SALT, FAT, ACID, HEAT by Samin Nosrat

October 28, 2018

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Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking

Illustrated by Wendy MacNaughton

I remember when this book was getting nominated for all kinds of awards, and from the reviews, I thought it was going to be a beginners cookbook so I didn’t pay it much attention. Then came the Netflix show.

My husband and I watched the first episode one Saturday night a few weeks ago. Samin is totally adorable, smart, funny and just, well, lovable. That first episode takes place in Italy, which didn’t hurt either. So we said, okay, we’ll watch the next one. That one was in Japan. An hour later, we thought, why not, let’s watch the episode in Mexico. And then there was only one episode left so we watched that, too. Yes, I lead an exciting life, binge watching Netflix on a Saturday night. It wasn’t the first time, and probably won’t be the last. But it was fun, and inspiring, and thoroughly enjoyable and it led me back to her cookbook.

To be honest, I liked the TV series more than the book, and that is a very odd thing for me to say. It is, as I feared, very much a beginners cookbook. The first two hundred pages of the book just explains salt, fat, acid and heat. The rest of the book is called, “and now that you know how to cook…” and includes “recipes and recommendations.”

The first part of the second part? Not recipes, “Kitchen Basics” starting with “choosing tools, choosing ingredients, a few basic  how-tos” with illustrations. Like how to slice an onion, how to turn garlic into a paste, how to chop parsley and other info on knife cuts. Then, finally, recipes. Sort of.

There are pages on salads but nothing that looks like a recipe you’d find in any other cookbook until you get a ways in. There are pages about ingredients used in salad, a chart with suggested combinations, and then some actual recipes. Avocado, Beet and Citrus Salad. Shaved Carrot Salad with Ginger and Lime. Then some dressings – progress! After the salads come stocks and soups. beans, grains and pasta, fish, chicken, and so forth, even a handful of desserts. There is no table of contents, but there is an extensive index.

All that said, there wasn’t a whole lot I would make. It’s just too basic, I’ve been making most of this stuff for years. So it’s not a cookbook I would cook from, if you will, and for me, that defeats the purpose.

A reviewer from the Atlantic called it a “meta-cookbook” and I totally get that. Other reviewers felt that it changed the way they cooked or even the way they thought about food. It didn’t do that for me. That said, it would make a terrific gift for a beginning cook or someone who doesn’t like to cook or even worse, thinks they can’t cook. Samin is a remarkable teacher, and that shows on every page. Her love of food comes shining through, along with her will to make everyone feel the same way – and she truly is a force to be reckoned with – but in the most irresistible way. Buy it for the novice cooks in your life. And definitely watch the show!

10/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

SALT, FAT, ACID, HEAT by Samin Nosrat. Simon and Schuster; 4th edition (April 25, 2017). ISBN 978-1476753836. 480p.


DEEP RUN ROOTS by Vivian Howard

September 16, 2018

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Stories and Recipes from My Corner of the South

WINNER OF AN ASTONISHING FOUR IACP AWARDS, INCLUDING COOKBOOK OF THE YEAR AND THE JULIA CHILD FIRST BOOK AWARD

Vivian Howard, star of PBS’s A CHEF’S LIFE, celebrates the flavors of North Carolina’s coastal plain in more than 200 recipes and stories.

This was a serendipitous find of a cookbook. First, it showed up on several lists of cookbooks to look for. Then it won the IACP Cookbook of the Year award. Then I was looking around PBS and stumbled on this show called “A Chef’s Life” and it took a few episodes before I realized that this show starred the author of this cookbook I kept hearing about. Kismet!

I selected it for my cookbook discussion group (there is such a thing and I’ve been facilitating this group for several years at my library,) ordered 15 copies and waited. We met yesterday to discuss and watch the “Broccoli” episode where Vivian begins her book/food truck tour. Yes, this chef went on tour with a food truck. How brilliant was that? Made me wonder why all chefs weren’t doing that.

The consensus of the group was that we loved reading the book – her stories are just wonderful. However, cooking from the book was an entirely different thing. A few people felt intimidated by it, and remember, this is a group of people who cook regularly from cookbooks, most for many years so that really surprised me. Most people felt the recipes were overly long and complicated and a few others didn’t care for the style of the food but loved reading the book. Southern cuisine is not for everyone, and this is a very specific, eastern Carolina style of food. One of the group is actually from eastern Carolina and has relatives still living in the area and she probably enjoyed this book the most. Vivian Howard is a hero there.

