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Librarians

Of Banquets and Breadlines

Mastering the Art of Soviet CookingSoviet Russian cooking may conjure up images of boiled cabbage and overcooked potatoes, but Anya von Bremzen’s fascinating food memoir Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing reveals a much more rich and flavorful history as it pertains to Soviet-era dishes. As von Bremzen, a food writer, muses in the prologue: “All happy food memories are alike; all unhappy food memories are unhappy after their own fashion.” Following this sentiment, von Bremzen travels between past and present as she and her mother cook and recreate both the supreme and humble food concoctions relational to their homeland’s state of being. There’s the pre-Bolshevik Revolution richness where dishes boast complex flavors and labor-intensive preparation, the uniformity of Lenin’s new Soviet model when blandness and simplicity prevailed, the starvation years of the Stalin- and World War II-eras which lay bare the “recipes” created solely for survival, and the “Thaw” of the 1950s and 1960s when food began to reappear but scarcity still ruled. In the book’s final chapter, aptly titled “Putin on the Ritz,” the author sees through a 21st century lens the Moscow life of her childhood in all its small pleasures and shortcomings.

 

Von Bremzen and her mother Larissa emigrated to the U.S. in 1974, but not before Anya had a chance to experience both the deprivations and the decadence of Soviet food distribution, depending on one’s connections and/or status as nomenklatura (Communist party appointees). Von Bremzen’s writing is at times dense yet always saturated with flavorful layers, much like the kulebiaka, or fish pie, which dominates much of the first chapter with tales of its preparation. At the end are recipes for some of the dishes discussed, one from each decade, so readers can experience firsthand a taste of history. Russophiles and foodies alike shouldn’t miss this hidden gem which shows how a country’s complex history and its food are intricately connected, and as a result become equally important to its cultural identity.

Melanie

 
 

Cookie Tray Showstoppers

Cookie Tray Showstoppers

posted by:
December 18, 2013 - 7:00am

Cover art for European CookiesIt’s cookie-baking season again and there are a number of places to look for new recipes to add to your repertoire. A new book from Krisztina Maksai, European Cookies for Every Occasion, takes on old-world favorites with a contemporary twist. Focused specifically on the sweet treats of Central Europe, Maksai’s conversational introductions to each recipe are a good counterpoint to the clear, all-business side of the techniques used as she creates each of the morsels. Clearly coming from a 21st century perspective, she indicates the value of using organic ingredients (such as lemon zest) and her concern over artificial dyes.

 

This is a gorgeous cookbook full of excellent step-by-step photographs explaining the process of making each cookie. The book is broken into four main sections, starting with Quick and Easy, then Moderately Easy, Moderately Difficult and, finally, Challenging Cookies. Also included is a short list of essential baking tools and an introduction of how Maksai became the baker she is today. In it, she explains the importance of tasting various dark chocolates to select the right one for the application, and also describes why using a double-boiler may not be the best choice for melting chocolate.

 

Cookie ingredients that are particularly popular in Europe make numerous appearances in the book, such as various jams, marzipan and poppy seeds. Maksai was born in Romania, moved to Germany as a child but grew up in Hungary. Since then, she has lived in Austria, the United States and Hungary once again. This blend of cultures is evident in the cookies she highlights within this elegant cookbook. Krisztina Maksai’s YouTube channel even includes a video of her constructing a stained glass gingerbread house which includes a smoking chimney!

Todd

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Fresh from the Oven

Fresh from the Oven

posted by:
November 18, 2013 - 7:55am

Cover art for Bake It, Don't Fake ItCover art for The Holiday Kosher BakerCover art for Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a DayWith a chill in the air and the holidays right around the corner, now is the perfect time to experiment with recipes from these new cookbooks. Heather Bertinetti’s Bake It, Don't Fake It!: A Pastry Chef Shares Her Secrets for Impressive (and Easy) From-Scratch Desserts is the go-to guide for those of us who want to impress family and friends with tasty desserts made from scratch. With recipes like Raspberry Almond Tart with Chantilly Cream, Dulce de Leche Cheesecake, Chocolate Hazelnut Cake, Bourbon-Chocolate Pecan Pie and Red Velvet Macarons, Bertinetti’s desserts will dazzle your family and friends, but her foolproof tips and techniques make them accessible for even less-experienced bakers. This book is filled with mouthwatering recipes and plenty of color photos to make it easy for you to create these tempting treats. It includes a foreword by TV personality and Food Network star Rachael Ray, and it is part of Ray’s new line of cookbooks published by Atria Books.

