Books Reviewed – Calling Parents and Geeks

I’ve been getting a steady stream of books and a few have stood out in terms of offering some good information, while also having recipes as well.  I wouldn’t call them cookbooks, but they are informative books about food.

Beter Food for Kids by Joanne Saab, RD and Daina Kalnins, MSC, RD (of Canada;s Hospital for Sick Children) is rich with information about nutrition for kids ages 2 to 10.  There’s everything from reading food labels, to how much vitamins and nutrients are in which foods, to food allergies and safe food handling practices.  This book also has quite a few recipes (over 200) for snacks, and mealtimes throughout the day.  The quinoa with broccoli and chocolate chip squares were well received at my house.  Note: The health standards are Canadian, not American.

Pros: Lots of quick and easy recipes and nutritional info for each.  Most information is presented clearly with helpful charts.  Great for parents with children with nutrition issues, and those who want a real guide about vitamins and nutrients.  I’m a sucker for books that advocate healthy eating habits for kids.

Cons: Dissappointed the book does not advocate for organics and takes a government line that food manufacturers are honest (“Manufacturers of food products cannot make claims about their products unless they are proven to be true” – maybe this is true in Canada, but not in the US).

Cooking for Geeks by Jeff Potter is a for those who want to know the how’s and why’s about food and cooking.  This is for someone who wants to go outside a recipe and create their own combinations, experiements and inventions in the kitchen.  Want to know the physiology of taste and smell?  Want to know the temperature when sugar carmelizes?  Anyone for molecular gastromomy?

Pros: Good for those with food science questions, who need more info than a cookbook.  Lots of recipes as examples to tips and experiments to test your new knowledge (and make good food).  Interesting interviews with food experts in many fields.  Good reference to have on hand, if have food question.

Cons: Not for everyone.  Small print and lots (sometimes too much) of information.  Wish the pictures were sometimes bigger or in color to stand out.  For this type of book, I prefer the simple layout and presentation of Harold McGee’s, On Food and Cooking.


Tis the Season….Cookies and Milk

Tis the season (any reason really) to break out the cookie cutters.  I know I’ve told you I have quite a collection.  It still amazes me that every year I can still find one or two seasonal cutters I’m missing.  Today I bought a reindeer and a holly leaf.

my collection

We’ve had two cookie playdates so far in December and there’s lots more time and dough left.  I like to always make double batches so we can make some and freeze some.  You never know when you need a baking activity or a warm cookie.  Last week I made sugar cookies as well as gingerbread cookies.  I have to say that doubling my gingerbread dough was a bit of a challenge, especially for the motor on my KitchenAid mixer.  It’s just to dense and heavy for so much dough.  But we made it work.

For some playdates I prebake the cookies and just set up for icing and decoration and for others I have dough only, so kids can practice their rolling and cutting skills.  For the latest I did both, which actually worked well.  Some could be decorating while others are rolling and cutting.  Either way it’s lots of fun.  Just remember your patience and allow extra time for clean up.  Here’s some of our lovely creations.  My daughter is the one who uses too much icing and makes everything a “winter wonderland” (her words).  Notice I don’t limit the cutters to only holiday.  Kids can choose from all of them.  So you’ll see football players, next to candy canes, next to butterflies, etc.  They all taste great.  Of course a few got a bit dark, as my holiday music and children’s voices were a bit loud and I missed the timer.

the cookie playdate
"winter wonderland" cookies

So what goes best with cookies?  Milk, of course!  Lately my daughter has not been wanting the usual cow’s milk.  Perhaps my vegan sister’s influence?  My son loves milk – of all kinds.  So we’ve been trying more alternatives for my daughter – rice milk, soy milk, almond milk, etc.  She’s had them all in various flavors and combinations.  I always have non-fat organic cow’s milk and then another organic unsweetened variety such as soy and rice on hand depending on tastes and guests.  On occassion I buy the flavored (vanilla, chocolate) which work well in smoothies or for steamed milk.    (Secret – I like the vanilla in my oatmeal).  Anyways…we set up a little milk taste test for my kids to see if they could tell the difference.  They were quite good.  They picked out the cow’s, rice and almond, but were a bit stuck on the soy.  They also said it was their least favorite.  I was surprised, as they never complain about it.  We just learned of a new organic soy and almond version from Whole Foods, found in the refrigerated section.  They have a few flavors as well as unsweetened.  I’ve never found an organic almond milk, so I like this option.  Also I find it a much better texture than the shelf version I had been buying.  What’s at the bottom of those shelf stable cartons anyway?  Refrigerated just seems fresher.  For now my son will stick with his cow’s milk favorite (and almond and coconut for smoothies, as requested) and my daughter is enjoying the new organic unsweetened almond milk.  With or without cookies.  Who knows about next week. 

That gets me wondering…What kind of milk would Santa like?  Do you think he’s lactose intolerant?  Is he vegan?  I can’t wait to hear the discussion between my kids on which milk to leave out with Santa’s cookies.

the milk challenge

Calling All SF Foodies..Test Your Cred and Earn $2 for the Food Bank

If you live in the Bay Area and think you’re a foodie, or even if you’re just curious about some San Francisco food culture and hotspots take a foodie quiz sponsored by the San Francisco Food Bank, MetroMint and Absinthe Bar and Bistro.  For participating you will earn $2 for for the SF Food Bank.  Regardless of your score. ( I only got 50% correct.  It’s those darn food carts – I’m so out of the loop out here in the burbs.) 

Check it out here at  Share with your food friends and help raise more donations.


