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:

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:

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:

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 –

Bake With Jack –

Nom Wah cookbook review

I love dim sum.  In the “before times” (as my friends refer to life before COVID-19), I didn’t actually go that often, maybe a handful of times during the year.  And since COVID, I haven’t been at all, not even for take out.  “The Nom Wah Cookbook: recipes and stories from 100 years at New York City’s iconic dim sum restaurant,” by Wilson Tang with Joshua David Stein, helps to fill the dumpling shaped void in my life.

I have not been to Nom Wah (but I’ve walked past it during my visit to NYC last year) so I can’t speak to the brick and mortar location.  But I am having fun reading its cookbook.  It’s a blend of traditional recipes, untraditional recipes, and an ode to the faces of NYC’s Chinatown.  So far, this book is proving to be one of the very few cookbooks that I am interested enough to read through from start to finish.  I’m not done yet, but I’m enjoying the stories that are included so far.  (There’s even a story from Paul Eng/Fong On tofu store.  You might recognize him from a Buzzfeed Tasty video published at the beginning of this year.)

The main chapters are:

  • Bao
  • Dumplings
  • Rolls
  • Cakes
  • Rice
  • Noodles
  • Balls
  • Chef’s Specials
  • Feast
  • Vegetables
  • Desserts

Things I want to make:

  • Mantao (with EBTB seasoning)
  • House Special Roast Pork Buns
  • Pork Master Filling
  • Shrimp Master Filling
  • Sweet Potato Kale Wontons
  • OG Egg Rolls
  • Turnip Cakes
  • Taro Hash Cakes
  • Sticky Rice with Chinese Sausage
  • Garlic Eggplant Noodles
  • Stuffed Eggplant
  • Cantonese-styled Taro and Pork Belly Casserole
  • Steamed Red Bean Buns

In terms of recipe testing, I was really limited with what I could make.  The one day I made it to Hmart, it was really busy.  There were a lot of customers which made it hard for me to keep the COVID 6 feet distance, some things were hard to find, some things were sold out.  And there were lots of boxes around as employees tried to restock.  Honestly, I found it very stressful.

But that’s ok!  Because the recipe I ended up making was still one that I wanted to make.  I made a half batch of the shiitake mushrooms and lettuce recipe.  It was very simple to put together, just needed patience.  You rehydrate your mushrooms, and make a braising liquid from garlic, ginger, chicken broth, oyster sauce, sugar, black pepper, and Shaoxing wine.  It braises for an hour.  You lightly boil some iceberg lettuce, and then you assemble. 

Flavor-wise, I loved everything about this dish.  (Although, I was admittedly a bit heavy handed on the black pepper.  Ooops.)  It definitely reminded me of the banquets my mom would force me to attend as a child. The only thing I can’t figure out… is why my dish looked nothing like the photo.  lol!  I know the photo has been stylized and enhanced, but my results were very dark and not nearly as glazed.  I re-read the instructions three times as it was cooking to see if I had missed something, or gotten something wrong.  I really couldn’t figure it out.  But like I said, it was quite tasty so I don’t think I did anything wrong.  It might be something as simple as the quality of ingredients were different.

If you’re in quarantine and missing dim sum as much as I am, go pick up this book!  I just hope you have better luck getting ingredients than I did.  There’s so much more I want to make.  I might break down and try some substitutions and ingredient omissions.  For now though, I guess I’ll just finish reading all the interviews and imagine that I’m hanging out in NYC.

Disclaimer – I kindly received a preview from Ecco (an imprint of Harpers Collins) for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own.  

With COVID-19 stats increasing again in Massachusetts, my shopping options were limited.  I apologize that I could not recipe-test better.  

Reference Links:
(the Paul Eng Tasty video)

The Best 3-Ingredient Cookbook, a cookbook review

There’s quite the fascination online for minimal ingredient cooking, don’t you agree? If you’re unsure, you can navigate to Youtube and search for “3 ingredient recipes” or “5 ingredient recipes.” You’ll get quite the bevy of results! Even Food52 has a series called “Big Little Recipes” where the featured recipes typically only have 3-4 ingredients.

Cookbook author Toby Amidor tries her hand at it with her latest book release “The Best 3-Ingredient Cookbook: 100 Fast and Easy Recipes for Everyone.” If you’re the type of person who is painfully, overly concerned with details, then none of these recipes are 3 ingredients. Pantry items of oil, salt, pepper, and water do not get counted. This is a guideline that I personally agree with. At every level of my cooking journey, I was using these very basic ingredients. Do you have to use pepper? No, and I don’t always use it. However, if you don’t have access to other spices, fresh black pepper can go a long way.

