Out of the Box Desserts : Simply Spectacular, Semi-Homemade Sweets

stars /5

out_of_box_dessertsThis is everything your sweet tooth has ever wanted. End of review. No? You want to know more? Of course you do!

I’ve always loved baking, but recently the recipe on the back of the Nestle Toll House chocolate chips bag hasn’t quite been cutting it. Pinterest held me over for a while – I found some great dumpcake recipes and a new favorite blondie recipe – but eventually I came to the conclusion that I’d seen everything I was going to. And then Out of the Box Desserts found its way into my hands and suddenly my days of hit-or-miss dessert recipes were over.

Out of the Box Desserts has a very straightforward organization (five chapters that cover cakes, brownies, cookies, pies, and candies) that makes it easy to navigate and I actually found myself reading author Hayley Parker down-to-earth introduction of each recipe – the part of every recipe that I inevitably skip over in my eagerness to get to the good stuff.

And the recipes themselves? Oh man. Where do I even start? Blueberry Muffin Cake? Strawberry Milkshake Cupcakes? Peanut butter Snickerdoodle Bars? Cherry Pie Cookies? Root Beer Float Pie? The goal of Out of the Box Desserts is to transform, you guessed it, out of the box dessert mixes (brownie mixes, cake mixes, etc.) into something completely new and decadent. Check and check.

Originally published on Manhattan Book Review.


Modern Eclairs: and Other Sweet and Savory Puffs

modern_eclairsstars /5

What can you do with seven ingredients? Make pasta? Soup? How about pate a choux? Wait! Don’t go to Google translate — you’ll get something along the lines of “paste of cabbage.” But if we take things a little less literally, we arrive at something closer to “a pastry that puffs”: cream puffs and eclairs.

Let me tell you, this is the best paste of cabbage you’re ever going to taste. After clearly outlining the optimal ingredients and tools, Jenny McCoy goes on to offer an array of beautiful eclair recipes. Basic techniques are outlined with step-by-step pictures for visual learner like myself. The flavors of the book cover the gauntlet from fruity to chocolate (yay!) to savory.

I love the format of this book. Everything from its slightly unorthodox shape to the playful font and bright colors, plays off of the creativity of the eclairs themselves. I have no complaints about this book. McCoy makes eclairs look easy and promises desserts to impress.

Originally published in San Francisco Book Review.

Cookie Classics Made Easy

Cookie Classics Made Easystars /5

Over the past few years I’ve become quite the cookie connoisseur—that was my go-to destress through college—so quite a few cookie recipes have come through my kitchen. So many recipes require ingredients you’ll never use for anything else or take so long to make that they’re not realistic for that college student schedule. Cookie Classics Made Easy takes care of both these concerns. Recipes are quick and easy—easy to make and easy to follow. They stick to basic or easy-to-find ingredients. And, oh yeah, they’re yummy.

This is a super cute, well executed book. The format is easy to follow and provides great pictures of each of the cookies—an absolute must for a visual learner like me. Instead of digging through my pile of ten or twelve cookbooks, I can just turn to Cookie Classics Made Easy; it has all my favorite recipes. The binding was a little odd and I found that I needed to put the bag of sugar on the spine to keep it open to the correct page when I had dough all over my hands. Other than that, I have no complaints about this book—and this certainly isn’t enough of a complaint to stop me from purchasing this all-inclusive cookie cookbook for eleven dollars. Two cookie dough covered thumbs up!

Originally published in San Francisco Book Review.

Sara Moulton’s Home Cooking 101: How to Make Everything Taste Better

sara_moultons_home_cooking_101stars /5

Lot of people aren’t natural cooks, but they—we—still need to eat. So what are the options for these tummy-grumbling kitchen armatures? Well, they could boil up a big pot of ramen noodles. Again. Or they could bite the bullet and find a recipe. From personal experience, I’ve been led to believe that this is the reason there are so many cookbooks on the market. So with so many cookbooks weighing down the shelves at the local bookstore, how does one standout? For starters, you make sure you have yummy recipes that are easy to recreate, that you’re using tools that are easy to find, and that your cookbook is laid out and illustrated in the clearest way possible. Sara Moulton’s Home Cooking 101 manages to do all of that and then some.

