Tokyo Up Late review

You might be thinking, “another Japanese cookbook?” Yes, and I’m not sorry. Not to insult the two previous books, this book might be my favorite of the three. “Tokyo Up Late: Iconic Recipes from the city that never sleeps” is the second cookbook published from Brendan Liew, who has worked in top notch restaurants in Japan and Hong Kong. He is not a well-known chef in America, probably because he’s based in Melbourne, Australia.

What I immediately liked about “Tokyo Up Late” is that some of the recipes are not ones you typically see in an English-language Japanese cookbook. That’s not to say that the recipes are obscure. Many of the dishes invoked a lot of nostalgia for me. The recipe grouping is also a bit unusual. Rather than group recipes by a course or a common main ingredient, the recipes are grouped by the environment in which you would find them. The main chapters of the book are:

  • Izakaya (Japanese bar food)
  • Makanai (family meal at traditional Japanese restaurants)
  • Fast food
  • Konbini (Japanese convenience stores)
  • Back home

There is so much that I want to make out of this book. Here are some highlights:

  • Nikumaki (pan-fried vegetables wrapped in meat)
  • Tonteki (soy-based grilled pork steak)
  • Red wine honey soy tare
  • Nasu nibitashi (dashi braised eggplant and shiitake)
  • Hiyajiru (rice and toppings with chilled sesame soup)
  • Okowa (steamed chestnut sticky rice)
  • Anmitsu (mochi and red bean paste with black sugar syrup)
  • Meron pan (melon bread)
  • Katsutado pan (custard bread)
  • Mont Blanc
  • Ochazuke (tea over rice) (comes with general guidelines and three specific variations)

The konbini chapter might be my favorite overall, so I started with Liew’s recipe for nikuman, aka pork buns. The dough is made water, yeast, sugar, flour, milk, and lard (or oil). While the dough is rising, a filling is made from rehydrated shiitake, minced pork, unsmoked bacon (optional), onion, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, shaoxing wine, chicken bouillon (optional), salt, and white pepper. When both dough and filling are ready, the dough is divided into 8 pieces, and each piece is rolled out into a circle, and filled with meat. The dough is pinched closed, and the buns are rested before steaming until cooked through.

I had a lot of trouble making nice looking pork buns. Just based on prior experience, I recommend flattening each disc of dough so that the middle is thicker than the edges, like you often see done for dumpling wrappers. When the bun is pinched closed, it helps to keep the seam from being too thick, and helps keep the bun be more uniform in shape. My dough turned out a little too sticky. I probably should have used less water. I can’t get bao flour (or at least I haven’t seen it in the Asian markets closest to me) so I just used all purpose flour from Trader Joe’s. My flour is unbleached so I knew up front that I wasn’t going to get the pretty white exterior that one normally associates with Asian steamed buns. Another factor in the appearance of steamed buns is the steamer set up (which, as far as I can tell, the book does not mention). I do not have a bamboo steamer which is ideal. I only have a metal steamer. The problem with metal steamers is condensation. When water drops onto the bun, it bubbles the texture. I tried to mitigate this by wrapping the lid with a clean tea towel, which definitely improved matters but didn’t solve it completely. You can swipe back and forth to see the difference between my first batch and my later batches. The first batch was too thin on top and tore easily, and too much water had condensed on the surface. My later batches don’t look as ugly.

I don’t remember what convenience store pork buns taste like in Japan (it’s been too long). Appearances aside, the filling was really flavorsome, so it was still worth making. If making buns seems too daunting, you can use the filling in some pre-made dumpling wrappers and cook in some soup.

The second recipe I made was much easier. The wafu pasta in the Back Home chapter might be more delicious than the buns (if you like mushrooms). First you make the mentsuyu which is a dipping sauce/soup base. Then you cook up the mushrooms in olive oil and butter, and finish with the pasta, mentsuyu, scallions, shiso, shredded nori, and lemon wedges. I went with nicer quality, locally made butter and locally made fresh pasta.

I forgot to pick up shiso or parsley but that was ok. The flavor is largely driven by the winning combination of butter, mushrooms, and mentsuyu.

I also love how sophisticated it looks just off the stove with the pop of color from the scallions, and the texture of the nori before they both wilt.

Luckily for you, Smith Street Books was gracious enough to let me share Liew’s pasta recipe.

Give the pasta recipe a try, and if you like it, I highly recommend picking up your own copy of Brendan Liew’s “Tokyo Up Late” from your favorite book distributor.

The only person who might not be suited for this book is someone who absolutely refuses to use a kitchen scale. US volumetric measurements are not provided. But I think, for most cooking enthusiasts, this is a non-issue.

Disclaimer – I kindly received a copy of this book from Ryland Peters & Small for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own.  

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Otsumami, a cookbook review

Despite my slightly higher than average exposure to Japanese food and culture, I’ve not previously heard the word “otsumami.”  Per Atsuko Ikeda’s new book, “Otsumami,” it’s the word “given to snacks and simple dishes, designed to be eaten alongside a drink.”  I don’t drink much, but this cookbook caught my attention because the recipes more modern/more fusion than the Japanese cookbooks I own.

The book is divided into:

  • Party planning
  • What to drink with food
  • Cocktails
  • Furoshiki
  • Essential Ingredients
  • Kitchen Tools
  • How to cook rice
  • How to make dashi
  • Sauces and dressings
  • Flavoured miso
  • Flavoured mayonnaise
  • Simple light bites
  • Meat and poultry
  • Fish and seafood
  • Vegetables
  • Tofu and eggs

Some of the recipes I want to try are:

  • Rainbow dips (the red dip – has baharat, pink – has beetroots, orange – has butternut squash and ras el hanout, green – has cilantro and lime juice, brown – has mushrooms, yellow – has tofu and turmeric)
  • Ground meat on chicory
  • Balsamic chicken wings (see link at the end of this post for the recipe)
  • Meatloaf with ankake sauce
  • Chicken dumplings
  • Chicken ramen noodles in salty citrus soup
  • Miso and maple marinated salmon
  • Cold miso soup with smoked mackerel
  • Mushroom and miso gratin
  • Rolled Japanese omelette 3 ways

