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Archive for the ‘cooking’ Tag

Schooled in Cooking   3 comments


The title of Kathleen Flinn’s experience at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris is what initially caught my eye: The Shaper Your Knife, The Less You Cry. These words are advice from one of her chef instructors as begins the first of three sections required to earn a diploma from the prestigious cooking school. The subtitle offered more foreshadowing than I would have liked, though: “Love, Laughter and Tears in Paris at the World’s Most Famous Cooking School.”

Flinn’s account combines her background, her romance and her Parisian education, which involved much more than cooking as she learned to navigate a new city with only un petit peu knowledge of French.

The book is divided into the three parts that correspond with the units at the school: Basic, Intermediate and Superior Cuisine. Flinn’s culinary undertaking is humorous, honest and, unfortunately, predictable. Of course she grows through this journey; of course she learned techniques that were as foreign as the language; and of course she is with the man of her dreams. The latter requires no spoiler alert; this is revealed early in the narrative.

Despite its predictability, Flinn gives an insider’s view of how the classes are taught, the types of people who enroll (not surprisingly from all over the world) and the friendliness of the French people. She also includes several recipes and even includes a menu guide for book groups. Fortunately, none require deboning a chicken or dealing with dead rabbit heads.

The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry
Three-and-a-half Bookmarks
Penguin Books, 2007
278 pages

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Mystery Lite   Leave a comment

Revelvet

A wholesome, but fiercely independent, young woman in rural Minnesota isn’t exactly who comes to mind when a murder needs to be solved. Yet, author Joanne Fluke has developed quite the following with her Hannah Swensen mysteries. The only explanation I can surmise lies in the fact that Hannah, who fits the above depiction, is also a baker extraordinaire and it’s worth the easy reading to get some new recipes.

Fluke’s most recent addition to the Hannah Swensen oeuvre is Red Velvet Cupcake Murder, which had been on The New York Times Best Seller’s List for several weeks. That, along with my own penchant for cupcakes, is what drew me to the book. Nonetheless, my expectations, fortunately, were not high, so I was not  disappointed.

Hannah lives in Lake Eden, a small town, where she owns the Cookie Jar, a bakery and coffee shop. The story begins with her catering the opening of a renovated hotel. The cupcakes are a featured attraction, along with several delicious-sounding baked goods. Readers are immediately introduced (or for those Hannah followers re-introduced) to Hannah’s mother, sister, love interests (yes, plural) and friends. Hannah’s nemesis from an earlier book reappears on the scene.

It doesn’t take long for an accident to occur, which requires a lot of cooking on Hannah’s part to help make people feel better. Soon thereafter someone is murdered, and instead of being part of the unofficial investigation, Hannah becomes a suspect. Somehow, thanks to friends and family, the bakery continues to serve the delicious sweets it is known for, and readers can continue to drool over their descriptions.

All of the delectables include clever names to fit the situation. Among them are Razzle Dazzle Brownies, Tickled Pink Lemonade Cookies, Snappy Turtle Pie and the Red Velvet Cupcakes with a Surprise Filling — the storyline is so predictable it’s nice there is at least one revelation that truly unfolds.

Red Velvet Cupcake Murder
Three Bookmarks
Kenninsgton Books, 2013
323 pages, including recipes

Pursuing Flavors   1 comment

yeschef

I know a few local chefs by name; I know a lot about others from different places, thanks to the books they write – and the Food Network or Bravo. The latter is where Marcus Samuelsson’s name surfaced on my radar. His memoir, Yes, Chef, provides a detailed, honest look at how he emerged onto the contemporary food scene.

Samuelsson begins his story with a powerful sentence that has nothing to do with food, but everything to do with who he is: “I have never seen a picture of my mother.” He shares how he and his sister made their way from Ethiopia to Goteborg (Gothenburg), Sweden, where they were adopted by Lennart and Anne Marie Samuelsson. He learned to cook by watching his grandmother. He learned technique by apprenticing in Switzerland, France and the United States.

As much as the memoir is about his progression through various kitchens, Yes, Chef is also about finding passion, experiencing prejudice and learning how these disparate aspects can be powerful motivators. Samuelsson reveals his flaws, his quirks as well as his strengths in a straightforward voice.

Ethiopian by birth, Swedish through adoption, and now a naturalized U.S. citizen, Samuelsson might seem an unlikely poster boy in the food world. Yet, it is his internationality that makes him so appealing. His quest as a chef, as he says, was to “chase flavors.” So far, it appears to be quite a pursuit.

Yes, Chef
Three-and-a-half Bookmarks
Random House, 2012
315 pages

Setting America’s Culinary Table   4 comments

Any foodie worth his or her cookware will want to read Bob Spitz’s Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julie Child. Even if you’ve already savored your way through other biographies, memoirs or the film Julie and Julia, this is a must-read. At 500+ pages the book may seem daunting, but Spitz’s writing is conversational and personal; his respect for his subject is clear.

And why not? Her contribution to food culture notwithstanding, Julia Child was an intelligent, loving, enthusiastic woman. For much of her early life, food was just sustenance. She didn’t start cooking, or truly enjoying meals, until she was in her late 30s; once she did, she never stopped.

The biography is told chronologically, except for the prologue. Here the author describes the scene at WGBH in Boston just before Child makes her first television appearance where she cooked an omelet using a hot plate. From there, Spitz tracks everything including her privileged childhood in Pasadena, Calif., life in the Office of Strategic Services outposts, her marriage to Paul Child, and her almost-accidental love affair with food. The most interesting aspects are those that show her as a woman filled with a joie de vie and the ability to change with the times.

Spitz did extensive research to tell Child’s story. The result is a portrait of an unlikely leader in the early days of the food awakening in the United States. Her television shows, her cookbooks, even the parodies of her, contributed to the word “foodie” becoming part of our everyday vernacular.

Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julie Child
Four-and-a-half bookmarks
A.A. Knopf, 2012
534 pages

Posted November 18, 2012 by bluepagespecial in Books, Reviews

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Stuff Stinks   3 comments

The sense of smell is rich in clichés: “Wake up and smell the coffee;”
“stop and smell the roses;” “relatives and fish smell after three days.”
In her book, Season to Taste, Molly Birnbaum writes of her life
without the ability to smell, so everything associated with scent
renders those sayings not just tired, but impossible.

Months before Birnbaum was to enter the Culinary Institute of Ameri-
ca she was struck by a car and suffered multiple injuries, including
losing her sense of smell which is known as anosmia. As she comes to
grip with the repercussions of this loss, she relinquishes her dream to
become a chef and latches onto the quest of learning about all things
olfactory.

Birnbaum’s writing is forthright, conversational yet occasionally bord-
erline academic. She experiences grief, anger and panic over the now-
missing sense she once took for granted. Aromas, odors, scents, what-
ever the name given, are, of course, everywhere. They evoke memories,
they provide contexts, they affect taste. With this in mind, Birnbaum
interviews numerous experts in the field of olfaction. She meets others
with anosmia. She studies at a perfume school in France, and visits flavor
design labs. Through these experiences, she relearns to identify smells,
falls in love, and reminds readers that this often under-rated of the
five senses really does enhance life in many, many ways.

The scientific information is interesting, but the best parts of Birnbaum’s
story are the personal elements she shares. That’s why it’s exciting when
she begins to cook again.

Season to Taste

Three Bookmarks

Ecco/HarperCollins, 2011

304 pages