Cook90, a cookbook review

Have you heard of the #cook90 challenge?  I hadn’t until very recently. It’s a cooking challenge put forward by David Tamarkin and Epicurious.  I’m not 100% sure, but I think this was Tamarkin’s first post on it:

https://www.epicurious.com/expert-advice/how-to-cook-every-single-meal-in-january-article

The rules, as stated online, are:

1. COOK EVERY MEAL YOU EAT THE ENTIRE MONTH
If you’ve transformed raw ingredients with heat, you’ve cooked. Likewise, if you’ve taken two or more raw ingredients and combined them to make something greater than the sum of their parts (a salad, a sandwich, etc), you’ve also cooked. On the flip side, heating a frozen pizza in the oven, or warming a can of soup on the stovetop—these things are not cooking.

2. NEVER COOK THE SAME THING MORE THAN TWICE…
That’s right, you can’t make cacio e pepe night after night (though that does sound sort of nice). Forcing yourself to cook new recipes is exactly the thing that will earn you new skills, new favorites to put in your repertoire—and maybe even some new accolades from your family.

3. …EXCEPT WHEN IT COMES TO BREAKFAST
Breakfast is its own beast—you can eat the same thing for breakfast for the entire month. As long as you’re preparing your own breakfast and not buying it—no BECs from the corner deli, no McMuffins—you’re good.

4. RELY ON LEFTOVERS, BUT NOT TOO MUCH
#Cook90 is all about fitting home-cooked food into a hectic, busy life. Leftovers—and nextovers (more on that here)—are key to the strategy (half the point of making a killer chicken parm is so you can eat it again for lunch the next day). But also key to #cook90 is branching out and really flexing those cooking muscles. So eat leftovers once. Eat them twice if you need to. But after that, it’s time to move on.

5. TAKE 3 BREAKS
You get three passes on #cook90—three meals that you can eat at a restaurant, order in, or just have somebody else cook for you. You don’t have to use these, of course, but #cook90 will probably go easier if you do.

6.COOK WITH OTHER PEOPLE!
Making dinner with friends and family totally counts, and it can prevent you from feeling isolated in the kitchen. So plan a few dinner parties , or just invite a friend or two over on a Tuesday night. As long as you cook a reasonable amount of the food (we’re working on the honor system here), it counts.

Much like Bon Appetit’s Food-Lovers Cleanse, the challenge and its curated recipes were popular enough and printed into a book.  The book is divided into three main sections:

  • Part One – Welcome to Cook90 (Introduction, Rules, Fatigue, 12 Questions, etc.)
  • Part Two – The Four Part Plan for Cooking Everyday (Meal Planning, Shopping, Pantry, “Nextovers”)
  • Part Three – A Month of Cooking Everyday (Suggested Meal Plans, Recipes, Breakfast, Lunch, Weeknights, Weekends)

There is also a front recipe index is divided into 30 min or less, 15 min or less, and main ingredients, which makes recipe perusal easy when you’re not sure what you want to make.

Things to I’d like to try:

  • Blueberry – Tahini – Oatmeal Smoothie
  • Ricotta with Tomatoes, Lemon, and Mint
  • Savory Yogurt Bowl
  • Mojo Chicken with Rice and Beans
  • Quick Chicken Tikka Masala
  • Quick Sesame Chicken with Broccoli
  • Sweet Potatoes with Chorizo, Mushrooms, and Lime Cream
  • Braised Rotisserie Chicken with Bacon, Tomatoes, and Kale
  • Vietnamese Port Patty Salad with Rice Noodles
  • Smoky Beans and Greens on Toast

I can’t comment on any recipes that I’m not interested because the review copy of the book I have is not the final copy.  There might be misprinting, and there is a little bit of missing content. So, I cannot make any criticisms in good conscience.

For the purpose of this book review, I made the grain bowl with spiced squash, mushrooms, and curried yogurt.  (I did not realize until just now that the same recipe is available on the Epicurious website.)  I used some quick cooking Trader Joe’s farro for the grain portion, acorn squash (because I couldn’t find delicata), and used arugula over watercress because it was already in my kitchen.

