19 September 2020

Weekend Cooking: 4 New Cookbooks (Mini-Reviews)

Review of How to Make Hard Seltzer by Chris Colby
Happy Saturday. Hope you're all doing well. Today I'm writing about four cookbooks that have crossed my desk this month. Before I get into my mini-reviews, note that yesterday I wrote about two food-related topics, so you might want to take a look.

The first book I'm featuring is How to Make Hard Seltzer by Chris Colby (Brewers Publications; Sept. 7). I am not a home brewer of anything, nor do I plan to become one, but hard seltzer is becoming more popular and I was curious about how it was made. This book is a detailed how-to, including information on ingredients, formulas for brewing, flavorings, and equipment. There's a section on government regulations and an appendix for first-time brewers. The only chapter I'll be using is the one on making cocktails using hard seltzer. If you're curious about the process or want to try fermenting on your own, this looks like a good resource.

Review of The Intermittent Fasting Cookbook by Nicole Poirier
Next up is The Intermittent Fasting Cookbook by Nicole Poirier (Fair Winds Press; Oct. 6). Intermittent fasting seems very trendy or faddy, but in fact many medical professionals recognize its benefits. Poirier, a chef with an eye toward nutritional healing and with clients from the upper echelons of the Silicon Valley, has years of experience helping others figure out what and and when to eat. This book describes intermittent fasting, providing medical evidence to back up the suggested programs. The recipes are specifically geared to replace and replenish nutrients needed by those who practice fasting, whether that's for a specific number of hours a day or on alternate days. Poirier provides charts, quizzes, and food lists to help you figure out what to eat to meet your goals and conditions, such as weight loss, controlling diabetes, and staving off inflammation. The recipes fit a variety of dietary preferences (omnivores, keto, gluten free, dairy free, etc.), are easy to make, and don't feel at all restrictive.

We made a tuna chickpea salad for lunches and chimichurria flank steak and a vegan eggplant and tomato dish that were super tasty for dinners. I learned new things about intermittent fasting and really liked the recipes we tried, but I suggest that your check this one out the library before buying.

Review of Let's Fix Lunch by Kat Nouri
If you've been around for my Weekend Cooking posts, then you know how much I have struggled with lunches in the past. Now that Mr. BFR has retired and I've started slowing down my workload, lunches have become kind of a thing. Sometimes we even eat lunch together! However, if we don't have leftovers from dinner, I have no clue what to eat for lunch, especially because we're not big on sandwiches. Enter the next two cookbooks.

Let's Fix Lunch by Kat Nouri (Chronicle; Sept. 15) is all about (according to the subtitle), fixing planet-friendly meals that can be eaten at school, work, or on the go. If you do, indeed, pack lunches, you'll find plenty of advice for containers and the process of packing. I appreciate the information on how to prep ahead and the chart explaining how to put together lunches from that prepped food. The salads, soups, grain, and pasta dishes look good, but weren't particularly unique. I may turn to this book if I need to pack lunches for hikes and adventures and travel (as soon as we feel safe), but I currently recommend this as a borrow instead of a buy.

Review of Bento by Yuko and Noriko
I've always been fascinated by bento and wish I had the energy and creativity to make pretty boxes for our lunches. Alas, I'm a lazy cook and I rarely make the effort. Bento (Race Point Publishing; Sept. 1) is the second book I've taken for review by authors Yuko and Noriko. (See my review of their Simply Bento.) As with their earlier book, I was inspired by Yuko and Noriko. I love how pretty and well put together their bentos are. The noodle dishes are particularly appealing (maybe because they are all in one?). Mr. BFR was eyeing up the meatball bentos, and I think I'll give them a try as we get into fall. The 10-minute bentos looked doable as did many of the vegan versions. Still, I know myself, and despite how Instagram-worthy the photos and boxes are, I'm sure I'll ultimately fail to follow through. The recipes and information are solid, so if you're into bento or want to know more, this is a good resource.

As we head into October, I'll have a ton of terrific new cookbooks to share with you. I can't wait to get cooking, now that the temperatures have started to drop.

Shared with Weekend Cooking, hosted by Marg at The Intrepid Reader (and Baker)

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18 September 2020

5 Things I'm Loving in September

Beth Fish Reads.com
How can we be halfway through September already and only a few days from fall? Seems wild, but there you go. Hope you're all staying healthy and safe and are wearing your masks.

