The Lost Art of Mixing by Erica Bauermeister

The Lost Art of MixingThe Lost Art of Mixing by Erica Bauermeister
Published by Putnam, an imprint of Penguin
Review copy provided by TLC Book Tours

From the publisher:

Lillian and her restaurant have a way of drawing people together. There’s Al, the accountant who finds meaning in numbers and ritual; Chloe, a budding chef who hasn’t learned to trust after heartbreak; Finnegan, quiet and steady as a tree, who can disappear into the background despite his massive height; Louise, Al’s wife, whose anger simmers just below the boiling point; and Isabelle, whose memories are slowly slipping from her grasp. And there’s Lillian herself, whose life has taken a turn she didn’t expect. . . .

Their lives collide and mix with those around them, sometimes joining in effortless connections, at other times sifting together and separating again, creating a family that is chosen, not given. A beautifully imagined novel about the ties that bind—and links that break—The Lost Art of Mixing is a captivating meditation on the power of love, food, and companionship.

I wanted to read this book because I truly enjoyed its predecessor, The School of Essential Ingredients, when I read it a few years back. True to what I’ve come to expect from Bauermeister, this novel was a lovely return to beloved characters and was a comfortable, entertaining read. I really enjoyed it.

I would definitely recommend reading The School of Essential Ingredients before this book (if you haven’t already, and you like foodie books, what are you waiting for?) because the characters’ stories pick up shortly after they left off in the first book. It’s definitely helpful to have experienced these characters once before to truly appreciate this novel. I loved where Bauermeister took their stories (especially Lillian’s!) and even more I appreciated how each character was related to the others in different and sometimes unexpected ways. Each character had their own perspective, and it was interesting to see how each person saw the exact same event or series of events through very different lenses, depending on their perspective and bias towards what was going on. I vaguely remember that same kind of thing happening in the first book, but it struck me as more profound in this novel.

I would be remiss not to admit that I was a tiny bit disappointed to see a lack of mouth-watering descriptive food scenes in this novel. Yes, there were some of course, and much of the book is set in Lillian’s restaurant kitchen, but The School of Essential Ingredients is chock-full of these delicious descriptions and I didn’t find as many as I was looking forward to in The Lost Art of Mixing. That’s a minor quibble, but for readers who loved that about the first book, be prepared to potentially not get your foodie fix in this second installment.

The Lost Art of Mixing was such a great companion to Bauermeister’s first novel and I highly recommend reading it for lovers of foodie fiction and/or women’s fiction. What was really fun about the ending to this novel is that she totally left it open to continuing these characters’ stories with a third book. I would love that! Definitely pick up these two books, Bauermeister is a gem of an author and her stories are not to be missed.

A Moveable Blog – “Field to Feast”

Welcome to A Moveable Blog “Field to Feast” presented to you by Sandy, Heather, Jill, and I, with the cooperation of Pam Brandon, Katie Farmand, and Heather McPherson, authors of the lovely Field to Feast: Recipes Celebrating Florida Farmers, Chefs, and Artisans. Today I’m featuring a recipe from Chef Kevin Fonzo of K Restaurant, here in Orlando – Sautéed Florida Snapper with Succotash and Lemon Thyme Butter. Here we go!

Ingredients:

Lemon Thyme Butter:
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh lemon thyme
1 teaspoon chopped parsley
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
Pinch freshly ground black pepper

Succotash:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon diced shallot or red onion
3 cups fresh sweet corn kernels
1 cup fresh beans, such as limas or pink-eyed peas
1/2 cup chopped ripe tomato
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Snapper:
4 (7- to 8-ounce) snapper fillets
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons butter

Let’s make it!

Prepare the Lemon Thyme Butter:
Combine butter, lemon thyme, parsley, salt, and pepper. Set aside.

Make the Succotash:
1. Heat oil and butter in a medium saute pan over medium heat until golden brown. Add shallots or onion and cook until tender, about 2 minutes.
2. Add corn and saute 2 minutes. Add beans and saute 1 minute. Add tomato, parsley, and chives, stirring to combine. Cook until mixture is hot. Add salt and pepper to taste. Turn heat to low to keep warm.

