Meals in a Mug by Wendy Hobson

meals-in-a-mugGenre: Cookbook
Publisher: Robinson
Publication Date: July 2014

Sometimes one wants a quick and tasty snack or meal that doesn’t require extensive prep, cooking, and clean-up time. For that reason, Wendy Hobson’s Meal in a Mug intrigued me. It provides a variety of recipes one can rustle up with a few basic ingredients, a mug, and a microwave. Though excited to try it out, I confess I had my doubts. I wondered how flavorful or filling a meal in a mug could be.

When the cookbook arrived, my expectations dropped even lower. Simply bound and with only a few drawings of key ingredients at the beginning of each chapter, it reminded me of a puzzle book one might find at a dollar store. However, once I started trying the recipes, I was happily surprised.

Covering everything from breakfast to dessert, and pasta to meat, Meal in a Mug offers a recipe for every taste, need, and time of the day. While the portions aren’t large — no one will overeat with these — I found them to be satisfying. Though the book is British and includes some ingredients that might not be readily found elsewhere, they were all easy to either substitute or find an equivalent.

Here are my thoughts on some of them:

Sweet and Sour Prawn Noodles: (Disclaimer: I made this with chicken.) I love the sweet and sour combo, but rarely get it unless I make a special meal or go out to eat — until now. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve pulled out this recipe. The sweet and tangy burst takes me to flavor-heaven every time.

Cauliflower Cheese: The cheese and bacon give the sauce a nice flavor that makes me dread seeing the bottom of the mug. Depending on how well done you like your veggies, you might have to play around a bit with the microwave time. As is, the veggies come out a bit on the crisp side.

Rushed Mushroom and Rice: I liked this one because of its similarity to risotto. However, it could have benefited from some spices and herbs to kick it up a notch. With only the cream, black pepper, and parsley it lacks flavor. Thankfully, that’s simple enough to tweak.

Quick Chicken in Wine Sauce: I enjoyed this one and will definitely make it again, but not without adjusting the quantity of wine. As is, the wine is too strong, overpowering rather than enhancing.

Apple and Blackberry Nutmeg Crumble: (Disclaimer: I didn’t have blackberries.) Apple crumble is one of my favorite desserts and can therefore be tempted to eat more than I should. Having a mug-sized portion keeps me from over indulging. On the other hand, this recipe does make it too quick and easy to whip up at any time. The mouth-watering oats, brown sugar, and nutmeg topping makes it especially hard to walk away from. As with the Cauliflower Cheese, one might have to adjust the cooking time depending on the preference of crispy or soft apples.

Meals in a Mug makes a great gift for someone living alone or college students in a dorm with limited resources. My teenage brother, who rarely steps into the kitchen, immediately jumped to borrow this cookbook, describing it as exactly what he needs when he wants something quick, easy, and good to eat. So, with his seal of approval, I’d recommend Meals in a Mug to anyone looking for those three things.

Review copy provided by publisher. Thanks!

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Dinnertime by Ree Drummond (AKA The Pioneer Woman)

dinnertime-pioneer-womanGenre: Cookbook
Publisher: William Morrow Cookbook
Publication Date: October 2015

Come mealtime, whether I’m pulling out a cookbook or scouring the web, the Pioneer Woman has become one of my go-to sources for delicious recipes. Dinnertime, Ree Drummond’s latest contribution to cooks everywhere, is both practical and helpful. It focuses on that vital and often demanding meal that rolls around day after day regardless of schedule, energy, or inspiration. Drummond offers everything from freezer food and 16-minute meals when in a bind, to comfort classics and recipes to enjoy when a bit more relaxed.

Below are my thoughts on some of those recipes.

Potato Soup and Cheesy Cauliflower Soup: In cold weather, few meals hit the spot as perfectly as a steaming bowl of nourishing goodness. Both soups proved to be a success with almost everyone taking seconds.

Cashew Chicken: Combining crunchy and tender, sweet and salty, this recipe comes very close to perfection. Even my brother who usually complains about anything with peppers helped himself to seconds and thirds. I call that a success!

Salisbury Steak: This recipe earns the coveted “simple yet tasty” title. Following a suggestion in the variations section, I added mushrooms to the onion and gravy. As someone who likes mushrooms — lots and lots of them — I doubt I’ll ever make it any other way.

Stovetop Mashed Potatoes: The heavy cream, butter, milk, and cream cheese mixture made for a deliciously smooth and creamy puree — a must in my book when making mashed potatoes.

Cheese Biscuits: These came to the rescue recently when I needed a side of bread but didn’t have lots of time. The cheese gave them the perfect touch and made it hard to stop after two.

Vanilla Pudding: This makes for an extremely rich and creamy dessert, maybe too rich. Next time I’ll halve the sugar. As is, I reached sweetness saturation with only two or three bites.

