ORANGE STREUSEL CAKE & THE JOYS OF BAKING BOOK REVIEW

I will never write a cookbook. Having said that, IF I ever wrote one, I would like it to be along the lines of The Joys of Baking, by Samantha Seneviratne. As Dorie Greenspan writes in her endorsement: A sweet meditation on why we bake… the book is a delight.

I couldn’t have said it better, Dorie summarized it all. I contacted Samantha and she gave me permission to publish one recipe on the blog. I had quite a hard time choosing which one to share, but decided to go with her Orange Streusel Cake, because its preparation is quite unusual and the cake turned out absolutely perfect for my taste.  But I will also show you pictures of another recipe from the book, Samantha’s  Mascarpone Gingerbread Bars. Because… ginger…

ORANGE STREUSEL CAKE
(from The Joys of Baking, published with permission from Samantha Seneviratne)

For the streusel:
½ cup (65g) all-purpose flour
½ cup (110g) packed light brown sugar
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons (57g) unsalted butter, melted (I used half the butter)
1/2 cup (15g) sliced almonds

for the cake:
6 tablespoons (85 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 entire navel orange (about 280 g), seeded, cut into large chunks
¼ cup (60g) sour cream, at room temperature
1 +1/2 cups (195g) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¾ cup (200g) granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature

for the glaze:
3 to 4 teaspoons freshly squeezed orange juice
¾ cup (90g) powdered sugar

Heat the oven to 350°F.

Prepare the streusel: In a medium bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, and salt. Drizzle the melted butter over the mixture and stir to incorporate. The mixture should clump together when squeezed. Toss in the almonds. Prepare the cake: Butter an 8-inch square baking pan. Line the pan with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on 2 opposite sides. Butter the parchment.

Place the orange in a blender and process until it is the texture of applesauce. It’s okay if you have a few larger pieces. You should have about 1 cup of orange purée. Add the sour cream and stir to combine.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. In a large bowl, with an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, scraping down the bowl as necessary. Add half of the flour mixture and beat on low speed until just combined. Beat in the orange mixture, then beat in the remaining half of the flour mixture.

Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and smooth the top. Top with the streusel mixture. Squeeze the streusel to form a range of differently sized clumps. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out with moist crumbs attached, 40 to 45 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool for 20 minutes. Then, using the parchment overhang as handles, transfer the cake to a wire rack to cool completely.

Prepare the glaze (if using): In a small bowl, whisk the orange juice into the confectioners’ sugar, adding a little less juice for a thicker glaze that will look lovely on top of the cake, or a little more for a thinner glaze that will soak in. Drizzle the glaze over the cooled cake.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: I am very fond of marinades that use a whole lemon instead of its juice or zest, so the moment I saw that the cake called for a full orange turned into a pulp in the food processor, I knew I had to give it a try. You cannot get much more orange-y than that. And the drizzle of icing sugar/orange juice beautifully seals the deal. The cake is moist, feels rich but light at the same time, if at all possible.

Do you notice the little bits of orange throughout the crumb?
Absolute yumminess.

Now let me share with you a little teaser of a recipe. Originally I was going to focus the blog post on this one, because it was a huge hit when I took it to the Common Table meal (meals for homeless in our town). Mascarpone Gingerbread Bars…

It starts as a very smooth batter, pretty much like a brownie, a one-bowl deal.

Then you swirl a mascarpone cream into it, and marvel at the way it looks.

The crumb is tight, full of gingerbread flavor, and you get that delicious sharp contrast of the mascarpone every now and then. This will please anyone.

Now, a virtual tour of Samantha’s book.

From her introductory chapter, I cut and paste her words…

Cooking is a necessity. Everyone needs to eat. Preparing a special meal can be a joy, of course, but often it feels like a chore, just another item on an endless list of things that must get done. Baking is different. Baking is a choice. Baking is never a necessity. No one needs a chocolate cake to survive. Except, sometimes, a chocolate cake is exactly what you need to survive. Sometimes, a chocolate cake is the only thing you need in the world. This is a book about and for those times.

I was touched by this paragraph, it really echoes with the way I view baking. She then moved to talk about the tragic life story of Irma Rombauer,  the woman behind the most classic American cookbook of all times, The Joy of Cooking. I was unaware of it, and once again Samantha’s words touched me.

The Joys of Baking is inspired by the book that Irma Rombauer could have written. It’s the story of baking my way through my own heartbreak—of what happened when the parts of my life I thought would be the best turned out to be the worst, and when the things I thought would make me happy almost wrecked me, and why they didn’t.

