Weekend Cooking: Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

From the Unabridged Compact Disc editionKitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain
Published by Random House Audio

Anthony Bourdain is not afraid to tell it like it is, and in Kitchen Confidential he takes the reader behind the scenes into the restaurant industry, showing the gritty, shocking aspects of life in a restaurant kitchen. Using his trademark sarcasm and deadpan hilariousness, Bourdain details his twenty-five years of life in the culinary world.

I find Anthony Bourdain absolutely hysterical and I love his dry, witty sense of humor, so when I saw that this book was available on audio (narrated by Bourdain himself) I couldn’t resist. The book was exactly what I was expecting and I’m glad that I read it, although I do need to caution you because the things he has to say really can be shocking and disgusting. I worked in the restaurant industry for years, and although I didn’t spend a ton of time in the kitchen (I was a server and later a bartender) I can tell you for sure that some of the things he describes I personally saw with my own eyes. So, unfortunately, he’s not lying here.

Besides the restaurant stuff, I enjoyed getting a peek into the way Bourdain’s mind works. There was one chapter where he literally runs through an entire average day, in excruciating detail, down to what he’s thinking about at each particular moment, and while this might be boring or annoying to some, I found it quite fascinating. It’s amazing how much detail, effort, and precision goes into running a restaurant kitchen and Bourdain illuminated that very well for the reader. Also, he’s just a touch crazy – in a good, entertaining way – so that made this section especially fun to listen to.

If you’re looking for a funny, truthful look at what really goes on in restaurant kitchens across America, look no further than Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. Anthony Bourdain is sarcastic, witty, and scarily truthful as he details his life in the business and the things he’s experienced over his twenty-five years of experience. This audio was very enjoyable for me and I would definitely recommend it.

Weekend Cooking: The Art of Eating In by Cathy Erway

The Art of Eating InThe Art of Eating In: How I Learned to Stop Spending and Love the Store by Cathy Erway
Published by Gotham, an imprint of Penguin

Twenty-something Brooklynite Cathy Erway realizes one day that she’s spending an obscene amount of money eating out for three meals a day, almost every day. There’s good reason for this, of course – New York has some of the best restaurants and fast-food type places in the entire world, so she’s happy to take advantage of all the options available to her in this fabulously foodie city. But she suddenly realizes that it’s just becoming too expensive and unhealthy to live this way, so she decides to cook every single thing she eats in her own kitchen for one year, and then ends up sticking with it for two. Along the way she discovers food co-ops, farmers markets, supper clubs, and more, and she shares her experiences and recipes with readers in The Art of Eating In.

I’ve been reading Cathy’s blog, Not Eating Out In New York, for a while now, so when I saw that she had written a book along these same lines, I happily devoured it as quickly as I could get my hands on it. Now, if you know me well, you will know that I do love eating out. I stay far away from fast food, but I love trying new restaurants and indulging in my cravings for my favorite places (Chipotle comes to mind) on a semi-frequent basis. However, I also love to cook. I’m not fantastic in the kitchen, but I can figure out most recipes and typically whip something up at least three nights a week. What I loved about this book is that it inspired me to do more.

Reading this book made me want to cook more, to shop at farmers markets more, to find interesting and unique recipes and attempt them in my kitchen, and to look at some of my favorite restaurant food and attempt to recreate those dishes at home. For the duration of Erway’s project, if she was craving some type of food, she’d just research how to make it, and make it for herself. Simple as that. Indian food? Check. Mexican food? Check. Chinese? Check. Et cetera. It was inspiring to me because so often I assume that because I’ve never made a certain type of food before, or because a dish contains exotic or interesting ingredients that I haven’t heard of, I won’t be able to make it myself. I was inspired to go outside of my comfort zone and attempt to cook new things. I loved that.

The other great thing about this book is that Cathy Erway is extremely likable. She has a casual, honest way of writing that made me feel like I was getting to know her on a personal level. It felt like she was chatting to a friend, not dictating a book. The writing style is realistic and really helps the reader get into the book. Perfect for a memoir such as this one. Last, there are recipes! I didn’t make any of them (yet) so I won’t share any here, but I will say that some of her most interesting meals are the ones she provides recipes for, which is very cool. It gives the reader the opportunity to try some of her experiments in his/her own kitchen.

I would definitely recommend The Art of Eating In. Cathy Erway has written an engaging, interesting memoir that will give readers a lot of food for thought (ha!). And if you haven’t already checked out Erway’s blog, definitely do so! She has more recipes and stuff there too.

Weekend Cooking: 400 Calorie Fix by Liz Vaccariello and Mindy Hermann

400 Calorie Fix: The Easy New Rule for Permanent Weight Loss! 400 Calorie Fix: The Easy New Rule for Permanent Weight Loss by Liz Vacariello and Mindy Hermann
Published by Rodale Books

Research shows that the best way to lose weight and keep it off is to control caloric intake while maintaining an overall healthy diet and exercise plan. 400 Calorie Fix has a new secret to controlling calories – keep all meals at or around 400 calories. By doing this, a person can eat anywhere from three to six meals each day depending on individual needs. This book explains the science behind this rule, explains how it can be applied to any person’s individual situation, and then gives tons of examples of 400 calorie meals, in terms of restaurant meals, frozen food type meals, and meals to cook.

I hesitated to review this book because I don’t actually believe in diets, nor am I actively trying to lose weight. But the reason I was attracted to the book in the first place was the beautiful color photographs and healthy-looking recipes, so I should at least talk about it for those reasons. The whole concept of eating 400 calorie meals does make sense to me, and I can see how it would be helpful if trying to control calories to keep 400 calories as a general rule. Personally, this approach means nothing to me because I typically don’t eat huge portions anyway and most of the suggestions they made for what really is in a 400 calorie meal is about what I would eat without thinking about it. So while I didn’t love the concept of the book, I did enjoy several things about it.

The section on fast food/restaurant food was helpful to me, but not overly so. I think it does have a lot of information that other readers might enjoy, though. Basically what this section does is explain what types of meals fit roughly within the 400 calorie framework at various restaurants and fast food places. Personally, I don’t eat much fast food and when I go out to a restaurant I’m looking to enjoy my food and not count calories, so I doubt I’ll be using this section. But for people who don’t do a lot of cooking, for whom eating out is the go-to meal option, this section looks to be very helpful. What is nice is that there are specific choices one can make from tons of restaurants, and this section is very detailed in that way.

The cooking section is what I found the most value in. I found several recipes to try, and it is always nice when I find a cookbook I know will include healthy, relatively easy recipes. The vast majority of the recipes in this book fit that criteria, which I loved. I would like to share with you one of the recipes I made, which was delicious (my hubby even liked this and he is the most picky eater I know) and fits in the 400 calorie framework for those interested in following this diet/lifestyle.

Oven-Baked Chicken Fingers

Ingredients:

1/4 cup lightly salted dry-roasted peanuts
1/2 cup panko
1/2 tablespoon chili powder
1 egg
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch thick strips

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.
2. Chop the peanuts in a food processor until find. Place the peanuts, panko, and chili powder in a large resealable plastic bag or container. Shake to mix.
3. Whisk together the egg and mustard in a large bowl. Add the chicken and combine until all strips are covered. Place the strips in the plastic bag or container with the panko/peanut mixture. Seal and shake until all strips are well coated. Place the strips on the baking sheet. Bake until the coating is crisp and the chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes.

The recipe suggests serving the chicken with baked sweet potatoes, which I did, giving this meal a total calorie count of 410. It was super easy to make, very quick, and I was able to whip it together without complaint after a long, exhausting day at work. It was delicious and filling and such a great alternative to regular chicken tenders. My husband and I both loved it. I love to dip my chicken into ranch, so I used a low-fat ranch dressing as my dipping sauce. Keep in mind if you are trying to count calories to add the calories for whatever you dip the chicken in and also whatever you add to the sweet potato! (I just use a little butter on mine.) But overall, I would recommend taking a glance at this book if you want to look into a more healthful, low-calorie eating and cooking philosophy. And definitely make this recipe if you like chicken tenders!

The Skinnygirl Dish by Bethenny Frankel

The Skinnygirl DishThe Skinnygirl Dish: Easy Recipes for Your Naturally Thin Life by Bethenny Frankel
Published by Fireside, an imprint of Simon & Schuster

Bethenny Frankel, star of the Bravo TV series The Real Housewives of New York City, creator of the Skinnygirl Margarita, and bestselling author of Naturally Thin, has a no-nonsense approach to eating and cooking and in The Skinnygirl Dish, she lays it all out there for her readers – what to eat, how to cook it, basically how to make eating and cooking an easy, fun part of life. She teaches readers how to start with the basics, cook with what you have, and make recipes that are uniquely yours. And, of course, she teaches readers how to be a Skinnygirl while loving food and cooking.

