Small Victories – Julia Turshen

5 stars

Two cookbook reviews in one week? It’s no secret in my family and social circles that I love food. My family nickname is “Food” even. I love to eat, I love to scope out new restaurants, love to cook (but hate the cleanup) and naturally, because I love books, I adore cookbooks.

It’s no secret in my family and social circles that I love food. My family nickname is “Food” even. I love to eat, I love to scope out new restaurants, love to cook (but hate the cleanup) and naturally, because I love books, I adore cookbooks.

Unfortunately, I have a small house and a small budget for books, so I’ve gotten into the habit of checking out cookbooks I’m interested in from the library before I decide whether or not to take the plunge and make the purchase and commit to making space for another cookbook in my little kitchen.

I also try to participate in Food52’s Cookbook Club Facebook group, where each month the group cooks from a pre-chosen book. A few months ago, just as I joined, the club was cooking from Julia Turshen’s Small Victories. I requested it from the library right away but discovered, much to my chagrin, the waiting list was very long.


small victories
Source: Goodreads


Finally, finally, finally, it landed in my hands…just as some Life Stuff happened and it wasn’t until the day before it was due back to the library that I finally, finally, finally made some time to peruse the book.

As I paged through the Small Victories, it quickly became clear to me that this was a book I had to buy.

Why? What makes this book worth making space on my tiny shelf for?

Small Victories is magical. That’s why. Small Victories is accessible, beautiful, inspirational, and beginner friendly.

Turshen’s book is beautifully and simply laid out. Definitely easy on the eyes and the photos are so gorgeous and inspirational.

But as gorgeous as it is, that’s not the magic. The magic is in Turshen’s writing and her celebration of “small victories” – the little lessons sprinkled throughout the recipes. Her recipes and stories are not only easy to follow, but she doesn’t condescend. It’s almost as if she’s standing in your kitchen with you, not holding your hand, but sitting at the bar cheering you on as you work your way through one of the recipes.

Then, once you’ve mastered the recipe, she adds another layer of magic and suggests ways to riff off the recipe you just made to make it into something new. Avocado Toast with Kimchi becomes a fancy salad with just a couple of small tweaks and some champagne on the side. (This is just the first recipe in the book, folks! She does it for every recipe in the book throughout.)

My personal favorite, which I made immediately upon reading it, is waaaay at the back of the book in her Drinks section. She amps up a gin and tonic (my favorite at-home cocktail) by adding a sprinkle of fresh-cracked pepper and a thin slice of cucumber. I’ll never make a G&T without pepper or cucumber again! The cucumber adds a new fresh brightness and the pepper adds just another layer of depth, without tasting peppery or spicy. Heaven.

5 Stars, without a doubt. Turshen’s approach makes Small Victories into a cookbook that melds inspiration with the confidence-building of a cooking for beginners book and something any cook will enjoy.


Queso! – Lisa Fain

4 stars

I received an eARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

I love Mexican food, and one of my favorite dishes has always been chile con queso. I had always wondered at the authenticity of the dish, however. How “Mexican” is it really? Is it TexMex instead? Lisa Fain sets out to answer that question (and provide many delicious recipes) in Queso!

Questions of authenticity aside, chile con queso – queso for short – is delicious. Chiles, cheese, and spices melted together into a delicious blend perfect for dipping chips in or drizzling over the top of a taco. Yum. So, when I saw this book pop up on NetGalley I knew I had to request it!


Source: Goodreads


Lisa Fain doesn’t disappoint. Queso! includes 55 recipes, most of which are variations of chile con queso. Certainly more variations than I can think up on my own!

Some of the recipes are included not to be made, but for historical context. Fain includes some of the earliest printed versions of queso or cheese dips she could find. You could certainly make any of these recipes, but I feel like they’re mostly illustrative.

