The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

September 21, 2007

Book review: Two titles that will indulge your love affair with food

This column began as a food-related column where I planned to review several books dealing with recipes, chefs and eating out. I am one of those people who like to read cookbooks; not just recipes but stories that go along with them, anecdotes, origins, etc.

I was NOT always so fascinated with cooking. In fact, as a teen I always said whomever I married had better know how to cook because I had no interest in the activity! Amazing what living on your own and having to feed yourself will teach you.

I still plan on talking about several books, but it looks like it’ll take place over two columns instead of one because this first book, “Talking With My Mouth Full: Crab Cakes, Bundt Cakes, and Other Kitchen Stories,” just fascinated me. It does have all the stories and antidotes to go along with the recipes. This grabbed my attention enough that I read it in one sitting.

Author Bonny Wolf is the food commentator on NPR’s “Weekend Edition.” She has taken a number of topics and written essays on them. The chapters are fairly short and cover everything from kitchen gadgets to ice cream to jello (is jello a “retro food” or not?), to holiday cooking to dinner disasters (who hasn’t experienced one of these and it’s usually when you have company coming!) to “foreign food.” Wolf covers many aspects of our (her?) love affair with food.

For instance, the chapter dedicated to toast talks about how it should be cooked, at what temperature it needs to be for butter, what it should look like and how the smell of toast can conjure up all kinds of memories. One of the recipes included is actually how to make toast and includes variations like cinnamon and sugar toast. The other recipe is for French toast.

Despite my fondness for cooking, an apron-wearer I am not. This chapter talks about the history of aprons and Wolf’s obvious love of them.

One of my favorite chapters is “Family Dinners.” Dinner at my house is often rushed and never very fancy and even though it’s just my daughter and I, we do try to sit down together — no TV, no phones, computer or radio — and talk about our day. It’s usually about her day and what’s going on in her world, but that’s fine with me. As Wolf states, “Family dinners don’t have to be up to June Cleaver standards ... It doesn’t matter if moms come to the table in jeans and kids in flip flops as long as they all get there together.” This is a reassuring chapter that emphasizes having a meal as a family, whether it’s dinner or breakfast, just as long as you eat together.

Did you know the Minnesota State Fair has been in existence and celebrating food since 1859? The author is from Minnesota and lets the reader know that today there are 49 different foods on a stick available at the fair. This includes the Pronto Pup (the precursor to the corn dog) to pork chops to fried Snickers. And as with most state fairs, you will also find various food items grown and waiting to be judged; nothing fancy, but ribbons are often displayed with pride, no matter the category or the size of the fair.

The chapter on comfort food talks primarily about mashed potatoes while the “Cold Comfort” chapter talks about ice cream.

Wolf writes a fun, light, chatty book with lots of personal stories. Although recipes are included at the end of each chapter, this is recommended for anyone who likes to read cookbooks and wants more than just a list of recipes.

“Faster! I’m starving! 100 Dishes in 25 Minutes or Less”

By Kevin Mills and Nancy Mills

I picked this up because I loved the title, but found it is a fantastic help for those nights when we either get home late or I’m not in the mood to spend a lot of time cooking.

The first four chapters are short introductions to cooking and various terminologies with lots of definitions. In the first chapter, which is only three pages, Kevin Mills explains how he got into cooking and that Nancy Mills is his mother. The remaining chapters are broken down by food item — soups, salads, pasta, quick sides, etc. — and information on stocking your pantry.

Each recipe gives the number of servings, preparation time, cooking time and time-saving tips before Kevin gives a short anecdote about the recipe. Many of the recipes include “Mom Tip,” which is tips from Nancy on substitutions, varying the cooking times or what a certain ingredient is and where to find it.

I tried several recipes and bookmarked so many others that I broke down and bought my own copy of this cookbook. The recipes are practical, easy and stay within the 25-minute time limit. The only thing missing is the nutritional information. Highly recommended.

Susan Wray is the director of Joplin Public Library.