Thursday, September 25, 2014

Cookbook Review: Mason Jar Salads

by Julia Mirabella
Ulysses Press

Food is art! If you don't believe that then just pick up a copy of Mason Jar Salads and More by Julia Mirabella and you'll become a believer. Just look at the book's cover. Aren't those jars filled with layered salads absolutely gorgeous? How jealous would your co-workers be if you pulled a Mason jar-filled salad out of the refrigerator for lunch? I would probably have a couple of people circling my desk...

This cookbook begins with the author introducing the idea of Mason jar meals and the benefits to preparing your meals in these iconic jars. These benefits include portion control, saving time and money, easy cleanup, and, most importantly, the safety that glass provides such as being easily sterilized in the dishwasher and not transferring toxins into your food. The top of the Mason jar also provides an airtight seal to prevent spillage. The author also demonstrates how to assemble the salads in the jars beginning with the dressing, adding ingredients that won't soak up the dressing, and finishing with salad greens.


Recipes are not limited to salads although you will find over two dozen salad recipes. The book is divided into five categories of recipes:

  • Breakfasts: featuring smoothies and oatmeal recipes
  • Salads: from classics such as Caesar Salad, Fruit Salad, and Cobb Salad to modern combinations such as Corn and Blueberry Salad and Pomegranate and Pear Salad
  • More Lunch Ideas: pasta salads, chicken salads, potato salads, vegetable side dishes, rice dishes, and soups
  • Snacks and Dips: salsas, guacamole, and hummus
  • Salad Dressings: featuring ten different vinaigrette recipes


Mason Jar Salads and More opened my mind to the beauty and possibility of serving food in jars. I have several cases of Mason jars that I have only recently started using in my every day prepping and cooking. They're perfect for mixing up dressing and sauces. This cookbook will inspire anyone to pull out those jars and start layering tomorrow's breakfast, lunch, or snacks. The full-color photos are a feast for the eyes. See my favorite salad from the book, the Southwestern Salad, in the photo below. I want to eat it right now.

Photo courtesy of Ulysses Press

Southwestern Salad

Colorful with lots of protein and antioxidants, this hearty salad will keep you satisfied until dinnertime. You can step it up a notch with a little hot sauce in your salad dressing if you want to make things interesting.

Makes 1 serving

3 tablespoons Lime Vinaigrette
1⁄2 cup black beans, rinsed and drained
1⁄2 red vine-ripened tomato, diced
1⁄4 red bell pepper, diced
1⁄4 yellow bell pepper, diced
1⁄2 cup diced avocado (optional)
1⁄2 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen
2 cups mixed salad greens
1 ounce Cheddar cheese, grated
1 quart-size Mason jar

Start by pouring the vinaigrette dressing into the Mason jar. Then layer in the black beans, tomato, bell peppers, avocado, and corn. Finish with the salad greens and, finally, the Cheddar cheese. Seal and refrigerate until ready to use.

Lime Vinaigrette

2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
pinch of salt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
dash of hot sauce (optional)
3 tablespoons olive oil

Whisk together the lime juice, cilantro, salt, pepper, and hot sauce (if using). Slowly add the olive oil, whisking, until the dressing thickens.

Disclaimer: The publisher provided me with a review copy of the cookbook; however, the opinion expressed here is my own.

Gooseberry Patch Review and Giveaway: Slow-Cooker Fall Favorites

Gooseberry Patch

I can't believe it, but it has felt like fall all week here in Georgia! Will these cool days last? Unlikely, but I am so enjoying them right now. Besides the fall weather, I am also in love with other aspects of fall such as this Gooseberry Patch cookbook, Slow-Cooker Fall Favorites. The fall line of Gooseberry Patch cookbooks are my favorites. Whenever I want to get myself in the mood for the season's festivities, I always pull out all of my fall cookbook collection and spend the evening reading through the memories submitted by readers and imagining how all of the recipes taste.

If you're a fan of slow-cooking, you'll love this latest fall edition of Gooseberry Patch. As you can see from the table of contents below, every recipe from breakfast to appetizer to dessert is cooked in a slow cooker. So, break out your slow cooker (or two) and get ready to put some comforting dishes on your table.

While I didn't test a breakfast recipe for this review, I do love the idea of waking up on a Sunday morning and finding a warm breakfast ready for me in the kitchen. Maple French Toast Casserole, Bacon & Cheese Breakfast Casserole, and Blueberry Coffee Cake would be a great way to start my day.

