Epic Vegan Quick and Easy, cookbook review

I think there are some vegan cookbooks that are easy to recognize.  Maybe it’s the author (like Isa Chandra Moskowitz) or their schtick (like Bad Manners and their prolific use of swears).  And sometimes, it’s just their logo.  Dustin Harder’s previous cookbook, Epic Vegan, was definitely the latter for me.  I could never remember his name or his website, but I recognized the cover time and time again.  Amusingly, I never got around to checking it out.  However, Fair Winds Press/Quarto Publishing was kind enough to send me a copy of Harder’s newest book, Epic Vegan Quick and Easy.

The book is divided into:

  • Back to basics: staples to make the dull delicious
  • Brekky bites: putting the fast in breakfast
  • Snacks and apps: movie night bites
  • Soups ‘n such: give them something to stew about
  • It’s a handful: sandwiches, tacos, and burritos that pack a punch
  • Lunch break: meals on the go for the office, break room, or home
  • The main event: fast and flavorful dinnertime entrees
  • Sweet treats: sweet dreams are made of these

Some of the recipes that have immediately caught my attention:

  • All in one breakfast sheet-pan bowls
  • Matcha blueberry granola
  • Smoky tempeh peanut satay
  • Miso garlic cheese bread
  • Mindful mushroom and corn chowder
  • Hawaiian tofu and pineapple sando
  • Garlicky nooch broccoli and potatoes
  • Fiesta quinoa with sweet lime vinaigrette
  • No-churn pineapple basil sorbet

I made the creamy chickpea pot pie, partly because it sounded delicious, and partly because Boston weather had changed from a series of hot and humid days to a series of cooler, rainy days.  It was a straightforward recipe where you heat olive oil, onion, carrots, celery, and garlic first.  Then you add diced potatoes and liquid.  When the potatoes are just cooked through, add some DIY cashew cream and seasoning.  Towards the end of cooking, you add frozen peas, frozen corn, and drained chickpeas.  

While I carefully diced my potatoes with a knife, I decided to speed up the overall process a bit by using my food processor to chop the aromatics.  I have no regrets.  If by chance, someone is reading this and has De Quervain’s tenosynovitis in their dominant hand, a food processor is a great way to chop things that don’t have to look pretty.  My soup had a lot of orange speckle from the carrots, but that doesn’t mean that it looked bad or tasted bad.

This recipe has a minor misprint on it.  It says “yield 24 pieces.”  Based on the liquid amount, I knew I was going to end up somewhere with 4-6 servings.  For me, it was six 1.5 cup servings.  I gave a portion to my dad, who surprised me by calling to say he liked it.  My dad is a tough critic because he’s a picky eater.  So it’s safe to say that I think this soup recipe is going into rotation when the weather turns cool again.  

I like the variety this book offers.  I’m not sure I necessarily agree that all the recipes are quick though.  They’re quick once you have your mise en place.  I, for one, am someone who rarely preps mise en place.  I have such a badly laid out kitchen that I’m more “prep what you can” and then “prep while you cook.”  There have been occasions when I was prepping so slowly while I was cooking that I had to take a pan off the heat.  Your mileage may vary.

The only critique I have is that a lot of the recipes either make 6 servings or 2 servings.  There are some 4 serving recipes, but there are also a handful of 8 serving recipes.  I wanted to review a second recipe but I couldn’t justify making another large recipe when I’m not feeding a family.  While I could have opted for some of the 2 serving recipes, all of them would have required me to go back out to the market.  (Although, I’m now noticing the mushroom carnitas and brussels burrito with sweet red onion.  Except for tortillas, I have everything else.  Perhaps an addendum to this review is in order.)

In the introduction, Harder writes, “This book is not just for vegans.  It was written for anyone who likes easy and delicious food.”  I completely agree.  None of the recipes are difficult.  While the ingredient lists might be a touch longer than how I normally cook, I couldn’t find a recipe that seemed intimidating, boring, or ridiculous.  None of the recipes asked for an extremely hard-to-find ingredient (for this city dweller).  

If this sounds like your jam, Epic Vegan Quick and Easy is available for purchase now.  

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

Reference Links:

https://www.veganroadie.com/book

https://www.quartoknows.com/

edited on 7/15/21 to reflect that Epic Vegan was Harder’s previous cookbook, not his first cookbook

No Recipe, No Problem! (cookbook review)

I’ve been having a hard time trying to write down what I think of “No Recipe? No problem!” by Phyllis Good.  The back cover declares in bold letters “the last cookbook you’ll ever need!” but all I could think about were school textbook – but in a good way!  If home cooking were a course at high school like English, then this book would easily be required reading.  It’s about freestyle cooking, so maybe not the book to get to someone who is completely new to the kitchen, but an appropriate book for the intermediate cook.  It’s the book for someone who can follow a recipe but doesn’t feel confident enough to get rid of the “training wheels,” so to speak.

