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An English Major Walks Into a Bar...

Tequila MockingbirdWitty Broadway actor and novelist Tim Federle has penned the ultimate book- and drink-lovers' dream in his beverage guide Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist. He includes a short, clear introduction of the best tools (glassware and bar equipment) to use, techniques for making and decorating drinks, and the elements needed to create a well-stocked bar. An easy recipe for grenadine syrup, used in a number of the recipes, is a major improvement over many found on store shelves.

 

The bulk of the book is then divided into two large sections of recipes: ‘Drinks for Dames’, which focus on sweeter and spicier beverages; and ‘Gulps for Guys’, those that tend to pack more of a punch. Specific drinks meant for book clubs (and other parties) get their own chapter, as do nonalcoholic beverages. There are even a few quick recipes for nibbles to enjoy along with the potables. The real joy of this compilation is the hilarious wordplay that Federle uses in devising the cocktails’ names. A short commentary on each concoction adds a humorous touch. Every recipe is an amusing pun on a famous book’s title, but there are some that really hit the mark. Who can resist trying drinks with names like “Love in the Time of Kahlúa”, “A Rum of One’s Own”, or “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margarita”? Sure to be a popular gift exchanged among the literature and libations set, Tequila Mockingbird is a fun take on classic books and cocktails.

Todd

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Betcha Can't Eat Just One

Salt Sugar FatFat ChanceIt wasn’t merely a catchy slogan when the Lay’s potato chip commercial challenged you to eat just one. Like the rest of the food industry, Lay’s was banking on the fact that the ingredients in their products would make it difficult for consumers to stop crunching. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Michael Moss’s new book Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us will make you think twice before you pick up another cookie or sip another soda.

 

Moss explores how the processed food industry uses key ingredients to make their products more addictive, and the negative impact that those foods have had on our health. The processed foods that we find at our supermarkets are carefully formulated and tested to hit the consumer’s “bliss point,” the precise amount of sugar that will make the product most appealing to the greatest number of people. Through both the ingredients and the companies’ carefully targeted marketing, consumers are manipulated to buy and eat more and more of these products. Moss goes beyond the nutrition of junk food. He also explores the science of food and creates a business history of the food industry. Salt Sugar Fat is an intriguing and sometimes terrifying, look at this one trillion dollar per year industry.

 

Pediatric endocrinologist Dr. Robert Lustig also takes on the food industry in Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease. After the US government recommended a low fat diet in the 1970s, the food industry responded by adding sugar to low fat products to make them taste better, which Lustig says has had disastrous results. Lustig, whose 90-minute lecture “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” has been viewed over 3 million times on YouTube, documents the connection between the added sugar in our food and the obesity epidemic.

Beth

 
 

Dogs, Cats, and Facts

Paw Prints in the MoonlightI Want to Kill the DogWeirdopediaGood things come in small packages this time of year, as this delightful trio of recently published stocking stuffer-sized books demonstrates. From pondering the idiosyncrasies of domestic life with man's best friend (dog or cat) to a quirky collection of curious tidbits about our world, here are some lighthearted, quick reads to enjoy or give.

 

Feline lovers will cheer for Toby Jug, the enterprising black and white kitten in Denis O'Connor's  Paw Prints in the Moonlight: the Heartwarming True Story of One Man and His Cat. Set in rural Northumberland, O'Connor rescues the badly injured kitten one snowy night and brings it back to his 18th century cottage, where he keeps the kitten in a large cotton ball-cushioned pitcher. The kindhearted nature lover and his Maine Coon form an inseparable bond through many of Toby Jug's escapades. Lovely descriptions of the English countryside and delicate color illustrations enrich this poignant and charming tale for young and old.

 

Unfortunately, it’s not all domestic bliss for Richard Cohen when the family pet gets in the way. His new book, I Want to Kill the Dog, chronicles in jest the master-versus-canine tug of war. The author is married to television journalist Meredith Vieira, definitely the animal lover of this long married couple. Jasper is the “dog of many flavors," whose many annoying habits (ear splitting bark, for one) threaten marital harmony. Pet peeves aside, Cohen’s story belies what is really important: marriage and family come with good and bad and even the dog.