I will admit that my slow-cooking experiences have really focused on appetizers or party food. I am always drawn to the slow cooker at parties - little smokies and meatballs swimming in sauce always call my name. The tailgating (appetizer) chapter of this book is filled with a variety of recipes for said sausages, meatballs, chicken wings, and dips. I chose to feature Ginger Thai Wings below from this chapter of the book.

Of course, there are recipes for soups and stews as well as a large selection of recipes for main dishes and sides. That's why I suggested getting out a slow cooker or two. Ideally, you could have a main dish in one cooker and a side or dessert in another. Oh, yeah, desserts...Slow-Cooker Apple Pie, Blueberries & Dumplings, Chocolate Cappuccino Bread Pudding and Fall-Favorite Apple Coffee of these could be waiting on you when you return home from work and from a weekend at your local pumpkin patch.

Ginger Thai Wings
Submitted by Regina Vining
Warwick, RI

Ginger Thai Wings

2-1/4 lbs. chicken wings
3/4 c. water, divided
1 T. lime juice
3/4 t. ground ginger, divided
1/2 c. creamy peanut butter
2 T. soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 t. red pepper flakes

Place wings in a slow cooker. Add 1/4 cup water, lime juice, and 1/4 teaspoon ginger to wings; stir to coat well. Cover and cook on low setting for 5 to 6 hours. Meanwhile, whisk together peanut butter, remaining water, remaining ginger and other ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, whisking constantly, until mixture is smooth. Remove wings to a serving bowl. Drizzle peanut sauce over wings. Toss to coat well. Serves 12.


If you would like your own copy of Gooseberry Patch's Slow-Cooker Fall Favorites, please enter to win in the widget below. Please be patient as the widget loads. Deadline: October 11, 2014.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Review: The Banh Mi Handbook

by Andrea Nguyen
Ten Speed Press

What is banh mi? The term banh mi means "sandwich" and also means "bread". It is a Vietnamese sandwich created by Vietnamese street vendors over a hundred years ago. These sandwiches start with a baguette or homemade banh mi roll (recipe included in book) and are filled with condiments, pickles, and various meats. If you don't have a restaurant in your area that sells banh mi (the sandwich), then you can easily make them at home with the help of Andrea Nguyen's The Banh Mi Handbook.

The cookbook begins by helping you to stock your banh mi pantry. Don't be afraid! There is no need to go to a specialty Asian grocery store. The ingredients can be purchased in the Asian food section of your local grocery store. I keep fish sauce, hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, and Sriracha chile sauce in my pantry anyway so the only other ingredient I had to search for was Maggi Seasoning Sauce. I found it at my local Kroger.

Once you have your ingredients gathered, you can use this cookbook to go on a culinary journey with recipes for specialty condiments such as cilantro maggi mayonnaise and garlic yogurt sauce and various homemade pickled vegetables. When you're ready to assemble your sandwich, you'll find recipes divided into cold cuts which includes sausages and pate. If you're not a meat eater, you can try edamame pate and baked maggi tofu.

I was particularly attracted to the chicken sandwiches such as the one featured on the cookbook's cover, Hanoi grilled chicken. This year, I've started making my own sausage patties. A recipe for chicken sausage patties seasoned with green onions, Thai chile, fish sauce, and oyster sauce sounds absolutely delicious! Another chapter features seafood - shrimp in caramel sauce and herbed salmon cakes. We then move into the pork and beef chapter with Chinese barbecued pork and Korean beef and kimchi. The book closes with chapters featuring vegetarian sandwiches and alternatives to banh mi (the bread) such as lettuce wraps and salads.

My son and husband are sandwich lovers. If you can put it between two pieces of bread, they'll eat it! So, this cookbook is the perfect way to experiment with different flavors and unique combinations of ingredients and serve them in a form that is familiar to my family - a sandwich. This is definitely a cookbook that I would recommend to anyone who wants to broaden her cooking horizons.

Disclaimer: A review copy of this cookbook was provided to me through Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest opinion.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Gooseberry Patch Review and Giveaway: Foolproof Family Recipes

Gooseberry Patch

I'm finally getting back on the blogging wagon and can't think of a better way to do so than to share a new Gooseberry Patch cookbook {and giveaway} with you. Foolproof Family Recipes is easy to get excited about because it contains some of the most original recipes that I've seen in quite a while. It was hard to decide which recipes to test because there were just so many that appealed to me.

