Tag Archives | cookbooks

Books: Stir, The World on a Plate, Kitchens of the Great Midwest, and Orchard House

four books August 2015

Between canning classes, multiple cross-country trips, and processing piles of produce, I’ve managed to read my way through a tidy stack of books this summer. Here are four food-related volumes that I really enjoyed and think some of you might also like.

Stir by Jessica Fechtor – This memoir-with-recipes is the story of Jessica Fechtor’s brain aneurism at the age of 28, and her grueling but hope and love-filled recuperation. An avid cook and joyful eater prior to the aneurism, the book is the story of her recovery and the ways in which food brought her back to herself as her wounded brain and body healed. Jess is a honest, thoughtful writer and I devoured the book in just a day and a half back in July.

The World on a Plate by Mina Holland – A fun and well-researched volume, The World on a Plate isn’t a book to read straight through. Instead, it’s one to dip into when you crave fresh flavors and a easy visit to another land. Every time I open it up, I add another recipe to my to-make list.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal – This novel wraps around Eva Thorvald (a girl and then woman with a singular palate), home cooking, foodie culture, and (of course) the Midwest. The characters are well-defined, quirky, and human. It was a delight to read.

Orchard House by Tara Austen Weaver – On its surface, this is a book about rebuilding a neglected garden. But really, it’s about building community, healing a family, and embracing life as it comes. It is beautifully written and contains moments that will break your heart with sweet sharpness of life. When I opened up my copy to write about it here, I found myself pulled back into its pages and found myself again lost in Tara’s words.

Now, for some disclosures. The first is that all four of these books were sent to me for review. However, I only share the really good things with you guys, so know that the opinions expressed here truly are my own. 

The second disclosure is that I know both Jess and Tara. We’ve shared meals, talked shop, and swapped preserving tips. Still, the kind words I’ve written are deserved. These two women have written truly remarkable books. You should read them. 

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Four Cookbooks I’ve Been Enjoying This Summer

four cookbooks July 2015

I’ve fallen very behind in sharing some of the terrific new cookbooks that I’ve liked recently. In an attempt to get some of them off my desk and into the blog, I’m going to post them in groups. This first group consists of four books that I think are useful, interesting, and delicious.

Steeped by Annelies Zijderveld – This slender volume contains recipes designed to help you see tea as more than something to drink hot or iced. Annelies was in Philly back in the spring and I saw her give a presentation about this book and it started my brain buzzing about all the ways to use tea to add flavor. I’ve made her Lapsang Souchong salt and love using it to add smokey flavor to tomato salads.

Summer Cocktails by Maria Del Mar Sacasa – The title might lead you to believe that this book starts and ends with liquid refreshment, but that’s not true. Sure, it’s got plenty to offer in the beverage department, but it also contains frozen treats, pickles, and even a recipe for fried chicken. A more descriptive title might have been, A Love Letter to Summer.

Yogurt Culture by Cheryl Sternman Rule – This genius book will make you deeply hungry. Cheryl spent years researching and experiencing the ways in which yogurt is made, used, and eaten all over the world, and then brought all that knowledge together. She shows that there is no time of day when yogurt is not an appropriate thing to eat. So complete is her excitement for yogurt that this book could not fully contain it. Find her continuing yogurt passion over at Team Yogurt.

Rose Water and Orange Blossoms by Maureen Abood – This deeply personal book features the food of Maureen’s Lebanese family. There are spreads, salads, vegetable-heavy main dishes, pastries, and a most glorious selection of pickles and sweet preserves. Nearly every other page of my copy is marked with sticky notes and if I didn’t have to head out soon to teach a class, I would be making her Garlicky Lentil Soup with Swiss Chard and Lemon (page 136) for dinner tonight.

What have you been cooking out of this summer?

Disclosure: All four of these books were received as review copies. However, I still mean every word I said! 

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Cookbooks: Real Sweet

Real Sweet cover

Despite the spotlight we’ve all been shining on them lately, naturally sweeteners are still something of an undiscovered country. I’ve spent the last year finding ways to use these flavorful sweeteners in preserving, and I’m always excited to see how other authors use them in baking, cooking, and canning.

liquid sweeteners

One recent book that takes on a wide swath of natural sweeteners is Shauna Sever’s Real Sweet. It’s an engaging look at baking using coconut sugar, muscovado, turbinado, honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, brown rice syrup, and more. As someone who regularly pulls apart recipes for things like quick breads and muffins in order to make them with these natural sweeteners, having this book on my shelf has been wonderful.

homemade graham crackers

The recipes in the book are organized by the events where each item might be most appropriate. This means that instead of classic categorizations like cakes or cookies, you’ll find sections that are entitled Bake Sales and Edible Gifts, Picnics and Potlucks, and Dinner Party Fancies. I think this is a brilliant method, because it ferrets out how most of us are really cooking and baking.


Because I am someone who is always dashing out the house without planning ahead for the next meal, I like to have a few quick snacks tucked into a jar in the fridge or freezer. Shauna’s Breakfast Cookies on page 29 (sweetened with date paste and maple syrup!) are on my list of things to make this weekend.

maple and vanilla roasted fruit

I hear that stonefruit are going to be coming into season any day now around these parts and I’ve got the recipe for Maple and Vanilla-Roasted Fruit on page 236 marked with a sticky note for the moment I have some in my hot little hands. I can’t wait to stir a freshly roasted apricot or peach half into a bowl of yogurt.

