ROSE, CARDAMON AND COFFEE SQUARES: CHETNA MAKAN’S COOKBOOK REVIEW

Last year I binge-watched The Great British Bake Off, originally aired in 2014. One of the reasons it took me so long to go for it, is my intense dislike of ANY food competition. I was never too wild about Iron Chef, barely stand the countless versions of Chopped, and despise Cutthroat Kitchen with every cell of my body. There. I feel better. But, despite all that, one day I sat down and put the first episode of The Great British Bake Off to play. I was hooked. First and foremost for the friendly atmosphere. When you watch any of the competition shows from FoodTV-USA, it is impossible to ignore a certain mean streak in the competitors. Each one wants to win so bad, they keep hammering on why they are clearly better than all others. The blatant arrogance really bothers me. I also prefer the format of the British show, particularly when all contestants need to make the exact same (very challenging)  recipe and it gets evaluated in a single-blind way. Today I share with you a recipe from the cookbook of my favorite contestant,  Chetna Makan. She made it almost to the end, facing all sorts of challenges with poise, grace, and a warm smile. And after the recipe, I will walk you through The Cardamon Trail. What a beautiful name!

ROSE, CARDAMON AND COFFEE DESSERT SLICES
(published with permission from Chetna Makan) 

200g (7oz) chocolate digestive biscuits
50g (1 ¾ oz) unsalted butter, melted, plus extra for greasing
225ml (8fl oz) milk
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 tablespoon coffee granules
3 large egg yolks
75g (2 ¾ oz) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 tablespoon boiling water
2 teaspoons powdered gelatine
250g (9oz) mascarpone cheese
1 teaspoon rosewater
white chocolate curls to decorate

Heat the oven to 180 ° C (350 ° F).

Grease a 20cm (8in) square cake tin and line it with nonstick baking paper. Put the digestive biscuits in a plastic bag and bash them with a rolling-pin to crush them to crumbs. Transfer the crumbs to a bowl and pour in the melted butter, mixing thoroughly so that the crumbs are completely coated. Tip the mixture into the prepared tin and press down firmly with the back of a spoon to create a smooth, even base layer. Bake for 15 minutes, then set aside to cool completely.

In a small pan, slowly heat the milk to scalding point. Add the ground cardamom and coffee granules and mix well, then remove the pan from the heat. In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch, cocoa and 2 tablespoons of the spiced milk together to form a smooth paste. Slowly add the remaining milk, whisking the whole time. Tip this mixture back into the saucepan and cook over a low heat for 2– 3 minutes until it thickens enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Strain through a sieve into a clean bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 10 minutes until lukewarm.

Put the measured boiling water in a small bowl and sprinkle in the gelatine. Stir until the gelatine powder has dissolved. Add this to the lukewarm pastry cream and mix well. In another bowl, beat the mascarpone and rosewater together. Fold this into the pastry cream and pour the mixture over the biscuit base. Cover the tin with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight to set.

When ready to serve, carefully remove the cake from the tin and cut it into squares. To finish, sprinkle with white chocolate curls (or any decoration you prefer). The slices will keep, refrigerated, in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Chetna described it perfectly! This is a dessert for grownups. It has that exotic quality, the barely there sweetness, a very unique and complex mixture of flavors. I loved it!  I must confess I messed up big time, though. I used the wrong type of  cookies for the base. She specified chocolate digestifs for the base, but our grocery store carried only two types: regular digestifs, or some with a coating of chocolate at the bottom, very similar to these beauties made from scratch by my friend Karen. After I made the dessert, I exchanged emails with Chetna and she told me I could have used the digestifs either plain or with the chocolate coating, but the type of cookie I used (very thin chocolate Goya Maria brand) would need tweaking, probably some other binding agent to properly work. Learned a lesson there. The result is that the base got a bit too crumbly rather than giving a nice support to the deliciously smooth top layer.  I intend to make it again soon, but did not want to wait any longer to blog about it. So make sure to gather the right tools for the job…

TEASER RECIPE

On the very same day I made a batch of her Clove, Cinnamon and Chocolate cookies… 


OVERVIEW OF THE RECIPE

The cookie dough is made with self-rising flour, butter, two types of sugar, a touch of cinnamon and ground cloves. Then chocolate chips and diced pistachio nuts are mixed in.  I substituted white chocolate because I found out that I had 4 bags of white chocolate chips and not a single one of semi-sweet. Apparently every time I go to the grocery store I tell myself “you better get a bag of white chocolate chips, because you only have the dark ones.”  In case you did not know, I do research for a living. Shocking, I know. Once again, Chetna describes these gems very well:

Yes, everyone thought they come together beautifully….

And now that I shared a recipe and teased you with another one, let’s take a walk through
The Cardamon Trail: Chetna Bakes with Flavours of the East..

Chetna opens the book explaining that it is all about her culinary journey. It brings her food memories in the form of lovely bakes and new taste sensations. She grew up in Jabalpur, a city in central India, and her cooking is heavily influenced by her Mom, who cooked every single meal from scratch while Chetna was growing up.  Her book is divided in six  chapters, as follows:

Cakes. Each of the twenty cakes featured is enticing to me. Always some unexpected flavor that takes them to a higher level.  The very first one, Pear and Cardamon Caramel Upside Cake, already got me dreaming. You might remember that I have a very weak spot for cardamon, so obviously this cake speaks dearly to me.  Second one? Mango, Cardamon & Coconut Cake. Next? Rose and Honey Cake.  But so many more: Rose, Mint, and White Chocolate Cheesecake, Orange and Cinnamon Mini-Cakes (I almost picked them to showcase in this post).  Pistachio, Cardamon, and White Chocolate Cake… Saffron Meringue Cake…  Masala Chai Cake…. Black Sesame and Lime Cake… I tell you, it’s one temptation after another, a showcase of interesting flavor combinations.

Pies and Tarts. This chapter brings savory stuff to the game. I list my favorites: Peach, Star Anise, and Almond Tart…  Chocolate and Mango Tart (beautiful photo!)…  Passion Fruit, Lime, and Ginger Tart. On the savory front,  very creative recipes like Moong Dal Pie, Curry Onion Tart, and Chickpea Curry Pie. I definitely do not bake pies and tarts often enough. Hubby is usually the one in charge of those concoctions. But I need to get more practice and make them by myself.

Sweet Things. Twenty seven goodies for you there… She opens this chapter with something called Saffron Rasgulla, and I think it’s something I had once at a party and fell madly in love with. A little soft ball of curdled milk and saffron, cooked in a simple syrup. I could enjoy that every day of my life without ever getting tired of it. It seems a bit involved to make, but Chetna says it’s not that hard. It is a specialty from Western India.  Now, are you ready for this? Fig and Chocolate Macarons. Yes, my obsession of the past few years! She shares a great take on this French classic. Which of course, I intend to make in the near future. The only reason I did not pick them to feature, is the fact that I have two macaron recipes already waiting in line. The Rose, Cardamon & Coffee Dessert Slices come from this session of her book, as well as the Clove, Cinnamon and Chocolate Cookies, my teaser recipe.  I also bookmarked Sweet Baked Samosas (I am addicted to the savory version),  Mango and Passion Fruit Baked Yogurt, and Star Anise and Rhubarb Profiteroles. She does incredibly nice variations on classic desserts, I love it!

Savory Small Bites. A lot of savory things to tempt you here, I will just list the ones that would be my top choices. Corn Rolls: these are inspired again by one of her Mom’s recipes, Chetna uses phyllo dough to make little parcels with sweet corn kernels mixed with ginger, chilli, and other spices.  They get baked and served warm with chutney. O.M.G. Coriander Chicken Parcels made with puff pastry seem like perfection to me…  Tapioca Vada is another intriguing recipe, different from anything I’ve ever tried. Tapioca pearls are mixed with water to form a kind of dough that gets mixed with mashed potatoes, crushed roasted peanuts and spices. The mixture is fried until golden brown, forming little patties that I am sure are addictive.  I was also quite taken by her Buckwheat Potato Pakoras, I never skip ordering pakoras when I go to an Indian restaurant. Vegetarians will love her Cashew Nut and Paneer Koftas, which use desiccated coconut to improve texture.  But my favorite of this chapter might very well be her Savory Semolina Cake, with spinach and spices such as ginger, turmeric, and black mustard seeds. The photo is drool-inducing.

