This post includes a review of one of my favourite cookbooks and my own personal sourdough journey.
Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz
I have been due to read a Sandor Katz book for awhile now. I am glad I was able to get the revised edition of this book.
Fermentation has become a hobby of mine for the last few years. I’ve made sourdough, kombucha, milk kefir, water kefir, jun kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, and recently started lacto-fermentation of pickles and garlic. On a regular basis, I make jun kombucha at least twice a week and sourdough almost weekly during the cooler months. I drink the kombucha almost daily and when I am not making sourdough regularly, I do buy it from my local bakery.
A few years ago, I noticed that after a morning of drinking kefir, eating sauerkraut, and sourdough bread, my stomach felt great. Not heavy and things felt easy to digest. While I have never been diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder, IBS, digestion issues, etc. I have always had some digestive problems since I was a kid. My father has similar ones and is even more restricted by lactose intolerance. It’s not chronic nor is it persistent on a weekly or monthly basis, but I am the kind of person who gets digestion issues while travelling. At least a couple times of year, I get painful indigestion or food poisoning from eating something that did not agree with me. I guess the microbiome that Dad gave me is not the best. However, I generally eat pretty well and I find that fermented drinks and foods digest well. They do not give me problems.
I liked Katz’s style and ethos about fermentation. He emphasizes that you should keep clean but not sterilized and unlike a lot of other food or beverage books, he does not give you a mandatory list of what you need to get started. I found the book really interesting. There were lots of things I wanted to try and it was very accessible. The book has recipes but there is an emphasis on process rather than strict guidelines. Even the process can be adjusted.
The book has a lot of references and tips from lots of sources. I also really like the reflection about how microbes and bacteria and yeast are all around us. That this biodiversity in our food is important for sustainability in the long run.
I would really like to do a proper full cookbook review where I evaluate some of the recipes, but I do not own this book in book form. I do have an ebook version and will experiment with some recipes.
Read August 27-28, 2019.
Marcus at Home by Marcus Wareing
Marcus Wareing is a Michelin starred London based chef. He is widely known on UK TV for judging “Masterchef: The Professionals”. I’ve been a fan of Wareing since watching him judge “Great British Menu”. Masterchef: The Pros is one of my absolute favourite TV programmes. Last year, I was lucky enough to dine at Marcus at the Berkeley. It was one of the best dining experiences. I hope to go back one day.
I was gifted a copy of this book and another of book by Wareing. Of the two books, this one is looked more informal which is why I read it first.
I started this as a bed time book last December and there many weeks (if not months) where I did not read it at all. I made a concerted effort to finish the last third which compromised of Entertaining (irrelevant for me) and Baking (more relevant but smaller section).
Voracious by Cara Nicoletti
I am in a bit of a reading rut lately. I do find that reading about books and reading in general helps me ease back into reading more regularly. I have had this on my To Be Read list for awhile. It’s a lovely memoirs where each chapter is about a memory in the author’s life, a book, and a recipe to go along with it.
Since the author and I are almost exactly the same age, I have read most of the books in her childhood and adolescence chapters. I also liked the mix of recipes included which had lots of baking and savoury dishes too. As with all North American cookbooks, I wish there were actual metric weight ingredients.
This book in hardcover is lovely. Very think and bright paper. There are also some beautiful watercolour illustrations by a friend of Nicoletti’s. I really enjoyed reading it.
In an effort to read more and have good night time routine, I’ve taken to read more in the evenings. In the past and growing up, I have always read most of my fiction and lighter non fiction in less than 3 sittings. In recent years, I have struggled with this way of reading books because life has changed. As much as I prefer to read for days on end in the summer, I cannot. So I read this book in the evenings after dinner and before bed. I like incorporating reading in my pre-bed time routine, but it’s different. I am still trying to get use to it. I’ll see how it goes moving forward but I need to find ways to read more as my life changes.
Read July 28-Aug 1, 2019.
Dirt Candy by Amanda Cohen
This is a graphic novel and cookbook in one. It’s about Cohen’s life as a chef and vegetable focused restaurant owner. Along side recipes and discussions on how to cook vegetables well, there is a lot of on how the struggles and challenges of opening and managing a restaurant. It may be a slightly easier outside of New York City, but I have always been wary of that industry.
As much as I like food (and maybe harbour some deep desire to train to be a pro if I ever had the money/time), the idea of owning a restaurant has never really appealed to me. It’s expensive and stressful. I know from growing up as an immigrant and observing my parents working in and out of restaurants. Many migrants work in the industry and they often can good money doing it especially if they ever open one up.
