Power Spicing, a cookbook review

One skill that I constantly feel like I am trying to develop is flavor combining.  Growing up, the flavors I was most familiar with were soy sauce, ginger, garlic, sesame oil, and scallions.  Cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves only made their appearance in a spiced apple cake that my mother would make on occasion because it was my favorite.  Anything beyond that can easily feel alien to me.

I think it’s the main reason why I am a tad obsessed with spices and spice mixes.  Power Spicing by Rachel Beller would have been the perfect book for me when I was getting into cooking.  It’s a cute cookbook with only about 60 recipes, and an overview of 25 spices. This is not Spice Master Lior Lev Sercarz level of cooking.  But that doesn’t mean that this book doesn’t have any value. One could argue that maybe it has more relevance to the average home cook.  

In the spice introduction, Beller mentions potential health/medicinal benefits of the 25 spices she chose to highlight.  For example, “studies show that cinnamon may help regulate blood sugars, improve insulin sensitivity, and reduce hemoglobin A1C levels.”  She also includes some general helpful information on each spice that varies from where you can find a certain spice to flavor substitutes.  She also offers from spice pairings based on absorption enhancers, synergistic actions, or doubling potential health effects.  

The book has seven main chapters:

  • DIY spice blends
  • Daily power beverages
  • Spicy and sweet breakfasts
  • Mains that pack a punch
  • Sizzling up your sides
  • Dressings and dips
  • Snacks and sweets

A lot of the recipes are plant based, but not all of them.  Some recipes that were of interest to me are:

  • Red-hot chili cocoa
  • Butternut squash and apple bake
  • Apple-zested muesli
  • Tzimmes oat crumble
  • Lentil salad with spicy vinaigrette
  • Vegan creamy brussels sprout Caesar
  • Warm fennel salad
  • Green goddess fenugreek tahini sauce
  • Spiced nut and date bars

Since the temperatures are dropping here in New England, I was mostly interested in the spiced warm drinks.  I made three of them (but only remembered to take photos of two). The first one I made was the golden choco-latte. The purpose of this drink is to help soothe inflammation and to balance your blood sugars.  Honestly, I just thought that it was pretty tasty.

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spice blend 🙃

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The second drink I tried was the saffron and cardamom latte.  This was the recipe that caught my eye first when I initially received the cookbook.  Made with saffron, green cardamom, cinnamon, and fennel, it’s supposed to boost your mood, strengthen your immune system, and help with bloating.  I was mostly curious about using saffron and cardamom as a blend. (I use cardamom today when I’m making masala chai.) Sadly, I was disappointed in this one.  Also, my efforts looked nothing like the photo. It just didn’t taste interesting enough to me. Maybe the fennel is a little too strong? I think I would have preferred just plain fennel tea (which is something I do from time to time).  Maybe I’ll play with the ratios of cardamom and fennel next time (if there is a next time).

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Matcha, cinnamon, ginger

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So then I made the stabilizing matcha in hopes that it would make up for the latte.  The stabilizing matcha says that the “combination of ginger, cinnamon, and matcha has been shown to stabilize blood sugar levels and decrease the risk of diabetes.”  I was a little worried that the cinnamon and ginger would completely overwhelm the matcha, but that didn’t seem to be the case. The spices hit the tongue first, but I think the matcha lingered afterward the most.  Final review? Yeah, I think this made up for the latte. I’m normally a plain green tea kind of person, but I think I can make an exception for this recipe from time to time.

While I recommend taking health claims with some skepticism, I don’t think there’s any harm in experimenting with whole and natural foods to try to increase benefits.  Especially if those experiments are tasty. Anyone with an interest in general spice blending or looking for a starting point in spice blending will find Power Spicing to be useful.

 

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

 

Umami Bomb, a cookbook review

Umami…  One word with so many expectations!  Or rather, I tend to have high expectations when I see it thrown around.  The last time I reviewed a cookbook with the word ‘umami’ in it, I was underwhelmed by the recipe testing result.  Would “Umami Bomb” by Raquel Pelzel be equally underwhelming or will it pass expectations with flying colors?

The chapters are sorted by the main umami ingredient of the recipe.  The chapters are:

  • Parm and Other Aged Cheeses
  • Soy Sauce
  • Tomatoes
  • Mushrooms
  • Caramelized Onions
  • Miso
  • Smoke
  • Nutritional Yeast
  • Fish

What sets this book slightly apart from other umami focused cookbooks is that this one is (lacto-ovo and pescatarian) vegetarian.  For better user experience (ok, that’s the nerdiest thing I’ve said on this blog), recipes are marked if they are vegan, vegan-optional, and with a rating system based on the number of umami ingredients.  What makes this book possibly better than the other umami book I’ve reviewed in the past (based on appearance only) is how approachable these recipes are. Pelzel’s book isn’t asking for any specialty ingredients if you’re living in an urban area.  It’s not asking you to build a pantry of DIY pastes, seasoning, or sauces.  

And… there’s a wealth of recipes I want to try.  I just didn’t have time to make more than one in time for this review.

