Book reviews: Give the gift of quality reading this holiday season!

Writing a book is like running the marathon – or at least this is how I remember the experience. It is intense. For months on end you worry about every single detail in the upcoming book, sometimes obsessively so. You wake up in the middle of the night and think of pics or sections (will the cover pic really work? Does my argument is strong enough in that chapter?). You constantly recheck your writing despite having editors on hand to help you with the job. In the end however, the stress and trepidation are so worth it: the book you hold, fresh off the press, is a labor of love and a work of art. It is your heart writ large on every page and picture 🙂

I read a lot of academic books during the school semester, but during the break I like to switch gears and to focus on books which satisfy the other half of my self: cooking! Recently I came across two cookbooks which would make excellent holiday gifts for foodies and non-foodies alike. The detailed explanations, stunning pictures and overall exquisite mixture of style and substance make these cookbooks stand out from the crowd in the best possible way. 

The first item I was sent to review was Janice Murfitt’s All-in-One Guide to Cake Decorating: Over 100 Step-by-Step Cake Decorating Techniques and Recipes.

Janice Murfitt is an esteemed baking expert and cake decorator, and the author of over 20 cookbooks. She began her career working with Unilever, developing and researching cake mixtures and pastries. Since then, she has worked with some of London’s top food photographers, and her recipes have been featured on many magazine front covers.

The quintessential guide for aspiring sugar crafters, All-in-One Guide to Cake Decorating covers the most popular methods of icing and decoration, including buttercream, chocolate and marzipan. This book demystifies cake decoration and renders it manageable to bakers of all levels of expertise. I was truly impressed with the accessibility of this book. Chapter 5, for instance, discusses instant decorations such as confectioners’ sugar, cocoa, coffee, nuts and glazed fruits. Following the author’s straightforward instructions and having just a few of these apparently unassuming decorations on hand, a beginner baker can create professional-level looking cakes. As the unapologetic chocoholic that I am, I also enjoyed reading Chapter 6, on chocolate cake decorating. Janice Murfitt’s explanations on choosing and melting chocolate and then coating a cake with it were easy to understand, and the step-by-step pictures were inspiring.

The second item I was sent to review was Valerie Bertinelli’s latest book Valerie’s Home Cooking: More than 100 Delicious Recipes to Share with Friends and Family.

Award-winning actress, best-selling author, and Food Network regular (she hosts Valerie’s Home Cooking and co-hosts Kids Baking Championship), Valerie Bertinelli likes nothing more than to cook delicious meals and to share them with her loved ones, drawing inspiration from her family’s tried-and-tested recipes in the process. In an age when some chefs argue that recipes are dead, Valerie’s latest book demonstrates the contrary: they are unlikely to go away any time soon! An amazing storyteller with great attention to detail and surprising tips and tricks up her sleeve, Valerie unveils the story behind every recipe with skill and gusto, and the results are impressive. I enjoyed the section where Valerie described how she had recently gone through the recipes in her mom’s wooden recipe box in search of familiar and delicious dishes, which shared two essential ingredients: heart and soul. Who doesn’t love these ingredients? 🙂

Valerie’s assured voice made reading the recipes and accompanying stories a joy. Her book is also pleasing to the eyes, and the pictures draw you in and never let you go. Once you see the final products arranged neatly as part of an upscale presentation, you just have to make the recipes in question!

Valerie’s Slow-Cooker Beef Sandwiches with Giardiniera Aioli were a big hit in our household. I ate the sandwich without aioli (it is best to try to avoid eating raw eggs when pregnant). Thankfully, my husband had plenty of things to say about the aioli, and they were all in the superlative. I will definitely make the sandwich again, and the aioli as often as possible for DH, as a matter of fact 😉 As if this weren’t enough, I also appreciated Valerie’s Italian seasoning recipe, which was easy to make and a nice money-saver compared to the ready-made versions on sale at the local grocery store.

I enjoyed reading these two books and had a great time trying some of the featured recipes. As a bookworm who never misses a chance to read (not even in my spare time!), I derived great satisfaction from engaging with these authors, discovering delightful background stories and enriching my culinary knowledge in the process. Coming from me, this advice is hardly surprising, but I’ll write it here again, loud and clear: give the gift of quality reading this holiday season, and your friends will love you even more 🙂

*Disclaimer: While I received complimentary copies of these books to facilitate this review, all opinions expressed here are my own.

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