Cook the Books Club has a NEW HOME!

18 10 2012

Hi Everybody!


Just a quick message to let everybody know that Cook the Books Club has moved.  Please follow us over to our new home and grab our new RSS feed, subscribe by email, or follow in whatever way keeps you connected – we don’t want to lose anybody in the move!


The new announcement post is up for our current selection, Heartburn by Nora Ephron.  And you know you want to see that…so come on over.  Oh, and please excuse the “mess”, we’re still unpacking!



It’s That Time Again–Announcing Our Next 3 Cook the Books Titles!

1 04 2010

While we are waiting to find out who our winner from the “Like Water For Chocolate” round-up is, and before I turn things over to Johanna for our April-May selection: “Eating for England: The Delights and Eccentricities of the British at Table” (Have you started reading this one yet? I am loving it!), we thought we would announce our next three picks to take us through the end of the year at Cook the Books so you can start locating them.  We have three great books, a little something for everyone, all are in paperback and hopefully they are books you can find used or at your public library.


Cook the Books Selection  for June-July 2010

Rachel, The Crispy Cook is taking us with her to a very special cooking school with her selection of The School of Essential Ingredients,”  the bestselling debut novel from Erica Bauermeister, who teaches writing and English literature courses at the University of Washington.  In the novel, eight students gather once a month at Lillian’s restaurant for a cooking class and a few life lessons as well.

You should have this selection read and your dish posted by Friday, July 30th.


Cook the Books Selection  for August-September 2010

For me, Deb, of Kahakai Kitchen, curries, samosas, dal and other Indian dishes are some of my favorite foods, so I am taking us on a trip to exotic India with noted cook, author, (over 30 cookbooks and other books and counting!), actress,  and world-renowned authority on Indian cuisine, Madhur Jaffrey. Jaffrey’s “Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India.” is about her large family, unusual childhood growing up in Delhi, the “power of food to evoke memory” and it also includes over 30 family recipes to make our mouths water. Mmm..I can smell the cardamom and cinnamon now.

You should have this selection read and your dish posted by Friday, September 24th.


Cook the Books Selection  for October-November 2010

Leave it to Johanna from Food Junkie Not Junk Food to get us into the belly of the restaurant kitchen with Bill Buford’s Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta Maker and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany. Buford left his job as an acclaimed writer and editor at The New Yorker to apprentice in the kitchen of Mario Batali’s Babbo restaurant, and the book follows his adventures there as well as on his journey to Italy to discover the secrets to pasta-making and pig slaughtering.

You should have this selection read and your dish posted by Friday, December 3rd.


There you have it–our next three selections and your reading list through the end of 2010! We hope that you join us reading these great foodie books, cooking and eating some wonderful food inspired by them and of course sharing it all with good friends.

Your hosts,

Deb, Rachel & Jo

Note: If you are new to Cook the Books, welcome! We are a bi-monthly virtual book club, reading great food-related books and cooking and posting dishes inspired by them. Anyone is welcome to join our group. If you have any questions, you can find the details here, or leave a comment and we’ll get back to you.

We Have a Winner! Announcing “The Last Chinese Chef” Winner for Cook the Books

8 09 2009



OK, Cook the Books Members…We have a winner for this round of our bi-monthly book club selection, the wonderful foodie novel “The Last Chinese Chef” by Nicole Mones. I’ll let you read Nicole’s email below so you can hear her choice in her own words (Since she is going through the process of making edits to her current book, I promised her not to edit this!) 😉


I think picking the winner from all your wonderful participants was harder than writing the novel. What a great circle of readers and cooks you have! I have never seen a book group so perfectly attuned to this novel. Then again, it would be hard to cherry-pick readers more ideally suited to resonate with The Last Chinese Chef

Everyone put so much imagination and energy into their dishes and menus! I really hate to have to pick one. Some things were truly creative—like lapsang souchong panna cotta with star anise plums – plus she made trotters, which is brave. And the Beijing wontons in rich broth looked PERFECT, worthy of a Chinese restaurant, the embodiment of xian (the pure natural flavor of a thing) and SO Beijing. The steeped chicken almost made me cry. That is the single most emotionally charged dish in the novel… and also far and away the dish most readers have told me they longed to taste. Maybe it is because of what Deb said, that they wanted to be fed by Sam.

All of you put so much heart into your creations. But ultimately, I had to choose, so…

My runner-up choice was Heather of Girlichef’s Salmon Wrapped in Banana Leaf. It may be odd for me to pick this since ‘fusion’ is traditionally a very un-Chinese concept (historically, in China, all art forms strove for mastery and perfection rather than originality)…but what a great idea! I think it would be wonderful with lotus leaf too… I am definitely going to try this at home. It was thoughtful and highly original in its application of the wrap-and-steam process to another, very non-Chinese ingredient—salmon. Indeed, one of the challenges of making the pork ribs steamed in lotus leaf is that the package forms a sealed container, trapping in not just flavors but any fat contained in the ribs. One wants to prep the ribs to be fairly lean so that there is not too much fat in the finished dish. This must be done by trimming, since parboiling (a good trick before grilling) does not really work in this case. But converting the concept to salmon reverses the equation and turns the challenge into an advantage – salmon, with its healthy fats and tendency to dry out, can only benefit from the extra moisture and ‘containment’ of the package. Good dipping sauce too. Excellent idea!