The first recipe I tried was the spicy tuna tartare on nori chips.  It’s basically a twist on the filing that you would use inside a spicy tuna roll (which typically uses sriracha or chili oil).  This version uses sushi grade tuna, pear, gochujang, soy sauce, sake, light brown sugar, garlic, toasted sesame oil, mayo, and fried nori chips (aka toriten).  I did  use plain nori instead of noriten but that’s because 1) I was lazy and 2) my Japanese market was missing the pre-made noriten on the snack shelves.  It’s mostly for texture so I wasn’t too worried about it.  I’m a fan of gochujang, so I really didn’t want to skip this recipe.  Results?  Lovely!  The crunchiness/juiciness/sweetness of the fruit was a great contrast to the tuna/gochujang.  And the gochujang changed the flavor  enough to make feel new.  While I liked it with the nori, I also took the route of serving it over white rice.  I liked the rice version better but I think it’s because it made it feel more like a meal.  If you’re truly aiming for serving apps and drinks, the nori chip version is the way to go.

The second recipe I made was supposed to be the cold miso soup with smoked mackerel, but my Japanese market didn’t have any shiso or myoga on hand (these ingredients are technically toppings, but they are bold flavors and I worried I was changing the recipe too much for this review by skipping both).  Instead, I made Ikeda’s version of smacked cucumber.  I’ve made a version of it before but the version I tried wasn’t interesting enough to stay in my cooking repertoire.  This version has soy sauce, rice vinegar, toasted sesame oil, sugar, garlic paste, and toasted sesame seeds.  (Shichimi spice mix is an optional ingredient.  I left it out because I couldn’t remember where I had stored mine.)  The recipe isn’t drastically different from what I’ve made before but the additional of the garlic puree definitely made it better.  It also added just the tiniest bit of spiciness. The only swap I made was to use toasted black sesame seeds instead of white, because that’s what I had. It’s a simple and easy salad to prepare, and to wolf down. I made a half batch and finished it in one sitting. (Don’t let the photo fool you. There was a larger portion off camera.)

For people who like pictures with every recipe, this book isn’t it.  But there are photos enough for me, and I think they’re well done.  The styling is very cozy and warm looking.  I’d rather this than lots of photos that I hate (super contrasted/pumped up colors, I’m looking at you). I’m optimistic that the rest of this book will be as good as the recipes I tested.  That’s in part because I have Ikeda’s previous book, Atsuko’s Japanese Kitchen, and I liked that one a lot.  (I realized halfway through Otsumami that the author was the same person. lol! I’m bad with people’s names.)

The book is out now, if you’d like to pick up a copy from your favorite book seller. If you do, let me know if you’re enjoying it as much I am.

Disclaimer – I kindly received a copy of this book from Ryland Peters & Small for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own.  

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Cooking with Japanese Pickles, cookbook review

Pickles as a category wasn’t really something I grew up with, probably because my parents didn’t care much for acidic/sour foods.  As for fermented pickles, Korean kimchi is really the only one I eat consistently.  (I don’t even eat sauerkraut much, or dill pickles.  On the rare occasion, I’ll eat some bread and butter pickles, or relish.)  Meanwhile, Japanese pickles aren’t something I’m familiar with at all.  So for my next book to review, I got a copy of “Cooking with Japanese Pickles” by Takako Yokoyama.  There are 97 recipes in this book, 76 are pickle recipes and the rest are recipes using the pickles made.

The book is divided into:

  • Quick pickles
  • Classic Pickles
  • Pickling with the season
  • Traditional pickling

Some of the recipes that interest me the most are:

  • Napa cabbage in ginger soy sauce
  • Eggplant in sweet mustard
  • Mizuna greens in mustard soy sauce
  • Rice bran pickled daikon radish
  • Frozen ume in sugar
  • Garlic preserved in soy sauce
  • Pan-fried garlic pork
  • Ginger in sake lees
  • Enoki mushrooms in sake lees
  • Mixed vegetable pickles

A lot of the recipes required more time than I had available, and I was trying my best to use what I had on hand.  So, the first two recipes I made were miso pickled shiitake mushrooms, and potatoes pickled in sweet vinegar.

The mushrooms were really easy.  You simple rehydrate some dried shiitake, then boil for a few minutes, drain, and spread some miso into the caps.  Let it sit at room temperature overnight, and then eat.

The potatoes were more effort.  You cut them into matchsticks, rinse and drain a couple of times, and then pan fry.  While still hot, pour a sweet vinegar mixture over it.  Weigh this down for 30 minutes and then refrigerate until ready to serve.

The mushrooms tasted pretty much as you imagine they would.  I tended to just snack one while I was making my lunch or dinner.  But I liked the potatoes more than I expected.  The potatoes are a touch sweet, a touch acidic, and mild overall.  I suspect that this is the perfect pickle for people who think they don’t like pickles. I mostly ate the potato pickles in salads.  

And then I was just eating the shiitake and the potatoes together in one salad.  If you were to add dressing to this salad, I think it’d end up too salty.  I kept it pretty simple with lettuce greens and tofu.

For fun, I took a recipe for mizuna greens in mustard soy sauce, and altered it around what I had on hand.  It’s supposed to be mizuna greens, salt, karashi mustard powder, and usukuchi soy sauce.  I used green cabbage, salt, standard yellow mustard powder, and Bragg’s liquid aminos.  The end result was good but I found it more difficult to pair the flavor with.  I tried it in a couple of different salads, and didn’t love it.  However, when I served it over plain white jasmine rice, I thought it was great.

Alas, no photos of my off-script batch of pickles because I kept forgetting to take one. Honestly though, it doesn’t look that much different from something like sauerkraut.

Overall, the cookbook is easy to follow. It’s great resource if you’re interested in expanding your repertoire of Japanese side dishes. The only downside is that acquiring some of the ingredients may be a challenge. I’m very fortunate in that there’s a Japanese market in my town, and I suspect that they carry everything I need. Otherwise, I don’t think I have a local resource for getting items like rice bran that isn’t just ordering online. If you’re feeling adventurous, I hope you pick up a copy!

