Saturday, January 31, 2009

Cookish: What's For Dinner?

Mushroom Barley Soup!

This recipe is from my friend, K. She gave it to me in approximate measures, so that is how I am going to give it to you. K uses quick-cook barley, but I couldn't find any. I found pearled barley at my grocery, which takes 35-45 minutes to cook. With the quick-cook barley, K says you only need to simmer the soup for 15 minutes.

olive oil
cream of mushroom soup
chicken stock

Saute the shallots and mushrooms in Olive oil. Add some thyme and pepper. You can add salt, but unless you've bought the reduced sodium cream of mushroom soup and chicken broth (and sometimes even then), it may be salty enough. I recommend tasting at the end and adding salt then, if necessary. Add the cut-up carrots and celery and a cup of barley. Stir in the cream of mushroom soup and chicken stock. How much? I recommend getting a quart-size box. After you've put in the cream of mushroom soup, fill the can with stock/broth twice. Then, monitor the liquid level as the barley cooks, and add more as necessary. You can make it as thick or as thin as you like. Bring the soup up to a boil, and then turn down the heat and simmer for about 35 and then start testing for doneness. Stir occasionally and keep an eye on the liquid level. It's a very tasty and filling soup! It is pretty easy to throw together, too.

Cookish Blog: Meanwhile, Back in the kitchen

Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen is a fun cooking blog. My latest find there: DELICIOUS hot cocoa. I, for one, love hot cocoa, but I never really make it from scratch. Or, I should say, I never used to. I think I am ruined for microwave cocoa forever.

Here you go:

"Hot Cocoa

1 serving

1 tablespoon cocoa

1 tablespoon sugar

Pinch salt

1/3 cup wate

r2/3 cup milk

Mix cocoa, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan, slowly stir in water. Heat and stir over moderately low heat until mixture boils, then boil slowly, stirring constantly, 2 minutes. Add milk and heat to scalding [almost boiling] but do not boil."

Bookish Review: Julie & Julia

This book follows Julie Powell as she decides to cook her way through Julia Child's first cookbook in a year. That's over 500 recipes, people. Was she a little bit insane? Yes, yes, she was. The book was born from her blog, and I just found out that it is going to be a movie as well. (I found that a bit surprising.)

So, I'm not usually that much into memoir, but this was pretty good. It's about cooking and craziness and it's pretty funny. There are some disgusting parts, and her blind hatred for Republicans was a little annoying, because it doesn't really have anything to do with anything that is going on in the story. For the most part, though, the book is humorous and sweet, and it really is a rather amazing feat--I mean, could you bring yourself to cook brains and kidneys in aspic and all kinds of other revolting or unnecessary preparations, and then actually eat it? I think I'll pass!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Bookish Movie: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Ok, so technically, this is a "short-story-ish" movie, but I think it counts. I have not read the F. Scott Fitzgerald story on which the movie is based, so I can make no comparisons there, but I can tell you the movie is beautiful. It is set in New Orleans, which I believe is different from the setting of the story. Unlike most of the movies set in New Orleans, the accents are actually not bad, and they managed to capture some of the beauty and magic of the city. In addition, the special effects and make-up work are incredible. The movie is long, but it is a beautiful story of love and loss and life and death. Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt do a great job, and Taraji P Henson does perhaps the best job of all as Benjamin's adoptive mother. She is very deserving of the Critic's Choice and SAG awards she has already won, and I sincerely hope she gets nominated for an Oscar.

It's a very bittersweet movie, but beautiful and moving. Highly recommended.

Book Review: Can You Keep a Secret?

Can You Keep a Secret? is by Sophie Kinsella, author of the Shopaholic novels, coming soon to a theatre near you. This is the first book I have read by Kinsella, and it was much better than I anticipated. The book was, at times, laugh-out-loud funny, which was a bit of a surprise. Now, don't get me wrong--there is nothing deep or life-changing in this book. It is simply a fun, fluffy, fast read. But I think there is a place for books like that, and this one gets a place on my bookshelf.

Emma Corrigan doesn't have a great job, she hates to fly, and she has some embarrassing secrets. On a flight back from a disastrous business meeting, she imbibes too much, and when turbulence makes her certain she is going to die, she begins spilling all of her secrets to the handsome American stranger next to her, expecting never to see him again once they land. But he soon shows back up in her life in an unexpected way and starts turning her world upside down.

