Cookbook Review: Fire in My Belly

We’re delighted to introduce Sarah Ramsey, a longtime bookseller in Toronto, to our blog.  Sarah will be sifting and blogging her way through some of our cookbooks – and we can hardly wait.   When she’s not cooking or reading, you can find her volunteering with Farmers Feed Cities ( or crafting in her favourite materials – butter, sugar, flour, and eggs.  You can follow her at @juliaschild.


Kevin Gillespie was raised in Locust Grove, Georgia and is executive chef at Woodfire Grill in Atlanta, although he is probably best known for having appeared on the sixth season of Top Chef, where he cooked with quiet confidence and heart that demonstrated his simple approach to food. He, rather shamefully, I think, didn’t win the title of Top Chef, but won the coveted ‘Fan Favourite’ distinction.

His approach to food is simple, seasonal and sustainable and his enthusiasm is evident in Fire In My Belly. In it, Kevin crafts the story of his culinary awakening as a child and his play with the traditional Southern dishes he lovingly remembers. He states  “…I read a review of my cooking that described it as ‘modern Southern food’. It’s true that I was cooking sophisticated food with a distinctly Southern feel. But in my mind, I was just exploring the food that I really cared about. I wasn’t ‘modernizing’. My dishes were springing from food memories, often from my childhood.” That idea really resonated with me. My best memories in childhood are those spent watching my grandmothers (and great-grandmother) cook and bake; food, to me, is a gift and an expression of love.

I read the book from cover to cover, and loved that I felt I was having a passionate conversation about food with the author (and shared this sentiment to my Twitter followers. @topchefkevin replied with his thanks and “That is exactly what I hoped for.”) Kevin starts the book with his belief that “good cooking starts with good ingredients” and argues that “cooking is, at its root, figuring out the great qualities of any food and then making those qualities shine”. He primes us for cooking with an introduction to some ingredients, techniques and equipment he frequently uses. My favourite is his use of the word plucky, meant to describe bright acidity, something sharp or piercing but not unpleasant.

The well-constructed (and beautifully photographed) recipes start with Foods You Thought You Hated, including asparagus, beets, broccoli, mushrooms, and salmon (things I have always enjoyed) and oysters and sweetbreads (which I think I may never enjoy). Next, Kevin shares his Southern dishes (such as boiled peanuts and cornbread pancakes with sliced brandywine tomatoes and bacon mayonnaise) and revisited world classics (including salad Lyonnaise and eggs Benedict), as well as recipes for grilled foods, spicy foods and junk foods (hooray!).

I was drawn to the One-Pot Hog Supper on page 83 for a few reasons. First, it has a wonderful story: as Kevin’s Granny first prepared it from a jumble of ingredients on hand, her brothers teased her, saying, “What’s this? Some slop you feed the hogs?” I think some of the best cooking has sprung from using one’s imagination with a handful of ingredients at the ready. And in my experience, a grandmother’s recipe will never fail. Never. Secondly, the meal is slow cooked, and I really enjoy slow cooking. It’s deeply satisfying and I get a lot of pleasure from it. And lastly, how can one go wrong with fatback?

I was late coming home from the shop, frazzled by my frustratingly long commute and hungry. Ravenous, actually. But, I had committed to trying this recipe. I was excited and had been thinking about it all day. I walked in the door, greeted my husband with a kiss and pulled out my mandoline. I washed up the potatoes and peeled the onion and garlic, then sliced them thinly. I sliced my fatback and laid it in my Dutch oven, then tore up some cabbage and sliced some fat, fragrant heirloom tomatoes. When crispy and golden, I removed the crackling from the pot and drained some of the fat, then carefully layered the potatoes, onions and garlic, cabbage and tomatoes in the pot, seasoning each vegetable generously with salt and pepper. Then I covered the pot and waited for the magic. Our little kitchen was aromatic and warm. My tummy was rumbling.

After forty-five minutes, as per the recipe, I uncovered the pot and allowed the dish to simmer. I tore up some fresh celery leaves, tarragon, chives and parsley and tossed them with some fresh lemon juice and a sweet, fruity olive oil and dressed this herb salad with the crunchy crackling. I also toasted a few slices of a fresh boule.

