Book Review: Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson

April 5, 2014 Books to Skip, Cooking / Food, Memoirs, Nonfiction 12

Weekend Cooking, Cooking books, food books

This post is part of fellow book blogger, Beth Fish Reads‘, weekly meme (a “community” blog post, for all those non-bloggers out there) called Weekend Cooking. I originally reviewed Yes, Chef in November, 2013, but thought I would bring it out again for Weekend Cooking!

Yes Chef, Marcus Samuelsson, Red Rooster, Top ChefNonfiction – Cooking/Memoir (Released June, 2012)
Bottom Line: Skip it…unless you love cooking and restaurants.
Link to this book on Amazon

Plot Summary:
Chef Marcus Samuelsson shares his background as an Ethiopian orphan adopted by a Swedish family and his rise through the culinary world, culminating in a “Top Chef Masters” win and his own restaurant, Red Rooster.

My Thoughts:
I had mixed feelings about this book. The first part was repetitive and slow-moving, even though Samuelsson has a unique personal story (i.e. lots of material for a memoir). There are other books that describe culinary school and what it’s like to try to “make it” as an elite chef with much more vibrancy.

I also wish he had included more about his experience on “Top Chef Masters” – which would have helped this book appeal to a broader audience.

However, the last part of the book really picked up – I loved learning the history behind the NYC restaurants he was involved with, especially how he founded Red Rooster and made it a success against unfavorable odds. Big time “foodies” may enjoy this book, but it is too niche to recommend to a general audience.

The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins: Mini Book Review

April 4, 2014 Books to Read, Fiction, Something Light, Young Adult 3

The Hunger Games trilogy, Suzanne Collins, young adultFiction – Young Adult
Released September, 2008 – August, 2010
The Hunger Games (387 Pages)
Catching Fire (391 Pages)
Mockingjay (390 Pages)
Bottom Line: Read them.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary for The Hunger Games Trilogy

As punishment for a failed uprising against the Capital, two teenagers from each district in the country of Panem are selected to compete in a televised, fight-to-the-death event called The Hunger Games.

My Thoughts on The Hunger Games: 

Unlike the Twilight series, The Hunger Games lived up to the hype in every way for me.  It’s contemporary, gripping, and certainly makes you think.

The general concept of a fight-to-the-death battle in a giant, lifelike “arena” that is broadcast on live television is completely unique. And, the fact that it is broadcast on live television (as well as manipulated behind the scenes for maximum ratings potential) is reminiscent of the U.S.’s current reality TV craze. Plus, the central characters are people you want to root for.  

However, Mockingjay was a disappointment compared to the first two books.  I read it just to find out what happens, but enjoyed it a lot less than The Hunger Games and Catching Fire.

The Hunger Games Trilogy is not just for “tweens” and is on my Page Turners List.

On Wings of Eagles by Ken Follett: Mini Book Review

April 2, 2014 Books to Read, History, Nonfiction 2

On the Wings of Eagles, Ken Follett, Ross Perot, IranNonfiction – History
Released September, 1983
500 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary of On Wings of Eagles

The true story of Ross Perot’s, President of EDS at the time, rescue of two of his top Executives who had been jailed in an unstable, 1970′s Iran.

My Thoughts on On Wings of Eagles

Though completely true, On Wings of Eagles is so exciting it feels like a fictional thriller. I loved that Perot and Col. Bull Simmons (ex-Green Beret who was tasked with training Perot’s private “rescue team”) are throwbacks that will bravely risk everything to do what is right. 

It’s also interesting to think about the ramifications of something like this happening today – a private citizen defying the U.S. government, taking matters into his own hands, and basically creating an international incident. 

On Wings of Eagles will make those of you familiar with Perot only from his run for the presidency see him in a whole new light.

It’s on my Books for Guys List.

First Chapter, First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates

April 1, 2014 Fiction, Mysteries/Thrillers 14

First Chapter First Paragraph

Every Tuesday fellow blogger Bibliophile By the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where bloggers share the first paragraph of the book they are currently reading or thinking about reading soon.

Black Chalk, Christopher J. Yates, thriller, fiction, Oxford University

I’m currently reading Black Chalk as part of an online tour for TLC Book Tours. It had me hooked right from the beginning…the big mysteries are perfectly spaced throughout the book. As soon as one is solved, the story moves on to the next one. This is almost like a psychological version of The Hunger Games trilogy.