Breads. Twenty options to make any baker happy.  She opens the chapter with a show-stopping bread: Savory Potato Couronne. It is simply gorgeous, but you don’t have to take my word for it.

The dough is enriched with milk, eggs, and butter, then some grated boiled potatoes are mixed in. The exotic ingredient amchur (mango powder) is also included in the dough. Obviously, I need to get some. Tomato and Paneer Loaf is a nice example of a quick bread, made in a loaf pan. Another absolutely gorgeous picture included. Now, how about some Cumin Bread with Smoked Eggplant? I swear, it’s just one amazing twist after another. Another great temptation for yours truly, Chocolate and Chilli Loaf.  As Chetna put it:

This beautiful loaf has the indulgent feel of a cake yet is, in fact, very light…
The cocoa creates a deep-colored loaf, while the chilli provides a real kick to the aftertaste.

A couple more examples for you, Star Anise, Date, and Chocolate Bread (amazing shaping), and a Lemon Challah with Coconut Paneer. She closes the chapter with several options for Parathas, and a Chicken Naan. Yes, you read it correctly. A version of the quick bread naan, turned into a full meal with ground chicken and plenty of spices. To die for, I am sure!

Accompaniments. In this chapter, she offers little goodies that will go well with many of the recipes in the book. Seven types of chutney, two types of pickles (beets, and cauliflower), Indian Coleslaw, and three types of Raita, the classic cucumber, plus Boondi and Bhindi Raitas. Curious? Boondi are fried chickpeas… Imagine them as a base for raita… Bhindi is okra. Not my favorite veggie in the world, but I bet that prepared the way Chetna describes, I would eat it all with a big smile!

So that wraps up our walk through The Cardamon Trail.  In my mind, it is a perfect cookbook because I adore spices both in savory and sweet concoctions. As I watched the Great British Bake Off, Chetna’s confidence and creativity with the use of spices left a huge impression on me. This book simply confirms her skills. I could not wait to start baking once I got the book downloaded, but then was sort of paralyzed by the number of recipes I picked as “top” choices.

To order the book, click here

I would also like to mention that Chetna has a blog and is also very active uploading videos on her youtube channel.  On youtube you can see her cooking with her kids, with her Mom, it’s really nice!  I subscribe to both blog and videos, so I never miss anything new coming from her.

Chetna, thank you for giving me permission to publish one of your recipes…
I am just about to start a batch of your Black Sesame and Macha Tuiles…
looking forward to enjoying them!

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ONE YEAR AGO: When Side Dishes Steal the Show

TWO YEARS AGO: Venting on Vaccines

THREE YEARS AGO: Prime Rib Roast, Mexican Style

FOUR YEARS AGO: Sourdough Bread with Walnuts and Dates

FIVE YEARS AGO: Braised Brisket with Bourbon-Apricot Glaze

SIX YEARS AGO: The Real Vodka Sauce

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Pork Tenderloin and Blue Cheese

SHORT RIBS WITH CHICKPEAS AND CHARD & LONDON COOKBOOK REVIEW

In my previous post I mentioned I’ve been mesmerized by all things Middle East. True. But there’s more. I’ve been also enjoying a virtual love affair with the United Kingdom in general and England in particular. A fascination that started many years ago when I got obsessed by Henry VIII. To the classic question ‘which book would you take to a desert island?” my answer comes quickly, The Autobiography of Henry VIII, a masterpiece composed by Margaret George. A real tour de force in historical research and writing. More recently, shows like Outlander, The White Queen, The Tudors, and The Crown have only added to my fascination with the UK. So, when amazon.com suggested The London Cookbook: Recipes from the Restaurants, Cafes, and Hole-in-the-Wall Gems of a Modern City I wasted no time investigating it further. Next thing I knew, it was in my  shopping cart. The book, written by Aleksandra Crapanzano, is pretty much a declaration of culinary love to one of the most amazing cities in the world. I’ve been to London a few times, a couple of those super briefly on a weekend break while living in Paris. Reading the book gave me an intense desire to buy a ticket and fly back. With the book in hand, following Aleksandra footsteps. Speaking of it, she opens the book with a nice walking tour that passes by… Ottolenghi’s spot, in search of his legendary Tahini Cookies.  A book that starts like that… is a book I must own. Aleksandra was kind enough to allow me to publish a recipe from it, so without further ado, here I go…

short-ribs2

SHORT RIBS WITH CHICKPEAS AND CHARD
(published with permission from Aleksandra Crapanzano,
recipe from The London Cookbook).

1 tablespoon sea salt
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground caraway
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
4 pounds bone-in beef short ribs
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 yellow onions, thinly sliced
6 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
1 bunch Swiss chard, stems removed, leaves coarsely chopped
2 cups cooked chickpeas
6 cups chicken stock
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 lemons
1 cup labneh or full-fat Greek yogurt

Combine the salt, cumin, caraway, coriander, and paprika. Sprinkle half of the spice mixture over the ribs. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. The next day, pat the ribs dry with paper towels.

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan. Add the ribs and cook for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, until golden brown. If your pan is on the small side, work in batches so as not to overcrowd the pan. Transfer the ribs to a plate, leaving the oil behind. Add the onions to the pan and sauté over a medium-low heat until they are soft and nearly translucent. Stir in the garlic followed by the chard and the remaining spice mixture. Stir and cook for 5 minutes longer. Add the short ribs and chickpeas, pour in the stock, and bring to a boil. Skim any foam that floats to the surface and then lower the heat, partially cover, and simmer for 2 to 3 hours, basting occasionally. The ribs are done when the sauce has thickened and the meat pulls away from the bone. Season with salt and pepper and the juice of 1 lemon. If you have labneh, use it. Otherwise, vigorously whip the yogurt and olive oil together with a fork. Season to taste. Serve the stew with a dollop of labneh and a wedge of lemon.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Short ribs are the definition of comfort food, but when chickpeas and chard are added as supporting actors, you have a show-stopping dish that spells comfort in capital letters. I knew it would be hard to get a good picture, because well, that is the problem with brown food, but allow yourself to go past the photo and trust me, the taste is sublime. Plus, Aleksandra’s choice of labneh to spoon on top fulfills the circle of my fascination, joining Middle East and England in one amazing dish. There’s something about labneh, you must try it if you are a labneh virgin. Easy to make if you cannot find it at your grocery store, just follow Sawsan’s recipe and be ready to be amazed.

shortribs

And now, a virtual tour of Aleksandra’s book…

First, let me say that she is a delightful writer. She doesn’t simply offer you a recipe, she will show you why that particular restaurant made the cut to be showcased in her book. The quality of the food matters, but it’s clear that behind great food and service you’ll find genuine, hard-working people with the passion to share their cooking with family, friends, and customers. You will read fascinating stories about places that have been in business for a long time… She offers the perfect amount of prose before each recipe, with a nice balance of wit and knowledge. The recipes are for the most part quite straightforward to make at home, Aleksandra often suggests adaptations for ingredients that might be hard to find.  As you know, I have no partnership with amazon.com or any other company, and only review cookbooks I fall in love with. This was definitely one of them.

The book is divided in 10 chapters.

Chapter #1 – Light Fare. The first recipe of the chapter is a perfect example of what the book is all about. A wonderful praise of Ruth Rogers, from The River Cafe, the way she runs her restaurant with “no shouting, no swearing, no fear.”  The recipe, a Crab and Raw Artichoke Salad. Have you ever considered shaving artichokes to enjoy in its raw form? I had not. Intriguing…  Other favorites from the chapter: Potted Shrimp, from Rules, a place dear to my heart, since Phil and I enjoyed two very romantic dinners at Rules years ago; Shrimp Aguachili Seviche with Jalapeno and Citrus; Grilled Leeks, Chevre, Brown Butter & Smoked Almonds. Smoked almonds, now that’s something to dream about.  In this chapter you will get to know interesting facts about Ottolenghi, in the introduction to one of his recipes – Mung and Haricots Verts. As Aleksandra puts it, the recipe is “very Ottolenghi.” The mung beans are Asian, the haricots verts French, the spices Indian. The recipe for the classic Welsh Rarebit comes with a delightful description of two gentlemen enjoying it at St. John. All very proper, as you must expect for all things London.