So about the book – the positives. There are stories, lots of stories, and they are wonderful. The book itself is beautiful, sturdy, heavy paper sewn into the binding so it lies flat pretty much at every page. Towards the end of the book (it is a big cookbook, over 500 pages) the sheer weight of the book tends to snap it closed. There are also instructions on how to can fruits and vegetables, which seems important to a cookbook like this.

There is a table of contents (which is odd, by any standards) and then a very detailed Recipe Guide which is in a completely different order and sectioned differently from the table of contents. At the end of the book is an index, which is a sorry thing that often refers back to the page of the Recipe Guide to find the actual page number of the recipe. Confusing? Yep. So for clarity’s sake, on the left side of this picture is the actual Table of Contents, with the chapters:

Looking at just the table of contents, one would think there were no chicken, beef or fish recipes, for instance, but there are. There is an explanation given as to the way the book is organized. Vivian says,

…the way I ordered the chapters and recipes is personal, driven more by story than anything else. But it’s a cookbook, after all, and I want you to cook from it, and that’s why I’ve included this more practical guide (that would be the Recipe Guide.)

On the right side of the picture is the beginning of the Recipe Guide. It is divided into sections that make a bit more sense, more like a traditional cookbook, with sections called Breakfast and Brunch; Sandwiches; Pickles, Preserves, and Relishes; Sweets etc. I do like that she included a box at the end of this guide with “Eastern North Carolina Traditions”, a list of recipes that are truly native to that area like Collard Kraut, Fresh Corn Roasted in Chicken Drippings, Squash and Onions, and so forth.

One of my members made the Squash and Onions and said she made the rookie mistake of not reading the recipe all the way through before beginning. By the time she realized that these vegetables would be cooking for hours, she was already into it. She said that to her, a Yankee born and bred, this dish epitomized everything that is wrong with Southern food, taking beautiful, fresh ingredients, like summer squash straight from the farm, and cooking it until it is an unrecognizable mush. She ended up taking the mush, adding in quinoa and finely chopped mushrooms and turned it into a most delicious veggie burger. The mushy squash acted as the glue in holding it all together.

Another member of the group, the one from eastern North Carolina, made the Stewed Collard Greens with Ham Hock. She said this recipe is very similar to the way she grew up making this dish and it was delicious.

We all noticed that citrus plays an important role in many recipes, and we all liked that. I loved the Citrus Sweet Potato Butter although I did leave out the sugar, and found it more than sweet enough. I will be making that again. When I have some time off from work, I am going to attempt the Sweet Potato Onion Bread, which is a four page long recipe that requires a lot of attention, this is no mix it, knead it and wait recipe. I also am planning on making the Stuffed Butternut Bottoms, where butternut squash “bowls” are roasted then stuffed with a mixture of sausage, leek, turnip greens (or kale) and cheese, then topped with bread crumbs and baked again. She doesn’t specify the type of sausage so I’m thinking maybe a spicy chicken sausage would be good here. It sounds really good and winter squash season is almost upon us.

I did not care for the Watermelon Tea – basically a mixture of tea and pureed, strained watermelon that I thought would be akin to a sweet tea without adding actual sugar, but I found it an odd combination of flavors. Another member of the group made the Peaches and Cream Cake, another four page recipe (including pictures) and loved it but said it really was overly complicated. I also made “Viv’s Addiction,” a spiced pecan that was delicious. The nuts are folded into a stiffly beaten egg white with lots of spice then baked. I love these things, but this was the most complicated spiced nut recipe I’ve ever made. Breaking apart what is essentially a sweet & spicy praline required a bit of attention but I think the end result was worth it.

I mostly enjoyed reading this cookbook more than cooking from it, if that makes sense. But if you are looking for unusual recipes, and you like Southern food, and you enjoy the challenge of long, complicated recipes, you may love this cookbook.

9/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

DEEP RUN ROOTS by Vivian Howard. Little, Brown and Company; y First edition edition (October 4, 2016). ISBN 978-0316381109. 576p.

 

 

 


SIX SEASONS by Joshua McFadden

June 23, 2018

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A New Way with Vegetables
with Martha Holmberg

Let me start by saying that while this is a vegetable forward cookbook, it is not vegetarian, so if the thought of chicken or fish or pork touching your veggies makes you ill, this is not your cookbook. But if you enjoy occasional vegetarian dishes or just love veggies and are trying to find new ways to make them, then run out and buy this book immediately. It is terrific.