The book is section by:

  • Vegetables
  • Pasta and Grains
  • Big proteins
  • Sauces
  • Bowls
  • Salads
  • Soups
  • Sheet-pan meals
  • Pizzas
  • Eggs
  • Toast toppers and their cousins

A couple of things that I really like about this book:

The list of essential techniques – it explains saute, broiling, stir-frying, etc.

The lists and charts – There are cheat sheets for meat cooking temperatures, cooking grains on the stovetop, cooking grains in an electric pressure cooker, etc.  There are handy bullet lists of ingredients that work well in a freestyle vegetable-based salad versus a freestyle protein salad. References for all your heart’s desire!

There are technically recipes in this book but few are detailed with measurements.  Mostly, they are outlines or suggestions which is great if you’re looking to cook without recipes but less great when you’re trying to write a cookbook review.  For two weeks, as I went through this book, I kept changing my mind about what I wanted to cook.  (SO MANY CHOICES! SO MUCH INDECISION!) I was inspired to make cold breakfast, hot breakfast, and fruit bowls.  I was drawn to the classic white sauce (one of the few recipes with measurements), but had nothing I wanted to serve it with. I wanted to do all the things but didn’t have the ingredients I wanted to use, or maybe didn’t quite have the energy to prep certain components.

In the end, I narrowed my focus to things already in my pantry.  In the Pasta and Grains chapter, there’s a appetizing photo of a wild rice and brown rice bowl, dressed with edamame, sliced mushrooms, walnuts, and dried cranberries.  I could work with that. So, I prepped a batch of einkorn berries as my grain, and mixed in dried cranberries.  Then over a few days, I took this base dish and changed it up.  

The first day, I was just throwing things together and not necessarily trying to emulate the original rice bowl.  I added cheese, peanuts, and an aromatic crunchy topping.

The second time, I did try to emulate more of the original photo.  It was not until after I ate the bowl that I realized I forgot the nuts.  It was tasty, but not interesting enough as a main dish.  After a few bites, I ended up adding cheddar cheese (quite possibly my favorite snacking cheese ever) and an aromatic add-in that was different from day 1.  Much better.  

The third time, I hybridized recipes.  I took the grain base and mixed in ricotta, Frank’s hot sauce, and peaches.  It might seem like a weird flavor combination, but I didn’t come up with it!  I saw back in 2018 when Chris Morocco developed a recipe for Peaches and Tomatoes with Burrata and Hot Sauce for Bon Appetit. It’s actually one of my favorite summer salads. (Link at the end.)

I’ve always struggled with cooking on the fly. I am comfortable enough with altering an existing recipe, but less so with looking at what’s in my grocery inventory and going from there. Some of my most lackluster dishes ever were ones I was making up. So, I like the guidance that “No Recipe? No Problem!” offers, especially for bowls or salads. I feel like those dishes are less intimidating without a recipe to begin.

I think the only criticism of this book I have is that I’d like to see a more detail for a few things. The section on soup from scratch could benefit from some general ratios, like “use 4 cups of broth for 1 cup of protein and 1 cup of vegetables.” (I’m not actually saying that’s a recommendation. I’m just guessing.) Because true story! I have a family member who used to think she could make more soup by adding more water (and only more water), and that’s not how it works. It took her a couple of times to learn that lesson.

I would also love more detail on the sheet-pan meals. Different foods cook at different rates at different temperatures, so a starting place would be useful. When Melissa Clark wrote a piece for the New York Times about sheet pan dinners a few years ago, she offered a list of vegetables and their cook times based on ½-inch chunks, baked at 400F degrees. Personally, I would love to see a massive list of interchangeable vegetables based on cook time at 400F degrees, and what size they should be. (Is it just me?)

Overall, I enjoy this book and will practice improving my freestyle cooking. If you’re in the same boat as I am in your cooking journey, I recommend checking it out.

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

Reference Links:

https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/peaches-and-tomatoes-with-burrata-and-hot-sauce

https://cooking.nytimes.com/guides/54-how-to-make-a-sheet-pan-dinner
(behind a paywall)

https://www.storey.com/

https://phyllisgood.com/

Just a Few Miles South, cookbook review

I’m back on the Southern food exploration.  The University Press of Kentucky was kind enough to send me a copy of “Just a Few Miles South” by Ouita Michel, with Sara Gibbs and Genie Graf.  This book is totally different from The Twisted Soul Cookbook, which I reviewed last month.  While Twisted Soul was about modern soul food, this book focuses mostly on classic flavors of the American/Southern palate.

