July 18, 2012

The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook by Emily Ansara Baines

**This review is part of the Amazon Vine program**

Ok, for the moment I'm going to ignore the fact that the way this book is tied in to the Hunger Games series is to regurgitate different quotes and situations from the book, find a relatable food and go from there. I'm going to look at it from it's stance as a cookbook, and the food that you prepare from it. We'll get into the whole Hunger Games thing later.

The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook has 9 chapters and an appendix. The appendix is largely a listing of herbs. There are also acknowledgements and an index and an About the Author section.

The first chapter, Breakfast of Champions, is just what you'd expect it to be. A chapter about breakfast foods. There are such sundries as orange muffins with sweet preserves to a Sumptuous Sausage Sunrise dish. The Fearfully Fried Potatoes (and yes I realize exactly how cheesy the dish names are) were standard fried potatoes. In fact, I was scratching my head a little at why they were included in this cookbook. The Orange Muffins with Sweet Preserves I made as well, and they were very very sweet. The texture was not muffin like though, but more like a very dense cake. The preserves made to go with it filled the equivalent of a regular sized jelly jar, and was way too much to go with the muffins, unless you made ten batches of muffins. The Fruit Frenzy was actually pretty good, but then again it was just a fixture of blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and pineapple. Which is very standard. Cheese Souffle for the Spoiled Snackers was a light dish, and it had a decent taste, but wasn't really something that was sought after in my house. I do have to say that the Cheesy Meaty Hash Brown Casserole was very good and very easy to make.

Chapter 2 outlines bread, which in the Hunger Games is kind of important, so it's a large chapter. It even has a recipe for bread involving seaweed. I didn't really try too much from this chapter, I already have favored recipes for some of the breads included in here, and I'm not much of a bread eater. I did try Katniss's Craved Cheese Buns, but found them very sweet for a dish that was incorporating cheese.

Chapter three involved soups, stews and salads. A Wild Dog stew is including in this listing, but let's face it, who is going to actually get a wild dog to make the stew (even if it does say you can substitute beef). I made the Raging Wild Mushroom Ragout, and while it was simple to make it didn't have a lot of flavor. I also had to add some noodles to it, because on it's own, it just wasn't the meal that the author claimed it was. Rue's roasted parsnips were very time consuming and the reward for all that time spent was a very light flavored dish that wasn't worth it.

Chapter Four is entitled Humble Beginnings and is the chapter for small dishes. To me these could be considered sides or appetizers. The Creamy Bashed Potatoes confused me, I couldn't figure out why they were called bashed when all it was was mashed potatoes. The Capitol Creamy Spinach Fettuccine, like most dishes in this book, didn't have a lot of flavor. And The Propos Grilled Cheese Sandwich was a regular grilled cheese, nothing special about it.

Chapter Five was all about seafood. It was probably the shortest chapter and I only tried one dish, the Spicy Seafood Gumbo, which was actually pretty good, but very very spicy and might not be able to be handled by those who don't like their foot that hot.

Chapter 6 was titled Don't Call Me Chicken, Poultry Dishes for the Brave. There were a lot of recipes in this chapter, but surprisingly, most just didn't jump out at me. I made the Monterey Jack Cheese, Bacon, and Green Chili Stuffed Turkey Breasts, and surprise surprise, it was bland. I also noticed that the cooktime was way off for the dish too. I used think pieces and it still took much longer to cook than the recipe said it would.

Chapter 7 covered meat as well, this time in Lamb, Beef and Pork. And for such a large selection of dishes that can be made from these items, this was a shorter chapter as well. I did make the Beef Strips from the Backpack and it wasn't too bad. At the very least, it was easy to make.

Chapter 8 is the controversial one. The Wild Game section. Let's forget for a moment that most people just don't have access to this kind of meat (unless they want to scrape it off of the road), this is a chapter that most people would just avoid out of principle. But I'm up to new things, if I ever find a way to obtain a beaver, or tree rat, or whatever, I might give the recipes in here a try. There are some venison recipes, which is somewhat easier to obtain.

The last chapter is Desserts and this chapter was all over the place. I made the Harvest Heirloom Apple Cake and it didn't use the 6 apples it called for. In fact, had I used them the cake wouldn't have held together. So I used half as much and the cake turned out ok and even rose nicely. The Baker's Secret Banana Bread was a standard recipe, but it tasted good and was also easy to make. I think my favorite recipe out of this book was the Brown Sugar Shortbread, it had a very nice taste. The Sweet Sugar Cookies from a Sweetie made a ton more cookies than the 1 dozen the book said it would (and I make big cookies even) but they tasted ok. The same applied to the Big Softie Ginger Cookies. Then came the Opportunistic Strawberry Bread. It turned out horribly. I could tell going into it that it wasn't going to turn out right, but I persevered thinking the author knew what they were talking about. It was dry and crumbly and not bread like at all. It disintegrated when you went to pick up a piece.

So there were ups and downs through the whole book, and the bottom line is, I couldn't see myself returning to this cookbook very much. Most of the recipes just weren't worth the effort or produced weird results. I don't want to have to 2nd guess a cookbook on ingredients and whether or not the author knows what they are doing. I was also confused about who this cookbook was market towards. Obviously it's for fans of the Hunger Games series, but when you look at the recipes they range from wildly complicated to extremely simple, with no rhyme or reason. And that just didn't work for me. If I'm using a cookbook for a souffle I don't want to turn the next page to see how to make a grilled cheese. I think it would have been better to stick with the simple recipes since this is a cookbook geared towards young adults because of the series. At least then it would know what it was instead of having an identity crisis.

So now I'll weigh in on how the book ties to the series. It's awkward. There are little snippets on every page and the titles of some of the recipes are just so hokey that I have to roll my eyes. It was as if the author tried too hard to make it line up exactly and overdid it. I enjoyed the book series and was kind of excited to see the cookbook, but now after having had it for a few months, I'm a little sorry it's sitting on my shelf. I just think that the book could have been more graceful than it was in relating to the series.

Not something I'll refer to often, that's for sure. There just aren't enough recipes that interest me or that I'm confident will actually turn out ok. There are a few good ones, but not enough to warrant promoting the book.

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