Book Review: My Perfect Pantry, by Geoffrey Zakarian

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A well-stocked pantry is essential for any home cook. In his new cookbook My Perfect Pantry, chef Geoffrey Zakarian shares recipes and lists of his 50 favorite ingredients to keep on hand.  As culinary director at New York’s Plaza hotel and a judge on the Food Network’s Chopped, the author has plenty of wisdom and expertise to enlighten readers.

My Perfect Pantry starts with a list of must-have spices and seasonings along with descriptions of each ingredient and suggestions for use and storage. For example, he explains the differences in flavor of the various types of mustard seeds and explains how to choose the best vanilla beans. The rest of the book is dedicated to the 50 essential pantry ingredients. Each ingredient has its own section, which includes a description of the ingredient as well as a variety of recipes that include the ingredient. For example, the “gelatin” section includes recipes for Perfect Herb Mayonnaise, Classic American Meat Loaf, and Blackberry Panna Cotta.

The book has a pleasantly informal yet knowledgeable tone, with a few personal reminiscences sprinkled among the pages. Every recipe has a gorgeous, full-color photograph. The list of pantry staples ranges from pine nuts to baking soda and from honey to pasta, with creative ways to incorporate the ingredients into recipes.

My Perfect Pantry will be one of my go-to cookbooks in the years to come. I appreciate the variety and versatility of the suggested ingredients. As a longtime cooking enthusiast, I learned new recipes for familiar ingredients and discovered ingredients that I have yet to try, such as white anchovies. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves to cook.

To learn more about My Perfect Pantry by Geoffrey Zakarian, visit the Random House book page and author bio.

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Book Review: And Then Came a Lion, by Cecilia Marie Pulliam

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In her novel And Then Came a Lion, Cecilia Marie Pulliam introduces us to Susannah Carlson, a young girl who has premonitions about child abductions. As Susannah matures into a young woman, she repeatedly risks her life by acting on these premonitions to save children from horrific crimes. Eventually she must decide whether to reveal these premonitions to those who are dearest to her. Throughout the story, which takes the reader from the northwestern United States to Africa, Susannah is faced with gut-wrenching choices and life-or-death decisions.

Ms. Pulliam deftly and creatively weaves this gripping tale, building suspense and prompting yet another late-night turn of the page. As I read the book, I found myself close to tears at some moments, and rejoicing at others. Susannah Carlson is a believable and admirable character. As I got to know her friends and family, I cared about them and felt like I knew them. The descriptions of Africa are vivid and breathtaking, and made me want to visit that continent.

I highly recommend And Then Came a Lion by Cecilia Marie Pulliam. The pace of the story builds suspense and places the reader in the middle of the sometimes terrifying, sometimes beautiful scenes. At times the story will break your heart, but like many good heroic tales, triumphs are often accompanied by heartache. I look forward to reading the next novel by Ms. Pulliam.

To find out more about the book and the author, click here.

Book Review: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, by Anthony Marra

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 A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra takes us into the lives of several individuals and families in war-torn Chechnya. Set in the mid-1990s and early twenty-first century. the book is a history lesson as well as a masterfully written story. The novel begins as an eight-year-old girl named Havaa watches her father’s abduction and the destruction of her family’s home. A neighbor named Akhmed takes the girl to a hospital, hoping to find a safe place for her to stay.  Sonja, an overworked surgeon at the hospital, reluctantly agrees to shelter Havaa at the hospital.

In the book, Anthony Marra gives us insight into the lives of the characters by skillfully switching perspectives and decades. Although the story of Havaa, Akhmed and Sonja takes place over five days, Marra provides a detailed look into the lives and histories of the characters, their families and their neighbors. The reader witnesses the horrors of the war in Chechnya through the eyes of ordinary people as they struggle to survive and keep their loved ones alive. Marra has written the narration and descriptive passages in haunting language that is alternates between joy and heartbreak.

As I read A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, I often forgot where I was. The characters and the landscape are vivid and believable, making the violence and terror just as real. I am sure that this book will become a classic that will memorialize the war in Chechnya and all who lived and died at the time. I highly recommend this book, not only as a great novel, but as an opportunity to learn about Chechnya, its people, and the resiliency of the human spirit.

If you would like to know more about A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, you can read Chapter One or find more information about the book.

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book free of charge from Blogging for Books for this review.

Book Review: My Paris Kitchen, by David Lebovitz

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Many people who love to cook dream of packing up and moving to Paris. David Lebovitz did just that, and we can vicariously visit the City of Light and its culinary treasures through his book My Paris Kitchen. Along with recipes and photographs of Paris and sumptuous food, Lebovitz shares wisdom and cooking tips. He recalls his job interview with Alice Waters at Chez Panisse, reflects on the benefits of using a mortar and pestle versus a food processor, and lists the tools and ingredients for a Paris kitchen.  The recipes, which include first courses, main courses, side dishes and desserts, take center stage in this book.

