Review: The Bread Baker’s Apprentice 15th Anniversary Edition by Peter Reinhart

Minor updates to a classic.

bba15_coverI already have the original Bread Baker’s Apprentice book on the shelf and it’s certainly a comprehensive resource on the art and science of bread making. It’s also one of the originals, published 15 years ago when people were probably more likely to buy a bread machine than make a sourdough bread from scratch.

In this new 15th anniversary edition, Reinhart has updated a few things. There is a new preface, the introduction has been tweaked, the methods (especially as related to mixing and sourdough) have been improved, additional comments have been added to recipe headnotes, and there are some minor recipe changes here and there. Also, the resources section has been totally rewritten – with a much greater emphasis on useful websites, because, well, 15 years. In terms of new content? Three new recipes: A sprouted wheat and brown rice bread, sprouted whole wheat onion and poppyseed bialys and beyond ultimate cinnamon and sticky buns.

In short, if you already own The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, this is not a required upgrade. If your old copy is beat up and you’d like to replace, then by all means, get the new one. If you’re still happy with it, maybe check this one out for the small changes, but it’s not going to change your life. On the other hand, if you don’t already own the original version, and you love bread, this is a book that deserves a spot in your library, as a reference as much as a recipe book.

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

Review: The Elements of Pizza by Ken Forkish

Since receiving this book, it’s the only way we make pizza.

When we wanted to have pizza for dinner, we used to use a pre-mixed refrigerated dough from a local bakery. I’d throw some jarred pizza sauce on top, along with some shredded cheese and some toppings. It usually turned out pretty good. Not amazing, but better than frozen and better than the big chain delivery places. Once in a while, I even experimented with pizza dough recipes from cookbooks and the like.

Then, I met The Elements of Pizza book. I won’t go so far as to say that it’s changed my life, but it sure has changed the way we make pizza.

If I plan far enough ahead, I’ll make the 48-to-72 hour pizza dough. It’s awesome. If I fall behind a day, I’ll make the 24-to-72 hour dough. If I want pizza today, I’ll go with Saturday pizza dough, or Saturday pan pizza dough. These recipes all have the same ingredients, but the quantities change, and most importantly, there’s a different technique with each. Most importantly, they’re all delicious. And the recipes are impeccably organized and easy to follow.

Of particular note, I want to point out that here, like he did in his previous mostly-bread-oriented dough book Flour Water Salt Yeast, that Forkish includes recipe header information in a way that I appreciate immensely as a planner. Each recipe header clearly states how much dough it makes, the separate times for first and second fermentations, the time to divide and shape the dough, and then, most super awesomely helpful of all? A sample schedule. It’s so brilliant. If I want pizza on Saturday, tell me what day of the week I need to get this dough started, and then let me know the wiggle room. No more starting the recipe (after only skimming the steps) and discovering the dreaded Step 6: Place dough in refrigerator to rise for 12 hours. Nooooooo! That doesn’t happen here. If I need to start the dough 2 days early, Ken tells me to. This I am thankful for.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back to the beginning.

The book has 7 chapters. The first five take up the first 100 pages of the book. They cover Ken’s pizza philosophy, his training, his experimentation, as well as the requisite chapters on equipment, methods, and ingredients. I found these all to be informative and interesting.

Chapter 6 contains 12 pizza dough recipes, including one that is gluten-free.

Chapter 7 encapsulates the final 100 pages of the book and includes 5 pizza sauce recipes and 37 pizza recipes. I have tried 3 of the sauce recipes and I adore them for their simplicity as much as their wonderful flavor. On the pizza side, I’ve made the Grandma Pie in both thick and thin crust versions (thick is quite bready, thin is our favorite), New York Cheese Pizza, Prosciutto Pizza, Pizza Margherita, Vodka Sauce and Sausage Pizza and multiple variants inspired by the recipes here. Most recently, I followed along with the Pepperoni, Mushroom and Onion Pizza recipe, including the parbaking steps. I parbaked 5 crusts. We ate two for dinner and froze the other three. Last week, I defrosted those three on the countertop while preheating the oven. My daughter and I then topped them with sauce, cheese and a few toppings and a mere 5 minutes in the oven later and we had delicious pizza on the table.

We used this same technique for our daughter’s 4th birthday party, parbaking pan pizza crusts before the guests arrived and then churning out pizzas quickly to feed our crowd of guests. I wish I had written down all the feedback about the pizza I received that day. It probably could have served as this entire review. A few standout quotes:

“This is the best pizza I’ve ever had”
“Can I get this recipe?”
“I didn’t even realize you could make your own pizza crust. This was wonderful”

I’ll also note that the pictures in this cookbook are well-done (and many of them are now dusted with stray flour) and complement the overall presentation here.

Bottom line: If you’ve been on the hunt for pizza dough and sauce that you can make at home, I’ve got just the book for you.

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

Review: Home Cooked – Essential Recipes for a New Way to Cook by Anya Fernald

9781607748403This books exhausts me.

Let’s start with Anya Fernald’s story. It’s an interesting one. Fernald graduated from college, got a fellowship to spend a year working in dairies in Europe and Africa, and began a lifelong fascination with food, and a definite affinity for home cooked Italian cuisine. She is also the co-founder and CEO of the Belcampo Meat Company in California, the world’s largest sustainable meat company.

Highlights from the book include:

That interesting introduction
Great photography – the pictures make me want to eat this food
Really nice recipe intros – I am probably not going to make the Carne Cruda (that’s raw beef), but Anya’s introduction to the recipe transported me to the place in her story where she developed an appreciation for it

So, upon first glance, I was feeling ready to dive in and start cooking from this book. Boy, that Beef & Pork Ragu sure does look yummy, and that ingredient list looks manageable. Let’s dig in.

Oh. Wait.

1 cup soffrito (page 17)
1 cup Bone Broth (page 20)
4 cups homemade tomato passato (page 24)

Ugh. Why? Why create a recipe that looks like a Choose Your Own Adventure book? Now, I’m exhausted. I don’t think I’m making this.

So, as I got better acquainted with the book, I came to a realization. This isn’t the type of cookbook that you pick up and make a weeknight dinner out of. It’s not even necessarily the one you grab to make a special dinner for friends on a weekend. Rather, this is one of those books that assumes you want to adopt the author’s complete kitchen and meal planning approach. I’m not so sure these are “essential” recipes for a “new” way to cook. Rather, they are the essential recipes for Anya’s way to cook.

Ultimately, this book just isn’t for me and our family. We don’t eat Italian foods often enough to have ice cube trays of soffrito on the ready at all times, and I already have books with delicious recipes for stock, ragu, bolognese, etc. And those recipes don’t ask me to make three sub-recipes.

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

Review: Cravings by Chrissy Teigen

Yes. That Chrissy Teigen.

One phrase review of this cookbook: Shockingly Fantastic

Like, shocked shocked. Stunned. Surprised. Unexpected feelings.

Ok, composing self to write actual sentences.

Cravings_CoverI fully expected to hate-read this cookbook. Sure, I enjoy a lot of Chrissy Teigen’s tweets. She’s that rare famous person who makes themselves extremely publicly accessible, but in an actual authentic way. Her online presence doesn’t appear to be artfully constructed by a PR firm. She replies to trolls. She talks about buying giant bear stuffed animals from shopping TV. She talks about her husband in a normal, loving, supportive way. She’s a reminder that yes, celebrity is another plane of existence, but, it’s still a career, and she’s still a human being.

I knew that she enjoyed cooking. Or, well, attempted a lot of cooking. Her twitter feed contains a lot of posts about failed attempts in the kitchen. It led me to believe Teigen tried to make a lot of food, but that it probably turned out kinda terribly most of the time. So, I selected this cookbook to review just to see what a mess it would be. This celebrity trying to be all cookbook-ey. I expected one of those books with a “If you’re a super rich person like me, you can have your housekeeper make you gluten-free llama milk infused baby kangaroo burgers too” tone. I promised I would give a recipe or two a try, but that I was probably going to pass this book along to someone else for their amusement.


I. Was. Wrong.

This cookbook is awesome.

The recipes? They’re GREAT. Accessible. Unique, but familiar. Delicious. Unpretentious. Tasty. Good. Yummy. Things I will make again. Dare I say, some new favorites even?

Wow. It’s just so good. Five star rating worthy. A book deserving of early admission to Food52’s Piglet 2017 tournament (even though it does not have the pedigree of the usual entrants).

Enough about my surprise about this book. Let’s talk about the book itself and why I love it, why I think you might like it.

Most importantly: The recipes

As I do with most cookbooks where I start to see a recipe or two, or three, early in the book that I want to make. I started a list. All the recipes I want to try. Maybe not today, but someday. So, I started that list in the breakfast section. That Dutch Baby Pancake looks tasty. Crab Cakes Benedict – wow, I think I could make this. Bacon Hash Browns? Sign me up. I kept going. Soup. Salads. Noodles. Thai. Party. Vegetables. Supper (this one was hard – my parents call it supper – I don’t – it’d dinner – but… I let it go). My list had 53 recipes on it. 53. The book only has 95-ish or so recipes, and I want to make over half of them. That’s an incredible accomplishment.

So, how does this recipes perform in practice? Will our three-and-a-half year old eat them? Are the ingredient lists accurate? Do the steps make sense? Does this feel like a well-tested recipe?

Dutch Baby Pancake: Super easy to make. Beautifully random squiggly rise in the oven. Delicious. Six thumbs up. Kid/family-approved.

Cobb Salad with Honey Mustard Ranch Dressing: An actual text I sent to Kelley: “F**k, this is a good salad”. The seasoning on the chicken was fantastic. Just spicy enough to get a bunch of flavor out without passing toddler-acceptable levels. The charred corn was super tasty. The dressing. THAT dressing! The hard boiled eggs. That our toddler ate. That she had never eaten before. The combination. This was one of the best salads I have ever eaten, much less prepared (there are a lot of steps with this one, and there’s a whole bunch of chopping, but it’s an extremely well-written recipe). Family Favorite List addition.