Cookbook Review – Raw Food for Real People

I have to admit while I like a challenge in the kitchen sometimes I am indimidated by certain kinds of foods and cookbooks.  This was the case when I received Raw Foods for Real People; Living Vegan Food Made Simple by Rod Rotondi.  Raw foods are not new, it’s what most humans ate for centuries – nuts, fruits, vegetables, grains etc.  Basically whole foods not cooked above a certain temperature (118 F). 

My family eats vegetarian and even vegan sometimes, but when I think of raw I think of salads and veggies (good of course as a snack or on the side, but not a regular diet).  There is a thoughtful foreward for people like me that are not quite comfortable with the whole co cooking thing.  I mean I write cookbooks, not non-cookbooks.  He talks honestly about his road to raw (living and traveling all over the globe) as well as the health benefits and history of raw foods.

Of course I can do anything in moderation, which is Rod’s point.  He doesn’t necessarily set out to change everyone’s diet to raw, he’s giving the info and recipes and hopes you incorporate more raw food in your meals.  So I started off by making a few of the smoothies.  The Tropical whip with bananas, dates, pineapple and coconut milk was declared by my son as “the best smoothie I ever made”.  And we make a lot.  Some other things weren’t so off our usual like vegetable slaw and guacamole.  I made the Hale Kale salad to varying criticisms, but mostly a problem with texture (my daughter) and sour (my son).  I rather liked it and will experiment next time by adding tomatoes and olives and maybe feta, and less lemon juice. 

I like having this book in my collection.  It gives me some good inspiration and also rounds out my books to be something for everyone.  You never know when a raw enthusiast is coming to dinner.  And it may be the perfect gift for someone thinking about a diet change or in need of more healthy inspiration.

Pros: Healthy recipes and good diet information.  Some quick and easy such as dressings, salads and smoothies.  Using whole and organic foods, not only good for the body but for the environment as well.

Cons: Some recipes just too time consuming and not simple, such as soaking nuts to make “cheez” and require some unique pantry items such as “nama shoyu”.  Also can make more recipes if you have the right equipment such as a hydrator (I don’t have). 

And here’s a link to a TV interview / cooking demo (kale salad) that Rod did about the book when the hardcover came out last year:
Note: the author is also a dad and has stuck to his prinicipals by feeding his daughter only raw foods – she’s 4.
(Hopefully he’s working on an interesting follow-up book once she starts going to school functions and birthday parties.  Those outside influences are tough.)

Cookbook Review- Simply Suppers by Jennifer Chandler

I’ve received a great many cookbooks lately.  Some good and some not so good.  Because I believe in the adage “If you can’t say something nice, don;t say anything at all”:  I am not going to share, trash and criticize books I don’t like.  I’m going to tell you about those I used and liked.  Of course there will be pros and cons (nothing is perfect).

Cookbooks are a perfect holiday gift for a home cook and food lover.  You can never have too many (although I’m sure my husband thinks so) and there’s always room for something new and surprising in your collection.  I have a core 8 or 10 books that I use most often, however I have about another 50 that I use maybe one favorite recipe or I pull out when need something fresh or a new inspiration.

Simply Suppers: Comfort Food You Can Get on the Table in No Time Flat by Jennifer Chandler is a great book for busy people who want to make dinner, but don’t have much extra time to shop or cook.  All ingredients are easy to find and the recipes are straight forward and many of them can be made in about a half hour.  There’s some good weeknight options which I made, such as Sloppy Joe’s (which was my family’s favorite) as well as Sauteed Spaghetti Squash and Lemon Salmon.  The recipes are basic and comforting.

Pro: Helpful recipe icons with cooking, freezing and variation tips

Con:  Good solid food, but lack of surprises

Sauteed Spaghetti Squash
Lemon Salmon

Thanksgiving Meal Wrap Up

So Thanksgiving is already over.  While ours was small.  We unfortuantely scared away the grandparents with the flu.  On the actual day, everyone was healthy.  All in all I was pleased with the food.  I always like the walnut mushroom stuffing.  My son picked mashed potatoes, though in years passed it’s been sweet potatoes.  The kids were great helpers with the brussels sprouts.  Really a fool spoof way to get a brussels sprouts hater to turn the corner.  Because grandma didn’t come and bring my kids’ requested pumpkin bread, we even managed to make a few loaves, so not to dissappoint. (We even shared with the neighbors)

However there was a dissappointment and that was the main attraction…the turkey.  I did the brine.  Everyone always says how great it tuns out.  But not for me.  Not for this bird.  I followed the directions.  Managed to spill some of the brine all over the kitchen.  Those bags can be tricky with so much liquid.   The bird browned and it tasted fine.  But fine really isn’t what we’re looking for.  There was something missing.  I realized what it was about 3/4 of the way through cooking.  There was no juice.  Where were the pan drippings?  And there was no aroma.  Why didn’t the house smell like roasted turkey.  My best guess is that the moisture stays in.  Well I want moist, but I also want drippings and aroma.  So next year it’s back to the wine and butter baste only.  Always worked for my mom.

On a high note was one of the best desserts I ever made.  No really.  It was Lilly Pulitzer’s Gingered Pumpkin Tart.  This was amazing.  The perfect mix of sweet and spicy.  I thought the crystallized ginger would be too much and was serving it on the side, until everyone asked for more.  The ultimate was fresh whipping cream and a dollop of vanilla bean ice cream.  I’m already trying to determine what occassion to make it for again and who I should share it with.

The kids were in charge of the table decor.  Note the colored tea lights (those are usually for outside).  There was a bit of a squabble over who would make placecards.  So my son made them for dinner and my daughter cleared those and set hers out for dessert.  They also made a stick centerpiece in the shape of a turkey.

Take a look…

peeling brussels
Ellery and her cranberry sauce
Me and my bird
the centerpiece arrangement
A piece of the gingered pumpkin tart