Read This and Drink: Imbibe!

Usually when we write about books on the blog, they're cookbooks. This book is a little different.

Part recipe book, part cocktail history and all rollicking ride through the stories that shaped the modern cocktail bar, David Wondrich's tome--whose complete title is Imbibe!: From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash, a Salute in Stories and Drinks to "Professor" Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar--is a must-read for anyone interested in cocktails or drinking history. In fact, the book, which was published in 2007, is such a wealth of knowledge that it's required reading for Anvil bartenders. Alba Huerta, who is about to open Southern cocktail bar Julep, said she often referenced Imbibe! while researching for the new concept.

The idea is to know not just how to make a drink, but why drinks are made the way they are. Imbibe! is probably the best guide out there to the whys and hows of making classic American cocktails.

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David Lebovitz Talks About His Latest Book, My Paris Kitchen

Photo on the left by Ed Anderson; Photo on the right by Mai Pham
David Lebovitz and his latest book release, My Paris Kitchen

When I joined Twitter some years ago, it gave me suggestions for people to follow based on my interests. One of those people was David Lebovitz, and while I wasn't acquainted with his work at the time, I was fascinated in the way of a non-stalkerish yet avid Twitter follower by his seemingly idyllic life. His Twitter profile said that he was an ex-pastry chef of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, author, and ex-pat living in Paris, and through his tweets, I got to see glimpses of what I imagined it would be like to live out a dream.

He'd tweet pictures of fruit or vegetables he'd find shopping at a Parisian farmer's market, a pretty building, or a typical neighborhood scene. He'd share a cup of a coffee or make observations on an interesting storefront he'd walk by. He's witty and and a fun and worthy follow, as evidenced by his current following of 182k strong. Yes, you read that right: 182 thousand. And that's just in Twitter followers. He's got another 54k on his Instagram, and countless more who follow his blog.

Right now he's just wrapping up a U.S. book tour promoting his newest book, a sort of storybook-cookbook hybrid called My Paris Kitchen. I'm amused by his on-the-road travel tweets, which include one-liners about everything from the size of an airport to the food he's eating to the things he might find interesting about his many hotel rooms. I caught up with him in between his many engagements for a nice chat, which I share with you here.

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Cookbook Review: The Homesick Texan's Family Table

Photos by Kaitlin Steinberg
This book is moving with me, should I ever leave Texas again.
As many of you know, I'm a native Texan. I was born and raised in Corpus Christi and went to college in San Antonio. Then, for grad school, I decided to branch out a little, and I moved to Missouri. I lived there for two years, and while there were things I loved about it (four unique seasons, crazy college football fans, burnt ends), what I missed the most about home was the food I grew up with.

I missed the Tex-Mex, the barbecue, the Cajun cuisine. I searched all over for decent salsa, and never found any. A few times I resorted to making my own, but I was usually too busy, so I just went without.

What I needed was this cookbook. Lisa Fain's newest cookbook, The Homesick Texan's Family Table, contains recipes for everything from peach salsa to Texas pecan pie, and everything in between. Fain is the author of the popular blog The Homesick Texan, which she started writing after she moved from Texas to New York. That led to her first cookbook, The Homesick Texan Cookbook, containing recipes that Fain created as well as dishes from famous Texas restaurants like Ninfa's.

There's some overlap between the two books, but this newer one is a collection of Fain's family's own recipes and favorites that the seventh-generation Texan has developed while living in New York and pining for the Lone Star State.

I have no doubt that this book will make you nostalgic for family dinners in Texas as well, even if, like me, you're living here right now.

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Cookbook Review: Open Up Your Pantry With The Chopped Cookbook

Photo by Molly Dunn
The Chopped Cookbook helps you cook with what you already have in your kitchen.
You don't necessarily need crazy ingredients to make a delicious meal. Although the hit Food Network reality competition, "Chopped," uses a multitude of out-of-the-box foods like goat brains, hibiscus flowers in syrup and preserved duck eggs, The Chopped Cookbook helps you put a restaurant-quality meal on the table with everyday ingredients.

As an avid fan of the show, I had hoped the cookbook would include successful recipes from the competitions, and admittedly was disappointed when I discovered that that was not so. After reading through the recipes, though, I came to appreciate its resourcefulness for turning ordinary ingredients into something downright awesome. Although I still wish there was a recipe using gummy worms...maybe I should just experiment with that one.

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Cookbook Review: Everything a Man Needs to Know About Cooking But Was Afraid to Ask

Real men love to cook.
There are a number of cookbooks out there catering to male sensibilities. Daniel Duane's How to Cook Like a Man is part memoir, part instruction manual. Then there's simply Cook Like A Man: The Ultimate Cookbook for the Modern Gentleman, Esquire Magazine's Eat Like a Man, The Stag Cook Book and even the world's saddest cookbook, Microwave Cooking for One, which, in spite of the smiling female on the cover, seems designed for single dudes.

