THE TAKEAWAY. One of my favorite parts of not eating meat these days is the opportunity for foods traditionally relegated to the side of the plate to take center stage. A lot of our dinners now are essentially a bunch of sides without a main, and I love it. There’s room for lots of variety and creativity, and with a little skill (or a little gentle guidance) it all comes together harmoniously. Whether or not you’ve got a main dish at the center of your plate, Tara Mataraza Desmond’s new book Choosing Sides: From Holidays to Every Day, 130 Delicious Recipes to Make the Meal will infuse your meals with inspiration and balance. Family and friends will wonder when you received your advanced culinary degree. And the best part is, it will all be very easy.
THE DIRTY DETAILS. This book packs a lot of information, flexibility, and recipes into an efficient, well-designed package. As the title suggests, there are side-dish recipes special enough for the holidays and simple enough for weeknight meals. As Tara notes, there are lots of ways to use this book as a resource depending on your needs: browse the chapters organized by type of side dish and type of meal; use the Main-Course Pairings chart to select side dishes, let the “Try With” and “Alongside” suggestions with each recipe guide your choice of main dish and other sides; or, of course, get busy with the index to discover ideas for an ingredient you’d like to use. The accessible writing style, smart layout and super-appealing graphic design make it seem both possible and pleasurable to try new riffs on old classics and brand-new flavors. I think this book would appeal to a wide audience, from entry-level cooks in search of guidance to accomplished chefs who will appreciate the variety and sophistication of Tara’s ideas.
THE LOVELY AUTHOR. Tara Mataraza Desmond is a widely published Philadelphia-based writer, recipe developer, and all-around stellar individual with a funny, relatable way of writing about food and life. She also co-wrote Almost Meatless: Recipes That Are Better for Your Health and the Planet. When our older daughter was little, her school encouraged the kids to call every other student a “friend,” whether you knew them or not. It resulted in a lot of stories about “a friend that I don’t know.” In a different way, the internet has made Tara a friend that I don’t know. I really like her, but we’ve never met. How’s that for a disclosure?
YOU HAD ME AT… Honestly? This book had me from the clever title, a perfect example of that rare kind of pun that doesn’t make you feel the need to exfoliate after hearing it. And there are anecdotes interspersed throughout the chapters, like the one that starts with, “Motherhood is a gift and a thief. It dumps forth perpetual joy and demands silent selfless surrender at every turn. This dawned on me over a bowl of mashed turnips.” Also, there’s a sushi salad. And a backyard pickle jar. I mean, c’mon.
HOW TO GET IT. Procrastinating on Thanksgiving or Thanksgivukkah menu planning? Why not let the very well-priced Kindle Edition save the day? Planning for everyday life, or cooking and gifting for the December holidays? The slender but sturdy hardcover would make an excellent resource and an equally excellent gift. But wait, there’s more! Umami Girl is GIVING AWAY one copy of Choosing Sides. LEAVE A COMMENT TELLING US YOUR FAVORITE HOLIDAY OR EVERYDAY SIDE DISH before noon eastern time on December 14, 2013. Contest open to residents of the United States.
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