The great 18th century food critic Yuan Mei wrote that the greatest and most sophisticated dishes were the simplest and most rustic ones… that sublime execution of what is basic constitutes the highest refinement of all. He admired a great dish of tofu more than a platter of imported bird’s nest, though the latter was as costly as pearls. To him, too much of the hautecuisine of his era was about showing off rather than creating great food. He called this ‘eating with your eyes’. You can see this in high-end Eurocentric cuisine today, too – a lot of showing off (witness our era’s increasingly precious, architectural presentations – and often plated for one, too; how un-Chinese!) But his convictions struck me for another reason, too: a great story is also simple, even as it is devilishly difficult to write. It may sound counter-intuitive, but to write a complex story is easier. Simplicity is the final thing… it may be the hardest thing. I hope in my lifetime someday to get there.

So…my choice for the winner is Claudia from Honey From Rock’s Sichuan Tofu with Vegetables. She took plain, simple ingredients and with them achieved a fairly complicated textural dish. She kept trying until she nailed it. And she created a dish that expresses one of the time-honored artistic ploys of Chinese cuisine: it presents as if it is a humble, everyday plate of food but in fact is texturally manipulated to produce a surprise. This jolt of surprise is the beginning of going beyond the senses we usually associate with cooking and eating, to engage the mind with interest and amusement. As I write this I am spending a few days in a house on a cliff above the blue Pacific… Claudia’s recipe makes me want to run up north to the next town, buy some crabs, pick them, and use the shells to make a reduction sauce to try with her spongy tofu technique. Not 30 though, as Sam used… maybe 3… Congratulations, Claudia. You did a terrific job.

All of you did. Your entries were a perfect procession of interesting, mouth-watering recipes and photos. While we’re on the subject, I must single out Deb’s congee even though her entry could not be considered… talk about your homey family meal! To me this recipe/photo more than any other captured the feeling of guanxi and friendship and family so central to the novel. Maybe that’s because there is no meal more intimate than breakfast (which is why breakfast is the book’s last scene.) But I also commend Deb’s entry for making congee seem not just appealing but downright irresistible. Next time I go for dim sun I’m going to pass up all those exotic dumplings and have a bowl.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for reading my novel and even better, for letting it spark your own creative ideas. I am honored… and so glad you all enjoyed it. I cannot promise another book about food, at least not anytime soon; right now I am writing one about music, a historical novel about African-American musicians in the Chinese jazz age (1930s). I hope you will like it, too.  

Thank you!





Congratulations to Claudia of Honey From Rock! As the winner for this round with her Sichuan Tofu with Vegetables, Claudia receives a Cook the Books Winner’s Badge for her blog and will be added to the Cook the Books blogroll.


cook the books award


Thanks to everyone for participating in this round and a special huge thank you to Nicole Mones for devoting so much thought and time to being a part of Cook the Books. 

I will be back in a couple of days to announce our next three book selections so that you can start locating them, and then will be passing the CTB torch on to the host, of our current selection, Peter Mayle’s French Lessons: Adventures with Knife, Fork and Corkscrew, Johanna of Food Junkie Not Junk Food.  

Happy Labor Day!

July/August Cook The Books Pick: “The Last Chinese Chef” by Nicole Mones

7 07 2009

This is Deb from Kahakai Kitchen, just popping in to say that I hope you all are enjoying our lastest CTB pick, “The Last Chinese Chef” by Nicole Mones. I for one, have been learning a lot about the amazing history and culture of food and cooking in China and am dazzled by thoughts of what to make for this round which ends on August 28. 

In this foodie novel, a recently widowed American food writer finds solace, love and of course incredible food during a visit to China to clear up a paternity claim against her late husband’s estate. Her editor gives her an assignment to profile a rising star chef, Sam Liang and she is drawn deep into China’s culinary world, learning and being transformed by the cuisine, Sam’s colorful family and Sam himself.



As a companion to the book, here are some links that you might find helpful and interesting.

Nicole Mones website with information on the author and her books.

Of special interest on the site:

Q&A with Mones about the book

Reviews of “The Last Chinese Chef” (in case you have not made up your mind to join us yet!)

For Food Lovers: Where to eat in China as well as descriptions of the food and recipes cooked in the book.

