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/

 

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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.