My Stomach: the Strong, Sensitive Type

Cover image from The Intolerant GourmetI love to eat. I can demolish healthy foods, spicy foods, exotic foods, comfort foods, or the type of horribly unhealthy grub you’d find at state fairs. I take on all comers; the problem is, my digestive tract won’t. Last year I was diagnosed with a gluten sensitivity. Luckily I dodged the Celiac, allergy, and intolerance bullets (there’s a difference – link opens a PDF), but I still pay a price when I decide to snack on some doughnuts. Thankfully, the food industry in the States is rapidly becoming more gluten-free aware. Gluten-free products are springing up on store shelves and restaurants are adding new items to their menus. For all the cooks and bakers out there, there’s a wealth of new cookbooks being published every year.

Whether you’re avoiding gluten because your body hates it or you’ve decided to cut back for other health reasons, I have a list of books from our collection that I’d recommend checking out. I picked these titles because they all do a good job of explaining some things about being gluten free that can be confusing. Some cover the different reasons why people go gluten free, while others navigate the tricky waters of creating a dynamite gluten free flour mix for baking. Some of them have really handy lists of things you should and shouldn’t eat on a gluten free diet, while others have charts for properly cooking the different grains and beans being recommended in the recipes. I also like these books because they don’t rely too heavily on store-bought, pre-made items (gluten free breads, pastas, dressings, etc.) opting to teach you how to make those items in your own home instead. So, here is my list with some notes:

Cover image from The Gluten-Free VeganThe Gluten-Free Vegan by Susan O’Brien. This book has great explanations about being vegan, gluten free, and choosing organic goods. Those who are lactose intolerant or allergic to eggs may also find The Gluten-Free Vegan useful because it goes into alternatives products for cooking and baking. For those looking to cut back on refined sugars, there’s a section on organic sweeteners.

The Intolerant Gourmet by Barbara Kafka. Kafka stocked the back of this book with great charts for cooking times, water to grain/bean ratios, and more. This title is also a good pick for those who are lactose intolerant.

Cover image from Gluten Free 101Gluten-Free 101 by Carol Fenster. I think this title does the best job out of any of the cookbooks of introducing the reader to the reasons why someone might need to live a gluten-free lifestyle. You can tell that the author is speaking from years of experience and she is there to ease the reader through making the changes they need to make. Aside from the encouraging intro, the recipes themselves look delicious and easy to follow. While Fenster often uses canned ingredients in her recipes, cooks can easily substitute dried or fresh items at home if they want to avoid the extra sodium. Her emphasis in this book is on quick and easy recipes, so the shortcut makes sense.

Cover image for Gluten Free BreakfastGluten-Free Breakfast, Brunch, & Beyond by Linda J. Amendt. If you have suffered under any delusions that being gluten-free is an inherently-healthy lifestyle, this book will destroy them. Each chapter is sprinkled with glorious full-color photos of waffles, crepes, pies, and so much more to make you pack on the pounds. Use this resource wisely if you’re choosing to be gluten-free for weight-loss reasons.

Gluten-Free Whole Grains by Judith Finlayson. After learning I couldn’t eat wheat or rye without causing trouble, my eyes were opened to a world of grains I never knew existed. Reading through the lists of things that I COULD eat, all I could do was wonder how I was supposed to prepare them. This book is really helpful in explaining how to use both familiar and exotic grains in ways that show off their unique flavors and textures.

Happy cooking!

Holiday Meal Helper, Part 2: Planning Perfection

Welcome to the menu portion of my three-part series intended to help you master your holiday host or hostess responsibilities in style. Part I introduced you to the basic cooking skills you need as a foundation for cooking confidence. Today I’ll share delicious and simple recipes guaranteed to bring applause and tears (the good kind, at last!) to your gathering. Or, more realistically, you’ll be sure to stress less and have more fun this holiday season, even if you’re not a pro in the kitchen…yet.

1After Toast: Recipes for Aspiring Cooks by Kate Gibbs appears to be designed for the post-college crowd—but any budding chef can benefit from the recipes inside. I found two great snacks you can scatter in small dishes around your living areas. Guests can nosh on spiced crispy chickpeas (page 175) made with smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, and ground cumin. Sugar-and-spice nuts (page 176) feature walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds. The beauty of both recipes? You can make them ahead of time, they’ll make your house smell amazing, and they are as simple as tossing the ingredients together and baking in the oven.

2High Flavor Low Labor by J.M. Hirsch proclaims to “reinvent weeknight cooking.” You just need to know it has decadent appetizers that are perfect for your holiday gathering—or any time. Grilled bacon-wrapped figs with blue cheese (page 9) are simple and make a dramatic presentation. Polenta cakes topped with prosciutto and peppadew slivers (page 11) are so pretty, yet so easy. Half the work is already done for you with ready-made polenta. Fig and manchego puff pastries (page 21) pair the dream team of flavors: sweet and salty. Once you master this recipe it’s easy to switch it up later to make mini pizzas, perfect for movie night. Pesto-drenched tomato wedges (page 35) show off the red and green color combination perfect for the holiday season. Blend ingredients in the food processor and pour over sliced tomatoes. How easy is that?

3Aida Mollenkamp’s Keys to the Kitchen is “the essential reference for becoming a more accomplished, adventurous cook.” While this is indeed a fantastic cooking reference (are you paying attention, Santa?) what it’s bringing to our party is the salad. Butter lettuce salad with tahini-honey dressing (page 200) is a great basic salad to get your palette revved up. I’m not sure why I haven’t made my own dressings before—it’s super easy. Step 1: put stuff in food processor. Step 2: blend. Step 3: let’s eat! Or if you’d like to be more adventurous, try the raw kale salad with heirloom tomatoes and roasted cashews (pages 202-203). Aida swears that making this salad ahead and letting it sit helps wilt and soften the kale. It makes for a fabulous presentation on a serving platter. And your health-fad cousin will love that you used kale, that trendy ingredient.

4Come Home to Supper by Christy Jordan has the dough—meaning there are some terrific bread and roll recipes in here. Cheesy garlic biscuits (page 219) are super-simple to make. And they happen to be my favorite type of biscuit: drop. That means you just mix the ingredients and drop them onto a baking sheet. Ten minutes later you have biscuit nirvana. Need an even quicker recipe? Ten-minute rolls (page 224) utilizes muffin tins and has a secret ingredient: mayonnaise: “The mayonnaise gives them a subtle flavor as a sour cream would, acts as shortening, and produces a tender crumb.” Sometimes the shortcut recipes turn out to be the most rewarding, both in time saved and flavor savored.

5Choosing Sides by Tara Mataraza Desmond contains nothing but recipes for side dishes. I implore you to look beyond the mashed potatoes (pages 201-204) and focus instead on switching up the holiday menu a bit. There’s a lot to cover, so I’ll just be listing the recipe names and pages. Please try not to drool as you read them. Charred asparagus with shaved parmesan (page 84), chimichurri green beans (page 85), crisply roasted garlic potatoes (page 90), sugar snap peas with grana padano crust (page 95), ginger honey carrots (page 101), golden cauliflower with herbed breadcrumbs (page 133), red quinoa with cherries and smoked almonds (page 142), legacy cornbread dressing (page 199), and sugar-glazed sweet potatoes (page 205). Now wipe your chin. Drool is very unbecoming in a host or hostess.

6Christmas Slow Cooking by Dominique DeVito is like the holy grail of holiday cooking. It really does cover every course of the meal and then some, but I like it best for the hassle-free main courses. I don’t know why I’d never considered using my slow-cooker for a holiday roast. Short ribs of beef with rosemary and fennel (page 113) become so tender after ten hours in the slow cooker. Prime rib (page 117) has exactly four ingredients: rib roast, olive oil, salt and pepper but it looks incredible. Turkey, bacon, cranberry bliss (page 125) blends some of my favorite ingredients: just use one turkey breast, bacon, apples, cranberries and spices. Holiday ham (page 131) requires a spiral-cut precooked ham and not a lot of effort. Remember, all of these recipes are made in the slow cooker. Your stress level will automatically lower when making one of these easy recipes.

Layout 1One Bowl Baking by Yvonne Ruperti takes the guesswork out of baking. I’m an okay cook but I’m not a great baker. That’s probably mostly due to the fact that I am impatient and imprecise in the kitchen. But this book makes me wonder why I freak out over baking so much. Pumpkin cheesecake with gingersnap crust (page 186) uses crushed gingersnap cookies in the crust and a can of pumpkin puree in the filling. With those serious flavors taken care of, the rest just seems like child’s play. Deep dish plum pie tart (page 198) is a decadent—and simple—alternative to either making a pie from scratch or buying one of the pre-made frozen variety.

You have just read an incredibly simple road map to Party Successville. Population: you. If you make some things a day ahead (snacks, salad) and use the slow cooker to do your main dish’s heavy lifting, you’ll be free to whip up multiple appetizers and side dishes your whole family will love.

Stay tuned for part 3, where I will share the little details that transform a good holiday party into a great one.

Carol

Holiday Meal Helper, Part 1: Cooking with Confidence

Uh oh. You really did it this time. You have achieved the goal you’ve dreamed of since childhood. You’ve secured the designation of host or hostess for your family’s holiday gathering. Why the long face? You don’t know how to cook, do you? Well never fear—I’ve got your back! The library has tons of great resources to help you pull off the party of the decade. And it all starts with learning the ropes. Get some practice with basic cooking techniques now and you won’t sweat it on opening night.

SeinfeldThe Can’t Cook Book by Jessica Seinfeld is a great place to start choosing some simple recipes that will become your kitchen staples. Seinfeld knows that the number one thing holding most ‘Can’t Cooks’ back is fear of failure—either real or imagined. She takes the guesswork out of buying the right equipment and using it correctly. She also has a fantastic how-to section that literally illustrates important skills step-by-step, from chopping herbs to pitting an avocado and even the best ways to wash different ingredients. The recipes are amazingly simple and have a “don’t panic” tip right off the bat that addresses a part of each recipe that might make a ‘Can’t Cook’ hesitate. There’s also a photo for each recipe. If you’re like me this is one of the most important pieces of a recipe–it illustrates exactly what your finished product should look like. This is usually where I notice that I forgot the carrots because there is orange in the photo. You get the idea. Now get this book!

200 skills200 Skills Every Cook Must Have by Clara Paul and Eric Treuillé is not a cookbook. Let me get that out of the way right now. It is, however, exactly what the title proclaims. There are two hundred skills that the authors illustrate step-by-step. While there are a few recipes, it’s mostly what I would call a great companion book to any cookbook you may be using. I find it an especially handy reference when using an old family recipe that may not be very descriptive in its instructions. Right now I’m working on skill 174: soaking and cooking dried beans. I’m on a mission this winter to discover the best chili recipe and I have a feeling that recipe won’t start with canned beans.

everyoneEveryone’s Time to Cook by Robert L. Blakeslee promises to be “the best starter cookbook you’ll ever need.” It also aims to teach you “how to start a love affair with cooking.” From the ideal kitchen layout to choosing the best bean roast and grind for the perfect coffee, this book is a must-read for anyone hoping to create delicious meals that aren’t too complicated to make. Cooking with dried beans is covered in detail starting on page 214 with recipes following. Did you know you could make refried beans at home without a can? It sounds like a no-brainer but it’s not something I’d ever considered before. After seeing the mouth-watering image of the finished product of “OMG! Refried Beans” I am raring to go!

