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More specifically:
“Delicious Decomposition: Tales from the Cheese Caves of France”
Sister Noella Marcellino, Ph.D., Abbey of Regina Laudis, artisanal cheesemaker and microbiologist who studied the biodiversity of cheese-ripening fungi in France; featured in Netflix documentary series “Cooked,” based on Michael Pollan’s book “Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation”
Mateo Kehler, co-founder and manager of Jaseper Hill Farm and Caves, Greensboro, Vt.

Or in the words of Sister Noella, the presentation could be renamed to “cavemen I have known and loved.”

I’m not going to go into super detail.  It was just a fun lecture.  I wanted to attend because I remembered her from Pollan’s Cooked.  I got there early (doors opened at 6pm even though the lecture didn’t start until 7pm), and took my old spot in the audience.

We got cheese samples!

Cheese sampler

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Sister Noella’s presentation was really informative, but I think Mateo’s and Ben’s presentations were a bit more of interest to me.  She mostly talked about how the Bethlehem cheese came to be, certain microbes (like the geotrichum candidum, which I think smells a bit like daikon), and how she won a Fullbright scholarship that allowed her to study cheesemaking in France.

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Mateo’s presentation was almost half-advert, but was really about the structure of Jasper Hill Farms as it relates to cheesemaking.

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He also made a comment about grass-fed cheeses.  Basically a cheese made from the milk of cows with a 100% grass-fed diet doesn’t taste all that great.  He said that dairy production requires a lot of energy, and lactating cows need to be fed a little bit of grain.  (Grains provide more energy than just grass.)  If I recall correctly, he also mentioned that the Jasper Hill cows are fed dry hay, which promotes good microbes and none of the bad ones like lysteria.

Anyway, Jasper HIll has prospered enough and worked with scientists often enough that they’ve actually built their own lab on the property to study their cheese microbes.

Toward the end, there was a surprise mini-presentation with everyone’s favorite microbiologist, Ben Wolfe, Tufts University.  Ben quickly chatted about DNA sequencing and patterns of microbes.

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And that was the lecture.

The end.

Or not, because let’s go back to that cheese sampler!

Seven cheeses were listed on the sponsor thank you slide, but the audience only got five cheese samples per plate.  The very top cheese in the photo (at 12 o’clock) is the Cowgirl Creamery Mt Tam.  I definitely liked this one.  It was like brie, but creamier and maybe saltier.  I found the overall flavor to be clean and fresh.

The cheese to the bottom right of the Mt Tam is probably the Bethlehem cheese.  Maybe, probably.  I thought it had some citrus overtones to it.  Overall texture was dry and brittle.  Flavor was mild.  I liked it enough.

The bottom right cheese (at 5 o’clock), I’m fairly confident, is the Kaltbach Gruyere.  It was hands down my favorite.  I liked the scent and the flavor of it better than all the others.  It was strong but nothing offensive.

We only had one blue cheese, and that was the Jasper Hill Bailey Hazen Blue.  I really thought I was going to hate this as I normally find blue cheeses to be too stinky and too boldly flavored for me.  Not this one.  Having said that, it was still my least favorite on the plate.  It reminded me of a stack of papers.  Probably old papers.  But it was very salty and metallic tasting on my tongue.  So, metallic old papers?

The last sample on the top left is probably the Jasper Hill Winnimere cheese.  My first impression of it was that it was sharp in scent and flavor.  It also smelled salty.  The texture was soft, but not as soft as the Mt Tam.  The flavor of the Winnimere reminded me of beer.  It’s a good cheese, but not one of my favorites.

So yeah.  I want to stock my fridge with Mt Tam and Kaltbach Gruyere right now!  (^_^)

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I’m always of two minds when it comes to Middle Eastern cooking.

On the one hand, I know that I love Middle Eastern food.  There’s a restaurant a couple of towns away from me called Kareem’s, where I learned how wonderful and diverse Middle Eastern food really was.  It’s more than hummus, kabobs, and baklava.  I discovered muhammara, ma’moul, kanafa, and so much more.