One of my favorite parts of this cookbook is the four pages that are dedicated to Moulton’s favorite tools. She gives information on what each tool is used for and what makes it necessary for a well-functioning kitchen, allowing you to prioritize which tools you need immediately and what can wait—something this starving college student took full advantage of. Each recipe is complete with a list of ingredients and cooking instructions (as all cookbooks are), but what makes this cookbook stand out is that every recipe also includes helpful tips—often on damage control. There’s a great mix of difficulty levels demonstrated in the recipes, which makes this cookbook a universal kitchen resource for cooks of all levels.

Originally published in San Francisco Book Review.

Katie Chin’s Everyday Chinese Cookbook: 101 Delicious Recipes from My Mother’s Kitchen

Katie Chins Everyday Chinese Cookbookfour-stars /5

Filled to the brim with crisp photography and easy to follow traditional Chinese recipes, Katie Chin’s Everyday Chinese Cookbook is a great overview of Chinese cuisine. The book is broken down into components of the meal—as every good cookbook should be—and it benefits from Chin’s personal stories of her time learning to cook with her mother. Home cooks who, like me, are not familiar with the intricacies of Chinese cooking will enjoyed the detailed what’s what of common ingredients and basic cooking techniques (the differences between wonton wrappers and pot sticker wrappers, how to steam dumplings without a steamer, etc.).

For the most part, the instructions are clear and the organization of the book is logical. However, there are a few places that drew cooking to a rapid stop and had me flipping through the book looking for the primary recipe upon which my chosen recipe was based—and which was not, for some reason, placed at the beginning of the book with the other basics of Chinese cooking. For example, if you wanted to make Spicy Pork Noodle Soup on page 69, you would need to first turn to page 25 for the recipe to make the chili paste and then to page 62 for the recipe for homemade chicken stock. And since the chicken stock takes almost three hours to cook, I certainly hope you planned ahead. Of course, the instructions do acknowledge that you can very easily substitute both of these with store-bought versions, but if you’re truly aiming for authenticity, this is going to leave you a little frustrated.

Overall, though, I can’t complain too much. I’m a visual learner and this book has fantastic step-by-step instructions and great photos of what the end project should look like.

Originally published on San Francisco Book Review.

The Chocolate Lover’s Cookbook

chocolate-lovers-cookbooktwo-stars /5

The Chocolate Lover’s Cookbook boasts over fifty sweet, chewy, and ooey-gooey chocolate recipes. With recipes for everything from brownies and cookies to cheesecake and pudding, there are plenty of options for the chocolate lover in all of us. The recipes range in difficulty from a three ingredient cream pop to a more involved triple layer, multi-stage peanut butter and chocolate tart.

I’m the kind of cookbook amateur who looks to cookbooks to nurture my work-in-progress kitchen finesse – the kind who picks up a cookbook because of the great pictures, flips through it for the variety of recipes, and takes it home because it makes me hungry. I appreciate a relative lack of backstory dump and love directions that are clear and concise. Although on the whole the recipes themselves turned out decently, The Chocolate Lover’s Cookbook failed on too many accounts for me to feel the need to return to it too often. Despite the enticing cover, the photographs throughout were horribly pixilated and the recipes could have benefited from another round of editing as the first portion of a recipe was likely to instruct you to begin preparing an ingredient that was never mentioned again – as with the Brownie Bottom Cheesecake, which, in the end, left you with an unused bowl of melted chocolate chips.

Originally published on San Francisco Book Review.

Sandwiched: Grill ‘Em, Toast ‘Em, Stuff ‘Em, Eat ‘Em

SANDWICHED0202three-and-a-half-stars /5

No longer will you be a slave to the same old PB&J sandwich you’ve had for lunch every weekday since kindergarten. Break out your apron, pull out your pans, and turn on your stove, becauseSandwiched is about to bring new life to the age-old finger food, transforming your loaf of bread into a culinary meal the whole family will love. This cookbook features 57 recipes in four categories (Starter Sammies, Breakfast Sammies, Main Meal Sammies, and Sweet Sammies) for your finger licking enjoyment.

