Cook the Books! Cinnamon Buns to Cheesecake!

The month is flying by while The Mile End Cookbook, and life in general, continue to bum me out.  What a cruddy few weeks of news, huh?

Anyway.  The cookbook. Since my last (salty) update, I made cinnamon buns, more romanian steak with spring onions with scallion sauce, kasha varnishkes, maple baked beansrye bread, braised brisket with red wine and prunesgolden beet salad with schmaltz vinaigrette, and, cheesecake.

Let’s break ’em down and start with the awesome, shall we?

The Awesome!

grow and resist april cook the books cinnamon buns


Cinnamon buns (pg 115) I loved them. So very, very, much. Lick the baking pan delicious! I might have even bragged that they were the best cinnamon buns I have ever eaten. No, really…ever. It is a boastful claim to be sure, but in this case, likely true. The challah bread dough was perfect. The buns were ooey and gooey and soft.  When I make them again I’ll try more of a cream cheese frosting/topping. I personally would add raisins in my portion, but I know raisins aren’t for everyone. I left out the nuts because I think nuts are evil, but leave them in, if that is your thing. As with most of the book’s recipes, there was quite a bit of salt (1 tablespoon!) in the filling and, while salty, it helped cut the intense sweetness.

grow and resist april cook the books cinnamon buns


Romanian Steak with Spring Onions (p.139) with Scallion Sauce (p.76) We made this again and it was really good. And somehow I still didn’t take pictures. Again. What is wrong with me? This time we did a short salt-dry age with just a small amount of salt before putting in the marinade and I think it was perfect. The marinade is good and my Ladyfriend cooked it perfectly. That sauce! Oh, that sauce! I want to just snuggle a jar of that sauce. Recommend!

The Fine

Kasha Varnishkes (p 158)– I really like kasha varnishkes and this version was fine. I place kasha varnishkes in the macaroni and cheese category of food. They both provide a similar comforting, but not fancy, need. I liked it. It even worked as leftovers. But, in terms of a recipe, it wasn’t much different than the recipe on the box. I certainly don’t mean that as a burn. It is what it is. Kasha is good and comforting. And, shouldn’t be fancied up. Does anyone wants upscale kasha? That would seem very hipster-suspect to me.

grow and resist april cook the books

kasha, egg, and schmaltz. My chickens lay gorgeous eggs don’t they?

Maple Baked Beans (pg 81)– I love baked beans, but haven’t made them starting with dry beans (even though I used dried beans most of the time for other purposes). The beans were good- especially after the 1st day (as recommended by the authors). I used regular thick sliced bacon in place of lamb bacon. I am sure the lamb bacon would have been great, but I didn’t feel like trying to make it and having it not turn out.  And, I have no dietary restictions on pork bacon. While the beans were good, and the method worked, I much prefer a tomato based baked bean.  I am looking forward to trying out making the baked beans I love using dried beans and fresh herbs.

grow and resist april cook the books

uncooked beans and fresh herbs form the garden- thyme, rosemary, and bay

Rye Bread (pg 174)– My loaf turned out pretty good. The soft texture was perfect for making sandwiches. I don’t tend to like a hard, crusty bread for sandwiches.  A little is fine, but I prefer my rye bread soft, yet sturdy– and the recipe delivered.  It could have used a bit more salt and caraway, which is odd since every other recipe I made has been overly salty. I will say that it also wasn’t any different flavor-wise than the 5-minute breads/no-knead varieties I’ve made in the past…despite the recipe utilizing a rye poolish. I have noted that the bread has lasted longer however and I think a poolish/biga/pre-ferment can help with that, but not sure.  So, overall an easy-to-make, well-textured, but somewhat bland, loaf of rye bread.

grow and resist april cook the books

I got a bit overzealous with the pre-bake scoring, but not bad huh?