The book is divided into “six seasons” –  the usual four that we all know, except summer is divided in thirds; early, mid, and late. The book is laid out in seasonal order, too, so if it is fall and you look in that section for recipes, you should easily be able to find those ingredients at your market or farm stand because they are in season. Get it? All that said, I live in South Florida so I had to throw all of that out the window since our growing “seasons” (and I use the plural loosely) are pretty much summer all year long except in summer, when it is just hot as Hades and not much grows except the mosquitoes.

There is an interesting forward and a few terrific essays:

How Getting Dirty Helped Me Become a Cook
How This Book Can Help You Become a Better Cook
What I learned While Writing This Book with Joshua

Then there are a few chapters that are out of season, if you will:

My Larder
Go To Recipes
Pickles: Six Seasons in a Jar

The rest of the book is laid out seasonally, starting with Spring.

It is also a beautiful book, nice heavy pages are actually sewn into the binding. I mention this because not a lot of cookbooks are that way, and it is a definite plus, especially with a big book like this one. It just means that the book will like flat on the counter when you cook from it. Did I mention it has about 275 recipes and is almost 400 pages long? Another physical feature of the book that I liked was that the pages are tipped in color so you can easily see the seasons.

McFadden has an interesting way of creating salad dressing that I haven’t seen before. He recommends adding the vinegar and seasonings to the salad and to keep tasting until you like it, then add the oil at the end. You don’t end up with an emulsified dressing but rather a well seasoned salad and I liked it. Not all the time, but when I get beautiful veggies from the farm and want to make a platter or simple salad, it just seems to work really well this way.

Besides recipes, there are lots of tips on how to buy, clean, and store your veggies which is very useful. There is an entire page on broccoli, then several recipes like Rigatoni with Broccoli and Sausage, which is a personal favorite. What I like about this recipe is the addition of “Whipped Ricotta,” although I would have liked it better if I didn’t have to flip to another page for that recipe, as well as for the dried breadcrumbs – not out of a can but yet another recipe within the recipe. I do like how clear the directions are for preparing the broccoli for this dish:

1 pound broccoli, stems trimmed and peeled, stems sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch coins, and tops cut into florets

Just takes the guessing out of it, which works for me. By the way, broccoli is a ‘midsummer’ vegetable. Early summer vegetables includes fennel, beets and the usually overlooked celery (a side note: check out the hilarious celery episode of “Portlandia“) and then make one of 7 celery recipes like “Celery Salad with Dates, Almonds, and Parmigiano” or “Braised Celery and Radicchio Salad with Perfect Roast Chicken.”

Late summer includes corn, eggplant, sweet peppers, and chiles among others. Recipes like “Corn and Tomato Salad with Torn Croutons” and Red Pepper, Potato, and Prosciutto Frittata Topped with Ricotta” are just light and easy summer suppers or sides.

Fall veggies include carrots, Brussels sprouts, artichokes and kale. Winter has these plus cabbage, turnips, kohlrabi and potatoes, and of course, winter squash. Recipes include “Pumpkin Bolognese,” “Turnip, Leek, and Potato Soup,” and a really unusual and delicious “Battered and Fried Cabbage with Crispy Seeds and Lemon,” a kind of cabbage leaf tempura that is heavily spiced and makes a wonderful appetizer.

Circling back around to the beginning of the book is Spring veggies, starring asparagus, English peas, Fava beans and lettuces. There is an adulterated version of carbonara with the lovely addition of those English peas that works really beautifully, and if you haven’t tried raw asparagus, spring is the time to do it with “Raw Asparagus Salad with Breadcrumbs, Walnuts, and Mint.” Add fresh mint to anything and I’m on board.

The “go to” recipes includes vinaigrettes like “Caper-Raisin Vinaigreette,” Pancetta Vinaigrette” and a wonderful “Lemon Cream” dressing. Also there are, butters like “Brown Butter,” “Pistachio Butter” and “Alla Diavola Butter” – yum! You’ll also find the “Whipped Ricotta” and a “Tonnato” sauce, an Italian tuna sauce. There are also come breads, like “Slightly Tangy Flatbreads” and “Pecan Dough” and really useful instructions on how to cook farro, freekeh and couscous. Pickles include a “Basic Vegetable Pickle Brine,” “Cold Brine,” and a”Hot Brine.”

Photographs abound and they are glorious. There is also an extensive index that is very useful as well. All in all, this is a beautiful cookbook that deserves a place on the bookshelf within easy reach.

6/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

SIX SEASONS by Joshua McFadden. Artisan; 1st Edition edition (May 2, 2017). ISBN 978-1579656317. 384p.