ATKThe America’s Test Kitchen Cooking School Cookbook is going on my list for Santa. I’ve always sworn by the ATK to provide well-researched recipes and this book is no different. Like the other books I’ve already mentioned, this one goes in-depth with the techniques required to make each recipe. Also included, in true ATK style, are the reasons why one particular ingredient should be used over another. ATK tests consistency of flavor and texture, so you know you’re getting a crowd-pleasing recipe from them. As an example of how far this book goes, let’s look at the BBQ section. It shows you how to set up both charcoal and gas grills, using wood in a grill for added smoke flavor—and then follows that up with incredible recipes. ATK is not afraid to warn you in advance as to what may go wrong with each recipe. So, like Jessica Seinfeld, ATK is setting you up for success.

BurrellOwn Your Kitchen by Food Network star Anne Burrell was written with the beginner in mind, with “recipes to inspire and empower.” Let me share with you Anne’s ten ways to own your kitchen:

Read a recipe all the way through before you start cooking
Do your mise en place (prep work)
Taste and season as you go
Embrace salt
Salt and pepper are not married, they’re only dating (they don’t always have to be used together)
Fresh herbs rock, dried herbs don’t
Spices are sexy!
Toast your nuts
The right equipment makes cooking fun
Keep your pantry stocked

I have a very difficult time with the first few items, as I am always well-intentioned but not necessarily well-prepared. This can lead to a total meltdown on my part before the oven is even preheated. The recipes in this book aren’t exactly basic, but once you’ve gained some confidence mastering the skills above, you can attempt more. This is the cookbook meant to bridge that gap between beginner and intermediate chef. Wouldn’t you like to try your hand at homemade ricotta cheese? I would! Fried rice made right in your own kitchen? Sign me up! How do I know Anne will steer me in the right direction? She doesn’t use a lot of fancy cooking terms (aside from mise en place) but instead uses wordage more apropos of girl talk. My favorite term? Crud: the delicious brown bits on the bottom of the pan that help develop deep, rich, meaty flavors. Oh, yum!

So there you have it—my five best no-fail cookbooks to bring out the inner Julia Child in you. Julia always reminded me of my maternal grandmother, Helen: she made mistakes but made cooking fun. If I can run my kitchen like Julia or Helen I think I will be doing quite nicely indeed.

Stay tuned for part 2 where I’ll break down the perfect holiday meal that even you can’t mess up.

Carol

Cookbooks for Free

“How much does this book cost?” is a question I get occasionally from pre-school aged children on the library’s bookmobile. The idea of the free public library is a foreign one to some young minds. You probably totally get this concept since you’re reading this blog. Free books? Of course! Count me in!

I love to check out all of the glossy, beautiful cookbooks that our library has to offer just to see if they are worth purchasing for personal home use. Here are the ones that I’ve found at the library and loved so much that I just had to add them to my home cookbook shelf:

stirfryingStir Frying to the Sky’s Edge: The Ultimate Guide to Mastery with Authentic recipes and Stories by Grace Young. This is a complete guide to stir frying with over 100 recipes, stunning photos, and many great tips. We especially love the Cashew Chicken recipe at our house.

inthekitchenIn the Kitchen With a Good Appetite: 150 Recipes and Stories about the Food You Love by Melissa Clark. The only thing lacking in this cookbook is photos, but it is full of stories, and fantastic recipes to cook delicious meals and fill you up. We love the Spicy Chicken Barley Soup. Try it!

whattocookHere’s one that I purchased as a gift for a new cook. What to Cook & How to Cook it:  Fresh & Easy by Jane Hornby. The fantastic thing about this book is that it is so visual, almost like a visual menu. It has photos for each step of each recipe, from laying out all of the ingredients to the finished product. It shows you everything. How easy is that?

I’m in the ‘holds’ line to check out these cook books:

barefootcontessaBarefoot Contessa Foolproof by Ina Garten looks like a keeper. I love all of Ina Garten’s cookbooks and this one probably won’t disappoint. I’ll check it out from the library first just to be sure.

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman is very popular these days. There’s quite a buzz about this one, so, of course, I must check it out. Literally.

myfavoriteAnd, finally, here’s one that I just found on the new book shelf. Oh, my, but this one is gorgeous and glossy. Home Cooking with Jean-Georges: My Favorite Simple Recipes by Jean-Georges Vongerichten. With a name like that, he must be a great chef, right?  That’s Stone Fruit Bruschetta on the cover. Each of the recipes have a stunning photo and look delicious.

I can answer that child’s question for you: books cost a lot of money! Check out these fabulous cookbooks and others at your free public library.

You hungry now? I am. Buh-bye, I’m off to cook!

Leslie

Fail Magnificently

Here we are, firmly wedged into the month of January. The magical glow of New Year’s Eve and memories of our ambitious resolutions have already started to fade. While some just might make this the year that they actually stick to their three-times-a-week gym pledges, others may be looking for a way to gracefully bow out of their publicly-announced best intentions. Thankfully, the Everett Public Library is here not only to support us in our triumphs, but also to help us get through our moments of weakness. So, if you want to kill your resolutions softly by making the best of your surrender, I have a list of books for you.

Here are my recommendations for failing magnificently at some of the more common New Year’s resolutions.

The Butchers Guide to Well-Raised Meat

Eat Healthier and Lose Weight

This is the granddaddy of them all. Who hasn’t sworn, after a long night of New Year’s Eve snacking, that it was time to get the potbelly situation under control? Perhaps you’ve spent the last couple weeks faithfully logging calories and exercise on your new My Fitness Pal app, but today you find yourself caring less than usual. Before you hop in the car after work, blow by the YMCA, and hit the drive through, consider picking up one of the following books to help you break your resolution with a bit more class.

The Pastry Chef’s Apprentice, by Mitch Stamm, provides a really accessible introduction to creating delicious pastries in your home kitchen. Stamm includes a lot of what I like to call ‘action shots’ of what dishes should look like during crucial stages of each recipe. If you’re as lousy of a baker as I am, you know how valuable it is to actually see what the recipe means when it tells you to mix the dough to a certain consistency.

If you prefer savory over sweet, Warren R. Anderson’s Mastering the Craft of Making Sausage may be up your alley. The first half of this book is a richly-illustrated discussion of different methods of making and smoking sausages; the second is a collection of great recipes to try your hand at.

Other sweet and savory honorable mentions to consider:
Chocolate, from Practical Cookery
The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat, by Joshua and Jessica Applestone

Who knows? Perhaps making your own guilty pleasures from scratch might burn some calories in the process and ensure that you’re using healthier ingredients.

The Home Winemaker's CompanionDrink Less

This one generally goes the way of weight loss pledges, so in order to help you fail in the same spirit, I suggest the alternative of taking up home brewing, wine making,or distilling. You may find that in the end you’ll opt for quality over quantity because you’ll come to prefer the fruits of your own labor to a couple of Sessions. For the beer drinkers, I recommend checking out The Complete Joy of Home Brewing and The Brewers Apprentice. If wine is more your thing, you can try The Home Winemaker’s Companion. For those of you who secretly harbor dreams of bootlegging and rum-running, you can try your hand at hooch with Making Pure Corn Whiskey. Please remember to brew, stomp, and moonshine responsibly.

Fly SoloSpend More Quality Time with the Kids

Dads of the world, my apologies, because it looks like the fun books for breaking this resolution are more geared towards the ladies. A quick stroll through our travel books turned up these gems:

Fly Solo: the 50 Best Places on Earth for a Girl to Travel Alone, by Teresa Rodriguez Williamson
Best Girlfriends Getaways Worldwide, by Marybeth Bond
Solo Traveler: Tales and Tips for Great Trips, by Lea Lane

Get Rid of that Old Junk in the Garage

But isn’t one man’s trash another man’s treasure? Are you really going to let that other man steal your carefully horded booty? Absolutely not! American Junk and This Old House Salvage-Style Projects may give you the inspiration you need to turn mom’s odd obsession with fancy antique doorknobs into a lucrative business making pretty coat racks.