Chapter break down:

  • Breakfast
  • Building blocks for sandwiches
  • Wallace Station’s famous sandwiches
  • Windy Corner’s famous po-boys
  • Burgers
  • Soups, stews, and salads
  • Brownies, bars, and cookies
  • Pie supper

Recipes that I’m currently contemplating are:

  • Country ham, apple, and cheddar quiche
  • Cranberry mustard
  • Wallace station pulled cubano pork
  • Sean’s Monday night meatloaf
  • Creamy chicken and mushroom soup
  • Smithtown seafood clam chowder
  • Bourbon trail chili
  • Danger brownies
  • Mallory’s banana blondies
  • Woodford chocolate oatmeal cookies
  • Ginger gems

I had trouble picking out my initial recipe, so I made two of them.  (Well, three actually)

The first was the Wallace Station Tuna Salad, and I don’t even normally like tuna salad.  The two key differences of this recipe, compared to other recipes I’ve tried, were the sweet pickle relish and the warming spices (cloves, cinnamon, allspice).  I’m so accustomed to seeing lemon or Dijon mustard, and this had neither.  It may seem odd to purposely make something that I don’t normally like for recipe testing but, with the spices listed, I simply could not resist.  And it was all the difference I apparently needed, as I enjoyed the end result. 10 out of 10, will make again.

The second recipe I made was the Whiteburg Soup Beans.  It was crazy simple: dried pinto beans, onion, boneless country ham, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, salt, pepper, and water simmered for a long time.  I love recipes like this – easy, healthy, and economical.  With such a simple recipe, don’t forget to taste for seasoning!  I accidentally bought lower sodium ham, which meant that I had to add more Worcestershire sauce and salt.  (I also served with extra ham because I had it, but also because I liked the flavor contrast of the simmered and un-simmered hams.)  The only change I made was to halve the recipe, as I’m feeding just myself.  So I still have half a bag of pinto beans, and I’m thinking about making this again with a different brand of hot sauce, and a different brand of ham.  I wonder how different it’ll taste the second time.

Albeit undocumented by photography, I ended up riffing off the Shady Lane Chicken Salad for lunch today which is a fairly standard chicken salad recipe:  chicken breast, celery, almonds, dried cranberries, dry mustard, white pepper, black pepper, Dijon mustard, and mayo.  I was not originally planning to add this to the review.  I just really needed to make something that was quick and easy without needing to shop for more groceries.  My changes were nothing big, some toasted almond meal instead of sliced almonds, and just a bit of sweet pickle relish since I had it from the tuna salad.  Ok, and I’ll admit to using canned chicken (because I didn’t want to go to the store, remember?).  It hit all the right spots of a chicken salad for me.  I’ll have to remember to use dry mustard and white pepper again in the future.  A little can go a long way with these spices but I really believe that they rounded out the flavors here.

If you’re the kind of person who insists on a photograph for every recipe in a cookbook, then this book is not for you.  There are no photos here.  However, there are some fun black and white illustrations done by Brenna Flannery, which I think adds to the timeless feel of this cookbook.  If you’re the kind of person who just wants a cookbook where you think every recipe will hit right, then this IS the book for you.  Or if you’re the person who really likes sandwiches and will even consider a burger to be a sandwich, then this also is the book for you (two chapters related to sandwiches and one  to burgers… how can you say no to that?).  

So, check it out and let me know if you agree.

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

Since there’s still a pandemic at the time of writing this, I’m trying to stay home as much as possible. 

Reference links:

https://ouitamichel.com/

https://www.kentuckypress.com/

Mother Grains, cookbook review

There’s something about baking with whole grains that I find appealing.  It’s not just for health benefits.  There’s a sort of fun when I work with something that isn’t all purpose flour or bread flour.  I’m not totally sure what the flavor or texture will be.  And if I sub “this” for “that”, does the recipe still work?

By title alone, it’s no surprise that “Mother Grains” by Roxana Jullapat intrigued me.

The chapter breakdown is:

  • Barley
  • Buckwheat
  • Corn
  • Oats
  • Rice
  • Rye
  • Sorghum
  • Wheat

The recipes that sound most interesting to me are:

  • Malt-glazed brownies
  • Persimmon sticky pudding
  • Shiitake, leek, and toasted barley soup
  • Chocolate buck cake
  • Chocolate raspberry tart
  • Hatch chile and cotija corn bread
  • Oatmeal date cookies
  • Granola scones
  • Oat graham crackers
  • Chocolate dynamite cookies
  • Rye focaccia
  • Sonora wheat pie dough
  • Whole grain pizza dough

After taking stock of what I had available in my pantry, I decided to bake up the einkorn shortbreads. 

It’s a butter cookie made with confectioner’s sugar, dark brown sugar, unsalted butter, einkorn flour, all purpose flour, and salt (yes, I’m a weirdo who happens to have einkorn sitting around).  I was slightly surprised that there was no resting in the fridge (as that’s what I’m accustomed to with my go-to shortbread recipe).  You’re instructed to just roll it out and cut into shape.  I rolled out the first half of the dough too thin, but then I got curious and experimented with the second half.  I shaped it into a log, rested it in the freezer for a bit, and then tried cutting it.  Either way, the cookies tasted lovely and I’m not sure if one necessarily looked better than the other.  But it’s the taste that really matters, and these were wonderfully full of caramel like flavor.  I shared some with my mom, and she practically swooned.  

You can give the recipe a go too! I’ve linked it at the bottom.