Also of interest an original essay by Nicole Mones: “Where Food and Words Meet: A Literary Sub-School of Chinese Cuisine Survives against the Odds that is on the Powell’s Books website (my favorite bookstore, next to Rachel’s of course!)

Remember you have until Friday, August 28th to read the novel, cook a dish inspired by the book and post it on your blog.  No blog but still want to join us?! No problem, just email me ( and send me your write-up and pictures and I’ll post them for you!  Everyone is welcome!

I’ll post more details on our judge and judging as I have them. Feel free to leave comments on this post discussing the book and what you think about it. (Since we all read at different speeds, make a note if your comment contains a “spoiler” about the plot please!)

We can’t wait to see the amazing dishes you come up with!  

Happy Summer!

Announcing Our Next 3 Cook The Books Titles!

4 05 2009

As much fun as it is to build suspense and announce the next Cook The Books selections one at a time, we understand that some people are challenged in getting the books in time to read and post them. Therefore, Rachel, Johanna and me, (Deb), have gotten together to announce the next three books. We have a great variety of books lined up; continuing to span the globe, exploring different genres and with a little something fun for everyone!


Cook The Books Selection: May / June

The next round of Cook the Books will be hosted by Rachel, The Crispy Cook.  She was taken with Foodycat’s suggestion here of the young adult classic “The Little White Horse” by English author Elizabeth Goudge. Goudge was best known for her bestselling adult novels in the 1940s-50s, including “Green Dolphin Street”, “The Scent of Water” and “The White Witch”. “The Little White Horse” is one of Goudge’s novels for younger readers, a fantasy about an orphan girl in 1840s London, her governess and her new guardian cousin, the owner of a magical castle.  Rachel says: I found it to be a delightful read with lots of British Victorian food descriptions and a grumpy but talented magical servant cook, so I think that will open up some interesting culinary options for us.


The book won the British Library Association’s Carnegie Medal in 1946 and J.K. Rowling says it was her favorite book as a child (Harry Potter fans will see where she got inspiration for her luscious descriptions of Butter Beer, Chocolate Frogs, and lavish Hogwarts feasts that pepper the series).  The always entertaining Tim Curry is featured in a 2008 film version of this novel, called “The Secret of Moonacre” which debuted at the Toronto Film Festival earlier this year and was released in the United Kingdom in February, but does not yet have a release date in the U.S., so you’ll be very “in the know” when spotted reading this book.

“The Little White Horse” will be our May / June selection, so you should have it read and your dish posted by Friday, June 26th. This is an easy read and will be a fun one to kick off summer!


Cook The Books Selection:  July/August

Our next book was picked by yours truly, Deb at Kahakai Kitchen. Since we have spent some time in Europe, the Middle East and America, I thought it was time we explored the mysteries of China with “The Last Chinese Chef” by Nicole Mones. In this foodie novel, a recently widowed American food writer finds solace, love and of course incredible food during a visit to China to clear up a paternity claim against her late husband’s estate. Her editor gives her an assignment to profile a rising star chef, Sam Liang and she is drawn deep into China’s culinary world, learning and being transformed by the cuisine, Sam’s colorful family and Sam himself.


This is Mones third book, having authored “Lost in Translation” and “A Cup of Light”, both also set in China and she is a frequent contributor to Gourmet Magazine. “The Last Chinese Chef” is a novel about food, family and love, and I can envision the many incredible dishes we will be inspired by it to create.

“The Last Chinese Chef ” is our July/August selection, so you should have it read and your dish posted by Friday, August 28th.


Cook The Books Selection: September / October

We are back with Johanna from Food Junkie Not Junk Food who is taking us to France with Peter Mayle’s “French Lessons: Adventures with Knife, Fork, and Corkscrew”, a joyous exploration and celebration of the infinite gastronomic pleasures of France. Mayle ( visits France’s most exciting foodfestivals, such as the Foire aux Grenouilles (frog thigh festival) in
Vittel, la Foire au Fromages (cheese festival) at Livarot or the Medoc Marathon in Burgundy where runners refresh themselves with bottles of expensive red wines. His tone is funny and relaxed and he makes you feel you’re on holiday too!


Mayle loves France and her people. Born in Brighton U.K. he and his wife live in Provence (South of France) . He is the author of  many books, such as “A Year in Provence”, “Chasing Cezanne” and “A Good Year” and has has contributed to The Sunday Times, the Financial Times, The Independent, GQ, and Esquire.

You should have “French Lessons” , our September/October selection, read and your dish posted by Friday, October 30th.


There you have it, our selections! We will create an individual post for discussion as we get to each book. Rachel, Johanna and I have loved reading your reviews and comments on the books and especially seeing the amazing and creative dishes inspired by them. We hope you enjoy these next three books just as much and thank you for making Cook The Books such a success.

Have a wonderful week.