I strongly recommend Dinnertime. The Pioneer Woman’s scrumptious and simple recipes are great for everyday cooks. One doesn’t have to be a top chef to create mouth-watering meals. Whenever applicable, the recipes include anything that can be made ahead, possible variations, and suggestions of what to serve with it. Drummond’s gorgeous photography gives the cookbook a personal touch and made me feel as though I sat across the kitchen table from her discussing food and family.

Whether you’re a long-time fan of The Pioneer Woman or a first timer, Dinnertime is a great addition to any house.

Review copy provided by publisher. Thanks!

The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook — Kate White

mystery-writers-of-americaGenre: Cookbook
Publisher: Quirk Books
Publication Date: March 2015

Mysteries and cooking are two of my favorites. So when I discovered The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook, I jumped at the opportunity to review it eager to combine two of my loves. Finding recipes from some of my favorite authors like Mary Higgins Clark and Kathy Reichs only made the adventure that much more thrilling.

Brimming with killer recipes from well-known mystery authors, each entry provides a short introduction, sharing about the novel it appeared in, the character that prepared it, or the reason it made the author’s favorite list. Mystery tidbits pepper the pages of this cookbook, sharing everything from authors’ murder weapons of choice, the meaning and/or origin of certain terms (such as red herring), and other fun information.

Here are my thoughts of a few of my favorites so far.

MYSTERY CRACKERS (Sandra Brown): This was a fun, simple recipe to toss together (literally). However, it should come with a disclaimer. They are addicting! Whether combined with cheese, cold cuts, or as is, it’s impossible to stop after one, or two, or three. If you are at all like me, you’ll find yourself popping them in your mouth like potato chips. One becomes five. Five become ten. Ten — you get the picture.

MORNING-AFTER HOTCAKES (Richard Castle): My brother enjoys Castle. He knows the show inside and out, and can quote it like nobody’s business. So of course, I had to surprise him with these. They turned out very moist and spongy, and when I asked my brother what he thought, he responded that Castle was the perfect cook. I’ll count that as a success.

BRISKET WITH APRICOT & PRUNES (Nancy J. Cohen): I made this for Passover this year and it flew off the platter, along with any hopes of leftovers. The meat turned out very tender and the sauce combined with the dried fruit gave it a slightly sweet flavor.

MISTAKEN POTATO SALAD (Mo Walsh): My grandmother passed away a few years ago, but one of my favorite things was her potato salad. This recipe tasted a lot like hers and brought back wonderful memories. It’s a simple, very refreshing dish for a hot summer’s day.

ITALIAN CHICKEN (Brad Meltzer): As a chicken fan, I’m always looking for new, tasty ways to make it. This recipe is not only delicious but extremely easy to put together. I made the Italian dressing from scratch, which required a few more minutes, but even so it didn’t take long at all and the whole family loved it. If your family is at all like mine, be generous with the mushrooms. They are heavenly after simmering in the sauce for a while in the oven.

These represent only the beginning. I can’t wait to try many other recipes like Bill Pronzini’s Nameless’s Italian Garlic Bread or Joseph Finder’s Doreen’s Apple Crumble. The pictures in this book make you feel like you’ve stepped into an Agatha Christie or Sherlock Holmes novel. The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook will leave you wanting to organize a murder mystery night with friends. I recommend this cookbook to anyone who enjoys food and a good mystery.

Review copy provided by publisher. Thanks!

**Originally posted on Life is Story.

The Pioneer Woman Cooks: A Year of Holidays by Ree Drummond

ayearofholidaysGenre: Cookbook
Publisher: William Morrow Cookbooks
Publication Date: November 2013

Holidays are a time for family, fun, and lots of wonderful food. Ree Drummond’s new cookbook, A Year of Holidays, is brimming with those and so much more. The pages are filled with pictures of her family (including those belonging to the four-legged species) and lots of mouth-watering, fun-to-make recipes.

I have been a fan of Drummond AKA The Pioneer Woman ever since I stumbled across Food from My Frontier last year. Since then, I am continually retrieving her cookbook from my shelf or pulling new recipes from her site. So when I saw a new book was headed our way, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. Let me tell you, I was not disappointed. Drummond offers what her fans have come to expect — delicious, easy-to-follow recipes. I love her step-by-step pictures and often miss them when I pull out other cookbooks.

Even though these recipes are organized by holidays, I can guarantee I’ll make a lot of them year round. Here is a glimpse of some I have tried.

BROCCOLI-CHEESE SOUP (Halloween): This cheesy broccoli dish is very easy to throw together and hits the spot on any cold day.

SPICY WHISKEY BBQ SLIDERS (The Big Game): Because we didn’t actually have a game going on, I shaped these mini-burgers into full-sized ones and they made a great meal, wonderfully complemented by the spicy whiskey BBQ sauce.

PERFECT EGG SALAD (Easter): I’ve already made this twice. It only takes a few minutes to whip up (waiting for the eggs to boil is the longest part of the whole process) and it makes a great addition to just about anything — salad, crackers, sandwiches.