My favorite part of this book, hands down, is the equivalence chart at the end.  It gives you a list of ingredients with the volume and its weight equivalents in BOTH ounces and grams.  So I know now that 1 cup of oat flour is 4.9 oz or 137 g, while 1 cup of rolled oats is 3.8 oz or 106 g.  Having said that, I think it’s interesting that Jullapat went with 1 cup of all purpose flour as equal to 140 g. FYI for those who haven’t come across it, the weight of 1 cup of all purpose flour is a bit of an internet debate. America’s Test Kitchen lists it as 142 g, while King Arthur Flour lists 1 cup as 120 g. I tend to follow King Arthur’s suggestion as I am often using their product. Jullapat has both volume and grams on her recipes so as long as you’re following the book, you should be fine. But it is something for me to keep in mind if I use her equivalence chart on a recipe she did not write.

I’m looking forward to baking more from the book.  I personally would love it if there were more bread recipes but I recognize that not all bakers want to make bread.  Overall, “Mother Grains” has a good variety of recipes that I think will appeal to all bakers.  So if you’re a baker who is looking to experiment more with other grains, I think you’ll thoroughly enjoy this cookbook.

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

Since there’s still a pandemic at the time of writing this, I’m trying to stay home as much as possible.  So pardon me if I choose to skip/substitute an ingredient, or am unable to test multiple recipes.

Reference links:

https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/einkorn-shortbreads

https://www.instagram.com/roxanajullapat/?hl=en

https://wwnorton.com/books/9781324003564

Liv B’s Easy Everyday, cookbook review

While I know of her, I’ve never really followed Olivia Biermann (aka Liv B) on her blog or on her Youtube channel.  If you don’t know her, she’s a vegan recipe developer/content maker.  I don’t know why I don’t, as I 1) like experimenting with vegan recipes and 2) like unfussy recipes.  But that changes now because she’s released her second cookbook, “Liv B’s Easy Everyday” and I got the chance to preview a digital copy.

The book is broken down into these chapters:

  • Sauces, spreads, and cheese
  • Beverages
  • Breakfasts
  • Snacks and apps
  • Soups and salads
  • Mains
  • Sides
  • Desserts

 Some of the recipes that appeal to me are:

  • “Honey” garlic sauce
  • White lasagna soup
  • Silky sweet potato soup
  • Sheet pan pot pie
  • Mixed veg and white beans with spiced tahini sauce
  • Pumpkin pie stuffed sticky rolls
  • London fog sheet pan cake

The recipe I decided to make was the creamy tofu tomato curry, mostly because it looked very easy to put together.   And instead of just giving you a summary of how it’s put together, here’s the recipe!  

Courtesy of Liv B’s Easy Everyday by Olivia Biermann © 2021 http://www.robertrose.ca Reprinted with permission. Available where books are sold.

creamy tofu tomato curry

Serves 4  •    •  Time: 35 minutes

Are you craving Indian food? This recipe was inspired by the Indian dish butter chicken, which is a chicken curry cooked in a tomato cream sauce. I replace the chicken with firm tofu and use blended cooked cashews to mimic the richness of butter and cream. I love serving it over fluffy basmati rice. 

1 tbsp (15 mL) vegetable oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 tsp (5 mL) ground turmeric
1 tsp (5 mL) ground cumin
1 tsp (5 mL) garam masala 
1 tsp (5 mL) ground coriander
1 tsp (5 mL) salt
1 tsp (5 mL) organic cane sugar
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 can (14 oz/398 mL) diced tomatoes (with juice)
1/2 cup (125 mL) raw cashews
1/2 cup (125 mL) water
12 oz (375 g) firm tofu, cubed
2 tbsp (30 mL) chopped fresh 
cilantro (optional)

High-powered blender or food processor

1. Heat the vegetable oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion; cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until translucent. 
2. Add the turmeric, cumin, garam masala, coriander, salt, sugar and garlic;stir to combine. Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly, until fragrant. 
3. Add the tomatoes (with juice), cashews and water. Simmer for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has thickened slightly.
4. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly. Transfer to a high-powered blender, reserving the pot. Remove the plug in the blender lid and cover the hole lightly with a clean dish towel to allow the steam to escape. Blend on low speed for about 2 minutes, until smooth.
5. Spoon the curry sauce back into the pot and add the tofu; stir to combine. Bring to a simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until heated through. Top with cilantro (if using); serve. 

my tip If you have some extra time or don’t mind dirtying another dish, you can make the tofu crispy. Place it on a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake in an oven preheated to 400°F (200°C) for 15 minutes, flipping halfway through, until golden.

I did not try the crispy tofu variation.  Because of my schedule, I made the sauce, stored it in the fridge overnight, and then finished the next day with the blending and the simmering with tofu.  It worked great!  While curries are normally served with rice or a flatbread, I made a small batch of slightly savory steel cut oats just to change things up a bit.

