22 September 2018

Weekend Cooking: 2 New Cookbooks for Fall Cooking

2 cookbook reviews for September 2018As the farmer's markets wind down for the season, I've been turning once again to cookbooks for inspiration in the kitchen. I don't know about you, but in the summer, I tend to cook simple dishes based on whatever is fresh from the local growers.

With the return to grocery store shopping comes cooler temperatures, and I'm far less reliant on season products. That's when new cookbooks, magazines, and websites offer bountiful ideas.

Today I have two short reviews of cookbooks written by long-time food writers. They're geared to very different audiences, and each has pluses and minuses.

Review of Basque Country: A Culinary Journey through a Food Lover's Paradise by Marti Buckley Basque Country: A Culinary Journey through a Food Lover's Paradise by Marti Buckley (Artisan; September 11): Marti Buckley writes about food and travel for a variety of venues, including her blog, Blank Palate. Her cookbook, Basque Country, sums up her love of the food, land, and people of this area in northern Spain. Buckley provides not only beautiful photographs of food (see the scan above) but informative and interesting descriptions of each subregion. We meet the farmers and fisherman, learn about festivals, visit a cider house, and gain a historical perspective.

The recipes are well written and easy to follow for the home cook, and most are accompanied by a photo of the finished dish. The recipes reflect what regular people really eat, as opposed to what may be served in upscale restaurants. I liked the sound of the chorizo potato stew, but when I cooked it, I added more fresh produce (green beans and tomatoes); it was delicious and easy. The book contains a number of vegetarian recipes and fish dishes as well as meats, sweets, and drinks.

Now here's the less glowing part: some of the recipes seem way too simple to take up a couple pages in a regional cookbook. For example, there is a dried bean recipe that simply tells the cook to simmer the beans in water for a couple of hours; another gives step-step-by instructions for boiling chorizo in beer. Yes, there are regional serving suggestions, but I don't need a Basque cookbook for these recipes. Other dishes require fresh seafood (turbot, eel, squid), which is hard to find in my land-locked town. Finally, for some reason (my mood?, the fact that I just came home from vacation?), I was not bowled over by any of the recipes and didn't flag any for my must-try list. Your reactions, of course, may be different.

Recommendation: Marti Buckley's Basque Country will appeal to anyone who is interested in regional cooking, food history, or travel to the region. The book is gorgeous and easy to read, and the recipes are doable in any American home kitchen. You may find tons of great recipes to try, but I was not hooked. (Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy; photos from the cookbook.)

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Review of This Old Gal's Pressure Cooker Cookbook: 120 Easy and Delicious Recipes for Your Instant Pot and Pressure Cooker by Jill Selkowitz This Old Gal's Pressure Cooker Cookbook: 120 Easy and Delicious Recipes for Your Instant Pot and Pressure Cooker by Jill Selkowitz (Race Point, September 25): If you own an electric pressure cooker, you've probably heard of Selkowitz and her blog, This Old Gal. The online Instant Pot crowd loves her cheesecake recipes and rely on her recipes for everyday family dinners. I couldn't wait to see a copy of this cookbook, hoping to pick up some tried-and-true tips and tricks. In that regard, Selkowitz doesn't disappoint.

Even seasoned pros will benefit from reading the sections on tools, accessories, and techniques, but for newbies, the early chapters of the cookbook are a gold mine of information they will turn to again and again. The recipes include Internet favorites as well as plenty of new dishes. The directions are clear, the ingredients are easy to find, and Selkowitz includes ample tips and variations to guarantee success. You'll find a few breakfast dishes, but dinner and dessert make up the heart of the cookbook. The flavors are extremely family friendly (Polynesian chicken, sweet potato casserole, sloppy Joes), and the dishes require very little fussing.

Oddly enough, one of the weakness of This Old Gal's Pressure Cooker Cookbook is also one of its strengths. Many of the recipes seem too basic and Americanized for my tastes, but for a lot of families these are just the kind of dishes that satisfy the pickiest of eaters and will be a godsend for weeknight dining. That said, I love having a copy of Selkowitz's New York cheesecake recipe (see photo), and I'm dying to try the rum raisin rice pudding. I have an excellent short rib recipe, but hers looks pretty awesome and is done in so much less time and without heating up the kitchen.

Recommendation: Jill Selkowitz's This Old Gal's Pressure Cooker Cookbook is perfect for anyone who doesn't yet feel comfortable with her electric pressure cooker (of any brand) or is simply stumped for recipes to try. Old hands, like me, will find good tips and a ready resource when you forget the timing for brown rice (that would be me!). The basic recipes will appeal to a broad range of eaters and you should be able to easily tweak recipes to your own tastes (adding more spices or less meat). (Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy; the photos are from the cookbook.)
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Weekend Cooking hosted by www.BethFishReads.comWeekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page.