Chapter #2 – Soups. My heart missed a beat with the description of the Fennel and Watercress Soup from Newman Street Tavern. Fennel is like green candy for Aleksandra, and I was left nodding in full approval. She mentions walking in blizzard-like conditions in New York to get some fennel juice at City Bakery, and that made me want to go to London with a stop at JFK with enough hours to allow for a quick Uber drive to that spot. If you live in New York, go sip a glass and tell me all about it.  She follows with Smoked Paprika, Piquillo Pepper, and Tomato Soup with Chevre Toasts. Yes. To. All. How about Roasted Corn and Chorizo Chowder? But the recipe that had me mesmerized for good was Celeriac and Chanterelle Soup. I made it. I absolutely loved it. Here it is, as a teaser for you. Simply spectacular.

parsnipsoup2
Chapter #3 – Pasta, Rice, and Grains.  This whole chapter is a must-cook. Just to give you a couple of examples, consider the Cinnamon-Scented Porcini Duck Ragu, from Mission. If I had easy access to duck meat, I would definitely make it.  Another dish that almost made it to my choice to feature the book: Pork Shoulder, Black Pepper, and Mascarpone Ragu. Totally understandable, right?  But maybe the very best is a Chestnut Straccetti with Mushrooms and Chestnuts. You make the pasta from scratch using chestnut flour. OMG.  Her description says it all: This dish is, quite simply, a knockout.  The photo, folks, the photo is almost too much to stand. You need to host a dinner party for your very best friends and bring that to the table.

Chapter #4 – Vegetarian.

text1

This session opens with Spiced Heritage Carrots, Freekeh, and Labneh, which prompted her profession of love for cardamon, which I totally share. In fact, I also open the jar and take a good sniff just for the pleasure of it. It makes me feel like riding on a magic carpet to far away lands. This recipe has my name written all over it and I know I’ll be making it soon.  It follows with Roasted Squash, Braised Lentils, Soft-Boiled Egg, Garlic Yogurt, and Dukka. A symphony. Potato Chaat with Pomegranate, Mint, and Rose Raita also quite enticing to me, and apparently to everyone who dines at Gymkhana: almost everyone who walks through the door of Gymkhana orders this potato chaat before even being shown to a table. Talk about endorsement!

Chapter #5 –  Seafood. Scallops with Corn Puree and Chile Oil is maybe my favorite choice in this nice chapter.  Of course, she includes the classic Fish and Chips, her version coming from Tom’s Kitchen.  In her words: They are indisputable. A fact of British life. “Since the days of Charles Dickens and his chips with reluctant drops of oil“.  How cool is that? But there’s also Sugar-Brined Salmon with Radish, Cucumber, and Pea Shoot Salad, Ginger and Cilantro Spiced Cod with Cauliflower Couscous (love this one!), or my favorite fish in the world, Sea Bass with Hot Paprika Vinaigrette, from Moro a must-visit restaurant.

Chapter #6 – Fowl.  I would gladly cook (or eat) every single one of the recipes in this chapter. Period.  It starts with Chicken Scaloppine with Mushrooms and Marsala, you simply cannot go wrong with that. But how about Indian Chicken and Pumpkin Curry?  In fact, the chef behind that recipe, Mark Hix, from Tramshed, was one of the first to offer recipes, encouragement and introductions to Aleksandra when she started her research for this book.   Chicken Berry Britannia is a very interesting recipe too, the name pays tribute to a very famous place, Bombay’s Britannia. Americans will flip for Buttermilk Fried Chicken in Pine Salt. Yes, pine salt. Or some Honey-Glazed Duck Breast with Roasted Plums and Bok Choy

Chapter #7 – Meat. The recipe I shared with you comes from this chapter, obviously. The chapter is full of unusual recipes, counting three different takes for the fashionable pork belly: Kakuni (Japanese Braised Pork Belly), Ottolenghi’s Pork Belly with Apple and Yuzu Puree with Black Bean Sauce, and finally Treacle-Cured Pork Belly. You will also find the super classic Beef Strogonoff, a version coming from The Delaunay. Her words: strogonoff has lost its reputation, having appeared too often and never well, on one too many cafeteria lines and airplane trays. So true!  This recipe will do away with unpleasant  memories… I should try it, as Beef Strogonoff is a favorite of ours.

Chapter #8 – Desserts.

text2
I would make every single one of the recipes. There, I said it. And I don’t even like sweets that much. Starting with Chocolate Nemesis, described as “this is the real thing.” But how about Ras El Hanout and Buttermilk Loaf?  Irresistibly intriguing. Muscovado Custard. OMG. My favorite perhaps would be Orange, Mint, and Rose Petal Cake. I almost chose it as featured recipe. Bakewell Tart from Rules also called my name. By the way, did you know that Rules Restaurant opened the same year that Napoleon began his campaign in Egypt? Yeap, 1798, making it the oldest restaurant in London.  And was a favorite spot for Clark Gable, Charles Chaplin, amongst others. A total of 22 mouth-watering recipes to choose from in this chapter.

Chapter #9 – Chilled Desserts. Baked Alaska is in there, but the recipe that has me absolutely mesmerized is Black Sesame Panna Cotta. I even bought black sesame paste and intend to try it soon. Her description (and the photo) is enough to make me drool in anticipation.  Of course, Orange Blossom and Milk Pudding, Burnt Orange Chocolate Sorbet (swoon!), and Marsala Raisin Ice Cream would be more than welcome to wrap up a dinner party.

Chapter #10 – Cocktails. I confess that the “idea of a cocktail” appeals more to me than actually having one. But if you enjoy them this chapter will be quite amazing.  From River Cafe you’ll find White Peach Summer Martini, and Blood Orange Winter Martini. There’s also a Mumbai Martini from Benares, one of the most sophisticated restaurants in London.  This particular drink has notes of curry and ginger. Maybe I should turn it into a tea? (just kidding).  But, speaking of tea the Cinnamon Bellini would be perfect for tea lovers, as it mixes Assam tea leaves with cinnamon schnapps (Godschlager). Ottolenghi shines in this chapter too, with a Sage and Cardamon Gin with Pineapple and Cloves.  All quite enticing!

I hope you enjoyed my little virtual tour of  The London Cookbook. Consider making a little place for it on your bookshelf, even if it is a bit crowded, like ours. Or, go Kindle for a guilty-free experience, which is exactly what yours truly did.

Aleksandra, thank you once more for allowing me to publish one recipe from your wonderful book! I simply must go back and go straight to Ottolenghi to grab a nice portion of tahini cookies. Then, keep calm and carry on!

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ONE YEAR AGO: Asian-Style Short Ribs 

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SEVEN YEARS AGO: Potato, Cheddar, and Chive Torpedo

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ZUCCHINI LEMON & WALNUT CAKE + COOKBOOK REVIEW

A while ago I was browsing cookbook suggestions in amazon.com and spotted one called “French Desserts“, by Hillary Davis. I simply had to investigate it further. C’mon, French Desserts, how could I possibly let that slide? The book was published just last month,  so not very many readers posted reviews yet. However, whereas all gave it 5 stars, one person ranked it with 2 stars only. Her criticism was the use of store-bought items like puff pastry to make some of the recipes. Hillary herself replied to that reviewer and she did so with such class and gentleness, it really impressed me. I browsed through the index, and ordered the Kindle version, which always makes me feel a bit less guilty. Very glad I did not let that review mess with me. The book is a delight, great photography, just the right amount of prose with the recipes. I bookmarked many to try, but the first one I made to share with you today was part of her chapter called Homey Cakes.

zucchini-lemon-loaf2
ZUCCHINI, LEMON & WALNUT CAKE
(ever so slightly modified from French Desserts)
printed with permission from Hillary Davis

for cake:
1-1/ 2 cups (192 g) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/ 4 teaspoon baking soda
1/ 4 teaspoon salt
1-1/ 2 cups (220 g) coarsely grated zucchini, squeezed very dry
(about 170 g after squeezing dry)
1 cup (135 g) chopped walnuts
1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
1/ 2 cup (110 g) olive oil
3 large eggs
1/ 2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons lemon extract (I omitted)
1/ 4 cup (60 g) lemon juice

for icing:
1 + 1/2 cup  (188 g) confectioner’s (icing) sugar
a little over 3 tablespoons lemon juice

Heat oven to 325 degrees F.

Butter and flour a 9 x 5 inches loaf pan. In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the zucchini and walnuts and stir to coat. In another bowl, whisk together the sugar, olive oil, eggs, vanilla, lemon extract, lemon juice, and lemon zest.

Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients just until combined. Do not overwork the batter. Scoop batter into the loaf pan and bake for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan for 15 minutes before turning out onto a serving plate. If desired, make an icing with the powdered sugar and lemon juice, drizzle all over the cake. Cut in slices and serve.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: This was one delicious cake! The picture doesn’t do it justice, not even slightly. There is no obvious zucchini taste, it simply gives it moisture and a lovely texture even after sitting at room temperature overnight. It is very lemony and the flavor and crunch of the walnuts a perfect match for the citric tone. I did not have enough walnuts, so I added just a little bit of diced pecans to reach the required amount. I think the combination of nuts worked well too.  I made the loaf on a Sunday afternoon and took to our department next morning. I had tried a very small piece when the cake cooled (quality control), and hoped to get a slice mid-morning. That did not work, because around 10am, I found the platter clean. Oh, well. The best laid plans…

So lemony!
Not too sweet, just right!
Love the walnuts!
It made my Monday so much better! 
(some comments from our colleagues that made this baker very happy)

 

compositezucch

Now, let’s have a little tour of Hillary’s book. I will go straight to the recipes, although she does include a comprehensive section on Essentials of Baking. You can look at the full index in amazon.com, I will simply list the recipes from each chapter that made my heart miss a beat. Or two…

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Homey Cakes: Great collection of cakes that are simple to prepare in a loaf type pan or as a single layer round cake. The one I featured comes from this chapter, but I was tempted by many others, like Plenty of Pears Salted Caramel Loaf Cake, described as invisible cake. Invisible cakes indicate that very little batter is used to hold the fruit together. I love this type of cake, very much like Doris Greenspan’s Apple Cake which happens to be the most popular recipe in my blog.  From this chapter I quickly bookmarked her Whole Wheat Nutella Loaf Cake (need I say anything more?), a Hazelnut Cake with Nutella Drizzle (O.M.G.), a Walnut Cake with Warm Honey Glaze, and a Fabulous Butter Cake from Brittany.

Cookies: Perfect for the season are Pumpkin Seed Tuiles, I must save some pumpkin seeds to try them, because tuiles have been on my list of culinary projects forever!  Sablés au Chocolat are her take on a classic, buttery cookie from Normandy. Another very tempting choice for me would be Orange Madeleines with Orange Glaze. Together with tuiles, madeleines are part of my list of projects (I even own a madeleine pan, feel guilty every time I look at it).

Baked: I cannot stop thinking of her Roasted Peaches in a Pool of Crème Anglaise… I will give you a moment to think about it. Wonderful, right? But how about Individual Berry Gratin with Yogurt Whipped Cream? Or maybe you would rather have Puffs with Warm Chocolate Sauce? I must also include a very exotic concoction (unknown to me) called Far Breton Prune Custard Cake, a specialty from Brittany. Made me think of the many things I could have tried while I lived in France, but had no idea existed. Such is life.

Verrines: I simply adore verrines. Stunning presentation, in small portions. Perfect. I can tell you one thing, there are 10 recipes in this chapter and I would love to make and enjoy each and every one of them.  Just to give you some examples, the first one is called quite simply A Cloud of Lemon Vermouth Mousse. I am officially in love. Chocolate Ginger Pots de Crème..  Grand Marnier Mousse…  Lemon Rice Pudding with Blackberry Caramel Sauce…  One tempting sweet after another….

Frozen or Refrigerated Desserts: Very interesting recipes in this chapter, starting with a child-friendly Vin Chaud Sorbet with Frosted Grapes. You cook the alcohol out, but the idea is to have the flavors of vin chaud, often served in Alsace during cold months. And in a nice parallel, back home in Brazil we have “vinho quente” traditionally served in the month of June, welcoming the first chill of the year. I would love to make her Strawberry Frozen Yogurt, with a touch of balsamic vinegar. Or her Peach Melba with Muddled Vanilla Ice Cream.  She closes the chapter with a stunning retro dessert: Vanilla, Raspberry and Chocolate Ice Cream Bombe. Imagine that to awe your guests at the end of a dinner party?

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Vin Chaud Sorbet with Frosted Grapes

Waffles, Crêpes and Pancakes: Tempting chapter. The recipe that impressed me the most: Farz Buen Broken Crêpes. The name indicates exactly what it is. You start with a traditional crepe batter, then break them as they cook, as if making scrambled eggs. Her description of this delicacy from Brittany made my mouth water. Must. Make. It. Crêpes Suzette is in there too, how could it not be?  Such a classic!

Puff Pastry: Her recipes call for store-bought pastry. Now, I realize she was criticized for it, and I find it very unfair. I’ve lived in France several years and have never ever met a French woman who made her own puff pastry. Maybe they are out there, but in a very rare minority. Why would they make them when you can find excellent products at the store, many brands of pure butter puff pastry waiting for you? Sure, if you’d like to make it, go for it, but don’t twist your nose at the boxed product. I use it all the time, puff pastry and phyllo dough, thank you very much. Anyway, my favorite recipes in this group are Niflettes, a specialty from Provins, not only because they are impossibly cute but for the story behind them. Folklore says they were created to console orphans crying over the loss of their parents. Nowadays they are served in All Saints Day in that region of France. Alsatian Marzipan Apple Strudel would be amazing to try too. as well as – ready for this? – Sweet Vol-au-Vent with a Strawberry Tarragon Coulis. Just wow.

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Niflettes

Tarts: I rarely make them but find them quite fascinating. Many options tempted me, starting with her Rustic Plum Tart in a Sweet Fennel Crust. She follows with a very interesting Medieval Custard Tart in a Clove-Scented Crust. I adore spices and find their addition to pie crusts a strike of genius. I also have my heart set on her Swiss Chard and Goat Cheese Cheesecake Tart.

Candies and Mignardises: Mignardise might be one of the cutest words in the French language. Fun to say, fun to enjoy… I would make every one of these recipes, starting with White Chocolate White Truffles with Dried Cherries, moving to Mini Pain d’Épices (I was basically addicted to those while living in Paris), and Nonnettes, a concoction made by nuns in the Middle Ages, little cakes with orange marmalade in the center. From the Middle Ages, can you wrap your mind around it?  Too cool!

Special Occasion Desserts: Chocolate Soufflé, a must-make!  White Chocolate Crème Brûlées with Salty PistachiosA Precious Pear Charlotte, Baba au Rhum closes the chapter.

Hillary, thank you for allowing me to publish the recipe from your beautiful cookbook!

zucchini-lemon-walnut-cake-from-bewitching-kitchen

 

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ONE YEAR AGO: Paleo Energy Bars

TWO YEARS AGO: Pecan-Crusted Chicken with Honey Mustard Dressing

THREE YEARS AGO: Mozzarella Stuffed Turkey Burgers

FOUR YEARS AGO:  Cashew Chicken Lettuce Wraps

FIVE YEARS AGO: Clay-pot Pork Roast

SIX YEARS AGO: Panmarino

SEVEN YEARS AGO: A Classic Roast Chicken

 

 

 

 

 

 

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SLOW COOKER CARNITAS LETTUCE WRAPS AND PALEO PLANET REVIEW


They say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and I cannot think of a better phrase to start this post. Several months ago – a few too many – I learned that the hostess of one of my favorite food blogs (A Calculated Whisk) was publishing her first cookbook. After I was done with my extended version of the happy dance, I pre-ordered the book, Kindle version. The book was downloaded to my computer in August last year, but within a couple of days I asked for a refund, and immediately switched to a paper copy of it. I guess that tells you how much I loved it…  I then contacted Becky and asked if it would be ok to publish one of the recipes and do a little review of her cookbook. She was adorable, sent me right away a list of recipes that the publisher agreed could be shared by food bloggers, and I made her Bacon and Spinach Souffle.  My intention was to blog about it on the first week of December, but the pictures turned out really bad, doing no justice whatsoever to the great taste of the dish. I was disappointed and decided to make it again later.  Just as I was getting ready to do it, Becky herself blogged on that very recipe, with drool-worthy images… So yes, I re-made the souffle’ because we enjoyed it so much the first time, but skipped blogging about it. Instead, I jumped right away on another goodie, Lamb Meatballs with Saffron Sauce… One word: WOW. Ok, another, OMG. That makes four words? Sorry. I need them all. But here’s three more for you: Slap To Forehead.  That particular recipe was not in the list approved for sharing by her publisher. Can you feel my pain? Undeterred, although a bit embarrassed by my comedy of boo-boos, I attacked yet another recipe: Slow Cooker Carnitas Lettuce Wraps with Pineapple Salsa.  Five words for you: Third Time’s the Charm. Let me blog about it quickly before someone else beats me to it…
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SLOW COOKER CARNITAS LETTUCE WRAPS WITH PINEAPPLE SALSA

