Cookbooks? Prove yourselves worthy!

Every year since 2000, I’ve started by going on a massive diet.  Some years with more success than others, granted.  It’s a diet I think I’ve blogged about before.  Boils down to 3 simple rules:

  1. Eat less
  2. Exercise more
  3. No alcohol until mid-February

Do all of the above and you’re golden.

I also find I spend more time reading about food and planning experimental cooking than I would otherwise.

Cookbooks on my shelves have to earn their place.  They’ve got to prove their worth in the kitchen otherwise they’re out.  I think I’ve got 4 on the shelves I’ve not done anything with yet – hopefully that’s just a matter of time.  Of course, there are some chefs who’s books are the equivalent of the next Blackmore’s Night album – they’ll be purchased without a thought and reviewed (and discarded) later.  Once such chef is Paul Prudhomme.

I’ve 4 of his books on the shelf right now.  Louisiana Kitchen, Fiery Foods, Seasoned America and, the latest addition, Louisiana Tastes.

I did have a 5th book, “A Fork in the Road”, but that was clearly written after he’d had a long reality-check conversation with his cardiologist and the recipes were substantially different!

Each of his books takes a slightly different approach to the recipes, giving you different snippets of information, history, back story, and so on.  This one gives you tasting notes as you go along, encouraging you to taste your food more and almost drawing back the curtain to show how the wizard works his magic.  Take this from “Bucktown soup”, the first recipe I cooked from this book:

An immediate saltiness rises above a very subdued middle taste, led by a sweet, boiled onion flavor. The final taste fades in the mouth.

This is what you should be tasting at the end of step 1.  And, by God, he’s right!  That sweet, boiled onion flavour wasn’t exactly what I was wanting the final thing to taste of, but trust me, this man knows what he’s talking about.  Moving on to the end of stage 2…

Now notice the very unusual taste produced by the combination of lime juice, cream and the natural sweetness of the vegetables. For a brief moment, the flavor suggests a lime dessert, then the taste changes to an herbal creaminess

And yes, there’s cream in this – a whole pint of double cream.  But man, it is good!  And then, 20 minutes later, you’re digging into a bowl of this Louisiana take on a smoked fish chowder, your tastebuds singing and dancing in joy.

So yeah, this book is seasoned liberally with tasting notes like this.  And it’s sprouted a veritable flock of post-it note sticky labels marking the page corners for the recipes we’re going to try this year.

My cookbooks are also living documents, each recipe we’ve done is scored, reviewed, and any alterations made are jotted down so we can either do the same next time or know what not to do!  Notes on the Bucktown soup recipe read “subbed paprika for half the cayenne, spice level about right for youngest.”  Notes on the next recipe, Harira, read “Soak your own chickpeas next time, don’t use tinned.  And remember the flour/water the night before.

I’ve a real love for street food.  Being a busy man, I know street food is going to be something that can either be cooked damn quickly or can be made well in advance and assembled on demand.  Harira is one of those “make well in advance” recipes.  It’s a rich, lightly spiced, Moroccan chicken soup from “Street Food From Around the World

If you’re coming to the Soup and Sweet Lunch at St John the Baptist Church, Baston, on February 2nd, this is what I’m making.

This book has been sat on my shelf, largely unread, for a few years now.  It was being given it’s last chance read-through when I came across Harira.  And now it’s firmly back on the shelf, festooned with page markers, all calling me to different countries for their street food delights.  It’s not the prettiest of books, only having a handful of colour plates, but the recipes are solid and the little snippets of back story to each of them are lovely.

Final cook book for this post isn’t available yet.  If you’ve ever been to The Curry Guy’s website, you’ll know his recipes are sound.  He’s finally managed to swing a publishing deal and I pre-ordered this as soon as I found out about it.

Go.  Buy his book.  Fund volume 2!

I wish all of you dieting good luck – you don’t have to change what you eat, you just have to eat less of it.

And please, recommend me cookbooks!

Book Review – Dying by the Hour, @koryshrum

eBook cover

The sequel to Dying for a Living,  Dying by the Hour returns us to a world where death isn’t the handicap it used to be.

For those of you coming cold to Book 2 in a series, here’s the “Previously on Angel” sum-up.

  • A significant percentage of the population don’t stay dead when they die.
  • You don’t know it’s going to happen to you until it happens.
  • If you’ve got this, it’s called “Necro Regenerative Disorder” and the term “disorder” should tell you everything you need to know about how it’s perceived by Joe Public.
  • If you’ve got NRD, you can replace people at the point of death – literally dying for them.  The officially licensed, US-Government-sanctioned people doing this are Death Replacement Agents.
  • There’s a large, influential, and powerful church out to remove everyone with NRD as it’s against the wishes of God (and perfectly in line with the wishes of the head of the order).
  • Certain individuals with NRD are more special than others…

Got that?  Good.