When I look through a cookbook, I want to see recipes that are different from ones that I've seen in the past. Yes, it's nice to have a garlic cheese biscuit recipe in several different books, but I need to see recipes that make me stop and think, "Wow, that's different and I want to try it!" I found many recipes with the wow factor in Foolproof Family Recipes.

What kind of recipes appeal to me? Here are a few examples of originality:
  • Dreamy Orange Muffins which incorporate orange-flavored yogurt, orange juice, and mandarin oranges. They're topped with a glaze that is a combination of orange juice and powdered sugar. Yes, I want those on my breakfast buffet!
  • Mom's Dutch Noodles - Cooked egg noodles thrown into a skillet containing fried bacon and onions. Simple? Yes, but it's fried bacon and onions...the best combination on Earth!
  • Double Chocolate Brownies - I love making brownies from scratch so am drawn to brownie recipes. This was a simple, straight-forward recipe that called for butter-flavored shortening instead of butter. I like the option of using shortening if I'm out of butter. Plus, there were two cups of semi-sweet chocolate chips thrown in the batter for good measure...
  • Party Platter Pinwheels - No party is complete without pinwheels. I'm always on the lookout for an additional pinwheel recipe to add to my repertoire. This recipe appealed to me because it included Dijon mustard and bacon in the spread and was then topped with chopped tomatoes and shredded romaine lettuce before rolling up in the tortilla. Sounds wonderful!
Both of the recipes I chose to feature below struck a chord with me as soon as I read them. The cobbler called for a graham cracker crust and sweetened condensed milk in the filling so it was almost like an apple cheesecake instead of a cobbler. The chicken casserole contained components of one of my favorite recipes that I used to cook years ago. Sadly, I had lost that recipe somewhere alone the way and was so pleased to find this version in Foolproof Family Recipes.

I feel confident that you, too, will find plenty of new recipes to try in Foolproof Family Recipes. Think of the recipes in this cookbook as classics with a twist.

Dutch Apple Creamy Cobbler
Submitted by Laurel Perry
Loganville, GA

Dutch Apple Creamy Cobbler

1 c. graham cracker crumbs
3 tbsp. butter, melted
14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1/4 c. lemon juice
8-oz. container sour cream
21-oz. can apple pie filling
3/4 c. chopped walnuts
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg

In an 8"x8" baking pan, stir together cracker crumbs and melted butter with a fork. Press mixture down with fork to form a crust; set aside. In a bowl, stir together condensed milk and lemon juice; stir in sour cream. Spread condensed milk mixture over crust. Spoon pie filling over top. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, or until hot and bubbly. Combine walnuts and spices in a small bowl; sprinkle on top. Serve warm. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

No-Peek Chicken & Rice
Submitted by Jennie Gist
Gooseberry Patch

No-Peek Chicken & Rice

10-3/4 oz. can cream of chicken soup
10-3/4 oz. can cream of celery soup
6-oz. pkg. long grain & wild rice mix, uncooked
1-1/4 c. water
1 tsp. dried parsley
1/8 tsp. curry powder
4 chicken breasts, or 8 chicken thighs and drumsticks
1.35-oz. pkg. onion soup mix

In a large bowl, mix soups, rice mix, seasoning packet from rice, water, parsley and curry powder. Spoon into a lightly greased 13"x9" baking pan. Remove skin from chicken, if desired. Arrange chicken on top of rice mixture; sprinkle soup mix over chicken. Cover tightly with aluminum foil. Bake at 350 degrees for 2-1/2 hours, or until rice is tender and chicken juices run clear when pierced. Serves 4.

Disclaimer: Gooseberry Patch provided me with a review copy of the cookbook; however, the opinion expressed here is my own.


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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Blog Tour and Giveaway: "It's All Greek to Me" from Debbie Matenopoulos

BenBella Books, Inc.

There is nothing that defines a culture more than its food. Not only do I enjoy reading cookbooks that center around the food culture of my area here in the American south, I also love to learn about other food cultures. Over the last few months, I've become obsessed with Mediterranean cooking. I love the simplicity of it ~ fresh, uncomplicated ingredients combining to make extraordinary flavor blends.

Of course I know how to cook. I'm Greek.
 ~ Debbie Matenopoulos
Photo courtesy of BenBella Books, Inc.