The book is divided in chapters that have nothing to do with baking categories. They are: Courage, Grace, Bliss, Love, and Wisdom.  Each chapter and each recipe starts with a small paragraph that is like a tiny little window into Samantha’s soul. The window might be tiny, but the image it shows is very bright. 

From this chapter, many recipes tempted me to get into the kitchen and start baking. Coconut and Passion Fruit Pound Cake, a breathtakingly gorgeous Chocolate Cardamon Babka, Earl Grey Pain au Chocolat, the Mascarpone Gingerbread Bars (photo included in this post), and a Sweet Potato Cinnamon Bun with Browned Butter Cream Cheese Glaze (wow!).

The chapter opens with Salted Chocolate-Covered Chocolate Caramels. Of course, when a person wears braces, she will be fiercely drawn towards caramels, brittles, and nougats, even if before having braces those items were rarely part of her life. Anyway, I will make these babies the moment I get rid of my torture devices. Coffee Creme Bundt Cake, is beautiful and preceded by a heart-warming bit about her Dad. As always, just a little paragraph, just enough to make you smile and wonder if you haven’t been too narrow-minded about your thoughts about food.  Next comes a recipe I really wanted to feature in the blog, but did not have a chance to make yet. Ready to dream? Creme Brulle Tart with Pears and Chocolate. Yes, this will be in our kitchen at some point in the near future.  Danish Sugar Cookies with Currants and LemonPistachio and Praline PuffsSunshine Wreath (a thing of beauty!).

From this chapter the first thing that caught my eye was a shortbread, a recent weakness of mine. Her version is a Chocolate Almond Spelt Shortbread. Looks really tasty. Brownie Cake with Candied Hazelnuts and Whipped Cream...  Coconut BunsGingered Cashew Nut Brittle (blame it on the braces)…  Graham Cupcakes with Milk Chocolate Frosting (just adorable)…  Another heavy contender to be featured is We are Nuts About Nuts Cookies. Little sugar cookie rectangles dipped in chocolate and sprinkled with ground pistachio nuts. Just lovely. Orange Streusel Cake, featured today, is also in this chapter.


The chapter opens with my favorite little story of her book. Just a few thoughts about JFK Airport in New York City. More specifically about the arrivals gate.  “Where shopping and dining isn’t the point. It’s all about the crowd along the barriers.”  Just perfect.

From this final chapter, I would gladly try her Apple Snack Cake...  Barley Oat BiscuitsCinnamon Raisin Soft Pretzels (the picture is enough to make your heart missed a few beats)… Lemon Lime Earl Grey Sables...  Maple Cream Pie…  Orange Pistachio BunsSaffron and Chocolate Tea Cake…  and the very last recipe of the book, Unorthodox Challah with Dates and Cocoa.

I hope you enjoyed my little review and consider inviting this gem of a cookbook into your home. Samantha, thank you for allowing me to share a recipe with my readers. I look forward to baking more goodies from your book, and reading again and again your stories behind each one.

ONE YEAR AGO: Pink Praline Brioche

TWO YEARS AGO: A Spinach Salad to Write Home About

THREE YEARS AGO: Karen’s Four Hour French Country Bread

FOUR YEARS AGO: The Siren’s Song of the Royal Icing

FIVE YEARS AGO: Blog-worthy Roasted Butternut Squash

SIX YEARS AGO: Chocolate Currant Sourdough Loaf & Roasted Beet Hummus

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Sesame and Flax Seed Sourdough

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Spanakopita Meatballs

NINE YEARS AGO: Saturday Morning Scones

TEN YEARS AGO: Pain de Mie au Levain

 

A CAKE TO SAY I LOVE YOU FROM KIM-JOY’S COOKBOOK


Of the many contestants of The Great British Bake Off, I cannot think of anyone sweeter and more lovely than Kim-Joy. Her talent as a baker goes way beyond mixing sugar with butter, she turns everything she touches into little works of art. Her love for animals and nature is often present in cakes, cookies, all things pastry. I have mixed feelings about Instagram, to me it often passes a pseudo-glamour aura. But when you stumble on Kim-Joy’s instagram feed, you realize it is just one more venue in which she shows how special and caring a person she is. And of course, you can marvel at all she is baking now, a couple of years down the road from her amazing performance in a certain tent.

Every year I ask Phil to choose a cake for his Birthday, which falls right after Christmas. Last month, he saw Kim Joy’s book over the table and announced that his cake would have to be from her book. It took him just a few minutes to come back with “This one. Woodland Cake.”  Sure. A three-layer cake with ganache frosting, home-made praline’, ginger cookies, mushroom-shaped meringues,  and a gigantic sheet of white chocolate, well-tempered. In other words, a cake that says I really, really love you.

Kim-Joy offers several suggestions for the chocolate cake, in the book she opted for a vegan version. I’ve been meaning to try Ina Garten’s intense chocolate cake for a while, so I decided to go with it.  I used the ginger cookies from Kim Joy’s book and also her Royal icing, but will share only the other components of the cake.

WOODLAND CAKE
(published with permission from Kim-Joy)

for the cake:
used the recipe from Ina Garten, available here
(exact amounts as shown, baked in 3 cake pans, 6 inch diameter)

for chocolate bark:
100g brown candy melts
500g white chocolate, tempered

for coconut-chocolate ganache:
400g dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces
300 mL coconut milk
100 to 250g powdered sugar

for praline’:
130g super fine sugar
35mL water
1 tsp liquid cornstarch (optional)
75g hazelnuts peeled and toasted

for mushroom meringue:
140g superfine sugar
80g egg whites
pinch of cream of tartar

for cookies (optional):
use any favorite recipe for gingerbread cookies

Bake the cake according to the recipe in the link, using 3 round pans with 6-inch in diameter. Cool completely. It can be prepared a couple of days in advance, reserve in the fridge.

Make the chocolate bark. Lay out a rectangular piece of parchment paper measuring roughly 9 1/2 x 27 1/2 inches. Melt the brown candy melts gently in the microwave. Use a paintbrush to paint dots and stripes to mimi the pattern of a birch tree. Let it cool to harden.

Temper the white chocolate and pour on top of the paper with the design already painted and set. Spread gently with an offset spatula to get a smooth, thin coating. Once the chocolate sets, break into pieces of bark (easier way to do it is by hand, using a knife tends to shatter the pieces). Reserve. Can be prepared the day before.

Make the mushroom meringues. Heat the oven to 400F, line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spread the sugar over it. Bake for about 8 minutes until warm but not caramelized.  Leave the door open for the sugar to cool down to about 212F.

Add the egg whites to a KitchenAid type mixer and whisk at high speed until you get soft peaks. Add the cream of tartar then the baked sugar very slowly, about 1 Tablespoon at a time, allowing it to dissolve before adding more.  Transfer to a piping bag and pipe small blobs to be the head of the mushrooms and small stalks piping with the bag straight up, to form the stalks.

Bake at 200F for 60 to 90 minutes, depending on how dry you like them to be. Switch the oven off and leave the meringues inside for a couple of hours to get the meringues fully dry. To form the mushrooms, make a small hole in the bottom of the “caps”, and use some melted chocolate or candy melts to glue the stalk into it. Shower the mushrooms with cocoa powder if you like.

Make the praline paste. Add the sugar, water and cornstarch to a pan. Stir to combine, then stop stirring, bring to a boil. Meanwhile spread the hazelnuts over a Silpat or parchment paper. When the sugar mixture turns amber in color, pour quickly over the hazelnuts, and allow it to fully set. Break into pieces and place in a food processor, blitzing it into a paste. Reserve.

Make the coconut ganache. Place the chocolate in a large Pyrex type bowl. Heat the coconut milk until it starts to bubble. Pour over the chocolate and let it sit undisturbed for 2 minutes. Stir until fully smooth. Add the sugar and whisk with a handheld mixer until just combined. Transfer 2/3 of the ganache to a bowl and chill for 15 minutes.  This portion will be used to coat the cake.

Add the praline paste to the remaining 1/3 of the ganache.  This will be used to fill the cake layers.

Optional step: Bake gingerbread cookies in the shape of your choice to decorate the cake, icing them if you like.

ASSEMBLE THE CAKE: Place one cake layer over a cardboard round and add ganache/praline mixture on top. Place second layer of cake, repeat the spreading of ganache, and the final cake layer on top. Coat the sides and top with the pure ganache.  Set the cake in the fridge for an hour or so. Transfer it to the serving platter.

Adjust the size of the chocolate bark so that pieces will overlap the cake all around and have more or less similar heights. Remember that nature is never fully perfect, so go with the flow.  Melt some candy melts if needed, for the bark to stick better to the cake.

Add the cookies and meringue on top of the cake, spread some coconut flakes around the bottom, a few more meringues. Say I love you, and serve!

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: If there is anything more fun to bake than this cake, I don’t know what it could be. As Kim-Joy says in the book, you don’t have to make every single component in her cakes, but if you decide to do, just go slowly, make them ahead of time. The meringues I made 5 days earlier and froze. The cookies last days at room temperature, the bark also can be made 3, 4 days ahead. All of a sudden it becomes quite doable. Bake the cakes, make the praline and ganache, and you are pretty much done.  If tempering chocolate gets you into severe hyperventilation, you can use candy melts. It won’t taste as good, but the visual effect will be similar and everyone will be impressed.

And now, allow me to share a little review of Baking with Kim-Joy

BAKE, BE ADVENTUROUS, AND ABOVE ALL, BE HAPPY!
(Kim-Joy)

If you love color and happy feelings, this book is for you. It is pure Kim in each page, every little detail of the book, from cute drawings to uplifting messages, it is impossible not to browse without a smile. Just as I wrote this phrase, I opened the book and saw the very first page:

Cute and Creative Bakes to Make you Smile.  

See? What did I just tell you?

The book is divided in 5 chapters: Cakes and Frosting, Cookies and Icing, Breads, Square Cakes and Little Bakes. I will go chapter by chapter sharing my thoughts

CAKES AND FROSTING. She opens the chapter (actually she opens the book) with a cake that took my breath away, not only because it is gorgeous, but the flavors! Pistachio and Cardamom Cake with Mango-Saffron Jam. The cake is naked, she offers different versions of buttercream to lightly coat it, and the top is sprinkled with ground pistachios in a very simple but artistic way. I adore it. I will make the mango jam very soon. Next comes the Vegan Chocolate Cake with Praline, which would be her cake of choice for the Woodland Cake I shared today.  The whole idea behind her book is to use it as a starting point. For instance her Spiced Carrot & Walnut Cake shows up as a regular cake, but then she dresses it up for Halloween adding meringue ghosts and poached pears, for stunning decoration. Stunning and fun at the same time.  You can also find a Rainbow Cake (how could she not include one?) but coupled with the perfect type of icing, and if you want to go the extra mile, make it a cake that holds something unexpected inside as you slice it open. Yes, get her book!  Easter Cake, Cat Paradise, Space Turtle (!!!!), Whale Underwater Cake, one more interesting than the other, each offering a unique type of decorating, sometimes with gingerbread little sculptures, sugar paste, isomalt, dripping ganache.  The chapter ends with several types of frostings and decorating techniques.

COOKIES AND ICINGS. She offers four basic cookie recipes, advising on when to use each. Semolina Shortbread, Ginger Cookies (that I used in the cake, her version has the right amount of cloves for our taste), Basic Vegan Shortbread, and Vegan Ginger Cookies. Then she moves to  cookie decorating tips and ideas, starting with her small batch of Royal Icing. I love that. In fact, I’ve been using her small scale version quite often, because I hate to have a huge amount of Royal Icing hanging around. I now know pretty much how much I need, and might make her recipe or maybe double it, but never need more than that.

BREADS. The book opens with a recipe using tangzhong, which is a technique I found not too long ago and love to use. She uses it to make adorable cat buns, of course, and immediately follows with a version that bakes a Honey Wreath of little cats around a wheel of camembert cheese. It is just the cutest bread you’ll ever see. A No-Knead overnight Caraway Bread also calls my name. She shares a recipe for a Japanese classic bread called “Melonpan” which again, is going to bring a huge smile to your face once you see it. The type of baking that if you have kids around, you definitely must embrace.

SQUARE CAKES. I want to bake every single cake of this chapter. It is color, and art, and fun all around. I don’t have the artistic skill to do some of them, but maybe with Phil’s help I could give the Lavender and Orange Cake a try. It looks like a Monet’s painting.

LITTLE BAKES. Macarons. The chapter starts with macaron tips and ideas. You can imagine my happy dance, right? Honestly, some shapes seem very challenging, but it is nice to see how creative one can be with macaron piping. She moves to other types of cookies, like Cardamon, Almond and Honey Bee Cookies that use her basic Semolina Shortbread flavored with a touch of cardamon. The decoration in the cookies is just amazing, they end up like cute little bees, each with a unique “expression.” After that comes choux buns, tartlets and madeleines, that she transforms into little works of art. Just mind blowing.  This final chapter alone is worth the whole book, in my opinion.

I cannot say that her book is for beginners, maybe it would be a bit too challenging for someone who has never baked a cake or a batch of cookies. But if you are passionate about baking, the book is a must-have, no matter your skill level.

Kim-Joy, thank you so much for giving me permission to share this recipe, and for being a constant source of inspiration for those who love to bake.

ONE YEAR AGO: Lemon-Almond Cake with Cranberry Glaze

TWO YEARS AGO: The Iron (Uptake) Chef Challenge

THREE YEARS AGO: Thank you!