Driveways, Paths and Patios

Keep the Lawn and Garden Tidy

Technically my recommendations here won’t break this resolution, but they will help you fulfill it a way that you might not have intended. It may be that you love a serene outdoor environment but the closest you’ve ever come to having a green thumb was the result of a misguided attempt to paint the Silvertips logo on your garage door. If that’s the case, you can design your outdoor space to look tidy while being relatively maintenance-free by exploring other options. Walks, Walls & Patio Floors and Driveways, Paths and Patios will tell you all you need to know about designing an attractive, zero-gardening landscape. If you can’t bear the thought of having a yard that isn’t lovely and green, consider going au naturel with the help of Beautiful No-Mow Yards, by Evelyn J. Hadden. This approach will require you to put in a fair amount of gardening effort at the beginning, but after a while you should have easy sailing.

Swear Less

If you find that your cuss jar is rapidly filling once again, it might be time to let go and embrace the fact that you have a potty mouth and you find swearing amusing. To help you along the way to self-acceptance, I recommend a couple foul-mouthed titles that are designed to make you laugh. The F**king Epic Twitter Quest of @MayorEmanuel tells the sometimes true, sometimes fanciful, and completely inappropriate story of the 2011 mayoral election in Chicago. If they ever made an audio book out of this title, you wouldn’t want to listen to it with the kids around. Speaking of audio books – my other recommendation, Go the F**k to Sleep, by Adam Mansbach and illustrated by Ricardo Cortes, was just narrated by Samuel L. Jackson (the video is on YouTube – I recommend listening with earphones). I’m also happy to report that we carry ¡Duérmete, carajo!the Spanish-language adaptation of this recent best seller.

Machida Karate-Do

Manage Stress Better

Or just take up a contact sport to help let out your frustrations in a healthy way. I have never been very good at managing the different areas of life that cause me stress, so instead once or twice a week I go play ice hockey. Problem solved. So, if you need to get out some pent-up aggression, but you don’t have the budget to pick up an expensive team sport, consider some alternatives. May I suggest Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Taekwondo, or Mixed Martial Arts?

Step Away from the Internet

If you’re reading this post, you’ve already failed at this resolution. That’s all right, you can still learn to spend your time online doing something more productive. We have many great books on creating and marketing an online business, using social media to make money, and using the internet to help you find a better job. Here are just a handful of titles that can get you started:

Social Networking for Career Success, by Miriam Salpeter
Likeable Social Media, by Dave Kerpen
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Crowdsourcing, by Aliza Sherman
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Social Media Marketing, by Jennifer Abernathy

For those of you who are still sticking to you goals I salute you! Let me take this opportunity to remind you that the library also has books to assist you in leaving the rest of us in your dust. For my fellow magnificent failures out there, happy 2013, and have fun making lemonade out of your lemons.

Lisa

Feast for a Voyeur

In the spirit of giving thanks, breaking bread with friends and family, and cooking for the masses, library staff recently gathered around the table for a most delicious feast: a meal of literary delights.

What started out as a seasonal celebration for our Facebook page turned out to be one of the most creative and enjoyable projects I’ve worked on in recent memory.

All of this feasting, got me to thinking…

You may recall a post I did a couple of years back called Voyeuristic Literature. If you enjoyed peeking into the lives of others through their personal writings and forgotten grocery lists, you’ll really like what I have in store for you today. With my mind turning towards holiday parties and, inevitably, food, I give to you a plentiful peeper’s cornucopia, a feast for a voyeur.

Handwritten Recipes: a Bookseller’s Collection of Curious and Wonderful Recipes Forgotten Between the Pages by Michael Popek is exactly what it says it is in the title. Popek has found hundreds of handwritten recipes on cards, scraps of paper, even the backs of restaurant checks.