But enjoying middle eastern food doesn’t necessarily mean that I feel an urge to cook it at home.  I’ve learned a few wonderful recipes over the years, but I just never make them.

For the longest time, I only owned one Middle Eastern cookbook in my personal library.

I now own two books.

Soframiz, by Ana Sortun and Maura Kilpatrick, is a title that I waffled about picking up a copy.  The recipes are from/inspired by Sofra Bakery and Cafe, a locally acclaimed Middle Eastern restaurant.

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Full disclosure – I haven’t been to Sofra yet.  I know I’m ridiculous considering how not-far-away it is from me.  I almost didn’t pick up the cookbook.  But my older sister has been there, and she was quick to tell me to give it a go.  (And I’m sure that she wants to borrow it for herself.)

Skimming through the cookbook, there’s something adventurous about all the recipes.  True, there’s the ubiquitous recipe for shakshuka.  However, more often than not, there are recipes that I’ve never even heard of like cheese borek with nigella seeds (borek appears to be a type of pie).

Some recipes that have peaked my interest?

  • tahini brioche loaves
  • asure (breakfast grain pudding)
  • olive oil granola
  • yufka (unleavened bread dough)
  • chicken shwarma with garlic sauce and greens
  • chicken and walnut borek
  • tahini shortbread cookies
  • milky walnut fig baklava (I would love to know how Sofra’s baklava compares with Kareem’s.  So far, Kareem’s is my favorite.)
  • almond rose cake
  • kunefe (Also curious as to how Sofra compares with Kareem’s on dessert.)
  • orange blossom lemonade
  • tahini hot chocolate

So far, I’ve only made the shwarma spice mix.  I haven’t used it for real shwarma but I have experimented cooking with it a little.  It’s quite warming on the tongue, and perfumed.  Very bold flavor, maybe too bold.  I made a batch of spiced chickpeas stewed in tomatoes, and some spiced meatballs.  While both were enjoyable, I’m considering simplifying the spice mix.  I’ll probably make the chicken shwarma recipe from the book before cementing my decision.

The photos are downright delightful looking.  I would love for someone to make all that food for me to taste.  (I guess I should really just hoof it over to Sofra, right?)  I’m having trouble finding a photo that I don’t think looks appetizing.  The food take center stage, free from any unnecessary background noise, and free from any insane photoshopping.  (To this day, I don’t like food photos that are heavy on the contrast.)

There are really no bad points to Soframiz.  I guess I can thank my sister for nudging me to pick up a copy.

Having said that, will I really step out of my comfort zone and cook from Soframiz?  I’m not really sure.

(I will, however, make the lemonade.  I don’t care of it’s the wrong season for it.  I even bought lemons already.  I can’t lie:  I really like the orange blossom lemonade at Kareem’s.  I don’t have the recipe, and I haven’t been able to replicate it on my own.  I’m insanely curious to see how the Soframiz recipe will compare.)

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Disclaimer – I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post.  

Reference Links:

http://www.sofrabakery.com/

http://www.kareemsrestaurant.com/

http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/258239/soframiz-by-ana-sortun-and-maura-kilpatrick/

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Cook Korean, A Comic Book with Recipes by Robin Ha, has to be the only cookbook on my shelf that I wanted purely for visual reasons.

Oh, wait.  I just remembered that I have Modernist Cuisine at Home.  Oops.

Ok, it’s the second cooking I’ve ever wanted just for the pretty.  lol!

Anyway, the book is focused on Korean home cooking.  Nothing looks terribly intimidating, and there’s a good variety recipes.  There’s a fairly typical looking recipe for easy kimchi (mak kimchi).  But then, I was surprised to see chayote pickle (chayote jangachi) a few pages later.  Chayote is one of my favorite vegetables, and I have never thought to swap it with another vegetable in a Korean recipe before.

