Baking for the Holidays by Sarah Kieffer


A charming holiday baking book brimming with delicious, indulgent recipes, cozy winter photography, and lots of holiday cheer from Sarah Kieffer, author of 100 Cookies, beloved baker behind The Vanilla Bean Blog, and creator of the “bang-the-pan” method.

Delight family and friends with edible gifts and whip up some delicious baked goods to treat yourself through the long winter months after the holidays have ended. Recipes include: Triple Chocolate Peppermint Bark, Meyer Lemon-White Chocolate Scones, Pear-Almond Danish Bread, Hot Chocolate Cake, and Pumpkin Pie with Candied Pepita Streusel. With happy, festive photography and anyone-can-do-it recipes, this is a perfect holiday gift sure to please anyone in your life who loves to while away the winter months in their warm and cozy kitchen.

Sarah Kieffer is quickly finding a place on my cookbook shelves. While many of the recipes in Baking for the Holidays are familiar to me, Kieffer has included plenty of suggestions for twists on originals – unusual thing you can add to cakes, breads, and pastries – that add new life to old classics.

Every recipe I tried resulted in delicious, well-baked goodies, due to Kieffer’s careful and detailed instructions. She’s a good writer, and very attentive to detail, which makes her a great writer of cookbooks! The photography is full of luscious images of cakes, cookies, pastries and other delectable items.

My favorite “new” recipe is the one for Morning Buns, which I will be adding to my rotation of special items to bake for holidays.

Buy this for the baker in your life!

Publication Date: September 7, 2021
Published By: Chronicle Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Kevin Belton’s Cookin’ Louisiana by Kevin Belton


Kevin Belton’s fourth cookbook and television series focuses on the amazing food found throughout Louisiana. The star of New Orleans Cooking with Kevin Belton heads to multiple parishes found across Louisiana to explore dishes and unique flavor profiles associated with each area of the state. Kevin Belton’s Cookin’ Louisiana has 78 recipes (3 from each episode of the coordinating TV series) along with a generous helping of Kevin’s captivating stories and humor. Recipes include Smoked Meat Loaf with Sweet Glaze, Louisiana Fish on the Half Shell, Cane Syrup Cake, Pumpkin Soup, Fried Alligator Bites, and Shrimp Scampi Risotto.

The thing I enjoy the most about Kevin Belton is his down-to-earth authenticity, and that shines through every page of this delightful book.

The book is a wonderful blend of Belton’s storytelling about his home state of Louisiana and a collection of delicious recipes. Heavy on seafood, but including plenty of meat for the carnivores, Belton serves up stews, gumbos, stuffed veggies, and even some desserts.

I was happy to find a recipe for his Creole seasoning, too, and made that straightaway. I’ll be trying out a few of the recipes and expect that my Great Lakes born & bred husband will devour every one.

ARCs of cookbooks are often difficult to follow because the formatting and photos often aren’t fully correct, so there were a few recipes jumbled together, but I was able to figure them out.

Belton’s stories about the different parishes in Louisiana are charming and informative, but sometimes did not really connect with recipes offered in the chapter. I’m guessing that may be an editing issue that will be corrected prior to publication.

Overall, an excellent cookbook from a guy who cooks real food with history and meaning and who, like all excellent cooks, has a story for everything!

Published By: Gibbs-Smith
Publication Date: August 31, 2021
Thanks to *Edelweiss.Plus for the review copy

Big Love Cooking by Joey Campanaro

1AEEABAF-4322-47F8-B1A5-DEE8076B56CBFrom Netgalley & the Publisher:

What is Big Love Cooking? For Joey Campanaro, Italian-American chef and owner of venerated Greenwich Village restaurant Little Owl, big love cooking is his mother and grandmother hovering over the stove every Sunday, nursing a bubbling pot of red sauce, and filling the house with the familiar, irresistible scent of garlic, tomatoes, and carne.

This cookbook is an ode to the generous, comforting dishes of that big love cooking. With helpful, conversational advice and 75 crowd-pleasing recipes, this cookbook is a return to hearty platters and comfort food. Welcome home.

Recipes include Gravy Meatball Slider Buns, Pork Chop with Parmesan Butter Beans, Ricotta Cavatelli with Tomato Broth, Bacon, and Fava Beans—accessible, delicious meals to make at home and serve to loved ones.

About the Author:

Joey Campanaro is the owner/chef of Little Owl Restaurant, and co-owner of Market Table and The Clam in New York. He is the winner of the Food Network Ultimate Thanksgiving Challenge, and has appeared on The Today Show, Iron Chef, Vice Munchies, Chopped and many more. He has also contributed to Bon Appetit, Esquire, Slate, and the New York Times, among others.

Joey was raised in an Italian-American household in South Philadelphia where the food of his childhood inspired him to make cooking his vocation. With a culinary approach firmly rooted in his Italian grandmother’s kitchen and honed in a range of America’s top restaurants, he brings a lifelong affinity for Mediterranean cuisine to every dish he creates.

Little Owl is a corner gem with a big porkchop and an even bigger heart. Celebrating 13 years in Greenwich Village (New York City), Little Owl offers bold Mediterranean cuisine with friendly yet professional service that captures neighborhood dining in NYC. Understated yet elegant, an intimate room, it’s your home away from home.

I don’t often recommend cookbooks for Reader’s Advisory or Library Reads lists because, well, they’re cookbooks and usually not all that interesting to fully read.

Big Love Cooking is different.

Joey Campanaro has produced a cookbook that is fun to read as well as full of delicious recipes. Reading this is like being invited to the warmth, noise, and chaotic love of the Campanaro Sunday table. I married into a family much like Campanaro’s where food traditions reign supreme. The family has changed in the 35 years I’ve been with my husband, but the food remains the same.

There is a great balance of story and instruction here, with many of the recipes containing little asides from Campanaro regarding how to prepare the food. It makes you feel as though he’s right there next to you and encouraging you to try a little of this, or taste a little of that. This approach is entertaining for the experienced cook, but also very helpful for the new cook who may not have the confidence to deviate from the recipe. Campanaro “Big Love” approach just might help that new cook become more confident.

The personal stories of Campanaro’s family are entertaining and endearing. I think every Italian family has a set of “Uncle Frankie’s wine glasses” (and an Uncle Frankie!). For my family, they were individual hourglass-shaped glasses that originally held little shrimp cocktails. My father-in-law would fill them with his homemade wine and pass them out every holiday. And the “Old-School Salit” is my mother-in-law 100% – I *still* haven’t mastered the ratio of oil and vinegar poured directly on the “salit.”

The recipes, though, are the stars here. The “Little Owl Gravy Meatball Sliders” and “Sesame Seed Breadsticks” are amazing, and the directions for the “Sunday Gravy” are authentic and easy to follow. What really makes this book shine, though, are the recipes from Campanaro’s Little Owl restaurant. Horseradish Crusted Cod, Asparagus Homefries, Crab Cakes with Beefsteak Tomatoes, Little Owl Pork Chop, and so many more.

This will make a lovely gift for the cook in your life. Highly recommended.

Publication Date: September 8, 2020
Published By: Chronicle Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

100 Cookies by Sarah Kieffer

cover190286-medium100 recipes for all types of cookies–chocolatey, fruity, crispy, chewy, classic, inventive—there’s a foolproof recipe for the perfect treat for everyone in this book.

Sarah Kieffer writes The Vanilla Bean Baking Blog and introduces a whole new technique for baking cookies that ensures crisp edges and soft centers for the most delicious cookies.

Recipes range from the Classic Chocolate Chip made three different ways, to bars, brownies, and blondies that reflect a wide range of flavors and global inspiration. 

As an avid cookie baker, I am always on the lookout for new cookie cookbooks. I am not, however, a fan of Instagram or food blogs, so I was unfamiliar with the author. I am very glad that she has made the transition from online to print, because this book is a delight!

Filled with luscious recipes that range from old favorites to brand new flavor combinations and techniques, there is something here for the novice to the experienced baker. Kieffer comes across as chatty, witty, authentic, and just plain fun. She doesn’t take herself super-seriously, which is a flaw in most food bloggers and Instagrammers, and she approaches baking with precision blended with a heady dose of risk-taking.

I always appreciate a book that blends sumptuous recipes with an intelligent introduction and commentary that carries throughout the book. Kieffer’s fondness for Shakespeare is apparent in the generous sprinkling of quotes throughout, making the book fun to read.

I don’t buy many cookbooks in print anymore, but I will be buying this one, along with a couple copies for family & friend bakers.

Publication Date: October 20, 2020 (just in time for holiday baking!)
Published By: Chronicle Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Heirloom by Sarah Owens

HeirloomIn Heirloom, Sarah Owens’ efforts to introduce cooks to using locally grown, “heirloom” food is commendable, and she writes eloquently and passionately about the benefits of doing so. A lengthy introduction leaves the reader fully informed as to why Owens prefers this kind of food and cookery, despite the sometimes  overblown descriptions and statements describing the relationship between humans and food consumption.

