Cookbook Reviews


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Cookbook Reviews

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Apr 3, 2009, 1:25pm

I'm reading some cookbooks for the 999 challenge, and I thought I would start a thread for cookbook reviews.

Everyday Cooking With Jacques Pepin

I love watching Jacques Pepin. His shows with the late Julia Child were especially fun. But I haven't read any of his cookbooks. This one was at the library, and it seems to be one of his earliest books.

It was a fun read - some very interesting recipes in here. Some were a little TOO interesting, like Lettuce Souffle. Um, icky! Not too many in here that were likely to appeal to my family. But I give him credit for the great pictures and the very clear instructions on the recipes. I haven't tried any in here, and I don't know that I will. But I would like to read another of his books and see what the more recent ones look like.

Apr 4, 2009, 12:46pm

I knew we could count on you to get into the cookbooks!
If you find any yummy sounding ones, be sure to let us know.

Apr 10, 2009, 5:30pm

Well, I found one that was NOT yummy! At least, I didn't think so. But apparently lots of other folks loved it. Here's my review:

How to be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson

First of all, I have to say this - this woman is nuts! She may be a great cook and a very nice person, I don't know, but honestly, she is nuts.

This book, in case you couldn't tell right away, is about baking. She sets it up in several categories: cakes, cookies, bread, pies, Christmas, etc. The pictures are wonderful. But the writing? Wow. It's hard to tell you just how bad it is. So here's an example.

"Coconut Macaroons. These are a very English kind of macaroon, the sort you always used to see displayed in bakers' shops alongside the madeleines (those sponge castles dipped in luminous strawberry jam and dredged in throat-catching grated coconut, and so very different from those that inflamed the memory of Marcel Proust). The difference with coconut macaroons is that you need neither to be ironic or self-consciously retro-cool to enjoy them."


I have SO many problems with this paragraph. First of all, I am reading a cookbook. I do not need references to Marcel Proust. Second, don't just assume I am English. I'm not. I have no idea what you are talking about. Third, I have never in my life worried about being ironic when I ate a cookie. (My daughter wondered if perhaps she referred to the IRON CONTENT of the cookie. But no.) And finally, I don't have any idea what 'self-consciously retro-cool' means.

So the writing is bad. Horrible. But if the recipes were good, you could just skip the writing and get straight to the recipes. Well, the recipes aren't bad exactly, but every recipe assumes that you already know what she's talking about. She doesn't explain things for a beginner.

Then there are some rather weird recipes. I don't plan on ever making persimmon or passionfruit curd. And I definitely will not touch a gin and tonic gelatin mold. Several of the recipes, most, in fact, call for ingredients that I would have a hard time tracking down. Like rosewater and some specialty jams. She also uses special equipment, but doesn't give you a picture of it or really describe well how to use it. I know most English cooks know what a pudding basin is. I don't.

And then I am never, ever going to make lavender milk. (You know, get a bowl of milk, put 5-6 lavender sprigs in it, boil, then strain. Yeah.) She skipped an important step there - make sure the lavender in question is pesticide free and has been washed thoroughly. But really, where am I going to find lavender sprigs?

This was without question the most self-important, preciously droll cookbook I have ever read. Wait, is that too close to self-consciously retro-cool? Maybe I should have said vain and complacent. Either way, I would not recommend reading it at all. I've never seen the author's show or read any of her other cookbooks, but after reading this, I heard from a relative that she is just the same on her show. Maybe that appeals to someone. Maybe it's meant to be funny and I just don't get it. But it was just awful.

Apr 10, 2009, 9:12pm

I'm not sure whether you like this cookbook or not, could you be a little bit more precise about your opinion.. **hehe.....**

Apr 11, 2009, 12:21am

Hmm, maybe I should just come right out and say what I think, instead of beating around the bush.

