Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School - Review + Recipe

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn

This book has been on my TBR since pre-blogging days.  I got a text one day from Lisa over at Books Lists Life saying I just HAD to get this book.  So I did and fully meant to read it.  I even picked it up a few times but for some reason never actually started to read it.  Then I read her 3rd book Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good which was about her growing up days and her family and loved it.  In 2016 I read her 1st book - The Sharper Your Knife the Less You Cry about her time at Cordon Bleu and adored it.  So this year when looking for the first book of the year I decided it was finally time to take The Kitchen Counter Cooking School off the shelf and actually read it.  And I'm so glad I did!  This is like pure inspiration wrapped in book form and is interesting and entertaining as well.

The book starts off with the author Kathleen Flinn in the midst of a bit of an existential crisis.  She's written her first book, she's graduated from culinary school - now what?  The spark of inspiration comes after an encounter in a grocery store with a woman who really just didn't know what to do with the ingredients in front of her.  After some t
hinking and planning she starts a cooking class with 9 volunteers.  All people who don't feel comfortable in the kitchen and who rely either on takeout or packaged food and all people who are curious about doing better.

Now I'm a relatively experienced cook.  I make dinner at least 5 nights a week and very rarely use prepackaged ingredients.  I went in feeling pretty smug - I mean what could she possibly teach me?   I bake bread regularly, I can follow a recipe but alter it if need be, I'm not scared of messing up and am always willing to try new things so clearly this book would only be for entertainment and maybe a few recipes.  I don't know if it was because I started this on New Year's Day when I'm always looking for a new project or if it was my vague awareness that I wanted to change something in my food habits but this book got me THINKING.  Not just the huh.. that's interesting I need to keep that in mind thinking but the making lists and planning strategies kind of thinking.  I suddenly have the urge to inventory my pantry and refrigerator.  I want to read all the labels and know where all my food comes from.  I want to experiment more, taste more, think more and I'm super excited about it.  I feel like this book gave me clarity for something I was trying to change but hadn't really figured out how or what or why.

If you're not looking for massive inspiration this is still a good read.  Flinn comes across as informative but not like her way is the only way to do things.  The different students are interesting and I liked seeing how they dealt with each class and how they interacted with each other.  I also really enjoyed the chapters at the beginning where we met them and saw how they cooked and the chapter at the end which was a  revisit.  Some were more successful than others and it was really interesting to see the takeaway.  I think anyone interested in cooking would really enjoy it and get something out of reading it - from confident experienced cooks to people who are interested in cooking but nervous about it and unsure of where to start.

For a recipe I'm sharing one that I've already made several times in the few weeks since reading this book.  While not particularly low fat it is simple and just amazingly good.

Basic Alfredo Sauce

8 ounces cooked pasta
2 cups heavy cream (2 tablespoons reserved)
1/2 teaspoon 
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 garlic clove, minced (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper

Prepare the pasta according to package directions, Carefully reserve one cup of the pasta water to use in the sauce.  Over medium high heat, add all but 2 tablespoons of cream to a saute pan or skillet.  When it bubbles, add the salt.  Small bubbles will erupt into larger bubbles.  Stir.  When the sauce thickens enough to cover the back of a spoon or leave a clean line in the bottom of the pan when you pull a spatula across it, add the pasta water.  Cook over medium high heat for about 3 minutes, until it bubbles again and the sauce thickens.  Add the reserved 2 tablespoons of cream, heat through, and then add the cheese, garlic (if using - I haven't), and a few cranks of pepper.  Taste, and add more salt if needed.  Add the cooked pasta and any additional ingredients and stir well to coat.

This stuff is so good!  I could pretty much eat a whole pot of it myself but I do try to be good and share!

I'm linking up with Weekend Cooking hosted by Beth Fish Reads

Friday, January 20, 2017

Friday Linkups: A Certain Age

It's Friday linkup time!  I'm linking up with the Book Blogger Hop hosted by Coffee Addicted Writer, Book Beginnings of Fridays hosted by Rose City Reader, and the Friday 56 hosted by Freda's Voice

This Week's Book Blogger Hop Question:
What was the one time you thought the movie was better than the book?

My Answer:
This is tough!  The only book/movie I can think of where I really liked the movie more than the book was Anne of Green Gables in the Disney movie version.  I had tried the book a few times and just never could get into it but when I saw the movie I immediately fell in love.  Of course then I went on to love the book and read everything else that L.M. Montgomery wrote but the movie was my gateway.

I've been wanting to read Beatriz Williams for several years now so when a chance came up to be part of the blog tour for A Certain Age I jumped at it.  I love the 1920s setting and that cover just slays me.  I'm not nearly as far along as I need to be on this one (There needs to be some pretty serious reading this weekend!) but I'm really enjoying it.

The Beginning:
At last! It's the day we've all been waiting for, dear readers: the opening of the latest and greatest Trial of the Century, and I don't mind telling you it's as hot as blazes inside this undersized Connecticut courtroom.

My Thoughts: 
This is from a gossip column and isn't the way the book is written thankfully but it does have me wanting to know more about the Trial of the Century!

The 56:
"Something's fishy.  Why would a man that rich live in a rinky dink townhouse so far south and east?"

My Thoughts:
I think how funny how confused Teresa (the speaker) is about why this family is living in an unfashionable area of town but she does have a point!  Why are they living so far out of the way?

So what do you think?  Keep reading?  Any movies that you like better (or even as much as) the book?

Thursday, January 19, 2017

How to Ruin a Queen - Nonfiction Review

How to Ruin a Queen: Marie Antoinette and the Diamond Necklace Affair by Jonathan Beckman

Rating: Good 
Source: NetGalley

Description:  In 1785, a sensational trial began in Paris that would divide the country and captivate Europe. A leading Catholic cardinal and scion of one of the most distinguished families in France stood accused of forging the queen’s signature to obtain the most expensive piece of jewelry in Europe: a 2,800-carat diamond necklace. Where were the diamonds? Was the cardinal innocent? Was, for that matter, the queen? The revelations from the trial would bedevil the French monarchy as the country descended into a bloody revolution.
In How to Ruin a Queen, award-winning author Jonathan Beckman tells of political machinations and enormous extravagance; of kidnappings, prison breaks, and assassination attempts; of hapless French police in disguise, reams of lesbian pornography, and a duel fought with poisoned pigs. It is a detective story, a courtroom drama, a tragicomic farce, and a study of credulity and self-deception in the Age of Enlightenment.

Genre: Nonfiction - History

Why I Picked This Book:  How could I pass up that blurb?  Plus, French history is one of those subjects that I know just enough about to be confused and I'd really like to learn more.

My Impression:  Obviously, I've been aware of Marie Antoinette since I started studying world history in school at some point.  Basically, I knew she was the Queen of France, she lost her head but not before she revolutionized fashion into much simpler styles which seems needed as at the time ladies were wearing bird cages and toy boats on their heads which seems headache inducing.  My first introduction to the diamond necklace affair came through a Nancy Drew computer game I used to play with the kids (which are really fun!  I want to play them again now that I don't have to share with kids who can't solve puzzles quick enough) in which the goal was to locate the diamonds in the famous and notorious diamond necklace.  As for the hows and whys I was still in the dark but I was definitely intrigued.
This book answered some of the questions I had and left me with more but in the best of ways.  I'm fascinated by the necklace and can easily see myself going out and reading everything I can find on the subject and debating answers to questions that will most likely never be answered.  The story itself is fascinating and characters are even more interesting.  There's Marie Antoinette stuck in the precarious position to end all precarious positions, the greedy and scheming Jeanne of royal birth but not wealth and the Catholic cardinal status hungry and lazy golden child of the Rohan family. Beckman gives enough background to make them come to life and to explain how the diamond necklace affair came to be.  While I wouldn't say this is like reading a novel it definitely isn't anywhere near a dry dull textbook.  I enjoyed the fact that Beckman states where his information is coming from and freely admits that some information is unreliable at best.  He includes a detailed cast of characters at the beginning which is helpful and there are also a lot of footnotes to clarify information.  The only negative for me was that I found both of these difficult to benefit from on an ebook.  I think this would read better in a print format.
If you're interested in French history and want to know more about this scandalous necklace and all the intrigue that led up to it this book is an interesting, informative and entertaining read.

Would I Read More of this Series/Author?: I would - especially if the topic is as scandalous as this one!