The recipes here are organized in two parts – by type such as fruits & vegetables, meats, and grains, then by season, which is helpful and supports the narrative style of the text.

There’s some definite “Earth Mothering” here, with recipes and instructions for making your own vinegar from carefully selected plants, and fermenting food which, let’s be real, regular people are probably not going to work into their busy lives, even though the recipes are totally fascinating!

And that leads me to my main criticism of this book – it is definitely written from a place of privilege. There’s little to no understanding by the author that many Americans live in food deserts, where they can’t easily access fresh food, and certainly can’t afford to pay for some of the ingredients used here. That said, this will find an audience with the semi-affluent to affluent Moms who are trying to get their families to eat healthy.

Publication Date: September 24, 2019
Published By: Roost Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy


Philosophers FlightThe Philosopher’s Flight by Tom Miller – Imagine a world where the patriarchy is flipped. Where women who have unusual skills (think those traditionally associated with “witches” like flying, healing, and magic) have shaped the world and women have the power. Now imagine that the son of one of the most decorated “Philosophers” wants to join what seems to be the equivalent of the Air Force, but to do so he must graduate from the Philosopher program at Radcliffe, where he one of only 3 men. At the same time, the Philosophers are threatened by the “Trenchers” who believe the skills possessed by the Philosophers are evil.

And that’s only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Miller has built a world that is at once familiar and topsy-turvy, and made that world a whole lot of fun. There’s unbounded humor and imagination here along with plenty of breathtaking excitement. Highly recommended.

Edna LewisEdna Lewis: At the Table with an American Original – If you pick up this book expecting it to be a cookbook, you’ll be disappointed. If you’re looking for a highly readable collection of essays about a remarkable woman, this is your book.

Yes, there are some recipes, but they are superfluous to the story told here. Edna Lewis is the star, and food her supporting actors. This collection of essays and reminiscences about Lewis, who passed away in 2006 after decades of holding court as the Queen of Southern Cooking, is a beautiful testament to a woman who successfully introduced real Southern Cooking to the masses. Cooking in a time when food was “complicated,” Lewis made her mark and built her audience by staying true to simple recipes using the freshest ingredients. Along the way, she influenced countless chefs and cooks. This book collects their stories, each one unique and interesting. Recommended for curious cooks.

Well Timed MurderA Well-Timed Murder by Tracee de Hahn – I stumbled upon de Hahn’s first Agnes Luthi book, Swiss Vendetta, quite by accident while browsing in a book store one day. I took it over to a comfortable chair to read a few pages and was hooked after the first chapter. I’ve waited for this, her second in the series, with much anticipation and I was not disappointed.

Agnes returns with the same quiet, sturdy, wry spirit, despite the injuries she sustained at the end of Swiss Vendetta. We learn more about Agnes and her family here, as well as about Julian Vallotton, as the two investigate the death of a master watchmaker. I have a fondness for mysteries that include well-researched information about unusual topics; in this case, de Hahn delivers some fascinating information about the Swiss and international watch industry.

The author skillfully develops key characters, and crafts a tricky and surprising plot which fully engages the reader. Tracee de Hahn is quickly becoming a new favorite author and Agnes Luthi a favorite character. Highly recommended.

Foodimentary by John-Bryan Hopkins

1577151534I am a cookbook reader and collector, and the concept behind Foodimentary intrigued me. Every day a Food Holiday? Hell, yes!

I was not familiar with the author’s blog so opened the book to a cold read through. I found the introduction, where he describes the “a-ha” moment when he discovered the word “foodimentary” and how he built his blog just a little too precious and uninteresting, but I am *not* an “Introduction” reader and usually skip them, so no matter.

What does matter is the content of this marvelous book! Hopkins has produced a readable, fun book filled with interesting facts about food and 365 reasons to celebrate it.

Every. Single. Day.

I’m not entirely clear on how he selected the Food Holidays, but I do like his flexibility in changing them up and his encouragement to readers to decide on their own food holidays. The food holidays described in the book are fascinating to read and will be a blast to celebrate. Since reading this book, I have celebrated Stuffed Mushroom Day (Feb 4), Oreo Cookie Day (March 6), and Potato Chip Day (March 14). There are so many possible uses here – in classrooms, libraries, and most certainly bars & restaurants.

The book itself is big and chunky, and filled with retro illustrations that remind me of old cookbooks. I haven’t tried any of the recipes yet, but am looking forward to testing a few. This would make a wonderful gift for the foodie in your life, and there is tremendous potential to connect with the author through social media and share your pics of how you’ve celebrated his Food Holidays. Recommended.

Stock the Crock by Phyllis Good

stock the crockPhyllis Good can straighten her crown and easily claim the title of Slow Cooking Queen with this, her latest entry in a long trail of slow cookery cookbooks. Stock the Crock contains hundreds of recipes for old favorites with new twists, all using your crockpot.

Divided into seven chapters – Soups, Stews & Chowders; Vegetarian & Pasta Mains; Poultry; Beef & Pork; Fish & Seafood; Sides; and Sweets & Treats – this book has something for everyone. Good writes clearly, listing the ingredients in the order in which they are used, and uses everyday ingredients that most American cooks will have in their pantries. She also emphasizes the flexibility of cooking in a crockpot, often letting us know things like: “If you don’t have time to brown the meat before adding to the pot, don’t worry. It will be fine,” or “If you’re not there to stir the pot after 2 hours, don’t worry. It will be fine.” I love that.

I did learn some new things from this book, like Good recommends you grease the interior of your crockpot before you add the food. I’ve never done that, and I do wonder if it’s necessary. I also learned that you can BAKE in a crockpot, too, although again, I wonder who would want to do that.

There are some excellent recipes here – some that I tried and found delicious, and some that I plan to try soon. For example, Salsa Rice. Did you know you can cook rice in a crockpot? Rice is my cooking Achilles heel. I never get it right. Cooking it in a crockpot, though? Perfection! Good also provides recipes for homemade Cream of Mushroom and Chicken Soup, which are wonderful. Cider Baked Apples – sublime. I plan to try the Butternut Squash Soup with Apples & Red Onions, although I am quite certain I will be the only one in my home to eat it.

Good adds some extras to each recipe that make this book even more versatile. She provides instructions for making recipes gluten-free, vegan, or vegetarian, as well offering tips for making the recipe for picky eaters. She also specifies the size of the crockpot needed for each recipe, which is a huge benefit (those of you who have tried cooking a turkey in a 4 quart pot will understand), as well as prep time estimates, and cooking time.

There is nothing not to love about this book. The photos are gorgeous, the instructions are clear and concise, and above all, the recipes are delicious. Highly recommended.

Publication Date: September 5, 2017
Oxmoor House Books
Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy


I’ve been reading a lot lately, but not all of what I’ve read has inspired me to write a fully fledged review. Instead, here are a few micro-reviews of some books slated for publication this Fall.

IMG_0204David Tanis Market Cooking: Recipes & Revelations, Ingredient by Ingredient by David Tanis
Artisan Books
Publication Date – October 3, 2017

Cooking with fresh, seasonal produce is certainly not a new thing – experienced cooks have been doing it for years. However, as Tanis points out in this lovely, information-packed, highly readable cookbook, many cooks today are seduced by easily acquired but often flavorless supermarket produce. Tanis’ mission is to direct cooks back to their own locally produced food, which always tastes better.

This title caught my eye on NetGalley because it’s CSA season, when I invariably get the odd vegetable that I’ve never cooked. I was not disappointed. Tanis provided me with tasty ways to cook parsnips, greens, and even celery root, as well as new takes on old favorites like corn and potatoes. His recipe for Creamed Corn is super simple and absolutely delicious.

There is no pretentiousness here, as I often find with “cheffy” cookbooks – just simple, easy to follow recipes that rely on the deliciousness of fresh food. Highly recommended.

IMG_0205Brave Red, Smart Frog: A New Book of Old Tales by Emily Jenkins
illustrated by Rohan Daniel Eason
Candlewick Press
Publication Date – September 5, 2017

Emily Jenkins has taken the language of old timey fairy tales and turned it upside down in this 21st century retelling of classics like Snow White and the Frog Prince. The bones of the stories remain, but each has new language, new cadence, and new sassiness in the characters, which is completely refreshing. As I read, I felt like these stories could easily turn up in an animated series on Nickelodeon. What a wonderful way to take beautiful but clunky old fairy tales and make them new again. Well done!

IMG_0206Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks
Knopf Doubleday
Publication Date – October 17, 2017

I really tried to like this book, but it was a straight-up snoozer for me. There’s no question that Hanks can write. His prose is really quite good, but I just found this collection of short stories to be D.U.L.L. There are a couple stories built around a kernel of an idea that could be developed into full-blown books, but most are just odd and sad. It may just be that I am not a fan of literary fiction, but I have to wonder if this collection would have been published at all if not for Hanks’ fame. It will be popular and in demand, though, so libraries should buy a copy.