Although it was past nine o’clock when the supper was finished simmering, I took a photo or two of the dish after I spooned it on to my plate and nested the herb salad atop it. I had hoped my patience was about to be rewarded. I dove into the dish; the vegetables were soft and rich and seasoned simply and perfectly. The accompanying herb salad added balance and texture and I used the toasted bread to clean my plate. I took a moment to post to Twitter to say, “It is late. It is rainy. But I am eating @topchefkevin’s delicious One-Pot Hog Supper & I am SO happy.”  I attached one of the photos. (Kevin responded to my Tweet: “I love it! What a wonderful picture. So glad you are enjoying one of my cherished family recipes.” I was thrilled.) . The dish was wonderful and I have been recalling the experience of cooking it fondly to friends and family; they tell me I have a twinkle in my eye when I describe the construction of the dish and the taste and the simple joy I derived from eating it.

I plan to try many more recipes from Fire In My Belly. I’m terribly impressed by Kevin Gillespie’s food philosophy, his flavours and rich and personal culinary history. It’s a beautiful book and one of my new favourites.


Luther: The Calling

There’s been a lot of buzz surrounding the British psychological crime drama television series Luther, starring Idris Elba. Idris Elba won the Golden Globe award for best actor in a miniseries at the 2012 awards.

Idris Elba as DCI Luther

But did you know that Luther was originally a book? Luther: The Calling, a novel written by Neil Cross, is a prequel to the first television season. Season 3 is expected to air late 2012 or early 2013.

In The Calling we meet Detective Chief Inspector John Luther. He’s a murder detective. A near-genius. He’s brilliant; he’s intense; he’s instinctive. He’s obsessional. He’s dangerous.

DCI John Luther has an extraordinary clearance rate. He commands outstanding loyalty from friends and colleagues. Nobody who ever stood at his side has a bad word to say about him. And yet there are rumours that DCI Luther is bad—not corrupt, not on the take, but tormented. Luther seethes with a hidden fury that at times he can barely control. Sometimes it sends him to the brink of madness, making him do things he shouldn’t; things way beyond the limits of the law.

The Calling, the first in a new series of novels featuring DCI John Luther, takes us into Luther’s past and into his mind. It is the story of the case that tore his personal and professional relationships apart and propelled him over the precipice. Beyond fury, beyond vengeance. All the way to murder…

One of our Goodreads ARC winners wrote us with her feedback about the novel and it was just too good not to share. Sandra writes:

Thanks to Mr. Cross, I got nothing done this past Saturday.  I picked up my advance copy of “Luther: The Calling” from my mailbox Friday evening and, being a huge fan of the television series already, the book called my name all Friday night.  I started reading on Saturday morning and didn’t put it down again until I had finished it that same day.  I absolutely loved it! 
Mr. Cross wondered if he had done justice to Idris Elba’s portrayal of Luther and he most certainly did.  I could see Mr. Elba from the very first line of the book where Luther is striding into the hospital.  There have only been a couple of instances where I have seen a TV series or movie and THEN read the book(s) and this is one of them.  I think I actually prefer this way around, particularly when you have someone of Idris Elba’s calibre playing the title role.  He added much to the character and the book added much to my understanding of him as well.  If you have not seen the television series, the book will certainly give an excellent introduction to all of the characters as well as a lot of insight into their motivations.
The writing was top-notch and, as I said, I could not put it down.  The fractures in the Zoe/John relationship are there just waiting to crack wide open and it was almost painful to read.  I wanted to yell at the both of them to talk to each other properly.  Bill Tanner and Paddy broke my heart.  I had to literally turn my head away from the page when Paddy was picked up by the thug.  I get shivers thinking about that terrible scene.  I keep telling myself it was only a book but it is still invading my thoughts.  And, of course, the killer was about the most chilling I have ever encountered in my travels through the murder mystery genre.  I don’t think I will ever listen to a missing child report the same way again having read about “Henry” and his crimes.
Thank you for sending me the advance copy!  

And thanks to Sandra for sharing her review with us. Luther: The Calling is available wherever books are sold.

