Cookbook sale alert

I don’t normally do this but 1) I noticed it and 2) I really did like the most recent cookbook I reviewed.

Chinese Street Food by Howie Southworth and Greg Matza is on sale today in ebook form for $1.99, I believe on all popular platforms (Amazon, Goggle Play, Apple, etc).

Disclaimer – I’m not affiliated with the publisher nor am I making any money off of this post.

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Chinese Street Food, a cookbook review

I grew up on simple, home-cooked Cantonese food.  I remember a lot of soups, stir-fried gai lan, fried rice, stir-fried noodles, stir-fried bok choy, etc.  If my mom was feeling particularly ambitious, she’d make squid or fried fish.  But there were somethings that my mom would never make like joong (aka zongzi) because “it’s too much of a pain in the butt.”  (Totally her words, not mine.)

In short, there’s a lot of Chinese food that I missed out on.  And now that we’re all older, my mom is honestly kind of tired of cooking the same recipes over and over again.  (But not so much that she’ll acquiesce to my requests to make joong together.  lol!)

I’ve been looking for some fun cooking projects that she might like and I think I might have finally hit the jackpot.  “Chinese Street Food”, by Howie Southworth and Greg Matza, is a collection of recipes that try to capture popular street food across China, food that is the equivalent of Western casual take-out.

The book is divided into these chapters:

  • What’s in a Name?
  • Good Morning, China
  • Muslim Street
  • When Ma met La
  • You’ll Love This, We Promise
  • Simple Poetry
  • What Came With the Camels
  • Chinese Hospitality
  • Now That’s One Express Panda
  • Sweet Street

Personally, I’m not in love with these titles.  For the most part, I can’t remember what recipes are in most of the chapters.  But I’ll forgive it because I want to try all the recipes anyway.

The recipes probably most recognizable are mantou (steamed bread), biangbiang mian (table slap noodles), jianbing (pancake wraps), youtiao (fried dough stick), and (cong youbing (scallion pancakes).

But there are a lot of recipes that I completely don’t recognize and my mother doesn’t either.  The book is in English, but the recipes also come with titles in Chinese characters.  I’m not sure if they’re traditional or simplified characters, but I think they look more like traditional characters to me.  It’s enough Chinese that it sparked joy and interest in my mom.  I didn’t get a chance to ask her which ones she most interested in, but I really, REALLY want to make la niurou (cured beef), which starts off the Muslim Street chapter.  It’s basically corned beef but with Chinese seasonings.  As someone who was raised in Greater Boston and loves a good New England boiled dinner, this is a must!  (Fact!  I make corned beef every year.)

In fact, I was planning on making la niurou for this review, but I had trouble getting my hands on beef brisket in a short amount of time.  (But since the Jewish High Holy Days are around the corner, I’m hoping I’ll have an easier time of picking up some brisket this weekend or something.)

(Too bad though, I bet it would have tasted fantastic with the vegan ramen leftovers.  *blinks innocently*)

Anyway, some of the recipes that I want to make at some point are:

  • Steamed brown sugar-filled triangle buns
  • Baked sandwich buns
  • Sesame Millet Porridge
  • Red bean filled zongzi
  • Stewed pork sandwiches

While I did not make the cured beef, I did try out one of the simpler recipes in the book.  It was for peanut butter pancakes from the sweets chapter.   The ingredients were straight-forward: all purpose flour, yeast, milk, sugar, brown sugar, salt, baking soda, eggs, oil, peanut butter, and soy sauce.  I really liked this recipe!  I’m not a huge “condiment” person so I only made a half-batch of the peanut filling which kind of reminded me of salted caramel.  I’m also not a sweet and salty person because I’m weird like that.  So when I make this again (and I *will*), I’ll probably just fill the pancakes with peanut butter or almond butter.

The pancakes themselves were easy to make.  They do require a little bit of planning because they are yeasted pancakes and need 90 minutes before cooking to bubble and rise.  But that yeast gave it a spongy texture that I really liked.  The yeast also adds a bit to the flavor.

The only thing about the recipe that I didn’t like was I wasn’t sure how big these pancakes were supposed to be.  I only knew that the recipe served 4-6, and I was supposed to use a small skillet with a lid.  (Yes, a lid.  These pancakes are not supposed to be flipped over.  You use the lid to trap steam and help cook up the top.  That was something that took me a bit to realize.)  In the end, I used two small ladles worth (as in salad dressing ladle) and made about 8 pancakes.