Black Chalk Plot Summary from Amazon:
One game. Six students. Five survivors. It was only ever meant to be a game played by six best friends in their first year at Oxford University; a game of consequences, silly forfeits, and childish dares. But then the game changed: the stakes grew higher and the dares more personal and more humiliating, finally evolving into a vicious struggle with unpredictable and tragic results. Now, 14 years later, the remaining players must meet again for the final round. Who knows better than your best friends what would break you? 

Here is the first paragraph:

“He phones early. England greets the world five hours ahead of us and I answer before my day has gained its groove. Before long I have agreed to everything he says. Don’t worry, he says. I promise you, it’ll be fun. It’ll be fun. Pause. Click. Yes, that’s what we said about the Game all those years ago. It’ll be so much fun!”

What do you think? Would you keep reading? Stay tuned for my full review on April 23…


The Last Letter from Your Lover by JoJo Moyes: Book Review

March 30, 2014 Books to Skip, Fiction 7

A big thank you to Viking/Penguin for providing me with an electronic copy of this book.

Last Letter from your Lover, JoJo Moyes, romances, fictionFiction
Released July, 2011
416 Pages
Bottom Line: Skip it.

Plot Summary of The Last Letter from Your Lover:

After losing much of her memory in a car accident, young wife Jennifer Stirling finds a love letter from “B”, someone other than her husband, and must figure out who he is and what they had.

My Thoughts on The Last Letter from Your Lover:

I loved Me Before You (JoJo Moyes’ 2012 novel) and was excited to read some of her other work. Maybe it was because Me Before You set such high expectations, but The Last Letter from Your Lover came up a bit short for me.

That being said, this is an odd book for me to review because I was somewhat bored until well over halfway through, but did become engrossed from that point on. So, how to rate it overall? I ended up recommending to “skip it” because I think most regular readers (i.e. those that don’t have to write a review!) would put down a book they were bored with well before the halfway point. I think a good book has to “hook” the reader sooner than that.

This is one of those love stories that connects a couple from the past (Jennifer Stirling and “B” in 1960) with a different present day couple (Ellie Haworth and John in 2003). I’ve read books like this before and the stories are usually told through alternating chapters. So, that was my expectation with this book. I was surprised to find that Ellie and John don’t show up until over halfway through the story. This annoyed me because I was awaiting their appearance (in a confused, rather than an exciting, suspenseful way!) and even went back to Amazon to make sure I’d read the plot summary correctly. 

Jennifer and “B” are the real story here and Ellie and John are merely vehicles to tell Jennifer and “B”‘s story, which is why I didn’t bother even mentioning Ellie and John in my own plot summary. Ellie stumbles upon Jennifer and “B”‘s story while working for “The Nation” and starts playing detective. What she learns then causes her to think hard about her own romantic situation with John and to attempt to track down Jennifer and “B”. I feel like I would have been much happier had this expectation been set appropriately for me! 

One of the things that I loved most about Me Before You was the snarky, witty dialogue between Will and Louisa and that was missing from The Last Letter from Your Lover. I think snappy conversation between Jennifer and “B” would have made me much more interested in their fate and kept me generally engaged earlier in the book.

Despite enjoying The Last Letter from Your Lover by the end, it took me too long to get into it.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon


Weekend Cooking: Moroccan-Style Tilapia with Cumin, Mango, and Cilantro

March 29, 2014 Weekend Cooking 8

Weekend Cooking, Cooking books, food books

This post is part of fellow book blogger, Beth Fish Reads‘, weekly meme (a “community” blog post, for all those non-bloggers out there) called Weekend Cooking.

I had extra cilantro lying around this week, so I was looking for a simple way to use it up before it went bad. I found Robin Miller’s Moroccan-Style Tilapia with Cumin, Mango, and Cilantro on Foodnetwork.com…the instructions were one short paragraph and mango and cumin are two of my favorite ingredients – perfect!

I made a couple small changes – one of which was substituting flounder for tilapia. Why? Because the flounder at my grocery store looked much fresher than the tilapia, but also because I’d recently heard that farm-raised tilapia can be extremely contaminated (including being fed feces – YUCK!) and do not have the nutrients of wild caught fish. The flounder was delicious, but I will caution that it is very delicate and can come apart easily in the pan (using two spatulas to flip and transfer each piece of fish to the plate helps).

