Review | She Cooks, She Scores by Jennifer F Stoker

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***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.

11 thoughts on “Review | She Cooks, She Scores by Jennifer F Stoker

  1. Jenn Stoker says:

    Thank you, I appreciate your review and honesty about my book. If you read the entire book from start to finish, you would have learned that I worked for everything that came my way, including this book… Nothing was ever handed to me in my life. I am a chef by trade and not a professional writter. I wanted to bring entertainment to my audience, through my stories and recipes. I wish you the best of luck with your blog.

    1. Jennifer Walker says:

      I never said you didn’t work for your success so I’m not sure where that’s coming from. Wanting to entertain is great, but if your cookbook is half stories, you might want to accept that you /are/ putting yourself out there as a writer and if writing isn’t your strong suit, you either find a way to improve it or you leave it out. Make or buy decision–if you don’t have the time or inclination to make it right yourself, you buy it or, in this case, hire it out to an editor. I know I got that lesson in culinary school, and I’ve found it applies to pretty much everything both in and out of the kitchen.

      1. Eric Peterman says:

        I agree completely with your review and your comment here. Look, not every person who reads this will enjoy it or have positive feedback. Everyone can appreciate the time that Jennifer put into her book, but does not mean it will be a hit. I’d like to see a cookbook with more recipes than stories behind them. If the author wants to write half stories as you say, you are right.. they are putting themselves out there … was there even an editor for this book?

  2. Linda Krecic says:

    Ms. Walker, are you a English Teacher since the editing seemed to bother you somewhat. I thought the book was great considering this is a first time author. How was your first time writing a cookbook? Did it get good reviews? Just asking.

    1. Jennifer Walker says:

      No, Ms. Krecic, I’m not an English teacher, but I was blessed with many good ones growing up and a love of reading since I was a child. And while not perfect myself, I do continue to study the art of writing, as good storytelling is a joy to me and I always want to improve my own skills. So you see, I ask nothing of writers that I do no ask of myself.

      I published my cookbook last year, thank you for asking, and it’s doing quite well. By far, the story-telling element of What to Feed Your Raiding Party, the comic book cookbook for gamers, was the most challenging aspect of it, far more difficult than creating the recipes, and only taking slightly less time than illustrating the stories and techniques throughout the book.

      As I hope you’ll now understand, I offered my opinions of She Cooks, She Scores as a peer, not merely some armchair food enthusiast. Keep in mind, I was the one contacted with the offer of a review copy. I have read the book and tried the recipes as I would any other book I am contacted about for review.

  3. gail barnett says:

    Interesting take on She Cooks, She Scores. I found the book enjoyable and funny and have tried various recipes. I found them not only very good but an interesting combination of flavors. I for one am looking forward to Ms. Stokers next cookbook – hope you are too.

    1. Jennifer Walker says:

      It’s not uncommon for one person to find enjoyment where another does not–if we all agreed on everything this world would be a very boring place. If Ms. Stoker chooses to write another book I wish her well with it.

  4. Lorenzo says:

    Well Ms.Walker you are entitled to your own opinion, but you missed the mark on this book review! I thought Ms. Stoker brought enough of her expertise on cooking and personality to the table with this book. The stories are lighthearted anyone could see that. Her conversational writing style engage her readers and I would say, makes it all the more appealing!!

    1. Jennifer Walker says:

      That’s the wonderful thing about opinions, Lorenzo–they are neither right nor wrong, they merely are what they are. Trying to please everyone all the time is a bit of a fool’s errand, after all, so someone was bound not to like it as much as others or not at all. In this case, that someone was me.

  5. Telling the Truth says:

    Jennifer Stoker is nothing but a whore that sleeps with her clients and married men. Can you believe someone actually married this slut? Poor guy, hope he has a good attorney and signed a prenup!

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