IMG_0203Healthy Meal Prep by Stephanie Tornatore and Adam Bannon
DK Alpha Books
Publication Date – December 12, 2017

My daughter and I have recently become meal preppers, since I always struggle to have a healthy lunch and she is just beginning her first year of a rigorous doctorate program and will be at school all day, then go right to work. We’ve had some fun trolling Pinterest for ideas, but quickly found that there’s not a lot of variety there, so I was happy to find this book on NetGalley.

Tornatore and Bannon have created a readable, attractive, and easy to follow guide to prepping a remarkable variety of meals. While I am not vegan, I appreciated the inclusion of meat-free meals. I also really liked the inclusion of an equipment list for each week, as well as the Prep Day Action Plan. Another bonus is the inclusion of breakfasts and desserts. The book is filled with helpful tips and advice, and the recipes are easy to follow. Combine all that with beautiful, eye-catching photography and you’ve got a hit. Recommended.

Life in a Northern Town by Mary Dougherty


IMG_0185Having lived my entire life on the southern shore of Lake Ontario, I was drawn to this lovely book about Great Lakes life on the shores of Lake Superior. I was curious to see if there were similarities, despite the distance between western New York and the upper peninsula of Wisconsin. In many ways, this was like reading my own life, and I finished this exquisite book feeling as though Mary Dougherty and I are old friends.

Dougherty – a former restaurant owner, blogger, Mom to 5, and activist – has written a sumptuous, supremely readable cookbook/memoir that is organized by seasons. It has been a very long time since I’ve read a cookbook that better reflects the life lived by the author, and Dougherty has done a remarkable job of connecting the food and the people of Bayfield, Wisconsin to the land and the Lake.

While living in a remote, small town of less than 500 people, Dougherty has managed to stock her pantry with exotic spices and fill her kitchen with adventurous cooking, blending local with global in an appealing, delicious melange of meals ranging from Thai Corn Chowder to Whitefish in Foil. Enhanced by gorgeous photography and a chatty style, this book takes you deep into the forest and then out on the blue water of Lake Superior, through all four seasons. Dougherty is my kind of cook – while all the recipes are detailed enough for a beginning cook, she makes a point of encouraging the reader to experiment, taste, and adjust as necessary. Some of the recipes are familiar (Nicoise Salad in a Jar), but the stories accompanying nearly every recipe create a moment that makes each special.

I was pleasantly surprised at the commonalities I found between Bayfield, Wisconsin and western NY. I know that many early settlers in the western NY region eventually migrated west, and I’m betting that some of them ended up in Wisconsin. Here are just a few of the familiar things I discovered here:

  • Canned potatoes – this story could have been told by my kids, who ate canned potatoes at their Grandmother’s house every Tuesday night for years when they were little. Nothing matches that consistency and taste!
  • Penzey’s Spices – my sister gives me a box of Penzey’s for Christmas every year!
  • Parades – community parades are a Big Deal where I live, where pretty much any group who wants to participate can walk the route, tossing candy into the crowd. Here’s a photo of the Lawn Chair Ladies taken at the Hilton Firemen’s Parade a couple weeks ago.IMG_1954
  • Chautauqua – The settlers in Wisconsin HAD to pass through New York. This name is just too unusual. Chautauqua County NY is home to the Chautauqua Institute, which hosts amazing concerts and other events.
  • Salt potatoes – totally a Central/Western NY thing! No BBQ is complete without salt potatoes and sweet corn!
  • AppleFest – My favorite event of the year is the Hilton Apple Fest. One year, they set the world’s record for largest baked apple crisp. I bet Bayfield’s Fest has done something similar!
  • And finally, I could not believe it when I turned the page to find my mother’s recipe for Angel Pie! I have never encountered this recipe outside of my family!

It’s rare that I highlight the text in a cookbook, but Dougherty’s witty prose is as good as her recipes. Here are a few gems that I enjoyed:

  • It just may be that the most radical act we can commit is to stay home.
  • Maple syrup: capturing spring awakenings in a bottle, one year at a time.
  • Think of it at the little black dress of appetizers: always appropriate and never over done.
  • Fall is a pause between the riotous abundance of summer and the muffled repose of winter.

Mary Dougherty has produced a fabulous, readable cookbook/memoir that I will go back to again and again. Her sense of family and community is refreshing, and her creative approach to cooking is totally authentic. The recipes are interesting and delicious, and mostly suitable for beginning cooks. I used a digital advanced copy for this review, but will be buying this book in hardcover and probably giving a couple as Christmas gifts this year. I’ll end with a lovely quote that touched my heart:

I never expected quiet perfection because I knew the good stuff always comes from the messy and brilliant business of living a life in a way that brings you to your knees in gratitude every now and then.

Highly recommended.