In this COVID world it's often hard to find the happy. Here are five things that have brightened my day over the last six weeks or so.

Amazing Totes

First up, I want to tell you about Rush Order Tees, a custom T-shirt and apparel company that reached out to me to do a collaboration. I was thrilled to be picked and am happy to report a totally positive experience with this company, which gave me the opportunity to pick an item to customize with my blog's logo (an old book illustration). My first thought was aprons, which would fit very well with my Weekend Cooking posts, but once I saw these canvas book totes, I knew that's what I had to get.

Rush Order Tees Review
The design process was dead easy: I uploaded my image, placed it on a mock-up of the tote, and then added text. If you're feeling less than techy, no worries, Rush Order Tees offers design help, via email or an online chat. Once I was satisfied with my tote, I went through the simple checkout process and then sat back and waited for my bags.

I can't say enough good things about the quality of the book totes. The canvas is heavy, the handles are a great length, and the printing is clear and perfectly centered. This tote may be listed as a book bag, but I plan to take it to the farmer's market and grocery store as well as the library, bookstore, and even the beach.

Check out the site for all the different kinds of items they offer: shirts, hats, towels, aprons, hoodies, duffels, and more. They have sizes ranging from toddler to adult. Oh and new item is face masks!

Think of Rush Order Tees next time you plan a reunion, are hosting a club or business event, or need some swag. Thanks again to Rush Order Tees for the collaboration.

Abrams Dinner Party 2020-2021

Abrams Cookbooks
Talking about Weekend Cooking, I am so excited to let you know that I'm once again a member of the Abrams Dinner Party. That means I get to tell you all about every fabulous food and drink title that Abrams will publish over the coming year.

As always, you can expect my honest opinions of the titles I receive through this program. I was looking over the list of the fall books, and I can tell you I'm already excited and I haven't even gotten my first book yet: drinks, pie, Christmas, vegan, home-style cooking, and Chinese regional dishes are in my future . . . and yours! Thanks so much to Abrams inviting me back. I'm looking forward all the great cooking ahead.

Blogging Matters

This week (September 13, to be exact) marked my 12-year anniversary writing here on Beth Fish Reads. When I hit publish on that first post, I figured the whole venture would last about a month, if I were lucky. I had no idea how book blogging would change my life.

Never mind the BEAs, the book festivals, the panels, the movie set visits, and being picked as the Audio Publishers Association's 2016 Audiobook Blogger of the Year. The real joy of blogging has been the enduring friendships I made over the years. I've been blessed in that I've been able meet so many of you in person, but one of the miracles is how close I feel to my fellow bloggers, cooks, and photographers, even though we've never seen each other in real life.

As I slow down my posting schedule here on the blog, remember that I still post to Instagram and GoodReads and follow Twitter. I'm just a message away.


Misfit Market Review
In my last favorites post I told you all about Butcherbox, a meat-delivery service, which we are still very pleased with. As the COVID cases increase in our area, thanks to returning college students (we live a few towns away from a major university), we need to do even more to stay away from the public. We decided to start a Misfits Market subscription, which delivers organic and GMO-free produce directly to our door on a weekly basis for less than we would pay locally. The "misfits" part reflects the fact that the produce is--for various reasons--unfit for the grocery store. The food is completely fresh and delicious; the issues are along the lines of the potatoes may be a funny shape, the onions may be too small, or the plums may have freckles. Um, who cares?

The boxes come in two sizes. The Mischief box will feed 1-2 people and the Madness box will feed 3-4. We chose the larger box, because we love our veggies and I have no problem with freezing or preserving whatever we can't get to. The cost of the smaller box costs $22 and the bigger box is $35. You can totally customize your box, pause for a week or two, switch between the big and small box, and pick your day of delivery.

Misfits Market also offers add-ons, which include additional fruits and vegetables, snacks, cereals, coffee, tea, spices and herbs, and more. Our produce arrives on time, fresh, and unbruised. I'm so impressed with this box. I love it more than our old CSA because I can customize and thus know ahead of time what kinds of fruits and veggies we'll be getting. This makes meal planning easy.

They deliver all over the east and south and into the Midwest. Check them out. If you decide to give Misfits Market a try, you can consider using my code: you get 25% off your first order and I get a credit as well. Here's the code: COOKWME-WN6SIH.