Disclaimer – I kindly received a copy of this book from Tuttle Publishing for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own.  

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Nom Nom Paleo Let’s Go, cookbook review

I’ve been following Michelle Tam of Nom Nom Paleo for a very long time now, well before she and her husband published their first cookbook, and now they’ve published their third.  Amusingly, I can only remember making two of her recipes in the past, both of which she didn’t develop: her sister’s Phenomenal Grilled Green Chicken, and Leon’s Caper and Anchovy Miracle Sauce.  Both are delicious, and I’m not sure why I haven’t re-made them. (Probably because there’s 1,000+ recipes I want to make.)

I’ve eyed her Instant Pot recipes for a long time, but I didn’t have an electric pressure cooker.  Recently, a friend gave me her old but very unused Breville Fast Slow Cooker, so I’m determined to experiment more with pressure cooking.  I’ve always meant to cook more of Tam’s recipes since they are all gluten-free. If you’ve read my reviews for “Cannelle et Vanille Bakes Simple,” or for “Baked To Perfection,” you already know that there are several GF people in my life. The easiest way to cook GF is simply to use a GF recipe.

Luckily for me, a review copy of the third book, “Nom Nom Paleo Let’s Go: Simple Feasts and Healthy Eats,” made its way to me. I took this opportunity to get off my duff and just do the thing.

The book is divided into the following chapters:

  • Building blocks,
  • Plants and eggs,
  • “Rice and Noodles”,
  • Seafood,
  • Poultry,
  • Meats,
  • Treats

Some recipes that I aim to make: 

  • Umami stir-fry powder,
  • Instant pot green soup with tangy cashew cream,
  • Garlic mushroom noodles,
  • Chicken velvet and spinach soup,
  • Greek chicken and potatoes,
  • Sheet pan “peanut” sauce chicken and broccolini,
  • Cheesy chicken and kale casserole,
  • Instant pot balsamic beef stew,
  • Pot stickers,
  • Fruit galette,
  • Pistachio cardamom cookies,
  • Dan tat (Hong Kong egg tarts)

Some of the recipes are only in the book, some are in both the book and on the website.  I ended up making four recipes total, two of which are in the book only.

I started with the stir-fry sauce and the tsukune (Japanese chicken meatballs).  You need the stir-fry sauce for the meatballs and, thankfully, it’s easy.  I used some canned pineapple juice from Trader Joe’s for this endeavor.  I could have juiced my own oranges instead, but I thought the more subtle flavor of the pineapple juice would appeal to me more.  It’s a great all-purpose Chinese-inspired sauce.  Besides the meatballs, I found myself using it to season some quick vegetable soups.

The tsukune was good too.  Her cooking times were spot on, and my end result looked a lot like the photo.  (Although, no one will know it.  I forgot to take a photo of it before all the meatballs were gone.)  My only criticism, and it’s more personal taste, is that it was a little too salty for me.  That’s an easy fix.  I’ll use less next time.  It such an easy recipe that I can’t imagine *not* making them again.

The next recipe I made was inspired my defrosting my freezer.  I had some old cashew nuts stored there, and I wanted the container gone.  So, I got to making cashew cheese sauce.  I’ve made cashew cheese sauce before, but the NNP version was a bit different.  After soaking the nuts, you cook some onions, add garlic, tomato paste, and turmeric.  I don’t think I’ve done that with previous cheese replacements.  Then, you blend everything with nutritional yeast, hot water, oil, and a bit of lemon juice.  I was a little skeptical of the turmeric.  Even though it was a small amount, I didn’t think I was going to like it in this recipe.  (I think turmeric is overused in many modern recipes.)  But it was nicely balanced by the other ingredients, and I wasn’t put off by it in the final results.  My sauce didn’t look as nice as the photo but that’s my fault.  I forgot about the oil when I originally tried to blend it, and it was desperately needed.  I did my best to dump it back into my blender and smooth it out.  Mine also looks a bit browner because I was short on cashews and added skin-on almonds to help make up for it.  

Is it cheesy?  Well… no.  But it hits the spot.  And, it is definitely good eats.  I found myself trying to slather it on food every chance I got.

The last recipe I made (at least for now) was the old-school tacos.  It’s pretty straight-forward.  Cook some diced onion, add ground meat (I used ground turkey), add garlic, chili powder, cumin, oregano, cayenne pepper, and salt.  Then add some tomato salsa and finish cooking.  It’s nothing glamorous but it’s a good staple recipe.  I might try to alter the spices a little next time for personal preference.  I also ate this with the cashew cheese, which is a recommended optional topping.

With a score of 4 out of 4, I recommend this book.  Seriously though, I didn’t have any doubts.  There are few food blogs that still seem to strive for quality and consistency.  (So many blogs out there feel like they’re cannibalizing each other, or suffocating themselves with ads to make money.) And the book is just fun with lots of photos done in a comic book layout to match the comic book versions of the Tam-Fong family. In terms of content and ease of use, I think this book appeals to a wide variety of home cooks. The book is out now, and I hope you pick up a copy. Cheers!

Disclaimer – I kindly received a copy of this book from Andrews McMeel Publishing for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own.  

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The Diabetic Goodie Coobook, a review

I love desserts.  However, it may not always seem like it.  At work, I’ve been known to turn down free donuts and free cake (in a pre-pandemic world, at any rate).  It’s just that so many commercial desserts are too sweet for me!  Meanwhile, there’s my brother who is not a huge dessert person, but gains five pounds and is suddenly pre-diabetic.  When I bake sweets for myself, I almost always reduce the sugar by at least 25% (often times, I’ll go extreme and reduce by half) but sometimes texture is affected.  I’m not an advanced enough baker to know when that’s going to happen, or how to fix it.