FOUR YEARS AGO: Salmon Rillettes, a Classy Appetizer

FIVE YEARS AGO: Linzer Cookies

SIX YEARS AGO: Baked Ricotta, Take Two

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Pumpkin Uncanned

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Pork Ragu

NINE YEARS AGO: Friendly Kuri Squash

TEN YEARS AGO: Celery and Apple Salad

FIVE STRANDED BRAIDED BREAD & A COOKBOOK REVIEW

Braids, twists and elaborate knots fascinate me. I suppose it’s the repetitive pattern leading to elegance and serenity. Tying things together in harmony. When it comes to bread, going past the three-strand braid can be intimidating, but trust me, once you get the pattern going it is quite simple. A few months ago I was searching for videos on youtube to help me understand the process and found a gem of a cookbook: The Art of Braiding Bread, by Roberto von Krammer. His instructions are crystal clear and easy to follow.  I share with you my first attempt at a five-stranded braided bread.

FIVE-STRANDE BRAIDED BREAD
(adapted from The Art of Braiding Bread)

345 g bread flour
30 g sugar
26 g egg yolks
48 g whole eggs
26 g mild vegetable oil
110 g water
7 g salt
10 g instant yeast

Place all the ingredients in a Kitchen Aid type  bowl. Knead on first speed for 3 minutes until all the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated, then on second for approximately 5 minutes.

Ferment for 2 hours. The dough can also ferment overnight in the fridge. If you prefer to do that, allow it to sit at room temperature for one hour, then degas it gently by pressing it down, and place in the fridge. Press it down gently again two more times over a period of two hours.  A colder dough temperature makes it easier to form strands. The dough can be divided and shaped straight from refrigeration.

Pre-shape 5 round of dough and rest on an unfloured work surface, covered with plastic. When relaxed enough to be elongated without tearing, usually 10 to 15 minutes, roll out the strands and form the braids (process in the comments). Once braided, proof the loaves covered with baker’s linen and a sheet of plastic to prevent the formation of a skin.

Final fermentation after braiding: ½ to 2 hours at about 25 C.

Heat oven to 375 F. Before baking, thoroughly egg wash the surface of the loaves. If desired, sprinkle poppy or sesame seeds on top. Bake until golden brown and internal temperature is about 200 F, about 30 minutes.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments:  With Mr. Krammer’s permission, here is the process to form a 5-stranded beta braid. First thing is to number the strands from left to right, then keep in mind that as the strand moves around, then new formation also gets numbered the same way, first strand to the left will be number 1, last one to the right will be number 5. If strand #5 jumps in between strand #1 and #2, it will become strand #2 in the new formation.

 Place #5 between #1 and #2

Move #1 between #3 and #4

Place #2 over #3 and #3 under #2 (twist)

End of cycle, repeat all over again until you reach the end of the bread.

By going through the process, you’ll end up with a beautiful 5-strand braid, that is then allowed to ferment until almost doubled in size.

I also made a Four-Braided Alpha loaf, and you can see that it generates a totally different look.

Now for the book. I could not believe how many different styles of braiding bread exist. From the number of strands used to the actual braiding, it is mind-blowing! You can use the basic dough for all of them, dividing the dough in the appropriate number of strands, and then deciding which method to follow. For each one Roberto provides pictures of EACH movement of the strand, plus the numeric pattern that you can memorize and repeat as you become more comfortable and experienced.

You will find several methods of braiding for 3, 4, 5, and 6 stranded loaves that go way beyond what you might imagine. Some braiding methods are challenging, but his instructions are so clear and the pictures of each step make it all doable.  I will definitely be challenging myself to the more complex styles, including braided round loaves, and breads that stack braids together.

This composite photo shows a few examples of the many found in his book, which I highly recommend! Click on his name below the recipe title for buying info.

A braided bread never fails to impress because it is so festive, and of course you can use other types of dough, with chocolate, or even going into a savory territory. Don’t be intimidated, and have fun with it!

ONE YEAR AGO: Green Olive Salad

TWO YEARS AGO: Coffee Macarons Dressed up to Party

THREE YEARS AGO: Blogging Hiatus

FOUR YEARS AGO: Tomato Tatin

FIVE YEARS AGO: Headed to Colorado!   

SIX YEARS AGO: Farofa Brasileira

SEVEN  YEARS AGO: Thai-Inspired Pork Tenderloin

EIGHT YEARS AGO: A yummy Brazilian cake: Bolo de Fuba’

NINE YEARS AGO:  Summer’s Tomatoes

TEN YEARS AGO: Leaving on a jet plane… 

LEBANESE LENTIL SALAD AND A COOKBOOK REVIEW!

