Review | She Cooks, She Scores by Jennifer F Stoker



***This is a sponsored post. I was provided a copy of She Cooks, She Scores for the purpose of review. All opinions are my own and no other compensation has been received. Now that we’ve got that out of the way…***

Food-based memoir, on the surface, should be an easy mark to hit. After all, everyone eats and many people are able to tie certain strong memories to the food they enjoyed at those times. Home cooking, soul food, amazing dinners out, it all connects us on some level. And since I love hearing the stories behind the food, I was really looking forward to enjoying Stoker’s She Cooks, She Scores when it arrived.

Todd always likes it when I get new review cookbooks in–he likes to pull new dinner ideas out of them as much as I do–but when I asked him if he’d found anything interesting in Scores (he’d gotten to it before I did), he said it was more frou-frou food. And after flipping through the first few sections, you’d think a better title for the book would be ‘My Love Affair with Lobster.’ The men don’t last, but her main ingredient takes center stage for many early recipes. Granted, she was in New England for most of The Ex’s and proximity could have informed her choices just as much as pretension. But when Stoker refers to a soon-to-be ex’s family home as a mansion or specifies that she grabbed a bottle of Evian (as opposed to just bottled water) to put out a grease fire you get the sense that Stoker did not come from humble beginnings and is not necessarily interested in appealing to the wider, middle-class demographic.

Fair enough, we all have our niche, right?

The stories that accompany the clusters of recipes are entertaining but cringe-worthy. I think she was going for a Sex and the City vibe, but it came across as more of a confessional blog entry. A couple of beta readers or maybe even a ghost-writer could have helped refine each lengthy story into a salacious anecdote and moved the book along at a faster clip, letting the recipes take center stage. There were also some inconsistencies between stories that bothered me–an example would be her first catering job for a soon-to-be ex’s mother where she was so unprepared as to forget the marinade for the chicken and grabbed a wine cooler from the hostess’s fridge as a substitute. But much later in the book she refers to the wine cooler marinade as an experiment inspired by Chef Michael Symon’s out-of-the-box thinking on food. Sure, you could spin it that way, but be consistent.

Speaking of the food, how are the recipes?

We tried out a couple that were suitable for during-the-week dinners and were overall pleased with the results but not wowed. The dish names read more like the description on a restaurant menu which could scare less adventurous cooks away and often involve multiple parts and preparations. Also, while each recipe is listed in the Table of Contents in the order it appears in the book, there is no Index at the back of the book whatsoever–something I don’t think a cookbook should be without. Instead we get a page of “Jenn-ism Glossary” entries, only a handful of which appear in the book, and most of which have nothing to do with food. The food photography throughout the book (along with styled photos of the author created for the book and personal photos from the author’s past) really are lovely and certainly whet the appetite. The layout and design of the book is also first-rate–it’s a beautiful book, aesthetically speaking.

Stuffed Italian Chicken (p.12)

Stuffed Italian Chicken (p.12)

The Stuffed Italian Chicken recipe is one she created before ever considering culinary school (and the realization of her “God-given talent for cooking”). It utilizes light beer as a marinade and red wine in the sauce, and includes raisins in the cheese-based filling. There was far too much sauce for the 4 chicken breasts but other than that the end result was pleasant enough. (I opted not to use the liquid smoke called for in the marinade ingredients as I’m not a big fan of it.)

Stoker Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Dressing, Caramelized Red Onion Bits, and a Fried Egg (p.155)

Stoker Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Dressing, Caramelized Red Onion Bits, and a Fried Egg (p.155)

A prime example of long recipe names that are really descriptions, Stoker Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Dressing, Caramelized Red Onion Bits, and a Fried Egg is based on a similar salad she experienced a Chef Symon’s restaurant shortly after finishing at the CIA. While the dressing was a little vinegary for Todd’s taste, I was thrilled with the bacon dressing and how it just began to wilt the spinach as it was being served. And, of course, top anything with a fried egg and I’m usually on board.

While the larger part of the book is dedicated to stories of failed relationships and the recipes that survived them, she does bookend them with stories and food related to family and friends–both of which are more approachable overall. Chapter 5, “Happy Endings,” was of particular interest to me as readers of this blog know I’ve recently had to cut out a lot of ingredients from my own diet to improve my digestive health. This chapter mentions Stoker’s own food intolerances (diary and gluten) and how it changed her view on food and cooking in general.

“Being a chef and unable to tolerate any dairy products is the most horrible thing in the world.”

