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).

Burnt miso (on purpose)… not very photogenic

A post shared by @ awesomesauceeats on

Garlic confit in progress

A post shared by @ awesomesauceeats on

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.)

Noodles dressed in miso garlic sauce

A post shared by @ awesomesauceeats on

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.

Advertisements

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.

Pizza at my favorite place #food #pizza

A post shared by @ awesomesauceeats on

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.

Acid Trip with Gabriel and Michael (crosspost)

Acid Trip author Michael Harlan Turkell and La Bodega chef Gabriel Bremer recently visited Harvard SEAS for an off-season lecture.

Went to a lecture about vinegar #harvard #food #vinegar

A post shared by @ awesomesauceeats on

I was really hoping we’d get a chance to sample some Japanese sweet potato vinegar, but alas!  It was not meant to be.  The bottle meant for the public lecture broke in transit.

On the bright side, I was introduced to and got to sample Gegenbauer vinegar.  Gosh!  That was pretty good.  It’s meant to be a drinking vinegar/finishing vinegar.  I had a lot of trouble tasting the apple cider vinegar sample.  The agrodolce vinegar sample (I forget the brand) fell somewhere in between in terms of flavor and sharpness.

But we did get a couple of Gabriel’s recipes and a cooking demo.

The suggestions given for experimenting with vinegars was to 1) reduce the amount of salt and add vinegar, and 2) experiment with a favorite recipe and see what happens when you add vinegar.

No lie, I’m a little inspired to try cooking beef tongue.

 

Pantry friendly pasta sauce, version 1.0

I wanted to make a pasta sauce that wasn’t a traditional pasta sauce.  Partly because I like being difficult, and partly because my right thumb has been swollen all day for reasons unknown.  So I was not inclined to do a lot of cutting or anything remotely similar.

So I came up with the recipe below.  I may fuss with it in the near future, but I was happy with it today.  It also happens to be vegan and nut free.

Pantry friendly pasta sauce, version 1.0

  • 3/4 cup sunflower seeds, roasted and unsalted
  • 1 garlic clove (I cheated and used 1/4 tsp Penzey’s minced garlic)
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice (Honestly, I used 1/2 of a lemon but that was too lemony)
  • 1/4 tsp table salt
  • 1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano

 

Blitz everything in a high powered blender.  If you don’t have one, you could probably let everything soak for an hour in a standard blender before turning it on.

Makes about 2 cups.

Why must some relationships end?

I discovered Blogging for Books toward the end of 2014.  For those who don’t know what it is, Blogging for Books is a website created 10 years ago to help bloggers connect with publishers to get access to books for review purposes.  For someone with such a small blog like my own, it was a boon.  Unless you have a minimum of 5,000 followers, most publishers don’t want to work with you.  Trust me, I’ve tried.  Back in 2014, I wished that I had found the website sooner.

As of this week, the closure of Blogging for Books was announced.  Saying that I was sad when I heard the news is an understatement.  I’m now back to floundering as a small time blogger.  And I am always going to be a small time blogger.  I did a weekend workshop once with people who all wanted to be food journalists (not necessarily food bloggers, so I was a bit out of place), and several people were amazed that I had absolutely no ads on my site.  Unlike my classmates, I was the only person who blogged purely for fun.  I don’t want to turn my hobby into a job.  I don’t want to churn out content everyday or every other day.  Food blogging has always been an outlet for me.  It’s a place where I can funnel my experiences and thoughts on this one subject that is important to me.

So here’s my good-bye to Blogging for Books.  Its value as a resource to me can’t be quantified easily.  I can only hope that I can find a replacement, or that publishers will one day take this little blog of mine more seriously.

Edible insects (crosspost)

I can now say that I’ve eaten a freeze dried insect, thanks to the Nordic Food Lab.

I'm a nerd. #nordicfoodlab #harvard

A post shared by @ awesomesauceeats on

These are not corn puffs…

Eating from the Ground Up, a cookbook review

9780451494993

There exists in history plenty of celebrities who have released cookbooks.  And there exists a lot of food bloggers in today’s world who have authored their own cookbooks.    I think the first cookbook that I was aware of that was written by a blogger was the Homemade Pantry by Alana Chernila.  I don’t have my own copy of it, but I do own my own copy of Chernila’s second book, Homemade Kitchen.  I thoroughly enjoyed both.  Most recently, she’s released her third book, Eating from the Ground Up.  I loved her first two books instantly that I really thought I’d feel the same about her third book.  