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Pre-oven

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It was a simple recipe but not boring.  My kitchen smelled amazing the whole time the veggies were in the oven.  Regarding the final results, I found the flavors to be a little busy.  I felt like the mushrooms, arugula, and curry yogurt dominated all other flavors.  But still, I feel like I won some random non-scale victory here. I’ve used the curry yogurt on other things, and I’m now tempted to cook acorn squash with onions and cinnamon more often.

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Post oven

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Do I think this is a fun book?  Yes. I’m not sure I’d ever do the real challenge, but aspects of it appeals to me.  I cook all my own meals Sunday through Friday, and have done so for the last couple of years. I pretty much eat the same thing for breakfast everyday because Tamarkin is right on the mark – breakfast can be a beast!  I technically don’t cook the same thing in one month, but I have been known to cook the same protein twice in a row with different dry rubs (just enough of a difference so I don’t get completely bored).  I go out to eat maybe only twice a month. Probably against the rules, my family likes to meet up once a week for dinner and it’s typically my mother who does the cooking. Sometimes, family meals is take out from Chinatown.  lol!

But the one rule I know I’d have trouble with not breaking is no. 4 for “don’t rely on leftovers.”  I cook just for myself, so I’ll typically cook a standard 4 serving recipe and eat it throughout the week.  Tamarkin might call it leftovers but I prefer to call it meal prep. A lot of nights, I’m starving and not getting home until 6:30p.  I can’t wait to cook and then eat. Getting “hangry” is not an option.  So, food has to be re-heated quickly, which means employing some help from Chef Mike (“Mike” as in microwave).

Overall though, the recipes aren’t intimidating and they shouldn’t be because the authors want you to succeed.  The recipes are also good meal prep recipes.  Tamarkin and the Epicurious team isn’t totally against meal prep. They just call it “nextovers.” That is to say that “the portions you don’t eat are your nextovers—ready for you to turn into something different than tonight’s dinner the very next day.”  I’m just… unlikely to do that.

Pick up a copy of Cook90 if the challenge is something you want to tackle.  Or pick up a copy if you’re just looking to expand your arsenal of “everyday friendly” recipes.

The book is officially released on December 11th but, in the meantime, you can and should check out the related content on the Epicurious website.

 

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

 

Reference Links:

https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/grain-bowl-with-spiced-squash-mushrooms-and-curried-yogurt

https://www.epicurious.com/expert-advice/cook90-2017-week-1-article

https://www.epicurious.com/expert-advice/the-official-cook90-2018-meal-plan-gallery

https://www.littlebrown.com/titles/david-tamarkin/cook90/9780316420136/

 

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Holiday and Celebration Bread in Five Minutes a Day, a cookbook review

Bread is something I dabble in regularly but not with any mastery and I’m ok with that.  But maybe because I’m an average bread baker that I have very, VERY few recipes that I remake.  I’m always experimenting.

And while I’ve made no-knead breads before, I never got around to making anything from the “Bread in Five Minutes a Day” books by Zoe Francois and Jeff Hertzberg, even though I remember their first book on the best seller list.

Well, that’s finally changed.  I recently received a copy of their newest book, “Holiday and Celebration Bread in Five Minutes a Day.”  While the book focuses the more decadent breads (think ricotta-stuffed savory doughnuts and king cakes), it starts with the basics (like a white bread master recipe and Pullman sandwich loaf).  Here are the chapter titles to give you a better idea:

  • The Master Recipe
  • The Basics
  • Small loaves, rolls, and buns
  • Flatbreads
  • Challah and babka
  • Gooey, sticky goodness
  • Doughnuts
  • Christmas breads
  • Easter Breads
  • Celebration and Brunch breads
  • Fancy stale bread
  • Flaky dough
  • Quick jams and fillings

The recipes I really want to take a closer look are in the challah chapter: whole grain challah, tahini swirl bread, and coconut chocolate twist.  I would have made some challah as my first recipe out of the book except that I’m completely without eggs in the house, and I keep forgetting to pick some up.

For the purposes of this review, I made the buttermilk bread recipe.  Overall, it was very straightforward.  I chose to use my mixer instead of hand-mixing just to get everything mixed well.  Then, I let it sit on the counter, covered, for two hours before popping it in the fridge.

I chose to halve the recipe so I didn’t have to cut off half of the dough for baking.  Also, two loaves of bread is too much for just 1 person (and I still have challah to make in the near future).  When it came time to bake, I pulled it out of the fridge, shaped it, and let it sit for 90 minutes.

