Flavor Bombs by Adam Fleischman, a cookbook review

Sometimes I don’t know how to review a book.  You might be thinking “that’s stupid” or “you write reviews often, most of the time positive reviews, so just say something positive.”  There is truth to that last statement, but the reality is that I try to review books that I feel fairly certain I am going to instantly like.  

COVER_Flavor Bombs

My current conundrum is “Flavor Bombs: The Umami Ingredients That Make Taste Explode” by Adam Fleischman, with Tien Nguyen.  The premise of the book is to build up an “umami pantry” and cook delicious recipes with those ingredients. The book is broken down into these chapters:

  • The Basic Pantry
  • The Umami Pantry
  • Umami Sidekicks
  • Umami Master Recipes
  • Basics and Condiments
  • Apps and Little Meals
  • Soups and Salads
  • Mains
  • Sides
  • Drinks and Desserts

The good?  The chart with umami ingredients is useful.  I hadn’t realized that umami was broken down to glutamate, inosinate, and guanylate.  I thought it was just glutamate (hence, monosodium glutamate aka MSG).  And I like that the recipes themselves are varied.  Here are the recipes that I would love to eat:

  • Roasted fingerling potatoes stuffed with smoked trout mousse
  • Nontraditional umami-spiked chowder
  • Five minute pork-conquered salad
  • Koji-porcini resting sauce
  • Chicken confit with dirty farro
  • Puerto Rican mofongo
  • Fancy make-ahead restaurant sauce
  • Sweet and savory brisket
  • Umami’d fregola sarda
  • Matcha magic cake

The bad for me (but not necessarily for you)?  A lot of these recipe require making the master recipes ahead of time.  There are just three master recipes: umami master dust, umami master sauce, and umami ketchup.  But that does mean that I’m either doing some planning or doing a weekend project. I meal prep my meals on the weekend so I am less inclined to throw in a weekend cooking project on top of my regular meal prepping.  The other minor gripe I have is sourcing the ingredients, specifically powdered soy sauce, truffles, and truffle honey. I’d probably look for substitutions or skip altogether, which will change the flavor of the end product some.

(Oh, one last issue but this one is purely from an aesthetic standpoint.  The pages have a black background. It’s going to look grimy quickly if your hands are not dry and clean.  I’ve had this book for less than a week, and I can see fingerprints on a number of pages already. lol!)

As for recipe testing, I settled on making the midnight garlic noodles.  I felt that the recipe was a good representation of the book without feeling overwhelming.  The two items that needed prep ahead were fairly hands off: burnt miso and garlic confit. Otherwise, it was pretty easy to put together requiring noodles or pasta, shio koji (which I am weird enough to have), butter, black pepper, and Parmigiano-Reggiano if you have it (which I am weird enough to not have).

Burnt miso (on purpose)… not very photogenic

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Garlic confit in progress

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How did it taste?  It was good.

Was it good enough to make the recipe as is again?  Eh, no, not really. I think if I make it again, I’ll take the lazy way out with regular ol’ miso and roasted garlic.  Or if I insist on the burnt miso, I can pop in a garlic head in the oven at the same time to make roasted garlic without using more effort or resources.  The burnt miso smelled fantastic as it baked, so I’m not hating it. (But I do feel bad for the parts of miso that burned as it’s not useable.  It seems like such a waste.)  And garlic confit can be used for other applications, so I am not necessarily hating on it either.  But as I said earlier, I’m mostly cooking to feed myself properly. I’m generally inclined prefer recipes that taste good without too much effort.  (P.S. I also served the sauce with some rotisserie chicken and plain asparagus on another night.  I think that was more interesting than serving it on noodles/pasta.)

Noodles dressed in miso garlic sauce

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So, in the end, if you’re more of a functional cook like me, you may not want this book.  If you’re a cooking enthusiast, I can recommend this book, and I think you’ll find it to be fun and adventurous.  

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

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Breakfast with Beatrice, a cookbook review

I have delusions of grandeur when it comes to breakfast.

I want ricotta on challah toast (or fresh fig jam and mascarpone, if I’m at Henrietta’s Table in Cambridge).  I want eggs with pepperjack cheese and avocado slices. Oooh, or something I’ve been meaning to do – seared scallops with bacon, fried egg, and grilled tomatoes.  (Yes, I am influenced by Sorted Food youtube videos.)

In a similar vain, I have ambitious plans of questionable achievement when it comes to cooking/baking Nordic foods.  Either I’m subconsciously addicted to Ikea (which probably would be true if I lived closer to one) or I’ve watched too many videos featuring Magnus Nilsson and Rene Redzepi (this is definitely true).