The truth is I’m actually not sure how I feel about Eating from the Ground Up.   

Something that I really appreciate about this book is the layout.  The book is broken down into the following chapters:

  • Barely Recipes
  • A Pot of Soup
  • Too Hot to Cook
  • Warmth and Comfort
  • Celebrations and Other Excuses to Eat with Your Hands

At the back of the book, there’s a handy reference by vegetables.  The listed vegetables are generally familiar and easily accessible.  (Or at least, easy to find in Greater Boston.  If you live in a small town or a village, your mileage may vary.)  

  • Arugula
  • Asparagus
  • Avocado
  • Beets and beet greens
  • Bok choy
  • Broccoli
  • Broccoli raab
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Celeriac
  • Celery
  • Collards
  • Corn
  • Cucumbers
  • Eggplant
  • Endive
  • Escarole
  • Fennel
  • Frisee
  • Green beans
  • Green Chile
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Leeks
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Peas
  • Peppers
  • Potatoes
  • Radicchio
  • Radishes
  • Rutabaga
  • Scallions
  • Shallots
  • Spinach
  • Summer Squash And zucchini
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Swiss chard
  • Tomatillos
  • Tomatoes
  • Turnips and turnip greens
  • Watercress
  • Winter squash

The Barely Recipes chapter is full of basic recipes that remind me of the intentions of the earlier cookbooks.  The new book feels familiar overall, and the photography remains expertly styled and lovely.

The recipes I want to cook but it’s the wrong season right now?  (FYI, there are some things that I refuse to cook out of season.)

  • Napa Coleslaw with Pecans and Peas
  • Grilled Summer Squash with Basil Ricotta
  • Fresh Corn and Stone Fruit

The recipes that I might cook in the near future?

  • Roasted Tomatillo and Black Bean Chili
  • Whole Steamed Sweet Potatoes with Scallion Watercress Sauce
  • Scallion Crepes

So if I have such praise for this book, what’s keeping me from outright enjoying it?  Honestly, it’s a very personal opinion.  I’m not feeling inspired by it.  It’s like picking up a new album from a music artist you adore, one that’s solidly produced, but you find yourself hardly ever listening to it.  I can say that there are recipes that I want to cook, but realistically I’m not sure I ever will.  

Ugh!  I feel so bad for admitting this!  This book seems to be everything I like.  I like recipes that don’t have an ingredient list a mile long.  I like recipes that are approachable.  I like vegetables, and I’m always trying to be better about eating enough of them.

This review is being published a week late because I couldn’t decide how I felt about this book, and I couldn’t decide on a recipe to make.

I eventually made Chernila’s version for zucchini chocolate bread.  I chose this recipe because I like that there’s baking powder, baking soda, and yogurt.  I’m suspicious of quick bread recipes there’s only baking soda as the leavener, but there isn’t enough of an acidic element in the ingredient list.  In that case, you’re make a quick bread that just tastes like baking soda.  Yuck.

There’s also a reasonable amount of sugar.  I don’t want my zucchini breads to be cake.

What I didn’t consider was how much liquid there is in Chernila’s recipe.  She doesn’t have you squeeze the grated zucchini (which I traditionally don’t do anyway), but she’s also got plain whole milk yogurt and milk in it.  Now, I might have mis-measured something, but my loaf sank some after it came out of the oven.  A quick Google search came up with “be sure there isn’t too much liquid in your ingredients” and “don’t underbake” as possible culprits.  Even though I had mine in the oven longer than recipe suggestion, and it seemed to pass the toothpick test, the crumb does look undercooked.  

Chernila writes that the recipe “it’s not too sweet… it has a quite a bit more zucchini than the average loaf, so you can really taste it.”  Flavor-wise, I’m not unhappy.  I even had a second slice this morning for breakfast.  So I might try this again.  Maybe next time I’ll just forgo the addition of milk and bake for a full hour.  Or maybe I’ll try one of her other recipes in an effort to be fair.

Dear reader, do you have a copy of this book?  Is there a recipe in particular that you’d recommend?

Reference Links:

https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/538597/eating-from-the-ground-up-by-alana-chernila/9780451494993/ 

http://www.eatingfromthegroundup.com/ 

 

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