Category Archives: Book Review

Outlaw Cook – A Book Review

John Thorne is a brilliant food writer whom, I am ashamed to say, I only discovered recently. His website hasn’t been updated in years, but, there is plenty to discover and I have the luxury of reading his work at my pace, instead of waiting for each new thing to appear!

The first book I discovered was Outlaw Cook, a collection of essays, biographical notes, history lessons and recipes. What a treasure!

Outlaw Cook by John Thorne Essays on food and cooking, with recipes

This is my kind of food writing. I found this book at Brattle Book Shop, in Boston, and when I read the description inside the front flap I knew I had to get to know this writer:

…the opening pages of Outlaw Cook evoke the slow time of childhood summers in Maine, where he first learned to taste…and the years as a college dropout , where hunger and solitude transformed an indifferent meal maker into an outlaw cook.
The rest of the book shares his struggle to keep his kitchen a private place, and his consequent culinary rebellion – against food writers who keep filling his head with the chatter of instruction…

Wow. I can identify with this sentiment. That is exactly what I want this blog to be, not a set of instructions but a cornucopia of inspirations.

His essay on the Plowman’s Lunch is simply the best piece of food writing I have ever read. (You can read an excerpt here on Google Books)

History lesson, cookbook, and philosophical journey all rolled into one. Bread and cheese and onion and ale. Four simple, basic ingredients that can be expressed in unlimited ways.

On their own, in their “raw” state, a hearty meal with carbs, protein, vitamins and flavor. But think about how these ingredients can be transformed (yes, I watch too much Chopped), just for starters:

  • Saute the onions and make a grilled cheese sandwich
  • Put the ale in a pot and make a Plowman’s Onion Soup (we’ll be doing this together soon!)
  • Bake the onion in the bread and swap the Cheddar for Brie, the ale for wine
  • Cheese and Onion Pie!

The creative mind reels.

The last chapter is as much a treasure trove as the first, entitled “The Culinary Scene”, it discusses a food community that was current in the late ’80s/early 90s (when this book was published) as well as books from the 50s and 60s. Books I may never have learned of, but will be ordering from Amazon soon!


UPDATE: I just finished reading the second book, Pot on the Fire. It’s just as good, entertaining and informative. Next up: Serious Pig


With an appetite for accuracy to match his appreciation of food at its purest (an issue of form as well as content), John Thorne tracks down the origins of dishes that have captured his heart and imagination along with his palate.
The book focuses mainly in three regional food-ways: New England’s pioneer and Atlantic coast cooking, with a focus on Maine (in a section titled “Here”); Louisiana’s Cajun tradition (in the section “There”); and Texas’s cowboy heritage of chili, barbecue and cornbread (in “Everywhere,” which includes brief looks at hamburgers, white bread and other all-American inventions).
Besides recipes, the reader will find thoughtful, informed and opinionated disquisitions on such as jambalaya, chili (16 recipes chart its development, the first from an 1880 cookbook) and a global survey of dishes made with rice and beans.

Notes from the Larder – Book Review

My cookbook collection continues to grow, with the latest addition being a wonderful offering from Nigel Slater, Notes from the Larder, a Kitchen Diary with Recipes.

nigel-slater-notes-from-the-larderThis is my favorite kind of cookbook, because it is formatted with stories about food, cooking and the seasons with recipes interspersed throughout. Presented as a chronology of sorts, it begins in January with the baking of bread and moves through the year with stories and anecdotes detailing the changing of the seasons.

Slater writes about his garden, the marketplaces he frequents, the produce and the fish with a friendly and easy-going style.

lamb-osso-buccoThe recipes, unlike those found in ‘chef-ier’ cookbooks, are definitely the kinds of things you can make at home. The photography is excellent as well, featuring mouth-watering displays of most of the dishes contained in the book. I mean, look at this one!

(You can actually download this recipe for Lamb “Osso Bucco” from Amazon for free.)

I am looking forward to cooking some of these recipes and sharing the results with you here. Things like Salmon Marinated with Beets, Dill and Orange, or the Salad of Crab, Avocado and Lime!

Here is a video of Slater making Pepper, Tomato and Basil Pasta, from his show Nigel Slater’s Simple Cooking. I can almost smell the Basil right now…

Cookbook Review – Polpo

A Venetian cookbook (of sorts) by Russell Norman (and gorgeous photography by Jenny Zarins)

“What interested me were glimpses of tiny wine bars in alleys where locals would stand at the counter, a luminous orange drink in one hand and a small snack in the other. You could tell they were locals because they wore dark clothes or market traders’ overalls and shouted at each other in dialect…

Once I found the courage to enter one of these places, point at the bright orange drink, jab a finger at the pre-made snacks in a glass cabinet on the bar and attempt to work out what the hell was going on, I was hooked. There was no going back.”

Polpo a Venetian Cookbook

the book – Norman is a wonderful storyteller, and he has a story for every recipe that he has collected for this book. Nearly as much a travelogue as a cookbook, I am enthralled by the vignettes that accompany each menu creation.

In addition the full-color photography throughout will make your mouth water if the description of the food is not enough!

Scallops with Lemon and Peppermint

Olive Oil, Lemon Juice, Lemon Wheels, Minced Garlic and Mint Leaves
Olive Oil, Lemon Juice, Lemon Wheels, Minced Garlic and Mint Leaves

Mise for the Scallops

The common denominator of the recipes in this book is that they are simple.  As Norman says, “We have a rule that a dish is ready to put on the menu only when we have taken out as many ingredients as possible.”

This recipe is nearly the epitome of simple fare. Of course, I had to complicate things because, 1 – you can’t get Pilgrim Scallops in New Hampshire in January, and 2 – I wanted to make a little more substantial meal while keeping it light and fresh.

So I made a salad:

Salad of bitter greens
Salad of bitter greens

the salad – arugula, red oak lettuce and frisee – bitter greens that were quite wonderful with the scallops’ lemon and mint sauce as a dressing.

That is it, just a quick saute of the scallops on moderate heat until they are as done as you like them.

You can order this delightful cookbook from Amazon, via my affiliate link here ( I get a small percentage commission at no extra cost for you! ):