Mighty Salads, a cookbook review

Wow, this post is a long time coming.  And by a long time, I mean an entire month because of shipping issues that were out of my control.  My Instagram account gets more regular activity than my blog (in case someone is interested), but that’s because it’s easier to post a photo than to collect my thoughts and try my best to jot it down in a manner that doesn’t make me sound like a rambling idiot. (Note, I am not always sure I succeed.)

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But about two weeks ago, my review copy of Food52’s Mighty Salads finally arrived at my doorstep.  People who know me best know that I don’t make salads much at home.  When I do make them, they are very simplistic.  My usual salad is arugula, tomatoes, and salad dressing.  This is not a joke.  My cooking in the last year has become about simple and functional recipes since I’m pretty much cooking every meal in advance.  In the last two months though, I’ve started to play the macro game.  (I’m trying to count my protein, carb, and fat amounts.)  And in playing the macro game, I’ve found that I’m terrible at it and often need inspiration.

I almost didn’t get Mighty Salads, but I found that other reviewer comments made me curious.  And I don’t refer to the positive reviews.  I wanted to know if I agreed or disagreed with the few negative reviews I found.  

The summation of the negative reviews I found is basically that the recipes were too complicated or used less common ingredients.  Really?

Here’s a sampling of recipes:

  • Grilled Peach and Apricot Salad with Kale and Prosciutto
  • Petits Pois a la Francaise Redux
  • Grilled Lamb Kebabs with Tomato-Cucumber Salad
  • Slow Roasted Duck and Apple Salad

Admittedly, I’m picking on the recipes that might sound less accessible based on title.  But here’s the thing: every recipe has a simplified subheading.

Food52 mighty salads

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Grilled Peach and Apricot salad with Kale and Prosciutto is essentially a six ingredient recipe if I don’t count salt, oil, and some bread to serve with.  The subheading is “sturdy greens + cured meat + grilled fruit + crumbly cheese”.  Petits Pois a la Francaise Redux?  It’s “charred greens + charred alliums + bacon + cream dressing”.  But what if you don’t want to pick out your own greens and alliums to brown?  Looking at the ingredients list, we’re talking about bacon, sugar, paprika, romaine lettuce, and green peas for the salad portion.  The accompanying creme fraiche dressing is mayo, creme fraiche OR sour cream, buttermilk, and lemon juice.  Creme fraiche could be difficult to get a hold of depending on your location, but, in the US, mayo/sour cream/buttermilk/lemons are pretty standard items at your local market.

Meanwhile, the lamb salad is broken down as “kebabs + vegetable chunks + herbs + yogurt dressing.”  And the duck?  “Fall apart tender meat + warm fruit + hearty greens + nuts + vinegar.”

When simplified to its basic building blocks, none of these salads sound that exotic.

What about in practice, how do these recipes turn out?

Well, that’s harder for me to answer.  I did “cook” from the book.  I say cook in quotes because I was strict about keeping to the amounts and ingredients for the Grilled Mushroom and Fig Salad recipe.  Here’s what I actually used:

  • 1 lb baby bella mushrooms, sliced
  • About half a bag of Trader Joe’s semi-dried green figs
  • About 4 cups of baby arugula
  • Shredded Parmesan cheese, amount unknown
  • Possibly two handfuls of regular almonds that I toasted

For the dressing, I actually kept to the recipe except for the minced shallots.  1) I got lazy.  2) I didn’t want onion breath while at work.

The original recipe was meant to serve 4, but my version was good for two lunches.  Overall reaction?  I liked this.  I should not have used Parmesan but I didn’t have time to pick up ricotta salata which was the cheese my heart really wanted to use.  (It was supposed to be Pecorino Romano but that’s not a cheese I use much.)  It was filling and good.  I wish I had marinated the mushrooms for longer than 30 minutes but I was assembling this salad at around 9pm.  And for a 9pm “OH MY GOD I NEED TO ASSEMBLE LUNCH FOR WORK TOMORROW” session, it wasn’t difficult or too time consuming at all.  (To be fair, I made the dressing earlier that day.)  Another plus for me personally?  Portabello mushrooms and cheese are decent sources of protein.

I will say that I have one issue with Mighty Salads.  I found some of the tips to be random.  For example, on the page for Freekeh, Fennel, and Smoked Fish Salad, there’s a “genius tip” regarding crunchy crumbled tempeh.  It give a gives a quick blurb on what tempeh is, and one method of cooking it.  It has absolutely no relation to the recipe on the page.  I’m mystified as to why the tempeh note is on this page.  And then I was mystified as to why there wasn’t at least one recipe that used tempeh, or at least mention in a recipe as a good substitution.

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So is this a perfect book?  No.  But I will get some use out of the recipes this summer.  It also doesn’t hurt that the photos in this cookbook are gorgeous.

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/536117/food52-mighty-salads-by-editors-of-food52-foreword-by-amanda-hesser-and-merrill-stubbs/

http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/authors/2114326/editors-of-food52/

 

 

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/

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.

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.

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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.

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/

===

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.  (^_^)

No lie, I’m on a Korean foods kick (cookbook review)

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.

Anyone want to gift me a clay pot?

There are things we want, and there are things we need.  Donabe by Naoko Moore and Kyle Connaughton was definitely the former.  I won’t lie.  When I picked it up, I expected to treat it more like a coffee table book but I think I completely underestimated it.

Why did I want this book?  A handful of years ago, I read Naoko Moore’s blog regularly.  I don’t even remember how I found it.  But I did, and I’d dream about buying a donabe (particularly the rice cooker donabe) to make all sorts of Japanese inspired recipes.

You might be asking what is a donabe?  It’s the Japanese word for clay pot.

And now, you might be asking if I ever bought one?  Um, no.  To be fair, I never bought one because most of them are not recommended for an electric stove… of which  I have.  D’oh!

But still, I enjoyed Moore’s blog even though I rarely used any of the recipes she posted.

Oh.  Maybe I do know how I found her blog.  I learned to make shio koji and I think I was researching for more background information.

https://awesomesauceeats.wordpress.com/2012/12/15/mystery-experiment-part-2-of-2/

Moore use shio koji a lot.  She even included a recipe for it in her new cookbook.

Right, back to the cookbook.

Donabe-owner or not, I think I’m going to have to cook a lot of these recipes.  I think most of it should be ok for normal pots and pans.  The exceptions to this are the recipes meant for the rice cooker donabe and the donabe smoker.  But I imagine that the rice cooker donabe recipes can be made in an electric rice cooker.  I’ll have to experiment.  I don’t have a smoker though, so those recipes are unlikely to ever see the light of day in my kitchen.   

Thankfully, there are a lot of soup recipes (I love a good nabe) and steamed recipes.  These should all be ok to make in my kitchen.  So, things on the to do list (besides more shio koji)?

  • Kyoto-style saikyo miso hot pot
  • Chicken hot pot
  • Duck and tofu hot pot (well, minus the tofu because I’m allergic)
  • Chicken meatballs in hot sesame miso broth
  • Simmered pork shoulder
  • Salmon chowder with miso soy-milk broth (I plan on using whole milk)
  • Pork and vegetable miso soup (maybe mostly because I love watching Shinya Shokudo)
  • Steamed yellowtail shabu-shabu (looks very simple and delicious)
  • Steamed enoki mushrooms wrapped in beef
  • Green tea seam cake
  • Steamed-fried salmon and vegetables in miso sauce

Obviously, it looks I’m going to get a lot more use out of this book than I originally anticipated.

While most of the recipes are Japanese, there are also some recipes with Chinese or Western influences.

Oh, and the pictures are really lovely.  I get hungry just looking at them.  At the end of the day, I’m really quite pleased to own a copy of Donabe.  Maybe one day, I’ll get around to buying that rice cooker donabe for myself.

(Haha, but right now I really want a nice carbon steel skillet.  That might be a story for another day.)

(^_^)b

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/239329/donabe-by-naoko-takei-moore-and-kyle-connaughton/

http://naokomoore.com/

http://toirokitchen.com/