It’s why I’ve been pouring through “The Diabetic Goodie Cookbook” by Kathy Kochan recently, and practically bookmarking every recipe.  It’s a dessert cookbook where the sugar amounts are lower, doesn’t rely on fake sweeteners like Splenda, and incorporates some whole grain into the recipes.  There’s a good variety of things to make, as the book is divided into:

  • Cookies and bars
  • Cakes
  • Cheesecakes
  • Coffee cake and scones
  • Fruit desserts
  • Muffins
  • Pies, tarts, and cobblers
  • Puddings
  • Quick breads

Some examples of what you’ll find here are:

  • Fruit nut cookies
  • Easy apple bars
  • Simple banana nut bars
  • Chocolate jam thumb prints
  • Raspberry angel food cake
  • Orange zucchini cake
  • Chocolate cloud cake
  • Berry coffee cake
  • Strawberry scones
  • Peach Melba Parfait

Quick breads are admittedly my favorite thing to bake so, first up!  Quick bran bread.  The ingredients are fairly straightforward: walnuts (optional), milk, wheat bran, molasses, all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, a small amount of sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, egg, and oil.  The only “trick” to this recipe is letting the bran soften a bit in the liquids before putting everything together.  It’s a good snacking bread, and also good to serve with something more savory than sweet.  I will offer this piece of advice – put the finished product in the fridge or freezer if you can’t finish it in a couple of days or it will start to mold.  I’m sad to report that I know this from experience.

The second recipe I decided to make was the whole wheat raisin bread.  I originally planned to give this to my grandmother who likes raisins in her baked goods.  This is another recipe that isn’t too lengthy: nuts, whole wheat pastry flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, raisins, buttermilk, egg, honey, and oil.  I should have been suspicious of this recipe.  I didn’t pay enough attention when I was mixing it, but as soon as I poured the batter into my loaf pan, there was an issue. I heard a small thud.  All of the raisins immediately sank to the bottom.  The batter wasn’t thick enough to hold them up.  This recipe is 2 cups of flour to 1 ¾ cups buttermilk.  All of the other quick bread recipes in this book are either 2 cups flour to ¾ cup liquid, or 3 cups flour to 1 cup liquid.  Other things?  This recipe is the only one, as far as I can tell, that asks for whole wheat pastry flour.  In general, the book utilizes a half all-purpose, half whole wheat blend.  And finally, this recipe asks for a 8”x5” loaf pan.  Loaf pans (in the US anyway) are either 9”x5” or 8.5”x4.5”.  These are signs that something is going on.

In my moment of panic, I dumped the batter back in the mixing bowl, estimated 1 cup of flour (I was making such a mess at this point), mixed it in, and hoped for the best.  I was close.  I got something that looked like quick bread, but the raisins still sank.  I’m determined to make this again with what I think the ingredient amounts should be.  In the end, it tasted good, if not a bit plain (there’s no vanilla or ground spices), so I don’t think all hope is lost.

Since I hate recipes that fail, I went ahead and baked a third recipe.  I chose something from the “cookies and bars” section, something that I had all the ingredients for, and… unintentionally made a third quick bread.  I made the gingerbread bars which is a bit of a misnomer as it’s just gingerbread cut into squares.  The ingredient list here is: all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, ground ginger, ground cinnamon, baking soda, salt, ground cloves, egg, molasses, brown sugar, buttermilk, and oil.  This baked up perfectly.  It’s a fairly soft and fluffy gingerbread whereas I originally imagined that it’d be more dense.  The only change that I might make in the future is to amp up the spices.  It’s a good gingerbread, but I think it could be a bit bolder. (Personal taste. Nothing wrong with the recipe.)

If you’re looking for timeless baking recipes that aren’t cloying or just trying to feel a little less guilty about indulging, I highly recommend this book.  If you’re diabetic or pre-diabetic, every recipe comes with calorie count, macro nutrient information, and food exchange information. 

It looks like this book was originally published in 1996.  The author has since passed away.  Sugar substitutes have continued to evolve since then.  If you are looking to swap out the granulated sugar in this book, I personally recommend using allulose.  My experiments with it have all been excellent.  Unfortunately, I don’t have recommendations if you also want to try to swap out the liquid sweeteners used (honey, fruit juice) since they are contributing both moisture and flavor.

Just don’t bake the whole wheat raisin bread yet.  Give me a month or two to update it.  Will it take me that long to figure it out?  No.  But I have two loaves of quick breads that I now need to finish off before I bake anything more. 🙂

Disclaimer – I received a review copy of this book from The Experiment for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own.

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52 Shabbats, a cookbook review

Shabbat.  The Jewish day of rest.  A Friday evening tradition.  Although I’m not Jewish, I went to a predominantly Jewish college.  You couldn’t ignore Shabbat.  Even for those students who were not Jewish, seeing others rush to services marked the start of the weekend. 

52 Shabbats: Friday Night Dinners Inspired by a Global Jewish Kitchen, by Faith Kramer, is a collection of recipes to mix and match, and to inspire the Friday evening meal.  The recipes are not inspired by a particular place but by all the places, not a particular time in history but by modern flavors.  Each of the season chapters opens with a list of special holidays and their meaning.  Dispersed throughout the book, there are short essays about the Jewish diaspora.  Recipes come with background information and/or helpful hints.  Each of the entrée recipes comes with a menu suggestion for appetizers, side dishes, and dessert for those planning a full dinner menu.