Sesame Chicken Noodles: This is a really well-constructed recipe (you use the same water you boil the chicken in to cook the pasta). It’s also really really really good. The sesame-based sauce for the noodles is lick your fingers tasty. The recipe says it serves 4 as a light dinner. Our 2.25 diners licked the pot clean.

Italian Sausage Meatloaf: This is a really good recipe – adding Italian Sausage to meatloaf is brilliant – but I screwed it up a little. I tried to make it on a solo parent weeknight, so I rushed a little and didn’t mix it up as fully as I should have which led to some mushy breadcrumb only sections. It also needed more time in the oven than the recipe’s “about 1 hour” step. That seems to be common with my latest meatloaf cookery though, so it’s not a fault of Chrissy’s. My minor related suggestion here though would be to add a “cook to XXX degrees” step. Overall, this turned out great tasting and I would make it again. On a weekend. When I can give it the proper attention.

Skillet-charred Fish Tacos: Five stars. These were just phenomenal. The spice rub for the tilapia was great. The toddler loved the fish. Kelley loved the tacos. I loved the tacos. I ate fish taco leftovers the next day. We’ll make this again. Probably soon.

Literally Stovetop Pork Chops: We don’t usually bread our pork chops. I’ve certainly never thought, “Hey, maybe let’s get some Stovetop Stuffing mix and bread our pork chops with that.” But, that’s what this recipe calls for. And, well, I mean, broken record here, but, it’s delicious. It’s so good that when I asked our daughter a week later what she wanted for dinner, she said, “Hmmm…. Pork Chops!”

Pad Grapow Chicken (Basil Chicken): This recipe is from the tiny “Thai Mom” section of the cookbook and it makes me kinda hope for a future Thai Mom specific book. I’m a big fan of Thai food. Kelley is a big fan of Thai food. Rylie doesn’t know a lot about specific International cuisines yet. This recipe was soooooo good. I want to make it again with basil fresh from the garden, because it was delicious with store bought stuff, but I think it would be heavenly with some leaves pulled fresh from the stalk.

Buttery Glazed Green Beans: On to a vegetable. A side dish. A simple combination of sugar and water and green beans and butter. Easy recipe, great, slightly crispy green beans.

Warm Corn Salad: This is actually a component of the Seared Scallops recipe that I wanted to make, but couldn’t find the right scallops for, so we pivoted and had Sole instead. But, I still make the corn salad. And I’m glad I did. In fact, even my not-really-that-big-of-a-fan-of-corn spouse said, “This salad is really good, I like how this corn is made.” So, yeah, approved.

A couple of other review points.

The organization of the book is nice. I like having the breakfast vs salad vs noodles vs dinner type sections. I do think she got a little too cutesy with the “Sh*t on Toast” and “Stuff that Seems Complicated But Isn’t” sections. I get it, I just don’t think it was needed.

The recipe introductions are right in line with the tone of Chrissy Teigen. A little snarky, a little heartfelt, a lot personal. I like hearing about the background of the recipes. The stuff that reminds her of her mom, or her dad, or that thing that John Legend made that everyone loves. I also like the humor. But. In small doses. If you love love love all of of Chrissy Teigen’s tweets, then by all means, sit down and read this cookbook cover-to-cover. You’ll love it. On the other hand, if you just like her sense of humor, I might recommend reading the book in small portions. I find that for me, a small dose of Teigen goes a long way. In no way does this detract from the greatness of the food you will make based on this book, but just be forewarned.

Overall, I really really like this cookbook. At first I thought it was just because it exceeded my expectations so greatly, but after further analysis, I think it’s because it contains really delicious recipes, the recipes themselves are very well-written, and it’s obvious that the recipes have been well-tested. I could cook exclusively from this book for a month and we’d be happy family.

You should definitely buy this book if you’re a huge fan of Chrissy Teigen. But, surprisingly, you should also buy this book if you simply love good food.

Buy On Amazon: Cravings: Recipes for All the Food You Want to Eat

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

Review: Fast Food Maniac by Jon Hein

I was not familiar with Jon Hein (he is apparently a fixture on the Howard Stern show) when I picked up this book. We also don’t eat fast food much. But I thought it might be interesting to learn more about the history of various fast food chains, as well as the promise of “secret menu items.”

The book does serve as a fairly comprehensive index of American fast food chains. It contains a few paragraphs on the history of each one, and highlights their menu offerings. As for the secret options, they are here too, but ultimately don’t feel like big “secrets.”

9780553418033I think my biggest issue with the book is that it doesn’t feel like it includes all that much original content. Instead, it reads like a compilation of Wikipedia and internet content. There is a section at the back of the book containing Jon Hein’s lists of favorite chains, favorite burgers, favorite biscuits, favorite straws, etc. So that part is original, but it’s mostly, well, lame.

I really can’t recommend that anyone buy this book. Even if you’re a huge fan of fast food, or are planning a cross country road trip to regional fast food joints, my suggestion would be to borrow this book from a library, spend 10 minutes with it (that’s really all the time you need) and be on your way.

Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.