Monday, October 22, 2012

A Farmer's Daughter: Recipes from a Mennonite Kitchen

I really think that I would like Dawn Stoltzfus if I met her.  She is a down-to-earth person who seems to enjoy cooking and spending time with her family.  Her upbringing on a farm in Ohio with fresh ingredients makes me jealous.  I grew up in Los Angeles with 6 million people and lots of concrete.  I didn't see my first tomato plant until I was 29 years old.  I tended my first garden when I moved to TX that same year.  It was a joy to have fresh produce and see the fruit of my labor.  I imagine that is what Dawn's upbringing was like most of the time.  She must have really enjoyed the fresh milk and clean air of living on a farm.  Ahh....I can just imagine it. 

When I first received this cookbook I took the time to read through many of the recipes.  While doing this I came across all of Dawn's notes to the reader.  I really enjoyed reading her little vignettes about her family and about her faith.  Again, I think that I would really enjoy getting to know Dawn.  I actually think that I enjoyed reading her "food for thought" section more than I enjoyed reading the cookbook.

The cookbook is organized into sections like most cookbooks (Appetizers, Main entrees, breakfast and breads, etc).  It contains easy-to-read recipes.  Many of the recipes contain fresh ingredients and seem commonplace for life on a farm (Amish Fried Dressing, Brown Butter Green Beans, Farmer's BLT, Amish Peanut Butter, Honey Corn Bread).  There are several recipes, however, that seem out-of-place for a cookbook titled, "A Farmer's Daughter: Recipes from a Mennonite Kitchen."  There are several modern-day recipes that she must have picked up after leaving the farm.  These recipes seem oddly placed in this cookbook (i.e. Slow cooker Thai chicken, Moroccan Chicken Kebabs, Chicken Curry, Black beans and rice, Thai Turkey Roll-ups).  The author has traveled to France and she also includes some of these recipes in her book.  It feels as though about 1/3 of the book is made up of recipes from her life on the farm and the other recipes are things that she just enjoys cooking.  This would be ok except for the fact that the cookbook is touted as a Mennonite kitchen cookbook.

I cooked three of the recipes from the cookbook (Angel Biscuits, Buttermilk Ranch Dressing, Slow Cooker Thai Chicken). Here is my review of each of them:

ANGEL BISCUITS - definitely my favorite recipe out of the three that I cooked.  These were simple to make and tasted delicious.  A fast recipe that uses yeast but has no rising time.  I loved the use of yeast without the wait.  Very good. (I've included a picture of the biscuits in the photo section of this listing).

BUTTERMILK RANCH DRESSING - My least favorite recipe.  The recipe called for paprika which made for an odd taste in the dressing.  I have made many different versions of homemade ranch dressing and this one just didn't taste good to me.  The addition of garlic salt instead of fresh garlic seemed odd to me.  I think the author was trying to make things easy on the cook by allowing either dried or fresh herbs but dried herbs taste awful in dressings. 

SLOW COOKER THAI CHICKEN - I have made curried chicken many times and was excited to try a slow cooker version of a dish that I really love.  I was disappointed though in both the addition of peanut butter to this recipe (odd for a Thai curry dish) and the lack of "real flavor" to this dish.  It probably needed more salt and more fresh spices.  I also added more vegetables to the recipe since this recipe only called for red bell pepper, onions and frozen peas.  I added yellow bell pepper and broccoli to beef it up but it still fell flat.  I really wanted to love this recipe but it needs more depth.  It closely resembles a panang curry (minus the peanut butter which is more "African" when added to a dish like this) but doesn't have the intense flavors found in that dish.

The index at the back of the book does not break down the recipes by ingredient but instead just alphabetically lists the recipe name (which makes the index useless in my opinion since you can't just look up an ingredient that you have on hand and then find a recipe to make).

I give this cookbook a 2.5 out of 3.  The Mennonite Farm recipes look good, however, they do not make up the bulk of this cookbook.  This is definitely a compilation of recipes that the author enjoys with some Mennonite recipes dispersed throughout.  Still, I really like the author and loved her writing-style and her stories. 

Available October 2012 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Life with Lily

I have enjoyed reading these little vignettes with my two daughters (aged 6 and 3).  I have found the stories to be simple and fun.  My girls think that Lily is a curious and sweet child.  I especially enjoy Lily's honesty as she faces each situation.  She responds as a child and that is part of the joy of this series.  I enjoy her reactions to the people that she encounters along the way.  I also appreciate the special relationship that she has with her mother and her family.  