The chapter breakdown is:

  • Cooking Basics Using 3 Ingredients
  • Cooking Tips for When You’re in a Hurry
  • Smoothies and Breakfasts
  • Snacks, Sweets, and Treats
  • Soups and Salads
  • Lunches
  • Dinners
  • Vegetables and Grain Sides

A feature that I like is that all recipes are developed for 4 or 6 servings, but there’s a section for halved and double quantities printed so that you can easily scale up or down without doing it in your head or on paper.

Here are the recipes that I’ll be making in the future:

  • Lox scramble
  • Pumpkin oat pancakes
  • Black bean dip
  • Mini blueberry oat cups
  • Chocolate truffles
  • Chunky black bean soup
  • Chicken and rice bowl with vegetables
  • Thyme poached halibut
  • Lemon garlic shrimp
  • Ziti with turkey bolognese
  • Rosemary garlic pork loin
  • Barley with peas and carrots
  • Brown rice with mushrooms

There are a few recipes that felt a little like filler to me like the ricotta toast and the avocado toast with tomato, but I suppose that is bound to happen with most cookbooks.

I started off by making roasted grapes and yogurt because I really enjoy having a serving of Fage Greek yogurt for breakfast. (This is not an ad. Fage is the only commercial Greek yogurt I am willing to eat.) I also like roasted grapes but never remember to make them. I thought it’d be nice to change up my yogurt toppings as I’m often using cinnamon, granola, or even no toppings at all. Results? Thumbs up for me. It’s simply grapes, honey, oil, and yogurt, but I think you could easily skip the honey if you want. (Grapes are sweet anyway.) Since I was fairly sure I would like this, I went ahead and made the double batch. No regrets.

The second recipe I made was potato soup, made from potatoes, onion, broth, oil, salt, and pepper. I did make a substitution here but a minor one. I’m suffering from tenosynovitis in my dominant hand right now, which makes holding a knife somewhat difficult so I went ahead and used frozen shredded potatoes meant for hash. What I liked best is that this recipe is a great reminder that something simple can still be good. If you’re feeling like you want to add to it, you could easily throw in some cooked meat or some frozen veggies.

The third recipe I made was the roasted sweet potato-chickpea bowl. This recipe used sweet potatoes, canned chickpeas, tahini, salt, pepper, and oil. Out of the three recipes I made, this was my least favorite, only because I found the flavor to be a little dull. I am, for better or for worse, one of those people who think tahini is overused. There are applications that I really like it in, which is why I often have a jar in my kitchen, but this wasn’t it. But I’m not saying it was bad. I strongly think this recipe would benefit from even just one extra ingredient. I think the next time I make it, I’ll try adding some za’atar or some other spice to add a bit more oomph. Maybe? Hopefully? That is all it needs. Regardless, I think it’s a good option for a meatless meal. It’s also easy to make/pack for work lunches.

I enjoyed Amidor’s previous book, “The Best Rotisserie Chicken Cookbook,” and I like this release as well so far. I find the simplicity of this book inspirational while I try to cook around my wrist pain. (Going forward, I’ll probably add one or two more ingredients than what’s published – mainly spices or veggies – but nothing much more.) This is such a great resource for people in my situation but also for new cooks, and for anyone who hates cooking but wants to cook more for health/cost reasons. It doesn’t require a huge pantry. It doesn’t require a lot of money. It doesn’t require any specialty pans. If this sounds appealing to you in any way, check out Amidor’s book when it comes out next week.

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

Reference Links:

Live Life Deliciously cookbook review

For all the recipe searches I do, I’m always surprised when I come across a cookbook author I don’t recognize and said person has an impressive portfolio.  Case in point, Tara Teaspoon is coming out with a new cookbook, “Live Life Deliciously”, in October.  She used to work for Martha Stewart, and I either don’t remember her or completely missed her tenure there.

Screen Shot 2020-08-30 at 1.03.29 PM

The book has a fair mix between familiar favorites (hello, yogurt marinated grilled chicken), and recipes that seem more refreshing.  At first, I wasn’t very impressed because I’m tired of those recipes I’m already familiar with.