Good fun, great beach read. Recommended.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Bookish Review: Inkheart

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke is a book for booklovers. Technically, it is a children's book, but I think bibliophiles of all ages will enjoy it. It will shortly be released as a movie, though what I have seen of the trailers so far leads me to believe they have taken some liberties with the story. Meggie and her father have the ability to read books to life, but at a price. When Meggie was only three, her father (Mo) was reading aloud to her mother, and three characters from the book appeared in their world and Meggie's mother disappeared into the book. Meggie's father vows never to read aloud again. He works as a book doctor, repariring bindings and chewed pages, and he and Meggie are continually on the run from Capricorn, one of the characters he set loose in the world, though Meggie does not know it. Capricorn is a true villan, and wants to get his hands on Mo so Mo can read him riches and other tools from books that will help him increase his power. When it is discovered that Meggie also has the talent, Capricorn is happy to use her instead.
The book is an adventure, a love letter to books, and a really good read. I will certainly write a review of the movie when I see it, and of the other books in the trilogy when I read them. Highly recommended for book lovers of all ages. I also found myself wanting to read many of the passages aloud--it would be a great one to share at bedtime with kids, as long as they are not too young. There are some scary elements in the book, and we don't want nightmares, now do we?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Cookish: What's for Dinner?

Featured Ingredient: Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah)

Quinoa is a delicious, nutty grain. If you like couscous, I'd suggest giving it a try; it has kind of a similar texture, but more flavor, and it is a very healthful, whole-grain ingredient.

So, for dinner this week, I made a quinoa salad inspired by a recipe on You can find the original recipe here:

Here's what I did:

2 cups quinoa

3 cups water

2 tsp garam masala

1 tbs sesame oil

3 stalks celery, finely diced

2 carrots, finely diced



mandarin oranges


Rinse the quinoa and toast in a dry skillet over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Bring the water to a boil with 1 tsp of the garam masala and salt. When the water boils, add the quinoa and return to a boil. Cover and cook on low for 15 minutes.

In the skillet, heat the sesame oil. Add the 2nd tsp of garam masala, carrots, and celery and saute until your desired tenderness. Season with salt and pepper.

When the quinoa is done, fluff with a fork and add the veggies, nuts, and mandarin oranges. Serve hot or cold.

Notes: The original recipe called for currants. I planned to use raisins (which I would have added when the water was boiling to plump them up), but I discovered my box of raisins had about 5 left. Oops. I did have a can of mandarin oranges, though, so I drained those and added them at the end. Raisins would be fine, too, though.

I cooked the quinoa in water as the recipe suggested, but next time I will use chicken stock as I usually do.

I don't like scallions, so planned to use onions, but then found I didn't have any. Oops. I will probably saute some with the celery and carrots next time.

For the nuts, I had a few almonds and pecans, but mostly used peanuts. Anything with some crunch is good.

I ate this hot for dinner, and it was okay, but it was much better the next day, cold, for lunch.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Cookish: What's for Dinner?

This week, I made another Rachael Ray recipe: Austin Mac 'n' Cheese Suiza.

Changes made: I added some chicken, because I wanted to up the protien factor and make it a more legitamate choice for a main course for dinner. I just cooked it along with the tomatillos, but if I'd had some leftover cooked chicken, or rotisserie chicken, I would have used that.

I did use pepper jack for the top, but I used cheddar in the mac instead of swiss and monterey jack. Why? Cheddar was what I had. And, cheddar makes everything better, right?

I also left out the cilantro.

Result? It was pretty darn tasty. One mistake, though: I removed most of the ribs and seeds from my jalapenos because I didn't want it to be too hot. As a result, it wasn't hot at all, and I had to break out the Tabasco again.

Bookish for Kids: The Lightning Thief

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan is the first book in the Percy and the Olympian Series. Percy (short for Perseus, of course) Jackson, age 12, is dyslexic, has ADHD, and has been kicked out of more schools than you'd care to count. He's never met his father, and his mother has married a real terror, but she loves Percy very much and tries to take care of him. Percy has almost made it all the way through the year at his boarding school--the first time he has spent so long at any school. Of course, it can't last, and Percy gets kicked out after a series of strange happenings. His mother decides it is finally time to do what his father wanted and take him to summer camp, but not just any camp--Camp Half-Blood. Percy soon discovers that his father is one of the Greek gods and that gods and satyrs and dryads and all of the other mythical creatures are not myths at all. A war is about to break out between Poseidon and Zeus, and Percy must go on a quest and find a way to stop the war.