(slightly adapted from Paleo Planet)
reprinted with permission from Becky Winkler)
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for the carnitas:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
pinch of cayenne pepper
1 bone-in pork shoulder (about 2.5 pounds in weight)
1 onion, thickly sliced
Juice of 2 oranges (reserve the shells)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
for the salsa:
3/4 cup fresh pineapple chunks (I used diced mango)
1 small red onion, chopped
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 avocados, diced
1 head of Boston lettuce for serving
Cashew cream or Mexican crema for garnish (optional)
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Make the carnitas: mix the olive oil, cumin, salt, black pepper, oregano and cayenne in a small bowl. Rub the mixture all over the pork. Place it in the crock pot and top with the onion and citrus juices. Add the orange shells to she slow cooker as well. Cover and cook on low for 8 to 10 hours.  The meat should be fall-apart tender.
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When you are ready to serve the meat, turn the broiler on and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, preferably the heavy-duty kind. Remove the pork from the slow cooker, discarding orange halves and onion slices. Shred the meat using two forks into bite-size pieces. Place the meat on the baking sheet, spoon some of the liquid left in the crock pot over the meat, and broil until browned on top and crispy around the edges, about 5 minutes.  Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
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Make the salsa: combine all he ingredients in a small bowl except the avocado pieces and mix well to combine. Gently toss the avocado, taste and adjust seasoning, adding more lemon juice if so desired.
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To serve, spoon the meat over leaves of lettuce, top with the salsa, and drizzle with crema or cashew cream.
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ENJOY!
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to print the recipe, click here
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 Comments: This was superb. Absolutely superb. I am a pulled pork cheerleader, so I could be slightly biased, but still. It was one delicious meal. The salsa, so simple to prepare was a perfect topping for the meat. I was lucky to have blood oranges available when I made this recipe, they gave a gorgeous color to the cooking liquid. I highly recommend you make this dish when they are in season. As for the salsa, I used mango instead of pineapple simply because I tend to develop canker sores when I eat pineapple, which is pretty sad, since I love the fruit. Oh, well, there are worse problems to have in life.  I used this recipe for cashew cream, which I blogged not too long ago.
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holidays
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And now, it’s time to share my views on Becky’s first cookbook,
Paleo Planet: Primal Foods from the Global Kitchen…
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As expected from a cookbook published by a reputable food blogger, the photos are amazing, so if you are a very visual person when it comes to picking a recipe to try for the first time, this cookbook will be a huge hit with you. But not only the photos are great, the book was designed with a wonderful sense of aesthetics. Details like the edge of the pages in each chapter marked with a different color, so browsing through is easier… also, each color matches the font in the list of the ingredients. The book is a pleasure to hold, open, and read. I smiled my whole way through it. Another thing I love about it? Becky did not go through 126 pages to explain what is Paleo diet, why you would benefit from it, and listing every single ingredient and gadget you will need to make a Paleo meal, including 3 sizes of wooden spoons, that… come to think of it, cavemen lacked, I am sure. I joke. but some Paleo cookbooks take you for such a looong detour before giving you what you want (recipes!) that it becomes tiring, at least for me. Becky devotes austere 9 pages of text to cover not only her own experience with Paleo, but everything you’d need to know in case you are new to the subject. That is it. I loved it!
book

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Chapter One:
  Spice Blends, Pantry Staples and Sauces…
 In this chapter you will find gems like homemade date syrup (after paying for a bottle and getting addicted to it, I am sure it will be fun to make my own in the future), Cashew Cream (another one of my recent addictions), Slow-cooker caramelized onions, a few chutneys like onion, tamarind, and mint, and many other things to spice up your food.
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Chapter Two: Appetizers, Soups, Salads, and Snacks… How do you feel about Tahini Glazed Chicken Wings? Yes, they are there. Malaysian Beef Satay with Quick-picked cucumbers?  Also waiting for you… Some super enticing soups like Butternut Squash with Fried Garlic and Chile Oil (the photo made me swoon…), or Cauliflower and Mushroom Soup with Gomasio (a fun, simple item ready in seconds that would go well on many dishes). For some reason, I associate Gomasio with a handsome butler…  “Gomasio, please bring me a glass of carbonated water with a dash of Angostura bitters, will you?”  Nah, trust me, nothing to do with it.
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Chapter Three: Poultry... I pretty much wanted to make every single dish of the 21 included in this chapter, but what can I say? I love poultry. Roast Chicken with Za’tar and Yogurt Sauce maybe gets the number one spot with me, but some serious contenders would be Coconut Tamarind Curry, Drumsticks with Mole Poblano, and Chicken Tagine with Potatoes and Quick-Preserved Lemons. WOW!
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Chapter Four: Beef, Pork, and Lamb… Mat lovers, get ready to dig in! Another chapter I could cook from first to last. Includes my featured recipe (Slow Cooker Carnitas), and the one I could not blog about, Lamb Meatballs in Saffron Sauce, but also gems like Date Glazed Pork Tenderloin, and Honey Chipotle Short Ribs.
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Chapter Five: Seafood…. Great recipes in here too, starting with her Lemongrass Shrimp with Cucumber Vermicelli, for which you will need a spiral cutter to make your life easier. You know you need one, almost as badly as you need Becky’s book, so order them both at amazon.com and help keep our great economy moving. Once you get the spiralizer, you can make the second recipe of this chapter, Cilantro-Lime Shrimp Scampi with Zucchini Noodles. See? It all falls in a nice place in the Paleo Planet.  I also want to make her Broiled Salmon with Ginger-Orange Sauce, although I would probably opt to grill the fish instead.
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Chapter Six: Vegetables... Cauliflower Rice is there, in case you are wondering. How could it not be? It is probably the staple of choice for Paleo diet lovers.  Her take on it is simple, straightforward and works great. But how about some Smoky Sweet Potato Latkes?  I want to make them soon, hoping that mine would look half as gorgeous as hers. Another great choice would be the Ginger-Lime Parsnip Puree, as I see parsnips as a great ingredient, often ignored. Love this chapter, it even includes a recipe for okra, which tempted me, but I resisted, I suspect my beloved husband is grateful for it.
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Chapter Seven: Breakfast and Brunch…
I thought it was interesting that she added that more to the end of the book instead of the beginning, unexpected pleasure to stumble upon the chapter. Surprisingly, one of my favorite recipes of this chapter is already in my blog!  Mini-Quiches with Mushroom Duxelles and Baby Broccoli, was my choice of recipe to make from her blog in The Secret Recipe Club back in January 2015. Check it out here. By the way, very few of the recipes from her book were previously on her site. No worries about ordering your copy. Spinach and Bacon Souffle, the first recipe I made but with disappointing photos is also from this chapter.I have a single photo that is not too bad to share, take a look at how creamy it was…
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freezer-2
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Chapter Eight: Desserts…
Becky managed to assemble a collection of 17 recipes that don’t make you go “I don’t know about this one…”  You know what I mean, Paleo recipes sometimes bring blueberry muffins made with stuff as tasty as sawdust and sprinkled with honeyed seaweed.  No, not the case. You will find options that are naturally Paleo friendly such as Vanilla-Cardamon Berries, Chocolate-Ginger Truffles, Mocha Panna Cotta, Mexican Brownies, Lemon Olive Oil Cake, and the last recipe closing the book is Coconut Whipped Cream, something lots of bloggers rave about, but I haven’t tried yet.
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So that is my take on a great cookbook that I’m glad to own in its real format, I’ll take the opportunity to save some trees later.  The book was clearly made with love and attention to every detail. Becky follows a Paleo nutrition but doesn’t act like a member of the Paleo Police, quite the contrary. I appreciate that very much, and highly recommend her cookbook, no matter the type of nutrition you enjoy or follow. Of course, vegetarians might find the options slightly limited, but if they don’t mind skipping three of the chapters, there’s plenty to cook from Paleo Planet.
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Becky, I am sorry it took me so long to get this post published, but as I said in the beginning, I had very good intentions…
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If you’d like to order Paleo Planet, follow this link.  I am not associated with amazon.com, and will not profit from your purchase. My reviews of cookbooks and products arise exclusively from my desire to do so.
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A SMASHING PAIR

No, I am not talking about Phil and I, although the thought crossed my mind…  It is actually a quote from my newest cookbook:

Have you tried roasted carrots and avocados together?
What a smashing pair!