I wish that there was a little more depth to the characters and that the style of writing was a bit deeper.  This is just a preference but I just thought that I would mention it in case anyone is hoping for deep character development in this series.  I'm not sure that you will find deep reflection or introspection in these characters.  I do think the series would have been more interesting if Lily was the narrator of the series.  This is simple and light reading but very fun for children.

Available October 2012  at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

REVIEW: Raising Financially Confident Kids

I appreciate Mary Hunt. She has a perspective on how to raise your children to be financially confident.

I didn't have parents that taught me to be financially confident so I was really at a loss for how to raise my children in this area without some ideas. Well, Mary has plenty of ideas. She has some very sound advice re: how to help your children to form a solid foundation in this area. Just keep in mind that this is just one person's advice. There are many ways to train your children to handle and view money wisely. Every family is different and their ideas for instilling wisdom in their children can be vastly different in this area. Still, I appreciate that Mary has taken the time to tell us her opinion.

My favorite part of the book was the chapter where she discusses having your children manage a portion of the family budget. Although this idea initially terrified me I soon came to realize that I was scared because of my own lack of personal training in this area. I am going to try and implement a few of her ideas with my children and then see how things go.

You should continue to read a wide variety of authors to decide how you want to raise your children to view and handle money. I always ask people for ideas re: how they teach their children in this area so that I can analyze their responses and adapt them to my family and our situation. Remember that one "size does not fit all" when it comes to financial advice.

One thing is for certain....if you don't train your children in this area then they will form their own opinions about money. Training in every area of their lives is important.

Available August 2012 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

REVIEW: Don't Panic Quick, Easy, and Delicious Meals for Your Family

When the "Don't Panic" series of cookbooks came out I was a huge fan. I loved the idea of cooking all of my meals in 1 or 2 days and not having to cook the rest of the month. The cookbooks were easy to use, had great tips for freezing meals and had some great recipes for every day meals. They were thematic and organized by types of meat, soups, etc.

So, when I had the opportunity to review their latest cookbook I was really excited. I really wanted to like this cookbook. I mean, who doesn't love a "quick and easy" cookbook? I own many quick and easy cookbooks that I love that have great recipes that utilize fresh and flavorful ingredients. Unfortunately, I just couldn't see how this cookbook would be useful to me. The introduction to the book says it all, "we are finally able to share some of our longtime favorite recipes with you that we left out of our previous books because they are not suitable for the freezer." That statement is true. The cookbook reads more like a group of women getting together to share their favorite recipes (i.e. a "community cookbook" or a "church cookbook)." As I read through the cookbook I came across several recipes that were already familiar to me.

I mean everyone who has been cooking for any length of time has a Chinese Chicken salad recipe with green onions, almonds and sesame seeds right? If you've ever been on the South Beach Diet then the "Beef Kabobs with Peanut Lime Dipping Sauce" will be familiar. If you watch Rachel Ray then the "Thai Chicken Wraps" will ring a bell and if you watch "Everybody Loves Raymond" then the "Lemon Chicken" recipe will make you laugh (ok, I threw that last one in for humor but you get the picture).

I took the time to make a few of the recipes (Spicy Pecans and Homestyle Mac & Cheese). Both were delicious and tasty but, again, nothing that I didn't already have in my recipe box. In fact, I wonder if the author's can take credit for these recipes as many of them can be found on the internet. This begs the question, "At what point is a recipe considered plagiarized?" Can authors just change one or two small ingredients and then call the recipe their own? This doesn't seem ethical to me but I don't understand the publishing world so it may be perfectly acceptable. I can understand how dessert recipes might be similar because of the chemistry involved, however, many of the appetizer and main dish recipes can be found on the internet in almost the exact format as shown in this cookbook.

There were a couple of dishes that were new to me but they wouldn't justify the cost of the book for me. If this were given to me then I would probably copy down a few of the recipes and then give the book away. The book just doesn't seem cohesive to me. The recipes are mismatched and there is no real common theme to them. Quick and Easy is probably not the best title for this book as several of the recipes take longer than 30 minutes from start to clean-up. Additionally, you wouldn't take 30 minutes to make an appetizer, 30 minutes to make a main meal and 30 minutes to make a dessert. That's 1.5 hours. Most "Quick and Easy" cookbooks stick to main dishes for this reason.

Still, I really enjoyed the author's first two cookbooks and use them regularly to cook my freezer meals. Their formula for freezer meals is a good one. I would recommend checking out their other cookbooks.

- Available April 2012 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.