NOTE: Mr. Linky sometimes is mean and will give you an error message. He's usually wrong and your link went through just fine the first time. Grrrr.
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21 September 2018

Thoughts on 10 Years of Blogging

Thoughts on book blogging at Beth Fish ReadsLast week I hit my 10th anniversary here at Beth Fish Reads. I didn't want to let the day slip by without notice. To celebrate, I'm sharing some random thoughts about my decade of blogging life.

My original idea for Beth Fish Reads was to write about audiobooks and the activities I engaged in while listening, such as cooking, gardening, walking, and doing various forms of needlework.

I didn't realize that blogging could take on a life of its own, leading me along new paths.

The very best part about blogging: I've made some amazing friends in the last 10 years, and I've been fortunate enough to meet many of them in real life. Some no longer blog, but I still keep up with their lives through mutual friends or social media. I had no idea that the community of book bloggers would be filled with so many wonderful people. Thank you all for friendship and support--and a special shout-out to the class of 2008 (a book blogging boom year).

Here are some short takes on the past 10 years:

  • My first post on September 13, 2008, was about wine! My second post was a short book review, in which I never actually name the book I'm reviewing: I guess I thought readers would get that information from the cover photo and the post title! By September 30, I had written two posts about audiobooks, though I have almost never written about gardening or my other hobbies.
  • Thoughts on book blogging at Beth Fish ReadsOf the 3222 posts I've published here, 573 have the label "audiobook." Some of my earliest book reviews were written as if I read the book in print, even though I actually listened to it. There wasn't much support of audiobooks in the book blogging community in 2008.
  • I've written 458 Weekend Cooking posts and have enjoyed getting to know an international community through that meme. As much as I like to write about food and cooking, I've never once been sorry I became book blogger instead of food blogger. Truly.
  • Other stats: You'll find 511 Wordless Wednesday photos and way more book reviews than I can count. I'm sad to report that my review index stops in early 2017. My blog has had 3,380,510 page views since its birth (I suspect that's a pretty small number for 10 years), and current traffic is a little less than 1600 hits a day (if Blogger can be believed).
  • When I look back on some of earlier reviews, I can't believe I had the time and energy to write such detailed analyses. This review of Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, written in 2009, is an example.
  • My most controversial post was my review of Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins. Rereading my thoughts just now, I still stand by everything I said in the review and the comments.
  • Among my most popular posts were the two I devoted to culling my library. My first post was general; my second post included a flow sheet! I really need to go through a major culling again. Sigh.
  • The major highlight: I was the APA's Book Blogger of the Year! Wooo hoo! Such an incredible honor and thrill--I still can't believe the magic of it all. I loved every second of being at the Audies and having an evening of red-carpet excitement
Thoughts on book blogging at Beth Fish ReadsAnd, of course, thoughts on the future:
  • Blogging is really hard work, but I love having a record of the books I've read (even if I'm bad on indexing). I'm happy with my current system of publishing all my short reviews on a single day (Monday). I'm pretty sure I'll never go back to the long form.
  • I like doing a roundup of some sort every week. It's a great way to share titles I'm looking forward to reading, to recommend books, and to feature a genre or imprint I hope will catch your interest.
  • Wednesday photos will continue to appear when I have something to post.
  • I plan to host Weekend Cooking into the next year.  I still love hosting and reading all the linked-up posts.
As long as people continue visit Beth Fish Reads, I'll be writing about books (especially audiobooks) and food. The only real change is this: I no longer pressure myself to produce daily content; I'm glad to put that behind me.

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19 September 2018

Wordless Wednesday 511

Numbers 6 & 8, 2018


Click image to enlarge. For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

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18 September 2018

Today's Read & Giveaway: The Cats Came Back by Sofie Kelly

Review of Sofie Kelly's The Cats Came BackWhat would you do if you stumbled across the body of someone you knew? I'd probably scream and call 911 and be traumatized for life. For Kathleen, however, murder is no surprise. Not only has she done civilian sleuthing but her boyfriend is a police detective.

Here's how the story begins:

The body was on the front seat of my truck, about halfway between the passenger door and the cloth grocery bag I'd left in the middle of the seat.

