Browsing Tag

contemporary

book review, recipe

The Wedding Date + Cheese and Crackers

If anyone recalls the early 2000s rom-com, The Wedding Date, starring Debra Messing and Dermot Mulroney, that is the first thing that came to mind when I heard the title of this book. Liberty Hardy praised it last month in the All the Books! podcast. It sounded like a light-hearted read and when I noticed it was available on NetGalley, I put in a request.

Jasmine Guillory’s novel The Wedding Date has a setup that is reminiscent of the movie – someone is invited to attend a wedding in which a former lover is significantly involved and they can’t bear to do it alone, so they find a complete stranger to accompany them. But, the similarities end there. Rather than hiring his date, Drew gets stuck with her in an elevator. The two of them bond over “the perfect snack” of cheese and crackers, which Alexa (a woman after my own heart) was carrying in her purse. He decides to see if this chemistry means something – not to mention the aforementioned dreaded wedding – and asks her to be his date.

Because it’s so like a rom-com (in setup and plot), it was as light-hearted as I expected. What I didn’t expect was the subtle and realistic ways Jasmine was able to work in issues of race and (male) white privilege. The relationship issues also seemed realistic, particularly those that arise due to long distance, but in some cases, I’ll admit, the rom-comminess seemed to prevent a quicker solution to problems that probably just required some honest communication.

Still, while it’s light, it’s not “fluffy.” A book like The Wedding Date makes a wonderful vacation read because it’s amusing and easily devoured. As a bonus, it may inspire you to make some fancy cheese plate, and that’s never a bad thing.

A lover of all things cheese, I have eaten more than my share of cheese and crackers. I’ve enjoyed cheese platters at parties, but I’ve never made my own. I was excited by the prospect. When Alexa and Drew meet in the elevator, they are limited by a lack of utensils and can only eat whatever cheese they can break off the block, accompanied by crackers straight out of the sleeve.

I knew I had to do better. I bought a slate cheese board specifically for the occasion, and now I have an excuse to make cheese platters more often (if I need one…). I researched all of the elements that should go into a delicious, effortless-looking cheese board, and it came out pretty wonderfully, if I do say so myself. Here’s what I learned:

How to Make the Perfect Cheese Board

First, determine which types of cheese you’ll be including. Typically, four kinds of cheese are enough and you should choose one each of the following: soft, semi-soft, semi-hard and hard.

Soft cheeses include mozzarella and brie.

Semi-soft cheeses include blue cheeses like Stilton, Gouda, and Jarlsberg.

Semi-hard cheeses include Manchego, Comte and provolone.

Hard cheeses include aged cheeses, such as cheddar, parmesan, or asiago. I opted for Trader Joe’s Unexpected Cheddar, which is a delicious cheddar that has parmesan in it.

Once you’ve settled on your cheeses, you should choose crackers, meats and other accompaniments that go well with each cheese. I used the Cheese Pairings chart at the bottom of this article to help me choose.

I went with prosciutto and water crackers (to accompany the brie and mild-flavored comte) and salami and whole wheat crackers (to accompany the more-strongly flavored cheddar and blue cheese). I also included apricot jam for the brie, which I have to say, I had never had together before – I wholeheartedly recommend it. Lastly, I bought mixed nuts to fill in the gaps and provide another snacking option.

What are some of your favorite things to include in a cheese plate? I’d love to hear in the comments below – as I’m sure there will be many more of these in my future! 🙂

_____________________

I received a free digital copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.

 

book review, recipe

The Devil Wears Prada + Fashion Week Grilled Cheese

In the Literary Feast Reading Challenge, March’s task was to read a book that was made into a movie I’d already seen. Choosing the book was a lot more difficult than I expected. In most cases, I’d gone the traditional route, reading the book first and then watching the movie (and complaining about the discrepancies). In a few cases, there was a book I wanted to read that would’ve qualified…except I hadn’t seen the movie yet either.

So, when I was perusing a used book sale recently, I noticed Lauren Weisberger’s novel The Devil Wears Prada, and thought “I’ve seen that.” I grabbed it. But, like most people are hesitant to see a book they love ruined by a poor movie adaptation, I was instead hesitant to have a movie I knew maybe a little too well ruined by a book that I’d heard was nothing like it. I eventually decided to forge ahead, and here we are.

Whether you’ve read the book or seen the movie, the plot is similar. Andy, a recent journalism graduate, moves to NYC, determined to write for the New Yorker. She struggles to find a writing job but is ultimately granted “the job a million girls would die for” as the junior assistant to Miranda Priestly, the editor of Runway. Though she knows nothing about fashion, Andy is assured that putting in one year of work as Miranda’s assistant will all but guarantee her a job anywhere in publishing, and she takes it. At her best, Miranda is exacting and unreasonable, and it probably goes without saying, the job is anything but a dream.