 

A potpourri of trivia awaits readers of Alex Palmer's Weird-o-pedia: the Ultimate Book of Surprising, Strange, and Incredibly Bizarre Facts about (Supposedly) Ordinary Things. For instance, did you know that mosquitoes prefer people with Type O blood, or that humming is good for your sinuses? In 12 humorous chapters, each containing alphabetized entries, Palmer focuses on food and drink, friends and family, work, play, and so forth. A useful list of sources is also included. Parents beware, though; some mature topics are presented. 

 

Cynthia

 
 

You Are What You Eat With

You Are What You Eat With

posted by:
December 20, 2012 - 9:15am

Consider the ForkWhat do frying pans, spit-jacks, and molecular gastronomy have in common? They are all kitchen technologies that have affected how humans accomplish the very basic task of feeding themselves. Some are ancient, like the wooden spoon, which has been around for thousands of years. Some are complex, like the SousVide SVK-00001 Supreme Water Oven, which can hold a vacuum-sealed package of chicken breast at a constant temperature of 137 degrees Fahrenheit until the meat becomes succulent, juicy, and somehow safe enough to eat. And some, like the basic cooking pot, are more influential than others. They all have a place in Bee Wilson’s insightful and entertaining new history, Consider the Fork: A history of how we cook and eat

 

In a work that spans time from before the development of agriculture through today’s high-tech kitchen gadgetry, it is impossible to be comprehensive. Wilson, instead, focuses on certain culinary implements that have had an impact on what we eat and how we go about preparing to eat it. Each chapter explores a different kitchen tool or concept, with charming hand-drawn illustrations of the various equipment sprinkled throughout the text. Wilson also includes short spotlights on particularly useful, unique, and interesting examples of kitchen technology that punctuate the end of the every chapter. 

 

Witty and filled with wonderful obscure facts about famous and long-forgotten kitchen equipment, Consider the Fork is perfect for anyone who has ever looked in their kitchen drawers and wondered, “Where did all this stuff come from?” Food history enthusiasts and fans of Mark Kurlansky’s Salt: A world history will devour this delightful read.

 

Rachael

 
 

Natty Boh and Pitchers from the Sunpapers

Baltimore BeerDays RememberedBaltimore CountyCare for a stroll down memory lane? How about a local history lesson? Check out this trio of books focusing on Bawlmer and its ‘burbs. Baltimore Beer: A Satisfying History of Charm City Brewing joins Days Remembered: Iconic Photography of the Baltimore Sun and Baltimore County: Historical Reflections and Favorite Scenes in a remembrance of things past.

 

Local author, former Sun food columnist, and founder of Baltimore Beer Week, Rob Kasper knows his food and drink. In Baltimore Beer, he traces the growth of the brewing industry beginning with the influence of the German immigrants who brought their craft with them from Europe. Loaded with anecdotes and moving from early biergartens to modern brewpubs, Kasper explores the breweries’ social and economic influence on the Baltimore area. “Ain’t the beer cold?”

 

Baltimore residents Barton and Elizabeth Cockey teamed up to produce a charming look at ye olde suburbia in their book Baltimore County. Divided into sections such as Transportation, Public Buildings and Schools, and Wars, this book takes the reader on a tour of county peoples and places and offers an informative narrative laced with personal recollections. Instead of photographs, the book is illustrated with artist Elizabeth’s paintings of the area.

 

2012 marked the 175th year anniversary of the Baltimore Sun. While no longer a “penny paper,” the power of its photographs to inform and inspire remains a constant. Days Remembered is a collection of images from the Sun spanning from the 1901 debut portrait photograph of Judge Sherry of the Maryland Court of Appeals to the Blue Angels flight over Fort McHenry this past summer. Grouped by decade and including pictures of Babe Ruth, marble step-scrubbing, Blaze Starr, the Berrigan brothers, and the integration of Southern High, this visual history perfectly captures the past one hundred-plus years of Maryland living.