For the amount of effort required, I liked the recipe. There’s a second curry recipe in the book, a peach and lentil curry, that I’m curious about.  The spice mix is  different from the tofu recipe so I wonder how it compares.  But I also am having trouble imagining how peach and lentils pair, so I may have to try that recipe next.

Overall impressions, it’s a good collection of recipes that can be done with vegan pantry staples.  Nothing looked too crazy or involved so, it works for everyday cooking, new vegans, and for new homecooks.  If that appeals to you, go check out this book.

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

Since there’s still a pandemic at the time of writing this, I’m trying to stay home as much as possible.  So pardon me if I choose to skip an ingredient or substitute it.  In this case, I skipped the cilantro garnish just because I really don’t like cilantro.

Reference Links:

https://www.robertrose.ca/

https://itslivb.com/

Happy Spring! (chit chat)

It’s definitely warmer this time of year, in Boston, than it was last year. I was still wearing my puffy coat on my morning walks as I was starting my second week of work from home. To be fair, I’m not taking morning walks anymore. My habits have changed after a year of COVID-19 stay at home recommendations.

Anyway, I thought I could talk about what’s going on in my kitchen these days.

I tried MingsBings. There are now three flavors, but when I originally made an order, there was just the one flavor. Overall impressions and opinions? It’s handy to have on hand when I don’t feel like meal prepping. It reminds me of an egg roll. Once cooked, the outer shell is a bit on the oily side, but is very crispy. I think it does benefit from something like a hot sauce (too bad the buffalo cauliflower flavor wasn’t around yet) but I keep forgetting add sauce most of the time. I recommend putting a lid on your pan when reheating which is not part of the instructions, but I found that the center of the MingsBings was always a bit cold if I didn’t.

I paid about $4.17 per bing. Yes, this is made with healthier ingredients, and yes this is a small company, but it’s really not worth it at that price because it’s not enough food for a meal. It’s really more a side dish.

I also picked up some Talty bars to try out.

The macros on a Talty bar are better than a Lara bar, if that’s your thing. I did not like all the flavors equally in this variety pack. Dark chocolate espresso had notes of coffee on smell and first taste but not enough chocolate flavor. By the time I was done eating it, I couldn’t taste the coffee anymore. Overall, it was fine, but I won’t go out of my way to re-purchase. As for peanut butter and jelly, I really could not taste the dried fruit in it. It reminded me most of a Lara bar. Meanwhile, I thought fig and cashew was nearly tasteless. On the brighter side, coconut chocolate is pretty good, and apple strudel is the best. I’d repurchase the apple strudel flavor.

I tried the Trader Joe’s answer to Pocky Sticks! Would I eat again, absolutely. Will I re-purchase? To be determined. I have to admit that I love the biscuit part of a Pocky Stick. But the dark chocolate of the Trader Joe’s version is pretty tasty, so I feel conflicted. Oh, Internet! What say you?

And I’m finally experimenting with hing aka asafoetida. So far, I like it. I’m not sure I totally understand the way other people describe it though. To me, it’s like an intense curried onion aroma. Then again, it looks like the version I picked up as fenugreek as well. Perhaps I need to try another brand.

What have you tried for the first time recently? What did you think about it?

The Twisted Soul Cookbook, review

Being both Asian-American and a New Englander through and through, I have little familiarity with soul food or Southern food.  (Except for sweet potato pie.  Hot take, sweet potato pie is the best pie.  As much as I like a fruit pie like the ol’ apple pie, sweet potato never lets me down.  I have consumed disappointing apple pie in the past; it’s a sad feeling.)  “The Twisted Soul Cookbook” by Chef  Deborah  VanTrece, might very well be one of the best ways for me to explore more food cultures.  VanTrece, owner of Twisted Soul Cookhouse & Pours in Atlanta, Georgia, has a “concept of global soul food; the soul food of different cultures around the globe as she has experienced them.” 

The book is divided into these chapters:

  • Castoffs and throwaways
  • Beef, lamb, and pork
  • Poultry
  • Vegetables, salads, and sides
  • Shellfish and fish
  • Desserts
  • Necessities

Here are the recipes I want to try:

  • Slow-Cooked Beef Tongue Pot Roast with Wild Mushroom Gravy
  • Bologna Mousse Pork Neck Bones with Dill Potato Gnocchi
  • Pork Chops Smothered in Tomato-Sage Gravy Smothered
  • Chicken Meatballs over Herb-Truffle Spaetzle
  • Collard Green Dumplings with Red Wasabi Vinaigrette
  • Cajun Sweet Potato Salad
  • Paella Macaroni
  • Fried Apple Hand Pies with Milk Jam
  • Lemon Blueberry Buckle
  • Chocolate Buttermilk Pie

I wanted to make the beef tongue recipe for this post, but my inaugural cooking experiment for that cut of meat was used the week before I got to see this book.  (Note to self, buy more beef tongue.)