I particularly loved the section on regional queso variations, where Fain shared recipes from along the US’s southern border. There was such variety from place to place! One of my favorites is the Van Horn Chile con Queso, which features one of my favorite ingredients of all time – sour cream. (I frequently go out of my way to choose meals for dinner just so I can have sour cream.) This is the recipe I opted to try out and while it didn’t last long enough for me to photograph, I can tell you it was delicious and a hit with my queso-loving husband.

I did also appreciate the vegan queso recipe Fain included in her Quirky Quesos section. As she points out, it seems kind of like an oxymoron to make a queso-free queso (since queso literally means cheese) but I know many vegans who miss dairy products, including queso. She also includes Greek and Indian inspired versions, as well as renditions that include sausage and mustard.

Overall, Queso! is a fun, single-subject cookbook that offers wonderful variations on a favorite dip. For many people, “football” season has just begun, and Fain’s queso varieties would be a welcome change-up of an old-standby game-day snack.


Cookbook · Uncategorized

Hey There, Dumpling! – Kenny Lao

5 Stars

I originally checked this book out from the library, as I often do with cookbooks. I’m such a collector that I have to do *something* to limit my purchasing. So I generally check cookbooks out from the library before I decide whether or not to buy. Often I’ll find one or two, maybe four recipes from a book, try them out and return the book. In this case, each page held a new treasure and I had to purchase a copy for myself.

A photo of the cover of Hey There, Dumpling!
My copy of Hey There, Dumpling!

Lao, the man behind the famous dumpling restaurant Rickshaw, writes in a fun voice and has a really beginner friendly approach to dumplings. Lots of tasty, easy to follow recipes of dumplings and more. I really appreciated his troubleshooting guide for common dumpling making and cooking mistakes. We’ve made some of the recipes in this book and they’ve all turned out deliciously awesome. I love the variety of dumpling, sauce and sides as well as the pre-planned menu suggestions.


A version of this review was first published on Goodreads on February 4, 2017.

Cookbook · Uncategorized

The Wildcrafted Cocktail – Ellen Zachos

I received an e-ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my unbiased review.

4 Stars

Some of these recipes sound seriously delicious. Others, like the Hobbit Hollow, which features acorn and mushroom flavors sound like Radagast the Brown wrote them (as a friend commented when I read her the recipe) and I’m not entirely sure they’re flavors I’m willing to try. I’m enthusiastically waiting for the weather in the Pacific Northwest to warm up so that I may try foraging for some of the ingredients needed to make some of these tasty sounding cocktails and infusions!

I’ll be honest, foraging for some of the ingredients used in the book is more work than I’ll ever be willing to put in, but there’s a nice selection of recipes I can make from things I have easy enough access to in my own yard or friends’ yards. I haven’t yet made any of the recipes because the ones I want to try are out of season, but I’m looking forward to when they are in season and I can try them out! The recipes are easy enough to follow and I anticipate interesting tasting results!

This book was beautifully designed with lovely photographs and a fun Northwest style throughout the book, even though it’s inclusive of foraged foods from other regions of the country. My only gripe is that I wish recipes had some kind of visual cue as to what season to forage the ingredients in. So many of the foraged ingredients are seasonal, it would be nice to have an at-a-glance way to tell what recipes I can make in each season, rather than having to research every ingredient before I can decide what to make when. That aside, I appreciated the responsible foraging tips Zachos included throughout.

This review was first published to Goodreads on April 7, 2017.


Ready or Not – Nom Nom Paleo/Michelle Tam

4 Stars

I recieved an eARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Michelle Tam, also known by her blog name Nom Nom Paleo, is at it again. She brings her signature wit, charm and realistic approach to Paleo cooking to her second cookbook in spades. Ready or Not! Features 150+ make ahead or “make-now” meals.

