Cookbook review: Donabe

Donabe: Classic and Modern Japanese Claypot Cooking by Naoko Takei Moore is a beautifully illustrated cookbook, but it one that is for serious Japanese cooks only.  First, the recipes calls for owning a donabe (pretty obvious with the title).  That isn’t the issue.  The issue is that you’ll need more than one donabe … you’ll need several different types of donabe.  The smaller donabe that serve one person go for about $30.  The larger ones that serve at least 4 go for about $75+.  For cooking great rice, you should get a double lidded donabe.  At the very least, you’ll need 2 donabe – one for rice, and one for a dish.  The donabe bottoms have to be completely dry before you put them on the range (otherwise it will crack) so you can’t cook the rice, move the rice to a different container and re-use the donabe for dinner.  If you do, the rice will be cold and will have to be reheated, thereby defeating the purpose of making donable-cooked rice in the first place.  Also, donabe can only be used on open flame so you can use it with a gas range, but you won’t be able to use it with an electric or induction range.  If you don’t have a gas range, you could get a butane burner.  Donabe is totally different from slow cooker pots so you can’t substitute the cooking vessel.  Basically, unless you have lots of storage space and money to spend on different types of donabe, this is more of a living room photobook than a cookbook.

There are also some hard-to-find ingredients, which is to be expected from a book that touts “classic” Japanese claypot cooking.  Here’s a sample of the hard-to-find ingredients: koya tofu (freeze dried tofu), kurozu (Japanese vinegar), koji (a special type of mold), and tororo kombu (a type of seasoned seaweed).

One of the things I learned from this book was that a rice cup =  3/4 an imperial (standard) cup.

If you want to try some of these recipes, there are a few donabe on sale on Amazon.  Another place I found was Mrs. Lin’s Kitchen.  The author said that they were resellers for a Japanese company that made donabe, but I didn’t see the information about ordering it from them in the cookbook.  I may have missed it, but I did look for it.

If you don’t own a donabe and have never cooked with claypots before, I would advise you to read the chapter on caring for your donabe very carefully before cooking.  You cannot heat it up without some sort of liquid inside, you need to be careful about fast temperature changes, etc.

Once again, I would only recommend this book to a serious Japanese food enthusiast.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.

Cookbook review: Feed Zone Table

The first part of Feed Zone Table focused on the importance of sharing meals with one another.  The benefits are somewhat obvious – bonding socially, stronger mental health, etc. – but there are references to back up what the authors claim.

I really liked this cookbook.  There were many healthy family-friendly recipes, by which I mean that I think children would enjoy them as well as adults.  Too many of the healthy cookbooks include too much quinoa and kale and not enough flavor.  The recipes section starts out with non-alcoholic drinks (love this!  Again, it’s kid-friendly as well as adult-friendly).  It emphasized the focus on “family-style” meals that everyone could enjoy.   The recipes serve between 4-8.

There were pictures of every recipe so that you could see how every finished product appears.  Best of all, most of the ingredients are readily available and most of the recipes seem easy to make.  Did I mention that the recipes are healthy?  They’re not perfect, but for example, the cashew honey brittle uses honey, cinnamon, and vanilla as sweeteners instead of corn syrup.  Almost all of the other recipes I’ve seen for nut brittle require corn syrup.

While home made, from-scratch meals are always going to take longer to prepare than something that you dump out of a package, the recipes in this book really didn’t take too long.  I would say that most of the recipes take 40-60 minutes to make, but some of that is just cooking time so you don’t need to constantly monitor it.  This is an easy, practical cookbook for families and for people who like to entertain friends.

The only annoying part about this was that I had an electronic version and every page had the words ” Low-res for Edelweiss” printed on it, which sometimes obscured the words printed on the page.Hopefully that was just because it was an ARC.

Disclosure: I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy (ARC) of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book review: Slow Fires

Slow Fires: Mastering New Ways to Braise, Roast, and Grill by Justin Smillie is one of those books that you look at, drool over the recipes, and set aside for when you have a day or two to set aside to cook.  The book itself is well organized and includes pictures of every single recipe in the book.

The biggest caveat with this book is that it is definitely not for novice cooks.  Many recipes include hard-to-find ingredients that most home cooks wouldn’t have access to (like octopus or rabbit) … and they require a lot of time to make.  These recipes definitely aren’t for weekday cooking.  I’m not a novice cook, but honestly, I would probably use this cookbook once a year, if that, for a very special occasion.

However, the book certainly lives up to its name.  It provides different ideas for incorporating flavor into food through braising, roasting, and grilling.

I had a hard time deciding how to rate this book.  On the one hand, it’s not a very practical book for most people and unless someone loved to cook and was an experienced cook, I wouldn’t recommend it.  On the other hand, it’s a nice guide for cooks who want to do elevate their cooking and aren’t afraid to spend a lot of time hunting down ingredients and then spending hours cooking.  Based purely on the book itself and what it advertises (it never claims to be a book for novices), I would give it 4 out of 5 stars, but again, only for the narrow niche of cooks mentioned earlier.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging for Books for my unbiased review.

Book review: Oil and Marble

Oil and Marble by Stephanie Storey is about Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti and how their rivalry may have spurred them on to create great works of art in order to out-do each other (in this case, the Mona Lisa and David).  The book is historical fiction so although the characters are real and they both lived in Florence at the time this story took place, the story itself is fictional.

