November 21, 2012

Reads and Eats: White Jacket Required (Book Review)

Several months before we started our own blog, I was beginning my now-an-everyday-obsession with reading food and healthy living blogs.  One of the first I began reading regularly was entitled Eat, Live, Run, a blog written by a woman named Jenna, who at about my age was finding her ground in the months following college and culinary school.  Although her blog has morphed considerably from that time, from a more lifestyle/fitness blog to a solely recipe-based blog, I've loved following her journey  as she's moved across the country and followed her dreams in food, writing, and yoga.  Her recipes are always beautiful, and while not always 100% original, are typically easy, delicious, and healthy (minus all those cakes and pies she loves to bake!)

It was only fitting that our food-based book club decided to read her newly published book, entitled White Jacket Required: A Culinary Coming-of-Age Story.  

The book is written in a very different style as her blog, detailing her adventures in and out of culinary school in memoir fashion.  Unfortunately, we all thought she should stick with what she is good at-- blogging.  Her book was awkwardly written (some stories that she clearly found amusing weren't so to us readers), she had difficulties connecting her stories and characters, and we all found her inability to "find herself" a bit frustrating.  While the accidental death of her younger brother brings a bit of life (ironically) to her book, the rest of the book was mediocre.  

Similar to other books we've read, each chapter ended with a few recipes (some from her blog, some new).  While some of the recipes looked delicious and fun, they typically had no relationship with the chapter itself, which in turn made it impossible to connect with the recipes.  Not saying I need to have an emotional connection to food, but it makes the recipes more meaningful to the reader- and makes us more likely to reproduce them!

For our meeting, we all chose a recipe (either from the book or the blog) to share potluck style.  J chose the Greek Salad- a classic mixture of artichoke hearts, red onions, kalamata olives, and cucumbers, tossed and mixed with an herby olive-oil based dressing. She added a chopped green pepper to bulk it up a bit. Feta on the side-- we love huge chunks but others aren't as fond of the salty cheese.

We also had a side of roasted root vegetables (an almost embarrassingly simple recipe, although we won't deny we loved them!).  Two of the ladies in our group love to bake, so they each tackled a cookie recipe provided by Jenna.  First up, a super unique recipe (Jenna notes that this is NOT her original!) of Chocolate Zucchini Crinkle Cookies.

Zucchini can enter the dessert realm outside of just bread-- crazy!  Although these had a good amount of shredded squash, you seriously can't taste it at all (and I tested it on my vegetable-o-meter husband).

It was impossible to decide if we preferred the chocolate cookies or the gingerbread cookies- we are slightly obsessed with gingerbread, and these soft, spicy cookies were perfect in every way.  We enjoyed them so much we are planning on making them for our Thanksgiving dessert array this week!

And finally, I produced the main course for our dinner, selecting a recipe from the blog since none of the savory book recipes really appealed to me.  Although Jenna calls these "Crock Pot Beef Carnitas Tacos," they're technically NOT carnitas.  Regardless, it's an amazingly simple and delicious recipe and one that I'm going to definitely file in my mental "make often" recipe file.

You want to know how simple this is?  Purchase a piece of beef.  Slice an onion and two bell peppers (I chose yellow and red).  Place them in your slow cooker with a dash of this and a dash of that from your spice cabinet (chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, salt, pepper, and a bit of cayenne-- but you can really use whatever spices you like!).  Cook on low for eight hours.  Done!

No need to pre-brown the meat.  No need to chop carefully.  No need to measure your spices.  While Jenna recommends flank steak, I used a cheaper cut of top (or maybe it was bottom..?) round.  Regardless, you don't even need cooking liquid- the fat from the meat and the liquid from the vegetables is just enough to keep things perfectly moist.  The meat should be falling apart when you return for it, but a simple shred with two forks will make it easier to serve.  I piled a few chunks of meat  on a corn tortilla and added a few slices of avocado, some chopped green onions, and a squeeze of lime for a simple but flavorful main course.

While none of us loved the book, the food turned out fantastic- a bit of a random meal (none of us really coordinated our dishes) but it was really fun to eat such a variety.  It doesn't hurt that we always have such a great time together, too!  And, while I wouldn't recommend spending the money or time on White Jacket Required, I would certainly continue to recommend Eat, Live, Run as a place to find great recipes.

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