Not too long ago I reviewed a cookbook by a fellow member of The Secret Recipe Club, remember? Well, here I am once again to share with you a recipe and a little overview of the beautiful cookbook just published by my friend Susan, Simply Vegetarian Cookbook. She is also a former-secreter, someone I used to have a ton of fun with “behind the curtains.” Good times, good times indeed!  I miss those days, although we are still in touch through our blogs and Facebook. I actually prepared two recipes to feature, so I tossed a coin (literally) to pick this one. The second will go as I often do, as a teaser. No recipe, just a photo. I’ve been called a teaser more than once in my lifetime. There are worse adjectives out there, so I accept the label with a smile.

LEBANESE LENTIL SALAD
(slightly modified from Susan’s Simply Vegetarian Cookbook)

3 cups vegetable broth or water
1 cup French green lentils
1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups peeled and diced cucumber
1½ cups halved cherry tomatoes
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
¼ cup fresh mint leaves, thinly sliced
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Bring the broth (or water) to a boil in a medium pot. Add the lentils and ½ teaspoon of salt. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the lentils are tender and the liquid is absorbed. If there is any liquid remaining, drain it.

In a large bowl, whisk together the sherry vinegar and Dijon mustard. Whisk in the olive oil until emulsified. Add the cooked lentils, cucumber, tomatoes, feta cheese, and mint, and toss to coat. Season to taste with the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt and the pepper.

Serve at room temperature.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: There are many types of lentils out there. For this particular recipe (and in fact, anytime you want to make a lentil salad), it is worth searching for French green lentils (such as Puy). They hold their shape after cooking, which is what you want in a salad, nothing worse than a mushy grain mixed with crunchy veggies and dressing. I love Susan’s approach of making the dressing right in the bowl you will serve the dish, one less item to wash. I normally do that even with leafy salads. I just don’t mix everything in advance. Place the more sturdy leaves (like Romaine lettuce) at the bottom, add the other components and toss them all when we are ready to eat.

I served this colorful and flavorful salad with grilled pork tenderloin on day one. Next day leftovers were amazing for lunch, re-visited with the highly fashionable fried egg (I know, many are tired of the fried egg omnipresence, but I happen to love it).


And now it’s time for a virtual tour of Susan’s book… come with me!

and please, make sure to visit Susan’s site too

The book is organized in a very clever, non-traditional way. Chapters are organized by method of cooking instead of course, or type of food.

CHAPTER ONE: Meatless Made Easy, is a great write-up on what to consider if you’d like to either become fully vegetarian or reduce the overall intake of meat in your diet. Susan cooks and eats mostly vegetarian dishes, but her husband is a full-blown carnivore, so she includes in her recipes little final tips she calls “flexitarian tips.” How the same recipe could be served or made to include some animal protein. Pretty clever, and definitely expands the usefulness of the book. I am a full-blown omnivore, and appreciate that aspect of the book.  As I like to do in my reviews, I will pick 2 or 3 top favorite recipes from each chapter, so you can get an idea of what it’s all about.

CHAPTER TWO: NO COOK RECIPES. Tough to pick just a couple of examples. She starts with smoothies, all pretty tempting. But I think the ones that truly called my name are Mediterranean Wrap with Spicy Chickpeas (I cannot have enough chickpea recipes), White Bean Wrap with Jalapeno-Apple Slaw, and her beautiful Lemony Romaine and Avocado Salad (I actually made a departure on it).

CHAPTER THREE: THIRTY MINUTES MAX. Who does not love that type of recipe, when we work all day and come home starving? From this chapter comes the featured recipe, Lebanese Lentil Salad, which is a winner all the way! But I had my eyes set on Middle Eastern Cauliflower Steaks, and Smashed Chickpeas and Kalamata Pasta (I considered making it with zoodles for a low-carb version full of flavor).

CHAPTER FOUR: FIVE INGREDIENTS. Another non-fuss chapter, which makes her book so appealing, you just know it will be an easy culinary project to get the meal ready. My favorites: Baked Sweet Potato Latkes (I know you just drooled), Delicata Squash and Black Bean Quesadillas (my favorite squash that I should bring home more often), Caprese Avocado Grilled Pitas (talk about creativity!).

CHAPTER FIVE: ONE-POT AND SKILLET. I went crazy for the recipes in this chapter, truly difficult to select just a few. I loved the idea of her Spicy Skillet Eggs, Cilantro-Lime Cauliflower Rice, and Crispy Black Bean Burgers. Just to share a few.

CHAPTER SIX: SHEET PAN AND BAKING DISH. Chapter opens with a huge contender, I almost made it to feature today: Kofta-Style Chickpea “Meatball” Pitas. Curried Cauliflower Tetrazzini, and Baked Cheesy Broccoli with Quinoa make my top list too.