I have been a fan of Bethenny’s since she was on Martha Stewart’s version of The Apprentice and I have watched her on The Real Housewives as well as on her new show, Bethenny Ever After. I think she is hysterically funny, the kind of sarcastic funny that I like to think I am on my best days, and also extremely smart and has a great attitude about life. I don’t personally love the phrase “Skinnygirl” mostly because I know that a  person does not have to be skinny to be happy, but I get where the concept is coming from. Most women want to be thin and in shape, and Bethenny’s goal is to show women that you can be those things without starving yourself or exercising for hours upon hours each day. You can be “Naturally Thin” as she puts it.

What she does in this book is give women (and men, I suppose, although the book is geared toward women) the tools needed to eat healthfully without it being this huge, complicated ordeal. She talks about how she creates meals for herself and her family, how she works with whatever ingredients she has in the house, and how she shops intelligently so that she will have important ingredients on hand for when she needs them. All great tips – and I found many tips in here that I plan to use for my own cooking.

She also provides recipes in the book, and while there weren’t a ton of recipes, the ones that she did include seemed easy and delicious. Many of them were lower-fat, lower-calorie versions of foods many people love to eat (such as Spinach and Artichoke dip and Macaroni and Cheese), and others were new-to-me flavor combinations and interesting ideas. I’ll be making several more of her recipes in the months to come, but immediately after I finished the book, I did make a soup she had featured. It turned out delicious – much more tasty than I would have expected for such a healthy meal! The recipe will be featured below.

I definitely enjoyed reading The Skinnygirl Dish. Bethenny Frankel has a great attitude about cooking and eating and she does an excellent job passing that attitude on to her readers. This is a must for any beginner cook trying to cook and eat more healthfully.

For more about Bethenny Frankel, including more recipes and information about her other endeavors, check out her website.

White Bean and Spinach Soup (serves 4)

Ingredients:

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, smashed
1/2 red bell pepper, minced
4 cups vegetable broth
1 can white beans, rinsed and drained
2 cups fresh chopped baby spinach
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon of salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon pepper, plus more to taste

Directions:

1. In a nonstick pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and saute until it softens, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and bell pepper and saute until the pepper softens, about 5 more minutes.
2. Add the vegetable broth, white beans, spinach, bay leaf, salt, and pepper. Simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the soup is hot. Remove the bay leaf and the garlic with a slotted spoon and throw them away.
3. Puree the soup with an immersion blender until it is completely smooth or leave some of the beans chunky if you prefer. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed. Serve hot.

The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry

The Kitchen DaughterThe Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry
Published by Gallery, an imprint of Simon & Schuster
Review copy provided by the publisher in conjunction with TLC Book Tours

Twenty-eight-year-old Ginny Selvaggio’s parents have just passed away unexpectedly, leaving Ginny and her older sister Amanda reeling. Ginny, an incredibly shy and sheltered person who shows signs of Aspergers, retreats into herself and her cooking to cope with her pain, while Amanda focuses on trying to take care of Ginny by forcing her to move out of their parents’ home and in with Amanda and her family. Ginny is convinced that she should stay in the house, and a warning from her deceased grandmother helps cement this belief in her mind. But she needs to work on figuring out how she fits into the continuum of “normal” and, more than that, how she can convince her sister that she is normal enough to live her own life.

The Kitchen Daughter is an incredibly charming novel, one that I truly enjoyed every minute I spent with it. While the novel deals with the very sad topic of losing one’s parents, McHenry handles the topic with finesse and her characters really shine. She takes what would ordinarily be a depressing story and makes it the complete opposite of depressing – very hopeful and positive.

The biggest strength of The Kitchen Daughter, in my opinion, is the fact that McHenry created fully realized, interesting characters, characters I felt that I really got to know by the time the book was over. Ginny is the kind of character the reader can’t help but love. She is introverted and shy, sure, but she has a quirky charm that will win over any reader. I loved reading as she came to better understand herself, her disorder, but most specifically, watching her overcome it. The entire book was a journey to her realizing that nobody is “normal”, and that the things about her that were different were important parts of her overall personality.

I can’t help but love a foodie book, and The Kitchen Daughter really fits that mold. The descriptions of the food Ginny cooked were to die for and I could have happily jumped into the book and sat down to a delicious meal with her. While this isn’t your ordinary foodie book – it has tons of depth – the food parts were done so well and reading about Ginny’s cooking literally made my mouth water.