Would I Recommend this Book?: I would recommend this to history lovers and nonfiction readers.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Fudge and Jury - Blog Tour Cozy Mystery Review

Fudge and Jury (Bakeshop Mystery #5) by Ellie Alexander

Rating: Good
Source: Blog Tour

Description: It’s almost spring in Ashland, Oregon, and the town is preparing for the Shakespeare and the annual Chocolate Festival. Business is cookin’ at Torte, and the store is expanding as Jules’ team whips up crèpes filled with mascarpone cheese and dark chocolate. Torte stands a chance of being this year’s confectionery belle of the ball! Life couldn’t be sweeter—unless murder taints the batter.

Evan Rowe, of Confections Couture, makes a chocolate fountain that would put Willy Wonka to shame, and his truffles are to die for—literally? Yes, the world-renowned chocolatier has just turned up dead…right after sampling a slice of Jules’ decadent four-layer chocolate cake. Now all eyes are on Jules as she tries to find the mysterious ingredient in her own recipe. Can she sift out the truth before another contestant bites the buttercream?

Genre: Mystery - Cozy

Why I Picked This Book:  I've been reading this series since the beginning and it's one I've really enjoyed!

My Impression:  This is my 5th visit to Ashland, Oregon and the amazing sounding bakery Torte.  I was very much looking forward to spending more time with Jules, her mom Helen, Sterling and everyone else who inhabits the world Alexander has created.  Visiting with these characters is almost like visiting with old friends and I always look forward to catching up with them.
The food talk is amazing.  This is not a book to be read on an empty stomach - particularly if you have a sweet tooth.  In this book because of the Chocolate Festival (this needs to be a real thing and it needs to be near me!) the focus is most definitely on the sweet and the treats described are amazing sounding!  Luckily, there's several recipes in the back of the book which I'm hoping to attempt.  I was pleased not to see much of Jules' usual nemesis, Richard Lord, in this book, but would have loved some more time with Sterling, Andy, and Stephanie.  I'm super curious about the plans for Torte that are discussed some in this book.  I can't wait to see what happens next in that area!
The mystery was intriguing and I always love it when there are tons of suspects but the way it was done seems impossible.  I was pleased with the solution and enjoyed how it was done.  My only complaint there was that I had a hard time believing that Evan who knew he would be eating from different vendors and knew he had life threatening allergies wouldn't have an epi-pen with him but that's only a small piece.
While I like Jules there was a lot of complimenting her in this book and that got a little towards the eye rolling side.  Yes, I get that she's a brilliant pastry chef and attractive but it seems to be commented on a lot.  As well, I'm about ready for the subplot involving her estranged husband Carlos to be wrapped up.  While it isn't overwhelming it does take up space that I would have rather been focused on the mystery or the inner workings of Torte.
Despite a few small issues this is a series that I consistently enjoyed and am always left looking forward to my next visit to Torte.  While it is the 5th in the series I think it could be read on its own without any problem though the previous books are fantastic!

Would I Read More of this Series/Author?: Absolutely!  This has been a series that I've consistently enjoyed and am looking forward to more.

Would I Recommend this Book?: If you enjoy cozy mysteries this is a fun series and this is a really solid addition.  I think anyone who enjoys foodie cozies would thoroughly enjoy this book.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday - Ten Hidden Gem Books I Read in 2016

This week's Top Ten Tuesday topic from The Broke and the Bookish is Ten Hidden Gem Books I Read in 2016.  There are so many great books that not nearly enough people have read - or at least not rated on Goodreads!  I'm sticking with books I loved that have less than 200 ratings on Goodreads.

1.  Send in the Clowns by Julie Mulhern (135 Reviews) - This series is one of my absolute favorite cozy mystery series.  It's set in the 1970s and feels very much like it's set during the time but not like the setting is a gimmick.  The mysteries are always fantastic, the characters are interesting, and Mulhern has the most amazing Pinterest boards where you can actually see her inspiration for the clothes, cars, and everything else in her books.  If you've never read a cozy mystery this is a fantastic series to start with.

2.  Body in the Bayou by Ellen Byron (186 Reviews) - This is another cozy series and is set in the bayous of Louisiana.  This is a setting I'm super familiar with and I can tell that the author is as well as it's perfectly done.  The first two books in this series are both super entertaining and have just been a joy to read.

3.  Finding Fontainebleau: An American Boy in France by Thad Carhart (101 Reviews)- This part memoir part history lesson is just lovely.  I loved getting to know the Carhart family (especially the mother who is my new personal hero.  I'm pretty sure that nothing shocked that woman) and learn about life in post-World War II France and thoroughly enjoying getting chapters on the history of France all centered around an amazing former residence of royalty.