Continue Reading

book review, recipe

The Mothers + Fish Taco Bowls

Every reader has something they look for in a book, something that makes it worth it for them. I enjoy a well-crafted plot, and I love memorable characters. I’m not usually the type of reader who gushes about writing or writing style. To me, in most cases, I’d rather not notice it. If it’s good, it’s seamless, enhancing the other elements of the book that normally stand out to me; if it’s bad, it can take away from an otherwise good story and becomes more annoying than anything else.

However, in the case of The Mothers, what did stand out to me was the writing. Brit Bennett sure has a wonderful way with words, and I ate them right up.

Her story about a contemporary black community in Southern California is narrated by the female elders at the church or “the Mothers.” When we begin, Nadia is seventeen and about to graduate high school, destined for great things. She begins dating the pastor’s older son, Luke, and the relationship progresses how you would probably expect. Determined to not let anything get in her way of her ambitions, Nadia makes a decision that will impact everyone far beyond their youth. Continue Reading

book review, recipe

The Book of Unknown Americans + Mexican Buñuelos

In The Book of Unknown Americans, Cristina Henríquez gives a voice to the millions of immigrants in the United States – how they got here and why, where they come from and what they’re searching for. While her story focuses primarily on the Riveras and the Toros, many of the chapters are told from the perspective of other immigrants in their apartment complex in Delaware. Each hailing from a different Spanish-speaking homeland, each giving us a glimpse into their lives today.

When their teenage daughter Maribel suffered a near-fatal accident, the Riveras did everything in their power to help her heal and come back to herself. Her father, Arturo, secured a job in Delaware and with it, visas for all of them to come to America, where Maribel would be able to enroll in specialized classes and receive a better education. She eventually meets Mayor, a fifteen-year-old whose family came from Panama; he has lived here nearly his whole life. He and the other residents help the Riveras navigate the language and cultural obstacles they face.

Continue Reading

book review, recipe

Tell the Wolves I’m Home + Tuscan Bean and Prosciutto Stew

Carol Rifka Brunt’s debut novel Tell the Wolves I’m Home tells a story about life and death, forbidden relationships, and how family is always more complicated than it seems. I selected it as my book featuring a character with a debilitating illness for the Book Challenge by Erin and was excited when it was chosen as a recent book club selection as well.

It’s 1987, and fourteen-year-old June has just lost her Uncle Finn to AIDS. He was her confidant and her best friend and she struggles to deal with his untimely disappearance from her life. She no longer has any reason to visit his eclectic New York City apartment every Sunday, where he was working to complete a portrait of her and her sister Greta. Visiting the Cloisters, a favorite pastime of theirs, will never be the same. Continue Reading

of interest

Valentine’s Day + A Trio of Unexpected Love Stories

Valentine’s Day is just one week away, and while I’m usually not much of a romance gal, I do love a good love story. As it so happens, I’m not alone in that! In honor of the holiday, I’m collaborating with four other book bloggers to bring you plenty of romantic inspiration from some of our favorite books.

We each chose recommendations suited to our own reading styles and tastes. If you frequent my blog, you may not be surprised to see that I opted to share some of my favorite unconventional love stories. (If you’re stopping by The Hungry Bookworm for the first time, welcome!)

Continue Reading

book review, recipe

Britt-Marie Was Here + Swedish Tacos

Fredrick Backman has been a favorite of mine since I first read A Man Called Ove two years ago. Shortly after that, I picked up My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry, which I adored even more than I could’ve hoped. I’ve been intrigued by this Grandmother spin-off for a while, and thanks to the Book Challenge by Erin 8.0, I finally got around to reading my copy! Where Britt-Marie was just one in a cast of characters before, here she’s starring in her own story.

In Britt-Marie Was Here, she is attempting to remake herself as an independent woman, which is a bit difficult since she also happens to be in denial about the current state of her relationship with her husband. If you’ve read Grandmother (though you certainly don’t have to to enjoy this book), you’ll remember Britt-Marie as a very particular, proper woman. She is very comfortable when things are predictable and in order. In other words, not the situation she finds herself this time around.

Continue Reading

of interest

Top Ten Tuesday – Books I Really Liked But Don’t Remember Much/Anything About

Hi everyone, and happy Tuesday! Welcome to my first Top Ten Tuesday of 2018. This is an original weekly blog meme that was created at The Broke and the Bookish but is now hosted over at The Artsy Reader Girl. I participate about once a month, but each week there is a new, fun bookish topic for bloggers to create literary lists about. If you’d like to know more about it, check it out here.