Chapter breakdown:

  • FALL

The recipes that I see myself cooking:

  • Pickle brined chicken, two ways
  • Stuffed cabbage meatloaf
  • Oregano roast chicken with leek and mint fritters
  • Pulled turkey with pomegranate molasses
  • Za’atar roast turkey
  • Skillet paella with chicken and sausage
  • Grilled rib eye steaks with preserved lemon and green onion sauce
  • Tahini mashed potatoes
  • Flourless chocolate berry cake
  • Mango and cardamom mini cheesecakes
  • Twice baked lemon cookies
  • Raisin and almond twirls
  • Friday night challah

I wanted to cook something that didn’t require me to buy too many ingredients, but something that felt both new and timeless.  I eventually settled on the Shawarma Roast Chicken (I might have had roast chicken on the brain because I watched Buzzfeed’s Worth It episode on whole chicken the day before).  There’s a spice rub made of garlic, cumin, salt, cayenne pepper, sumac, paprika, cardamom, turmeric, black pepper, allspice, oregano, cinnamon, olive oil, and lemon juice.  The rub sits on the chicken for at least an hour before cooking but can be done the day before.  I almost forgot that I was making a rub, and only seasoned it an hour ahead.  (Try not to forget!  Don’t be like me.)  The chicken then cooks in the oven at 350F until done.  The ingredients list says 4 to 6 pound chicken, and the instructions indicate that it’ll probably take 80 minutes to 2 hours total to cook.  When I was originally planning this, I figured that my 4 pound bird would take closer to 80 minutes than the 2 hours, but I was wrong.  I don’t know my exact total cook time because I kept adding time, but I was closer to the full 2 hours.  Your experience may vary based on chicken size and how accurate your oven is, but plan for 2 hours total even if your bird is on the smaller side. I’ve learned my lesson.

Regardless of my mistakes, it was very easy to put together. Most of the time spent on this recipe was passive.  Even with just a 1 hour marinating/dry-brining time, it was still an excellent roast.   I served it with just some sweet potato mash, but I was not disappointed.  It wasn’t dry. Maybe not quite as juicy as a rotisserie chicken, but with bolder flavors than what you can get from the market. (Bolder but still fairly versatile! I think this chicken recipe would go well with lots of different side dishes.)

I think this book is appropriate for many home cooks, regardless of background.  Nothing comes across as difficult or intimidating.  Perhaps if you’re a beginner cook, this book isn’t for you since there aren’t many accompanying photos.  I also recognize that if you’re on a tight budget, this might not be the book for you.  It relies a lot on a stocked spice pantry, or calls for a specialty item like pomegranate molasses.  These recipes are more celebration recipes, not weeknight recipes, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t use some of them as make ahead meals (like roast chicken!).  But it probably means a bit of pre-planning (except maybe for the make ahead meatballs – there’s nothing too daring there).  The book is available for sale on December 14th.  If you pick up a copy, let me know what you think.  Better yet, help me decide on what to make next.

Disclaimer – I received a digital copy of this book from The Collective Book Studio for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own.

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Burgoo, Barbecue, and Bourbon (cookbook review)

The first time I ever heard the word “burgoo” was during the 2019 soup swap.  I don’t remember the story that was told during the “telling of the soup” (the marketing portion of the evening where you try to convince other swap members how tasty and delightful your soup contribution is).  I only remember thinking that the meat based stew sounded pretty good.

According to Albert W.A. Schmid, the author/recipe curator of “Burgoo, Barbeque, and Bourbon,” burgoo is a regional word for a soup/stew used in Kentucky and Illinois.  It “originated as a wild game dish or a hunter’s stew” and includes vegetables but never sweet vegetables.  I also learned in the same book that barbecue doesn’t always mean meat cooked with wood.  “In the Midwest, BBQ means a pork roast smothered in sauce cooked a crockpot.”  It seems any meat cooked low and slow could be considered barbeque.  “In Kentucky, a large batch of burgoo serves many people and is followed by… barbeque that will serve as many people.”

I refer to Schmid as a recipe curator because “Burgoo, Barbeque, and Bourbon” is a collection of recipes from local and regional cookbooks that live in the Western Kentucky University’s special collections library.  As much as I wanted to make a burgoo recipe or a barbeque recipe from the book, I could not due to practicality.  The burgoo recipes and the barbeque recipes were written by a community FOR a community.  The first recipe in this book serves 12-15 people.  The second recipe makes 50 gallons of soup and requires “40 pounds of beef, 25-30 pounds of deer meat, 5 wild rabbits, 6-8 chickens,” etc.  My small kitchen with no counter space is not meant for cooking for such a large group of people.  The smallest recipes that claim to be 4 servings are really more like 6 servings when you look at the amount of ingredients.  I rarely cook for one or two other people.

The other sections of this book are: Sides, Bread, Bourbon, and Desserts.  

The first recipe I decided to make was “sourdough bread” by Bobbie Smith Bryant.  I have a favorite sourdough recipe already, but I was drawn to this particular recipe because it reminded me a lot of Andrew Janjigian’s Sourdough Discard English Muffin Bread.  Both recipes use an extremely high amount of sourdough starter.  Janjigian specifically says to use discard.  The Bryant version doesn’t specify.  Instructions for making sourdough starter are included, but it doesn’t say anything about feeding before use.  It simply says “as starter is withdrawn from the container, replace it with equal amounts of water and flour” which makes it sound like it’s also a discard recipe.  Unlike Janjigian’s recipe which includes additional yeast, you are solely dependent on the power of natural yeast which means you could be waiting a long time for this to rise.  Thankfully, I was mindful of this.  It took me about 7 hours for my loaf to look double in size using 500 grams of discard and a little less than 170 grams of added bread flour.  (The recipe also has butter, salt, sugar, and a tiny amount of baking soda probably to offset the acidity of discard.)  But it works!  And it’s still satisfying!  For the home baker who wants to make sourdough bread but doesn’t want to be too fiddly with it, this is a good option.  Yes, it took time, but it’d probably go faster with a fed starter.  The recipe itself is easy.  You mix everything in one bowl, knead until smooth, put it in the loaf pan, and wait for it to rise.  (Meanwhile, my regular sourdough recipe has me doing 4 rounds of stretch and folds with 30 minute rests, then a bulk fermentation, followed by a pre-shape, quick rest, and final shape.  Even then it hangs out in a banneton overnight before I bake.)

The second recipe I made was for “macaroni salad” by Eddie and Carolyn O’Daniel because I was curious about the inclusion of sweetened condensed milk.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen it as a dressing ingredient before.  Overall, it’s straightforward: cooked macaroni, diced green bell pepper, diced red onion, shredded carrots, black pepper, sweetened condensed milk, vinegar, mayo, and sugar.  This recipe was easy enough to make a half batch.  My only issue is that this recipe doesn’t specify the size of the sweetened condensed milk can.  I used a 14oz can since that’s the predominant can size but I wonder if the original recipe used a 7oz can.  I didn’t use half the 14oz can as I had intended.  I know Southerners are accused of having a sweet tooth, but had I added anymore, it would have turned out disgustingly sweet.  And I think the dressing texture would have been off.  I stopped where I simply thought it tasted good.

So, did it taste good?  Yes.  It’s not life changing but it’s a solid recipe as long as you taste along the way and trust your instincts.

And that’s the way of a lot of local recipes, isn’t it?  I don’t think anyone would submit a bad recipe to represent their community so all of these recipes should turn out good results.  But the recipe writer probably doesn’t develop recipes for a living, so some instructions might not be as helpful as you want them to be.  

Some other recipes you’ll find in this book are: Bourbon bread, BardstownTalbott Eggnog, Kentucky Fog, Biscuit Pudding with Bourbon Sauce, Half Moon Fried Pies, Transparent Pie, Original Kentucky Whiskey Cake, Shaker Lemon Pie

If you want to learn about Kentucky culinary traditions, this is a great place to start.  It’s also helpful if you’re cooking for a crowd.  But if you’re not a confident cook or if you’re primarily cooking for yourself, this book probably isn’t the right fit.  Your mileage may vary.  It’s an interesting read in any case.

Disclaimer – I received this book from University Press of Kentucky for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own.

Reference Links:

Cannelle et Vanille Bakes Simple, cookbook review

The first time I heard of Aran Goyoaga was not through her original blog, but from her first cookbook “Small Plates, Sweet Treats.”  I remember putting it on a wishlist with the intention of taking it out of the library but I never got around to it.  Even when she released her second book, “Cannelle et Vanille”, I meant to check it out but still never got around to it.  I don’t know why.  I’ve seen a few of her recipes online, and they sound really good.  Case in point, Cherry Bombe printed her  Spiced Chocolate-Cranberry Yeast Bread recipe, and it sounded so good that I sent the link to my gluten-free co-worker.  Did I ever get around to baking it myself?  No.

Well! There’s no time like the present!  Goyoaga’s newest book, “Cannelle et Vanille Bakes Simple,” is out this week, and I decided it was time to get off my duff and check it out.

The book is divided into:

  • Staples
  • The smell of baking bread
  • For the love of cake
  • The flakiest tarts, pies, and biscuits
  • Crispy, chewy, and crunchy: The cookies
  • Holiday baking

Some of the recipes that immediately caught my attention are:

  • Quick crusty boule (Gruyere-thyme variation)
  • Oat milk and honey bread
  • Olive oil brioche
  • One-bowl apple, yogurt, maple cake
  • Orange-flower water and saffron cake
  • Chocolate-buckwheat pastry dough
  • Chocolate-cashew mousse tart
  • Jam-filled scones
  • Pumpkin and pine nut tart

I’m currently in a cookie mood, so first up?  Orange flower water and almond crinkles, aka macarrones de azahar y almendra.  This might be the easiest looking recipe in the book, but don’t quote me on that.  It was very quick to put together, but my personal challenge was handling the dough after it was mixed.  It’s an extremely sticky dough!  I tried an assembly line approach – roll a ball, drop it into the sugar, roll another ball, drop it into the sugar, and keep on repeating until I had several on the plate to roll in sugar. Unfortunately, the moisture of the dough seemed to seep through the sugar which let the dough stick to the plate. 

Then I tried working on one ball at a time, start to finish. I rolled a ball of dough, then rolled it immediately in sugar, and dropped it on the cookie sheet before moving onto the next ball. The downside to this method was everything seemed to stick to me as the sugar quickly built up on my fingers. 

The other thing about this recipe that didn’t quite work for me is that you preheat your oven on the broiler setting, and shut it off when the cookies go in.  I should have followed my instincts and preheated my oven to something like 450F instead of using the broiler.  I think because my stove is electric, the coils of my broiler stayed a little too hot for a little too long.  Bits of my cookies got more color than I intended.  Thankfully they didn’t burn, but they are not esthetically pleasing.  Despite all that, I really liked these cookies.  They are basically a less fussy version of the French macaron, dry on the outside but delightfully chewy on the inside.

The second cookie I tried was the pistachio and rose water sandies.  This recipe is a bit more involved as you have to process your own pistachio meal.  I also had to process my own oat flour (because I’d rather not waste space by buying oats and oat flour when I can make the oat flour myself).  Goyoaga mentions that you can use hazelnuts or almonds instead of pistachios, but I wanted to try the recipe as intended first.  The only real issue I had this this recipe was that my cookies flattened out a lot.  In the cookbook photo, they are a nice dome shape.  I’m not sure what I did wrong.  Overall, pretty good but I think for my personal preference I’ll reduce the amount of rose water a little.  The rose water wasn’t so strong that I was put off by it, but it was strong enough that I didn’t get enough pistachio flavor.  But I want to remake and see if I can get a prettier looking cookie (I did not think I was this bad at shaping cookies until now.  lol!).

And for a bonus recipe that is not a cookie, I impulsively made the glazed lemon yogurt and olive oil pound cake with a minor change.  While I like lemon, it’s not my favorite flavor.  I took some inspiration from the earlier crinkles, using orange zest in the batter and some orange blossom water in the glaze.  This recipe was, for me, the easiest to execute.  Though it had more ingredients than the crinkles, you put everything into one bowl, mix, pour into the pan, and bake.  Once it’s cooled, make the glaze and apply it.  In general, I love olive oil cakes*, and this is a great gluten free version.   I fed this to a couple of my siblings and they enjoyed it.