The book is fast-paced and full of fun mythological allusions. I love mythology; I took a whole elective on it in high school, in addition to the myths I was exposed to in my Latin and English classes, so I found this a really fun read. I think it will appeal to Harry Potter fans as well.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Cookish: What's for Dinner?

So, I saw this recipe in Rachael Ray Magazine:

But there were a few problems with it, so I decided to tweak it a bit.

1. I don't have any 5-spice powder, but I have made curry before with curry powder and garaham masala, so I had that on hand and used it instead.

2. There are no veggies in this dish, and that just seems wrong. So, I added Cauliflower and chickpeas.

3. There's nothing wrong with white rice, but I think jasmine rice is a little more interesting, so I used that instead.

So, my revised ingredients were:

1 1/2 cups of Jasmine rice

2 teaspoons curry powder

Cauliflower (I think I used about 4 cups)

1 can coconut milk

1/2 can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips

2 teaspoons garaham masala

salt and pepper


Cook the rice per package instructions, remembering to salt the water well and/or cook in chicken broth for more flavor.

While the rice is cooking, heat some oil in a pot over medium heat. When hot, add the curry powder and cook for one minute. Add in the cauliflower and stir to coat. add the can of coconut broth and allow to simmer to cook the cauliflower and reduce the coconut milk by half.

In another pan, heat another tbs of oil over medium-high heat. Coat the chicken breast strips with the garaham masala, salt, and pepper. Add the hot pan and saute. When you flip the strips to cook on the other side, add the chickpeas. When chicken is cooked and coconut milk is reduced, add the coconut milk and cauliflower to the chicken mixture and stir to coat. Serve over rice.

It was pretty good, but could use a bit of improvement.

1. I think I should have added salt and pepper to the cauliflower as well, not just the chicken.

2. It needed a little zip. I added tabasco to the finished dish when serving, and that helped. Next time, I may use crushed red pepper in the cooking instead

3. I used low-fat coconut milk, which tasted okay, but did not really thicken up the way I would have liked. Next time, I may use the full-fat stuff or add a cornstarch slurry to thicken it up a bit.

Overall, not bad. If you try it, let me know what you think, or post suggestions here.

Bookish Review: The Host

The Host is by Stephenie Meyer. (Yes, Stephenie Meyer of Twilight fame). So, I have to mention Twilight, because you probably associate it with Meyer's name. However, I now want you to banish it from your mind because this book is written for a different audience, it has a different feel, it's on a different subject...just forget the other books altogether. Okay?

Aliens have come to Earth and humans have basically lost the battle. Once we figured out they were here, it was already too late. However, a few pockets of resistance remain, and one of the few humans left is captured and implanted with the alien Wanderer, she refuses to go down without a fight. Melanie is not ready to leave quietly and let the alien take over her body, and Melanie's emotions and memories begin to affect Wanderer (the alien) and make her question what the aliens are doing by taking over Earth and eliminating humanity.

Eventually, Melanie convinces Wanderer that they need to find Melanie's brother and her true love and make sure they are alive and well. So, Melanie and Wanderer decide to go on a quest to find a group of the resistance fighters--a quest that leads them through the desert, which may kill them in and of itself, and then, once they find the fighters, they must convince them not to kill Melanie/Wanderer, since they will know that Melanie's body has been occupied by an alien and will not believe that Melanie is still alive in there.

Still with me?

The book is a quick read, and though the first couple of chapters are confusing as you are trying to make sense of the world as it exists in the novel, it quickly sucks you in. There are many interesting conflicts--not just between the aliens and humans for survival, and not just between Melanie and Wanderer for control of the body, but interesting emotional conflicts as well. The aliens are basically nonviolent, and Wanderer can't even bring herself to hurt someone else in here own defense. Because Melanie and Wanderer share a a body, they share emotions and memories as well, and so Wanderer comes to love both Melanie's brother and the love of her life, Jared. So, once they find Jamie (the brother) and Jared, that creates interesting problems. Eventually Melanie and Wanderer come to love each other like sisters, and they must figure out what to do when it becomes apparent they cannot both live their lives in one body.