DINING IN by Alison Roman

April 13, 2018

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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.


SMITTEN KITCHEN EVERY DAY by Deb Perelman

February 5, 2018

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Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites

Deb Perelman has a wonderful food blog that has endured for many years, probably because her recipes are great and she is so personally involved. Her cookbook feels just like her blog, and every recipe has a story that goes with it – maybe where the recipe started from, or why her kids like it, or why her husband likes it, or how and why she tweaked it. In other words, her voice shines through and it is a voice worth listening to. She got me at the introduction –
against drudgery.”

The table of contents:

Introduction: Against Drudgery

Breakfast
Salads
Soups and Stews
Sandwiches, Tarts, and Flatbreads
Vegetable Mains
Mean Mains
Sweets

Cookies
Tarts and Pies
Cake
Puddings, Frozen Things, Etc.

Apps, Snacks and Party Foods

To be fair, a not so healthy chunk of this book is dessert based. Deb is a great baker, and her recipes are easy to follow if not always easy to make, if that makes sense.

Deb’s cookbook philosophy is that you shouldn’t have to turn a page to make something, and she fails at that spectacularly here, but I didn’t care.

I made her “Perfect Blueberry Muffins” and while they were good, I wouldn’t say perfect, though to be fair, I’m not sure what a perfect muffin is. I expected these to be larger than they were for some reason, probably because in the explanation of the recipe Deb says, “this makes 9 much prettier towering muffins.” Not so towering, they looked like regular muffins to me. And they stuck to the paper muffin liners. On the other hand, “Loaded Breakast Potato Skins” may be my daughter’s new favorite food. Think of a regular loaded potato skin, all cheesy, with bacon and scallions, and then bake an egg in it. Pure joy! Up next in my kitchen will be “Chicken and Rice, Street Cart Style.” I’m waiting for my husband’s next camping trip, he hates chicken so I’ll make it while he’s gone.

The thing that has been getting the most buzz is “The Party Cake Builder,” an easy solution to making birthday cakes (or any other occasion cakes.) This is well thought out, easy to follow and make your own. Worth the price of admission!

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2/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

SMITTEN KITCHEN EVERY DAY by Deb Perelman. Knopf; First Edition edition (October 24, 2017). ISBN 978-1101874813. 352p.


COOKING WITH MY SISTERS by Adriana Trigiani

December 29, 2017

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Co-author Mary Yolanda Trigiani, with Lucia Anna, Antonia, Francesca, and Ida Trigiani

One Hundred Years of Family Recipes, from Italy to Big Stone Gap

I adore Adri, and loved the first version (2004) of this cookbook. This is an update and is filled with fabulous recipes – real Italian family recipes, and the hallmark Trigiani charm. Stories abound, making this part cookbook, part memoir, and a total joy to read.

I love that they include some of the basics of Italian cookery; pizza dough, basic tomato sauce, homemade pasta, meatballs, and Zabaglione. But there is so much more – Potato Pizza, Trigiani Lasagne with Vegetables and Cheese, Grandmom Trigiani’s Green Beans in Tomato Sauce, and a really delicious Crostini Yolanda – a bruschetta topped with peppers and anchovy.

The table of contents:

Forward: Welcome to Our Table
Introduction: How We Found the Recipes

The Big Life

The Pasta, or as We Called It, Maccheroni
The Sauce

The Big Dish

Family Dinners
Light Suppers
On the Side

The Big Finish

Dessert, or Dessertina

The Big Wow

Snacks and Treats
Things We Hated as Kids but Love to Serve Now

Afterword: What I Learned on the Journey Through Our Kitchen
Epilogue: Make Your Meal Time Magical

I included the forward, introduction, afterword and epilogue because these chapters sing and bring the family to life. There are tons of pictures of the family and the food, and I especially loved the old pictures. Try and find little Adri in the midst of all her sisters!

If you are somehow immune to charm, then go straight to the recipes and you won’t be disappointed. My husband’s family is from Sicily, so these recipes are often different than what I’m used to. The Trigiani clan is from “the Lombardy region in the Alps of northern Italy, the Veneto region, and to the south, Puglia on the cusp of Bari.”

There are tips sprinkled throughout, given by different sisters and always worth reading. If you are new to real Italian cooking or want something out of the ordinary, you will find it here. Mangia!

Antipasto:

Serves 6 for dinner, 10 for appetizer

Romaine lettuce (usually only 1 head, have another just in case)
Two 16-ounce cans white albacore tuna in water
9 hardboiled eggs sliced in half
One 15-ounce jar red roasted peppers
Two 4-ounce cans anchovies rolled with capers
8-ounces pitted black olives
8-ounces pitted green olives
½ pound Genoa salami, sliced thin and rolled *
½ pound prosciutto, sliced very thin and rolled
One 12-ounce can artichoke hearts
One 7-ounce can mushrooms packed in olive oil
½ pound cheddar cheese sliced in strips – ½ x 2 inches**
½ pound Monterey jack cheese sliced in strips – ½ x 2 inches**
12-ounces pepperoncini peppers
Fresh Italian parsley for garnishing
Olive oil to drizzle

* Other meats we’ve used: cotto salami, capicola, soprassata

** You can go for more authentic Italian – we use the “American” varieties for color

The key to this recipe is to make the platter attractive and artistic. Line a 12-inch platter (we like a round shape) with the larger lettuce leaves, which will serve as the base of the antipasto as well as a way to measure a portion. (Ideally a person should be able to pull a whole lettuce leaf off the finished antipasto with a little of everything on top.) In the center of the platter place the tuna; it’s best to use a canned variety so that you can turn the can upside down and remove the tuna intact, retaining the shape of the can. Add the roasted red peppers and place them around the platter in a symmetrical pattern, like the rays of the sun. Continue in the same pattern with the remaining ingredients until the tray is covered and all the ingredients have been used. Drizzle with olive oil and serve.

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12/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

COOKING WITH MY SISTERS by Adriana Trigiani. Harper Paperbacks; Reprint edition (November 7, 2017). ISBN 978-0062469915. 224p.


VALERIE’S HOME COOKING by Valerie Bertinelli

December 16, 2017

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More than 100 Delicious Recipes to Share with Friends and Family

I’m a long time fan of Bertinelli, and I enjoy her Food Network show. She’s not a chef, she’s a home cook with a lot of really great recipes. This is her second cookbook and if you like easy to prepare food with an Italian bent, it’s a good one. Not everything is Italian, but it definitely leans that way. But there are other recipes for sure, like Bargecue Chicken with Spicy BBQ Sauce, Chicken a la King Crepes, Brown Sugar Sriracha Bacon Bites, and Chocolate Peppermint Ice Cream Sandwiches, among many others.

The table of contents:

Rise & Shine
Getting Through the Day
Happy Hour
Around the Table
A Side Note
Finishing Sweet

There is also a handy chart with metric equivalents and a good index. I enjoyed the introduction, too – Valerie’s voice is evident.

It’s a really pretty cookbook, too, the pictures are swoon worthy and make every dish look delectable. A few favorites are the BLT Pasta (recipe provided here by the publisher!) and the Egg White Frittata (although I used a couple whole eggs rather than all egg whites.) My daughter wants me to try the Hamburger Helpa next, a ground beef, cheese and pasta casserole; what could be bad? I think my husband is secretly hoping I’ll make the Homemade Cannolis and I have to admit, Valerie takes a lot of the fear out of that process, so maybe over the Christmas break when I’m home and have some time. She estimates it takes 2 1/2 hours so it’s not something I’d do after work, but is definitely something to look forward to!

BLT Pasta

Serves: 4, Hands-on: 25 minutes, Total: 35 minutes

If you are looking to whip up a rich pasta awash in flavor, one that gives you the sense of being especially indulgent yet you want to avoid both cream sauce and lots of preparation—you have found the perfect recipe. One day when I found myself considering Tom’s and my dinner plans, I looked in the fridge and found bacon, arugula, and fresh basil. I already had tomatoes in a bowl on the counter. And I thought, “Wait a minute. This is a BLT. What if I put it all together?” I did, and the result was a splendidly tender pasta with a lightly acidic tomato-wine sauce that went perfectly with the smoky bacon. With the peppery kick of the arugula, it really was a BLT. You don’t want to overlook the basil, either. For the nuance of its sweetness, pluck it from your garden or pick it up that day at the grocery store. This serves very simply from a large bowl and is enjoyable year-round, especially with a glass of wine.

Ingredients
  • 12 cups water
  • 1/4 cup plus 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 pounds plum tomatoes (about 10 tomatoes)
  • 6 thick-cut bacon slices, chopped
  • 1 medium yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 12 ounces uncooked spaghetti
  • 4 cups fresh baby arugula
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • Grated fresh Parmesan cheese
Instructions

1- Bring the water and 1/4 cup of the salt to a boil in a large saucepan over high. Hull the stems from the tomatoes. Cut a shallow ‘x’ through the skin on the bottom of each tomato.