Public Service Announcement: Vote!

How to help get out the vote
The fifth thing that makes me happy these days is working to register voters, help voters obtain mail-in ballots, and encourage people to vote. Here in America, it's never been more important to make your voice heard and to defend democracy and our civil rights. Our most powerful right is the right to vote. The people who serve in our government, from local to federal, are picked by we the people.

Even though I don't feel comfortable working the polls or going door to door, I can still do my civic duty--and so can you. Mr. BFR and I have written hundreds of postcards over the summer, and will continue to do so over the next few weeks. We signed up with Postcards to Voters, but I'm sure there are other such organizations.

Stay safe, wear your mask, and if you live the United States VOTE!

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12 September 2020

Review: Mediterranean Every Day by Sheela Prakash

A cookbook for the Mediterranean dietI don't provide medical or dietary advice here on Beth Fish Reads, but it's well-recognized that the Mediterranean diet is endorsed by most medical professionals around the world. Good news for those of us who like our veggies, olives, and a bit of meat and fish on the side.

In Mediterranean Every Day (Harvard Common Press; Sept. 1), Sheela Prakash celebrates the foods she learned to cook as an American college and graduate student in Italy. The dishes she shares fit our busy schedules and are easy enough for most cooks. The flavors are bright and fresh, and the recipes call for common ingredients.

Prakash, a registered dietician, doesn't believe in dieting. Instead she advocates a healthy and nutritious lifestyle and kitchen. And, of course, delicious food.

The photographs in Mediterranean Every Day will inspire you to don your apron and roll up your sleeves. Even better, the recipes are clearly written and the dishes are simple to put together.

The cookbook starts with sauces, pantry items, snacks, and drinks. I made the Smoky White Bean Hummus for lunches and snacking. It took me all of 5 minutes to make, and I'm looking forward to serving this to guests.

Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish ReadsIn the soup and salad chapter we found a nice variation of a Nicoise salad and a delicious Spicy Sausage Rice Soup, which is perfect for fall.

Finally, we made three recipes from the mains chapter: Cheesy Brussels Sprouts Farro Bake; Sausage, Pepper, and Onion Oven Bake; and Skillet Lemon Chicken Thighs with Blistered Olives.

I marked a ton of recipes to try, such as orzo with shrimp and feta, whole wheat foccacia, no-cook summer tomato pasta, and citrus polenta cake.

Mediterranean Every Day by Sheela Prakash is a beautiful cookbook to look through, plus the recipes are accessible and use ingredients you can find at the grocery. I plan to cook from it often. Put this one on your buy list.

The recipe I'm sharing today should work for most of you; I've included the Prakash's notes and tips as well.

Note: Thanks to the publisher for a copy of this cookbook. The scans and recipe are used here in the context of a review; all rights remain with the original copyright holder.

Slinky Red Peppers with Capers and Sherry Vinegar
Makes 1.5 cups (220g), serving 4
Jarred roasted red peppers are a great convenience, but, unfortunately, all that time hanging out in the jar causes them to become pretty muted and bland compared to those made from scratch. Luckily, I've found a way to improve them. Marinate a jar of roasted red peppers with olive oil and sherry vinegar, throw in some capers for a salty, briny bite, and you have something that's much greater than the sum of its parts.

    Recipe from Mediterranean Every Day
  • 1 (12 oz; 340g) jar roasted red peppers, drained and cut into slices
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) sherry vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons capers, chopped if large (rinsed well if salt-packed)
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

In a medium bowl, combine the roasted peppers, olive oil, vinegar, capers, a pinch of salt, and several grinds of black pepper. Stir and let marinate for about 20 minutes at room temperature, or refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 1 week. Let the peppers come to room temperature before serving with toasted baguette slices or sturdy crackers.

Prakash's note: Although I really like serving this in a bowl alongside toasted baguette slices for DIY crostini, it's also just a nice thing to keep in the refrigerator all week to spoon over meat, fish, or even scrambled eggs.

Shared with Weekend Cooking, hosted by Marg at The Intrepid Reader (and Baker)

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05 September 2020

Weekend Cooking: Instant Pot Asian by Patricia Tanumihardja

Instant Pot cookbook reviewToday's cookbook review is for all of my fellow Instant Pot users. Patricia Tanumihardja's Instant Pot Asian (Tuttle, Sept. 1) is a great resource, even if you already feel comfortable with the electric pressure cooker.