Right.  Always tricky coming to book 2 of a series when book 1 was so good.  You’ve got to juggle the information you’re giving people who are new to the series with the information people coming straight from book 1 already know.  You run the risk of having large chunks copy-pasted across.  Simon R Green seems to feel the need to explain everything from chapter to chapter just in case you’d forgotten that “this is how things are… in the Nightside” from one page to the next.  Jim Butcher goes a little overboard in explaining how magic works in the Dresdenverse in every new book.  Kory gets the balance just about right.

Much of the “this is how NRD works” stuff is delivered in the form of a mandatory meeting all state employees have to attend.  Yes, this was done in book 1 but it’s not an out-of-place infodump in this book.  The rest is delivered piecemeal as the story needs it.

The whole thing does an excellent “this is book 2, let’s explore the world a little more” thing – more of the rules around death replacement are revealed, we meet the other factions out there vying for control, and we find out more about the Big Bad.  It’s all delivered from the point of view of either Jesse (NRD) or Ally (assistant) and the two storylines weave around each other, moving swiftly to the climax.  Nicely done, just as you’re getting somewhere with 1 character, you’re diverted to the other.

It’s not as self-contained as book 1 was.  With book 1, there wasn’t a need for a sequel built in.  Yes, it’s good to know there’s a sequel out there but it’s not essential reading.  With book 2, it feels much more like a set-up for book 3.  It’s half (or maybe 2/3) of a story that needs book 3 to complete it.  Strings are dangled, questions are unanswered.

There’s elements I didn’t like in this one.  One aspect of the storyline (trying to avoid spoilers here) is very like the TV show “Heroes” and I’m not sure how it will fit in with the wider world in book 3.  Will have to wait and see.

The politics in the world Kory’s created are rather involving.  I could picture articles in The Economist discussing some of the points raised and the laws being proposed in some US states regarding individuals with NRD.

To conclude…

Worth reading?  Yes.  Self-contained?  No – go and read book 1 first, then this.  Arguably, this book is “The Empire Strikes Back.”  Our heroes achieved victory in the previous book because they were under-estimated.  This time, they’re not so lucky.  Yes, they win some, but they lose more.  The game is changed.

Am I looking forward to the next one?  Yes.

My copy was kindly provided by Kory in exchange for a review.

Book Review – Dying for a Living, @koryshrum

Imagine a world where 2% of the population don’t stay dead.  Where those who come back can help you by exchanging your death for one of theirs – for a suitable fee, plus expenses.  Where these Death Replacement Agents can cure many – but not all – forms of death.  Where not everyone is happy that these people exist.  This is the world Kory M. Shrum creates in her debut Jesse Sullivan novel and it’s scarily realistic.

Cover

Now, hand on heart, I’m only halfway through this one.  But if I do the review now I’m not in any danger of revealing anything spoilery.

The book so far is peppered with little details, snippets of information that flesh out the world without seeming like a massive information dump – the Sensitivity Seminar is an especially rich vein of these.  There’s enough throwaway information there to make a decent RPG sourcebook and more than comes across in many Urban Fantasy novels I’ve read where such information is hoarded jealously and drip-fed over several volumes.  The way it’s delivered is like a sprinkle of salt over the text – it adds flavour but doesn’t overpower the underlying words.

Halfway in and things have just taken a turn for the strange.  Stranger.  I mean when you’re dealing with a woman who can return from dead you’ve got to redefine your baseline-strangeometer.  So far, the pacing has been excellent (unlike the x-key on this laptop which seems to be failing intermittently), and the story is building nicely.

The problem?  The wait for the next book.  This is a world I already want to revisit, lead characters cast in sufficient shades of grey.

Sure, some of the background characters aren’t fleshed out, they’re there for specific purposes and do their jobs to the best of their abilities, but then every book has those – your lead character needs a car? There’s a friend they can borrow from.  Need the Blue Beetle repaired? There’s a garage it goes to and we only know the owner’s name.  I dearly wish Real Life worked that way.

Bottom line, I’d give this a solid 4/5 so far, and that’s a high 4 – we’ll see what the last page brings and revise it then.

I’d like to thank Kory for letting me read this before it goes on sale on the 4th of March and my wife for  agreeing that this would make an excellent book at bedtime.