4.  Better Get to Livin' by Sally Kilpatrick (83 Rating) - This was an accidental NetGalley request.  I'm not usually a quirky small town reader but this was so much fun without being silly.  I was absolutely delighted with it and if you enjoy small town stories with some seriously quirky characters this is one that absolutely should not be missed.

5.  How Secrets Die by Marta Perry (103 Ratings) - Another quirky small town but this one has a heavy dose of suspense, a sizable helping of characters making their peace with the past, and just a nice dollop of romance.  I'm excited that Perry has a sizable backlist because she's definitely an author I want to see lots more of!

6.  The Rain Sparrow by Linda Goodnight ((174 ratings) - I requested this one off of NetGalley the second I saw it took place in an inn without noticing the darkness of some of the other plot points.  I'm glad I didn't notice them because they may have kept me from reading what was one of my favorite books of 2016.  In a dual timeline book there's usually one timeline that is so much more interesting than the other but this was a rare exception.  I loved all the characters and was so very invested in all the stories.

7.  A Reckless Desire by Isabella Bradford (158 ratings) - This is the 3rd book in a trilogy about brothers and my favorite.  Bradford manages to blend deep social issues into an entertaining historical romance without making light of the issues and without making the book too heavy.

8.  Death and the Brewmaster's Widow by Loretta Ross (152 ratings) - This is a cozy series that needs more attention.  The characters are so unusual without being over the top and there's a history element in every mystery.  I have the third book in this series coming up and I can't wait to catch back up with the Death (pronounced Deeth) and Wren.

9.Beauty, Beast, and Belladonna by Maia Chance (155 ratings) - All the books in this series have slight touches of fairy tale inspiration for an extra bit of fun.  It's a historical mystery which is unusual and the main character is edging towards con-artist which makes for a unique cozy and one that needs more attention.

10. The Readaholics and the Gothic Gala by Laura DiSilverio (212 ratings) - I'm cheating just a little because this has just over 200 ratings but it really should have more.  I can never turn down a bookish book - especially a mystery with books!  Not only do the characters in the series belong to a book club together but they talk about books - A LOT! In this story it's all about Rebecca and I adored every minute of book discussion. To make it even better it had a great mystery attached!

What books did you love that need a little more attention?

Monday, January 16, 2017

Ramblings from the Stacks - Reading in 2017

I love the beginning of the year!  There are new lists to be made, new projects to start, new ideas to put into work.  It's all very exciting!  Now I know that really January 1 is not any different from February 2 or November 17 but it FEELS different!  It feels fresh and new and clean.  Now is my time to look at my reading for 2016 and decide what I want to do in 2017.

My goal in 2016 was to push myself more in what I read and I feel like I did pretty well.  Not every book was a hit but I got something out of each one - even if it was learning that a particular sub-genre isn't for me.

But as 2016 wound down I found myself getting overwhelmed in book world.  I love my books and I love getting new books but I feel like I've lost control of the stacks.  There are so many books either stacked up in corners, on my Kindle or on lists to be borrowed from the library and I want to read them all but sometimes it feels impossible.   I've spent some time stacking books and making lists and reading about the challenges that other people are doing (and which I really enjoy following along with!) all the while thinking about what I want to do.  And after a bit of thinking and pondering and overthinking some more I came up with a strategy - I'm going to read what I want to read.  That's not exactly groundbreaking I know but my goal is to do it mindfully.

So I decided to schedule.  I flipped through my TBR and pulled out the first books that jumped out at me.  There's a mix of books - romance, mysteries, fiction and and even a science fiction book.  For now I'm only doing one a month with an occasional classic added in.

My schedule this year -

January - A Rogue Not Taken by Sarah MacLean.  
Reason: I adore Sarah Maclean on the podcast Avon on the Air which has not had a new episode in far too long and have heard fabulous things about a book.  This is the first book in a series that she describes as Regency Era TMZ.

February - Still Life by Louise Penny
Reason: This is a mystery series I discovered after I started blogging and I've been meaning to read it since the beginning.  I love the sound of the Quebec setting and the more procedural style mystery.

March - The Lake House by Kate Morton
Reason: I read one Kate Morton book years and years ago and loved it and swore I'd read more.  That of course hasn't happened but after this book came out I decided I needed to make an effort to make it happen because this one sounds amazing!

April - Tempest in a Teapot by Amanda Cooper
Reason: I was so excited about this series when it came out.  I love cozies, I love teapots and a whole series involving both just seemed to good to pass up!

May - When a Scot Ties the Knot by Tessa Dare
Reason: It's been described as Regency Clue.  I really must read it.  Since May is my birthday month this book seems like a perfect birthday present to me!

June - Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams
Reason: I love Douglas Adams' style of humor and this book sounds bizarre and hilarious and completely confusing!

July - Garden Spell by Sarah Addison Allen
Reason: The summer before last I read my very first Sarah Addison Allen book and it was such a perfect summer read.  I've been wanting to read Garden Spell ever since and it seems like it'd be another perfect summer read.

August - Dinner with Edward by Isabel Vincent
Reason: In August school starts back and I get a little bit of my brain back!  This book sounds like a good change of pace.

September - In the Woods by Tana French
Reason: Pretty much all that I said about Still Life except this one seems a little darker and is set in Ireland.

October - Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco
Reason: I wanted something a little spooky and I love all things Jack the Ripper!

November - Week in Winter by Maeve Binchey
Reason: Maeve Binchey is an author I've been wanting to read for at least a decade but somehow never did.  I own a copy of this one and it sounds wonderful.  I'm really looking forward to reading this one!

December - A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Reason: Last year I attempted to reread Great Expectations which I hated when I read it in high school.  Turns out almost 20 years later I still didn't like it but I could really appreciate Dickens' ability to create atmosphere and memorable characters.  I've always loved this story and this is the year to actually read it!

I've got high hopes for the scheduling!  I'm thinking this is the year I'll finally get some of those "I've been meaning to get that read for ages" books read!  What changes do you hope to make going forward?  Anything you did in 2016 that you plan to keep going?

Saturday, January 14, 2017

This Week in Reading - January 15

It's Sunday Post time!  This is hosted by the awesome Caffeinated Book Reviewer and gives us all a chance to recap our week.  I'm also linking up with Kathryn over at The Book Date for What Are You Reading?

What I Got:

Treble at the Jam Fest by Leslie Budewitz - This is an author I've been wanting to read for ages and I love a good foodie cozy! (NetGalley)

Starlight Bridge by Debbie Mason - Another author I've been wanting to read for awhile and this one features a hidden book in an inn.  How can I resist? (NetGalley)

A Perfect Obsession by Heather Graham - I can't resist a Heather Graham book! (NetGalley)

Forever a Hero by Linda Lael Miller - This is the third in the series about three brothers.  I've really enjoyed the first two and am looking forward to Mace's story. (NetGalley)

Seduce Me Cowboy by Maisey Yates - I'm not a big fan of Yates' titles but the main character in this book is the main character in a previous book and I really want to know more about him.  (NetGalley)

Someone to Love by Donna Alward - This is the second book in a new series by an author I've really enjoyed in the past.  I'm excited to see where she goes with this new series set in a little town in Vermont. (Publisher)


Reading: Fudge and Jury by Ellie Alexander and Sad Cypress by Agatha Christie

Listening: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again by Frank Cottrell Boyce and read by David Tennant who should read all things from now on.

Watching: Now that regular shows are coming back on I've been watching The Big Bang Theory, Bull and all the NCIS shows.  J and I are watching Top Chef and Remington Steele which is on Hulu and features a ridiculously young Pierce Brosnan.

Off the Blog:

Not much to report this week!  No more threats of ice so the routine has been grinding on.  I headed down to visit my grandparents on Thursday and won't be back till Monday.  I'm looking forward to catching up with everyone when I get back!  I'm actually going down by myself which is pretty novel.  J is keeping the Tornado home and they're both very excited about going to see movies, playing video games and just hanging out for a few days on their own.  I have no idea what I'll be walking into when I come home!  They may have created their own language by that point.

My reading year is still going great and I've been making great progress on the books I had planned to read.  I'm going to start throwing some classics and heavier books in which will slow things down a bit but I'm looking forward to them.

On the Blog:

What Happened:

What's Coming Up:

Monday: Ramblings From the Stacks - Reading in 2017
Tuesday: Top Ten Tuesday - 10 Most Underrated Books I Read in 2016
Wednesday: Fudge and Jury - Blog Tour Cozy Mystery Review
Thursday: TBD
Friday: Friday Linkups with teasers from current book
Saturday: Kitchen Counter Cooking School - Review + Recipe

Have a great week and happy reading!