Snooki pens a novel

Jenni “J-Woww” has a clothing line, Mike “The Situation” has his own vodka, a workout DVD, a clothing line and more, Pauly D is a DJ in high demand. It only makes sense that Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi would add to her brand by penning a novel.

A Shore Thing is a novel about Giovanna “Gia” Spumanti and her cousin Isabella “Bella” Rizzoli who are going to have the sexiest summer ever. While they couldn’t be more different—pint-size Gia is a carefree, outspoken party girl and Bella is a tall, slender athlete who always holds her tongue—for the next month they’re ready to pouf up their hair, put on their stilettos, and soak up all that Seaside Heights, New Jersey, has to offer: hot guidos, cool clubs, fried Oreos, and lots of tequila.

 So far, Gia’s summer is on fire. Between nearly burning down their rented bungalow, inventing the popular “tan-tags” at the Tantastic Salon where she works, and rescuing a shark on the beach, she becomes a local celebrity overnight. Luckily, she meets the perfect guy to help her keep the flames under control. Firefighter Frank Rossi is exactly her type: big, tan, and Italian. But is he tough enough to handle Gia when things really heat up?

 Bella is more than ready for some fun in the sun. Finally free of her bonehead ex-boyfriend, she left home in Brooklyn with one goal in mind: hooking up with a sexy gorilla for a no-strings-attached summer fling. In no time, she lands a job leading “Beat Up the Beat” dance classes at a local gym, and is scooped up by Beemer-driving, preppy Bender Newberry. Only problem: Bella can’t get her romantic and ripped boss Tony “Trouble” Troublino out of her head. He’s relationship material. Suddenly, Bella’s not sure what she wants.

 The cousins soon realize that for every friend they make on the boardwalk, there are also rivals, slummers, and frenemies who will do anything to ruin their summer—and try their relationship. Before July ends, the bonds of family and friendship will be stretched to the breaking point. Will the haters prevail, or will Gia and Bella find love at the Shore?

For everyone who loves MTV’s hit reality show, Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi’s sweet, funny, and sexy novel perfectly captures the heat, the energy, the fun, and the drama of Jersey Shore.

The third season of Jersey Shore premieres on January 6th. A Shore Thing is available in stores January 4th.

Follow @mtvcanada on Twitter in January for your chance to win a copy!

For Better or For Worse…enter to win!

The beloved Patterson family from Lynn Johnston’s comic strip For Better or For Worse returns in the brand new treasury Something Old, Something New.

In 2008, Johnston made a unprecendented move within the cartooning community by deciding to use former plotlines as starting points for new ones. Something Old, Something New features storylines from the strip’s first three cartoon collections–I’ve Got the One More Washload Blues…, Is This “One of Those Days,” Daddy?, and “It Must Be Nice to Be Little”–with entirely new cartoons and full-colour Sundays. Your collection won’t be complete without it!

Click on the image below and enter to win a copy!

What’s going on in Bikini Bottom?

Are you a SpongeBob fan or do you have one in your household?

There are a handful of great NEW SpongeBob books out this fall.

Tired of Plankton constantly trying to steal his Krabby Patty formula, Mr Krabs sends it to be safely stored in a bank in Way Far Out Townville on the other side of the ocean. But now he can’t remember what goes into making the perfect patty! Will SpongeBob and Patrick get to the formula before Plankton does?

Mr Krabs gives SpongeBob the only key to the vault holding the Krabby Patty’s secret recipe, but the key goes mysteriously missing! Who could have stolen it? Was it sneaky Plankton? Or was it the “butler”? SpongeBob and Patrick are on the case!

SpongeBob fans will love this original story full of holiday spirit — and holographic stickers! In a ploy to sell more Krabby Patties than ever before, Mr Krabs transforms the Krusty Krab into a spectacular winter wonderland. He presides over his holiday oasis as Krabby Klaws, with SpongeBob as head elf in charge of holiday cheer. But when Mr Krabs claims that Krabby Klaws is probably more popular than Santa himself, bad things start happening at the Krusty Krab, and SpongeBob is sure that Santa is sending Mr Krabs a sign. Can SpongeBob convince Krabby Klaws to change his selfish ways before Christmas?

Check out all the SpongeBob action on YTV and Nick Canada