My overall impression of the book?  I love it.  And once you have what I consider to be the pantry ingredients, you are pretty much set to make a lot of the recipes.  There’s a lot of repeat use of dark soy sauce, Chinese black vinegar, Sichuan peppercorns, sesame seeds, sesame paste (or tahini), soy sauce, star anise, etc.  The recipes also don’t look too intimidating.

I think the next recipe I make, I’ll let my mom pick it.  (Well, if I don’t make the la niurou first.)

I definitely recommend this book to anyone who wants to expand their knowledge of Chinese food, or someone who is looking for a fun new cooking project.

 

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

Kenji’s Vegan Ramen, a Kitchen Conclusion (and a spice blend for you)

I’m a huge fan of Serious Eats.  Besides referring to it for general cooking questions I might have, I really adore their series “The Vegan Experience” (and I’m not vegan… heck, I’m not even vegetarian).

One of the vegan recipes that I bookmarked but was intimidated by the number of ingredients and steps was Kenji Lopez-Alt’s Ultimate Rich and Creamy Vegan Ramen With Roasted Vegetables and Miso Broth.  What does one do when they are not sure they can pull off a recipe on their own?  In my case, it was finding a friend who said “So when you want to cook together? I want to do something new and crazy.  Just something fun, y’know?”

New?  Check.  Crazy?  Check.

Let’s do this thing!

Our observations:

The ingredient list isn’t all that bad.  It would have been nice if there had been a condensed shopping list.  It’s essentially this:

eggplant
onion
garlic
ginger
oil*
fresh shiitake
fresh maitake
kombu*
dried porcini
dried shiitake*
napa cabbage
leek
scallions
sweet potato
shichimi togarashi*
mirin*
soy sauce*
miso*
tahini*
noodles

Everything with an asterisk were things already in my pantry.  Well, except for the shichimi togarashi but we’ll get to that later.  And for the ramen noodles, Jared and I decided to be extra experimental and try the pasta with baking soda trick.  Several times, we asked each other if we had forgotten something because our shopping cart seemed like it didn’t have nearly enough ingredients waiting to be paid for.

One hurdle done.

But the doing?… ah, this was the real challenge.

And half the challenge was matching the ingredient list with the ramen component we were working on.  We both really wanted to reformat the whole recipe for easier reading in the kitchen.

On my own, I had read the recipe through a couple of times but I wish I had studied the photos in the blog post more.  We didn’t notice that the sweet potatoes and the maitake were not mixed on the baking sheet.  It made for a slight inconvenience to pick out sweet potato chunks for the blender.

For the soy-tare, I would leave the ginger and scallions in large identifiable pieces because you have to separate it from the quartered shiitake caps when done.

We also recommend upping the eggplant from 1 small to 2 small.  We had very little eggplant compared to the number of servings when all was said and done.  Also, you don’t get a lot of cooked liquid from 1 small eggplant.  Spinning out said liquid felt fiddly.

But more importantly, how did it taste?

The components of the ramen are their own were good but nothing I felt impressed by.  The baking soda noodles were really interesting!  The baking soda made the noodles a bit chewier, and taste very eggy.  The sweet potatoes baked in the spice blend gave a nice heat that quick dissipated.  But, altogether, the dish was very lovely and satisfying.  Jared’s wife got a gluten free version for health reasons.  We replaced the soy sauce with GF tamari in the recipe, and made a separate pot of rice noodles just for her.  Her reaction was “This is amazing!”  We also fed a friend of theirs who is vegetarian and planning to go mostly vegan.  The friend thought it was one of the best things she had had in a very long time.  In short, those with dietary restrictions are probably going to enjoy it best.

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Making flavored oil

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I can definitely see myself making parts of the recipe for other noodle and soup recipes.  I’m not sure if I’ll ever make the whole recipe on my own (but if I do, I think I would spread it over two days).  Jared and I may make it again, but not for at least 6 months and we’ve had time to recover from the amount of steps this ramen involved.

I will definitely make the sweet potatoes again.  I never thought to bake them with shichimi togarashi before, and I like the idea blending some of it to give the broth more body.  True story, I’ve never cared for shichimi togarashi before.  So I didn’t have it in my pantry, nor did I see the point in buying it for just this recipe.  So I made it with ingredients I did have in my pantry.  The spice blend is supposed to be a blend of seven spices.  (Shichi means seven.)  I used five, so I’m going to start calling my blend “five-mi togarashi.”  It is not traditional but I was quite happy with it.  (I suppose I could also call it go-mi togarashi since go is five in Japanese).