The recipes in this novel are interesting, but I’ll be honest and always found some vegetable techniques complex. I need to be more innovative with my vegetables. The book did have some good tips on it though.
All in all, an interesting graphic novel and cookbook. I’d recommend to readers who enjoy either or both.
Read May 4th, 2018.
The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman
The Smitten Kitchen food blog is my favourite food blog and has been for many years so when Ms Perelman announced that she was going to release a book, I knew I would eventually buy it. Most of my cookbooks were sourced from a book surplus site which is more discounted than Amazon. However, I bought this book full price from Amazon.ca because I knew I would love it.
Food and Cookbooks are in general very subjective. With the praise the blog and cookbook got, some people didn’t see the appeal. I think you will get the author, writing, and style, or you won’t. Thankfully for me, Perelman’s food and writing style seem right up my and many other people’s alleys. As always, mileage varies, but this is a rave for me.
Make the Bread: Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese – Cookbook Review and Sauerkraut
This a follow up review to one I made when I first read this book in 2014. However, I had not made anything from this book.
I still find it useful even though the costs and availability do not apply to my country or growing season. However, I really enjoyed reading about Reese’s experiments. She offers some very basic and classic recipes (pasta making, sauces, etc.) to some less typical ones (salted pork, cured salmon).
Furthermore, the author is basically one of us. Most of the recipes in this book come from other cookbooks she’s owned or read. She tested their recipes. I really like that aspect of it.
How to Bake by Paul Hollywood
This is the first of three Paul Hollywood books I will review. As someone who loves baking, most of my cookbooks are focused on baking from the sweet to savoury to bread. This book covers that. It is the British edition of the book which I ordered from Book Outlet. I do prefer the UK editions of cookbooks.
What is a bit inconvenient is that Hollywood loves Stilton cheese which I can’t eat due to a penicillin allergy. Époisses cheese is featured once in this book too and it is hard to source here. As a UK book, there other things such as apricot jam, glace cherries, and dried peel. The pies and tarts section is more British as well. I love British baking so I adapt and substitute when necessary.
This book is suitable for novices, but it has recipes and sections for more adventurous bakers. There are sections for Sourdough and Pastries. My relationship with the former is contentious and most of the sourdough recipes makes 2 loaves which is too much for me. There are recipes for croissants, danishes, and brioche. I’ll tackle the brioche one day.
There are couple of non-baking recipes such as those breads or “bakes” you can make on the stove: chapatis, crumpets, and pancakes. On the whole, I’d recommend this for bakers who are keen on breads and expanding their repertoire. It’s not a cookies/biscuits kind of book. None of Hollywood’s books are. They are a bit more advanced than some standard cookbooks.
This was my first Hollywood book and I continue to love his cookbooks from the photographs, instructions, and to the binding.
Prose and Writing: Each section has an introduction page which gives some good pointers. Every recipe has a little blurb which not extremely useful, but nice. Hollywood is not super effusive in his writing.
Technique and Teaching: Lots of information for bakers with a bit of experience. He teaches various bread shapes: plaits, spirals, loaves, couronnes, and so forth. I’ve learned many bread and baking tips from Paul Hollywood including kneading with oil and simple things like how to mix, what tools to use, etc.
Photography and Layout: This book stands out because of the instructional photos. Great photography all around.
Other Book Notes: I really liked the overall binding of this book. It’s a hard cover, but Hollywood’s books tend to be less glossy and lighter.
Usefulness Factor: 5/5. If you’re serious about baking, bread, and viennoiseries, this a useful book.
Inspiration Factor: 4/5. Croissants and Danishes!
- Focaccia – Amazing. As if you bought it in the store.
- Cholla (Challah) – This book includes pictures and instructions on how to do an eight strand/plait. Very good challah recipe.
- Scones – Uses bread flour which I’m not too keen on with scones. They are alright.
From How to Bake by Paul Hollywood and lovefood
- 200 g (7.1oz) unsalted butter, softened
- 200 g (7.1oz) caster sugar
- 1.5 tsp natural vanilla extract
- 3 large eggs
- 250 g (8.8oz) plain flour
- 3 tsp baking powder
- 40 ml (1.4fl oz) full-fat milk
- 2 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 cup icing sugar for dusting
- Heat your oven to 180°C. Line a 1kg loaf tin with baking parchment.
- In a large bowl, beat the butter, 180g of the sugar and the vanilla extract together until the mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then sift the flour and baking powder over the mixture and fold in with 2 tbsp of the milk.