This is a great choice if you’re looking for a light, simple weekday meal.

Moroccan-Style Tilapia with Cumin, Mango, and Cilantro recipe

Moroccan-Style Tilapia with Cumin, Mango, and Cilantro

Moroccan-Style Tilapia with Cumin, Mango, and Cilantro
Adapted from Food Network’s Robin Miller: Link to recipe on Foodnetwork.com

4 (5-ounce) tilapia fillets – I substituted flounder
Salt and ground black pepper
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 ripe mango, diced
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
*I added the juice of 1 lime to the mango mixture

Directions
Season both sides of tilapia fillets with salt and black pepper. Rub cumin and coriander all over both sides of fillets. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add tilapia fillets and cook 3 to 5 minutes per side, until fish is fork-tender. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine mango and cilantro (and lime juice if you want to add it!). Top tilapia with mango mixture just before serving.


Killing Pablo by Mark Bowden: Mini Book Review

March 27, 2014 Books to Read, Crime, History, Nonfiction 1

Killing Pablo, Pablo Escobar, Colombian drug cartels, cocaine cartels, mark bowdenNonfiction – History
Released April, 2001
307 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary of Killing Pablo

The true story of the hunt for Colombian drug lord, Pablo Escobar, and his capture, secretly led by the U.S.

My Thoughts on Killing Pablo

Any military/covert ops junkie will love Bowden’s (also the author of Blackhawk Down) story about the manhunt and capture of Escobar, especially the U.S.’ involvement. 

But, Killing Pablo also opened my eyes to the environment the Colombia dealers were operating in (they were loved in their communities in some ways), which contributed to the difficulty of taking them down.

Killing Pablo is on my Books for Guys List.

First Chapter, First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams

March 25, 2014 Fiction, Something Light 12

First Chapter First Paragraph Every Tuesday fellow blogger Bibliophile By the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where bloggers share the first paragraph of the book they are currently reading or thinking about reading soon.

A Hundred Summers, Beatriz Williams, fiction, beach reads

I’m starting to focus on reading as many light, fun books as I can in the next few months in preparation for putting together my Summer Reading List (click here for last year’s Summer Reading List). I meant to read A Hundred Summers when it came out last year, but am just now getting around to it!

A Hundred Summers Plot Summary from Amazon:
Memorial Day, 1938: New York socialite Lily Dane has just returned with her family to the idyllic oceanfront community of Seaview, Rhode Island, expecting another placid summer season among the familiar traditions and friendships that sustained her after heartbreak.
That is, until Greenwalds decide to take up residence in Seaview.
Nick and Budgie Greenwald are an unwelcome specter from Lily’s past: her former best friend and her former fiancé, now recently married—an event that set off a wildfire of gossip among the elite of Seaview, who have summered together for generations. Budgie’s arrival to restore her family’s old house puts her once more in the center of the community’s social scene, and she insinuates herself back into Lily’s friendship with an overpowering talent for seduction…and an alluring acquaintance from their college days, Yankees pitcher Graham Pendleton. But the ties that bind Lily to Nick are too strong and intricate to ignore, and the two are drawn back into long-buried dreams, despite their uneasy secrets and many emotional obligations.
Under the scorching summer sun, the unexpected truth of Budgie and Nick’s marriage bubbles to the surface, and as a cataclysmic hurricane barrels unseen up the Atlantic and into New England, Lily and Nick must confront an emotional cyclone of their own, which will change their worlds forever.

Here are the first two paragraphs:

Route 5, Ten Miles South of Hanover, New Hampshire
October 1931

“One hundred and twelve miles of curving pavement lie between the entrance gates of Smith College and the Dartmouth football stadium, and Budgie drives them as she does everything else: hell-for-leather.

The leaves shimmer gold and orange and crimson against a brilliant blue sky, and the sun burns unobstructed overheard, teasing us with a false sense of warmth. Budgie has decreed we drive with the top down, though I am shivering in the draft, huddled inside my wool cardigan, clutching my hat.”