FIVE-MI TOGARASHI (GO-MI TOGARASHI)

1 tablespoon mandarin orange dust
4 teaspoons gochugaru
2 teaspoons toasted sesame seed
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper

Mix altogether, and store in a tightly fitted lidded jar.

Reference Links

https://www.seriouseats.com/2015/02/how-to-make-the-ultimate-vegan-ramen-rich-and-creamy-vegan-experience.html

https://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2015/02/vegan-ramen-miso-creamy-vegan-vegetarian-food-lab-recipe.html

http://penandfork.com/recipes/cooking-tips/mandarin-orange-dust/

that zucchini and pasta recipe, a Kitchen Conclusion

I did a silly thing.

I kept coming across Meghan Markle’s “zucchini bolognese” recipe on the internet recently.  To the point where I saw the Buzzfeed follow up on it, and was just like “EFF IT.  I’M TRYING IT MYSELF.”

I kept pretty close to the original recipe as posted by Delish, with the only change being a swap for Parmesan cheese with Grana Padano cheese, because it’s cheaper per pound and good enough for me.  (I’m a plebeian who sometimes prefers to be thrifty over being cultured.  Sorry not sorry.)   Oh, and one tiny eggplant found its way into the recipe because it was in my fridge and about a sneeze away from going bad (that’s a unit of measuring time, right?).  These aren’t huge changes in my opinion, but I’m sure someone out there is more than happy to disagree with me.  Anyway…

My personal experience:

  • It’s easy to make.
  • With a tightly fitting dutch oven, it’s hard to burn.  A good amount of liquid exuded from the veggies.  (FYI, I used my 5.5 quart Le Creuset.)
  • It makes a lot, and is a great make-ahead option.
  • There is so much raw zucchini going in that I would not feel comfortable doubling this recipe unless I had access to a really large soup pot.

As for my feelings after cooking and upon consumption, the sauce was kind of “meh” to be honest.  It’s just good enough.  I certainly wasn’t impressed.  If I were to make it again in the future, I’d want to make changes.  Adding herbs is the first thing I can think of.  With some of my leftover sauce, I added fresh basil and marjoram.  Slightly better than without but not quite what I wanted.  Using dried herbs during the long cooking process might make the better choice.  And I’m half wondering what it would have been like had I added some ricotta just for extra depth and texture.

So, am I making this again?  Probably not.  Or at least not the printed version of the recipe.  I’m not against nor above altering it, sticking it in the slow cooker, and declaring it a great summer recipe.  (So that might happen in the future.  Maybe.  A very strong maybe.)

Reference Links:

https://www.delish.com/cooking/recipes/a58228/zucchini-bolognese-recipe/

https://www.buzzfeed.com/michelleno/meghan-markle-zucchini-bolognese-recipe-real-life-test?utm_term=.uyz5Lr3vM#.bddQyl9qO

Previous Kitchen Conclusion Post:

https://awesomesauceeats.wordpress.com/2018/01/13/cardamom-and-loaf-pans-a-kitchen-conclusion/

The Easy Asian Cookbook, a cookbook review

True story:  Despite my love for all kinds of Asian food, I rarely cook any at home.  Also a true story: I love using my slow cooker.

(No, I haven’t jumped on the Instant Pot train yet, and I’m not sure if I ever will.  In the meantime, I really want to experiment with an air fryer. I will take sponsors.  lol!)

But if I can cook Asian food in a slow cooker, will I make it more often?  

If I’m to go by the recipe offerings in The Easy Asian Cookbook for Slow Cookers by Nancy Cho, the answer might very well be a resounding yes.

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 9.55.23 PM

There are so many pros about this book in general.  The author hasn’t confined herself to just Japanese, Chinese, or Korean dishes.  Sri Lanka, India, and the Philippines are also represented. There’s per serving nutritional information listed.  It’s pretty basic information, but if you just want the calories, total fat, protein, carbs, fiber, sugar, and salt info (which is what most people want), it’s there!  There’s also general allergy information at the top of each page like nut-free and gluten-free.