I don’t think I ever thought of mixing carrots with avocados, but the other day a simple email with notification of a new post by Kelly arrived, and I dropped everything I was doing to check it out. She shared the recipe for a gorgeous quinoa concoction found in  “The Clever Cookbook.”  Cute name, almost as cute as the blog hosted by the author, Emilie: The Clever Carrot. I can see you’re smiling now, it’s impossible not to smile at the name. I need another cookbook as I need a third eye, but my will power for certain temptations is non-existent. I don’t even try to put up a fight anymore, just go to amazon and get the job done.  Ordering the Kindle version minimizes the amount of guilt, in case you are wondering how I deal with my weaknesses.

That night I laid in bed for a long time reading the book,  and could not wait to make this salad, because who could resist getting acquainted with a smashing pair? Less than 24 hours later the salad was part of our dinner, and it was a tremendous success!  I urge you to try it too. I modified the recipe a bit, but you can find Emilie’s original in her book,  which by the way is a total delight! You need to have it, so don’t even bother resisting.

Spice Roasted Carrot and Avocado Salad

SPICE-ROASTED CARROT AND AVOCADO SALAD
(adapted from The Clever Cookbook)
printed with permission from Emilie Raffa)

4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tbsp olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 heaped tsp Southwest spice blend (I used Penzey’s)
1/4 cup slivered almonds
a few yellow grape tomatoes, halved
1 ripe Hass avocado
Juice of ½ lemon
Pinch of salt
arugula leaves

Heat your oven to 425 ° F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the carrots in a large bowl. Add the olive oil and sprinkle with Southwest spice, and a little salt. Toss well to coat. Spread the carrots out on your sheet pan. Roast for about 20 minutes, or until the carrots are caramelized and tender. In the final 5 minutes, add the slivered almonds on top. Remove from the oven, add the tomatoes.  Give it a good stir. Allow the mixture to cool slightly while you dice the avocado and drizzle the pieces with lemon juice to prevent browning.

Add the avocados to the carrots, and toss gently to combine. Place the mixture on top of arugula leaves on a serving bowl, drizzle olive oil and some more lemon juice, adjust seasoning with salt. Toss very gently and serve at room temperature.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

 

clevercookbookcomp

Comments: Talk about a delicious dinner! It’s not everyday that a salad draws enthusiastic compliments from my beloved husband. We both went crazy for this one, and Phil in particular thought that the grilled chicken was a perfect match, making the meal worthy of a fancy French style bistrot. On a slight tangent: the chicken was super simple.  I marinated boneless, skinless chicken thighs early in the morning in a mixture of yogurt,  a touch of olive oil, lemon juice, paprika and turmeric. A smidgen of agave nectar just because. When it was time for dinner, I scraped the marinade off, seasoned the meat with salt and pepper, and grilled until done. The combination of sweet roasted carrots, the hint of spice, and the creaminess of the avocado was irresistible!

served
The salad has enough substance to stand proud on a fully vegetarian menu. Maybe paired with a hearty pasta dish, or next to crostini with mushrooms and cheese?  Or you can skip the greens and use the smashing mixture over grains such as farro or quinoa. Your call.

Emilie, thank you for allowing me to publish your recipe…
I must say you are absolutely right, roasted carrots and avocados are “a smashing pair!”

Now, a little bit about the book…

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The book is organized in a slightly unusual way. You won’t find chapters for Main Dishes, Appetizers, or even a particular kind of ingredient. Instead, her approach is to divide the book in strategies that make your life easier in the kitchen. For instance, the first chapter is called “Prep Ahead Vegetables”, and shows how if you invest a little time in prepping veggies they can help you out in many recipes. The chapter includes soups like 30 minute Broccoli and Feta Soup which immediately called my name.  The following chapter, “Back to Basics”  lists her “non-negotiable” items. Stuff that she always has around like toothpaste, chocolate, and the cell phone  (yeah, she is adorably witty). In that chapter, you’ll learn how to make her Triple Duty Chicken Stock, Basic Tomato Sauce, and Master Stir Fry Sauce. Well, you get the gist of it. A little investment of time to make batches of those, and cooking on a daily basis will be a breeze.   But my favorite chapter was one called “Process This.” Clever ways (it is a clever cookbook, after all) to use the food processor. I must try her Banana Cloud Cake included in the chapter, and the user-friendly No-Peel Butternut Squash Soup (sounds like a dream, right?).  Two other chapters that I was quite fond of: “Batch Cooked Grains” and “Freezer Marinades.” The Clever Cookbook is definitely one that will not sit collecting dust in your shelf.  If you are a busy person, with or without kids around, this book is a must-have. To order, follow this link. And while you are around the ordering process, go ahead and subscribe to Emilie’s blog too. I did, because I don’t want to miss her future culinary adventures…

Kelly, thanks for the heads up about Emilie’s cookbook and blog. Loved “meeting” her through you…

😉

ONE YEAR AGO: Spinach and Mushroom Stuffed Pork Tenderloin

TWO YEARS AGO: Crispy Chickpea and Caper Spaghetti

THREE YEARS AGO: Spring has Sprung!

FOUR YEARS AGO: Chickpea and Fire Roasted Tomato Soup

FIVE YEARS AGO: Double Asparagus Delight

SIX YEARS AGO:  Sun-dried Tomato and Feta Cheese Torte

 

 

POACHED WHITE ASPARAGUS WITH LEMON AND PISTACHIOS

I have a cookbook recommendation for you: Rose Water and Orange Blossoms, by Maureen Abood, who runs a gorgeous food blog I’ve been following for a while. As I browsed through my Kindle version, I was surprised by the number of recipes I bookmarked, a feature I love in the Kindle reader, actually. Makes it so easy to go back to favorites. So I did that A LOT. I also love when a cookbook mixes just the right amount of prose. Don’t make each recipe a reason to pour your soul out and tell me all about your childhood and that of your close friends, but give me enough to dream about, to make me understand why that recipe is special for you, special enough that you chose to include in your cookbook.  Maureen does just that. The first recipe I made from her cookbook is simple yet very elegant. Poached white asparagus with pistachios. She used pistachio oil to drizzle the dish, I decided to go with my recent acquisition, a blood orange-infused olive oil.  I am quite fond of its color, a soft reddish tone, and I think the taste matched the white asparagus very well.

White Asparagus with Pistachios

POACHED WHITE ASPARAGUS WITH LEMON AND PISTACHIO OIL
(from the cookbook Rose Water and Orange Blossoms)
reprinted with permission from Maureen Abood

Makes 4 servings

1 pound / 450 g white asparagus
Juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons shelled roasted, salted pistachios
4 teaspoons pistachio oil (I used blood orange infused olive oil)
Fine sea salt, to finish

Trim the asparagus by snapping the ends off at their natural break. Peel them from just beneath the tip to the end with a vegetable peeler. Cover the asparagus with water in a large sauté pan. Squeeze the lemon into the pan and add the teaspoon of salt.

Cover the pan and bring the water to a boil, and then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until a spear can be easily cut with a knife and fork. Drain and set the asparagus aside to cool. Remove the thin papery skin on each pistachio to reveal the bright green nut underneath by rubbing the skin off of each nut between your fingers and thumb. Coarsely chop the pistachios.

Divide the asparagus among four individual salad plates, or pile them, all facing the same direction, on a platter. Sprinkle the pistachios across the center of the asparagus crosswise, forming a line. Drizzle everything with pistachio oil, and finish with the sea salt.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

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Comments: White asparagus will always make me think of a trip to Germany many years ago. We were living in Paris at the time, and went for a little scientific mission to a couple of cities in Germany. We arrived at the peak of asparagus season and one restaurant in particular had pretty much all dishes centered on them. I still remember a gratin of white asparagus and ham that blew my mind, it was superb! Until I got Maureen’s book, I confess to butchering my share of white asparagus when trying to cook them at home. It never occurred to me that these pale white creatures need to be treated differently from their siblings, the ones allowed to grow under full sun. Maureen gives two simple tips for success: peel them all the way from the bottom to the region right below the tips. And cook them gently but for a longer time. I was amazed at the difference these two little modifications brought to my culinary life.

