By Greg B. Here at the Food and Wine Blog, we have a lot of opportunities to review books. Some travel books, some beer books, but far and away, the most common book we have options to review are cookbooks. So here is my review of 3 books that I’ve recently read through for cooking, and one book that is, truthfully, full of some serious BS.
Tortillas to the Rescue – by Jessica Harlan
Anyone who has been to college has left college with a few things. First, usually a mountain of debt. But second, an appreciation for the tortilla. I recall many mornings, afternoons or late evenings (I rarely slept in college, preferring to do the majority of my writing between the hours of 2-5am. I know, I’m weird) when, in need of a quick snack, I’d turn to my old standby of scrambled eggs, with an extra cheese or vegetables, rolled into a tortilla. I was a versatile and tasty kitchen item that has graced my fridge for many years. Tortillas to the Rescue Cookbook is a pretty comprehensive compilation of similar recipes. And while you likely don’t need to buy a book to inform you how to make a cheese quesadilla, or a breakfast burrito the way McDonald’s does, you may want to consider this book for the other alternative recipes. Like the delicious sounding Fig and Goat cheese pinwheels, Smoked Salmon and Egg Stackers or Chocolate-Ricotta Cannoli, all made from and with, tortillas. The book even ends with recipes on how to make your own tortillas, which is an addition I personally enjoyed since it added that home-style touch to the tortilla concept. I’ll be trying to make some of my own flour tortillas in the near future. And who knows, if I have unexpected guests, maybe they’ll be privy to some handy snacks made with tortillas, created from ideas spawned by reading this book!
Poptails – by Erin Nichols
This book is interesting. It’s definitely a niche-market type book, but surprisingly it may have a more broad appeal. I’ll admit, initially I assumed it would just be some tacky book, mass produced with little or no thought behind the trite recipes. Instead, the book has some personality, little bits of flair in the language, interesting insights into the daily routine of the author and the trials and tribulations of making these recipes really add up. It’s an interesting little read, and, while not a long in pages, isn’t short in information either. If you’re hosting a party and want to try some more adult-themed popsicles, this could be a handy companion for you to consider!
My Provence – by Laurent Gras
So this is the first e-book cookbook that I’ve had the pleasure to check out, and I have to say it’s been a blast. The photography is wonderful, the layout is simple, clear and concise. There are easy navigation options everywhere you go. On the table of contents and read something interesting? Simply click the fully linked recipe name, and you’re brought to the recipe. Each recipe begins with a gorgeous photo of the food, a short tale of the story behind the food, followed by a straightforward recipe. To the right are easy to follow menu options listing the ingredients, a separate tab which includes photos of steps along the way and relevant technique videos (if it involves a special technique), a tab for the necessary equipment an a tab that allows readers to interact with other readers, post comments about recipes, photos, questions, etc. Overall, it’s a brilliant design for a cookbook, and it would make a great addition to anyone’s collection. The layout is designed well for tablet computers, though I noticed that it was unavailable for those of us with Asus Transformers. It did, however, work well on an ipad and PC laptops. The recipes and photography in this book definitely make me hungry!
Smart eating Made Simple – by Jane Ibbetson
This book is pretty impressive. It’s a paperback, but also pretty dense and weighty. Jane holds a Master of Science in nutrition and has worked as an educator and nutritional counselor for high-risk families. I particularly enjoy her philosophy, rather than telling people what not to eat, she tells them what to eat. It’s an instructive and inclusive way of presenting information that I dig. The more people fill their diet and lifestyles with healthier, better foods, the less time, money and hunger needs to be spent on the junk. Something that does annoy me, however, is the wording of the back cover, which states that ‘current research concurs the plant-based, whole foods diet awakens your genes to better health’. My geneticist fiancee pointed out that genes, obviously, don’t sleep. I generally have a hard time taking anyone seriously who talks of purging their bodies of toxins by switching to a planet based diet, and that this is the sole remedy of their sleeping issues. Or someone who claims that ‘A Mediterranean style plant-based diet can prevent most chronic diseases’… I mean, that’s pretty absurd. But if you can step aside from the occasional bouts where the author drifts from reality, the vast majority of this book is pretty good. The concept of stressing the need to eat more sustainably, to eat more plant-based foods rather than pre-processed foods, and to cut down on meat as the center piece of one’s meal is a good one, and this book provides ample information on how to restructure your diet to fit with these concepts. There are healthy and tasty sounding recipes throughout the book, as well as helpful charts, tables and graphs of the important chemistry of nutrition. If you’re willing to learn and want to take a first step towards adjusting your diet from a meat-centric diet towards a healthier more plant-based one, I think this book will provide you, not only with recipes but also with information you can use to guide your food purchasing decisions and understand the nutrition of your diet.
No Happy Cows – by John Robbins
Oh, our old friend John Robbins. I realize this isn’t a cookbook like all the rest in this review, but I received it months ago for a review, and haven’t had a chance to post one yet, so here it is. This book is awful. If you’re someone who self-identified as a vegan dieter, looking for validation of your personal diet choices, or you want to read something by someone who stretches the truth, or uses questionable sources as reliable and fully vetted information (Wikipedia, in some cases), then this is the book for you! I may not be out there waving the ‘got milk’ flag and munching on a KFC double-down (which I have eaten, I’ll admit), but these days I’m focusing more on personal health. I eat meat a few times a week, maybe for 2-4 meals our of a possible 21 in a week, I eat a mostly plant, fruit and nut based diet and I enjoy it. But I don’t try to stretch the truth, or make others feel bad about themselves for enjoying meat from time to time. This book is a manifesto of the vegan, green, ultra-hippie style diet, and truthfully, I couldn’t read more than a few pages without being irritated that this individual received so much media attention because of his father’s success. For your heart’s health, avoid this book.