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: A Kitchen in France by Mimi Thorisson

I love France. It is right at the top of the list of places I have visited that I can’t wait to go back to. Given that, the idea of a cookbook that would take me on a journey into life in France? Pretty exciting.

The first thing I noticed when I received “A Kitchen in France” was how beautiful the book was. The photographs throughout are extremely well done. They make me want to visit. They make me feel like I’m already there. They make me want to eat this food.

Next, there’s the organization of the book. It’s split into seasons. I kind of love this approach to designing a cookbook. I don’t need to see those wonderful strawberry recipes in October.

Then I dove into the content. The recipe introductions are well-done, at least in terms of making me feel like they are telling author Mimi Thorisson’s story. Unfortunately, unlike say, the amazing Dorie Greenspan, the stories here didn’t feel relatable. It felt like a fantasy world of semi-rustic French life that let’s be honest here, I’m not going to be living unless the lottery comes calling.

Finally, there are the recipes themselves. I so very much wanted the recipes to be the kind that would transport me back to those fantastical French moments. I wanted them to be recipes we could cook at home and introduce our family and friends to the wonders of France. Bottom line? They are not those kind of recipes. Throughout the book, I felt like the recipes were predominantly special occasion fare, or worse, in the “yeah, you’re never making this at home” category. I made a list of recipes from the book that I would personally feel comfortable trying at home (and I’m fairly willing to take just about any risk on a recipe that is at least sort of accessible – provided it sounds good, won’t break the bank, and walks me through the parts that sound daunting). That list contains 24 recipes. The book contains around 100. That’s not terrible, but then I reviewed the list of 24 that I would attempt:

Roast Chicken, Bouillabaisse, Couscous, Strawberries in Wine with Mascarpone Cream, Panna Cotta, Soup, Gratin, Chocolate Tart, Coq Au Vin, Madeleines, Waffles

There’s nothing wrong with including recipes for these things in a cookbook. It’s just that they are not special. There’s little in the recipes here to make me want to make them instead of the recipes I already use.

In summary, if you want a book that will make you dream of living in the French countryside, curl up with the pictures and some of the stories here. If, on the other hand, you are like me and are trying to create a family meal plan (or even host a dinner party), I think you will want to look elsewhere for your needs.

I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.


Monday Night Lasagna Party

Catching up a little bit here as we time travel back to Monday night’s dinner.

Our friends Ed & Carolyn were in town with their son Patrick, so we had them over for a little dinner party. Dinner was delicious if I may say so myself, but I think the highlight of the night for both Kelley and I was getting to meet little Patrick for the first time. He’s a pretty darn cute kid!

Our Dinner Menu

Mike and Jackie also brought over a tasty polenta dish with a ranch/bacon sauce. Ed & Carolyn added a bottle of wine and we all had a great time.

We couldn’t have pulled off the dinner on time if we didn’t make the bread and assemble the lasagna on Sunday night. That left us with the perfect amount of prep and oven time for the two of us to make the croutons, salad and dessert on Monday and bake everything, including the lasagna.

Click below to continue reading…

Continue reading “Monday Night Lasagna Party”