Some recipes that I don’t think are in my other books are:

Acorn jelly salad (dotorimuk)
Braised daiko with saury (mu kkongchi jorim)
Seaweed soup with beef (sogogi miyeokguk)
Hand-pulled dough soup with potatoes (gamja sujebi)

A lot of the fun, though, is in the illustrations.  They are ridiculously cute.

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You can find a video preview of the cookbook I made here:

Whee!

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Anyway, I tried my hand at one of the recipes.  I decided to go easy since I didn’t really have time to spend at the grocery store.  In this case, I went with the book’s steamed Asian eggplant (gaji namul) recipe.  The only major substitution I made was to use small hot house eggplants than Asian eggplants.  (Again, this was due to time constraints.)  I even used some of the sauce as a dumpling dipping sauce.

Overall, I really liked this recipe.  I also liked the simplicity of the sauce.  I’ve made other sauces from Asian cookbooks, like Momofuku’s octo vinaigrette, but the combination of flavor and ease of this one might very well make it my favorite.  

I eventually modified the recipe to cut out the sugar.  It wasn’t a lot of sugar to begin with, but I still preferred to swap it out.

 

All-purpose Asian dipping sauce (good for dumplings and vegetables)

– freshly grated ginger to taste
– one part sesame oil
– one part mirin
– two parts soy sauce
– small handful of chopped scallions (optional)

Whisk everything together, and use however you wish!

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(There’s no way to make steamed eggplants look fabulous. *sigh*)

Overall cookbook impression?  I love it!  Obviously, you can’t fully judge a book based on visuals and on one recipe, but I’d be more than happy to cook from it over and over again.

 

Disclaimer – I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post.  But for the record, I had been planning on buying this book long before.  I’m a sucker for cute things.

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I love the sub-title for The Basque Book, by Alexandra Raij with Eder Montero.  It says, “a love letter in recipes from the kitchen of Txikito.”  It’s a bit poetic, yes?  I guess it fits my mood these days.  That and some part of me wanted to expand my culinary horizons.

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Do I need another cookbook?  No, but we’ve had this discussion before.  I had the chance to pick up The Basque Book or The Wurst of Lucky Peach.  I waffled between the two books for a few days before settling for the former.  Eventually, I decided to pick the one that felt more out of my comfort zone.

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Luckily, I’m pretty happy with this book.  The pictures are has romantic as the sub-title.  It’s also definitely filled with recipes that are generally unfamiliar to me.  Unfamiliar doesn’t have to mean complex though.  All the recipes have a very un-intimidating ingredient list.  That doesn’t mean that I have easy access to all the ingredients but means that the ingredients list isn’t an entire page long.

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And for the things that I don’t have easy access to, the book provides a DIY recipe most of the time.  The recipe for quick salt-cured cod is a perfect example of this.  A couple of the recipes were a surprise, because they were not Spanish styled at all: Chinatown-style periwinkles, and tempura-fried soft-shell crabs.  (Granted, the crab recipe requires making escabeche first, which is a technique for flavoring and preserving seafood/meat by poaching it in a vinaigrette.)

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But there are recipes that are on the to-do list.  For me, the lentils with chorizo stew recipe has massive appeal.  I don’t have any cured chorizo in my house right now, but I do have cured loukaniko that I’ve been desperately thinking of ways to use.  So, a version of the lentil stew is likely happening this weekend.  And if it doesn’t disappoint, I’ll try my best to post it.

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The book is split up into sections by main ingredient/type of dish.  They are: basic recipes, tapas/bar type food, vegetables, egg, seafood, soups/stews, Basque recipes for gatherings*, sweets, and then drinks.

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* = I am having trouble summarizing the Txokos, Asadores, Sagardotegis, and Ferias chapter.  It doesn’t help that it’s a relatively small chapter.

But I’m glad I made a leap of faith on this cookbook.  There’s a good handful of recipes that I think I want to try.  It also makes a lovely coffee table book if you prefer your cookbooks to be visually stunning.