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Now, back to Maureen’s book. So many dishes I want to cook from it, it’s not even funny…  Doesn’t “Flower Water Syrup” make you go in a dreamy daze? Many of her recipes are simple but join unexpected flavors, leaving you with that feeling of “why didn’t I think of that?” For instance, Warm Dates with Almonds and Lime Zest… I just know it will be an amazing recipe. Or… Tahini Avocado?  Za’atar Roasted Tomatoes? It all sounds perfect.  And to me, nothing is better than a great kibbeh, I love it. She shares her classic version of Baked Kibbeh, and one particular recipe I had a few times in Brazil and find spectacular: Yoghurt-Poached Kibbeh.  You may think it is strange, but trust me, it is the best kind. I guess I was lucky to grow up in São Paulo where we have many great Lebanese restaurants, some pretty close to the university where I studied. Still on the kibbeh front, Maureen offers several variations that were unknown to me: Fried Kibbeh with Mint Butter, Vegan Tomato Kibbeh, and Potato & Spinach Kibbeh. But I will tell you what will be my next recipe for sure: Whipped Hummus with Minced Lamb. One little tip she gives in that recipe is worth my weight in chickpeas. But I share no more. You will have to invite her book to join your collection, and that will be a very wise move. Go for it with a simple click here.

Maureen, thank you for allowing me to publish your recipe, and best of luck with your cookbook!

ONE YEAR AGO: Dan Lepard’s Saffron Bloomer

TWO YEARS AGO: Fesenjan & The New Persian Kitchen

THREE YEARS AGO: Quinoa Salad with Roasted Beets

FOUR YEARS AGO: Pasta Puttanesca

FIVE YEARS AGO: Miche Point-a-Calliere

SPRING HAS SPRUNG WITH SUZANNE GOIN!

Remember that decision of not getting new cookbooks in 2015? I am actually proud of myself because I arrived almost at the end of March without caving. Only one cookbook purchase, which at some point I will talk about here. However, the universe conspired against me. In a perverse turn of events a certain good friend of mine sent me not one, not two, but TWELVE cookbooks. I’ll now pause so that you can close your jaw and regain your composure. Better yet, they were in electronic format, so no trees were harmed. One of the gifts was Susanne Goin’s The A.O.C. Cookbook  which I fell in love with instantly. I do own her other book, Sunday Suppers at Lucques, and have been to that restaurant in Los Angeles twice during our sabbatical a few years ago.  The place has a wonderful vibe, and fantastic food with a country French feel centered on local ingredients.  I was not at all surprised by how much I loved the recipes she chose to feature in A.O.C. Plus, what a clever name for a wine bar, I definitely want to stop by next time we are in L.A.

The recipe I chose to inaugurate the book perked my interest because it’s simple but at the same time quite sophisticated. The different components go together perfectly, the dish satisfies without being heavy, it’s all about balance, harmony, but with contrasting flavors and textures. I think it reflects well what Suzanne’s cooking is all about. Plus, it really looks like spring on a plate…  What could be more appropriate now?

Mustard Grilled Chicken AOC

 

MUSTARD-GRILLED CHICKEN WITH SPINACH, ALMONDS, PECORINO AND SOFT EGG
(slightly modified from Suzanne Goin’s A.O.C.)
(published with permission from Suzanne Goin & Random House LLC)

(for 6 servings)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup finely diced shallots
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
½ cup dry vermouth
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
7 extra-large eggs
2 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon
6 large chicken legs with thigh attached, boned
1 extra-large egg yolk
1½ tablespoons red-wine vinegar
1 lemon, for juicing
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup slivered almonds
6 ounces baby spinach, cleaned and dried  (I used a baby spring mix)

1 recipe Mustard Breadcrumbs

1 recipe Pecorino Pudding

½ cup grated pecorino
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 375°F.

For the chicken marinade, heat a small sauté pan over medium heat for 1 minute. Swirl in the butter, and when it foams, add the diced shallots and the thyme; sauté for about 2 minutes, until the shallots are translucent. Add the vermouth, and reduce by half. Transfer to a baking dish, and let cool a few minutes. Whisk in ½ cup Dijon mustard, 1 egg, the chopped tarragon, and a pinch of black pepper.

Place the chicken legs between two pieces of plastic wrap, and pound them with a mallet to an even ½-inch thickness. Remove from the plastic wrap, and slather the chicken with the marinade, making sure to coat both sides well. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

Make the vinaigrette: Whisk the egg yolk in a small bowl with the remaining 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, the red-wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, ½ teaspoon salt, and a pinch of pepper. Slowly whisk in ¾ cup olive oil. Thin the vinaigrette with 1 teaspoon water or more if needed. Taste for balance and seasoning.

Light the grill 30 to 40 minutes before you’re ready to cook the chicken and take the chicken out of the refrigerator to let it come to room temperature. Spread the almonds on a baking sheet, and toast in the oven for 4 to 5 minutes, until they’re lightly browned and smell nutty.

Meanwhile, carefully lower the remaining six eggs into a pot of boiling water. Cook for exactly 6 minutes, and cool immediately in a bowl of ice water. When the eggs have cooled, peel them.

Place the spinach, half the almonds, and half the breadcrumbs in a large bowl. When the grill is ready, place the soft-cooked eggs in the oven to heat up.

Drizzle the chicken with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, and place it on the grill skin-side down. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes, rotating once or twice after a couple of minutes to get the skin crispy. (The chicken will stick to the grill at first, but it will eventually release.) When the skin side is nicely crisped, turn the chicken over, and cook for a few minutes on the other side, until it’s just cooked through.

Pour ½ cup of the mustard vinaigrette over the salad, and season with salt, pepper, and a squeeze of lemon. Toss well, and taste for balance and seasoning.

Spoon the hot pecorino pudding onto the center of six dinner plates. Arrange the spinach salad on top of the pudding, and place the chicken on top. Carefully balance an egg on top of each piece of chicken. Drizzle with ¼ cup mustard vinaigrette, and sprinkle the remaining almonds and breadcrumbs and the grated pecorino over the top.

MUSTARD BREADCRUMBS
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
1 teaspoon chopped flat-leaf parsley

Heat the oven to 375°F.

Place the breadcrumbs in a medium bowl. Heat a small sauté pan over medium heat for 1 minute. Add the butter, and when it foams, whisk in the mustard, thyme, and parsley. Remove from the heat, let cool for a few minutes, and then pour the mustard butter over the breadcrumbs, tossing to coat them well. Transfer the breadcrumbs to a baking sheet, and toast them for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring often, until they’re golden brown and crispy.

PECORINO PUDDING
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1¾ cups whole milk
⅔ cup heavy cream
1 extra-large egg
1 extra-large egg yolk
1¼ cups grated Pecorino Romano
Kosher salt

Heat the oven to 350°F.

Heat a medium pot over medium heat for 1 minute. Add the butter, and when it foams, whisk in the flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, and cook for about 5 minutes, being careful not to let the flour brown. Slowly pour in the milk and cream, whisking constantly to incorporate it. The butter and flour will seize up and get pasty at first. Continue whisking vigorously as you add the liquid, and the mixture will become smooth. Cook for a few more minutes, until warm to the touch. Remove the pan from the heat.

Whisk the egg and egg yolk together in a small bowl. Slowly drizzle the eggs into the cream mixture, whisking continuously until combined. Stir in the cheese, and season with a heaping ½ teaspoon salt. Pour the mixture into an 8-by-6-inch (or equivalent) baking dish, and cover lightly with foil. Place the baking dish in a roasting pan, and add hot water to the pan until it comes halfway up the outside of the baking dish. Place the pan in the oven, and bake for about 1 hour, until the pudding is just set. If you make the pudding ahead of time, be sure to take it out of the refrigerator to reach room temperature. When it does, heat it in a 350°F oven for about 20 minutes, until it is heated through and starts to brown slightly on top.

ENJOY!

to print the recipes, click here

moussebefore

Comments: For the most part, my cooking style is quite simple, reflecting our desire to eat well, but keeping in perspective our work schedule. But on weekends it’s possible to devote a bit more time to prepare a nice menu, even if it’s just for the two of us, which was the case in this particular meal.  I took my time, doing all steps of the recipe at a leisurely pace, then assembled the dish in all its colorful glory!