I honestly was not sure what to expect from this one, and it's not something I would typically read, but I was very pleasantly surprised. Quite good; I recommend picking it up, and like I said before, just forget anything you've heard about teenage vampires and pretend this is a different Stephenie Meyer entirely.

Bookish Review: Rosie Dunne

This book is by Cecilia Ahern, author of PS I Love You. It's an epistolary novel, which is not usually my favorite format. (The first one I ever read was Dear Mr. Henshaw, and I HATED it.) I think the story is pretty effectively told through the notes passed in class, letters, and emails, though.

It is the story of Rosie and Alex, best friends all their lives, and all the missed opportunities to be more than friends. The book shows how they grow and how their relationship changes over time, but they manage to remain friends despite the geographical distance between them and their romantic entanglements.

So, the story is good, don't get me wrong, but I spent the majority of the book wanting to scream at either Alex or Rosie or both, "You are an IDIOT! What are you DOING?" because it is so blatantly obvious that they should be together and they are in love with each other, but of course, they can't realize that the other is also in love with them. SIGH.

So, it was good, but...I wanted them to get together sooner. It was frustrating. But, the frustration does speak to the fact that I cared about the characters, so points to Ahern for that.

Conclusion: PS I Love You is bettter, but this is good, too.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Booksh Vlog: Vlog Brothers

Nerdfighters, unite!

Ok, so this Vlog began in 2007 as Brotherhood 2.0. YA author John Green and his brother Hank decided to communicate exclusively through videos posted on YouTube. They now have a very devoted following of nerdfighters, who are apparently made of awesome. Think you might be made of awesome? Go check out the blog, and if you are hooked, you might be a nerdfighter, too.

The rules of the project changed a bit in 2008, and they have new rules for 2009, so there is more nerdfighting fun to come.

Now, I should do a review here of one of John Green's novels, since I am such a fan of him and Hank. Unfortunately...I have not yet read one. SHAME! It is on the list, though, I promise!

In the meantime, I will leave you with one of Hank's fabulous songs, which he created when waiting for the last Harry Potter novel to be released.

I highly recommend watching the "punishments" videos and "Must-See B20." Prepare to laugh.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Bookish for Kids: Rumblewick's Diary

Book 1: My Unwilling Witch Goes to Ballet School

These books are told through the diaries of a witch's familiar: the cat Rumblewick. Rumblewick's witch, Haggy Aggy, is extremely reluctant to do anything witchlike and only wants to know what it is like to be a regular girl. Rumblewick has to hide Haggy Aggy's unwitchlike behavior from the other witches, lest she (and really, HE) get in trouble. In this book, HA decides to try out being a ballerina, but when the high hags come to check up on her, Rumblewick must find a way to make her act more witchlike, despite her stubbornness.

Book 2: My Unwilling Witch Sleeps Over

Haggy Aggy decides to go on a sleepover with regular little girls. With HA's aunt's familiar, Sassy, on the prowl to catch HA in any un-witchlike behavior, and Rumblewick trying to prepare for the Steeplechase heats--which he needs HA to attend to enter--will he be able to keep her from the sleepover and sure witchy disaster?

Overall, the books are cute, fast reads for kids beginning chapter books. There are black-and-white illustrations to accompany the stories. Sometimes Rumblewick's indignation goes over-board and there are some questions about how witches age, since Haggy Aggy fits right in with the little girls, but she can also drive a car. Overall, the books are cute, and will have some fans out there.

Both books will be available in hardcover from Little, Brown, & Co later this year.

Bookish Review: The Princess Bride

Sure, you've seen the movie, but have you read the book? (What do you mean, you haven't seen the movie? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? Sorry, I didn't mean that; of course I didn't. I just should see it. Your proper answer? "Aaaaasssss yoooouuuuu wiiiiiiiiisssshhhhh..." See the movie, and you will get that. It is funny, trust me.)