BEEF AND CHICKEN FAJITAS, HOMEMADE TORTILLAS, and ZESTY LIME RICE (Cinco de Mayo): Even though we are not in May, I tested a Cinco de Mayo meal and it tasted just as good in November. I loved the combination of the lime-flavored rice with the fajitas. This was one of those rare meals that everyone in the family enjoyed, even those who are picky.

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I was thrilled that A Year of Holidays hit the shelves just in time. Needless to say, I tried out several of the recipes in this section.

TURKEY BRINE and ROASTED THANKSGIVING TURKEY: This was my first year in working on the most important part of the Thanksgiving meal. Nerves definitely played a part. Thankfully, family and friends alike commented on how nice and moist the bird turned out. You can bet I’m bookmarking this recipe for future years.

SOUL SWEET ‘TATERS: For me, the candied sweet potatoes are the highlight of this special meal. That’s the one dish I look forward to more than any other. Yes, even more than the turkey and pie. So changing a tried and true recipe for an unknown one didn’t come without some apprehension on my part. I’m so glad I went ahead. I LOVED it! However, I did use half the amount of sugar it requested and everyone thought it was still sweet enough.

BROCCOLI-WILD RICE CASSEROLE: This was the first year we served a dish like this one at our family Thanksgiving. If, like me, you enjoy broccoli, mushrooms, and wild rice, you can’t go wrong with this choice.

CARAMEL APPLE PIE: This was my first attempt at baking a pie. Drummond couldn’t have provided an easier recipe to start out with. Considering how quickly it disappeared, I’d say everyone enjoyed it.

Leftovers tend to be a synonym of holidays. But one no longer has to worry about that excess of food. Drummond includes many recipes for the days after, showing you how to turn those leftovers into other tasty meals. This book will make a great addition to anyone’s kitchen, whether you enjoy the holidays or cooking in general.

Review copy provided by publisher. Thank you!

**Originally posted on Radiant Lit.

My Little French Kitchen by Rachel Khoo

littlefrenchkitchenGenre: Cookbook
Publisher: Penguin
Publication Date: October 2013

For a long time, I’ve wanted to visit France. I remember sitting in my high school French class daydreaming of what it would be like to travel there, trying out my few words on the locals. Years have passed, my limited vocabulary is long gone and my dream remains unfulfilled — that is, until now. Through Rachel Khoo’s My Little French Kitchen, I have finally traveled to France, all without ever leaving my kitchen. With the help of scrumptious recipes, beautiful photography, and fun accounts of the different places Khoo toured while putting this book together, I felt like I experienced the trip with her — an expedition that is far from over.

While I’ve only just begun trying out the delicious recipes packed between the pages, I have so thoroughly enjoyed them that I’ve either made them more than once or have the ingredients lined up to do so. Here are some the dishes that have captured both my family and my palate.

CARAMEL AU BEURRE SALÉ (Salted Butter Carmel) —This sugary treat has gained nothing but fans in my house. I made two batches: one plain and the other spiced. While some prefer the first and others the second (I lean toward the second, but then I love anything with cinnamon), there is no denying we all love it.

COURT BOUILLON BRETON (Brittany Bouillon) —I love making things from scratch, so when I saw this homemade, healthier substitute for salty bouillon cubes, I knew it would be one of the first recipes I would try. We’ve used it in several meals and were so happy with the results that I’ve already made another batch of it. After trying this, reverting to the store-bought versions won’t sound so appealing.

BROCHETTES DE BOEF AVEC PETITS PAIN PLATS (Beef Koftas with Herby Flatbreads) — I loved this recipe, and I think everyone else did too because the food disappeared. All of it was great, the meat, the flatbreads, the yogurt sauce. The lemon, garlic, and spices gave the beef such a nice flavor that it’s made me want to try the combination in other meals too; e.g., in hamburgers. I imagine it would be a great way to give them a nice little kick.

PAD ALSACIEN (Alsacian Noodles) — The honey and wine mixture provided this meal with an incredible flavor. Toss in the crisp vegetables and the deal was sealed for me.

SAUCE XIPISTER (Xipister Sauce) — Sauces have the power to make or break a dish, and this one definitely doesn’t break it. The lemon, herbs, and hot pepper added a nice flavor to the oil and vinegar that in turn spices up anything it’s poured on, be it meats, salads, etc.

POULET ROTI AU VEN ROUGE (Roast Red Wine Chicken) — I want to begin this one with a disclaimer, I didn’t have a chicken on hand so I used turkey instead. This was a very quick and tasty meal to put together. The red wine, tomato paste, vinegar, and herbs made a mouth-watering marinade that had everyone grabbing their bread and dipping it into the mixture. It was one of those rare meals where no one complained, which in a family of seven is quite a feat!

Needless to say, not only have I so far enjoyed all of the recipes that I’ve tried, they’ve also been pretty high up on the enjoyment scale, and like I said before, I’m just getting started. I have my eyes on several others that look just as incredible.

I strongly recommend this cookbook to anyone who loves cooking — especially French cooking. One can’t go wrong with this book. There is something for everyone.

Review copy provided by publisher. Thanks!

**Originally posted on Radiant Lit.