Category Archives: Food

Book Review: Peppers of the Americas, by Maricel E. Presilla

Peppers of the AmericasWhile not the pepper encyclopedia I was hoping for, I still found Maricel E. Presilla’s Peppers of the Americas to be informative and helpful. For those with the same hopes I had for the book, Presilla explains that this book is “not an encyclopedic catalog, but a highly subjective record of my own garden and kitchen encounters with these remarkable plants” (p.vii). Keep that in mind when considering whether or not to pick this one up.

The first eighty pages or so are full of dense text on history and archaeology related to peppers. There are then about 115 pages of peppers with pictures accompanied by Presilla’s subjective (see above), yet helpful notes—these pages are periodically peppered with pertinent prose on past and present particulars. About twenty-five pages of dried peppers written in similar fashion, seven pages of very general pepper gardening and tending, and 100 pages of working with peppers (vinegars, powders, recipes, etc.) conclude the book’s content.

I really like peppers, especially hot ones, and have grown and sold them in the past; so, I’ll probably find this book a bit more interesting than those who are looking for something more specific and complete. There were a tremendous number of varieties I’d not yet heard of, including a few I’m going to need to track down and try, and I appreciated Presilla sharing her experiences with them (taste, cooking, etc.). I certainly look forward to trying some of the sauces and ground spice mixes, but what I appreciate most are the properties and attributes of the fresh and dried pepper varieties.

 

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

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Book Review: The Dumpling Galaxy Cookbook, by Helen You

Four Views on HellThe Dumpling Galaxy Cookbook by Helen You is your new cookbook for Chinese dumplings made easy. With easy, step-by-step instructions, You (pronounced “yō”) guides readers through the basics of forming, shaping, and the three cooking methods of boiling, steaming, and panfrying. Full of traditional and innovative recipes (I can’t wait to try the pork and pu’er tea dumplings), You encourages the reader not only to follow her recipes, but to experiment and try new things, offering plenty of helpful tips for pairing ingredients and cooking methods, as well as tips for avoid dumplings that are too wet, too dry, and too chewy.

Surviving the hardships of China’s Cultural Revolution, You began making dumplings as a way to stay connected to her hometown. Fast-forward years later, she now has an innovative dumpling restaurant with a menu that boasts over one hundred items. Though we may not be able to visit the restaurant, You gives us the steps, tips, and encouragement to experience her passion right in our own homes.

This is a great little book for all current and future dumpling fanatics!

 

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Book Review: The Dim Sum Field Guide, by Carolyn Phillips

The Dim Sum Field GuideIf you’re looking for the best introduction to dim sum and the cuisine of many Chinese teahouses and specialty restaurants, then look no further than Carolyn PhillipsThe Dim Sum Field Guide. This educational tool and potential travel companion (roughly 6″x6″x3/4″ and easily stowed in a purse or bag) has been carefully thought out and formatted to provide anyone (I’d even include Chinese natives in this boat) with a solid foundation for an excellent dim sum experience! Of course, much of the cuisine is focused on what one may find in a Cantonese establishment, but that doesn’t mean all originated in the southeast region of mainland China.

 

Phillips begins with a little bit on categories of tea and etiquette for selection, ordering, serving, drinking, and paying in a traditional Chinese culture. She follows with the same for dim sum, but goes well beyond categories and into a plethora of specific savory and sweet types, noting further variations on each when applicable. Every item takes up two pages: the left page contain the English name and hand drawn sketch of the food, including estimated dimensions—helpful when determining how much to order given one’s appetite; and the right page includes the food’s name in Chinese characters, pinyin, and Cantonese, how to identify it, basic fillings and default sauces/dips when applicable, plating and arrangements, its origin (contestation acknowledged when applicable), and then some applicable varieties, each labeled in English, Chinese characters, pinyin, and Cantonese. Stylistically, I enjoy the sketches provided in this book over photographs, harking back to culinary texts of old—it also speaks to the time and care taken in the book’s planning, development, and execution.

Not only informative and useful as a point-and-order volume, this is sure to whet one’s appetite and encourage readers to experiment and try new things.

For the myriad of readers disappointed after having picked this up expecting a cookbook, which it certainly is not (Nor is it disappointing in the slightest when properly used), I highly recommend Carolyn Phillips’ All Under Heaven: Recipes from the 35 Cuisines of China, the best and most comprehensive Chinese cookbook I’ve ever seen, as well as Andrea Nguyen’s Asian Dumplings: Mastering Gyōza, Spring Rolls, Samosas, and More.

 

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Book Review: Soframiz: Vibrant Middle Eastern Recipes from Sofra Bakery & Cafe, by Ana Sortun & Maura Kilpatrick

SoframizMy wife lived in Syria and traveled in neighboring nations during her graduate work with a focus in Middle East studies. She really misses the food of that region, so I knew I needed to pick up Soframiz: Vibrant Middle East Recipes from Sofra Bakery and Cafe by Ana Sortun and Maura Kilpatrick. After flipping threw it, she concluded that it was heavy on the sweet side and didn’t really highlight the staples of the region. While I can’t speak to the authenticity, it is a book from a US café and two white American women who admittedly present nontraditional recipes inspired by the Middle East. Much of what makes these recipes Middle Eastern must be purchased. It appears that the authors do not provide recipes for basics because they don’t even make them, which is why they provide sources (brands and websites) they recommend. All this makes me wonder why one would need this cookbook for any reason other than attempting to replicate something one tried at their café. I found only four recipes I’ll use from this book (Monk Salad, Pita Bread, Yufka Dough, and Za’atar Bread), all of which are rather basic and easily manipulated to preference.

 

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Book Review: The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, 15th Anniversary Edition: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread, by Peter Reinhart

The Bread Baker's Apprentice, 15th Anniversary EditionThose who know me well know that I love grains. A lot. Rice, pasta, and bread are staples in the Durough home, and we don’t necessarily need anything else with them. So, I actually got a little giddy when I saw Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, 15th Anniversary Edition: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread was being published (my wife can affirm), and I’m pretty sure I immediately said a quick prayer that there would still be at least one review copy remaining by the time I was able to get it. Sure enough, two were available and I snagged it as fast as I could.

Honestly, given that Reinhart has published several bread books since this one was first published in 2001, I assumed this 15th anniversary edition would be much more than a virtual reprint. I don’t much care for Reinhart’s writing and storytelling, but am appreciative of the details and information specific to bread making. This is certainly beautiful with both helpful and appetizing full-color photographs, but I did expect more in the way of formulas (the term used in lieu of “recipes” because they are quite literally treated as scalable formulas for both home and large scale bakery use). Perhaps the author doesn’t consider them proper breads, but an entire category is missing that, I believe, should be included in any thorough bread book: unleavened. Again, with a book as great and popular as it is, I assumed there would be more additions to this edition. I’d also like to have seen an appendix that included all the helpful charts and such found throughout the book, which are otherwise not quickly found.

Just two years after The Bread Baker’s Apprentice was first published, Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible came out in 2003. That massive tome is a must-have bread book, useful for both homes and bakeries. It doesn’t have glossy photos, but the sketches are just as good and helpful. Since Reinhart’s update isn’t much of an update, I’d still go with The Bread Bible. That does not, however, mean the book at hand is undeserving of praise—it is, but at twice the price I’m not sure it’s worth it.

 

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.