She Cooks, She Scores, page 172

Well, that might be a bit of hyperbole, especially with substitutions so readily available, but she goes on to label dairy as “unhealthy.” That sort of blanket statement really grates against the all things in moderation mantra, as these items are only unhealthy in excess to the general population. It’s that sort of ingredient x-is-evil kind of mentality that is creating the skewed, misinformed population that succumbs to the twisted marketing practices of larger food manufacturers, and something I would hope any chef would want to steer clear of, not feed. Furthermore, I think Stoker could have served her audience better by including substitution ideas in the footnotes of each recipe throughout the book rather than just this one brief chapter.

Looking at She Cooks, She Scores I see a lot of potential. Unfortunately it just missed the bar for me. I know other people have enjoyed her stories immensely, so I may be in the minority for finding them more aggravating than amusing. The recipes suffer from unwieldy names that may turn off some cooks, but the food underneath them is good. I think had it been given another edit or two this book would have been the book Stoker wanted, but like a cake taken out of the oven too soon, it’s still a bit underdone in the middle.

Giving Thanks for Resourcefulness


Our oven quit 3 hours before dinner on Thanksgiving day.

Oh, yes, friends, it was one of those holidays.

Strange thing is, the oven worked fine that morning. I’d gotten up in time to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade as I prepped the sweet potato pie, cornbread for dressing, and chicken stock (also for the dressing).

About noon I was done with my prep (dinner wasn’t until 5:30, so we had plenty of time) and shut off the oven.

I kinda wish I’d kept it on for those 3 hours, maybe then Todd wouldn’t have had to “bake” the corn casserole and rolls on our propane grill.

Todd using the gas grill as an improptu oven on Thanksgiving

And I wouldn’t have had dressing cooked on some antiquated cross between a hot plate and a crock pot.

But at least our turkey goes into a counter-top roaster oven (leaving the oven free–in this case free and clear to up and die) so that wasn’t a problem.

Though, in a very strange twist of fate the top of the bird was registering done after 1 1/2 hours but when we went to carve it the thighs–the part of the bird closest to the heating elements–was still underdone. Still haven’t figured out the how on that one, but a few minutes in the microwave solved that one pretty quick.

So this year’s Thanksgiving was a true learning experience. Here are some tips I thought I’d pass along:

  1. If you make Alton Brown’s Sweet Potato Pie, don’t use Greek-style yogurt, it’ll be too strong.
  2. But if you do, a slice warmed and served a la mode (with or without Torani Pumpkin Pie Syrup) will still taste just fine and dandy.
  3. If you run out of vanilla and the stores are closed, both vanilla rum and vanilla vodka made quick substitutes.
  4. Make sure to remove both the giblets packet AND the neck from the cavity of the turkey (I caught the error before we put the turkey in to roast).
  5. You can use your propane grill as an impromptu oven, but you might want to prop your casserole dish up on a couple of bricks to allow air to circulate under the dish, too. (If not you’ll end up with a more-than-toasted bottom of the casserole, but it did give it a nice grilled-corn flavor!).
  6. You can also finish dressing in a slow-cooker/hot-plate sort of device, just don’t expect the top to get all nice and brown (seriously, I don’t know what this contraption of Todd’s is, but it worked and that’s all that counts).
  7. Counter-top roasters are the bomb for speed-roasting a turkey. (That’s not new, but still true.)
  8. Placing a towel under the cutting board when carving the turkey may not be enough–you might want to tuck one into the cabinet door below the counter and let it rest on the floor. Just be happy you have a juicy turkey.

And if you have a doggie guest for Thanksgiving, don’t be surprised if they offer to “mop” the floor under the carving station for you. Molly was committed to getting that floor spotless 😉

We also tried a new hors d’oeuvres this year for pre-dinner noshing.

Apples on Horseback appetizer

I could swear I got an email last week with a recipe for apples on horseback (either that or I totally misread Angels on Horseback and hallucinated the rest of the article). When I couldn’t find my reference email, I decided to just go with it.

Apples on Horseback

3 Apples, small to medium-sized
18 cheese cubes
12 slices thin bacon, cut into 3rds

Quarter and core the apples and then slice each apple into thirds, lengthwise. You should have 36 apple slices.

Slice each cheese cube in half. I used a combo of pepper-jack and colby-jack (what I had on hand) and the pepper-jack makes for a decidedly spicier end product, but either are tasty ways to go.