In It's All Greek to Me, Debbie Matenopoulos takes readers on a tour of Greece where we are allowed to taste the food, see the sites, and meet the locals. As Debbie shares her culinary culture with us, she educates us in the Greek philosophy of eating. Greeks emphasize using in-season, organic vegetables and fruits. These fresh vegetables make up the majority of the meal with meats serving as a smaller portion of the meal. A typical dessert in Greece consists of fresh fruits while heavier desserts are saved for special occasions and shared with family and friends. Greeks eat a larger meal around mid-day and have a lighter meal later in the evening. The light evening meal makes for easier digestion and a more restful sleep. This is a concept that I would like my family to adopt.

Cooking Greek food shouldn't be complicated or intimidating. I found many recipes in this cookbook that appealed to me and that I know I could easily recreate in my kitchen: Lemon-Olive Oil Marinated Fish Kebabs, Greek Hamburger Patties, Eggplant Dip, White Bean Puree, Yogurt Lemon Dill Sauce, Garlic Yogurt Cucumber Sauce (Tzatziki), Garlic Sauce Made with Potatoes, Bulgur Wheat Salad, Potato and Onion Salad, Greek Meatball Soup, and Baked Cod with Lemon Garlic Parsley Sauce. Many of these recipes call for several of my favorite ingredients: lemons, olive oil, and garlic.

The recipe that I chose to highlight below, Lemonati Kota sta Karvouna (Lemony Grilled Chicken)
served with Latholemono (Lemon-Olive Oil Dressing) is an example of simple ingredients creating a wonderful meal.
When I finished reading It's All Greek to Me, I felt like I had actually visited Greece without having to leave my living room. Reading through each recipe and closely studying each photograph and entry into Debbie's travelogue allowed me to see, smell, and taste another country. I thoroughly enjoyed this cookbook as it enhanced my knowledge of Mediterranean cooking and allowed me a welcome escape from the routine of my life.

Lemonati Kota sta Karvouna (Lemony Grilled Chicken)
served with Latholemono (Lemon-Olive Oil Dressing)

Lemonati Kota sta Karvouna (leh-moh-NAH-tee KOH-tah stah KAR-voo-nah)
Lemony Grilled Chicken

Excerpt: I have found that simple food with great flavor is often the most satisfying, healthy, and easy to prepare. This fast and fantastic chicken recipe is packed with flavor and can be doubled or tripled easily for a big crowd. Serve this chicken with Summer Peach Salsa for a great summer lunch or light dinner. You can make the salsa and start to marinate the chicken right before you leave for work in the morning. Then, when you come home, just toss the chicken on the grill, and you can have a healthy dinner on the table in about 20 minutes. SERVES 4

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons dried oregano
5 scallions, soft green parts reserved, thinly sliced
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 cups loosely packed mixed greens or baby spinach
1 recipe Summer Peach Salsa (page 83) or Latholemono (page 73)

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, oregano, and the white parts of the scallions. Set aside.

Rinse the chicken under cold water, pat dry with paper towels, and season on both sides with the salt and pepper. Put the chicken into a large Ziploc bag and pour in the lemon juice mixture. Squeeze out as much air as possible, seal the bag, and shake to coat chicken in the marinade. Refrigerate on a large plate for at least 1 hour or up to overnight. Flip the bag over at least once so that the chicken marinates evenly.

Prepare a very hot grill or set a grill pan over medium-high heat. Brush the grill or grill pan with a little olive oil to prevent sticking. Remove the chicken from the marinade and grill for 4 to 6 minutes per side or until cooked through. Remove from the grill and let the chicken rest for about 10 minutes before serving.

To serve, evenly distribute the greens among 4 plates. Slice the chicken breasts into 1-inch diagonal slices and fan the slices over the greens. Spoon the Summer Peach Salsa or Latholemono over the top of the chicken. Garnish with the reserved green parts of the scallions. This chicken is also delicious served with Tzatziki (page 76).

As part of the blog tour for this cookbook, the publisher has provided me with a copy of the book to give away to one of my readers. The giveaway is open to residents of the US or Canada only. Please be patient as the widget takes a few moments to load. Visit Debbie's web site, to read more about the cookbook and to visit other stops on the blog tour.

Disclaimer: The publisher provided me with a review copy of the cookbook; however, the opinion expressed here is my own.