So, the method (not the concept) is new to me.  I’ve made no knead breads where you use a scant amount of yeast and just let it sit for 16 hours.  Francois and Hertzberg are using a fairly normal amount of yeast, and letting it develop gluten on its own at two different temperature ranges.

The buttermilk bread recipe was pretty sticky, even when cold, which I feel is common for no-knead breads but feel free to correct me.  But I’m not sure if the other recipes in the book are just as sticky.  While I recognize the benefits of a high hydration dough, I personally find it a little intimidating to work with.  I’m pretty bad at shaping dough to be begin with, and a sticky dough just makes it harder.

Having said that, I really do like the general ease of this method.  It just requires some forethought.

As for the buttermilk bread itself, I really liked it.  It gave me a sense of Wonder Bread nostalgia (the bread my mom used to buy), even though I know it’s not like Wonder Bread at all.  To be fair, I can’t do a side by side comparison, as I haven’t eaten Wonder Bread since I was probably in high school (… and high school happened a long time ago.  lol!)

Overall impression of the book?  I highly appreciate the variety of recipes.  The recipe layout is easy to read – it’s a grid with volume, weight in ounces, and weight in grams.  The photos look appealing – really clean, soft light, no weird HDR, and no weird retro photos.  I fully recommend this book to anyone who wants to make bread at home.

In fact, I think I’ll peruse the previous books in the series.  I bet I missed some fantastic sounding breads.

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

 

Reference Links:

https://read.macmillan.com/lp/holiday-and-celebration-bread/

https://artisanbreadinfive.com/

https://zoebakes.com/

Waste Not, a cookbook review

Being earth friendly is something that makes me anxious or angry.

I really don’t understand people who litter.  It’s an eye sore.   It’s a complete disregard for the community.  And it’s pretty much going to stay there forever unless someone threw away something like a banana peel.  I can’t tell you how many pieces of plastic, glass, and foil I see walking down just a few blocks on my street.  I swear that there’s someone out here who likes tucking in empty potato chip bags in the nooks and crannies of trees and fences consistently.  That’s when I get angry.

But a more complicated relationship between me and the earth happens in the kitchen.  To start, there were two summers where I shared a vegetable CSA with my sister and I had trouble getting through my share.  Sometimes, I had items that I didn’t like (fresh gooseberries and fresh currants for example).  But more often I had vegetables that I just didn’t cook soon enough and they’d start to rot.  So I don’t participate in CSAs anymore.

But I feel guilty even over normal kitchen waste like apple cores, bell pepper seeds, etc.  It makes me anxious.  I installed a composter in my backyard just to help alleviate my guilt.  But half of the time, I don’t even make it to the composter.  And it’s only good for vegetable scraps.  I can’t compost animal products.  

Oh, and whey!  Since I make my own yogurt, I like to strain it sometimes, but I don’t know what to do with the leftover whey.

So, my new experiment is to try to use up food scrapes whenever possible.  I recently received a copy of Waste Not by the James Beard Foundation.  The book is a collection of recipes and tips from different chefs on how to be less wasteful.

The book is sectioned into five chapters:

  • From Stem to Stem
  • Meat, Bones, Skin and Scales
  • Tops and Bottoms, Pits and Peels
  • Second-Day Solutions
  • Prolonged and Preserved

There is a recipe for leftover whey and that is whey cooked heirloom grains (specifically grits).  I’m really looking forward to trying that.  Other recipes that I’d like to use in no particular order:

  • Rainbow Chard Noodles
  • Squash Seed Tahini
  • Baked Potato Stock
  • Schmaltz Mashed Potatoes
  • Chicken Liver Dumplings (don’t worry, the liver is mixed with dark meat and lots of seasoning)

The only thing I don’t care for in this book is the photography.  It’s like someone went crazy with Instagram’s Lo-Fi filter and then some.

For recipe testing, I picked out the kale stem crackers (because my mother unexpectedly gifted me with a bunch of kale… like a mother does).

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Prepping kale stems

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It was very easy to put together, but my crackers didn’t firm up at all.  I rolled them out by hand to 1/4” which is what was the thickness in the directions, but I think I should have made it thinner.  Or maybe bake halfway, cut, and then bake again like you would with biscotti.  Not sure.