Ready or Not Cover

In this beautiful book, once again filled with cartoon drawings of the whole family done by her husband and co-author Henry Fong, Tam shares the kind of recipe many of us are looking for:  easy, delicious, and on whatever timetable you have at your fingertips. It’s an added bonus that many of the recipes are easily labeled “healthy” since Nom Nom Paleo is a blog dedicated to the Paleo lifestyle. While I don’t adhere to the Paleo diet, I’m familiar with its parameters and find many of Tam’s recipes mouthwatering and delicious.

I own her first cookbook and cook from it frequently. I can tell Ready or Not is going to have a permanent home on the counter, rather than living over on the cookbook shelf. It’s apparent from the book that her blog and lifestyle truly is a family affair. Her kids and husband feature as illustrations and contributors throughout.

Tam doesn’t preach endlessly about the benefits of Paleo, she gives a quick overview and moves on to the good stuff, what we’re really here for – the quick and easy recipes. She organizes the book into four “readiness” levels, rather than dish or component, so depending on where you’re at in meal planning, from “I’m sitting down now to plan for the week” to “I need dinner on the table NOW!” you know just where to look in the book. It’s a well thought-out organization, that’s very user-friendly.

The first actual cooking section “Get Ready” is full of sauces, salsas, dressings, and condiments, with a few other meal components such as hard boiled eggs and pre-roasted chicken breasts. Many of the recipes are Paleo-ized versions of sauces easily found at the grocery store such as hoisin sauce, gojuchang or Thai peanut sauce. For people not eating the Paleo diet, this section is really the least helpful or interesting. I’m personally just going to buy the sauce in the jar from the store. She also spends time in this section outlining useful basic kitchen tools and pantry items, which is great advice for a novice chef. The best part of this section is at the end when she lists ways to mix and match these super basics into quick meals like Mexi-Chicken Salad using the chicken, salsa, smoky lime pepitas and some avocado.

The “Ready” section is for those times when you actually have time to sit down, meal plan and do some food prep for the rest of the week. Lots of slow/pressure cooker recipes fill these pages, along with a few soups and crunchy things. My personal favorite recipe of the section was the Mok Mok Wings, which is reminiscent of the fish sauce laden wings at the iconic Portland restaurant Pok Pok. The Nom Nom Family has a second house in PDX, so it’s not a leap to guess they’re related flavor-wise.

The “Kinda Ready” section is where the going really gets good though. It’s comprised of recipes that are quick to throw together and lean on stuff you’ve probably already got in the pantry or the leftovers from earlier in the week before you lost your motivation to cook for the week. It’s the inspiration a lot of us lack when we’re staring at the fridge on a Wednesday night after a long day at work when dinner just needs to be on the table and take out isn’t gonna cut it.

Finally, the “Not Ready” section is the section for “Oh my god just put food on the table” nights.  Some of these recipes had me a bit skeptical – for example, one of the first recipes in the section is a soup that has a pretty long list of ingredients and takes 15 minutes hands on/45 minutes total to make. Not sure that I’d call that quick. Her egg drop soup and following variations are quick however and delicious. Definitely what I’d consider appropriate for this section.

The final section of the book is the roadmap section, where Tam puts together weekly meal plans and shopping lists, to really make this whole cooking during the week thing seem feasible. A really nice addition to the book, making it extra friendly to the busy home cook who wants to eat healthier.

Parts of the book read like product ads, as Tam is a big fan of both the InstantPot pressure cooker and Red Boat Fish Sauce. She devotes pages to both these products, which feels a little weird.

The recipes themselves are laid out almost like a comic book, but using real photographs of the process rather than simple description or drawings. And, while a number of the recipes are Paleo-ized Asian or Asian-inspired, this is not an Asian cookbook. There are recipes for chicken tinga, baby back ribs, souvlaki and buffalo wings as well. I love a lot of Asian flavors so Ready or Not is absolutely packed with recipes that appeal to my palate.

All in all, Ready or Not is a book I plan to purchase for myself, though I knock a full star off because while it’s very useful and a fun resource, it just didn’t excite me the way other cookbooks do.