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(If it matters to you, I ended up checking out The Wurst of Lucky Peach from the library.  Half of the book is more like a reference book, so there weren’t nearly as many recipes as I had hoped.  So, I think I chose wisely.  There’s nothing wrong with the new Lucky Peach book.  It just didn’t appeal to me, personally.)

Reference Links:

http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/243474/the-basque-book-by-alexandra-raij-with-eder-montero-and-rebecca-flint-marx/

http://www.bloggingforbooks.com/

Disclaimer – I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post.

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In hindsight, I think I wanted to peruse Home Cooked by Anya Fernald for mildly silly reasons.  Don’t get me wrong, the Blogging for Books description sounded enticing enough:

Anya Fernald’s approach to cooking is anything but timid; rich sauces, meaty ragus, perfectly charred vegetables. And her execution is unfussy, with the singular goal of making delicious, exuberantly flavored, unpretentious food with the best ingredients. Inspired by the humble traditions of cucina povera, the frugal cooking of Italian peasants, Anya brings a forgotten pragmatism to home cooking; making use of seasonal bounty by canning and preserving fruits and vegetables, salt curing fish, simmering flavorful broths with leftover bones, and transforming tough cuts of meat into supple stews and sauces with long cooking. These building blocks become the basis for a kitchen repertoire that is inspired, thrifty, environmentally sound, and most importantly, bursting with flavor.

Still… I think I mostly got the book because I liked the cover.

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Anyway!  The rational comments first:

This book is fairly gorgeous.  I loved the photo for the blood orange salad.  It was vivid and delicious looking.  There’s a series of photos for the toma cheese  with green herbs that I think is inspiring.  The pictures for salmon confit are lovely and bright, contrasting the red-orange meat of the fish against the grey-ish countertop and Fernald’s blue-white striped apron.  For people who want lots of pictures in their cookbooks, this one fits the bill.

The recipes themselves are varied.  The chapters of the books are: building blocks, snacks/starters/cocktails, pasta/ragu/risotto/eggs, vegetables, fish/meat, and desserts.  There’s a recipe for liver pate, a savory pie with lots of greens in the filling, cracked crabs with lemon-chile vinaigrette, and twice cooked orange duck.  Each recipe is fairly striped down to the essential ingredients.  The list length of ingredients isn’t intimidating.  If anything is intimidating, it might be some of the ingredients themselves.  Rendered pork fat, trotter broth, and bone broth are examples of ingredients that most people don’t keep around.  (Well, urban dwellers like me anyhow.)  They might get turned off from a recipe for that reason.  From Fernald’s perspective, these ingredients are nothing exotic.  She’s the co-founder of Belcampo, a farm/butcher shop/restaurant.  Belcampo even has a meat camp!

Objectively, I would give this book four out of five stars.

From a more personal perspective, I’m not sure how much use I’ll get out of this book.  At the moment, I’m mesmerized by the cheese-making recipes and the anise seed breakfast cookies.  I haven’t given up on this book yet, but realistically it might not live on my bookshelf for too long.  I guess it’s more of a three star book for me personally.

Disclaimer – I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post.

Reference Links:

http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/248626/home-cooked-by-anya-fernald-with-jessica-battilana/

===

P.S.  Random comment – the amazake turned out well.  I just kept forgetting to take photos of it.  So I’ll have to make a second batch just to show it off.  (^_^)

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First of all, I may or may not be addicted to dongchimi right now.  (Dongchimi is a radish kimchi that lacks the red color from gochugaru, Korean chili flakes.  It’s a fairly mild kimchi and a great gateway drug into Korean fermented foods.)

Second of all, a friend of mine expressed an interest in a special event at a local restaurant called the Feast to Celebrate the Debut of Koreatown: A Cookbook.  Per the event page:

The Kirkland Tap and Trotter is excited to welcome Chef Deuki Hong and writer Matt Rodbard to The Kirkland Tap & Trotter for a one-night-only event celebrating the soju-slamming, pepper-pounding, kimchi-everything adventure that is Koreatown: A Cookbook (Clarkson Potter/Publishers; on sale February 16, 2016). For two years, co-authors Hong and Rodbard gathered recipes, stories, in-the-moment photos, and thoughtful interviews from Korean American neighborhoods all across the country to comprise their portrait of a culture in Koreatown. With a penchant for global comfort foods, killer wood grill to complement the flavors of Korean barbeque, and convivial atmosphere, Kirkland is the ideal place to kick-off the cookbook tour.

