What was once a Soframiz review is now a Sofra vs Kareem’s curiosity post

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/

Recent shopping finds

I went to Trader Joe’s yesterday.  I picked up a couple of things that I hadn’t seen before and so far like.

Tastes like taste no. 5 umami Bomba paste. I approve.

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But much more affordable than buying Taste No. 5 Bomba paste… since that gets imported from England.  I’m tempted to stock up on this out of fear.  I hope TJs never stops making this!

 

Also from TJs

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It’s a smidge sweeter than I like.  Not really a surprise, since sugar is the first ingredient, but it’s much tastier than buying hot cocoa packets.

A Modern Way to Cook, a cookbook review

With absolutely no prior knowledge of Anna Jones, I waited with bated breath for my copy of “A Modern Way to Cook” to arrive in the mail.  The tag line  on the cover says “150+ vegetarian recipes for quick, flavor-packed meals.”  Considering that I’m trying to make all my work lunches, it sounded very promising.  

The organization of content is pretty smart.  The recipes are grouped by how long it takes to make.  The chapters are 15, 20, 30, and 40 minute recipes, then followed by “investment cooking” (mostly pantry staples), “super-fast breakfasts”, and “quick desserts and sweet treats.”

The overall look of the book is on the drool-worthy side.  Most of the photos are overhead shots that are styled really well.  (No harsh contrast photos here, thank god.)

There are recipes that I want to try:

  • kale, tomato, and lemon magic one-pot spaghetti
  • kale, sumac, and crispy rice salad
  • zucchini noodles with pistachio, green herbs, and ricotta
  • sweet roasted zucchini with crispy chickpeas
  • spinach and lemon polpette
  • lentils with roasted tomatoes and horseradish
  • roasted coconut, lime, and tamarind curry
  • honey rye bread
  • lemon cannellini cake

Another feature of the book that I like are the pages of simplified/master recipes.  These pages are:

  • 10 favorite omelet fillings
  • goodness bowls
  • quick 20 minute stir-fries
  • 10 favorite suppers from 10 favorite vegetables
  • 10 simple baked potatoes
  • 5 one-pan dinners
  • quick flavor boosts

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But the longer I mull over the book, the more I find that some recipes really do not inspire me.  In the 10 minute section, Jones has a recipe for pour-over soup.  I’m not saying that her recipe won’t be delicious.  However, it’s not that different from other DIY instant soups that have already been kicking around the internet for awhile.  Examples are:

http://thestonesoup.com/blog/2012/02/the-quickest-easiest-way-to-make-a-hot-meal-without-a-kitchen/

or

http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2014/09/diy-instant-noodles-vegetables-miso-sesame-broth-recipe.html

So I am a little worried that in a few months, I won’t have any interest in this book beyond “coffee table material.”

For those people with allergies, take note that Jones uses a lot of nuts, black beans, chickpeas, and lentils for protein.  She hardly uses tofu in this book.

At any rate, I hope I have the chance to carve out some time this weekend and make a couple of dishes.  Then I can revisit my opinion with experience.

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

Cook Korean, a cookbook review

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.

Cookbook price alert

  1.  This post is not sponsored in anyway.
  2. You must be able to travel to Harvard Square in Cambridge, MA.

I was killing some time the other day, and meandered around the cookbook section of The Coop, the official book store of Harvard University.  Believe it or not, I got bored.  For fun, I walked over to the sale section which is just one room over.  Most of the time, there isn’t anything I want.

This time, there still wasn’t anything I wanted… but that’s only because I already owned it.  The Coop had several copies of The Big-Flavor Grill: No-Marinade, No-Hassle Recipes for Delicious Steaks, Chicken, Ribs, Chops, Vegetables, Shrimp, and Fish for about $8.  I bought this book, written by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby, back in 2014.  I could read it all day because it appeals to me that much.  Seeing it on the shelf reminded me that I should cook from it before the weather turns cold.

Honestly though, I can make a lot of the recipes indoors sans grill.  The appeal of this book is in all the sauce and condiment recipes.

I love this book so much that I want to buy a copy of it just to gift to someone.

Alas, no one I know is addicted to cookbooks as I am.

But if you are or you like to grill, head over to the Coop.  You can thank me later.

The Basque Book, cookbook review

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.

9781607747611

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.

Cookbook Review for Home Cooked by Anya Fernald

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/

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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.  (^_^)