The book is divided into these chapters:

  • Asian Slow Cooker 101
  • Rice and Noodles
  • Soups and Stews
  • Curries
  • Vegetables and Tofu
  • Chicken
  • Meat
  • Dessert
  • Side Dishes and Salads

 

The recipes I want to try most:

  • Mushroom jook (kudos to the author for using the word “jook” as it appeals to my Cantonese heritage)
  • Black bean sauce noodles
  • Pumpkin soup (has ginger, curry, and cream in it)
  • Lentil soup (Indian inspired)
  • Red lentil curry (Sri Lankan inspired)
  • Filipino chicken curry
  • Simmer pumpkin

 

The recipe I decided to start with was chicken lo mein because I was missing my mom’s version, and the book’s version sounded like it might be close.  It’s got chicken thighs, chicken stock, garlic, soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, brown sugar, white pepper, bok choy, shallots, red bell pepper, scallions, cornstarch, and store bought lo mein noodles.

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Mess in place

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I made the recipe as closely as possible.  Ultimately, I had to cut back on the shallots and scallions, and replace the bok choy with napa cabbage.  I also had to make the noodles separately the day after making the sauce and chicken, because of time (but also because someone… aka me… forgot to pick up noodles earlier that day).

Overall impressions, the sauce is really good.  It’s a bit salty on its own, but once mixed with the noodles, it’s perfect.  It does remind me of something my mother might make. The chicken was also really good.  I’ve made some Asian inspired sesame and garlic chicken in the slow cooker before that I wasn’t totally won over by.  This one? I’m happy to make it again in the future.

But!!! There’s a lot of sauce and noodles in this recipe!  I think I could scale down both and up the amount of veggies.  That’s just me nitpicking, and me trying to cut down on the amount of simple carbs I eat.  For other people, the sauce-chicken-veggie ratio might be perfect. I’m not that person though.  I ended up adding more veggies as I needed to when I ate a serving. And because it made a lot, it was a good meal prep option for dinner this past week.

I am definitely recommending this book if you want to make more Asian flavored dishes and/or want to experiment with your slow cooker.  I was more than satisfied with my first recipe attempt.

(Sorry I don’t have a flip through video of this cookbook – the copy I have is a .pdf file, not a hard copy.)

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

Tiny House Cooking, a cookbook review

I have a fascination with tiny houses and the tiny house movement.  I’m not the only one. My brother-in-law and I have lofty plans to build a tiny house in the Berkshires.  Maybe it’ll happen. Most likely it won’t. But it’s still fun to dream.

As such, I was excited to get a chance to flip through ‘Tiny House Cooking: Satisfying Meals with Minimal Equipment’ by Adams Media and Forward by Ryan Mitchell.  I wasn’t sure what the recipes were going to be. I thought, in addition to stove top only recipes, that the recipes might also use a scaled back number of ingredients.

It turns out that the recipes are all scaled for about two servings.  Some recipes have a long ingredient list, I think the most was 16 ingredients?  But that was including salt and pepper, so you could argue that it’s more like 14 ingredients.  The recipes are fairly varied, and nothing looks intimidating. The book is broken up into these sections:

  • Cooking in a Tiny House
  • Breakfast and Brunch
  • Sandiwches
  • Appetizers and Snacks
  • Soups
  • Salads and Dressings
  • Side Dishes
  • Chicken Main Dishes
  • Beef and Pork Main Dishes
  • Fish and Seafood Main Dishes
  • Pasta, Beans, and Rice
  • Desserts

 

Some of the recipes I want to try in no particular order are:

  • Japanese-Italian Angel Hair Pasta
  • Cavatelli with White Beans and Arugula
  • Scallop and Corn Saute
  • Chicken and Black Bean Stew
  • Chicken and Ricotta Polpette
  • Warm Spinach Salad with Deviled Egg Croutons
  • Hearty Lentil and Sausage Soup

But for now, I’ve only made the peanut butter and chocolate pancakes.  In general, I like pancakes but I hate making them at home because it takes forever to make a stack of pancakes.  I’ve made a couple of small batch recipes that I didn’t really like, but to be fair I think they were were all super-duper healthy pancakes.  This one is fairly straightforward and almost ordinary. I like the addition of peanut butter and chocolate chips, but I think I might try to up the amount of peanut butter next time or maybe play with using peanut butter powder.  (I love peanut butter! My whole childhood was filled with a lot of plain peanut butter sandwiches because I was such a picky eater.)

My pancakes look nothing like the book’s photo, but I realized afterward that the chocolate chips in the photo were not cooking in the pancakes to make them look prettier.  That’s cheating! lol! However, the amount of pancakes was perfect for my level of pancake-making-impatience, and flavor-wise were quite satisfactory.

So, I’m happy to say that this book is staying on the bookshelf right now.

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

Flavor Bombs by Adam Fleischman, a cookbook review

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

COVER_Flavor Bombs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Garlic confit in progress

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How did it taste?  It was good.

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

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

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