CHAPTER SEVEN: SLOW-COOKER and PRESSURE COOKER. Well, those are dear to my heart. I love using both cooking gadgets, and have a huge collection of recipes waiting to be made. My top choices from this chapter include: Tomato-Mushroom Ragu, Butternut Squash and Barley Risotto (these two are made in a slow-cooker). For the pressure cooker, I will go with Chickpea and Coconut-Curry Soup and Tomato Biryani.

CHAPTER EIGHT: KITCHEN STAPLES. Now that’s an interesting chapter. I confess that in every single cookbook that includes this type of chapter, I don’t look twice. I am never that interested in making a bunch of sauces or dressings and saving them in the fridge. Just not my style of cooking. What ends up happening is that I forget all about them and next thing I know, they get moldy, and into the trash they go. Now that I confessed my capital sin, let me say that I was pleasantly surprised by my reaction to Susan’s Kitchen Staples. Lemony Breadcrumbs, Miso Butter, Smooth and Creamy Hummus, Tahini Miso Dressing? I want them all… Go figure.

She ends the book with a big reference guide to cooking all things veggie. Quite useful if you are considering venturing more and more into this type of nutrition. A very comprehensive list, with all the details for optimal preparation.

Before I leave you, let me offer the teaser recipe. This was soooo delicious! Another colorful salad, a Lebanese Chopped Salad (from Chapter Two) with torn pita bread. The dressing involves buttermilk… I say no more. Amazing! You need the book, and you know it (wink, wink).

Susan, thanks for allowing me to publish one recipe from your beautiful book, and I wish you the best of luck with it… I can imagine the amount of work involved from the conception to the publishing of a cookbook, so congratulations are in order!

ONE YEAR AGO: Cottage Loaf

TWO YEARS AGO: Sourdough Loaf with Cranberries and Walnuts

THREE YEAR AGO: Sichuan Pork Stir-Fry in Garlic Sauce

FOUR YEARS AGO: Our Green Trip to Colorado

FIVE YEARS AGO: Ditalini Pasta Salad

SIX YEARS AGO: Celebrate Wednesday with a Thai Seafood Curry

SEVEN YEARS AGO:  Post-workout Breakfast

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Semolina Barbecue Buns

NINE YEARS AGO: Lavash Crackers

 

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SAVORY OATMEAL WITH BACON AND CHEDDAR AND A COOKBOOK REVIEW

This is a long overdue post. I made this recipe last month, but have been meaning to write about this cookbook ever since I bought it, back in October. Seven long months ago. Shocking.  Oatmeal is definitely something associated with breakfast, and served on the sweet side. With milk, brown sugar, cream, maybe some stewed apples or bananas. In her book Adventures in Slow-Cooking, Sarah di Gregorio shares a version for savory oatmeal and raves about it. I had to try it. It was really tasty, and she gave me permission to share the recipe with you… So, without further ado…

SAVORY OATMEAL WITH BACON, SCALLIONS, AND CHEDDAR
(published with permission from Sarah Di Gregorio)

1 cup uncooked steel-cut oats
Kosher salt
½ pound thick-cut bacon
5 scallions, trimmed, light green and white parts thinly sliced
8 ounces sharp cheddar, grated (about 2 heaping cups)
Freshly ground black pepper
Fried or poached eggs, for topping (1 per person)

Generously butter a 5- to 7-quart slow cooker. Add the oats, 4 cups water, and I teaspoon salt. Cook until the oatmeal is thick and tender: on LOW for 4 hours or on LOW for 2 hours followed by WARM for 6 to 7 hours.

Put the bacon into a cold large skillet and bring the heat to medium. Cook, flipping a couple of times, until the bacon has rendered a lot of its fat and is deeply browned and crisp, about 10 minutes. Drain on paper towels, then coarsely chop. You can do this right before serving the oatmeal or the day before, in which case store the crisped bacon in an airtight container in the refrigerator and bring it to room temperature before using.