Tanumihardja, a food blogger for the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, understands pressure cookers and is quick to tell you that the appliance is not for every dish. I appreciate that the recipes in this cookbook are a great fit for the IP; there's no cooking in the Instant Pot just because you can. She also focuses on what the IP does best, which is pressure cook and saute, making Instant Pot Asian a practical and useful kitchen companion.

If you're fairly new to the electric pressure cooker, you should take the time to read the "about" chapter, which explains the different saute and pressure cooking settings, outlines the techniques and defines terms, and suggests various accessories. Everyone should read the tips chapter. Even though I've used a pressure cooker for decades and have had my Instant Pots for a number of years, I still learned from Tanumihardja.

Indian chicken recipe for the Instant Pot
If you don't often cook Asian dishes, then you'll want to pay attention to the pantry section. There's where you'll learn about ingredients and staples you'll need for the recipes in the book. That said, the two recipes I tried--Indian Chicken Biryani Rice and Beef with Broccoli (see the scans)--were totally doable in my COVID-depleted kitchen.

Finally, I loved that Tanumihardja included notes throughout. Some explain the construction of the dish, and others are tips and comments from recipe testers. You'll also find variation suggestions.

So what kinds of recipes will you find in Instant Pot Asian? Many familiar dishes from all over Asia: Filipino chicken adobo, Vietnamese garlic butter noodles, Thai spicy beef noodles, Korean short ribs, Japanese beef stew, and several vegetarian curries. All the recipes are accessible and easy to follow, with clear directions for IP settings and timing.

Beef and broccoli recipe for the Instant Pot
We loved both recipes I made and I hope to get to several more this winter. Although there is a meat-free chapter, I advise vegetarians and vegans to look through the book before buying. The dishes aren't particularly fancy or unusual, so if you're looking for totally new flavor combinations, you'll not find that here. On the other hand, Instant Pot Asian suits my own needs just fine. On an average weeknight, I want tasty and easy with not too much fuss, and this cookbook does just that.

The recipe I'm sharing today is one that I have marked to try. Although not vegetarian, I picked it because it's a good example of Tanumihardja's style, uses readily available ingredients, and is a good recipe for people fairly new the IP.

Thanks to Tuttle for the review copy. Note that the recipe and scans from the cookbook are used here in the context of a review. All rights remain with the original copyright holders.

Lemon Teriyaki Glazed Chicken
4 servings; total time 33 minutes
Teriyaki chicken for the Instant Pot
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 medium cloves)
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) fresh lemon juice (1 large lemon)
  • 6 small bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 2 lb/900 g)
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced thinly (about 1 cup)
  • 2 cups (300 g) snow peas, trimmed and halved if large

Whisk together the granulated and brown sugars, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, and lemon juice in the pot. Coat both sides of the chicken in the sauce and nestle skin side up in one layer. It might be a tight fit, but you can do it!

Lock the lid. Select PRESSURE COOK/MANUAL and set to HIGH for 9 min. Make sure the steam release valve is sealed. Once pressurized (10 to 15 minutes), the cook cycle will start.

When the timer beeps, let the pressure release naturally for 5 min. Then quick release any remaining pressure. When the float valve drops, press CANCEL and open the lid.

Transfer the chicken with a slotted spoon or tongs to a serving dish and tent with foil. Skim the fat from the sauce.

Select SAUTE and set to HIGH/MORE. Add the carrots and cook until crisp-tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in the snow peas and let sit 30 seconds. Press CANCEL.

Pour the sauce and vegetables over the chicken and serve with steamed rice.

Shared with Weekend Cooking, hosted by Marg at The Intrepid Reader (and Baker)

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31 August 2020

Sound Recommendations: 8 Audiobook Reviews

I been a little busy with work this month, but I still managed to listen to 8 books since I last checked in with you. BTW: I have been reading in print & digital too--I'll get to those books next time.

Before I get to my mini reviews, I'd like to remind you that I list the books I've read on both Library Thing) and Goodreads, so if you're curious, you can always follow me there. I also post book content on Instagram.