And now there's a new tome to add to the collection of testosterone-fueled culinary how-tos: Man Made Meals: The Essential Cookbook for Guys, by Steven Raichlen. The voluminous guide (640 pages) to everything a man would need to know in the kitchen is part recipe book, part technical guide and part introduction to the world of cooking. The good news is it appears to be a useful book even for those who might be a little more experienced in the kitchen. Need to know how to butterfly a pork loin or shop for knives? That's all here, along with a glossary of cooking terms and bartending how-tos.

The only thing the book doesn't explain is how long it'll take to cook your way through the entire thing.

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Cookbook Review: Smokin' in the Boys' Room Proves Women Have BBQ Chops

Photo courtesy Andrews McMeel Publishing
Move over, boys. Melissa's in the house.
Traditionally, barbecue has been considered a man's game. While the women stay in the kitchen and cook, the men gather 'round the barbecue and, with much fanfare and fire, cook the meat for dinner. It's a little primal and a little sexist, but we let it slide cause it's tradition.

Melissa Cookston won't stand for that, though. The two-time Memphis in May Grand Champion and three-time winner of the World Hog Championship has been putting her barbecue brethren to shame for years as co-owner of the Memphis Barbecue Company. As pitmaster, Cookston is proud to represent not only women in the restaurant industry, but also women in barbecue.

This month, she released a new cookbook, Smokin' in the Boys' Room: Southern Recipes from the Winningest Woman in Barbecue, that covers everything from Cookston's history on the competitive barbecue circuit to sauces and sides to truly make your smoked meat shine. It's not all about barbecue, though. The book also covers classic southern recipes like buttermilk fried chicken, red beans and rice and shrimp gumbo.

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Science Author Mary Roach Brings Digestion Humor to Houston on Gulp Book Tour

Dive on in.
On April 29, hilarious (yet very informative) science writer Mary Roach will be at Brazos Bookstore to conduct a reading and answer questions about her latest taboo subject: the alimentary canal.

Roach has previously gained praise from the science community and the literary community alike for her books Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers; Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife; Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex; and Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void. She's become known for tackling subjects no one really wants to talk about, and her latest book is no exception.

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal is gross, icky, bizarre, at times nausea-inducing and totally hysterical in both a genuine and an uncomfortable laughter sort-of-way. It gives readers insight into what happens to delicious dishes once they leave the fork and enter the mouth. If you've ever wondered what the nose has to do with taste, why your stomach doesn't digest itself or how many things can be stuffed up a rectum, this book is for you.

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Texas Hill Country Cuisine Defined and Made Doable

Photos by Kaitlin Steinberg
One of the best things about this cookbook is the abundance of vibrant photos.
New Mexican cuisine is a thing. It evokes thoughts of Hatch green chiles and blue corn. California cooking is on the healthy side, with an emphasis on fresh, local ingredients. The Midwest is known for its meat and potatoes, the Gulf Coast its seafood.

But when I saw the new cookbook entitled Texas Hill Country Cuisine: Flavors from the Cabernet Grill, I was initially confused. I've lived in the Hill Country, and there never seemed to be a definable sort of cuisine there, except maybe barbecue, as Lockhart, Luling and Driftwood (home of The Salt Lick) all fall more or less within the boundaries of the Hill Country.

The introduction to the cookbook addressed my quandary immediately.

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The History of Backstreet Cafe as Told Through Seasonal Recipes

Photos by Kaitlin Steinberg
The Backstreet Cafe cookbook deserves a place on your shelf.
"Thirty years ago, I took one huge leap of faith that completely changed the course of my life forever, and with it the course of many other lives. Thirty years ago, I opened Backstreet Cafe."

Thus begins restaurateur Tracy Vaught's introduction to Backstreet Kitchen: Seasonal Recipes from Our Neighborhood Cafe, the Backstreet Cafe cookbook. The book was published in 2013, so Backstreet Cafe is now in its 31st year, but the recipes included in the cookbook are timeless.

Together with Hugo Ortega, then a dishwasher who later became her husband and a James Beard Award-nominated chef, Vaught has created a Houston restaurant mini-empire that now includes Hugo's and Caracol, as well as a share in Prego. The Backstreet Cafe cookbook reflects the unique history of their journey together and the journeys of the various employees of Backstreet Cafe, some of whom have been there since the beginning.

Part cookbook, part history book, part coffee table book, this volume represents all that Backstreet Cafe was and is, with beautiful photographs, classic seasonal recipes and a whole lot of background information to make readers feel like they, too, are part of the Backstreet family.

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Rombauer and Beard: Their Words Belong on Your Shelf

Photos by John Kiely
This is a good book from a bad cook.

Before the golden age of cookbooks began, in the late 1980s, there weren't that many options for learning a repertoire of American dishes. Betty Crocker, Good Housekeeping and Fannie Farmer come to mind, but the most popular of all was Joy of Cooking, by Irma S. Rombauer.

Although I learned most of my cooking from family recipes, I received a paperback copy of Joy as a birthday gift at an early age, and used it as a cooking bible for a few years, until I developed a taste for more international food. I kept the volume on my cookbook shelf, and even replaced it -- after a hot gravy fiasco -- with the 1975 Retro Edition, more out of nostalgia than usefulness.

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