The Iffy-to-Bad

Braised Brisket with Red Wine and Prunes (pg 140)– Brisket is good. Braised brisket is tasty. Yum. And despite how easy a braised brisket is to make, there were some oddities in this recipe.  25 prunes + 1/3 cup of packed brown sugar makes for a super sweet sauce for 4# of brisket. I found it cloying and we thought it overwhelmed the meat, the onions, the garlic, and all fresh herbs (thyme, rosemary, bay). What I found really odd was that the recipe calls for setting aside all the prunes, and only one cup of the vegetables and throwing away the rest! Tossing all the extra carrots and onions! Crazy talk people. The recipe then calls for blending all the drippings/remaining sauce with the mere 1 cup of veggies and 1/4 of the prunes, then chop the remaining prunes and add to sauce. I will tell you that this makes an enormous amount of sauce. An enormous amount of very sweet, cloying sauce that I wouldn’t put on anything. So, instead of keeping the delicious onions, carrots and having them on the side- we had pureed sweet mash. The brisket itself was pretty good. I had a few decent leftover brisket sandwiches made better by piling them high with assorted pickles. I would definitely not make this again

Golden Beet Salad with Schmaltz Vinaigrette (pg 170)– Now, I love beets. A lot. But the schmaltz vinaigrette? A half a cup of schmaltz???? That, my friends, is a near crap ton of schmaltz. A rather disgusting amount of schmaltz for a mere tablespoon of vinegar. Normally a vinaigrette is about a 3 oil to 1 vinegar ratio. Not 8 to 1. Shudder. And schmaltz is kind of an intense fat.  Needless to say…it was, um, digustingly heavy, even when I used only a minimal of the called-for dressing. The recipe said there would be vinaigrette leftover and I used very little of it and threw away a lot of vinaigrette.  I made Dorie’s Lime and Honey Beet Salad with some additional beets I had on hand.  (Briggs wrote up here…and that is a delicious beet salad. In the market for a beet salad? Lesson learned: hit up Dorie.)  The schmaltz beets went to the chickens. Incidentally, does it see, wrong to feed chickens schmaltz (rendered chicken fat)?

Cheesecake (pg 191) A big ol’ what-the-hell? to the cheesecake. This turned out the to be the dumbest cheesecake ever. First of all- a 12 inch cake pan? That is a big cake pan friend. Unless you are making professional cakes, you are unlikely to have a cake pan this size.  Also, that size pan you won’t find at your local Target, Fred Meyer, Beth, Bath, & Beyond or the like. No, I needed to go to the restaurant supply store. Not a total hardship, because it is on my way home and a fun store. But still, kind of a lot to ask for a home cook just wanting to try a cheesecake recipe. And really…why a cake pan instead of a more standard springform?  Then, one must cook the cheesecake in a water bath. No whoop. I mean, you often do that with cheesecake. However, when using a dumb 12-inch pan, this means you need a baking dish that is larger than said 12-inch cake pan. That also has sides so you can fill up with water. So, don’t get thinking you will get by with your standard large baking sheet or jelly roll pan.  No, I had to go back to the restaurant supply store and purchase a 14-inch cake pan to act as a baking dish for the 12-inch pan. This was to be a ginormous cheesecake friends.

The recipe calls for cooking for about 1 hour (starting at 500°, then reducing to 225°), until the center measures 150°F (again, what is with the temperature measure as a mode of cake testing? I have made a lot of cakes in my time and never encountered using a thermometer to test doneness.  And, my cakes nearly always turn out done. So?)  After ½ hour, I went to turn the cake and it was surprised as hell to find that it was very done and measured 190°F. Yes, I cooked the crap out of that cheesecake.  It was edible, but certainly not creamy. More like the the bit of cheesecake one might find in a brownie or black-bottom cupcake.  If you manage to think of it as another desert entirely (perhaps a cheesecake tart?), rather than the expected cheesecake, it was sort of good. Just not cheesecake.

Sadly, that was not all. That filling, while tasty, was the wrong amount for a 12-inch pan.  Of course this is why the cheesecake was well overcooked in just half the time. The filling layer was nearly the same thickness as the graham crust!  The result was a thin, cheesecake-like thing that resembled the photo in the book in exactly zero ways.

Another not-as-important complaint: the recipe shows a blueberry compote on top. There was no recipe for any kind of berry compote. Sure, I can make a compote (and did). I can look up assorted ways to make compote.  But, I am trialing a cookbook. I wanted to try the compote shown…. know what I mean?

You can really tell I used eggs from our happy-loads-of-fresh-greens-eating chickens as  the cheesecake was quite yellow. I mean, check out that yellow!  I have very happy chickens, what can I say?

grow and resist april cook the books

There is no topping on their cheesecake– but it looks burnt on top. The inside of theirs looks delicious and creamy and about 4 times as thick as mine. And it doesn’t look like they used a 12-inch pan does it?

I don’t think I’ll be trying anything else from the cookbook. Briggs made hamantaschen and I tasted those and they’ll be finishing up some smoked meat tomorrow, so I’ll get some nibbles of that too.  Stay tuned, I’ll do a final review of the book early next week sometime, as well as  introducing our May selection, Tender by Nigel Slater.

Cook the Books! Review: The Mile End Cookbook

I was pretty excited about The Mile End Cookbook. Everything sounded so promising. So comforting. So delicious. I mean, really? Pickles? Cured meats? Home-y sides? Cheesecake? What is not to love really?

The Cooking:

I made a lot of things. I think I gave it a pretty fair shot, but in the end I was unimpressed. I did skip the cured meats entirely- out of a lack of both equipment and adequate cash flow. After my first questionable endeavors, I was reluctant to fork over a bunch of money for some pricey hunks of meat that may, or may not, turn out.

The Review:

Briggs did a review of our low-key and impromptu April Cook the Books! Dinner Party– so check it out! We got to carry on the French 75 tradition, this month using rhubarb from our garden! Woot! As always, it was a fun night! I was a little scattered and frantic because just before they were coming over, I found out my dad was scheduled for his liver transplant the following morning. Alas, it got cancelled. But at the time, I was making pickle plates, pulling things out of the fridge, packing a suitcase, talking to my brother, showering, talking to my mom, picking up the house, sweating, calling airlines, and generally getting excitedly teary.

grow and resist april cook the books rhubarb

Fresh cut rhubarb. Rhubarb leaves make me ridiculously happy. You just can’t help but smile when faced with a leave 4 times the size of your head!

Recipe/Writing Style: In my usual cooking I am loath to follow recipes completely. I improvise. Switch up ingredients based on what I have on hand. However, during the Cook the Books series, I am doing my best to put my usual suspicion of odd sounding directions aside and perform the novel task of following directions. So, while a 12″ cake pan for a cheesecake seemed like a giant mistake, I went forth. As it turns out, the cheesecake turned out lovely for another participant using a more standard 9″ springform, but it didn’t work at all as written. I’m evaluating cookbooks, as written, for better or worse.

  • Did the recipes taste good? For the most part, not great. The theme throughout the month was either salty (*see below note on kosher salt) or failed desserts. The pickle brine was so incredibly salty that I ended up draining all the pickles (reserving the brine) and soaking the pickled items in water for a period of time before returning to the jar with a mix of ½ water and ½ reserved brine. I still find them too salty to be eaten alone (except the asparagus), but am enjoying them chopped on salads. They are particularly good on arugula with a swirl of olive oil and squeeze of lemon.
  • Would I use it again? With a few exceptions (cinnamon buns, challah, and scallion sauce), no. Pickling fennel was new for me and I adored it, though will be changing the salt content dramatically. There are many things I was curious about attempting. Knishes, rugelach, weck rolls, and blintzes. However, I’ll probably search out another recipe source for those items.
  • Is it reliable? No.
  • Does it use real food? Yes!
  • Can I replicate the recipes and are the results worth the effort? No. The cheesecake, in particular, was a strange recipe that was not replicable. And, there are loads of great pickling books out there, no need to continue on with recipes that have proven to be overly salty.

Other: I really enjoyed Rae and Noah’s stories of how they met, their mutual love of the Jewish deli-and-comfort food and Noah’s drop out of law school. I love stories of people giving up perceived security (or following someone else’s dream) to follow their own passion. I love the gutsiness of opening their own restaurant on a whim, a hope, and a made-from-scratch ethic.

Even as I found all the pickled items too salty, I enjoyed the inclusion of wide strips of lemon zest in the pickled asparagus and pickled fennel.

*A note about kosher salt: the authors point out that different brands of kosher salt will contain varying amounts of sodium. Prospect: The Pantry discussed it further in her post, including actual breakdowns of weight/sodium in a few well-known brands. However, in all recipes I used the called for Diamond Crystal kosher salt.

How was your Mile End month? Briggs will have the Cook the Books! April Wrap-up posted later this week! Then make sure to pop over and see what everyone made!

Reminder that Cook the Books! May is Tender by Nigel Slater. I’ll be introducing it early this week. It is perfect timing with the return of more variety at the farmers market and (location dependant), enjoying your first-of-the-year harvests. Spoiler alert: I ticked off a few recipes this weekend and was incredibly happy with them!

We hope you join us!

Cook the Books! May: Tender with Nigel Slater

It is stunning in Seattle at the moment. Sun. