the meal suggestions seem to be not fully fleshed out. Spooning a sauce over rice and pairing it with something like squash doesn't sound like my idea of a complete meal. Neither does spooning sauces over baked potatoes, which is another meal suggestion that comes up quite frequently. Some of the meal suggestions are puzzling, such as pairing an Asian sauce with sides such as a green salad or sliced baguette.

The book itself is not lacking in recipes, and each sauce comes with a delightful little photograph of a wooden spoon cradling the sauce itself, which was a smart way to photograph something as unphotogenic as a sauce. There are also some photographs of complete meal suggestions, though these are much rarer. I found myself wishing for more of those photographs.

I have yet to try any of the recipes, though there are a number that I've bookmarked and will be trying out in time. This is definitely a book that inspires you to get into the kitchen and get cooking, even if you're short on time. I'm not sure if I would buy it myself, since I think I still prefer traditional recipes to this copy-and-paste approach to cooking, but it's a great idea, and I'm sure it will go over very well with many readers.

Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Cookbook Review: Cooking with Scraps by Lindsay-Jean Hard

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

I have to admit--I am a big food waster. From tossing leftovers that have been forgotten in the fridge to throwing out all sorts of odds and ends when cooking, my consumption style would have Lindsay-Jean Hard shaking her head in dismay. Her approach, to let no ingredient go to waste, is admirable. It takes knowledge, ambition, and ingenuity. Lindsay-Jean Hard takes the mystery out of how to use up those beet greens and banana peels and dishes out some elegant recipes in the process.

The recipes, ranging from Danish Pancakes with Apple Core Syrup to Leek Top Cacio e Pepe are fun, gourmet, and very cook-able. She finds ways to incorporate little bits of leftover into recipes that you've probably already tried, with a twist of course. I was most impressed with a genius recipe for a banana cake that involves blending in the entire banana peel (!!). That's just one example of Ms. Hard's knack for thinking up recipes that make you say "Why didn't I think of that?" The recipes range from entrees to salads to side dishes to basics. There's even a fun little section on adding leftovers to alcohol, leading to some beautiful cocktail ideas. Each recipe is an opportunity to learn a new tip or trick that will make you view your ingredients differently next time you go to cook. 

The book itself smartly reflects the theme, with simple layouts, little splashes of color, and muted tones. It's organized by ingredient, not my preferred way of organizing cookbooks. The writing is straight and to-the-point with lots of helpful tips in the blurbs before each recipe. While none of this is particularly memorable, the basic premise of the cookbook really shines on its own. 

I'm already planning on purchasing this book for my mother-in-law who shares my interest in creative waste-free cooking. For anyone who has wondered if they could do anything with the ends of their asparagus or their apple peels or even the liquid you drain out of your canned beans, this is the cookbook for you.

Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Cookbook Review: The Family Table Slow Cooker by Dominique DeVito

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

While I do love my slow cooker and believe in its magic, I have to admit that I'm not always the best at using it. So I was understandably excited to get this ARC and make better use of this contraption that is otherwise gathering dust in my closet. While this may not be the book to change that completely, I did find a number of interesting and delicious-looking recipes within its pages that have me ready to dig it out of storage.

That's mostly because this book is full of recipes! Really, there's a terrific amount. For the most part, they are targeted towards families as the title would imply, as they are unfussy, straightforward, and sure to please a number of palates. There's not many exotic, gourmet ingredients here or complicated restaurant-style dishes. Just honest, commonly found grocery staples put to good use in recipes like Stuffed Mushrooms, Spicy Shrimp Scampi, and Super-Simple Split Pea Soup. There are also some more international offerings, like Indonesian Chicken Curry and Tandoori Chicken, but for the most part, the recipes lean American. For me, this was a disappointment, as my palate is more diverse and adventurous than most of the recipes in here. For families and new cooks, this is ideal, and I can see why this was the direction DeVito took.

Cookbook Review: The Natural Baker by Henrietta Inman

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

As an amateur baker and wannabe pastry chef, I couldn't help but be won over by the beautiful and inspired baked goods in this book. Henrietta Inman has clearly put a lot of thought into her concept--that she can make baked goods with all-natural ingredients taste as good, or even better, than their traditional baking counterparts.

Ingredients like coconut oil, coconut sugar, spelt flour, and maple syrup abound. What was previously thought to be reserved for people with food allergies is now celebrated here. Inman stresses the importance of their nuttiness and deep rich flavor in ways that make me, a white flour user, very curious.

Book Review: Yankee's New England Adventures by Editors of Yankee Magazine

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

Is this my first non-cookbook review? I guess so...

Being a proud New Englander, I couldn't resist requesting an ARC of this travel guide. It's full of  interesting and off-the-beaten-path recommendations for things to do and places to see in this beautiful region I call home. Each recommendation comes with a little blurb about what makes it special, as well as helpful info like phone numbers and websites. They range from things like local historical sites to art museums to classic lobster shacks.

It's also packed with balmy, gorgeous pictures of New England in the summertime and fall--really, New England at its best. Notice how no one ever posts pictures of New England in winter slush mode, which is the other half of the year.