So, how does this book compare to the gluten-free baking book I previously reviewed?  They feel pretty different.  Goyoaga doesn’t use xantham gum much except for laminated recipes and some of the more decadent recipes.  It’s in her pie crust, the jam scones (but not the biscuits), and more frequent in the Holiday baking chapter.  Generally, her recipes use psyllium husk and flaxseed meal.  There is none of the technical and science explanations of the previous book I’ve reviewed, which maybe you prefer or maybe you do not.  (By the way, I’m looking at both books now so that I can compare, and I wonder if I worked the pistachio rose water cookie dough too much.  Katarina Cermelj makes a note that too much aeration can cause cookies to spread.  So, I’ll have to try it again and see if that was my original mistake.)  In terms of the variety of recipes and baked goods, both books are great and you can’t go wrong.  Here in “Bakes Simple”, recipes are inspired by Goyoaga’s Basque Country roots or by other global influences, so if a flavor adventure is more meaningful to you, this is the book should appeal.  In terms of “ease”, Goyoaga’s book gives specific flour blends for every recipe (brown rice flour, tapioca starch, sorghum flour, potato starch, buckwheat, oat flour, and/or almond flour) but she also gives a recipe at the start of the Staples chapter for an all-purpose gluten free flour mix.  As she explains, her “preference is to consider the texture and flavor profile of an individual recipe” but she understands “the popularity of ready mixes.”  If you’re a stickler for details, expect to invest a little toward your pantry inventory.

Overall, I am happy to recommend Cannelle et Vanille Bakes Simple to any home baker who wants to do more gluten-free baking.

*My favorite olive oil cake recipe comes from Lior Lev Sercarz… which is not gluten free.

Disclaimer – I received this book from Sasquatch Books for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own.

Reference Links:

The Best of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, cookbook review

I know that I’ve been making a lot of sourdough bread these days.  Like this one:

But that doesn’t mean that I’ve renounced yeasted breads.  I just didn’t feel inspired until I got to preview a copy of “The Best of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day”, the latest in the series by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François.  The content itself is not technically new.  Instead, inspired by all the baking that happened in the early days of covid-19 pandemic lockdown, this book is more of a “greatest hits” from their previous publications.  This is not a bad thing!  As someone who appreciates their work but isn’t looking to add all of the previous books on her already overflowing bookshelf, “The Best of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day” hits all the right notes for me.

The recipes are broken down by:

  • The master recipe
  • More basic breads
  • Classic shapes with master and basic doughs
  • Loaves from around the world
  • Pizza and flatbreads
  • Gluten-free breads
  • Enriched breads and pastries
  • Natural sourdough starter (levain)

The master recipe is based on all purpose flour, but there are tips on using bread flour as well as a strong white dough recipe which uses bread flour.  Examples of other recipes you’ll find are:

  • 100% whole wheat dough
  • Deli-style rye bread
  • Vermont cheddar bread
  • Bagels
  • Pizza margherita
  • Focaccia with onion and rosemary
  • Gluten-free crusty boule
  • Gluten-free brioche
  • Challah
  • Cinnamon rolls
  • Honey-glazed doughnuts

The recipe I couldn’t resist: Buttermilk cinnamon-raisin bread.  Cinnamon-raisin bread was a favorite of my mother when I was growing up, and therefore my childhood favorite.  It’s not that I’ve never made it, but strangely enough, I think I’ve only made it a couple of times.  The Bread in 5 version is made from water, buttermilk, yeast, salt, sugar, raisins, and all purpose flour.  The overall concept of the Bread in 5 recipes is that you’re mixing a high hydration dough (meaning you’re making a sticky dough with a lot of water), and letting time take the place of kneading.  The authors say that the high hydration means you can’t overproof the dough, which lets you keep the dough in the fridge, waiting to be used, longer than traditional recipes.  They recommend putting the dough in the fridge for at least a day, for better flavor, but say that the dough can be used after the initial 2 hour rest period.

Afterward, you shape your dough and bake.  I just made simple loaves.  I’m not very good at shaping bread (even after all this time), and I’m even worse at it with such a sticky dough.  I did try, but ended up just dumping it into a lined loaf pan.  It still looked good when all was said and done.  More importantly, how did it taste?  Very good!  The only thing I was surprised by was that my crust was on the chewier side of things.  I wasn’t baking with steam, so I wasn’t expecting a crust like when I make sourdough.  But I thought I’d end up with a crust that was softer than what I got.  I’m not sure what contributed to the crust texture.  I’ll have to try one of the other loaf bread recipes in the book to see if it happens again or not.  It might be because this recipe didn’t have any oil, but it might not be.  (I may try the yeasted Thanksgiving cornbread with cranberries next – although it’s a mixture of cornmeal and all purpose flour, it is also without added oil.)

Overall, I love the range of recipes here.  I also love that all recipes are given in volume and weighted measurements (both US and metric).  The recipes are generally easy to scale up/scale down as your household requires. Personally, when I bake bread, I always weigh the main ingredients where I can (especially since I’m often halving a recipe) but I know that isn’t everyone’s process. Better yet, this means that the book will appeal to anyone looking to make bread in their own kitchens since it covers the most popular types of bread, and is easy to follow along without requiring any special equipment.

Speaking for myself, I’m still working from home. My office building continues to be closed due to Covid-19. These recipes are really easy to put together before my work day starts, or during my lunch break. And then I can bake whenever it’s convenient. There’s no real reason for me to buy a loaf of bread, when I can make it myself. (Also, for the most part, I don’t like store bough bread anymore except for certain things like burger buns.)

The book releases next week (Oct 12th)! I recommend grabbing a copy. I hope others can find comfort in homemade bread like I do.

Disclaimer – I received this book from St. Martin’s Press for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own.

Reference Links:

Baked to Perfection, cookbook review

It’s weird to think but nonetheless true… I know more people who are gluten intolerant than I know people who are lactose intolerant. I have two friends who most likely have Celiac disease, and know two other people who seem to have developed digestion issues with gluten over time.

My brother in law was the first person I knew who went gluten free back before it was a trend. I remember how limited his choices were for bread, and pasta was pretty much a no-go. Rice noodles were sometimes a passible option. I remember experimenting with mochi cakes back then, but it was generally easier to pick recipes that had a low flour content and just convert. For example, these days, I’ll often bake a burnt Basque cheesecake as a gluten free dessert. There usually a couple of tablespoons of flour in the recipe but I’ll replace it with cornstarch. No harm done.

