Monday, July 27, 2015

Kitchens of the Great Midwest: Edible Review with the Novel Bakers

I'm teaming up with the Novel Bakers to introduce the best book of the summer, Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal (Pamela Dorman Books). Before it even hit the shelves, the debut novel garnered praise from the publishing industry: it's an August 2015 Indie Next Pick, the July 2015 #1 Library Reads Pick, and a Summer 2015 American Book Association "Indies Introduce" Pick. 
In a "starred review," Library Journal compared the novel to Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge; it also earned praise from notable authors, such as Janet Fitch (White Oleander) and National Book Award finalist, Jim Shepard, who called the book a "structural and empathetic tour de force."

"Reminiscent in style and structure of Olive Kitteridge, J. Ryan Stradal delivers the touching and hilarious story of Eva Thorvald's triumph over a difficult childhood to become the woman with a once-in-a-generation palate behind the most sought-after dinner reservation in the country."

Foodies everywhere have waited a lifetime for this beautiful book to enter the world. 
"Kitchens of the Great Midwest brings readers right to the heart of Minnesota, from Lutheran church bake sales to the opening weekend of deer season, and shares an incredible tale of how the food we eat, and the people we meet, shape the world around us.
"Each chapter tells the story of a single dish and character, at once capturing the zeitgeist of the Midwest, the rise of foodie culture, and the way food creates community and a sense of identity."

The moment I finished reading this outstanding novel, I ran to the kitchen and made No-Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars. (A whole chapter in the book is devoted to bars.)

No-Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup butter, melted  
pinch of salt
Into a mixing bowl, add crumbs, sugar, salt, and melted butter. Beat on low speed (I used my KitchenAid's paddle attachment) until the ingredients are blended, then increase the speed. When the mixture holds together, place into a greased 9 x 13" pan. (For easy removal, line the pan with parchment paper and then add the crust.) Using the back  of a spoon, smooth the surface of the mixture. Place in the freezer for 15 minutes.
Remove pan and set aside.
Using a double boiler (or place a saucepan over a larger pan that is filled with boiling water), melt 3 cups chocolate chips and 1/2 cup peanut butter. Add a tiny pinch of salt. Beat until smooth, then pour onto the cracker-sugar base and smooth the icing. In another saucepan, melt a few teaspoons of peanut butter (I used the double boiler method). Don't melt too long. You will want the peanut butter to have a little "body," yet be pliable enough to marbleize. Working quickly, drop quarter-sized dollops onto the chocolate icing. Drizzle the remainder over the chocolate icing. Use the dull end of a stainless dinner knife to marbleize the icing--swirl the knife through the icing in a clockwise, then counter-clockwise movement. Work fast. Resist the inpulse to go back over the swirls, as I did, or you'll make a hot mess of the icing and have to start over. Swirl the knife this way and that way--once--and stop! 
Place the bars in the freezer for 2 hours. Remove and let sit about 10 minutes before slicing.

    Serves: 8 Regular People or 1 Chocoholic

For more edible reviews of this book, visit The Novel Bakers

You'll find more images at the Novel Bakers' Pinterest board for Kitchens of the Great Midwest.


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  1. Wow, the book has so many accolades already, and not yet out on the shelves! Kitchens of the Great Midwest sounds, from your review, like a book that I would love to devour. I can see why you ran to your kitchen to whip up those No Bake Peanut Butter Bars, Michael Lee. Too funny on the serving sizes! Did you share, or were you the one chocoholic??

  2. Your posts in this series always blow me away!

  3. LOVED your review, the mere fact you and Mary dashed off to make those peanut bars delight me! Yours are so pretty too, I am obviously a novice bar maker... but I do like your serving portions! Your scale shots are darling, and totally tick me off... for over a month I have been eating light, I have lost as much as your cookies weigh, how can those cuties be so wicked, if I ate that plate I would be up 5.... Thanks so much for playing this week, I know you are in major house mode!

  4. I always enjoy these Novel Baker posts, but you ladies are costing me a lot of money because I have been buying every one of them, with this one soon to be added. Just this morning I was paging through The Vintage Tea Party Book. I'm not sure where you find such delightful books, but I am so glad that you do! You won me over with the mention that this book has an entire chapter devoted to bars.

  5. After reading your post Michael Lee, I must buy this book~I can't believe it has been chosen for a must read by so many groups! I love that both you and Mary, two of my favorite foodies, chose the same peanut butter bars, I must try them!
    Thank you for always sharing such unique and tasty books!

  6. I snuck a peek at your post from my phone while I was running errands this morning. I'm now able to ooh and ahh from the big screen of my laptop! I have scale envy and I adore your tomato basket and vintage green kitchen tools and flatware! Your bars look doubly delicious with those peanut butter ribbons marbled through the chocolate topped layer! The bars chapter was my favorite from the book and not just for the recipes and I loved the surprise at the end of the book :) It's always a treat novel baking with you!

  7. Great pics Michael! I love your swirled topping on the peanut butter bars:@)

  8. I always so thoroughly enjoy this series....the bars look the photo of them!....glad to see that someone else loves to collect the vintage green handled utensils!....Sounds like a wonderful book!

  9. Lovely posts to all of you!! Always so much fun to see one topic interpreted many different ways...
    I just ordered 2 for me and one for my bestie, who is a foodie!

    Thanks ya'll!!!

  10. This book has been on my amazon wish list - can't wait to read it!

  11. I'm not a tomato eater, but the vignette on the scale makes a gorgeous still life that should be painted.
    Love this series. Thanks for always offer a look at great new to me books. Well, guess this one is new to everyone. Ha!