Cook the snapper:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Sprinkle snapper with salt and pepper. Heat oil and butter in a large ovenproof saute pan over medium-high heat until butter turns golden brown. Reduce heat to medium and place fish in pan. Saute 1 to 2 minutes on each side, until fish is golden brown.
3. Place pan in oven and bake 10 minutes.
4. Place 1 tablespoon lemon thyme butter on each fish fillet and return pan to oven for a few seconds to melt butter. Place 1 cup warm succotash on plate. Top with sautéed snapper.

And … the finished product (with my crappy phone camera):

So, a few things about this one. First of all, it was DELICIOUS. Even my meat-and-potatoes hubby loved it and went back for more succotash after being scared to try it at first. (TBH, I did have to give him a baked potato on the side – guy needs his starch with every meal – but I was good with just the meal as pictured.) A few things I did a little differently than the recipe states, first I couldn’t find lemon thyme, so I used regular thyme and added a little lemon zest, which was perfect. Easy substitute. Also you can see in the picture that the snapper isn’t “golden brown” as the recipe suggests, well I guess I didn’t get my pan hot enough first because that’s the color that it became after sauteing for 2 minutes on each side. No problem, it was still delicious.

Also, I know this sort of defeats the purpose of the book, but I used frozen corn and lima beans. Because, well, it’s November, and if you can get fresh corn in November, I certainly don’t know where. But I fully plan to make this again in the summer when fresh corn is abundant and I’m assuming fresh beans as well. Honestly, it was really great and I’ll be cooking this again and again, maybe doing a little experimenting with the type of fish I use. I loved the snapper but the recipe says you can also substitute tilapia, and I ALWAYS have tilapia in my freezer because it’s incredibly affordable. So if you are interested in this one and on a tight budget I suggest you try it with the tilapia. It also suggests you can do this with shrimp or scallops, and I always have frozen shrimp so I may try that too. The possibilities are endless!

Don’t miss the rest of our Moveable Blog Feast!

Monday and Tuesday – Sandy is featuring drinks and appetizers
Thursday – Heather is featuring sides
Friday – Jill is featuring a dessert

Field to Feast by Pam Brandon, Katie Farmand, & Heather McPherson

Field to Feast: Recipes Celebrating Florida Farmers, Chefs, and Artisans by Pam Brandon, Katie Farmand, & Heather McPherson
Published by University Press of Florida
Review copy received at SIBA

From the publisher:

Florida offers more to savor than merely seafood and citrus. Name an ingredient and you’re likely to find it here. To research Field to Feast, authors Pam Brandon, Katie Farmand, and Heather McPherson traveled thousands of miles, tasting some of the freshest ingredients along the way. They found world-famous chefs who eagerly shared their best recipes to highlight those flavors. The result is a cookbook like no other; a delicious celebration of Florida food and cooking that’ll lead you from the kitchen to the farmers’ market and home again.

When I received this book at SIBA, I was practically drooling over the gorgeous photos and delicious-sounding recipes inside, all while I was supposed to be listening and paying attention as another author spoke. It was with much anticipation that I finally tore into the book, and I read the thing cover-to-cover the other night, excitedly perusing the recipes and the inspiring stories of farmers and chefs who, in some cases, live right here in my own city and participate in this awesome farm to table movement that I know almost nothing about.

So, the cookbook is full of recipes using local, fresh ingredients, and I think while it features Florida farmers, no matter where you live there are a myriad of ways you can take advantage of the recipes in the book. They are great recipes even if you don’t have the ability (financially or location-wise) to shop farmers’ markets. Many of them are very easy and most are healthy – especially given the fact that using fresh ingredients boosts the health factor a ton.

Each recipe is accompanied by a profile of a Florida farmer, chef, or artisan and I loved reading these stories. I was surprised to learn that a few restaurants that I already knew of here in Central FL were committed to the farm to table style of cooking and eating. That fact makes me even more intrigued to try these restaurants, and reading about all the farmers was incredibly inspiring. I don’t ever see myself farming, but I’m fascinated by the concept of farming, and learning about real people who do it definitely held my interest.

And the photographs! Oh my goodness, the photographs in this book are beyond gorgeous. I cannot even explain how pretty the book is.

Stay tuned this week because bloggers Sandy, Heather, Jill and I will be doing A Moveable Blog “Field to Feast” where we will each be featuring a recipe from this book throughout this week. Here’s the schedule so you can follow along:

Monday Sandy will feature a drink
Tuesday Sandy will feature an appetizer
Wednesday I will feature a main course
Thursday Heather will feature two sides
Friday Jill will feature a dessert

Please come along with us as we journey through this awesome cookbook this week. And in the meantime, get yourself a copy! I promise you will not be disappointed.

Weekend Cooking: Honey-Pecan Chicken Thighs

One of the cookbooks I received recently at SIBA was the very intriguing Pecans: A Savor the South Cookbook by Kathleen Purvis. I say intriguing because I do enjoy pecans quite a bit but cook with them almost never. So I was excited to tear into this cookbook and try a few of the recipes. The only recipe I’ve tried so far, I loved, so I decided to share it with all of you today! The Honey-Pecan Chicken Thighs were super easy to make, they turned out delicious, and paired beautifully with the baked sweet potatoes I made to go with them. I highly recommend you try the recipe for yourself!

Honey-Pecan Chicken Thighs
makes 4-6 servings

Ingredients:

2 teaspoons olive oil
6 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup honey
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. Warm the olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Place the chicken thighs in the skillet skin-down. Cook for about 8 minutes, until the skin is browned. Turn and cook for about 3 minutes. Remove the thighs from the skillet with tongs and place in a baking dish large enough to hold them in a single layer.

3. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the vinegar, honey, and cayenne to the skillet, stirring up any browned bits, and simmer for 2-3 minutes.

4. Combine the cornstarch with 2 tablespoons water in a small dish, stirring to completely dissolve the cornstarch. Stir the cornstarch and water into the sauce in the skillet, cooking for 2-3 minutes until thickened. Add the salt and pecans. Pour the sauce over the thighs in the baking dish.

5. Bake for 15 minutes, then spoon the sauce and pecans over the chicken thighs to glaze. Continue baking for 15 minutes, or until the thighs are done.

I wish I had a picture of this deliciousness to show you, but unfortunately the hubby and I were too excited to start eating for me to remember to take a picture! You’ll just have to trust me that these looked amazing and tasted just as good.

Weekend Cooking: Just a Question

Today’s Weekend Cooking post is a simple question. I always have random ingredients on hand at home and am not enough of an accomplished cook to figure out how to make meals out of them. I hear there are websites out there where you can type in a few ingredients and it will search for recipes that incorporate them. Do any of you use such a site? If so, which one? And if not, what website is your favorite to find new recipes?

And what do you do with all those random ingredients, anyway? HELP!

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is held every Saturday. Stop by her blog and check out all the fun!

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks by Kathleen Flinn
Published by Viking, an imprint of Penguin
Review copy provided by the publicist

Chef Kathleen Flinn was innocently shopping in her local grocery store when the idea came to her to begin a cooking class for beginner cooks – women (and men, if interested, although none were) who didn’t believe themselves capable of cooking, who relied on fast foods, frozen foods, and boxed hamburger-helper type meals to feed their families. She started her cooking classes with nine women, and in this book she details the weeks she spent with these women and how each one of them were able to grow into confident home cooks.

I have to say, I loved The Kitchen Counter Cooking School! Not only is this a memoir – a well-written one at that – but it’s also a cookbook. Flinn has an easy, fun writing style that kept me interested and highly entertained. I love the idea for the book and I connected to many of the individuals’ struggles to feel confident cooking healthy, delicious meals for their families. Although I have developed quite a bit over the last few years in my own cooking abilities, confidence in the kitchen is something I still really struggle with. So it was great to read about these women who were WAY less skilled than myself in this area improve so much in just a few weeks. It was inspiring, actually.

Also, this book taught me so much! I honestly can say that I will use many of the recipes provided in The Kitchen Counter Cooking School. Not only are there simple recipes like Alfredo sauce, but there are more complicated ones that I previously would have been nervous to attempt. But Flinn’s cooking philosophy really resonated with me, and much of the advice she gave the women in her class I plan to take to heart and apply to my own cooking endeavors.

I have to say that if you are an amateur foodie like myself, or interested in developing your own cooking skills, I highly recommend The Kitchen Counter Cooking School. Not only is Flinn clearly a talented chef, she has excellent writing abilities as well.

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and takes place every Saturday. Drop by her blog for more foodie/cooking posts!

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.