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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Breakfast with Beatrice, a cookbook review

I have delusions of grandeur when it comes to breakfast.

I want ricotta on challah toast (or fresh fig jam and mascarpone, if I’m at Henrietta’s Table in Cambridge).  I want eggs with pepperjack cheese and avocado slices. Oooh, or something I’ve been meaning to do – seared scallops with bacon, fried egg, and grilled tomatoes.  (Yes, I am influenced by Sorted Food youtube videos.)

In a similar vain, I have ambitious plans of questionable achievement when it comes to cooking/baking Nordic foods.  Either I’m subconsciously addicted to Ikea (which probably would be true if I lived closer to one) or I’ve watched too many videos featuring Magnus Nilsson and Rene Redzepi (this is definitely true).

The reality is that I meal prep my breakfasts most of the time, and I want something quick to put together.  Lately, I’ve been making the same baked oatmeal recipe for a few months now.  But that doesn’t mean that I’m not on the lookout for new ideas.  Let’s be honest – it’s only a matter of time before I hit baked oatmeal fatigue.

When I saw the cover of “Breakfast with Beatrice” by Beatrice Ojakangas, I was intrigued.  The cover has minimalist but colorful Scandinavian inspired kitchen illustrations.  The tag line under the title says “250 recipes from sweet cream waffles to Swedish farmer’s omelets.”   It sounded like it had variety.  It had the word Swedish in it.  It was 250 recipes.  What’s not to like?

First impressions?  This cookbook is old school.  There are literally no photos.  It’s a straightforward recipe book.  Some recipes have a short introduction, but many don’t have any commentary.  (For the record, some of my favorite cookbooks are ones without any photos… Kathy Farrell-Kingsley’s “The Big Book of Vegetarian” comes to mind.  Substance is more important than appearance.)  

Before this book, I hadn’t heard of the author before.**  While her culinary heritage is Scandinavian, Beatrice Ojakangas is from Minnesota where she still lives.  There are many recipes that aren’t Nordic. In addition to recipes like hätäleipä, and cream cheese and salmon smørrebrød, be prepared to find recipes like Tex-Mex strata, beignets, colonial brown bread muffins, and old Virginia cheddar biscuits.  According to the book’s introduction, she “selected many of [her] favorite breakfasts for Breakfast with Beatrice.” 

(** Hilariously, I should have been familiar with the author’s name.  I own one of her other books, “The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever.”)

The book is broken down into these sections:

  • Pancakes and waffles
  • Savory breakfast and casserole dishes (smørrebrød and porridge recipes are filed here)
  • Pastries and coffee cakes
  • Breakfast breads (has both yeasted breads and quick breads)
  • Muffins, biscuits, and scones
  • Smoothies, jams, and preserves (FYI, there is just one smoothie recipe)

 

Normally, this is the part of the post where I like to list the recipes that I’m particularly interested in making.  However, I’m not going to, because I’m not sure that there’s a recipe in the book that I don’t want to make.  In general, these recipes aren’t trendy. They aren’t ingredient crazy or meant for a large weekend project.  Instead, they sound like the kind of recipes you inherit from a beloved family member or recipes you have fond memories of. 

I had trouble picking out a recipe test out… too many sounded delicious. I originally thought about making the wild rice and blueberry muffin recipe, but I didn’t have any wild rice in my pantry and was unwilling to buy some.  (Note to self, clean out your pantry so that you can do things like buy wild rice without feeling bad about it.)  I eventually settled on the yogurt nut brown bread recipe, which only has 8 ingredients: rye flour, whole wheat flour, all purpose flour, baking soda, salt, plain yogurt, light molasses, and chopped nuts.  I don’t keep whole wheat flour in my kitchen because I’m convinced that most commercially available whole wheat flour doesn’t taste very good, so I subbed with spelt flour. I also didn’t have light molasses but that was easy to substitute with a blend of regular molasses and maple syrup. Other than that, it was very easy to put together.  I didn’t need to break out a mixer for this. Using a whisk and a spatula was good enough.

In the author’s own words, this bread is “compact, dark, grainy, and rich-tasting.”  It is definitely dense and dark, but I wouldn’t say it’s grainy even though I know that it’s made with whole grain flours.  I thought it was a bit chewy (in a good way) and moist. The molasses flavor hit my tongue first, but quickly gave way to an earthy flavor.  The more bites I took, the less I noticed the molasses. I ate half a slice with some almond butter, and enjoyed that too. I think this recipe makes for a great everyday quick bread, perfect for those times I want bread but am too impatient to work with yeast.  

Later this week, I think I’ll see how it pairs with other foods like eggs, ham, or cheese.

Overall, I’m quite delighted by my initial results.  I look forward to working more from this book.  If you’re someone who loves cooking/baking, and doesn’t need to be bedazzled by fancy pictures, I wholeheartedly recommend “Breakfast with Beatrice.”  

 

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

Reference Links:

http://beatrice-ojakangas.com/

https://www.upress.umn.edu/book-division/books/breakfast-with-beatrice

Because I wasn’t making it up, Sorted Food’s Full English Breakfast video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l1DTeah8YAs

 

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.