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)

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:

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:
(behind a paywall)

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:

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:

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 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:

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: