DINING IN by Alison Roman

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Highly Cookable Recipes

This book was quite a surprise. I wasn’t really familiar with Alison Roman but last fall I kept seeing this recipe for “Salted Chocolate Chunk Shortbread Cookies” all over social media. So I made them and they just blew me away. It probably helped that shortbread is my favorite cookie but everyone (at least online!) loved them. Then Bon Appetit published an article about it, “EVERYONE Is Making These Chocolate Chunk Shortbread Cookies…So you probably should, too.” And then the cookbook came out.

I wasn’t able to get my hands on a review copy (Clarkson Potter is making it up to me) but when it showed up at my library, I took it home and started playing. Then I ordered a bunch more copies for my cookbook discussion group and shocker of all time, not ONE complaint. Everyone loved it. I’ve been doing this cookbook discussion group since 2012 and I can’t remember another book that was unanimously loved. My library is in Boca Raton, Florida, and trust me when I say people who live in Boca are not known for being indiscriminately nice!

It is a really great cookbook, mostly because the recipes are truly accessible. Nothing takes days to make, a rare esoteric ingredient pops up (my group had a whole discussion on nigella seeds) but for the most part these recipes are easy to source, easy to make and easy to enjoy.

The chapters:

Vegetables
Knife-and-Fork Salads
Fruit Salads
Savory Breakfasts
Grains and Things
Fish
Meat
Sweets

It is also a beautiful book, nice heavy pages are actually sewn into the binding. I can’t remember the last time I saw that, most books today are glued together. The sewing makes the pages lie flat, always helpful with a cookbook. It starts out with the ubiquitous “pantry,” a list of items to have on hand which I generally find helpful. And there are recipes for some of the pantry items, like preserved lemons which I’m very excited about; I have a Meyer lemon tree and it is loaded with baby lemons at the moment.

If you’re a fan of Trader Joe’s “Everything But the Bagel Seasoning” which I believe is a seasonal item, no worries, there is a recipe in this book for a similar product. Some of the basics are really terrific, like the Lemony Tahini Salad Dressing. Easy to make and what I really love is that unlike most salad dressing recipes, this recipe makes enough dressing for a salad, not enough that I have to worry about what to do with the rest.

The stories sprinkled throughout are wonderful and Alison is just adorable. How can you not fall in love with a woman who writes, “When I was about seven or eight, I had a thing for supermarket shoplifting.”

So on to the vegetables – “Roasted Broccolini and Lemon with Crispy Parmesan” is a staple at my house. I’ve made something similar for years, but just squeezed some lemon at the end. This recipe includes thinly sliced lemon that is roasted along with the veg.  When a cookbook author has a favorite recipe, I try and make it and in this case it’s “Butter-Tossed Radished with Fresh Za’atar”.  This is a quick (about 5 minutes prep, 5 min cooking, tossing and serving) and is a really beautiful, unusual use of the lowly radish. I also really enjoyed the “Vinegar-Roasted Beets with Spring Onions and Yogurt” as I had all the ingredients already and had been putting off dealing with the always messy beets. This is a play on the oh-so-popular beet salad with goat cheese, subbing in the yogurt instead and I liked it. A friend made the “Baked Summer Squash with Cream and Parmesan Bread Crumbs” and said her son, who refuses to eat anything green, even liked it.

We are a pasta family (I know, I know, dreaded carbs!) but still, I am in love with Roasted Tomato and Anchovy Bucatini. Bucatini, if you are not familiar, is like fat spaghetti with a small hole running down the center and is usually available in Italian markets although I have seen it at my Publix lately. This sauce is made by taking fresh tomatoes, dousing them in tons of olive oil, shoving a bunch of garlic in there (no need to peel!) and slow roasting in the oven for hours. It is one of the more time consuming recipes, but the time is mostly hands off, it does its thing in the oven. The actual prep time is minimal. Best of all, you can do this with your glorious summer tomatoes and freeze them for deliciousness all year round.

Whole-Wheat Pasta With Brown-Buttered Mushrooms, Buckwheat, and Egg Yolk is unusual and delicious. I don’t do egg yolks, but my family loves them and this is super easy. I love buckwheat and it’s one of those things I usually have in my pantry, I make something with it once and then eventually I toss it. I am happy for another recipe that uses it, and there are a couple more in this cookbook; “Decidedly Not-Sweet Granola” (yes!) and “Savory Barley Porridge with Parmesan and Soy,” which I haven’t tried. Yet.

Another internet famous recipe worth mentioning is “Crispy Smashed Potatoes with Fried Onions and Parsley.” Tiny potatoes are steamed, cooled, then smashed flat with a pot or the palm of your hand, then fried – preferably in chicken fat (kill me now) until crisp. They are set aside for a few moments while raw onion goes into the pan until it softens and browns a bit and then it is all put together and nirvana is reached.

There are some really good protein recipes, like “Soy-Brined Halibut with Mustard Greens, Sesame, and Lime” – I subbed cod and arugula and it worked beautifully; “Swordfish-Like Steak with Crispy Capers” is just yummy, and anytime there is a sheet pan recipe I’m in – “Paprika-Rubbed Sheet-Pan Chicken with Lemon” is a keeper.

I know this is a long review, but bear with me a bit longer and let’s talk desserts! The shortbread cookie is the only cookie recipe in the book, but there are other desserts. Plus Roman started out as a pastry chef and her Milk Bar roots show as in “Choclate-Tahini Tart with Crunch Salt.” I haven’t tried the “Luckiest Biscuits in America” yet but I will – biscuits are my nemesis, the only successful ones I’ve ever made are “Evil Cheese Biscuits” from OLD-SCHOOL COMFORT FOOD by Alex Guarnaschelli.  “Blueberry Cake with Almond and Cinnamon” is made with a combination of almond flour and all purpose and is one of those deceptively simple coffee cakes that is just wonderful. There are fruit desserts, “Sorbet in Grapefruit Cups” is just beautiful, “Jen’s Key Lime Pie” and a “Cocoa Banana Bread” that has me intrigued. Finally, the last recipe in the book, “Brown Butter-Buttermilk Cake” is described as “something that tastes like an old-fashioned donut” and is next up in my kitchen.

My only criticism is that I wish there was a photograph of every recipe. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots  of pictures – Roman has a huge Instagram following so knows the value of good food porn, but there are recipes without photos that I would have liked to see.

Obviously, I’m not done yet. All I can say is I love this book and hope you will, too.

4/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

DINING IN by Alison Roman. Clarkson Potter (October 24, 2017). ISBN 978-0451496997. 303p.

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