I was immediately intrigued, and did some digging around.

It turned out that I had this book available to me to review.  OH HAPPY DAY!

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This cookbook is definitely Korean American in flair.  Some recipes are traditional (ie. baechu kimchi* and kongguksu*) and some are not (ie. kimchi triple-cream grilled cheese and Korean fried broccoli).  But it still provides a great sample of Korean dishes.  I think recipes for all the most popular dishes are here: jjampong*, jjajangmyeon*, and gamjatang*.

I also love how the Korean names, hangul, and English translations are listed for every recipe.

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(That makes a lot of dongchimi.  I’m also unsure about the use of soda for serving.)

The photos are pretty gorgeous, and interviews with Korean Americans across the U.S. are a nice addition.  There are definitely recipes that I want to make.  The first one might be the kalbi meatballs because kalbi is always a good reason.

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Long story short – I feel inspired and this book has a permanent home on my bookshelf.  I hope to have a follow up post in the near future, so I can let you know how a recipe went.

Reference:

baechu kimchi =  napa cabbage kimchi
kongguksu = soy milk noodle soup
jjampong = spicy seafood noodle soup
jjajangmyeon = black bean noodles
gamjatang = spicy pork neck and potato stew

 

Disclaimer – I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post.

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/feast-to-celebrate-the-debut-of-koreatown-a-cookbook-tickets-20933491637?aff=ebrowse

http://koreatowncookbook.com/

(note – the official cookbook website has 3 recipes available)

P.S. Completely unrelated to Koreatown, I made the octo vinaigrette from Lucky Peach 101 Easy Asian Recipes book.  I used it as a dipping sauce for a hot pot night with friends.  If I remember correctly, I didn’t use the full amount of garlic but it was still plenty garlicy.  And I got compliments.

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(The menu below was altered from the published menu to reflect what was available at the time of dining.  I forgot to take a photo of the actual menu, so I bet this isn’t 100% accurate since I’m doing it from memory.)

NEW YEAR’S EVE 2015

First

Kampachi Crudo
fennel, orange, olive, fried quinoa

Duck Confit and Sausage
sweet potato, lentils, pistachio

Grilled Mushroom Salad
potato, marjoram, egg yolk caramel

Seared Foie Gras Skillet ($12 supplement)
black pepper gougeres, gooseberries, whipped honey

Second

Cauliflower and Black Truffle Soup
thyme oil, parmesan, salsify

Salt-Roasted Beets
aged goat cheese, hazelnut, rye cracker

Baby Greens and Chicories
avocado, pinenut, grapefruit

Lobster Bisque ($10 supplement)
crab cake, coconut, basil

Main

Potato and Herb Gnocchi
brown butter, chestnut, parmesan

Seared Scallops
parsnip, brussels, pomegranate

Roasted Duck Breast
fennel, spiced carrots, dried fruit jus

40-day Dry Aged Bone-in Sirloin Steak ($15 supplement)
potato mille fuielle, black trumpets, bordelaise

Dessert

beeramisu

Indian Pudding
port, cornmeal, fig

Chocolate Mousse Trifle
hazelnut, brown butter cream, praline

hot apple cider
armagnac, fig, warm spices

might i?
tiki-style rum cocktail

czech & balance 
slivovitz, lillet blanc, burnt orange

church
gin, aperol, lemon

paper plane
bourbon, nonino amaro, lemon

pisticci cocktail
lucano amaro, privateer rum, sweet vermouth

thaw in the straw
bourbon, honey, lemon, ginger beer

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The crudo.  The person who ate this liked the fried quinoa best.

(more…)

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