- Spoon two-thirds of the mixture into the prepared loaf tin – it should three-quarters fill the tin. Sift the cocoa over the remaining third of the mixture and fold in, together with the remaining 20g sugar and the last of the milk.
- Spoon the chocolate mixture over the cake mixture in the tin, then run a fork through both mixtures, gently swirling the two together to create a marbled effect.
- Bake for 55-70 minutes, until the cake shrinks slightly from the sides of the tin and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean, testing the cake after 55 minutes. Remove the cake from the tin and leave to cool on a wire rack. Once cooled, dust with icing sugar.
Recipe Review: While still good, this is not one of the best recipes in the book.
A 1kg loaf tin is 2lb loaf tin or by some sources, a 9×5. I have an 8×4 metal tin and a 10×6 silicone loaf mold. I used my 10×6 silicone loaf mold which makes the cake batter more shallow. In Hollywood’s Bread book, he writes that a standard 1kg loaf tin is about 27cm x 13cm x 7.5cm which would make it almost a 10×6. To be safe, I increased the temperature by 25 degrees and decreased the baking time. I checked it around 33 minutes because of the smell. It was not done, but it was done about ten minutes later. I really like using the silicone mold because I don’t have to grease it or use parchment paper, but it throws off the baking time and makes loves lower than they could be. I need to buy a 9×5.
This recipe required a lot of beating which was good for the workout. Sugar was 160g or 15g for the cocoa portion. I found it hard to marble though which is why my loaf ended up looking ugly.
Taste was good and if I kept the sugar at 200g, it would still have been alright since I think Hollywood’s recipes are less sweet than some others. This recipe was for the most part easy and I did enjoy the result. Unlikely to make again, but I still adore this cookbook.
ETA: Four days later and I have to say that I gifted some of the loaf to my parents and as they ate through it, the marbling got better. Taste was still good within the first three days too. I’d make the loaf again actually, but using a hand mixer next time.
How to Cook Everything: The Basics by Mark Bittman
When looking through my cookbooks I am surprised I had never written about this book. I love this cookbook.
This is the photographic edition of Mark Bittman’s How to Cook: The Basics. I have two other Bittman cookbooks largely because of how much I adored this one. I don’t know if I’ll get around to those for a long time.
This is a fantastic cookbook for someone starting out to cook for the first. Even an intermediate home cook will find it useful because he gives loads of variations in each recipe to alter it. I’ve used more recipes and tips from this cookbook than any other. It is extremely handy and helpful. Maybe not the best ever recipes for certain things, but practical and still good.
There are sections for vegetables, meat, seafood, and there’s a section on beans. 2016 is the year of the pulses so that is appropriate.
Prose and Writing: Concise. Strong. Easy to read. This befits a writer from the New York Times. Good for learning.
Photography and Layout: Not fancy, but to the point. I really like the layout as there were over 1000 photos in this book. It was all arranged well on the page.
Other Book Notes: This book is heavy, but no means my heaviest cookbook. I really like it though and it’s one of the first cookbooks I go to when I want to do something classic or standard.
Usefulness Factor: 5/5. This book has recipes for all your basics and for big family meals and entertaining.
Inspiration Factor: 4/5. While nothing fancy, the variations to the recipe give you a ton of ideas for the future.
Recipes Tested: Lots: Granola and Muesli, Cinnamon rolls, Chicken Stock, Minestrone soup, Vinaigrette in Jar, Tomato Soup, Garlicky White Bean Soup, Bean Burgers, Roast Chicken, Grill Cheese Sandwich, No Knead Bread (not from this book exactly from other Mark Bittman resources), Coconut Layer Cake (for reference of other cake).
Pasta with Eggs and Cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated pecocorino Romano or Parmesan cheese, or more to taste
1 pound linguine or other long pasta
Freshly ground black pepper
- Bring a stockpot of water to a boil and salt it. Heat the oven to 200F and put a large oven proof bowl in it for about 5 mins. When the bowl is warm–handle it with oven mitts to avoid burning yourself–crack the eggs on a flat surface and open them into it. Beat them with a fork or whisk until uniformly coloured. Then stir in the cheese.
- When the water boils, cook the pasta until it is tender but not mushy: start tasting after 5 minutes. When it’s done, scoop out the reserve at least 1 cup of the cooking water, then drain the pasta.