  • Killer Chocolate Cake (just because I want to put soy sauce in frosting)
  • Grilled Pan Con Tomate with Miso Butter
  • Tomato ‘Nduja
  • Sick Day Tomato Soup
  • Savory Mushroom Breakfast Porridge
  • Veg and Cornbread Bake
  • Falafel-Spiced Grilled Mushrooms with Miso-Tahini Dressing
  • Mushroom Gravy
  • Caramelized Onion Korean Pancake 
  • Miso Peanut Butter Cookies
  • Polenta with Smoked Cheddar and Kale
  • Eggplant “Meatballs”

In the end, I decided to make Toasted Sesame Granola with Coconut, Orange, and Warm Spices.  I’ve never tried using sesame oil in my granola before or fresh ginger. Or soy sauce for that matter.  I try not to meddle with recipes for review, but I had to leave out the orange for this. I forgot to pick it up at the store.  Another note, cinnamon is one of the ingredients, but Pelzel suggests smoked cinnamon if you can get your hands on it. And now that I’ve made this granola, I’m seriously considering sourcing some smoked cinnamon.  The flavors in this recipe are really bold, some of the other ingredients are sesame seeds, shredded unsweetened coconut, ground ginger and ground coriander. My taste buds couldn’t really taste the sesame flavors but the amount of saltiness from the soy was perfect.  For me, the main flavors were ginger and coriander so smoked cinnamon would have matched really nicely.

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Mmmmm granola

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Unadorned, the granola is almost overwhelming but I couldn’t stop eating it anyway.  (Isn’t that kind of the point of umami anyway?) But when I topped my plain yogurt with it, it was perfect in every way. Pelzel also suggests pairing it with chocolate ice cream so obviously I need to go pick up some chocolate ice cream, sooner rather than later.

Overall, I really appreciate how unique the granola recipe is.  It makes me excited to experiment with the other recipes.

The book doesn’t have photos for everything, but that’s ok.  The photos that are there are bright and appetizing.  I think the array of recipes nicely covers a little of everything from breakfast to dessert.  I also appreciate how approachable and functional the book appears to be.  It’s all very appealing.  I definitely recommend giving this book a try if you can.

Disclaimer – I kindly received this book from Workman Publishing for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own.  The book is released September 3, 2019.

Reference Links:

http://www.raquelpelzel.com/recipes/

https://www.workman.com/

 

Asano-mama’s Trial-By-Cupcakes

It just occurred to me that I never posted about the coconut-lychee cupcakes that I made for the Equinox party. I’m too lazy to write it all up again, so here’s what I put in my LJ more or less:

I arrived at the Awesomesauce at about 1:45 or so and started working on my cupcakes probably around 3pm and was working on them for a good two to three hours. You wouldn’t think cupcakes would be so labor intensive, but the bulk of the work for these involved getting the flesh from the fresh coconut. I’d never worked with a coconut before so it was a lot of fun to drill, drain and smash the thing. Lots of flashbacks to Tom Hanks in “Castaway.” Separating the flesh from the shells was really work-intensive as well.

Brute force needed

Smashed coconut!

When I shredded the flesh in stealth_eater’s Cuisinart, the coconut oil gunked the hell out of the machinery. Man, it made a humongous mess. I cleaned it up but for a while there it was like I made a disaster zone out of the whole kitchen.

Still, after tasting the end result, I don’t think it would have tasted nearly as delicious had I used pre-dried shredded coconut. The fresh stuff was just so chewy and gave the cupcakes a fun texture. Plus I got to hit a coconut with a hammer, and that was cool 😛

Somehow the cupcakes were perfectly spongey and soft. I don’t usually have much luck with getting baked goods the *perfect* consistency but I lucked out this time.

Cupcakes fresh out of the oven

The dough itself was actually a lot drier than I was expecting, which is great. Lychee are so juicey I was afraid I’d get a really goopy dough and end up pouring the stuff into the cupcake molds, but the liquid was just right — the recipe calls for a little bit of coconut water, which I didn’t imagine I’d even need, but you really do! Otherwise the dough is *too* dry. I never would have thought that! So the dough was very easy to handle and the fruits cooked very well.

The frosting also took a while to make — it was a huge amount of creamcheese with just a touch of vanilla, grated fresh ginger and powdered ginger, but the effect was a wonderfully delicate flavor, so it was VERY VERY popular.

Coconut lychee cupcakes with ginger-cream cheese frosting

I left the frosting off four of the cupcakes you see in the lower right corner so one of the guests, who is lactose-intolerant, could enjoy these as well 🙂 I just sprinkled some coconut powder and powdered sugar on those.

…And it seems the cupcakes all went over really well, which made all the effort very well worth it!
I am horrible at frosting cupcakes (I … just lack the inherent ability to do it properly for some reason) so Omni volunteered to do it. Here she is doing what I simply cannot — frosting the cupcakes:

That giant bowl of frosting you see there… I still have most of it in the freezer.

I don’t know why the recipe called for SO MUCH frosting but now I have enough ginger-creamcheese frosting to last several millenia.

The garnish was a tiny piece of crystallized ginger.

Here is the recipe for the cupcakes I made from the CupcakeBlog, which is one of my favorite websites EEEEVAR.