 

Paula Shoyer brings together a year of holiday baking in The Holiday Kosher Baker: Traditional & Contemporary Holiday Desserts. Arranged into sections for each holiday, the recipes vary from easy to challenging. Shoyer presents a mix of traditional and modern recipes that exhibit her unique flair. You’ll be tempted to serve her elegant Raspberry and Rose Macaron Cake, stunning Ombre Layer Cake or whimsical Tie-dyed Mini Black and White Cookies at your own family gatherings. Shoyer has appeared on the Food Network’s Sweet Genius and is a frequent magazine contributor. She lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

 

Who doesn’t love the smell of bread baking on a chilly day? The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery that Revolutionizes Home Baking by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois is a revised and updated version of their runaway bestseller. Their secret is that the dough is made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Hertzberg and Francois prove that even inexperienced bakers can make bread at home without kneading or special equipment. This new edition includes step-by-step photos, 30 more recipes and a chapter of gluten-free breads.
 

Beth

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The Good, the Bad and the Unbelievable

The Good, the Bad and the Unbelievable

posted by:
October 17, 2013 - 7:00am

From Scratch cover artJournalist Allen Salkin tells the story of one of the most amazing success stories in television history in From Scratch: Inside the Food Network. Today, the Food Network is a major entity that generates over $1 billion in revenue annually and reaches over 100 million homes. The network is known for making its stars household names, and both the network and its stars have tie-in cookbooks as well as their own lines of cookware, utensils and small appliances. The network even has its own magazine that features articles about food trends, lifestyle tips and, of course, recipes from its stable of chefs. In October 1993, when what was then called the Television Food Network came on the air, this success was beyond even their wildest imaginations. At that time, there were only a few celebrity chefs and even fewer television chefs. Stars like Julia Child, Martin Yan and Jeff Smith all appeared on PBS or the occasional cooking segment on a show like Good Morning America. No one could have imagined how the network would evolve or its meteoric rise to success.

 

Now, in time for the Food Network’s 20th anniversary, Salkin brings readers behind-the-scenes stories from the beginning to its current mind-boggling level of success. With this many big personalities, you know that it’s hot in this kitchen. Readers won’t believe the reactions of a couple of stars when their shows came to an end. They may be even more surprised by how much some stars struggled to become comfortable cooking on camera. When Alton Brown came up with his idea for Good Eats, he originally wrote down the three things he wanted to combine to create it. “Julia Child, Mr. Wizard, Monty Python.” During her first meeting with network executives, Rachael Ray announced, “I clearly don’t belong here, I’m not a chef. You’ve been duped.”

 

Salkin was given inside access to the network and its employees, including executives and stars, so he can bring readers the astonishing — and sometimes legendary — stories of what actually took place behind the scenes. He doesn’t hold back. From Scratch includes quotes, documents and scandalous stories that will surprise even longtime fans.

Beth

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Turning Over a Not-So-New Leaf

Turning Over a Not-So-New Leaf

posted by:
August 26, 2013 - 7:55am

Cover art for Kale: The Complete GuideCover art for Fifty Shades of KaleAfter years of being relegated to uses as a soup green or worse, a plate garnish, kale has made a stunning comeback in the past few years. Darling of the dietary world, it frequently ranks near or at the top of the best foods for optimal nutritional impact and is thus often referred to as a “superfood.” Two new cookbooks focus on ways to use kale to maximum effect. The more no-nonsense of the pair, Kale: The Complete Guide to the World’s Most Powerful Superfood by Stephanie Pedersen, contains over 70 recipes divided into categories such as beverages, ways to incorporate kale into breakfast, lunch, snacks and even desserts that feature this bittersweet green. A helpful introductory section covers the types of the vegetable, techniques for selecting kale and its many nutritional benefits.

 

A more whimsical but no less informative cookbook is Fifty Shades of Kale: 50 Fresh and Satisfying Recipes That Are Bound to Please by Drew Ramsey and Jennifer Iserloh. Beautiful photographs of the many varieties of kale and the mouthwatering recipes themselves add to the allure. Mild winks to the book series the title references are included, but do not get in the way of the text or food. Appealing ideas such as kale and kiwi gazpacho; a warm kale salad with beets and ginger; and even chocolate chip kale cookies incorporate this newly rediscovered gem into contemporary recipes. One of the resources listed at the close of the book, thekaleproject.com, contains more recipes and assorted information to satisfy your “green tooth.”