And…(Drumroll Please)…The Winner for The Language of Baklava is…

23 02 2009

Hi Cook The Books Friends,

As promised, I have the announcement of the winner for our second book, The Language of Baklava by the wonderful Diana Abu-Jaber. 51khwv1941l_sl500_aa240_Not only did she give us a winner, Diana was kind enough to comment on each post and entry, really going above and beyond because she was so impressed with all of them. Without further ado, I will let her announce our winner in the email she sent me below.

Hi Deb,

I’ve been dazzled by the beautiful cooking as well as the beautiful entries that everyone submitted. There is so much feeling, substance, and authenticity in every single blog, it’s been a pure delight to get to read each and every one of them.

Where to start?

I loved the charming and inventive “nest” of special rice that Arlene made for the grilled chicken, as well as the lovely purity of Betherann’s school-ready hummus; I was thrilled with the range of recipes that Maria tried out, as well as the many personal connections she made with the book. Rachel’s book review was wonderfully insightful, and I wanted to attend her Middle Eastern feast! Simona’s interpretation of Muhammara enchanted me with all her personalized touches, like hand-grated bread crumbs and a topping of freshly made ricotta. Maggie must have created the most photogenically beautiful version of sambusik cookies ever; and Deb’s Middle Easter Platter looked more gloriously tempting than anything I’ve seen at the best Arabic restaurant.

I couldn’t help laughing when I read Judy’s rationale for making Shaking Tea (I hope it helped!) I loved that Foodycat’s used copy had notes in it and a sense of history; I was just delighted that Natashya decided to mark Valentine’s Day with Ful For Love and that she related her own “ful-related” remembrance; Tina had the most charming idea to bring her own childhood dish to the table; I was so impressed that Christine took on the tomato chicken mensaf dish AND that she took to such a challenging character– Aunt Aya! Suzi gets big points for forging ahead on such a yummy stuffed dates dish– while waiting and waiting for a book.

It was exciting to see that Johanna– who also related to the book–tried on the baklava recipe so successfully. And I was dazzled by the abundance and beauty of Mango Missives’ entry alongside her “Feast of Love.” Finally, I was moved deeply by the story that Laurie told about reading the book while confronting her own personal journey with an ailing father.

Of course, in the end I found it impossible to pick a winner, because each of these entries felt so special and intuitive and “true” in such wildly different ways. Even my Facebook friends couldn’t pick a winner after I posted it to my page. So, finally, I decided that I’d liked to give special recognition to Laurie, for the beauty of her story of caring for her father. In the end, I suppose my book is, in large part, a tribute to fathers, and I really appreciated the special way her post reflected that sentiment (not to mention how yummy her spicy kofta looked!)

Thank you again for including me and my book in your grand event. What fun it was to get to know– at least of sliver– of each of you. I’m hoping to return to all of your blogs and I’ve bookmarked several recipes! It will all have to wait till some future date of course–our one-month-old daughter is keeping us running, and we’re living on leftovers for the time being!

Please stay in touch, everyone. And thank you again.
With great gratitude and admiration,



Congratulations Laurie! (Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska) Your beautiful post and your Jordanian Kofta and Yogurt Sauce was the winner! You win the coveted Cook The Books Winner’s Badge for your Blog, a spot on the CTB blogroll, and Rachel will be selecting a special cookbook from her wonderful bookstore to send to you.


Thank you to everyone who entered. A special thank you from Rachel, Johanna and I to the wonderful Diana, for taking such time and care in selecting our winner.

Johanna will be by soon to announce our next selection and we will follow that up with our next two books as promised.

Have a wonderful week!

The Language of Baklava Update–No we don’t have a winner…yet!

19 02 2009


Well I have good news and I have bad news so I’ll start with the bad. (It’s not really bad unless you are utterly lacking in patience!). We don’t have our Cook The Books winner quite yet and probably won’t until next week. The good news? Our author, Diana Abu-Jaber, thought that everyone did such a great job and the choice is so difficult, she has requested a little more time to decide. Here is an excerpt from the email I received from her today:

Wow– I am SO impressed with the gorgeous blogs and dishes and images– what an accomplished and gifted group of cooks and writers! I can see I’m going to have some serious trouble deliberating over this one. Do you think anyone in the group would mind if I also posted this link on my Facebook page and invited my friends to weigh in as well?

I took the liberty of answering back for everyone and telling her it would be fine to get her friends and family involved. She’s going to get back to us at the first of the week with her choice. How cool is it that Diana is so delighted with all the skill and passion that everyone put in their entries?!

In other exciting news Johanna will be popping by very soon with her choice for Book #3 and then Rachel and I will be following up after that and announcing Books 4 & 5. We thought it would be helpful to let you know what is coming up in order to allow everyone time to get the books since several people have had some struggles in obtaining them.

Happy reading, cooking and eating everyone! I’ll be back soon to announce our Language of Baklava winner!