So I pivoted and decided that, since March 14th was coinciding with this cookbook’s release week, I wanted navy bean pie!  Much to my surprise, bean pies are commonly associated with the cuisine of African-American Muslims.  Apparently, the navy bean was the only bean approved by the Nation of Islam, a black nationalist and social reform movement founded in 1930, while all other beans were divinely prohibited.  The pie itself is a custard based pie like sweet potato pie or pumpkin pie.  VanTrece says that she’s never seen it used with any other bean, just navy beans.

So, pandemic food shopping problem #1…

I couldn’t make it with navy beans.  I’m sorry, I’m sorry!  Please don’t hate me.  I tried but my market had literally every bean except navy beans in stock.  (Is this a side effect of covid affecting production/distribution?  Did my market decide not enough people were buying navy beans and therefore stopped ordering them?  I may never know.)  I had to make do with cannellini beans.

The other ingredients are more familiar in custard pies:  evaporated milk, butter, eggs, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cardamom, vanilla, lemon zest, and all purpose flour.  For this pie, I used the all butter crust recipe in the book.  (I also must admit that I forgot to pick up a lemon so I subbed in some of my homemade orange zest dust.)

Overall reaction?  Very positive.  I’m tempted to play around with the spice mix in the future.  My biggest criticism was with the crust recipe.  For 1 ¼ cup of flour and 1 stick of butter, the book says to use ⅓ cup to ½ cup buttermilk.  I second guessed myself and went with the full ½ cup buttermilk.  Even in my very dry and cold New England kitchen, this was too much liquid.  (True story, pie making is something I only do well about 75% of the time.  I need more practice.)  After I realized I made it too wet, I compared the crust recipe to the one I’ve used in the past.  My go to all butter crust recipe also uses 1 ¼ cup flour and 1 stick of butter, but instructs to start with 3 tablespoons of liquid.  That’s a huge difference in liquid!  I may have ended up with a fussy and ugly crust, but it tasted fine.  I still had a yummy pie at the end of the day, and that’s all that really matters, isn’t it?

Then, since I already had buttermilk in the fridge and I always seem to have cornmeal in my freezer, I decided to make VanTrece’s recipe for avocado hoecakes.  The ingredients for the hoecakes are avocado, self-rising cornmeal, buttermilk, red onion, red bell pepper, cilantro, eggs, and jalapeno.  I don’t have self-rising cornmeal so, for a halved recipe, I replaced with ¾ cup fine cornmeal, 3 tablespoons all purpose flour, 1 tablespoon baking powder, and ¼ teaspoon salt.  The DIY route worked fine.  I’ve never made hoecakes before (they’re basically a pancake but cornmeal based instead of wheat flour based) and my first batch cooked poorly.  This was user error.  The recipe told me to use enough oil to coat the pan, but I didn’t think I’d need that much since I was using a non-stick pan.  I was completely wrong.  Luckily, I do learn from my mistakes and subsequent hoecakes looked much better.

I liked these too but I’m not sure I’ll make them again.  (To be fair, I’m too lazy to make pancakes as a general rule.)  I’m not sure what the purpose of the avocado is for.  I love avocados, but I feel like the flavor took a backseat to the cornmeal flavor.  I’m tempted to try a version with more buttermilk and top the cooked hoecake with avocado instead.  (Or I guess I could just make standard hoecakes and top with some guacamole.) But that’s just me.   The hoecakes were still good, and I don’t regret eating them.

All in all, I thought this book  was exciting.  A lot of the recipes felt fresh and inventive.  Other recipes were fancier spinoffs of familiar Southern favorites, like the duck schnitzel and sweet potato waffles, or the foie gras dirty rice.  If you’re looking to try something new or just looking for inspiration, I highly recommend adding “The Twisted Soul Cookbook” to your collection. And if I ever find myself in Atlanta (which I would love to visit to be honest), I now know to check out VanTrece’s restaurant.

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

Since there’s still a pandemic at the time of writing this, I’m trying to stay home as much as possible.  So pardon me if I choose to skip an ingredient or substitute it.

Reference links:

https://www.twistedsoulcookhouseandpours.com/team

https://www.rizzoliusa.com/book/9780847869695/

https://www.instagram.com/chefdeborahvantrece/?hl=en

The Kitchen Without Borders, cookbook review

I think being ‘stay at home’ during a pandemic has made me hanker for international dishes more than ever.  If I can’t travel, I can at least try to bring a little of the world into my kitchen.  One way to do that is to pick up a copy of “The Kitchen Without Borders: recipes and stories from refugee and immigrant chefs” by the Eat Offbeat Chefs.  I had never heard of Eat Offbeat before now but it’s a catering/meal box company in New York City trying to create opportunities for refugees.

The countries highlighted in this book are: Nepal, Syria, Iraq, Venezuela, Iran, Lebanon, Central African Republic, Algeria, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Guinea, Eritrea, Afghanistan, and Senegal.  In addition, all the contributing chefs get a couple of pages spotlighting their stories.  Chapters are not done by country but by entree:

  • Appetizers and dips
  • Salads and soups
  • Grain dishes
  • Vegetarian dishes
  • Meat dishes
  • Desserts and drinks

But never fear, there is a page toward the end of the book that lists the recipes by chef if you’re more interested in that.