 

Lori

 
 

Culinary Clash of the Titans

Culinary Clash of the Titans

posted by:
December 13, 2012 - 8:45am

CookFightWhen legendary restaurant critic Frank Bruni challenged his colleagues Julia Moskin and Kim Severson, both writers for the New York Times, to duke it out in the kitchen, they readily accepted. Their culinary contest is detailed in the unique new cookbook CookFight: 2 Cooks, 12 Challenges, 125 Recipes, An Epic Battle for Kitchen Dominance. Moskin and Severson first faced a challenge to cook a dinner party for six guests on a budget of only $50. Bruni judged the contest for the newspaper and ruled it a tie. After that initial challenge, their friendly rivalry evolved into a yearlong series of contests that ranged from their Farmers’ Market challenge based around local, seasonal cooking to a Thanksgiving challenge in which both cooks crafted their spin on the perfect Thanksgiving feast. Each month, Moskin and Severson battled for culinary glory. Every chapter chronicles one month’s battle with the contestants’ menus, narratives explaining their different approaches to the battle, beautiful color photos of their dishes, and recipes. So who won their contest? You decide.

 

If CookFight whets your appetite for culinary competition, follow it up with Top Chef: The Quickfire Cookbook. The recipes are taken from Quickfire segments of the first five seasons of Bravo’s hit television show Top Chef. This collection of 75 recipes from fans’ favorite “cheftestants” includes color photos, recipes, and behind-the-scenes information about the contestants. Intrepid fans will also learn how to hold their own Quickfire Challenges at home.

Beth

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Flour Power

Flour Power

posted by:
November 20, 2012 - 8:30am

Simply Sensational CookiesJames Beard-nominated author, columnist, blogger, and dessert expert Nancy Baggett is back with a well-timed compendium of America’s favorite baked goods: Simply Sensational Cookies: Bright Fresh Flavors, Natural Colors & Easy, Streamlined Techniques. Baggett, who has been cooking and baking from her Maryland farmhouse for many years, explains her purposes for writing this cookbook and how cookies have changed over the past few decades. No longer are people satisfied with one-note flavors or simple textures. The demands for the freshest spices and chocolates, unusual infusions, and above all, natural ingredients, have made the home baker of the 21st century reconsider many tried and true methods. Even savory ingredients, such as chiles, lavender, and cheese varieties have made their way into some of her new recipes. Purists need not despair, as there is a bounty of well-known favorites that have been improved for the contemporary baker.

 

After covering the basics of choosing the best ingredients, equipment, and baking methods, Baggett answers a Cookie FAQ, and then gets down to the business of the appealing recipes. She is dogged in her insistence that the ingredients should be easy to obtain, and the amount of time to create the cookies and to clean up is reasonable. Each recipe clearly indicates the ease or difficulty of the cookie, and how to best store them. While not all cookies are photographed, the pictures that are included are attractive and highlight the finished products delectably. With cookie swaps and the holiday season fast approaching, this contemporary collection of recipes is sure to satisfy anyone with a sweet tooth, and those who bake for them.

Todd

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The French Chef at 100

DearieAuthor Bob Spitz spent several weeks traveling through Sicily with Julia Child in 1992 and admits that he developed “a powerful crush on her,” which inspired him to write Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child. The book’s release coincides with the 100th anniversary of her birth, and it’s the perfect way to celebrate the rich life of this culinary legend, television pioneer, and cultural icon. Both the author’s admiration and Julia’s larger-than-life personality shine through in this in-depth new account of her life.

 

In 1942, Julia wanted to join either the Women’s Army Corps or the Navy WAVES. She was rejected by both organizations because at 6’3” she was considered too tall. Instead, she began to work for the Office of Strategic Services (the precursor to the CIA). While working for the OSS, she met Paul Child, and they married in 1946. Paul and Julia moved to Paris in 1948, and Julia had a life-changing experience eating sole meunière on her first day in France. Food became Julia’s passion. She attended the Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and began to teach cooking. She also co-authored Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which is now considered a classic cookbook.