Today’s list is kind of funny, in that I’m not sure how much I can say about each book on it – I guess we’ll just have to see! To arrive at the 10 Books I Really Liked But Can’t Remember Anything/Much About, I culled through my Goodreads, starting at the highest rating and going down. (Reminder: here’s how I rate.)

Continue Reading

book review, recipe

Standard Devation + Spaghetti Marinara and Garlic Bread

One day, Katherine Heiny’s novel Standard Deviation appeared in my library queue, ready to pick up. As I mentioned in January’s SUYB post, I can’t even remember how I heard about, but I must’ve added it to my library list right away so I wouldn’t forget about it. However it stumbled into my life, I’m glad it did; it wasn’t a life-changing novel by any means, but it was entertaining and enjoyable all the same – a bit like an indie rom-com.

Standard Deviation is about Graham, who lives in an apartment in New York City with his second wife Audra and their young son. While Graham seems to prefer to observe, his wife Audra talks constantly and makes friends wherever she goes, leading to a barrage of house guests who always seem to be underfoot.

A lesser storyteller could’ve easily painted Graham as an exasperated husband sick of his wife’s antics and Audra as a selfish busybody, and though they occasionally exhibit those qualities, on the whole they’re much more than that, and quite likeable. One of the more endearing (and amusing) storylines within the novel revolves around their son Matthew and his love of origami. Though it’s never explicitly said (that I can recall), it appears he has Asperger’s, and their dedication to his passion is an excellent example of selfless parenting.

Like me, Graham loves good food and cooking at home, both for his family and their frequent guests. Also like me, he finds cooking less enjoyable when he’s forced to plan a meal around picky eaters. Unfortunately for Graham, he often found himself in such a situation, and it was in one of those moments that I drew my inspiration for today’s recipe:

Spaghetti marinara with garlic bread was his all-purpose crowd-pleasing picky-eater dinner. Spaghetti marinara was like taking a girl on a first date, actually: nothing fancy, no surprises, best foot forward.

I personally prefer meat sauce on my spaghetti, but desperate times call for desperate measures. I took the recipe my family usually uses for spaghetti sauce and omitted the meat to make a marinara sauce. This recipe is really easy, but it’s flavorful and thick so it sticks to spaghetti really well.

To start, I added about a half cup of chopped onion to olive oil already heated in a sauce pot and cooked them until they were translucent. To the onions, I added a large can of crushed tomatoes and small cans of tomato sauce and tomato paste. Then I added salt and pepper, dried basil, dried oregano, some sugar and Parmesan cheese and gave it all a good stir.

Once the ingredients are combined, bring it up to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Like most tomato sauce, it can get messy real quick if it starts to bubble up and pop, so I like to keep a lid offset on top to let some of the air and steam escape but keep the sauce from getting all over the stovetop. You can let it simmer for as little as long as you like, stirring occasionally, but it’s best after at least 20 minutes. Of course, it’s even better the second day.

While the sauce simmered, I boiled the water for my spaghetti and started on the garlic bread. Because I was just making dinner for Scott and myself, I adjusted the recipe down and only used about a third of the Italian bread loaf. I partially melted some butter in a small bowl, added the garlic powder and dried parsley, and then melted the mixture the rest of the way. With a basting brush, I applied the butter-garlic mixture generously to each slice.

I baked the bread in the oven for about 10 minutes, covered each slice with shredded mozzarella and put the pan back in the oven for about 7 more minutes until it was melted. At this point, the spaghetti pasta was cooked al dente and the sauce was ready to go.

I need to perfect my spaghetti swirl for future fancy plating, but the taste more than makes up for the lack of finesse in that area. These crowd-pleasing recipes are as perfect for the discerning foodies in your life as they are the picky-eaters. It’s wonderful bonus that they’re easy too. Hope you enjoy!

Marinara Sauce

  • Servings: 6
  • Print

Ingredients

  • ½ cup chopped onion
  • 1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 8-oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 6-oz can tomato paste
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • ¾ teaspoon dried basil
  • ¾ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup Parmesan cheese

Directions

  1. In a large sauce pot, preheat a bit of olive oil (about 1 Tablespoon) and add onion. Cook until translucent.
  2. Add crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce and tomato paste. Add remaining ingredients and stir.
  3. Bring to a boil then simmer. (Use a lid; it will splatter.)
  4. Serve over spaghetti or your favorite pasta.