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Kale stems in a dough

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More importantly, they were surprisingly tasty and very savory!  I’m now thinking I should try dinner rolls with kale stems and garlic.

I’ve tried salvaging kale stems before by pickling them but this was much more my speed.  (I’m not a huge fan of pickles.  Kimchi, yes.  Pickles, not so much.)  So I can safely say that this book as a lot of good ideas on how to use up those items in your fridge that you might not realize are edible or were going to toss in the trash.  Since the recipes were written by different people, it’s hard for me to gauge if other recipes may need tweaking like I think the cracker recipe needs.  Regardless, it’s a great place to start if you want to move to a more zero-waste lifestyle or just need some inspiration.

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

Reference Links:

https://www.rizzoliusa.com/book/9780847862788/

Home Made Christmas, a cookbook review

If you haven’t noticed, I love cookbooks.  Sometimes I like them to be cute like Cook Korean!  Sometimes I like them to give me warm and fuzzy feelings of yum like Martha Stewart’s Cookies.  So I got really exciting when Abrams was kind enough to send me a copy of Yvette Van Boven’s Home Made Christmas.  Van Boven is an acclaimed cookbook author and host of Holland’s cooking show Koken Met van Boven.  In the US, her previous books are Home Made, Home Made Winter, Home Made Summer, and Home Baked. 

I remember Home Made and Home Made Winter when they were first released, but I never really got around to doing a deep dive into either of them.  Probably because I wasn’t cooking as regularly as I do now.  I certainly wasn’t doing cookbook reviews back then.  I forgot how whimsical some of Van Boten’s illustrations are.  It reminds me a little of doodling in the margins of a notebook.

Home Made Christmas is divided into these sections:

Christmas Stress-Relief Tips

  • The Morning **
  • Drinks
  • Snacks
  • Soups
  • Small Plates
  • Main Courses
  • Side Dishes **
  • Desserts **
  • Pantry
  • Menus

** = the chapters I’m personally most interested in.

And these are definitely holiday recipes, meant for celebration.  I wouldn’t say any of them are intimidating, but a lot of them are a little too decadent for everyday eating.

Here’s a sample of the recipes I’m most interested in trying out:

  • Brioche and Red Fruit Swirls with Ricotta Glaze
  • Savory French Toast
  • Squash, Feta, and Sage Pull Apart Bread
  • Cauliflower Creme with Coconut, Cumin, and Pine Nuts
  • Mincemeat Fudge
  • Blood Orange-Meringue Tartlets

The recipes that I am not interested in but you, dear reader, might be:

  • Spicy Goat Cheese Spread with Home Made Melba Toast
  • Cream of Gorgonzola and Poached Pears on Toast
  • Terrine of Tender Leek with Smoked Salmon and Mascarpone
  • Mackerel TartletRum-cured and Smoked Wild Salmon

For my first recipe from the book, I chose apple cranberry Christmas rolls.  It was pretty easy to put together that I was willing to do this at 8pm on a Thursday night even though I had work the next day.  As I was making it, I kept thinking that I was doing something wrong.  There’s no leavening agent!  But I carried on and put my faith in Van Boven.  She wrote that “the dough should be nice and soft, not too dry.”  I ended up with something that was extremely sticky.  Was that the same as nice and soft?  Can I blame this on a translation issue?    I had so many questions.

Once put together, it reminded me a lot of Amazing Raisin Cake which is a mayo based cake with apples and raisins.  (It’s one of the few things my mother would bake during my childhood but that’s a different story.)  I chose to scoop them onto a parchment line baking sheet, and made eight rolls.

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waiting to be baked #food

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I feel like calling them rolls is bad representation, but I’m not sure what a better description would be.  They are substantial and denser than a typical yeasted roll.  But I still really liked them!  Even though there’s applesauce, sugar, diced apples, and dried cranberries, it’s not too sweet.  My only disappointment was that my rolls didn’t brown prettily.  They don’t look like the book photo.  (Granted, I feel like the book photos have an intentional brown tone to them overall.)

I enjoyed the book, and I’m happy to put it on my bookshelf.  I think others will too.

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

Reference Links:

https://www.abramsbooks.com/product/home-made-christmas_9781419732386/

https://www.justapinch.com/recipes/dessert/cake/amazin-raisin-cake-1974.html

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.

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.

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.