Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Books to Drool Over

I never review cookbooks. To me, a full cookbook review would require actually making enough of the recipes to be able to vouch for their success. Not just using the recipes to inspire a meal, but ensuring that I use the exact ingredients, with no substitutions and precise measurements. I just don't cook that way.

So, welcome to my new feature: Books to Drool Over in which I share my latest cookbook finds or perhaps an old favorite or two. Look for this feature at the end of every month. (If I'm on top of things, you'll find it.)

First up this month is Caprial and John's Kitchen: Recipes for Cooking Together, by Caprial and John Pence (2003). Caprial (rhymes with, uh...schlemiel) and John Pence are local celebrities in Portland--they have a TV cooking show, run a fabulous restaurant, have published several cookbooks, and manage to be normal people with kids in their spare time. The hook of this cookbook is that the menus are laid out for two people to work together in the kitchen to make a memorable meal. Gorgeous pictures, not most people's everyday fare but sometimes you want something special. Something Caprial and John might whip up for the kids on a weeknight.

Will I use it? My husband and I actually did try this out over the weekend. We made the Sweet-and-Spicy Curry-Grilled Tuna steaks and Gingered Vegetable-Rice Noodle Slaw. Caprial and John's suggested steps were counter-intuitive for us, so we monkeyed with them a little, and we used half the noodles in the recipe because it called for a pound and I'd gotten a ½ pound box (but it was perfect--are you sure you meant a whole pound of rice noodles, guys? Because I'm not sure we have a bowl that big) but I did make a special trip to the store for things like Mirin (Japanese cooking wine) and orange oil, so no substitutions.

It took us about 2 hours to make a dinner that probably takes Caprial and John half an hour to throw together, but it was fun to cook together and the results were divine.

Encore? I'd repeat the recipes we made, and hope to try new ones. Definitely not returning it to the library yet.

Food Adventures: Introducing your child to flavors from around the world, by Elisabeth Luard and Frances Boswell (2006). The picture of a toddler on the front of this book is misleading--many of these recipes would take all but the most adventurous kids out of their comfort zone. My kids like a variety of foods, so Indonesian Satay, Paella, and Lamb Goulash would be hits in my family, but I know very few kids who would greet a steaming bowl of mussels with joy worthy of the expense. The food pictures are inspiring, however, and I love the chapter called The Restaurant Table, that takes readers on a tour of not just the foods of different regions of the world, but also their table manners. There's also a section of foods to cook together, and advice for getting that toddler on the cover off to an adventurous start.

Will I use it? Probably not, but not because of the ingredients. It's because every recipe says it serves "2 adults and 2 children" and if I'm going to cook I want to feed 2 adults and 2 hungry kids with plenty leftover for lunch the next day. For anyone wanting just a taste of something different to add to a usual diet of macaroni and cheese and fish sticks, though, the portions would probably be perfect.

Lastly, I have Read It and Eat It: A month-by-month guide to scintillating book club selections and mouthwatering menus, by Sarah Gardner (2005). Gardner publishes a newsletter about book clubs and cooking, called The Literary Gathering. This book has four book selections per month with accompanying menus, plus four bonus chapters. Most of the books are classics (Gone With the Wind in February, Dracula in October), which ironically keeps the book from getting hopelessly outdated. But even if your book club's taste in books didn't match Gardner's, many of the menu themes of the book (Brides in June, Banned Books Week in September) could still match books of your choosing for each season.

Will I use it? Seeing as I don't have a book group, probably not. Sometimes my choir-mates and I throw together a summer book club, but the chances of me making a special menu to go along with the book vs. picking up chips and dip and baking brownies from a mix are pretty slim. There are also no pictures to get my mouth watering. Still, it was fun to read through, and for people more organized and theme-oriented than me, this might be just the ticket to spice up a book group or other gathering of literary-minded folks.


  1. What a great new feature. I'm not in an in person book club either, but the Read It and Eat book looks like a lot of fun.

  2. I love it. What a great feature. and I like the way you organize the review, with the "will I use it?" question- with cookbooks, it's the most important consideration! :-)

  3. Thanks, Marie and BermudaOnion! I've got a great cookbook all set to feature for next month. :-)

  4. Great name for your new feature!

    I find that my prep time is usually longer than the estimate in the recipe/book, too.

  5. I love watching Caprial and John! Back when my husband and I were first married we used to snuggle on the couch every Saturday afternoon and watch their show. Yan Can Cook also aired on Saturdays. It's funny because we never cooked anything they made, we just enjoyed watching their shows.