Overall, the recipes are approachable and home cook friendly.  The only downside is that some of the recipes require spices that will be difficult to source in person.  Having said that, I was still able to cook some recipes where I had nearly everything already in my pantry.

The first dish I tried was adas polow, Iranian rice with lentils and raisins.  The ingredients were lentils, rice, butter, salt, oil, onion, ground turmeric, and raisins.  You start by cooking the lentils, then add the rice and more water halfway through cooking.  While that is going, you cook up the onion with oil and turmeric.  Then you plate by layering the rice/lentils, the onions, and topping with the raisins.

Even though turmeric is not one of my favorite spices, I enjoyed this dish overall.  It was easy to prepare, inexpensive, and, if it’s a concern for you, vegetarian.  I’m also a weirdo who loves raisins in dishes and baked goods (such a contentious ingredient, dear internet!) so, in my opinion, it improved the dish.

And I almost stopped there for this review, but then I realized I had the ingredients for the chicken karahi, an Afghani dish of chicken stewed in spices, garlic, and tomato sauce.  This time, the spices were cumin, coriander, turmeric, garam masala, black pepper, garlic, and ginger.  This was also an easy dish to prepare.  You start by cooking the onion, then adding garlic.  Once that’s ready, you add all the spices.  The kitchen is warm and fragrant by this point, so you add the chicken and the ginger.  Eventually, you add the tomatoes and let everything stew as it finishes cooking.

It’s amazing to me how all the spices in this dish are also in popular Indian dishes, but the chicken karahi didn’t remind me of Indian food when I sat down to eat.

Other recipes that I’m interested in making are:

  • Vegetable momos (dumplings)
  • Cachapas (corn cakes)
  • Nepali lentil soup
  • Ma’areena soup (spaghetti and tomato soup with ground beef and cheese)
  • Red rice (has raisins)
  • Adas (lentils pureed with berbere spices)
  • Sumac brownies
  • Rolled baklava
  • Cake baklava

A cool feature of this book is that from March 1, 2021 to March 1, 2022, Workman Publishing will donate 2% of the cover price from sales of this book in the US, Europe, Canada, and Australia to the International Rescue Committee, a non-profit dedicated to providing humanitarian aid, relief, and resettlement to refugees.  So if you’re interested in “traveling the world from the safety of your kitchen,” looking to try recipes you might not have heard of, or want to support a good cause, pick up a copy!

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

With COVID-19 still in effect, I’m trying to stay home as much as possible.  So pardon me if I choose to skip an ingredient or substitute it.

Reference Links:

https://eatoffbeat.com/

https://www.workman.com/

Ovenly (2nd ed), cookbook review

I haven’t had the pleasure yet of eating at NYC’s Ovenly bakeries.  My introduction to Ovenly was watching Agatha Kulaga and Erin Patinkin, the founders, on Food52 making their accidentally vegan chocolate chip cookies (which I have made several times, and I like quite a bit).  I knew they had a cookbook but I never got around to reading a copy of it.

Well, that changes now!  Harper Collins was kind enough to send me a review copy of the 2nd edition, which is releasing today.  The second edition is updated and includes a few new recipes.  

The chapters are:

  • Essential tools and ingredients
  • Scones and biscuits
  • Quick breads and coffee cakes
  • Muffins
  • Cookies and shortbreads
  • Pies and tarts
  • Brownies and bars
  • Cakes and cupcakes
  • Baking for the holidays
  • Fillings, frostings, and sauces
  • Bar snacks
  • Bakeshop favorites

I believe that the new recipes are in the last chapter, so that’s

  • Lemon raspberry loaf
  • Apple oat muffins
  • Chewy ginger molasses cookies
  • Minty crinkle cookies
  • Hot chocolate cookies
  • Nutty toffee bars
  • Lemon lavender cake
  • Erin McDowell’s black bottom pecan pie

Since this book already exists in the wild, I thought I’d look up some of the poorer reviews online to see if they had any validity.  Here’s what I found:

“This wasn’t the cookbook that I had seen before. It was more of a “how to” lifestyle book for family life. With some recipes thrown in.”

Nope, this is definitely not a lifestyle book.  Unless your lifestyle heavily involves butter and sugar.  This is a cookbook through and through.

“I can’t imagine why a modern baking cookbook wouldn’t make weight rather than volume the standard measurements…I want a fair chance at success. This means weights. So I won’t buy a baking cookbook that doesn’t include weights for measurements and neither should you. I know I sound cranky, but there it is.”