"Not again," I muttered, setting the box of glasses I was holding in the bed of the truck. I glanced at my watch. I couldn't exactly leave the body where it was, but I didn't want to be late, either.
The Cats Came Back by Sofie Kelly (Berkley Prime Crime, Sept. 4)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: modern times in the fictitious Maryville Heights, Minnesota
  • Circumstances: Kathleen, the local librarian, is helping the town prepare for its annual summer music festival by, among other things, helping a photographer friend with a fund-raiser calendar. While on a photo shoot, the two discover the body of a woman who's in town as the assistant for a famous singer. With the blessings of her detective boyfriend (Marcus), the encouragement of her friends, and the help of her magical cats (Owen and Hercules), Kathleen helps solve the murder.
  • Genre: cozy mystery, with a little magical element
  • Things I liked about this book: This is the second Magical Cats Mystery I've read (though it's 10th in the series), and I was happy to revisit Kathleen, Marcus, and their friends. As with all cozy series, the books are as much about the town and people as they are about the murder, and this book didn't disappoint. Kelly is always great on character development, so it's easy to get invested in the character's lives. Besides the murder, there's the library, Kathleen's family, a friend's wedding, and other town doings. The plot moves quickly, making the book a fun afternoon read; and there are enough twists and red herrings to keep you guessing.
  • The magical element: Kathleen's cats are important to the solution of the mystery, but in the end people find the murderer. Owen's talent is the ability to vanish and reappear; Hercules's talent is the ability to walk through walls. Kathleen hasn't yet told Marcus that her cats are special, though I think they might have that conversation in the next book. If this part of the story is too much for you, rest assured that The Cats Came Back has more than just magical cats.
  • Note on the opening paragraph: If you haven't guessed yet, the body in the car is a rodent victim of one of Kathleen's cats!
  • Can you start reading here? I read and reviewed the first book in this series, Curiosity Thrilled the Cat, back in 2011, so I didn't feel totally lost, though I didn't remember the details of the other book. I think you could jump right in without too much problem, though after you finish reading book 10, you might be curious enough to want to start at the beginning of the series.
  • Acknowledgments: thanks to Berkley Prime Crime for a finished copy of Sofie Kelly's The Cats Came Back and for taking care of the giveaway.
The Giveaway

Thanks to the nice people at Berkley Prime Crime, I'm able to offer one of my readers (USA mailing address only) a finished copy of Sofie Kelly's The Cats Came Back. All you have to do to be entered for a chance to win is to have a USA mailing address and to fill out the following form. I will pick a winner via a random number generator on September 25. Once the winner has been confirmed, I'll forward his or her mailing address to the publisher and then erase all personal information from my computer. Good luck!

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15 September 2018

Weekend Cooking: Catching Up on 3 Food Televsion Shows

Catching up on food televisionI love a good food-related television show, documentary, or movie, and I love hunting down something new to watch. Sometimes, however, it's nice to visit old friends or check in on new developments.

Thanks to all the rain we've had lately (nothing like the poor Carolinas, though, and I'm so sorry for all they're going through), I've had time to catch up on the latest seasons of shows I've already reviewed for Weekend Cooking.

Here are my thoughts on three shows currently streaming on Netflix.

The Great British Bake Off: Season 8

Catching up on food showsHave you seen the show since Mary, Mel, and Sue were replaced? It took me a while to warm up to Prue, and I really miss the chemistry between Paul and Mary. Mary was fun and accessible, whereas Prue seems somewhat standoffish. I know it may take a season or two for Paul and Prue to come off as friends, but I miss the easy banter of the earlier seasons. As for Noel and Sandi, I bet they'll get the hang of it once they work out their own style. They started out trying too hard to be like Mel and Sue instead of being themselves, but they're beginning to find their own rhythm.

Is it just my impression, or were the bakes this season harder and sometimes a bit out there? That doesn't bother me at all, it just seems that Paul and Prue were stretching to find something unique for the contestants to make. All in all, though, I enjoyed the season and had fun rooting for my favorite bakers. I'm looking forward to next year under the big tent.

Nailed It: Season 2

Catching up on food televisionI wrote a positive review of the first season of Nailed It! earlier this year. It's definitely one of those shows you're either going to love or hate. Nicole Byer makes me laugh, and I like chemistry between her and Jacques Torres. Who knew Torres had such a good sense of humor? The show works because the contestants are having fun and generally find it easy to laugh at themselves. I'm sure they would all like winning $10,000, but they seem to be having fun regardless of what their finished dessert looks like.

If you're looking for pure escape watching and you want to add a little humor to your evening, then you really do have to give this show a chance.

Lords and Ladles: Season 2

Catching up on Food televsionIf you're more interested in learning a little something of food history and about some of the beautiful estates and great families of Ireland, then this is the show for you. As I said in my review of season 1, I really loved getting an inside look at the beautiful homes and grounds, meeting interesting people, absorbing some history, and watching the chefs re-create grand meals from the past.

It's just as much fun this time around, and I get a kick out of seeing the reactions of the people who've been invited to partake in the feasts. Some love everything, and some are hesitant to try the odder foods. I have a feeling that Lords and Ladles lasted only two seasons, but I like it enough that I'm hoping for more. Or maybe a similar show set in a different country.

In other news: I'm finally feeling completely settled in and back to normal. The temperatures have moderated, my jet lag is gone, and I'm caught up on my work. Look for reviews and lots of good harvest cooking ahead!

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Weekend Cooking hosted by www.BethFishReads.comWeekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page.

NOTE: Mr. Linky sometimes is mean and will give you an error message. He's usually wrong and your link went through just fine the first time. Grrrr.
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All content and photos (except where noted) copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads 2008-2018. All rights reserved.

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