While I felt that some of the recipes were stretching the definition of “sandwich” a bit (is it really a sandwich if the bread is replaced with waffles, cookies, cake, or a tortilla?), most of the recipes were creative and simple to recreate. One of my favorites was the Pesto Veggie Sub. With a household full of meat lovers, an entirely veggie based meal didn’t stand much of a chance, but it was a hit with the whole family. I can’t wait for summer to come so I can try this sandwich with veggies fresh from the garden. We also enjoyed the Greek Meatball Sliders and I’m looking forward to trying the Chicken Parmesan Sliders just as soon as our store of bread is replenished.

Originally published on San Francisco Book Review.

The Cookie Companion: A Decorator’s Guide


The Cookie Companion is a true must-have resource for dabblers and cookie frosting veterans alike. Reminiscent of the Wilton cake cookbooks in Grandma’s kitchen, the cookbook will push your creativity into full swing. The book includes several ideal cookie and icing recipes for your cookie-decorating pleasure and continues to give detailed explanations of the consistencies of icing that are best for different types of decorating — pictures included. The color charts, in particular, are worth taking the time to go over before you start haphazardly pouring food coloring into your perfectly textured frosting. The decoration ideas themselves range from simple (Halloween eyeballs and birthday presents) to complicated and time-consuming (wood grain signs with personalized messages and painted ocean scenes).

I certainly, fall further toward the “dabblers” side of the scale, so this book has already been a great resource for me. I found the introduction, while a bit lengthy, to be very helpful. I recommend reading it before beginning, as I did. You’ll save yourself many mishaps. All of the decorating ideas are adorable, but it may take less experienced cookie decorators a few tries to get them right. Just make a few extra cookies, because you get to eat any that just don’t turn out quite right!

Originally published on San Francisco Book Review.

Sunset Eating Up the West Coast: The best road trips, restaurants, and recipes from California to Washington

four-stars /5

EATING_UP_WEST_COAST_MBR072215Filled cover to cover with beautiful photography, delicious and simple recipes, and local attractions, Eating Up the West Coast is an innovative hybrid between a cookbook and a West Coast guidebook.  With six routes that cover sections of Southern and Northern California, Oregon, and Washington, readers truly get a taste of the road less traveled and the recipes that are infused with back road traditions.

As a California native and a foodie with a serious case of the travel bug, this book caught my attention right away. The recipes provided are eclectic and easy to make and the “On the Road” attractions offered ideas I never would have thought of<Unfortunately, the format of this book left a little to be desired. It seems that the author forced her road trip path to conform to predetermined restaurants and attractions, rather than following a logical route and allowing the featured restaurants to arise along that course. This makes it impractical to actually follow the featured routes and instead had me picking and choosing from the attractions listed. The recipes also follow these unconventional paths and jump from course to course, instead of leading the reader through one complete meal.

Originally published on Manhattan Book Review.

Beer for All Seasons: A Through-the-Year Guide to What to Drink and When to Drink It

four-stars /5

BEER_FOR_ALL_SEASONS062515An entertaining read, this book brings some perspective to the craft beer revolution and addresses the faux pas of seasonal beer drinking. Chapter one starts by planting beer firmly and irrevocably right smack in the center of human history and—in case you forgot why that pint is in your hand—reminding you of the purposes of beer. Chapter two gives a closer look at the making of beer, what to look for in different beers, and the origins of different brewing traditions. Chapters three through seven are where this book gets down to business. With a month-by-month breakdown of beer-related events all over the country and a detailed look at the perfect beer for every time of year, the book certainly earns its title: Beer for All Seasons.

Often making reference to cultural traditions and the history of brewing styles, this book isn’t just another beer book. The insightful commentary is complemented with comparative color pictures, images of vintage labels, and alcohol content charts. On a scale of beer sipper to beer enthusiast, there is something to interest everyone in this informative—but not too technical—take on beer.

Originally published on Manhattan Book Review.