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/

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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.

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

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

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

New?  Check.  Crazy?  Check.

Let’s do this thing!

Our observations:

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

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

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

One hurdle done.

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

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

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

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

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

But more importantly, how did it taste?

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

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Making flavored oil

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

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

FIVE-MI TOGARASHI (GO-MI TOGARASHI)

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

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

Reference Links

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

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

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

that zucchini and pasta recipe, a Kitchen Conclusion

I did a silly thing.

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

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

My personal experience:

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

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

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

Reference Links:

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

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

Previous Kitchen Conclusion Post:

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

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.

Sometimes, it’s ok to call it quits

In a perfect world, I’d be experimenting with sourdough breads regularly.  I’d create boules of beauty, and share them with friends and family.

However, this isn’t a perfect world.  A handful of close friends are gluten free.  I rarely get to share the things I cook and bake because I’ve messed something up just enough that it doesn’t feel fit for sharing, or I’m just make enough food for myself for the week.  At the end of the day, I’m just feeding myself.

I do make bread on occasion.  I even had a rye sourdough starter going for over a year.  But those two statements?  Rarely done at the same time.  When I make bread, it’s usually with SAF instant.  When I was maintaining my sourdough starter, I was just finding ways to cook the discarded starter.  I was almost never making proper bread with my starter.  It even got to a point where I forgot I had a starter hanging out in my fridge.  I literally did not notice it in my fridge until about two months after its last feeding.

Even then (!!!), it took me a couple of weeks to finally toss it in the trash.  Some part of me hated feeling like I was giving up on a project.  But logically, it didn’t make sense to try again.  More so, because I have a place in a 10 minute walk away that does a wonderful sourdough.  I’ve started going there a bit more frequently because I absolutely love their sourdough pizzas, but you can pick up bread to take home.  I can spend 2-3 days making sourdough bread on my own, or I can spend $4 – $7 at my local restaurant.

It will do me more good than harm to recognize what I am willing and not willing to do.  If I didn’t live so close to awesome bread, I’d probably feel differently about this.  Or if I had a large family to feed, which I don’t.

But you know what they say: when one door closes, another opens.