Real Sweet back cover

And next time I’m asked to bring a dessert to dinner with friends, I’m making the Maple Chocolate Cake on page 101. It’s a one bowl cake that can be frosted or served with a dollop of barely sweetened whipped cream. I’m ready for a slice right now!

If you’re someone who is looking to use less refined sweeteners in your baked goods, make sure to seek out a copy of this book. It’s a worthy contender for space on your bookcase.

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Be a Recipe Tester for my Natural Sweeteners Book

plum jam

Friends, I am delightfully honored and just slightly overwhelmed by your excitement and interest in being recipe testers for my new book. Over 300 of you have signed up since I published this post earlier today. Thanks to this abundance in volunteers, I am closing the tester sign-ups.

If you missed your chance, please know that I will be sharing a few new, naturally sweetened recipes here on the blog this summer, so you’ll get a chance to preview some of the types of recipes you’ll see in the book. 

One of the things I came to understand while I was writing the recipes for my next book is that they were going to need more external testing than I undertook with my first two books.

Because there’s been so little work in the area of naturally sweetened preserves, I didn’t have nearly as deep a well of knowledge on which to draw when developing these recipes. Additionally, just because something works in my kitchen doesn’t always guarantee that it’s going to work in yours.

So I’m asking for your help. There’s a form at the bottom of this post where you can sign up to be a recipe tester. Tell me what sweeteners you’re interested in working with, how many recipes you’d like to test, and if there are any fruits you avoid. In about a week, I’ll send you some recipes to try.

Recipe testing is a volunteer gig for which you purchase the supplies (but also get to keep the results). When I send you the recipes, I’ll also include a short questionnaire that you’ll complete for each recipe you try. Of course, I will thank all the recipe testers profusely in the acknowledgements of the book!

I have no idea what kind of response I’ll receive to this request, but I will do my very best to include as many people as possible. All recipe testing will need to be completed by August 15, 2015, so please do take that into account before signing up!

Thanks to you all!

Cookbooks: Seven Spoons

Seven Spoons cover

If you follow the food blog scene, you may have heard that long-time blogger Tara O’Brady recently released her first cookbook, Seven Spoons. I have seen this beautiful book everywhere lately, coupled with glowing praise and pictures of delectable food.

Seven Spoons chia pudding

Tara’s book landed in my mailbox during that crazy phase when I was finishing my own book draft and while I took a cursory glance, I didn’t pay it the attention it merited. However, since turning in that document, I’ve been clearing out the piles and turning my focus to the neglected pile of review copies that gathered in an unwieldy stack next to my desk.

Seven Spoons spiced candied nuts

Friends, this book deserves all the love it has received of late. I’ve spent many an hour falling into these glorious pages and my copy is now riddled with hopeful Post-Its. It has that perfect balance of inviting story telling, appealing recipes, and spare, beautiful photography.

Seven Spoons soused tomatoes

I also love that in a world where cookbooks seem to require increasingly narrow lenses to be salable, this one simply features Tara’s favorite recipes. This means that you’ve got recipes for seeded bread alongside braised beef. I so appreciate the diversity and inspiration these pages deliver.

Seven Spoons pickled jalapenos

In addition to the recipes I’ve pictured here (which I very much want to try), I’m also hoping to make the Fennel and Chard Puff (page 95), the Pickled Strawberry Preserves (page 111), and the Rhubarb Raspberry Rye Crumble (page 219) as soon as is reasonable.

Seven Spoons spine

What cookbooks have been delighting you of late?

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Cookbooks: Fika

fika cover

I have always been drawn to the coffee and tea rituals of other countries and cultures. When I was seven or eight years old, I tried to convince my mom that we should take up the practice of afternoon tea a la Great Britain (of course, I was mostly in it for the promise of cake).

fika spine

So, you can understand that when I heard that a book called Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break (by Anna Brones & Johanna Kindvall) was coming out, I was all in. I pre-ordered a copy for myself, but before it shipped, a review copy from Ten Speed landed in my mail box. Within 24 hours of its arrival, I’d read it cover to cover and was dreaming about instituting my own daily fika.

what is fika page

Fika is the Swedish tradition of taking a daily break in which one takes the time to have a coffee (or tea, if that’s your thing) and nibble a baked good (homemade if you can manage it). As a born and bred United States person, who has been conditioned to believe that coffee is best drunk in transit or while working (as I’m doing right now), the idea of a cultural imperative that requires you stop in order to enjoy a cup and a snack hugely appeals to me.

fika rye bread

If you also feel drawn to the idea of fika, this book will help get you oriented and ready. It begins with an introduction to fika and then proceeds to address the history of Swedish coffee. In that chapter, you’ll find also find recipes for the seven traditional fika cookies.

They’ve also included sections on modern fika treats, things to make during the summer months when time can be spent outside, fika for celebrations, and finally breads, sandwiches, and ways to turn fika into a full-fledged snack.

fika jam thumbprints

I marked a number of recipes to try, including the Jam Thumbprint Cookies pictured above (I love that they are more like tiny tarts than the thumbprints we’re used to), the Almond Tart on page 58, and the Quick Buns on page 70. There are also a few jam recipes tucked here and there throughout the book, and they are sensible, non-nonsense takes on preserving which I appreciate.

fika back

Instead of using photography to depict the recipes, this book relies on Johanna Kindvall’s charming illustrations. I love this element, but if you buy cookbooks for the images, this might not be the right book for you.

I predict that this is a book that I’ll keep in regular rotation, both for the approachable recipes as well as for the reminder to take step away from the phone/computer/camera/stove for a little while each day.

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