When the oatmeal is done, stir in the bacon, white and light green scallion slices, and about three-quarters of the cheese (about 6 ounces). Taste for seasoning and add more salt if necessary and a few grinds of pepper. Serve in bowls topped with the remaining cheese, the dark green sliced scallions, and eggs, if you like.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: I’ve always been intrigued by the use of oatmeal in savory dishes. I am not an oatmeal fan in traditional breakfast preparations, but decided to open my mind and give it a try. I don’t normally eat breakfast and found that this meal was perfect at lunch time. Kept me full until dinner, and was full of flavor.  I also made a vegetarian version using sautéed mushrooms instead of bacon. Worked great too, I made sure to brown them well and added a touch of soy sauce at the end. Delicious! In Sarah’s words:

Speaking of the egg: I know most people are tired of the image of egg yolk flooding whatever is served underneath, but forgive me… this was too good to skip…

OVERVIEW OF ADVENTURES IN SLOW-COOKING

by Sarah di Gregorio

First, let me share with you the review I wrote for it at amazon.com

I fell in love with this book at first page. I don’t have much patience for long introductions and considered just skipping that part to dive into recipes. Well, I could not stop reading. Sarah is a talented writer and definitely knows how to use the slow-cooker the way it is intended to be used. No dump and run approach. This is slow-cooking for gourmet cooks, those who will not accept anything with the “crock pot texture.” I bought this book even though there was only ONE review about it. Took a big risk, right? Well, I am so glad I did. I own more than 500 cookbooks, and this might very well be my favorite for slow-cooking. Awesome. Just awesome. Buy it and you will not be disappointed. Now, if you are part of the team of dump it and forget it, this book is NOT for you. This is not a criticism to you, just a warning that you might not like it that much….

That pretty much explains why I had to review it here, I think that anyone who owns a crock pot will benefit from this book. I have a file in my computer (way out of date) called “The Best from Each.” In that file I list recipes from my Kindle cookbooks that appeal to me. Sarah’s cookbook broke the record for the largest proportion of recipes that made into that folder. From 120 recipes, 35 made the cut. That’s almost one-third of them. Pretty impressive.  Here is a cut-and-paste job from my computer:

Classic Chicken Stock (wings)

Winter Tomato Sauce (Marcella Hazan)

Lentils, beans, chickpeas method

Grains, farro, barley, black rice etc method

Smoky Chipotle Ketchup (interesting)

Crisp Chicken Wings with Szechuan Caramel

Chawan Mushi (interesting savory custard)

Pistachios, Coconut, and Cardamon Granola

Savory Oatmeal with Bacon, Scallions and Cheddar

Crustless Quiche with Smoked Salmon

Summer Tomato, Basil and Burrata Grain Bowl

Roasted Red Pepper, Caper, Walnut and Tahini Grain Bowl

Creamy Barley with Corn and Green Chile-Lime Salsa

Farro Puttanesca

Shakshuka with Feta and Olives

Caramelized Cherry Tomatoes

Stuffed Meatballs in Lots of Sauce

Spiced Lamb Meatballs in Harissa Tomato Sauce

Smoky Barbecued Brisket

Chipotle Almond Braised Beef Tacos
(Quick Pickled Onions) – to go with it, very nice method

Orange, Olive and Fennel Chicken Tagine
(Turmeric Yogurt) – to go with it

Miso-Butter Roast Chicken and Potatoes

Buttery Duck Confit 

Harissa Pork Chili with Toppings Galore

Sticky Gochujang Pork

Za’tar Roast Chicken

Sticky Toffee Pudding with Maple Caramel

Coconut Banana Cake with Brown Butter Caramel Sauce

Matcha-White Chocolate Pots de Crème

Vietnamese Coffee Pots de Crème

Cannoli Cheesecake with Biscotti Crust

Dark Chocolate Cheesecake with Earl Grey Cream

Cardamon-Molasses Apple Upside-Down Cake

TEASER RECIPE:  from the list, I made the Farro Puttanesca. To die for! Farro cooked in the crock pot has perfect texture, this preparation was luscious, perfect by itself or as a side dish for roast chicken, grilled salmon, steak, pretty much anything you’d like. A very creative way to serve farro. Made a lot, but froze well too…

 

Sarah, thank you and your editors for allowing me
to publish one of your recipes.

 

ONE YEAR AGO: Air-Fried Carrots, Two Ways (most popular post on my blog!)

TWO YEARS AGO: Five Minutes in L.I.T (a tour of our laboratory!)

THREE YEARS AGO: Chicken Thighs with Artichokes and Capers

FOUR YEARS AGO: Pea Pancakes with Herbed Yogurt

FIVE YEARS AGO: Mushroom Stroganoff

SIX YEARS AGO: Tomato Sourdough

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Gamberetti con rucola e pomodori

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Flirting with Orzo

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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 

TWO YEARS AGO: Herbed Goat Cheese Souffles

THREE YEARS AGO: Barley Risotto with Peas

FOUR YEARS AGO: Jammin’ Blueberry Sour Milk Pancakes

FIVE YEARS AGO: Scallops with Black Pasta in Orange Cream Sauce

SIX YEARS AGO: Stir-fried Chicken with Creamed Corn

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Potato, Cheddar, and Chive Torpedo

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