Book reviews, part 1: It’s time to read great life stories and to fire up the grill!

It’s almost May 1st – time to fire up the grill, everyone! I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough of this long winter, and now I’m ready to put the heavy coat back in the attic until next year. So is my family: DH and our daughter are both “outdoor creatures,” who would rather share laughs in the warm spring/summer glow than languish in front of the TV waiting for the air conditioning to start. Isn’t it wonderful that the weather is finally giving everyone a break?

Now is also the time to rethink your diet, and cookbooks are a great place to start if you’re looking for recipe ideas or straight-up inspiring storytelling. This is part #1 of a bigger roundup book review I intend to write (there are so many good books out there, and so little time!) Stay tuned for part #2 over the next week or so 😉

Good food and good storytelling go hand in hand, and the recently published book Treated Like Family is a case in point.

Treated Like Family chronicles the story of Sargento’s founder, Leonard Gentine, and is written by Tom Faley, a longtime Sargento employee. Starting from humble beginnings as a funeral home worker, Gentine was a visionary who saw the potential of providing quality cheese products to small households in a market where large operators dominated and individual consumers were largely neglected. This is the journey of a young entrepreneur who pursues his dream with passion and determination, and who ultimately founds a billion-dollar food company where employees and owners are truly family. Gentine’s story is brought to life through archive pictures and over 180 interviews with Sargento employees, as well as through private conversations conducted with Gentine himself before he passed away.

Tom Faley depicts Gentine’s rise to success in the food industry as a multilayered story, which involves an appreciation of “the value of hard work, and the satisfaction that followed a long day’s labor,” but also a deep awareness of the need “to keep work in perspective.” Work and family must be in harmony, otherwise one’s entire life crumbles, and any productive activity turns out to be meaningless. As Faley writes persuasively, all Gentine ever dreamed of was “a family business. That’s what he wanted, had always wanted, never wavering.” In a time when many companies are narrowly defined by their shareholders or products, Gentine’s classic vision of entrepreneurship is refreshing and truly inspirational.

I found the sections which detail Gentine’s courtship of his future wife Dolores Becker as they both struggled through the Depression emotionally charged, and while reading them I was reminded of my uncle, who lived during the same period, and whose life experience was marked by similar events: World War Two, the devastation, the disenchantment, and ultimately the hope. Overall, Treated like Family is a great family-oriented read, and I highly recommend it if you’re looking to find out more about the evolution of Sargento as a brand, but also about what it means to achieve success in a way that allows you to stay true to your values, such as hard work, family, community, giving back, and living each day harmoniously.

The next book up for review is Char-Broil’s Great Book of Grilling: 300 Tasty Recipes for Every Meal. This is a book which got DH (an aspiring grill master) really excited! He’s always on the lookout for guides on how to prepare meals in the great outdoors, and this voluminous recipe collection was a sure way to please him. Char-Broil has been a leader in the grill-making business for seventy years, and this shows in their latest cookbook, which employs an authoritative style and uses quality pictures to bring a plethora of recipes to life.

What’s grilling without burgers and steaks, you might ask? Not much, according to DH anyway, lol The first recipes he tried from this cookbook were Burgers with Caramelized Onion Spread (page 82) and Best New York Strip Steak (page 64). For the burgers, we used wholegrain instead of sesame seed buns, and we also went ahead and added two layers of caramelized onion spread (instead of just one), with the burger “sandwiched” in-between them. The cumin powder in the burger made a big difference, providing an extra layer of refined and exotic flavor. As for the spread, the grilled onion, ketchup, mustard, sour cream, balsamic vinegar & honey combo looked unusual to us. However, once we tried it, everything fell into place and made sense flavor-wise. A very good burger and spread indeed!

Below is the New York Strip Steak DH cooked following the instructions in the book. Just look at all that butter melting away!

Tender, luxurious and grill marked in all the right places – aka steak perfection: 😉

As for me, I really wanted to test some of the vegetarian recipes featured in the book, so I went ahead and made Pepper and Garlic Hummus (page 50) and Feta Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms (page 43). At first I was surprised the hummus recipe didn’t call for cumin (a classic hummus ingredient), but it turned out this exclusion did not impact the flavor negatively. Indeed, the hummus benefited from the addition of grilled red bell pepper and garlic. I would have used a little bit less lemon juice, but I guess that’s a matter of preference.

As for the feta stuffed portobello mushrooms, I was impressed with the creative thought process behind this recipe: I never thought you could add sun-dried tomatoes, feta and/or baby spinach to portobellos on the grill. DH thought the curry powder flavor was too strong, but my mom and I liked it. What a creative way to use portobellos on the grill! I highly recommend this vegetarian recipe – the portobellos not only taste great but look great as well, as you can see below:

I hope these reviews and recipes have inspired you to eat healthily and thoughtfully this spring. So go on, start living life out in the sun again: we all deserve it 🙂


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