May 15, 2009, 8:21am

Just finished 'wichcraft by Tom Colicchio from Top Chef. Excellent cookbook. He starts off talking about how the 'wichcraft restaurant came to be and throughout the book talks about different things like bread and fresh ingredients.
The biggest problem is how time consuming some of the recipes are and well as getting some of the ingredients. Otherwise, I was ready to rush to the store, get stuff and make sandwiches for dinner for the next week!!

May 15, 2009, 3:20pm

I've never heard of that one. Is it basically a sandwich book?

May 15, 2009, 4:49pm

Yes, every recipe is a sandwich. But, oh, what lovely and tasty sounding sandwiches they are!

May 26, 2009, 9:52pm

I have been in search of low carb cookbooks, as my daughter has been put on a new diet. She is a typical teenager - loves junk food, not crazy about vegetables, very picky. I found one that I didn't like, can't remember the name, but it was basically a no carb approach, and didn't sound like anything she would ever willingly eat. Then I found The Everyday Low Carb Slow Cooker, and it had several tasty idea. I love using my slow cooker anyway, so this is a great approach. I will try one or two of the recipes, and if they turn out well, I think I will just buy the book.

Aug 5, 2009, 1:52pm

Read homegrown pure and simple by Michel Nishan. I enjoyed his information. He explains how he went about planning and planting his garden. Growing your own veggies or buying from local Farmer's Markets is stressed throughout.
I loved the recipes, but found I didn't have some of the ingredients handy. I hate having to buy special ingredients for a recipe and the rest goes to waste.
Some of the recipes where a bit confusing on the directions, especially when using a pan for stovetop and oven.
I'll probably try at least one recipe out of this book.

Aug 7, 2009, 12:41pm

I read Traditional British Cooking and finally know what Lancashire Hotpot is. This book is so practical for the non-English cook, as it features recipes that are the basis of British cooking, shows how simple they can be to prepare and has a color photo with each recipe. Recipes include things like Irish champ (mashed potatos with scallions and blue cheese mixed in) Christmas mincemeat pies, toad-in-the-hole (sausages cooked in an egg batter) and English Christmas pudding, which takes at least 6 weeks to prepare.

Aug 21, 2009, 5:43pm

Review for Top Secret Recipes Lite

I would really give this about 1 1/2 stars. It was written in 1998, and you can tell. That was when everyone was still into the low-fat craze, before everyone started talking about 'good fat' and 'bad fat.' This book seems to be designed to cut all the fat possible out of every single recipe. Only once does the author acknowledge that some fat, namely Omega-3 fatty acids, is in fact good for you.

There are two main problems with the book. First, that he doesn't seem to realize that too many calories, too much carbohydrates, other kinds of junk, those are all bad for you. Fat alone is not the bad guy.

Second, I am not about to use Butter Buds or whatever instead of real butter! Maybe lite margarine, but that's as far as I am willing to go. And fat-free cheese is disgusting! Low-fat yes, but fat-free is more like plastic that actual food.

I just can't recommend this book. There are a few recipes that sound pretty good - he has the Guiltless Grill entrees from Chili's in here.

Sep 21, 2009, 4:13pm

I tired a recipe from In Julia's Kitchen with Master Chefs and it turned out delicious! It was pralines. Three ingredients: Sugar, water, nuts. (I used pecans) Here's a link to the recipe:

Overall an interesting cookbook, more for cooks with at least some experience.

Sep 22, 2009, 10:28am

cmbohn, I printed this pralines recipe bought the pecans and can't wait to get a spare second to try it. BTW-Your efforts on your cookbook blog are commendable to say the least!

Sep 22, 2009, 1:14pm

Thanks. It's been fun. I used to assemble a mini cookbook for my family as a Christmas present last year.

Jan 28, 2010, 2:03pm

Back with another review!

How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman

I have a small quibble about the title. How to Cook Everything is a pretty broad statement, and did I indeed find recipes on how to cook EVERYTHING? No. But what I did find was a cookbook that teaches you basic principles of cooking so that you can figure out how to cook almost anything.

I'm not quite done reading it, but already I have found myself wanting to host a party while reading the appetizers, craving more soup during the soup recipes, and itching to bake while reading the bread recipes. I have tried a few recipes so far, including Kale and Potato Soup, which I enjoyed. It wasn't the most fabulous thing ever, and would have been, as the author said himself, improved with homemade stock. I used store bought. But it was still very tasty on a winter day. Last night I made the Easy Tomato Sauce, which was not seasoned enough for my taste, and Focaccia, which turned out well.

I have added this one to my wish list and recommend it as an good first cookbook for a beginner, or a handy reference for an experienced cook. I'm making Sweet and Spicy Chicken Cutlets tonight and the Bitter Chocolate Sorbet as soon as possible.

Jan 28, 2010, 2:18pm

Jacque Pepin's Fast Food My Way is one of my favorites. The recipes are so simple and every recipe I've tried has been delicious. The sequel More Fast Food My Way had some wonderful recipes as well, but didn't impress me as much as it had far less quick and easy recipes. These seemed to all take more time.

I just picked up Cook This, Not That and it looks very promising. All the recipes are designed to take less than 30 minutes and there are lots of hints and tips on making better food choices.

May 16, 2010, 7:25am

Leith's Simple Cookery by Viv Pidgeon has become an absolute mainstay in my kitchen - it includes all the basics of sauces, cookery terms, etc, and I have yet to make a recipe from it that doesn't turn out well. It's not overladen with glossy pictures, either, which makes life easier ("But why doesn't MINE look that good?") ...

Drawbacks - it's written for UK cooks and it costs £30 (but worth every penny, I think)!

Edited: May 18, 2010, 7:01am

Oh dear! Culture shock, methinks. What on earth are you doing reading Nigella? Now you know what it's like for non-Americans reading one of your cookbooks with all those weird ingredients (I mean, pumpkin out of tins, for goodness sake) and unfamiliar terms and crazy measurements (what is a stick of butter when it's at home?).

Nigella is not for The Cousins, she doesn't set out to be. She's unrepentantly Sloane (and you've got to remember that her background is English Literature so she's boiund to refer to Proust sooner or later). Stick to good old Martha Stewart, or perhaps the self-parodying (at least I think she is, there's no other explanation) Rachel Ray.

May 18, 2010, 1:01pm

I think you are right, it was a definite case of culture shock. I'm not saying that she can't cook, but that is so not my style. And that's just the type of recipes, it's not even going into the ingredients or cooking directions. Sometimes I'm fine with English cookbooks, especially the ones that translate into American equivalents.

May 18, 2010, 10:09pm

#19 Oh dear.... to which side of the pond do I belong? I ADORE Nigella and I'm also a huge fan of Rachel!! Go figure...

Jun 3, 2010, 10:31am

3, 19: I have to admit, cmbohn, that I did snigger a bit when I read your review! But dajashby is right - she writes for the English (ie British) market. You can probably find her programmes on youtube (she's the only tv cook british blokes like to watch - they can't seem to get enough of her swanning about, pouting at the camera and sucking her fingers!) But she can cook... and video will probably clarify things a lot.

Sep 6, 2011, 12:15pm

#3 - Just reading your review on How to Be a Domestic Goddess two-and-a-half years later, and it's great fun. You also really sold me on the book--I think it sounds great!

And to answer your question, lavender is easy to grow. I cook with it all the time. Lavender jelly is to die for.

Oct 5, 2011, 12:21pm

I am currently reading "A Year in the Village of Eternity" by Tracey Lawson. It is a combination memoir and cookbook...chronicling the author's time spent in the small village of Campodimele, Italy. This village in a remote part of the Italian boot has attracted the attention of the medical community because the residents seem to live long, healthy lives. The book is divided into the 12 months of the year, focusing on the seasonal food available and how they are prepared...usually quite simply with basic ingredients. It also contains wonderful, slick, full-color photos of the area, the dishes and the people. Very enjoyable!