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: 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.

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.