Reviewed by LCDR Rebecca Sorell, USN (Ret.)
A cookbook is not a typical book to be reviewed for the Naval Historical Foundation, so I was intrigued to see it on the list of available books to review, especially since it had a tie to the U.S. Navy, being written by a Navy wife, Marcia Steidle.
Based on the sub-title of the book, I expected Steidle to have been cooking her entire life, so I was surprised when she started the introduction to her book by stating: “When I first got married, I didn’t know how to cook.” During her husband’s Navy career, they moved 29 times and traveled to 24 countries, and she enjoyed learning about the culture and cuisine in each area in which they lived, and collected recipes along the way. Some of those recipes are included in her book. She honed her culinary skills during her time as a Navy wife, but especially after her husband retired from the Navy in 2000 and encouraged her to follow her passion for cooking.
The book begins with a small section on event planning and sample menus for different types of events: potluck, brunch, picnic, cocktail party, tailgate party, luncheon, barbecue, sit-down dinner and buffet dinner. Then she provides a few pages of entertainment tips and techniques: invitations, setting the stage, table decorations, lighting and music. The rest of the book is the 129 recipes, divided into twelve categories: appetizers; breads; brunch; desserts; meats; pasta, grains and rice; poultry; salads; sandwiches; seafood; soups; and vegetables.
A cookbook reviewer should be expected to try at least some of the recipes in the cookbook, which is what I did. A thorough reviewer would try all of the recipes, but since there were some recipes that I didn’t think my husband (my designated taste tester) or I would care for, I decided not to try every recipe, but to choose (at least) one from each section to try. Some we liked better than others, but we enjoyed most of them. My favorite of those we tried is the Avocado Corn Salsa, which I have subsequently modified into a salad by adding a few ingredients, and we have enjoyed it several times this summer.
Having an editor is essential to the success of any book; however, it is not clear who Steidle’s editor is or if she had one. A good editor who tries each of the recipes, as a cookbook editor typically does, would have easily detected and fixed many of the minor errors within the book. For example, in her Buffet Dinner Checklist, One Week Ahead, she says to “Make truffle cakes and freeze (I place them on baking sheets and place into the oven until frozen.)” Most people would use a freezer, not an oven, to freeze something! In the German Rouladen recipe, she lists 8 slices of bacon in the ingredients list, but doesn’t say what to do with the bacon. I have made rouladen, so I know what to do with the bacon, but someone trying the recipe for the first time might not. Similarly, the recipe for Green Beans, Mozzarella and Grape Tomatoes says to mix in chunks of tuna or steamed shrimp, but doesn’t list tuna or shrimp in the ingredients list. Many of these are easily overcome, but it requires you to read through the recipe to ensure everything is correct and there are no surprises or questions once you begin to cook.
A fun feature throughout the book was that all of the recipes (except for two) listed a geographic origin with 93 different locations in all. Presumably, these are locations where Steidle and her husband lived or traveled to and tasted the cuisine. Each of the recipes also included a short note related to the recipe, such as a food fact or historical information. There are no photos or illustrations in the book, which would have made it more interesting, but would have made it more expensive to publish. I did like that the book is spiral bound, an awesome feature for a cookbook, since it allows it to lay flat open. Overall, this is a nice book, and Steidle clearly enjoyed writing it and sharing her passion for cooking and travel with others. It was fun to review, and I would love to meet the author and hang out with her!
Steidle has a related blog website: theadmiralschef.com/author/msteidle/ where she continues her cooking and travel adventures.
Marcia Steidle, The Admiral’s Chef: Recipes from a Navy Wife’s World Travels. St. Johann Press, 2015. 164 pp.
Reviewed by Rebecca Sorell, LCDR, USN (Ret.) (Government Civilian Military Analyst, Joint Forces Staff College)
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