So, the book is supposed to be an abridgement by William Goldman of a much longer work by S. Morganstern. The thing is...there is no S. Morganstern. The whole thing is fictional. The author also wrote the movie screenplay, as well as the screenplays for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Misery (! Can you believe the same person wrote both of those?), and many others. The book is a fairy tale of sorts, involving a milkmaid and a farm boy (who eventually become a princess and a pirate), as well as a giant, a zoo of death, a fire swamp, a Spaniard who is a fencing master, and 4 white horses. Intruiged yet? There are also fun asides from the "original" author, S. Morganstern, as well as Goldman's notes on his "abridgement." The whole frame story around the book is that Goldman's father originally read the book to him when he was a child sick with pneumonia, and he left out all of the boring parts, which is how Goldman came to write the abridgement. It truly would be a good read-aloud for children, and you could skip all of the asides and just read the action and the love story. For adults, the metafictional aspects add to the fun (at least for nerdy adults like me). It is a fun read, especially if you have fond memories of the movie. Even if you don't, if you like a love story, it is a book for you, for there never was a love like that of Westley and his Buttercup.

Cookish: What's for dinner?

It's been chilly out, which is the perfect weather for chili! So, I threw together a chicken chili. This was inspired by several Rachael Ray recipes, among others, but I didn't really follow a recipe, so I'll just give you the ingredients and the general idea. Tweak as you will!




Olive Oil



Chili Powder



Chicken Breasts (I used 2)

Cannellini beans

Tomatillo Salsa

Chicken stock

Chop up the onion, carrots, and celery and add to pot with some olive oil. Sweat the veggies--I like mine pretty soft. Add the cumin, chili powder, salt, and pepper. Chop up the chicken into small bites. When the veggies are about where you want them, add the garlic and the chicken, and let the chicken get opaque--we're gonna simmer it a while, so if it is not all the way cooked through when you add the liquid, it will continue to cook, don't worry. Add some more salt and pepper if necessary. Add a can of cannellini beans (I drained a little of the liquid. You can drain it all or add it all; up to you). Add some salsa and chicken broth. Simmer for 10-15 minutes to let the flavors meld. Serve with crushed tortilla chips and cheese on top. You can also top with sour cream.

Like a thicker chili? Here are your options:

1. add less chicken broth

2. add more beans and smush up half of them to help thicken the broth

3. pulverize the chips and add to broth to help thicken it up.

This is a pretty easy meal to throw together in a pinch, and it is tasty, too. Most of the ingredients are easy to keep in the pantry or the freezer for when you need them. Bon appetit!

Bookish Movie: Marley & Me

Bring your kleenex! I think if you are a dog lover, you will like this movie, regarless of whether you have read the book. I have read the book (which I highly recommend), but I read it a while ago, so the differences between the book and movie did not bother me much; the spirit was still there. The book (and movie) is about John Grogan as much as it is about Marley, and it is funny and sad and very well done. Many people in the theatre brought little kids, but I don't think they knew how the movie ended. Just expect to cry, and if your children are old enough and like sad movies, then maybe you will want to bring them. If they are little and sobbed for weeks when their goldfish died, you may not want to.

Movie gets two thumbs up, and the book is even better. Highly recommended.

Bookish Movie: PS I Love You

As you can see, the movie stars Hilary Swank and Gerard Butler, as well as Gina Gershon, Lisa Kudrow, Harry Connick, Jr., Kathy Bates, Jeffery Dean Morgan, and James Marsters (Any Buffy fans out there? You'll remember him as Spike. No English accent this time, though. You did know he's an American, right? Oh...sorry to spoil that for you). So, there are plenty of gorgeous guys, and you get to see Hilary Swank in her underwear, if you are into that. There are Irish accents, too. Yum!

But back to the plot...where was I? The movie is based on the novel by the same name by Cecilia Ahern. (She was only 21 when she wrote it--can you believe that? I know I produced nothing that amazing at 21.) The movie and the book differ a good bit, but the spirit is the same. Pack the Kleenex for this one. It is a rather heart-breaking film, but it is funny and sweet and touching as well. Hilary Swank is a young widow whose husband has left behind notes to help her get on with her life--each one signed with "P.S. I love you."

If you rent the DVD, do yourself a favor and watch the additional scenes. Some of them are just as heart-wrenching as anything in the movie. It's enough to make you want to move to Ireland to marry a hottie like Gerard Butler, even if you'll only have 9 years together.


Welcome to the Bookish & Cookish blog, home to all things literary and culinary. Here you'll find book reviews, cookbook reviews, recipes, food news, publishing news, and more. I thought the first day of the new year would be a good time to kick off a new blog. I'll try to include a wide range of topics, and hopefully some photos, too. Have some tips? Something you'd like to see? Leave a comment!