 

In 1962, Julia was featured on a segment of People Are Reading on Boston's WGBH to discuss her cookbook. She shocked the host by making an omelet on a hotplate on live television and unknowingly launched a revolution.  That first television appearance led to her successful cooking show The French Chef, the growth of educational television and what later became PBS, and the current popularity of the Food Network and celebrity chefs.  Julia was fearless in the kitchen and had a unique ability to make cooking seem completely accessible and fun. She made America wanted to cook along with her. Julia passed away in 2004, but her ground-breaking work will always be remembered. She changed the landscapes of both American food and television.  In the words of the lady herself, “Bon appétit!”

 

Beth

 
 

A Feast of Knowledge

A Feast of Knowledge

posted by:
August 9, 2012 - 7:03am

The Cookbook LibraryNowadays it seems that every day a new cookbook is published, filled with gleaming pictures of succulent dishes and step-by-step recipes for tantalizing sweets. But where did the idea of the cookbook come from? And when? Anne Willan, founder of the La Varenne Cooking School and cookbook author, with help from her book collecting husband Mark Cherniavsky, tackle these and similar questions in The Cookbook Library: Four Centuries of the Cooks, Writers, and Recipes That Made the Modern Cookbook. Willan intelligently explores the evolution of the European and American cookbook as cooking and the culinary arts blossomed over the course of the fifteenth through eighteenth centuries.

 

Willan draws most of her information and recipes from her and her husband’s personal library of antiquarian cookbooks, and the text is studded with captivating illustrations and woodblock prints from their collection. Each chapter encapsulates a century and contains first a history of the cookbooks and cuisine of the time and then is followed by a selection of recipes that have been reworked for a modern kitchen. These recipes give the reader a sense of reaching backward in time to explore dishes that are both foreign and strangely familiar. Recipes vary widely in difficulty from a very simple pork loin roast from the fifteenth century to the tremendous Yorkshire Christmas Pie of Five Birds from the eighteenth century. But perhaps the most intriguing portions of the book are the inset articles that are sprinkled throughout each chapter. These short sections feature fascinating and often quirky themes, like the menus for the court of Mary Queen of Scots, a history of ice as a cooking ingredient, and how to set an elaborate eighteenth century table. Each vignette tangentially relates to the larger chapter that frames it and contains interesting factoids and trivia. 

 

Part cookbook, part culinary history, part history of the book, The Cookbook Library is as accessible as it is entertaining. You don't have to be a scholar to get some serious enjoyment from this unique read.  Cookbook enthusiasts and history buffs should definitely add this title to their to-be-read list.

Rachael

 
 

A Self-Made Culinarian

Yes, ChefMarcus Samuelsson has a fascinating story to tell in his refreshingly candid memoir, Yes, Chef. At its heart is food and family, guided by years of discipline and sacrifice. His lifelong quest to engage customers through their senses with a denouement of flavors has resulted in a winding culinary journey for the Ethiopian-born 42-year old. Today he sits atop the restaurant world.  

 

Samuelsson's passion began at an early age. Orphaned as a toddler, he remembers berbere, the reddish-orange spice mixture his mother sprinkled liberally on their food. Adopted by a middle class couple from Goteborg, Sweden, it was his Swedish grandmother, Helga, who encouraged her young grandson's interests. She introduced him to rustic cooking and layering of flavors. Her signature dish was a roast chicken, which she killed old-school style ("Come here, boom!").

 

The wiry, soccer-playing Samuelsson viewed all his cooking assignments as opportunities. From mopping as a kitchen boy in Sweden to restaurant stints in Switzerland and France and aboard cruise ships, Samuelsson absorbed the diversity of ethnic flavors. At age 24 he earned the position of executive chef of New York's Aquavit restaurant, and a three-star rating from The New York Times.

 

Samuelsson tells his story in an honest, retrospective manner. Growing up in a mixed race family, he didn't become aware of his black identity, and its challenges until older. He once ignored the only other black worker in a kitchen because he was worried what others would think if they were seen talking. That candor is refreshing, as is his poignant description of his return to Ethiopia. A bellwether in an industry known for ego-driven personalities, the reserved, award-winning Samuelsson is as comfortable cooking for a state dinner as he is in the kitchen of his latest New York restaurant, Red Rooster Harlem. Aspiring chefs and foodies will feel at home.

Cynthia