2- Place the tomatoes in the boiling water, and boil about 30 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, remove the tomatoes, and submerge in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Reserve the salted water in the saucepan.

3- When the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, peel back the skin using a paring knife. Cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise; squeeze out and discard the seeds. Chop the tomatoes into 1/2-inch pieces.

4- Place the bacon in a cold large skillet; cook over medium, stirring occasionally, until crisp, 10 to 13 minutes. Drain the bacon on a paper towel-lined plate. Reserve 2 tablespoons drippings in the skillet.

5- Add the onion to the hot drippings in the skillet; cook over medium, stirring occasionally, until soft and lightly golden, about 10 minutes. Add the wine; cook until the liquid is reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes, black pepper, crushed red pepper, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt to the skillet; cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes begin to break down, about 5 minutes.

6- Return the reserved salted water in the saucepan to a boil; add the spaghetti, and cook until al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water. Add the pasta and 1/4 cup of the reserved cooking water to the tomato mixture in the skillet; toss to coat. Add more cooking water, if necessary, until the mixture reaches the desired consistency. Transfer to a large bowl; toss with arugula and half of the chopped bacon. Divide evenly among 4 serving bowls; top evenly with the basil, remaining chopped bacon, and Parmesan.

Variation: This is easily adaptable to whatever you have on hand, like spinach and linguine instead of the arugula and spaghetti.

Cooking Tip: This is another time I like to sauté my bacon instead of using the oven. All those yummy hot bacon drippings.

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12/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

VALERIE’S HOME COOKING by Valerie Bertinelli. Oxmoor House (October 10, 2017). ISBN 978-0848752286. 272p.


CASA MARCELA by Marcela Valladolid

September 16, 2017

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Recipes and Food Stories of My Life in the Californias

Not a Saturday passes by without my looking forward to tuning in to Food Network’s The Kitchen. Hosted by Jeff Mauro, Sunny Anderson, Katie Lee, Geoffrey Zakarian, and Marcela Valladolid, the show is my weekend wake up and the thing that gets me excited about cooking through the next couple of days. That paired with my fondness for Mexican food, and the fact that I was a fan of Valladolid’s previous show, Mexican Made Easy, meant that of course I had to get my hands on a copy of Casa Marcela for my own kitchen.

If you like Mexican flavors and comfort food, you’ll love Valladolid’s new cookbook. Packed with tasty dishes, fabulous photography, and personal stories, the book is a wonderful blend of traditional flavors and Valladolid’s own favorites. And while some might say this isn’t a wholly traditional Mexican cookbook, recipes like Roasted-Cauliflower Steaks with Pickled-Jalapeno Vinaigrette, Roasted Salmon and Pesto-Stuffed Anaheim Chiles can be found alongside Tamales de Pollo en Salsa Verde, Green Hominy and Pork Soup (Pozole), and Conchas.

Valladolid’s recipes are seated in tradition and adapted for ingredients local to Tijuana and San Diego, perfectly reflecting Valladolid’s own influences. There are Tuna Empanadas and Coke-Braised Pork Tacos. There’s even a Mexican Ramen recipe.

The first dishes I dove into were the Creamy Beer Shrimp-Stuffed Poblano Chiles (using poblanos from my garden), a decadent and cheesy dish that we served alongside the White Rice with Basil and Corn; the Peppercorn-Crusted Flank Steak with Mustard Cream (the sauce really made this dish.) that we served with Pickled Poblanos; and the Ground Pork Patties in Tomatillo Salsa served, as per Valladolid’s recommendation, with rice and avocado slices.

The book is divided into eight sections: Small Bites/Botanas; Salads and Soups/Ensaladas y Sopas; Entrees/Platillos Fuertes; Sides/Guarniciones; Salsas; Breakfast/Desayunos; Drinks/Bebidas; and Desserts/Postres. Recipes range from easy family friendly/weeknight meals to more elaborate dishes perfect for entertaining. Saying that, though, none of the dishes I’ve tried so far have been beyond a home cook’s skills, something I definitely appreciate. Another thing I loved about the book was the abundance of produce-heavy recipes, which I especially appreciate during the summer months as there are plenty of dishes that make use of ingredients from my own home garden.

Whether you’re a fan of Valladolid or simply a fan of gorgeous cookbooks with approachable and appealing recipes, Casa Marcela will make a great addition to your cookbook collection.