The author did a nice job of capturing the personalities of Leonardo and Michelangelo – Leonardo, at this time in his life, was well-known and used to the comforts that his works and reputation brought him while Michelangelo was intense and somewhat of an idealist.  There were also tidbits about the family life of the two artists.  I know that Michelangelo’s family was against his being a sculptor, but I don’t know if much more than that was true.

This book is a great way to get an introduction to two of the great Renaissance artists.

If you liked this book, I would also recommend The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone.  The book by Irving Stone focuses on Michelangelo’s life and goes more in depth with his struggles as an artist.

Disclosure: I received an Advanced Reader Copy of this book.

Book review: The Alliance by Jolina Petersheim

When I was reading the acknowledgments in this book, I thought, “Oh, no” (the acknowledgments were in the beginning rather than at the end of the book).  I don’t mind religious books as long as they’re obviously religious and not preachy.  I hate it when I think I’m reading an adventure book and end up reading about the virtues of Christianity/Buddhism/Islam/etc.

The Alliance was religious, but it wasn’t too preachy.  It certainly brought in Christian themes, but dealt with them in the context that some of the main characters are part of a Mennonite community.  The “alliance” refers to an alliance made between said Mennonite community and the “Englischer”s (people outside of the community).  An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) causes all modern equipment to stop working, stranding some Englischers in the Mennonite community and causing a plane crash.  The pilot of the plane crash, Moses, survives and develops some romantic feelings for Leora, a Mennonite girl.

The EMP causes apocalyptic conditions so everyone in the community compromises and agrees that the Englischers will guard a border around the community and, in turn, the community will house and feed the Englischers.

Moses and Leora’s love story is fraught with conflict, externally and internally.  Externally, they have to confront threats of looting and starvation.  Internally, they struggle with their difference in beliefs.  Leora believes if pacifism while Moses believes that guarding the border with guns is the only practical chance that they have of surviving.

The story is told in first-person narrative, switching off between Leora’s and Moses’ point of view.

The story itself, once you accept the hard-to-believe idea that an EMP could take out the entire world, is okay, but I had some issues with the characters.  The characters weren’t as well-developed as I would have liked.  Other than this good looks, it’s not too clear why Leora falls in love with Moses instead of Jabil, a young Mennonite man.  Jabil seems like the better man in pretty much all respects – they have similar beliefs, he cares for her (shielding her at one point with his body – something that Moses admits that he didn’t think of doing, etc.).  I get that sometimes people are shallow and go for good looks, but I had trouble seeing that someone who was so responsible like Leora, even though she was young, would toss caution to the wind to go for someone like Moses instead of Jabil.  Leora was responsible for taking care of a younger brother, a special needs sister, and a grandmother after her dad abandoned the family and her mom died.  Someone like that can’t afford to let herself fall for some unknown guy that she knows nothing about.  The book described some hesitations that Leora had, but she still chose Moses.  For me, the description of Leora’s past behavior and history were inconsistent with her current actions in the book so it was hard to get a good grasp of who she really was as a person.

I was also disappointed in Moses as a character.  He was also inconsistent.  At one point, he decides to protect Leora by keeping information from her because she already has had a lot to deal with but then he goes ahead and tells her about it anyway.  I guess the ending is where he is supposed to redeem himself, but it just wasn’t enough for me.  I didn’t particularly like him.

It’s not a bad book, but it seemed like it could have used more development.

Disclosure: I received an advanced reader’s copy of this book.

Book Review: 61 Hours & Worth Dying For by Lee Child

I read 61 Hours and Worth Dying For back-to-back because I thought that Worth Dying For was the sequel to 61 Hours because at the end of 61 Hours, it said “to be continued.”  It turns out that this was misleading.  It sort of picks up where 61 Hours leaves off as far as Jack Reacher, but there  isn’t much continuity between the two books (unless you count Reacher trying to get to Virginia.

In 61 Hours, Reacher gets stranded in a South Dakota small town when the tour bus that he is on skids and a snowstorm approaches.  He is asked by a local cop to help protect a witness who is willing to testify against a big drug dealer.  He also uses his old army connections to figure out what was in an abandoned military facility.  The old military facility is occupied by drug dealers, but the cops are afraid to go in there because (a) they don’t have reasonable cause) and (b) they don’t know anything about the facility and would be at a huge disadvantage.  If you’ve read any of the Jack Reacher books, you’ll know the ending already.

In Worth Dying For, Reacher is in a bar in a small Nebraska town when he overhears a patient calling for help for a nosebleed that won’t stop.  The doctor, a drunk, wasn’t planning on going to help the woman, which is unacceptable to Reacher.  Reacher forces the doctor to help the woman and drives him to the woman’s house since the doctor is drunk.  Reacher learns that the woman is regularly abused by her husband so he goes in search of the husband, Seth Duncan, and breaks his nose.  It turns out that the entire town is afraid of the Duncan family so it’s all out war between the Duncans and Reacher.  In the midst of trying to help the town overcome their fear of the Duncans, Reacher also helps solve a 25-year-old missing child case.

Here’s a spoiler if you’ve never read any Jack Reacher books (don’t read if you don’t want to know the ending … )

 

 

 

 

 

Jack Reacher always kills the bad guys, helps the oppressed, solves the case, and moves on to the next place.

The endings of these books are always predictable, but they’re still fun to read.