I used chicken thighs instead of whole legs, considered de-boning them myself, but then went with what I found at the grocery store ready to use, boneless, skinless pieces. The marinade kept the pieces very moist, they stood well to grilling.  I more or less halved the whole recipe, but ended up making the full amount of the pecorino pudding, because I suspected we would love it as a side dish for another meal later. I was right, so if you are making this recipe just for you and your favorite person in the world, go for the full amount of pudding, it’s the same work for double rewards!


mousseThe Pecorino Pudding… absolutely wonderful on its own! 

 Another change I made was using slivered almonds instead of pine nuts. A few years ago I was getting ready to use pine nuts in a recipe and decided to munch on a couple after toasting. They were rancid, even though the bag was stored the freezer.  Have you ever tasted a rancid pine nut? My advice: do not. I know it’s silly to avoid them, but let’s say I’ve been very happy substituting slivered almonds, and did the same for this recipe. I simply did not want to run the risk of ruining our special dinner.

tosted

Please don’t cut corners and use store-bought bread crumbs. No bueno. Go the extra mile and toast your own bread crumbs, keeping them with a coarse texture. As we sat down and savored the meal, Phil said “this dish would be a star in the best Parisian bistrots”.   Mission accomplished, Sally pats herself on the back, although patting Suzanne’s back would be more appropriate. The egg yolk self-transforms into a luscious sauce that envelops the flavorful chicken, and the pecorino pudding underneath provides the exact amount of sharpness, but with a soft and pleasant texture. What a great combination of components!

All things considered, I’m in awe of restaurant chefs, sous-chefs, and prep cooks. Even though I prepared all the components ahead of time, things got pretty frantic close to the finish line. To think that in a restaurant they are able to pull this type of recipe non-stop, is really something! Whenever someone places an order, there they go assembling a perfectly poached egg, a perfectly cooked chicken, and making sure the presentation is flawless. I am stressed just thinking about it…

And now, time for a walk through The A.O.C. Cookbook

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Suzanne opened A.O.C. Wine Bar and Restaurant to mimic the atmosphere of the small wine bar at Lucques, where people would sit, eat hours d-oeuvres, have a great time while waiting for their tables. Her idea was to have a wine bar of sorts, in which people could order a few small dishes and informally share. Before you say “tapas bar”, let me assure you it is not at all the case, and it bothers Suzanne when people insist on defining A.O.C. that way.  Think about more elaborate, bigger dishes that happen to be perfect to share.

As usual for my cookbook reviews, instead of giving you a complete list of recipes, I will offer my favorites of each chapter.

Chapter One: Cheese
A delicious collection of recipes, my favorites probably Bacon-Wrapped Dates with Parmesan, and Torta Gorgonzola with Walnuts in Honey. As Suzanne points out, honey and blue cheese are a match made in heaven, adding walnuts brings the additional textural component that fits right in.

Chapter Two: Charcuterie
I pretty much drooled over each and every recipe, but the Chicken Liver Crostini with Pancetta went to the top of my list, after reading that Suzanne’s intention was to “make the most delicious chicken-liver pate I could”. Cannot beat that endorsement. I also would love to try my hands at the Pork Rillettes with Pickled Onions and Cornichons, because rillette was one of the appetizers I ordered most often while living in Paris. Each place seems to have a slightly different take on it, not only as far as spices, but the way the meat is prepared and shredded.

Chapter 3: Salads
This chapter as well as all others coming after it will be divided by season. Growing up in Brazil, where seasons are not well-marked, it took me a while to adapt to the idea of seasonal cooking. But, it’s something I embraced and now appreciate when a cookbook focus on it.

My favorites of this chapter would be Sweet Pea Pancakes with Dungeness Crab and Red Onion Crème Fraîche…  Fattoush Salad with Fried Pita, Cherry Tomatoes, Crumbled Feta and Sumac… and Roasted Kabocha Squash with Dates, Parmesan and Pepitas.  You can see how Suzanne is very creative with her salads, and you could order two or three of them to make a complete meal, no meat needed. Remember? A.O.C. is all about sharing, a place that seems perfect to go with a few friends.

Chapter 4: Fish
Maybe my favorite chapter? Not sure, but a serious contender.  Sharing a few favorites: Alaskan Halibut with Carrot Puree, Asparagus, and Pistou… Wild Salmon with Spinach Soubise, Wilted Leeks, and Meyer Lemon Butter (OMG!)… Black Bass with Fennel Puree, Winter Citrus, and Green Olives in Green Harissa.  Notice how long the names of her recipes are? Well, at least you know exactly what you will be enjoying!

Chapter 5: Meat
I am of course very partial to the opening recipe, Mustard-Grilled Chicken with Spinach, Pine Nuts, Pecorino, and Soft Egg, which was featured in this post.  But then there’s also Lamb Paillards with Risotto Carbonara, English Peas, and Chanterelles… or her Grilled Chicken with Fresh Garbanzos, Corn, and Chile-Cumin Butter. If you are feeling adventurous, consider her Braised Duck with Madeira, Kale Stuffing, and Dates. Sounds like heaven to me! If pork is more what you are looking for, she has a great looking recipe for Pork Confit with Caramelized Apples and Cabbage in Red Wine.

Chapter 6: Vegetables
I really enjoyed reading her introduction of this chapter. Quoting from the book: “I feel I walk the line of respecting and showing off the inner beauty and inherent deliciousness of the vegetables, while also giving them a little dressing up or a nudge of sexiness and surprise”.  That says it all. She really shines in her preparation of veggies.

My favorites, pretty hard to pick: English Peas with Saffron Butter and Pea Shoots,… Crushed Corn Pudding with Poblanos and Queso Fresco… Balsamic-Glazed Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta… and Turmeric-Spiced Root Vegetables with Kaffir Lime Yogurt and Mint Chutney (OMG #2).

Chapter 7: From the Wood-burning Oven
Must quote her again: “I know intellectually that you can work wonders with plastic bags and vacuum packing; I have tasted sublime creations made with liquid nitrogen, meat glue, and other such things; but personally I want to get my hands in the food, I want to feel and smell the wood burning”.  (this is all music to Sally’s ears…)

My favorites of this chapter: Brioche with Prosciutto, Gruyère, and Sunny-side-up Egg… Roasted Cauliflower with Curry and Red Vinegar… Lamb Meatballs with Spiced Tomato Sauce, Mint, and Feta.

Chapter 8: Desserts
For someone who doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth, it’s odd but true: all recipes appealed to me. For instance, her opening Spring option: Frozen Meyer Lemon Meringue Tart with Gingersnap Crust and Blueberry Compote (OMG#3)…  her Chocolate Mascarpone Tart with Pistachios in Olive Oil…  or her Sticky Toffee Pudding with Blood Orange, Tangerine, and Whipped Crème Fraîche. But, if you are going for the kill, take a deep breath and imagine this: Vanilla Pot de Crème with Dulce de Leche, Marcona Almonds, and a Layer of Chocolate. Ok, I am officially done. If you are not howling in gastronomic pleasure by now, there’s something wrong, and well, I feel a little sad for you  🙂

Chapter 8: A.O.C. Cheese
A list of all cheeses you can find at her wine bar. Mind blowing. If you are expecting that boring list found in so many books, “hard cheeses, soft cheeses, blue cheeses”, with a few meager examples of each, be ready to be absolutely amazed.  She lists hundreds of types of cheese, most of them I have never heard of. They are divided by type of milk, and country of origin. Since I’ve never met a cheese I did not like, I bet I would welcome any of them at my table.  Each cheese has a reasonably detailed summary of its “personality”.  A real masterpiece of a chapter to close a great cookbook. A.O.C. brings good  balance between short stories, Suzanne’s thoughts on food, and the detailed recipes are paired with excellent photography:  the icing on the cake.

Suzanne, thanks for giving me permission to publish one of your recipes, and I look forward to visiting A.O.C. in person in the near future!

ONE YEAR AGO: Chai Brownies

TWO YEARS AGO:  A Small Tribute to a Big Man

THREE YEARS AGO: Still got stout?

FOUR YEARS AGO: The Real Vodka Sauce

FIVE YEARS AGO: Spring Rolls on a Spring Day