What do you think? Would you keep reading? Stay tuned for my full review…


This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash: Book Review

March 23, 2014 Books to Read, Fiction, Southern Fiction 3

This Dark Road to Mercy, Wiley Cash, Southern fictionFiction
Released January, 2014
245 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: 
Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary

Following their mother’s death, twelve year old Easter and her younger sister, Ruby, are “taken” from foster care by their absentee father and pursued by various parties with their own agendas.

My Thoughts

Prior to reading This Dark Road to Mercy, I was not familiar with Wiley Cash. I’m so glad I gave him a shot (mostly due to Beth Fish Reads’ fantastic review of this book) because I’m always looking for new Southern fiction writers – and Cash is a great addition!

This is one of those books that I really just enjoyed reading without stopping much to take notes – which is now making this review somewhat tricky to write! Cash’s writing flowed easily and the story built steam slowly, mostly because it starts out as a coming-of-age story before turning into a suspenseful page turner. I loved this blend of coming-of-age story and page turner – they are two of my favorite types of books and Cash managed to blend them seamlessly (which I imagine is hard to do well!).

The first part – the coming of age story – focuses on Easter and Ruby’s reaction to their mother’s death, their move into foster care, and their memories of their absentee father (Wade). Easter’s voice really comes through here – it was sweet and diligent and served as the rational counterpoint to other, shall we say, less rational characters that emerge later in the story. Later in the book, Easter, Ruby, and Wade are pulled into an unsolved crime that   adds the “page turner” element. Though I enjoyed the entire book, I really couldn’t put it down once I hit the 60% mark (can you tell I’m a Kindle reader?!).

Finally, the way this story ends really makes you think about what is morally “right” versus deemed “right” in the eyes of the law. I loved the ending and the fact that it still has me thinking.

This Dark Road to Mercy is Cash’s second novel and I’m looking forward to reading his debut effort (A Land More Kind than Home). This Dark Road to Mercy is going on my Book Club Recommendations List.

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Weekend Cooking: Black Sea Bass with Cauliflower-Almond Sauce

March 22, 2014 Weekend Cooking 10

Weekend Cooking, Cooking books, food books

This post is part of fellow book blogger, Beth Fish Reads‘, weekly meme (a “community” blog post, for all those non-bloggers out there) called Weekend Cooking.

We have a fantastic winter Farmer’s Market in Mamaroneck, NY and the seafood man had some beautiful black sea bass (one of my favorite types of fish!) last weekend. He cautioned me “not to experiment with this one – look up some recipes”. So, I gave Bobby Flay’s Black Sea Bass with Cauliflower-Almond Sauce a try. It was a hearty sauce that’s perfect for winter and went great with the sea bass.

I cut a few corners to save time and calories. To save time, I skipped the straining step, which I would NOT recommend – I ended up with sand-like grains of cauliflower in my sauce! To save calories, I used whole milk instead of heavy cream and I still thought the flavor was delicious.

Black Sea Bass with Cauliflower-Almond Sauce
Adapted from Food Network’s Bobby Flay: Link to recipe on Foodnetwork.com

Fish:
2 (7-ounce) black sea bass fillets
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
Cauliflower Sauce, recipe follows
Chopped chives, for garnish

Cauliflower Sauce:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large Spanish onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium head cauliflower florets, chopped
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups fish stock
Water
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
1/4 cup sliced blanched almonds
1/4 cup heavy cream (I substituted whole milk)

Directions
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Season bass on both sides with salt and pepper, to taste. Heat oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Sear the fish, skin down, until golden brown. Turn over and place the pan in the oven and cook for 4 to 5 minutes for medium doneness.

Ladle Cauliflower Sauce into the bottom of 2 shallow wide bowls. Place a bass fillet on top of the sauce, then ladle more of the sauce over. Sprinkle with chives.

Cauliflower Sauce:
Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and cook until soft. Add cauliflower and cook for 5 minutes (do not let onions, garlic, or cauliflower obtain any color). Add wine and cook until reduced by half. Add fish stock and just enough water to cover the cauliflower and season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook until the cauliflower is completely cooked through and soft.

Transfer the mixture to a food processor add almonds, and process until smooth. Strain the mixture into a medium saucepan (I skipped the straining, but wound up with sand-like grains of cauliflower – so, I recommend straining!!) and place on the stove over medium heat. Whisk in the cream (I used milk instead) and cook for 2 minutes. Whisk in the butter and cook until melted. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.