Adapted from a family recipe

Recipe Notes: To make a meat sauce, simply add 1-lb ground beef or turkey, browning with the onion in step one.


Cheesy Garlic Bread

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Print

Ingredients

  • ½ cup butter
  • 1½ tablespoons garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 1 (1 pound) loaf Italian bread, cut into ½ -inch slices
  • 8 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a small saucepan over medium heat (or the microwave), melt butter and mix with garlic powder and dried parsley.
  3. Place Italian bread on a medium baking sheet. Using a basting brush, brush generously with the butter mixture.
  4. Bake in the preheated oven approximately 10 minutes, until lightly toasted. Remove from heat. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese and any remaining butter mixture. Return to oven approximately 5 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bread is lightly browned.

From: Noelle C on Allrecipes.com

This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.

book review, recipe

Little Fires Everywhere + Blackened Chicken

Celeste Ng’s latest novel Little Fires Everywhere has been one of the hottest reads of the year (pun intended). As a big fan of her previous novel, Everything I Never Told You, I was excited to see what all the fuss was about when my hold recently came through at the library. Ng immerses us in the planned community of Shaker Heights, Ohio, a town she herself grew up in, and shines some light on the not-so-perfect lives of those that live there.

The story revolves primarily around the Richardsons, an exemplary Shaker Heights family, and Mia and Pearl Warren, a single mother and daughter who become their tenants. All four Richardson children – two girls and two boys, as varied as you could possibly imagine – are drawn to Pearl and her mother, who is an artist and a bit of a mystery. When the Richardsons’ family friend attempts to adopt a Chinese-American baby, who was found abandoned, it divides the town and pits Mia against Elena, the Richardson matriarch, threatening to topple the precarious status quo.

Little Fires Everywhere is full of the quiet drama of everyday life but also tackles something bigger. As Elena digs deep into Mia’s past and the Richardson children exist with little oversight, we’re along for the ride, discovering secrets and taking sides along with the rest of them.

Today’s recipe is inspired not only by the novel’s title but this quote, which stood out to me as I read: “Sometimes you need to scorch everything to the ground and start over. After the burning, the soil is richer, and new things can grow. People are like that, too. They start over. They find a way.” I decided to make a blackened chicken, traditionally covered heavily in spices and cooked on high heat on the stove top until the seasoning becomes dark.

I debated between two recipes, one from Pop Culture, a more classically prepared blackened chicken, and one from Gal on a Mission, which is baked. Though a baked version doesn’t get quite as “black” as one cooked on the stovetop, I ultimately went with that option. It’s just as flavorful and the fact that it’s hands-off made it appealing when I was cooking it after work the other day. Additionally, I was easily able to roast some small potatoes and broccoli alongside it, completing the meal in 30 minutes, with minimal prep.

To start, I preheated the oven to 450 degrees F, and combined all of my spices in a small bowl. This recipe uses a lot of spices – salt, cayenne pepper, crushed red pepper, garlic powder, paprika, black pepper, onion powder, dried oregano and dried thyme – but thankfully, none of them are obscure; I already had them all in my cupboard.

I covered each chicken breast with generously with the spices, making sure each was thickly coated. If you’re using 3 large breasts or 6 small breasts, you shouldn’t have any of the spice mixture left. (I only used 2 breasts but still used most of it.)

Then, I put the chicken in an 8×8 glass baking dish and popped them in the oven for 23 minutes. For the last 5 minutes of the bake time, cover the dish with foil and allow to continue baking while covered. My chicken breasts were definitely larger than average and needed to bake for an additional 10 minutes before they reached 165 degrees F.  

While these pictures probably aren’t my best, the chicken was delicious, very flavorful and moist (thanks to the foil cover). To top it off, it’s easy and hands-off, almost impossible to mess up.

Baked Cajun Chicken Breasts

  • Servings: 6
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red peppers
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 3 large chicken breasts or 6 small chicken breasts

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Grease an 8×8 baking sheet or dish. Set aside.
  2. Mix together the salt, cayenne pepper, crushed red peppers, garlic powder, paprika, pepper, onion powder, dried oregano, and dried thyme in a small bowl.
  3. Rub the spice mix onto the chicken breasts.
  4. Bake for 18 minutes. Remove the chicken breasts from the oven and cover with aluminum foil and bake for another 5 minutes.
  5. Once cooked through, allow the chicken to rest for 3-5 minutes before slicing to serve.

From: Gal on a Mission

Notes: Check the temperature of your chicken to ensure it’s cooked all the way through, particularly if you’re using large breasts. Mine had to bake for an additional 10 minutes to reach 165 degrees F.


This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.