The Kitchen Daughter is a beautiful novel about the power food has in the healing process, and also about one woman’s journey to self-awareness. The characters come alive on the page, as does the cooking! I highly recommend this read.

Keys to Good Cooking by Harold McGee

Keys to Good Cooking Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to Making the Best of Foods and Recipes by Harold McGee
Published by Penguin
Review copy provided by TLC Book Tours

Keys to Good Cooking is not a cookbook.  Rather, it is like an encyclopedia for your kitchen.   The book is packed to the brim with cooking tips, from the most important supplies to have in your kitchen to how to properly cook meats to what type of flour is best to use in what situation and everything in between.  This book will not provide you with recipes, instead it will guide you in choosing recipes that make sense and will be delicious and also how to modify those recipes that don’t work so well.  Put simply, Keys to Good Cooking is a must-have accessory for any kitchen.

I’m fairly new to the kitchen – I didn’t really start cooking until two years ago, and only more recently have I been more adventurous with my cooking – so Keys to Good Cooking was like a godsend to me.  There is just SO MUCH helpful information in this book that I wouldn’t even know where to begin.  I’ll just say that it pretty much covers any type of food you could ever want to cook – anything you’re cooking, you will find some type of helpful hint or sometimes a detailed explanation that will make cooking it easier.

I must admit that Keys to Good Cooking was difficult to read in a way that would adequately prepare me to review it, because it really is a reference book and not something that one can easily read straight through.  I did skip a few sections, most notably the ones that focused on things I never cook, but I plan to go back and read through them if and when I decide to make those types of foods (for example, I really don’t bake, so I didn’t read much about cakes and cookies and pies, just sort of skimmed those sections).  But the great thing about the book is how well it’s organized, so if I decide to bake a cake from scratch I can easily reference that section to ensure I don’t mess anything up. :)

The bottom line is this:  Keys to Good Cooking is an excellent reference book to keep in your kitchen.  And if you are a novice in the kitchen like myself, you absolutely MUST have this book.  It is extremely helpful and will encourage you to branch out and try new foods and new recipes you may have been nervous about before.  I most highly recommend Keys to Good Cooking.

The Recipe Club by Andrea Israel & Nancy Garfinkel

The Recipe Club by Andrea Israel & Nancy Garfinkel
Published by HarperCollins
Review copy provided by TLC Book Tours

The concept of The Recipe Club is a fantastic idea for a novel – a story of a lifelong friendship combined with more than eighty recipes.  At the book’s center are Lilly and Val, who form a two-person “recipe club” in which they write letters back and forth and include a recipe in each one.  The club provides a nice distraction from their real lives, as both of the girls have less than ideal sets of parents.  Lilly and Val’s friendship sustains many trails and tribulations over the years, until their early twenties when a catastrophic betrayal changes their relationship forever.

I absolutely LOVE the idea of this book.  I didn’t cook or bake as a child, but I almost wish I did so I could have started a recipe club of my own!  When I have a daughter, I would love to encourage HER to start a recipe club, I honestly love the idea that much. :)

So, about the book.  It was definitely an enjoyable experience for me.  Lilly and Val were believable characters and their friendship was very authentic.  More different than they were alike, their friendship really illustrates the fact that best friends can sometimes be the most unlikely people – but in this case, it just worked.  Their story was very sweet and the struggles they went through were very typical of preteens, teens, and young women, and since the girls were so different the reader was able to see these issues from two opposite points of view, which was entertaining.

I loved the format of the novel – it was done almost entirely in letters, emails, and recipes.  It made for a very quick read, and while it somewhat kept the characters at arm’s length, I still felt that I got to know Lilly and Val pretty well.

I have to admit that the ending of the book somewhat disappointed me.  First of all, it stopped being told in letters and became a traditional third-person point of view novel, which was very jolting.  It took me a few minutes to get re-acquainted with the characters in this new format.  In addition, the events in the last twenty pages of the novel were much heavier than those in the first three hundred.  It just seemed strange – the rest of the book was lighter and more fun, and at the end there was this huge life-altering event which, to me, just seemed out of place.

All that being said, however, I did still like the novel. The Recipe Club was not perfect in my eyes, but I still found it to be a fun, engaging story about friendship and the recipes that kept that friendship alive.  And the bonus is that I now have another cookbook to add to my collection!