The booked is divided into:

  • The chapters at work
  • New pantry staples
  • The right equipment
  • Bites, dips, and snacks
  • Salads, bowls, and dressings
  • Side love
  • Weeknight routines
  • Flavor-inspired dinners
  • Meals for gathering
  • Morning glories
  • Sweets to share

Here are the recipes that I’m personally interested in:

  • Tex-mex queso dip
  • Mile high buttermilk biscuits
  • Raspberry balsamic vinaigrette
  • Tangy tomato vinaigrette
  • Grilled pineapple and coconut rice
  • Ultimate steak rub
  • Jalapeno cornmeal waffles with carnitas and crema
  • Patsy’s pepperoni pizza pasta with ricotta
  • Savory romesco and almond tart
  • Whole wheat pancakes
  • Vanilla bean buttermilk syrup
  • Slow cooker almond and whole grain cereal
  • Pistachio cake with yogurt and citrus
  • Walnut cake with maple cream cheese frosting

I wasn’t sure what to cook out of this book.  Maybe it’s because when the book showed up at my house, Boston was in the middle of a heatwave so I wasn’t feeling strongly opinionated about anything.  I probably mulled over recipes for a good two weeks before I finally put myself to work.

Eventually, I picked out recipes based on what I happened to bring home from the market.  I made the New York Focaccia Sandwich which in turn has three recipe components: the Parmesan and Herb White Bean Dip, the Oven-Roasted Plum Tomatoes, and the Ultimate Focaccia recipe.  To make this a less insane cooking project, I made the recipes over a few days.

The tomatoes came first, and were pretty straight forward.  I cut and seasoned some plum tomatoes with oil, salt, black pepper, and dried oregano.  Then I slow roasted in the oven.  Easy peasy.  


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Oven roasted tomatoes

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The bean dip was a little more intensive, but still easy to execute.  I was instructed to cook some white beans with baking soda to soften.  Then I processed the beans with garlic, salt, ground coriander, olive oil, sherry vinegar (it should be lemon juice but I did not have lemons on hand), cheese, and fresh thyme into a puree.  It was the first time I’ve ever made a bean dip at home, and it was a bit of a revelation.  


I think it was the flavor combo that really sold me.  To me, the ground coriander was the strongest flavor, and I never considered using it with white beans and cheese before.  I was surprisingly impressed.

Now comes the hiccup.  I messed up the focaccia.  It was totally me and not the recipe.  I scaled it down and then gravely misjudged how well the yeast was rising.  (It’s also possible I used the wrong yeast measurement.)  When all is said and done, I should have let the final rise go longer, and not use the printed timing.  BUT!  I want to say that there is one thing about the recipe that I didn’t really understand – the step about oil.  When you first mix the dough per the instructions, there’s no oil in it.  Maybe Tara is going for an autolyse step without calling it autolyse?  I’m not sure.  It’s only after the first 30 minutes of rise time have passed that you are instructed to add a tablespoon of oil.  As far as I can tell, it basically gets folded in.  I’ve made focaccia before, and oil is usually mixed in at the same time as the other ingredients.  (Note – I’m talking about oil as an ingredient, and not the oil that you use on the pan during cooking.


But since I failed spectacularly on the bread, I ended up using some store-bought bread that I had stored in the freezer for sandwich construction.


I loved this sandwich.  All I could think was, “why don’t I make sandwiches like this more often?”  (Eh, probably because of the amount of time involved.)  It’s easy to scale down the bean dip and the roasted tomatoes if you want.  Personally, I thought the roasted tomatoes themselves made a good side for other meals, so I wouldn’t scale it down too much.  The bean dip, on the other hand, is really easy to cut in half.  In fact, I recommend doing so unless you’re making this for company.  

I felt so bad about messing up the focaccia that I decided to make the Garlic and Sumac Roasted Broccoli with Sweet Dates to redeem myself.  


I also liked this.  It reminded me that I should add dried fruit to my roasted vegetables more often.

Honestly, my overall results made me like this cookbook better than I thought I was going to.  I thoroughly enjoyed how things turned out.  Another thing that I like is that most of the recipes have a reasonable size ingredient list.  I think a lot of the recipes will be fun to make when Fall comes around and the temperatures inspire me to be in the kitchen more. 10/10 will make again.  


Disclaimer – I kindly received a preview from Shadow Mountain 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, my scope of recipe-testing might be limited.  Even though Massachusetts is doing a great job fighting against COVID-19, I’m still trying to stay home as much as possible.  So if I’m missing an ingredient on cooking day, I will substitute it.


Reference Links:

(This is not the same recipe as the one in the cook but it is similar.)

(book is set to be released Oct. 6, 2020)