The reality is that I meal prep my breakfasts most of the time, and I want something quick to put together.  Lately, I’ve been making the same baked oatmeal recipe for a few months now.  But that doesn’t mean that I’m not on the lookout for new ideas.  Let’s be honest – it’s only a matter of time before I hit baked oatmeal fatigue.

When I saw the cover of “Breakfast with Beatrice” by Beatrice Ojakangas, I was intrigued.  The cover has minimalist but colorful Scandinavian inspired kitchen illustrations.  The tag line under the title says “250 recipes from sweet cream waffles to Swedish farmer’s omelets.”   It sounded like it had variety.  It had the word Swedish in it.  It was 250 recipes.  What’s not to like?

#cookbook #breakfast #beatriceojakangas #food #recipe

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First impressions?  This cookbook is old school.  There are literally no photos.  It’s a straightforward recipe book.  Some recipes have a short introduction, but many don’t have any commentary.  (For the record, some of my favorite cookbooks are ones without any photos… Kathy Farrell-Kingsley’s “The Big Book of Vegetarian” comes to mind.  Substance is more important than appearance.)  

Before this book, I hadn’t heard of the author before.**  While her culinary heritage is Scandinavian, Beatrice Ojakangas is from Minnesota where she still lives.  There are many recipes that aren’t Nordic. In addition to recipes like hätäleipä, and cream cheese and salmon smørrebrød, be prepared to find recipes like Tex-Mex strata, beignets, colonial brown bread muffins, and old Virginia cheddar biscuits.  According to the book’s introduction, she “selected many of [her] favorite breakfasts for Breakfast with Beatrice.” 

(** Hilariously, I should have been familiar with the author’s name.  I own one of her other books, “The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever.”)

The book is broken down into these sections:

  • Pancakes and waffles
  • Savory breakfast and casserole dishes (smørrebrød and porridge recipes are filed here)
  • Pastries and coffee cakes
  • Breakfast breads (has both yeasted breads and quick breads)
  • Muffins, biscuits, and scones
  • Smoothies, jams, and preserves (FYI, there is just one smoothie recipe)

 

Normally, this is the part of the post where I like to list the recipes that I’m particularly interested in making.  However, I’m not going to, because I’m not sure that there’s a recipe in the book that I don’t want to make.  In general, these recipes aren’t trendy. They aren’t ingredient crazy or meant for a large weekend project.  Instead, they sound like the kind of recipes you inherit from a beloved family member or recipes you have fond memories of. 

I had trouble picking out a recipe test out… too many sounded delicious. I originally thought about making the wild rice and blueberry muffin recipe, but I didn’t have any wild rice in my pantry and was unwilling to buy some.  (Note to self, clean out your pantry so that you can do things like buy wild rice without feeling bad about it.)  I eventually settled on the yogurt nut brown bread recipe, which only has 8 ingredients: rye flour, whole wheat flour, all purpose flour, baking soda, salt, plain yogurt, light molasses, and chopped nuts.  I don’t keep whole wheat flour in my kitchen because I’m convinced that most commercially available whole wheat flour doesn’t taste very good, so I subbed with spelt flour. I also didn’t have light molasses but that was easy to substitute with a blend of regular molasses and maple syrup. Other than that, it was very easy to put together.  I didn’t need to break out a mixer for this. Using a whisk and a spatula was good enough.

Baking day! UPDATE – related blog post is up now!

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In the author’s own words, this bread is “compact, dark, grainy, and rich-tasting.”  It is definitely dense and dark, but I wouldn’t say it’s grainy even though I know that it’s made with whole grain flours.  I thought it was a bit chewy (in a good way) and moist. The molasses flavor hit my tongue first, but quickly gave way to an earthy flavor.  The more bites I took, the less I noticed the molasses. I ate half a slice with some almond butter, and enjoyed that too. I think this recipe makes for a great everyday quick bread, perfect for those times I want bread but am too impatient to work with yeast.  

Later this week, I think I’ll see how it pairs with other foods like eggs, ham, or cheese.

Overall, I’m quite delighted by my initial results.  I look forward to working more from this book.  If you’re someone who loves cooking/baking, and doesn’t need to be bedazzled by fancy pictures, I wholeheartedly recommend “Breakfast with Beatrice.”  

 

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

Reference Links:

http://beatrice-ojakangas.com/

https://www.upress.umn.edu/book-division/books/breakfast-with-beatrice

Because I wasn’t making it up, Sorted Food’s Full English Breakfast video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l1DTeah8YAs

 

Sometimes, it’s ok to call it quits

In a perfect world, I’d be experimenting with sourdough breads regularly.  I’d create boules of beauty, and share them with friends and family.

However, this isn’t a perfect world.  A handful of close friends are gluten free.  I rarely get to share the things I cook and bake because I’ve messed something up just enough that it doesn’t feel fit for sharing, or I’m just make enough food for myself for the week.  At the end of the day, I’m just feeding myself.