Coming up later this week, I have a fun post involving a collaboration, and I'm planning a Weekend Cooking post as well. Hope you're all staying healthy and safe.

8 Audiobook Mini-Reviews
  • The Heatwave by Kate Riordan (Grand Central; Aug. 18): This domestic thriller is set in the south of France and involves a deteriorating estate, family secrets, and a closed community. Although I didn't guess all the secrets and the atmosphere was tense, I was ultimately left with a meh feeling. I don't think everything has to be explained in detail, but some plot lines weren't fleshed out enough, and the ending was unsatisfying. The audiobook was nicely read by Miranda Raison (Hachette Audio; 8 hr, 46 min). Her accents and expressive delivery kept me invested in the story.
  • The Eighth Detective by Alex Pavesi (Holt; Aug. 4): This mystery is set up as a book within a book. The frame involves a young book editor who is working with an author to bring his collection of short mystery stories back to print. Within the frame, we have the stories themselves, which were written (by the fictitious author) to teach lessons of a good mystery. The stories are retellings of Agatha Christie classics, so it was fun to figure out which story went with which Christie. Other than that, I wasn't all that drawn into the frame mystery: what are the editor and author hiding? Note, however, that this book has won tons of praise. As I wrote in my AudioFile magazine review, this is recommended for Agatha Christie aficionados (read by Emilia Fox; Macmillan Audio; 11 hr, 16 min).
  • The Less Dead by Denise Mina (Mulholland; Aug. 18): This thriller involves a pregnant doctor (Margo) who, in the aftermath of her mother's death and a breakup with her boyfriend, decides to try to get in contact with her birth mother's family to learn more about her heritage. What she discovers is that her biological mother was murdered just days after giving up her baby. Now that Margo's met her aunt, she finds herself getting increasingly tangled up in their personal dramas as well as in the unsolved serial murder cases that include her own mother. There were definitely some scary moments and it was difficult to tease out the motives and secrets of the people Margo meets, but in the long run, the book was only okay for me. I didn't really connect or care enough. Katie Leung did a fine job with her narration (Hachette Audio; 8 hr, 4 min)--good accents, building tension, believable emotions--so the miss is totally on me.
  • Death of a Liar by M. C. Beaton (Grand Central; 2015). This is the 30th in the series. I don't have more to say, except that I am still enjoying this very light, fun cozy series. Graeme Malcolm (Hachette Audio; 5 hr, 20 min) is always a pleasure to listen to.
8 Audiobooks to Listen to Now
  • Death of a Nurse by M. C. Beaton (Grand Central; 2016): The 31st in the series. Graeme Malcolm (Hachette Audio; 5 hr, 28 min) did it again!
  • 10 Things I Hate about Pinky by Sandhya Menon (Simon Pulse; July 21): This is the third book Menon has written about Indian-American California teens; the books have some overlapping characters but can all be read as stand-alones. Pinky's story is successfully based on The Taming of the Shrew (think of the movie Ten Things I Hate about You) and is generally interesting with relatable characters. Though I liked it, it was my least favorite of the three novels. Some of the story lines seemed unnecessary and others were a little drawn out; still worth the listen. Narrators Vikas Adam and Soneela Nankani (Simon & Schuster; 7 hr, 11 min) team up to read this young adult rom-com. Adam's delivery isn't as smooth as Nankani's, but I got used to it.
  • Brave Enough by Jessie Diggins and Todd Smith (U of Minnesota Press; March 10): In this memoir, cross-country ski champion Diggins talks about her journey from her childhood in rural Minnesota to standing on the Olympic podium to accept a gold medal. She speaks frankly about her eating disorder and the less glamorous aspects of being an elite athlete along with the wonderful opportunities, friendships, and rewards of training with a team. Maybe not the best-written memoir of all time, but I liked getting to know Diggins. More on the audiobook read by Allyson Ryan (Tantor; 10 hr, 532 min) in AudioFile magazine.
  • Death of a Ghost by M. C. Beaton (Grand Central; 2017). This is the penultimate book in the series. Sadly it wasn't my favorite of the bunch, but I still liked spending time with copper Hamish Macbeth. Only one more book to go! As always, Graeme Malcolm (Hachette Audio; 5 hr, 37 min) put in an terrific performance.
Thanks to the publishers (audiobook & print) for the review copies. And thanks to Libro.fm.

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