cover image Hidden Kitchens: Stories, Recipes, and More from NPR's the Kitchen Sisters

Hidden Kitchens: Stories, Recipes, and More from NPR's the Kitchen Sisters

Nikki Silva, Davia Nelson. Rodale Press, $27.5 (278pp) ISBN 978-1-59486-313-4

NPR listeners are probably familiar with Nelson and Silva's radio program, ""Hidden Kitchens,"" in which they interview amateur cooks who use improvisational methods to prepare food in unconventional places. This book expands on that concept, with Nelson and Silva offering expanded commentary and a handful of recipes from their interview subjects. While the cooks profiled use everything from George Foreman grills to makeshift fryers to whip up their meals, the recipes assume the reader has a conventional, working kitchen and are fairly straightforward and easy to make. But it's the stories behind the food that comprise the book's soul. The Sisters solicited tips from listeners in researching this book, which provided them with plenty of leads, though the verbatim transcripts of phoned-in tips that appear on nearly every page, and sometimes several times on a page, can make for a frustrating read. However, Nelson and Silva's mini-expose on the popularity of the George Foreman grill among the homeless is a solid piece of reportage that blends in the narrative of Foreman's life with that of the people who depend on his countertop appliance for their meals. The Chili Queens of Texas, women who sold tamales, chili and tacos as unlicensed street vendors at the turn of the century, also receive an in-depth profile, as do cooks on the NASCAR circuit. The book isn't so much about Rube Goldberg-like contraptions used to cook food (although there is some of that) as it is about American ingenuity and people making the most of what they have.