Pair up an apple slice and a bit of cheese and wrap with the piece of bacon. You don’t want thick bacon here as it’ll take too long to cook. Dividing each slice in thirds (I just slice through the whole package, makes it easier) means this recipe takes just under a pound of bacon.

Broil the packets until the bacon is crisp on top. Some of the cheese will cook out, but enough will be left behind to lend flavor.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

This was, incidentally, the step in the days process that showed the oven for the fickle fiend it is. It had worked fine that morning to bake pie and cornbread, and I’d turned it off by noon. Come around 3:30 and I guess it resented being woken from its nap or something, as it refused to heat/broil/or do anything of use.

Thankfully we have a toaster oven. If it had been larger we could have cooked the casseroles in it, but it’s on the smaller side (just large enough for 2 hamburger buns, split, to give you a mental picture). It took 3 batches to finish the apples, but it got the job done.

Once we found counter space for everything and sat down to eat the rest of the evening went as usual. Everyone eats, we settle in to watch a movie (The Avengers, this year), and someone makes a goofy comment or 2 that has us laughing days later.

That someone is usually Mom.

It’s good to have traditions.

Memory Lane Starts in the Kitchen


Friday night I served a throw-back recipe for supper: Tuna Noodle Casserole. I’m not really sure what made me think to put that on the menu (Todd suggested it might be a bit too much Mad Men), but it was a nice comfort-food meal and it got us talking about childhood food memories.

Mom wrote in my baby book that I would stand up on a chair and steal onions while she was getting supper ready. That one I don’t really remember so much. I do remember an early Thanksgiving, sitting in my high chair next to an uncle who explained the finer points of rolls: their use as “pushers” for the smaller bits of food and that’s why you wait to eat them until the end. I still eat my roll last.

My grandmother’s house had a wonderful walk-in pantry and these stainless steel canisters that were usually full of flour and sugar and stuff, but for holidays were used to store the cookies and candies they made starting the day after Thanksgiving. An enduring favorite were the rum balls and I was allowed one or two at a time for obvious reasons. But, oh, I was so infatuated with them that one day I snuck into the pantry, closed the door behind me and scarfed I don’t know how many rum balls before I was discovered. I regret nothing!

But not all food memories from childhood were holiday-related. Some weren’t even happy–like the times we discovered neither turnips nor Brussels sprouts agreed with my youthful constitution. (Happily, I’ve made peace with both foods and eat plenty of both of them these days.) Others were downright adventurous for the under-6 set–I remember sitting in the garage with my dad as he shucked oysters. 2 for him, 1 for me.

So, what food memories do you have from childhood? The good, the bad, the odd? When was the last time you thought about what you ate as a kid? The comments are ready and waiting!

“Todd’s” Turkey


There is some concern in my family about the fact that I only purchased a 17.22 lb turkey for Thursday.

Now, we’re 6 people. Even discounting bones that’s a LOT of turkey per person. Last year’s bird was just over 21 pounds and we had turkey coming out of our ears. Even after my brother took some home. And we froze some for gumbo, later. Not to mention that it barely fit in our large roasting pan.

So 17.22 lbs seemed quite adequate to me.

“But Jason’s already salivating over Todd’s turkey,” Mom informs me.

This same Jason who already went to 3 other Thanksgiving dinners before mine but who still ate a plate full and was moaning in misery on my living room floor afterward. This same Jason who has to go to FOUR dinners before mine this year.

I’m not exactly worried.

But let’s get to the heart of the matter, here.

Todd’s turkey.

Last year was the first year we hosted Thanksgiving and, therefore, roasted the bird. Usually Mom’s job, it just didn’t make sense for her to have to cart a turkey across town (or, even, around the corner of town as it actually is from her place to ours). She brought a couple of sides and we handled the rest.

This was also the first holiday Todd & I were living together for, so some collaboration was in order. Thrilled to be getting a crack at the turkey but knowing I couldn’t go too far astray from the usual without shocking my family’s palate, I planned to supplement the usual turkey seasoning (quartered onions & apples in the cavity plus a few garlic cloves) with some herbed-butter coins placed under the skin.

Right about the time I voiced that idea, Todd suggested we brine the turkey. Having never done that before it seemed as good an idea as any.

The turkey was amazing.

But it was a joint effort, as I continue (as does Todd) to point out to my mother. Nonetheless, because of a bit of salt and water, the turkey of note is known as Todd’s turkey.