Todd

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Summer's Best Flavors

Summer's Best Flavors

posted by:
July 18, 2013 - 7:55am

Cover art for Home Made SummerCover art for Fresh Happy TastyCover art for The Grilling BookCookouts and farmers’ markets abound in summer, making it an exciting time of year for foodies. These three bright, beautiful cookbooks bring together the best tastes of summer with plenty of fresh ingredients and grilling.

 

Home Made Summer, the latest entry in Yvette Van Boven’s Home Made series, is filled with fabulous, sun-drenched food. Each recipe includes step-by-step instructions and beautiful photographs.  Recipes like Éclairs with Lavender Filling, Mango and Cilantro Iced Tea, Crab Cakes with Fresh Citrus-Tomato Mayonnaise, and Prosecco and Elderflower Jelly with Melon are luscious and tempting. The recipes are sophisticated but not fussy, and Van Boven really makes the most of the fresh produce that summer provides.

 

Personal chef Jane Coxwell loves to cook with fresh ingredients and light flavors, making her recipes perfect for summer. In 2009, she began working as a personal chef aboard fashion icon Diane Von Furstenberg’s yacht. Coxwell’s new cookbook Fresh Happy Tasty: An Adventure in 100 Recipes brings together beautiful photographs and accessible recipes inspired by her travels. With healthy, fresh recipes like Middle Eastern Watermelon Salad, Israeli Couscous with Shrimp and Zucchini, and Chicken and Beef Koftas, Coxwell’s food, featuring her own unique culinary style and its global inspiration, is fun and inspiring.

 

For inspiration for your next summer cookout, look no further than The Grilling Book: The Definitive Guide from Bon Appétit, edited by Adam Rapoport. This complete guide to grilling covers all of the basics, but it also provides inspiration for to explore more unique flavors. Recipes like Chicken Skewers with Coriander Marinade and Lemon Salsa, Bombay Sliders with Garlic Curry Sauce, Best-Ever Barbecued Ribs, and Stone Fruit Slaw will take your cookout far beyond the traditional hamburgers and hotdogs.
 

Beth

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An English Major Walks Into a Bar...

Tequila MockingbirdWitty Broadway actor and novelist Tim Federle has penned the ultimate book- and drink-lovers' dream in his beverage guide Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist. He includes a short, clear introduction of the best tools (glassware and bar equipment) to use, techniques for making and decorating drinks, and the elements needed to create a well-stocked bar. An easy recipe for grenadine syrup, used in a number of the recipes, is a major improvement over many found on store shelves.

 

The bulk of the book is then divided into two large sections of recipes: ‘Drinks for Dames’, which focus on sweeter and spicier beverages; and ‘Gulps for Guys’, those that tend to pack more of a punch. Specific drinks meant for book clubs (and other parties) get their own chapter, as do nonalcoholic beverages. There are even a few quick recipes for nibbles to enjoy along with the potables. The real joy of this compilation is the hilarious wordplay that Federle uses in devising the cocktails’ names. A short commentary on each concoction adds a humorous touch. Every recipe is an amusing pun on a famous book’s title, but there are some that really hit the mark. Who can resist trying drinks with names like “Love in the Time of Kahlúa”, “A Rum of One’s Own”, or “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margarita”? Sure to be a popular gift exchanged among the literature and libations set, Tequila Mockingbird is a fun take on classic books and cocktails.

Todd

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Betcha Can't Eat Just One

Salt Sugar FatFat ChanceIt wasn’t merely a catchy slogan when the Lay’s potato chip commercial challenged you to eat just one. Like the rest of the food industry, Lay’s was banking on the fact that the ingredients in their products would make it difficult for consumers to stop crunching. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Michael Moss’s new book Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us will make you think twice before you pick up another cookie or sip another soda.