But when that fourth person in my circle went gluten-free, I thought that maybe it was time to go back to exploring gluten-free baking. That is where “Baked To Perfection, Delicious Gluten-Free Recipes With a Pinch of Science” by Katarina Cermelj comes in. The cookbook covers all general items that you’re likely to bake at home.

(Whoops! My thumb is in the way!)

The chapters are:

  • Gluten-free Baking Basics
  • Cakes
  • Cupcakes and Muffins
  • Brownies
  • Cookies and Bars
  • Pies, Tarts, and Pastries
  • Bread; Breakfast and Teatime Treats
  • Around the World

Some things that I really appreciate about this book? There’s a handy chart of gluten-free flours, their protein content, water absorption capacity, and whether it’s considered a starch or a protein flour.  (Successful GF bakes depends on a good balance of starchy and protein heavy flours.) Two DIY blends are offered, but Cermelj writes that she tested a variety of (UK) grocery store blends.  There’s also a table of percentages of flour in typical bakes, like brownies are about 9% and shortcut pastry is 54%. If you’re unsure about GF baking, you’re more likely to find satisfaction in your results from a recipe that is not heavily dependent on flour.

I also appreciate that Cermelj only uses two binders, xanthan gum and psyllium husk.  Their basic function is for elasticity and for flexibility.  Xanthan gum is in most of the recipes while psyllium husk is for bread. If bread isn’t your thing, then xanthan gum is the only binder you need to stock in your pantry.

Some recipes that I really want to try are:

  • Raspberry traybake
  • Peanut butter-stuffed chocolate chunk skillet cookie
  • All butter crust
  • Plain sweet shortcrust pastry
  • Roasted butternut squash and cheddar flaky pastries
  • Strawberries lemonade tartlets
  • Artisan dark crusty loaf
  • Proper boiled and baked bagels
  • Quick and easy flat breads
  • Vanilla French crepes
  • Extra flaky scones
  • Victoria sponge cake
  • Lamingtons

I didn’t want to buy a ton of ingredients for this review, but I’m also weird enough to have tapioca startch, millet flour, psyllium husk, and xanthan gum on hand. I ended up making the Shiny Top Brownies recipe, and the Seeded Buns recipe.

For the brownies, I only had to purchase a GF blend. I didn’t go with either of the DIY blends as technically I did not have the ingredients on hand for them. Since I’m in the US, I didn’t have access to to the store brands that Cermelj has used. I decided to go with Trader Joe’s Gluten-Free All-Purpose flour. (I did not use Trader Joe’s Cassava Cauliflower Blend Baking Mix as that had baking powder and salt mixed in.) The other ingredients for this recipe are dark chocolate, unsalted butter, eggs, light brown sugar, Dutch processed cocoa powder, xanthan gum, and salt. For the chocolate and cocoa, I used Guittard and Drost brands, respectively. Conversions can be a funny thing, but I baked this in my 8×8 glass dish, at 320F, for 28 minutes, aiming for a fudgy texture. In hindsight, I should have baked a few minutes longer because I was baking in a glass dish. The resulting texture was more gooey than fudgy. Did I get a shiny top? Yes!

Cermelj explains that the sugar must dissolve in the eggs as much as possible. She says that if you add water, you can say goodbye to the shiny top. And she is mostly correct. What she fails to mention (or maybe didn’t even realize), the shiny top hinges on the sucrose structure in sugar according to the at-home experiments done by Adam Ragusea. All of Cermelj’s brownie recipes use sugar as the only sweetener so she might not have considered sugar alternatives. Other than that, it’s a good brownie recipe. Nothing about it, texture or flavor, gives away its gluten-free status.

But again, due to it’s low flour content, brownies are easier to make gluten-free. Gluten-free bread, on the other hand, is notorious for being crumbly, dry, unpleasant tasting, or all of the above. The seeded buns appealed to me because of the simplicity of ingredients: yeast, sugar, water, psyllium husk, tapioca starch, millet flour, brown rice flour, salt, and seeds. Brown rice flour was the only item I was missing, and I didn’t mind buying it because I was running out of white rice flour anyway (I use rice flour on my banneton when making sourdough bread). Even though I’ve worked with psyllium husk before, it was such a long time ago that I forgot how much of a gelling agent it was.

The biggest hiccup I had was that the color of my final product did not look like the book photos. I’ve re-read the recipe a couple of times, and I can only assume that it was the oven temperature that might have been the culprit. The book gives 230 C, but I have to work in Fahrenheit. I chose 450 F, but perhaps 445 F or even 440 F would have been better. The buns, while fully cooked, were pale on the exterior. But at the end of the day, it’s texture and flavor that matters. The buns did not disappoint in those regards! The bun flavor is equivalent to a white bread, and great for general purpose. Texture came pretty close to regular bread. It didn’t fall apart after baking, and it chews like bread. It’s not identical to regular bread, but it’s darn pretty close.

Overall, I’m happy with this cookbook! Is it the only gluten-free baking book I need? Very, very possible. Since I still have the Trader Joe’s flour around, I think the next item to make is the plain sweet shortcrust pastry. Oh! Or maybe the chocolate variation. I might even bake this weekend. (I’m just not baking it in time for this review.)

If you like baking and you have gluten-free requirements either for yourself or for someone you know, I highly recommend this book. If you’re in the US, the only hiccup is that you need a kitchen scale for the recipes here. Everything is in grams, even the water measurements. Since I make a lot of bread, I bought a kitchen scale a long time ago.

Oven temperatures will have to be converted with help from an online calculator. You’ll probably have to go a smidge up or a smidge down in temperature to accommodate your oven. For example, my oven only offers temperatures in intervals of 5. 230 C calculates to about 447 F. I had to pick between 445 F and 450 F for the seeded buns.

For me, these are extremely minor issues. I think the excellent results and approachability of the recipes is what matters most. So, ten out of ten, I totally recommend!

Disclaimer – I kindly received a copy of this book from Bloomsbury Publishing for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own.  

Reference Links: (Adam Ragusea’s video about the secret to brownie skin)