9/17 Becky LeJeune

From the publisher:

Creamy Beer Shrimp–Stuffed Poblano Chiles from Casa Marcela

Serves 4 to 6

This is a showstopper right here. If you are lucky enough to travel through Mexico, you’ll find that there are countless versions of stuffed peppers: with cheese, with meat, with beans, with dried fruit, and here with seafood. This simple, rich, creamy perfection fills the optimal pepper for stuffing: the poblano. Be careful, though, because depending on the crop, they can range from totally mild to pretty darn spicy. Don’t be afraid to smell them at the market: if it stings your nose a little, you’re probably gonna get some fire from the pepper. If spice is what you are looking for, you can certainly use a jalapeño. They are smaller, so you’ll have to purchase a few more to use up all the stuffing, but they also come out great.

Ingredients

4 to 6 fresh poblano chiles

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

3 garlic cloves, chopped

3 dried chiles de árbol

2 pounds medium shrimp, peeled, deveined, tails removed, and quartered

Salt

1/2 cup dark lager beer

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 cup shredded Oaxaca cheese, or any other white melting cheese

Directions

Turn a gas burner to high. Char the poblano chiles directly on the burner, turning with tongs, until blackened all over. (Alternatively, roast in the oven under the broiler.) Place the chiles in a plastic bag and let steam for 10 minutes.

Gently rub the chiles with paper towels to remove as much skin as possible. Using a paring knife, make a slit across the top of a chile just below the stem, leaving the stem intact. Starting from the middle of the slit, slice lengthwise down to the tip of the pepper (cut through only one layer). Open the chile like a book and pull out the seeds and inner membranes. You may need to use a paring knife to loosen the top of the seedpod. Repeat with the remaining chiles.

Melt the butter in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and chiles de árbol and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the shrimp and cook, stirring, until lightly pink, about 1 minute. Season with salt to taste. Stir in the beer and cook until lightly evaporated, about 3 minutes. Stir in the cream and bring the mixture to a simmer. Remove the shrimp from the sauce and cook the sauce until thickened, about 6 minutes more. Return the shrimp to the pan and add 1/2 cup of the cheese, stirring until the cheese is completely melted. Turn off the heat.

Preheat the broiler to high.

Fill each chile with about 1/4 cup of the creamy shrimp and transfer to a large glass baking dish. Divide the remaining 1/2 cup cheese among the chiles and broil until the cheese is melted and golden brown, about 6 minutes.

CASA MARCELA by Marcela Valladolid. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (April 25, 2017). ISBN 978-0544808553. 288p.


JACK’S WIFE FREDA by Maya & Dean Jankelowitz

August 28, 2017

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Cooking from New York’s West Village

Recipes by Julia Jaksic 

I haven’t been to this restaurant but I’ve heard about it – this is Jewish comfort food.  I’m too far away to go but with this cookbook, the possibilities are real.

Jack and Freda come from different backgrounds – Ashkenazi and Sephardic, and they throw in South African and Israeli flavors as well. This cookbook is nothing if not interesting. They include their personal stories here too, and their families, and it is all interesting.

The cookbook begins after the introductory story to the family. And as with many cookbooks today, it begins with the pantry and some basics like Homemade Mayonnaise, Hot Sauce, Peri Peri Spice, Tzatziki and more. The chapters are as follows:

Breakfast
Day Drinks
Lunch
Drinks
Dinner
Dessert

There is an excellent index, as well. The pictures, both of the restaurant, the kitchen and of course the food, are spectacular. It doesn’t hurt that this is an oversized cookbook printed on nice, heavy paper, too.

“Breakfast” couldn’t be more beautiful or delicious than “Eggs Benny,” taking the classic Eggs Benedict to a whole new level by planting it on a potato latke and topping it with beet hollandaise – it is gorgeous. The instructions on how to poach an egg (like many of the instructions throughout the book) are charming, hand drawn pictures. I’ve never considered pairing ruby red grapefruit with my yogurt but now I will, and “Julia’s Granola” makes a fine topping. I was intrigued by the recipe for “Duck Bacon” but honestly not sure I’ll ever try it.

“Day Drinks” include things like “Nana Tea,” “Cantaloupe Juice,” and “Mint Lemonade.” “Lunch” can be light – “Pea and Ricotta Toast,” the ubiquitous “Avocado Toast” or a “Greek Salad” or a bit heavier with “Matzo Ball Soup” a traditional recipe that swaps out the usual chicken fat for duck fat, or “Chicken Kebab” with Couscous, or the “Prego Roll,” a skirt steak sandwich. Then we move on to the bar.