 

Moss explores how the processed food industry uses key ingredients to make their products more addictive, and the negative impact that those foods have had on our health. The processed foods that we find at our supermarkets are carefully formulated and tested to hit the consumer’s “bliss point,” the precise amount of sugar that will make the product most appealing to the greatest number of people. Through both the ingredients and the companies’ carefully targeted marketing, consumers are manipulated to buy and eat more and more of these products. Moss goes beyond the nutrition of junk food. He also explores the science of food and creates a business history of the food industry. Salt Sugar Fat is an intriguing and sometimes terrifying, look at this one trillion dollar per year industry.

 

Pediatric endocrinologist Dr. Robert Lustig also takes on the food industry in Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease. After the US government recommended a low fat diet in the 1970s, the food industry responded by adding sugar to low fat products to make them taste better, which Lustig says has had disastrous results. Lustig, whose 90-minute lecture “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” has been viewed over 3 million times on YouTube, documents the connection between the added sugar in our food and the obesity epidemic.

Beth

 
 

Dogs, Cats, and Facts

Paw Prints in the MoonlightI Want to Kill the DogWeirdopediaGood things come in small packages this time of year, as this delightful trio of recently published stocking stuffer-sized books demonstrates. From pondering the idiosyncrasies of domestic life with man's best friend (dog or cat) to a quirky collection of curious tidbits about our world, here are some lighthearted, quick reads to enjoy or give.

 

Feline lovers will cheer for Toby Jug, the enterprising black and white kitten in Denis O'Connor's  Paw Prints in the Moonlight: the Heartwarming True Story of One Man and His Cat. Set in rural Northumberland, O'Connor rescues the badly injured kitten one snowy night and brings it back to his 18th century cottage, where he keeps the kitten in a large cotton ball-cushioned pitcher. The kindhearted nature lover and his Maine Coon form an inseparable bond through many of Toby Jug's escapades. Lovely descriptions of the English countryside and delicate color illustrations enrich this poignant and charming tale for young and old.

 

Unfortunately, it’s not all domestic bliss for Richard Cohen when the family pet gets in the way. His new book, I Want to Kill the Dog, chronicles in jest the master-versus-canine tug of war. The author is married to television journalist Meredith Vieira, definitely the animal lover of this long married couple. Jasper is the “dog of many flavors," whose many annoying habits (ear splitting bark, for one) threaten marital harmony. Pet peeves aside, Cohen’s story belies what is really important: marriage and family come with good and bad and even the dog.

 

A potpourri of trivia awaits readers of Alex Palmer's Weird-o-pedia: the Ultimate Book of Surprising, Strange, and Incredibly Bizarre Facts about (Supposedly) Ordinary Things. For instance, did you know that mosquitoes prefer people with Type O blood, or that humming is good for your sinuses? In 12 humorous chapters, each containing alphabetized entries, Palmer focuses on food and drink, friends and family, work, play, and so forth. A useful list of sources is also included. Parents beware, though; some mature topics are presented. 

 

Cynthia

 
 

You Are What You Eat With

You Are What You Eat With

posted by:
December 20, 2012 - 9:15am

Consider the ForkWhat do frying pans, spit-jacks, and molecular gastronomy have in common? They are all kitchen technologies that have affected how humans accomplish the very basic task of feeding themselves. Some are ancient, like the wooden spoon, which has been around for thousands of years. Some are complex, like the SousVide SVK-00001 Supreme Water Oven, which can hold a vacuum-sealed package of chicken breast at a constant temperature of 137 degrees Fahrenheit until the meat becomes succulent, juicy, and somehow safe enough to eat. And some, like the basic cooking pot, are more influential than others. They all have a place in Bee Wilson’s insightful and entertaining new history, Consider the Fork: A history of how we cook and eat

 

In a work that spans time from before the development of agriculture through today’s high-tech kitchen gadgetry, it is impossible to be comprehensive. Wilson, instead, focuses on certain culinary implements that have had an impact on what we eat and how we go about preparing to eat it. Each chapter explores a different kitchen tool or concept, with charming hand-drawn illustrations of the various equipment sprinkled throughout the text. Wilson also includes short spotlights on particularly useful, unique, and interesting examples of kitchen technology that punctuate the end of the every chapter. 

 

Witty and filled with wonderful obscure facts about famous and long-forgotten kitchen equipment, Consider the Fork is perfect for anyone who has ever looked in their kitchen drawers and wondered, “Where did all this stuff come from?” Food history enthusiasts and fans of Mark Kurlansky’s Salt: A world history will devour this delightful read.

 

Rachael