I feel like there are two great treasures preserved here. First, of course, are the handwritten recipes themselves. Both the penmanship and content of the recipes harken back to olden times, where my Grandmother worked full-time and still came home and put dinner on the table for her family. Recipes like eggs in a basket, sour milk biscuits, and orange kiss-me cake take me back to her kitchen where I first learned how to use a gas stove and the simple joy of eating raw almonds while stirring, kneading, or basting. 

On the other hand, there are definitely unrecognizable recipes as well. Dishes like rinktum tiddy, rice dainty, and chocolate porcupine make me think of someone getting into the rum before making the rum balls and waving a culinary wand to create such unrecognizable dishes. If urban foraging is considered culinary wizardry using only found ingredients, I propose we all start trying these old-fashioned, WTF recipes and call it wizardry using only found recipes.

But not to be overlooked are the books into which these recipes were actually wedged. The juxtaposing  of a recipe for pasta with artichokes, capers, and tomatoes found inside a 1969 edition of Dune: Messiah by Frank Herbert or a recipe for red pepper quiche inside a 1986 edition of It Came From Schenectady by Barry B. Longyear is, to me, the whole reason to become a fan of literary voyeurism.

Mainstream media has, for years, portrayed the cooks and chefs of America as somewhat plain individuals who are more concerned with proper garlic mincing techniques than the possibility of a Godzilla-like creature overtaking the Earth in the near future. Everyone is capable of pursuing whatever hobbies they like, even if these hobbies aren’t necessarily thought of as being complimentary. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that reading Science Fiction isn’t that far off from working with me in my kitchen. You just never know what the ending will ultimately be.

Come In, We’re Closed: an Invitation to Staff Meals at the World’s Best Restaurants by Christine Carroll and Jody Eddy is a different sort of window into someone else’s kitchen. Each chapter features a different restaurant and the meals the staff create for themselves after hours. Staff photos and pictures of the meal are interspersed with the recipes and stories from the staff and owners.

I was salivating to see what the people who spend their work shifts cooking for others would cook for themselves after closing time. It turns out that different restaurants cook different things—this didn’t surprise me. But what did surprise me is how easy to replicate some of these recipes truly are. That’s not to say all are simple, basic recipes—this is far from the truth. But if you’re looking to give yourself and your family a taste of haute cuisine you’re sure to find some gems in this tome.

Local restaurant The Herbfarm in Woodinville is featured in the middle of the book:

Fittingly, The Herbfarm’s family meal starts—and often ends—amidst the herbs. In fact, few staff meals here are ever created without the cooks first foraging in the quarter-acre of raised beds outside their back door. It is a time-worn tradition. Decades before the term “local” became a trendy restaurant catchphrase, The Herbfarm’s founders, Ron Zimmerman and Carrie Van Dyck, used the Seattle seasons to craft their menus and educate their customers. With a near fanatical devotion to the harvest—some have even referred to The Herbfarm’s style as “micro-seasonal”—the menus change bimonthly to accommodate local crops. Along with fruits and vegetables from their nearby four-acre farm, all the meals here are literally built from the ground up.

So, we know the restaurant changes its menu all the time. But we still get a sample after hours menu from the day the authors interviewed the staff on location. How does this sound to you? Whole herb vinaigrette with mixed greens, Iowa-style fried chicken, strawberry cake with orange and thyme biscuits, homemade tarragon and cherry soda. My stomach is rumbling and I just ate breakfast—sign me up.

While the joys of reading this book lie in the peek behind the scenes and after hours of some of the world’s most renowned restaurants, I am delighted to earn a bonus: learning about an amazing local restaurant. I can’t wait to try it out in person.

No matter how you spend your holidays, I truly hope you are fortunate enough to spend your time with people who appreciate you and your cooking. While I have plans to enjoy a wonderful evening with friends and their new baby at Thanksgiving and head home to family in St. Louis at Christmastime, I will always enjoy metaphorically (and sometimes literally) peeking through the window into the world of other people’s’ cooking. So keep your curtains closed!

Carol