To Brine a Turkey

There are several ways to do this but this is ours and, hey, it’s won Todd fame with my family so it must work okay.

  1. Clean out a good-sized cooler that will hold the turkey with space around it for liquid and ice.
  2. Line the cooler with a fresh (unscented) tall kitchen bag.
  3. Divest the turkey of it’s neck and giblets, give it a good rinse and place inside the bag inside the cooler.
  4. Combine kosher salt and water (1 cup per gallon) as needed and add to the bag inside the cooler, making sure to completely cover the turkey.
  5. Tie up the kitchen bag, fill the space around the bird with ice.
  6. Let sit in this brine (topping off the ice as needed and, if it’s a really big bird, turning it once) for 24 hours or so.
  7. Rinse the turkey and season at will prior to roasting.

Last year our turkey was a little icy on the inside, still, but this actually worked in our favor as it helped keep the temperature of the turkey-and-brine below 40 degrees. If you’ve got room in your fridge (and if so, I envy you), you can brine it in a bag (or 2–no spills allowed!) or large container in the fridge. I’ve even seen where it’s suggested to use a crisper bin if the bird will fit.

You can also add other seasonings to your brine, but we went with simple last year and had excellent results.

The Rest of the Table

What will appear alongside Todd’s turkey, this year? Here’s our menu:

Baked Brie en Croute with Figs and Honey
Spinach Dip and Crackers

Buttered and Brined Turkey
Cornbread Dressing
Turkey Gravy
Candied Sweet Potatoes
Broccoli and Cheese
Eggplant & Zucchini Gratin
Rice and Pigeon Peas
Garlic Green Beans
Parker House Rolls
Cranberry Sauce (jellied and whole berry)

Ambrosia Salad
Pecan Pie
Amaretto Pumpkin Pie w/Gingered Pepitas
Caramel Apple Cake

Yes, I know, we’re only 6 people. And 2 will have eaten several times before they make it to our evening supper. And 1 still isn’t 100% sure he’ll make it if work intervenes.

But the leftovers will be glorious.

Feed Your Ears

Make sure to check out the November episode of Random Acts Radio: Grab a Spoon. There’s over an hour of food-related tunes to keep you company in the kitchen or on the road. Sage (and safe–that was a typo too good to pass up) Thanksgiving wishes  to all, and may all your waistbands be elastic.

So much for not cooking!


Well, we figured out exactly what to do with those chicken thighs and artichoke hearts!

First we combined them with most of a bottle of Basil and Balsamic vinaigrette dressing and a heaping tablespoon of minced garlic, squished it all together in a gallon-size freezer bag and let it sit in the fridge about 24 hours. Thankfully a dressing-marinade tends not to be overly acidic (or, at the very least, have enough oil to buffer it) so sitting for a long time doesn’t break down the meat so much that it produces a mealy texture. Blech.

Then, since the weather was nice, we fired up the grill of awesome and popped those suckers on the grill for about half an hour. I was a little iffy on what to do with the artichoke hearts at that point, but Todd (brilliant man!) suggested skewering them: tada! They were a little tricky to keep on but when I figured out that piercing them near the top edge of the leaves and angling it out the base of the choke would work fairly well, we were in business.

Meanwhile, to keep the marinade or not? Now, since it’s been hanging out with raw chicken for a while it has to be boiled for AT LEAST 5 minutes before it’s safe to consume. And, well, if I’m going to boil it at all, I might as well reduce it into a sauce for the finished chicken, mightn’t I?

After an incident in which I was reminded just how much a sauce can grow (i.e. exceed the capacity of the small saucepan it was in) when it’s hit the boiling stage and a quick splash into a bigger pot, it actually reduced perfectly! Love when that happens! As it started to thicken I went ahead and strained out the stray artichoke leaves and garlic and such and it make a beautiful sauce for the grilled items. I’ll probably remember to strain the marinade first next time. Maybe.

To go with it all we whipped up a simple white sauce to cover some steamed cauliflower and topped it off with smoked provolone and just enough time in the oven to get the cheese lightly brown and bubbly.

So much for not cooking this week!

But it was good enough that I didn’t mind. Thursday I picked up a bunch of fresh veggies (bean sprouts, eggplant, green beans, zucchini and yellow squash, matchstick carrots and green onions) on the way home and combined them with the shredded cabbage, coconut milk and green Thai curry paste we already had for a very veggie curry that was even better the next day for lunch. Sweet and spicy and delicious!