As I look through recipes such as  “Cherry Tomato Crostini With Homemade Herbed Goat Cheese,”  “Butternut Squash Bread Soup,” and “Almond Cakes With Browned Butter,” I mentally rearrange my shopping list and look forward to trying these dishes. The recipes are accessible and understandable, and make me want to delve into these flavors and ingredient combinations.

I highly recommend My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz. The recipes alone make My Paris Kitchen a must-have for the cook, but the engaging stories and photographs make the book an entertaining read for anyone who loves to learn about international cultures. If you enjoy reading about cooking, travel or both — even from the comfort of home — you’ll want to add this book to your collection.

If you want to find out more about this book and the author, you can read more information on My Paris Kitchen or David Lebovitz.

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Book Review: The Chopped Cookbook, by the Food Network Kitchen

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So many times I have looked in the pantry or refrigerator and wondered how to use the ingredients I have on hand. It often seems as though the recipe I want to try needs the one ingredient I don’t have. I needed a resource to show me how to make the most of what’s already in my kitchen. When I learned that the Food Network Kitchen had created a cookbook based on the series Chopped, I jumped at the chance to read and review the book.

The Chopped Cookbook contains recipes and guides that explain how to “use what you’ve got to cook something great.” For example, the section called “Ten Fun Pan Sauces” lists the proportions of aromatics, deglazing liquid, main liquid, richness and finishing flavors that make a great pan sauce. “Completely Fun Ways to Cook Vegetables” offers fresh and creative recipes for veggie dishes. There are similar sections for vinaigrettes and salad dressings, vegetables, grains, pot roast and many other dishes.

I have tried some of the recipes and can’t wait to try more. The recipes in The Chopped Cookbook are surprisingly easy to prepare, so looking through the book gives me confidence to try new flavor combinations. My family loved the Buttery Roasted Potatoes With Wilted Spinach, and I loved the easy recipe. In the Chopped spirit, my husband made a few substitutions and made his own version of the Slow-Cooked Salmon With Olive Breadcrumb Sprinkle.

Whether you are a veteran cook or a newcomer to the kitchen, you will find inspiration from The Chopped Cookbook. I highly recommend this cookbook for anyone who loves to create great food!

For more inspiration, you can read about the Food Network Kitchen or order The Chopped Cookbook.

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book free of charge from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Girl In the Road, by Monica Byrne

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The Girl In the Road by Monica Byrne begins as one of its main characters, Meena, finds snake bites on her chest. She flees India for Ethiopia via an energy-harvesting bridge that spans the Arabian Sea. In a parallel story, Mariama travels in a truck caravan from her home in Africa toward Ethiopia. Both women undergo fantastical, violent ordeals and meet mysterious characters until their stories clash.

Monica Byrne writes this futuristic novel with dazzling detail. In fact, the rapid-fire prose can overwhelm as the reader delves deeper into the story. Along with stunning descriptions of the landscapes and skies, Byrne allows us to see the darkest aspects of each main and minor character. As they flee from the past, Meena and Mariama journey through political and personal upheavals and tragedies as well as natural and man-made disasters.

This debut novel’s greatest asset is its unending, roller-coaster detail and narration. I found, however, that the shocking plot twists and vivid dialogue came at such a dizzying speed that the story became incoherent in some places. I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Girl In the Road by Monica Byrne, but I sometimes felt as though I wanted the ride to slow down a bit. Still, I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys an imaginative, futuristic tale. I look forward to reading more from this author.

Visit the Random House website to find more information about Monica Byrne and The Girl In the Road.

FTC disclaimer: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review. I was not obligated to write a positive review; all opinions in this review are my own.

Book Review: Thrive, by Arianna Huffington

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We swipe our smartphone screens, repeatedly check our emails, and stay awake one more hour to review our notes for that important meeting tomorrow. We have more virtual connections than in-person conversations, and we may even brag about how little sleep we need. Meanwhile, we are too busy to notice the fatigue from lack of sleep and mental exhaustion from multitasking. In her book Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom and Wonder, Arianna Huffington describes a much-needed new approach to defining success.

Huffington points out that our culture’s definition of success is dominated by two metrics: power and money. She shares her personal wake-up call, which occurred after she fell from exhaustion and lack of sleep and broke her cheekbone. Thrive makes a convincing case for a third metric for measuring success — a metric that emphasizes well-being, wisdom, wonder and giving. Citing medical research and examples from businesses and personal stories, Huffington explains the personal and economical benefits of meditation, rest, spirituality and generosity.

During a time of rapid, 24/7 communication and nonstop scheduling, this book is refreshing to read. I especially appreciate the author’s explanation that  “empty spaces” in our schedules are a necessity and not a luxury. As Huffington points out, society’s current approach to success is literally making us sick.  I highly recommend Thrive for readers from all spiritual backgrounds, particularly for anyone interested in a holistic view of success — a much needed view in this age.

You can read more about Thrive and order the book here, and learn more about Arianna Huffington at this page.

FTC Disclaimer: Blogging for Books provided this book to me for free in exchange for an honest review.