I do make bread on occasion.  I even had a rye sourdough starter going for over a year.  But those two statements?  Rarely done at the same time.  When I make bread, it’s usually with SAF instant.  When I was maintaining my sourdough starter, I was just finding ways to cook the discarded starter.  I was almost never making proper bread with my starter.  It even got to a point where I forgot I had a starter hanging out in my fridge.  I literally did not notice it in my fridge until about two months after its last feeding.

Even then (!!!), it took me a couple of weeks to finally toss it in the trash.  Some part of me hated feeling like I was giving up on a project.  But logically, it didn’t make sense to try again.  More so, because I have a place in a 10 minute walk away that does a wonderful sourdough.  I’ve started going there a bit more frequently because I absolutely love their sourdough pizzas, but you can pick up bread to take home.  I can spend 2-3 days making sourdough bread on my own, or I can spend $4 – $7 at my local restaurant.

Pizza at my favorite place #food #pizza

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It will do me more good than harm to recognize what I am willing and not willing to do.  If I didn’t live so close to awesome bread, I’d probably feel differently about this.  Or if I had a large family to feed, which I don’t.

But you know what they say: when one door closes, another opens.

Acid Trip with Gabriel and Michael (crosspost)

Acid Trip author Michael Harlan Turkell and La Bodega chef Gabriel Bremer recently visited Harvard SEAS for an off-season lecture.

Went to a lecture about vinegar #harvard #food #vinegar

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I was really hoping we’d get a chance to sample some Japanese sweet potato vinegar, but alas!  It was not meant to be.  The bottle meant for the public lecture broke in transit.

On the bright side, I was introduced to and got to sample Gegenbauer vinegar.  Gosh!  That was pretty good.  It’s meant to be a drinking vinegar/finishing vinegar.  I had a lot of trouble tasting the apple cider vinegar sample.  The agrodolce vinegar sample (I forget the brand) fell somewhere in between in terms of flavor and sharpness.

But we did get a couple of Gabriel’s recipes and a cooking demo.

The suggestions given for experimenting with vinegars was to 1) reduce the amount of salt and add vinegar, and 2) experiment with a favorite recipe and see what happens when you add vinegar.

No lie, I’m a little inspired to try cooking beef tongue.

 

Pantry friendly pasta sauce, version 1.0

I wanted to make a pasta sauce that wasn’t a traditional pasta sauce.  Partly because I like being difficult, and partly because my right thumb has been swollen all day for reasons unknown.  So I was not inclined to do a lot of cutting or anything remotely similar.

So I came up with the recipe below.  I may fuss with it in the near future, but I was happy with it today.  It also happens to be vegan and nut free.

Pantry friendly pasta sauce, version 1.0

  • 3/4 cup sunflower seeds, roasted and unsalted
  • 1 garlic clove (I cheated and used 1/4 tsp Penzey’s minced garlic)
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice (Honestly, I used 1/2 of a lemon but that was too lemony)
  • 1/4 tsp table salt
  • 1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano

 

Blitz everything in a high powered blender.  If you don’t have one, you could probably let everything soak for an hour in a standard blender before turning it on.

Makes about 2 cups.

Why must some relationships end?

I discovered Blogging for Books toward the end of 2014.  For those who don’t know what it is, Blogging for Books is a website created 10 years ago to help bloggers connect with publishers to get access to books for review purposes.  For someone with such a small blog like my own, it was a boon.  Unless you have a minimum of 5,000 followers, most publishers don’t want to work with you.  Trust me, I’ve tried.  Back in 2014, I wished that I had found the website sooner.

As of this week, the closure of Blogging for Books was announced.  Saying that I was sad when I heard the news is an understatement.  I’m now back to floundering as a small time blogger.  And I am always going to be a small time blogger.  I did a weekend workshop once with people who all wanted to be food journalists (not necessarily food bloggers, so I was a bit out of place), and several people were amazed that I had absolutely no ads on my site.  Unlike my classmates, I was the only person who blogged purely for fun.  I don’t want to turn my hobby into a job.  I don’t want to churn out content everyday or every other day.  Food blogging has always been an outlet for me.  It’s a place where I can funnel my experiences and thoughts on this one subject that is important to me.

So here’s my good-bye to Blogging for Books.  Its value as a resource to me can’t be quantified easily.  I can only hope that I can find a replacement, or that publishers will one day take this little blog of mine more seriously.

Edible insects (crosspost)

I can now say that I’ve eaten a freeze dried insect, thanks to the Nordic Food Lab.

I'm a nerd. #nordicfoodlab #harvard

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These are not corn puffs…