- Immediately toss the pasta with the eggs in the bowl; if it’s too dry (unlikely), add a little of the pasta-cooking water. Taste and add more salt or cheese if you want, then add black pepper–I suggest a lot–and serve.
Notes: I made it for one person by using one egg and less than 150g of pasta. I liked the flavour and simplicity of it. A couple of quibbles. 200F not warm enough. I would raise the temperature and put it in while the pasta is cooking. I did not need the pasta water. I used a lot of parmesan. Yum.
Sunday Salon: Cookbook Challenge – Reviews
I have decided to challenge myself to read and use cookbooks from my vast collection. As of this writing, I have almost 45 cookbooks. Many that I have not properly read or used. This ongoing personal challenge will help me assess my collection, evaluate authors, and possibly, give/sell some away.
I am going to make more of an effort on reviewing cookbooks. To help myself and anyone who reads these reviews, I have made some guidelines for myself and for anyone who is interested in these reviews.
Most of these cookbooks are owned by me. Part of the reason I have a collection is that I love hardcover cookbooks. Their photos, their weight, their feel.
Read most of the book cover to cover. This generally means reading all the non-directional aspects of the book including introductions to recipes. This can often be fun as some cookbook authors are good. When I have read a cookbook cover to cover, I will mark it as such on GoodReads.
I have tried at least two to three of the recipes before writing the review. While this is a small number, I think it serves as a good first review. I may review the book in another time. In any case, it’s a good evaluation of my relationship with the book.
Substitutions are sometimes inevitable. I will note that in my review if I made substitutions when testing some of the recipes I used. If not, I try my best to follow recipes as this follows the book closely.
I often convert to metric when making most recipes. Not an issue with many books in my collection which were printed originally in the UK.
Due to time and attribution, I will not generally take photos of what I make or copy a recipe. If I do replicate a recipe for the review, it is a more basic one because this way I am not violating copyright and supporting the author.
In addition to the recipes, I will probably review the prose, techniques, chapters and layouts, the book binding and quality, and the photography if it exists.
Overall, I try to get a “feel” of the book and how useful and inspiring it may be to me or not. I am generally fair even with cookbooks I do not like and will point out their merits. I use cookbooks to learn from, but also to be inspired by.
I am looking forward to it. Hope you come along for the ride. Cheers.
Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese
Oh! How I adore a good food book. It’s easier for me to be pleased with cookbooks and food books. They are real comforts for me.
I started reading this book on my Kindle in 2012. I liked the first couple of chapters so much that I was able to score a cheap copy off Book Outlet. Then I put thoughts about this book aside until this May.
The author set out to try various recipes and evaluate both their difficulty and economics when making at home compared to buying. With each recipe she provides, she offers a small anecdote. The soft cover I bought has no photos, but this is one of those rare cookbooks that has a nice narrative. I like when recipes are interwoven with stories.
While I have not made any of the exact recipes in the book, I have done similar ones especially in the baking and jam sections. On the whole, I agree that some things are probably too finicky to do more than once or ever. Reese and I have opposing views about jams and preserves though, but that’s a small complaint.
It’s a fun cookbook for those who want to figure out what they should try cooking first. Definitely, make some bread.
Finished May 22, 2012 on Kindle.
Lime Frozen Yogurt – Canning for a New Generation by Liana Krissoff
Cookbook Review: This cookbook was one of three new cookbooks I bought last Boxing Day. I have about eight cookbooks now, seven I got in the past year. Of all these, I’ve used this one the most. The main reason being is that right now, I don’t really cook or bake that much, but in the summer, I did canning, but this book doesn’t just have recipes for canning.
First off, this book is good value for money. It has 200 recipes and it’s seasonal based. While this doesn’t always apply since I live in Canada and the author lives in California, the layout of the book does apply to most places i.e. berry recipes follow berry recipes.
Additionally, it’s not all just canning, but it includes various clever ways of using leftover or excess fruit such as in the recipe below. The book is a great resource for any novice or seasoned canner, and most of the recipes are from scratch. There are no packets of pectin around here.
Some of the canning recipes I liked included: “Strawberry and lemon preserves”, “Blueberry Apple Jam” and “Concord Grape Jelly with Green Apples”. I wasn’t a big fan of her “Do Chau” (pickled carrot and daikon) recipe, but all in all, this book is incredibly useful for the casual and serious canner and cook.
There are also recipes on how to use your canned goods (for pies, savoury dishes, etc) and other ideas for preservation like the Lime Frozen Yogurt recipe below.
All in all, I recommend this book for canners and those who just like fruit.