“Drinks” include “Jack’s Wife Freda Pimm’s Cup” with added ginger, a “Melon Mimosa” made the aforementioned Cantaloupe Juice (I’m allergic, dammit!) and a nice “Jose’s Hot Toddy.” If you’ve ever wanted to try a real Bloody Mary from scratch, now’s your chance, this is a terrific recipe that includes horseradish, Dijon, Worcestershire, and more flavor than you’ll ever get out of a mix.

Dinner starts with some small plates, like “Zucchini Chips” and a gorgeous “Spiced Beet Dip.” Add a beet to anything and you get pow-in-the-face color. There are vegetarian recipes like “Roasted Cauliflower” and “Veggie Curry with Apple-Raisin Chutney,” and not so vegetarian like “Chicken Livers on Toast,”  “Sweetbreads with Peri Peri Sauce” and “Freda’s Fishballs” which is not your grandmother’s gefilte fish – for one thing these are coated in Panko and deep fried.

We can’t talk about dessert without “Malva Pudding”, which the restaurant is known for and I never heard of. It’s a South African dessert that is “a dense cake soaked in a delicous caramel sauce.” The recipe is intriguing, as is the “Flourless Chipotle Chocolate Cake” made from a pound of semisweet chocolate tempered with chipotle powder. But the one I’m definitely going to be making is “Halva Cookies.” If you haven’t had halva, it’s a delicious candy made from sesame seed paste. These cookies are loaded with black and white sesame seeds and a bit of halva in the center. Yum!

8/17  Stacy Alesi AKA the BookBitch™

JACK’S WIFE FREDA by Maya & Dean Jankelowitz. Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (October 25, 2016). ISBN: 978-0547614847. 528p.

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KING SOLOMON’S TABLE by Joan Nathan

July 10, 2017

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A Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World

Joan Nathan is the queen of Jewish cookbooks, and her latest is terrific. Be sure to read the introduction, a history of Jewish food that is completely fascinating, as well as a short but clear explanation of Jewish dietary laws, kashrut. The recipes included are all kosher, including substitutions as needed, although there is a caveat to check with your rabbi if you are not sure.

The forward is written by Alice Waters, so that was also a must read for me.

The book is divided as follows:

Pantry
Morning
Starters
Salads
Soups and Their Dumplings
Breads
Grains and Such
Vegetables
Fish
Poultry
Meat
Sweets

There is also an excellent index and bibliography.

The recipes have basis in many countries, even some I never thought of as especially Jewish, like Mexico and Sri Lanka. All are interesting, some are trendy (Shakshuka, anyone?) and some are classic, like Matzo Brei, Chopped Liver, and Apple Kuchen (cake). But it’s the unusual that really drew me to this cookbook, starting with Ferrara Haroset with Chestnuts, Pine Nuts, Pears and Dried Fruits from Rome. We liked this so much at Passover I used it again as a filling for Hamentaschen, and it worked beautifully. I would never have thought of using tahina in cookies, but Tahina Cookies made a believer out of me – if you like Halvah or Mexican Wedding Cookies, try these cookies.

I was partial to a lot of the Italian Jewish recipes, like Tagliolini colla Crosta, Crusty Pasta with a Bolognese Sauce that has pine nuts, ground almonds and raisins in it and Roman Ricotta Cheese Crostata with Cherries or Chocolate. The Spinach-Feta Burekas is Bulgarian, but is called Buricchi by Italian Jews, and Borek by Ottomans and Balkan Jews. It is a laminated dough filled with spinach and feta, and reminded me of the Greek Spanikopita. I have never attempted a laminated dough and probably will substitute filo dough here.

The Roast Turkey with Challah-Chestnut-Cranberry Stuffing is as delicious as it sounds – I cut the recipe in half and used it for a stuffed turkey breast and it worked really well. Yuca Latkes with Cilantro Cream, Sweet Plantain Guava Kugel and Green Chile Relelleno Latkes all have Hispanic origins, sometimes by way of Miami!

The final recipe in the book is Libyan Saefra, King Solomon’s Cake, which Nathan believes predates baklava and is believed to be an aphrodisiac. This is a filled cake, and the filling is a spiced date mixture. The ingredients are very unusual but not hard to find – Cream of Wheat and semolina are used instead of flour, for example.

All of the recipes include their origin stories, some are longer than others but all are interesting. You can see the research and the love that went into this cookbook.

7/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

KING SOLOMON’S TABLE by Joan Nathan. Knopf (April 4, 2017). ISBN 978-0385351140. 416p.