Yes, you do sound cranky.  I like metric measurements too, but most of my cookbooks are from American writers and therefore do not have metric measurements.  It’s really not that big of a deal.  Maybe it’s because of the way I bake?  I tend to use grams for flour and sugar, but I’ll use volume measurements for nearly everything else.  (Hybrid method is where it’s at.)  Regardless, I’m not about to score a cookbook with one out of five stars because they went with American measurements.  What I will say is that the conversion chart at the beginning of the book is completely unhelpful if you want to convert the recipes.  Some ingredients in the book are listed in ounces so you can use the conversion chart to grams.  But the main ingredients in the book are in cups, and there’s no chart to tell you how to convert it.  

“Imagine my surprise when I gave Ovenly’s biscuit recipe a serious look. The recipe starts with 5 (FIVE!) cups of flour plus 21 tablespoons of butter (that is about 3/4 of a pound of butter!) to make a mere 8 biscuits! Just EIGHT!”

This review makes me laugh a little. Let me be honest up front and admit that I’m not great at making layered biscuits.  Having said that, I’m dying to try Fox In the Snow’s (aka Lauren Culley’s) recipe for biscuits.  I saw a video for it during quarantine, and it’s a behemoth.  And guess what?  It’s got 5 ½ cups of flour and 3 sticks of butter for 7-8 biscuits.  Professional baking is not like home baking.  Skimming through it, there is nothing wrong with the Ovenly biscuit recipe except that your body may hate you for consuming it.

I was originally planning to bake a recipe that someone said had failed, but I could not find a review that mentioned a specific recipe that didn’t work out.  So, for my test recipe, I’ve decided to make the Apple Oat Muffins because it’s from the Bakeshop Favorites chapter.  (But also, I really love muffins.)

The batter comes together pretty easily.  The recipe is vegan, and made with vegetable oil, almond milk, sugar, applesauce, apple cider vinegar, vanilla extract, flour, rolled oats, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, lemon zest (optional), chunks of apples, and ideally puffed quinoa and turbinado sugar for the top.  I had to skip the topping because I didn’t have puffed quinoa.  There is a note that you can sub the puffed quinoa with more oats, but I didn’t have turbinado sugar either so I didn’t really see the point.  In the long run, it didn’t matter because I’m an idiot.

I made these first thing Saturday morning… and I initially forgot the apple chunks.  I know, I know!  How does one forget the apple in an apple muffin?!  I am not perfect.  Then, I made the executive decision to pull the muffins out of the oven, and push some apples in.  (Good thing I skipped that topping, yeah?)  A questionable life choice to be sure, but darn it!  I wanted apples in my muffin!  Despite my clumsiness, these muffins are really good.  10 out of 10, will make again.

Other recipes that I look forward to baking?

  • Strawberry basil loaf
  • Feta, basil, scallion muffins
  • Harvest muffins
  • Cinnamon and ancho chile brownies
  • Salty super dark chocolate brownies
  • Boozy fig blondies
  • Flourless chocolate cake
  • Hot chocolate cookies

If you like baking, I highly recommend this book.  If there was a recipe in the original edition that did not work out for you, let me know.  I can try to test it out from the new edition.  (Hopefully, not first thing in the morning so that I’m less likely to forget major ingredients.  Sigh.  I’m not going to let myself live this down for at least another month.)

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

With COVID-19 still in effect, I’m trying to stay home as much as possible.  So pardon me if I choose to skip an ingredient or substitute it.

Reference Links:

https://www.foxinthesnow.com/more-fox-in-the-snow/

https://www.oven.ly/

https://www.instagram.com/ovenly/

https://www.harpercollins.com/

Happy New Year!

I meant to post this earlier but I was having technical issues. Anyway…

I thought it’d be fun to do a year in review, even though 2020 was basically a hot pile of garbage. But cooking-wise, it wasn’t so bad.

I discovered that I love the Basque style cheesecake. Even better, so does my family and it’s pretty easy to make gluten free.

It was also the year I revisited sourdough bread making. My previous attempts were too sour, lackluster, and generally ugly. I started by going to a cooking class with Eric Henning, and I learned a lot. But I was still making terrible looking loaves.

I discovered Bake with Jack and Foodgeek on Youtube shortly after my cooking class, and now my bakes are much cuter.

Self-quarantine started two months after that. My days were soon filled with trying to clean out my freezer, and experimenting with recipes that I normally might have been too lazy to make.

I was feeling pretty good about my cooking skills.

And then I ended up with tenosynovitis in my dominant hand. Cooking really suffered after that. I tried my best to cook with short cuts or minimal ingredients. On occasion, I’d try something more interesting.

I discovered a deep appreciation for the creative minds of Chef Stephanie Izard and Chef Lucas Sin.

And I closed the year off with lots of delicious BBQ from a local chain.

Here’s hoping that my hand/wrist continues to heal in 2021, and there will be a lot of successful cooking. I also dearly hope that I can sit down to a delicious meal, in person, with my favorite people. May 2021 go well for you too.

Reference Links:

Foodgeek – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC7eLtGAzNECUqurqMdiNYJg

Bake With Jack – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCTVR5DSxWPpAVI8TzaaXRqQ

https://www.instagram.com/lucas.sin/

https://www.goldbelly.com/girl-and-the-goat?ref=search