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Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Book Review: Kosher by Design: Teens & 20-somethings

imageI love reviewing books because – hey, free books! And people actually caring about what I think? Wow, it really is a perfect world.

(throughout this review, you can hover over any photo, without clicking, to read a descriptive caption)

First things first: Kosher by Design: Teens and 20-Somethings (henceforth, “KBDT&20s”) is a gorgeous cookbook!  One two-page spread per recipe, and the photos are, without exception, mouth-watering. Having a picture of every single recipe is both inspiring (“hey, I want to try that!”) and educational (“oh, that’s how it’s supposed to look!”) – perfect for the novice home chef.

I’m not usually a cookbook person. An “intuitive chef,” I prefer to fly solo unless I’m trying a new technique or ingredient. Not to mention that I hate throwing $30 into a collection of recipes unless I’m going to love all of them. Finally, I enjoy finding recipes online – the surefire ones that have many excellent reviews on a major site like food.com (formerly RecipeZaar) or AllRecipes.

What a cookbook has to offer, though, is its author’s personality… so she’d better have a strong one, plus a good sense of fun.

I didn’t know anything about Susie Fishbein before receiving this free review copy. Now, I feel I do know a little, and I like what I’ve seen. She’s not afraid to have fun with food, even shaking up the kosher world a bit with new flavours and maybe a little spice.

(Jamaican Jerk Chicken Wings? Firecracker Beef? Yum!  But no, we haven’t been brave enough to try them yet…)

The cover of this book is kitschy, but fun, the stereotypical teenage lemon (squash???) listening to rock n’ roll – or Yeshiva Boys’ Choir. Still; it’s cheerful, and the kids didn’t seem to mind.

But you can’t judge a cookbook by its cover, so I cracked the book and last week, challenged each of the teens to find a recipe in the book that they wanted to make for Shabbos.

The kids' salad selections!EC (girl, 14) chose Modern Israeli Salad, and YM (boy, 15) chose Creamy Gnocchi Pesto Salad. My husband Ted (boy) wanted in on the action, and not only whipped up Red Velvet Cupcakes and Cream Cheese Frosting one day while I was out, but decided to do a “KBD Shabbos,” making Onion Chicken for supper and Pineapple Salmon for lunch. For my part, I contributed Spicy Carrot Sticks and Honey Cookies. I also used two of the recipes for family suppers during the last two weeks: Falafel Veggie Burgers and Turkey Sliders (yup, we love burger-shaped things!).

Was it all superb? Were we blown away? Were all the recipes clear and simple, suitable for their intended audience of amateurs? And what’s with all these rhetorical questions?

I will say this: everything we tried was delicious, and we all discovered many lovely surprises between its covers. This book is a wonderful, faithful tour guide into the world of tasty home cuisine.

Honey cookies - picture perfect!Some of the recipes were easy. Modern Israeli Salad, for instance, was simple enough to throw together on Shabbos morning. Others, not so much. YM’s creamy gnocchi, on the other hand, was one big, huge potchke. I expected the Honey Cookies to be easy, but it actually turned into one of the stiffest, driest cookie doughs I have ever worked with, and I felt like swearing as I laid them out on the pan.

I found myself wishing the recipes had a difficulty indicator: Easy, Medium or Hard. Also missing: prep-time and cook time approximations. (You can sort of figure it out by reading the steps, but what teenager does that?)

Falafel "patty" on homemade grainy bread I also thought it was slightly irresponsible for Fishbein not to point out the seasonality of some crucial ingredients. Basil, for instance, for that Creamy Pesto Gnocchi. Here in Canada, August is when to eat it – I had bushes of it in the backyard begging to be made into pesto! – and November, when it is grown in California and costs $4 for an anemic little bundle, is most decidedly NOT.

In these niggling ways, Fishbein seems to have dropped the ball, or at the very least, overlooked some of what should be included in a cookbook for newbies.

However, my biggest actual criticism of this book is with its Desserts section. You simply can’t (or shouldn’t!) take a recipe that is delicious when made with half a cup of butter and add the words “or margarine” to make it pareve. We shouldn’t even be telling aspiring young bakers that the two substances are equivalent.

Of the fifteen desserts listed, only THREE (Honey Cookies, Coconut Angel Food Cake and Chocolate Chocolate Chip Sticks) are what I’d consider truly pareve, ie they can be made without major substitution of fake-dairy. A fourth, Peach-Apricot Cobbler, uses only 2 Tbsp of margarine, which is not really enough to ruin the dessert.

This was a disappointment. More than anything, I love being inspired by yummy new desserts and enjoy the challenge of creating pareve goodies that are delicious in their own right… without suffering from being “ALMOST as good as” the dairy version. I definitely plan to make the other pareve desserts, and even the dairy ones; they all do look scrumptious – made with real butter!

One final thought is that many of the recipes look delicious on their own, but given the intended audience of this book, would be even more wonderful with serving suggestions. Turkey Sliders, for instance: yum! But what can a novice cook add to truly make it a meal? (I ended up frying up some red peppers with balsamic vinegar and serving them alongside, in case you’re wondering.)

Perhaps my kids are not the teens Fishbein has in mind, or perhaps our family’s lifestyle is not gracious enough, but the Party section at the end of the book held not the least interest for either of them. Oh, well.

Spicy Carrot sticks - picture perfect!For all my kvetches, I have to admit: this old dog learned some new tricks – what a pleasant surprise! The Falafel Veggie Burgers were delightfully subtle, thanks to Fishbein’s addition of small white beans. Spicy Carrot Sticks offered a new technique for coating the carrots – using egg white and sugar, something I’ve never seen before – and the seasoning stayed on beautifully, garnering (garnishing? :-)) rave reviews. And though I walked around all day muttering to myself, “Turkey sliders? Just an excuse to eat meatballs in buns!” they really were moist and slideriffic, thanks to teriyaki sauce right in the mix and special BBQ sauce on top. (my own special BBQ sauce: mix Coke, ketchup and a bit of onion and chili powders; boil, cool)Tiny burgers:  juicy and SLIDER-iffic!!!

Which just proves that even us old dogs shouldn’t sneer at cookbooks before we’ve had a chance to crack them open and sample their gorgeous offerings. We might just learn a trick or two… and turn our teens and twenty-somethings onto this exciting world of cooking in the process.

This book might make a good gift for a girl as young as 13 who’s showing interest in the kitchen (though I wouldn’t give it to a boy, personally!).  But unlike a lot of “kiddie” cookbooks, KBDT&20s is flexible enough in its range of recipes – and serious enough about food – to have a lot to offer to a young kallah or first-time home cook of any age.

So!  You’ve read this far… and now I bet you’re wondering who won my Cooking Disaster Contest!

(or maybe you’ve just fallen asleep, head weighing down the scroll bar, which has landed you at the bottom of this page…)

Well… either way, you’ll find out who won in my very next post!

Everything else that you ever wanted to know about this cookbook is contained in the following mandatory paragraph:

Preorder your copy today at ArtScroll.com – enter the coupon code KBDBLOG at checkout to save 10% and receive free shipping in the continental U.S. Join us online to find more reviews and giveaway contests! Kosher by Design Teens & 20-Somethings: cooking for the next generation is aimed at the young and digital-savvy fast-food generation and those who cook for them. Susie Fishbein is an everyday cook who loves to share her passion for cooking and entertaining with friends and family. Her enthusiasm for food and entertaining led to the creation of her best-selling cookbook, Kosher by Design, published in 2003 by ArtScroll Shaar Press. For more recipes and updates, visit our blog or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

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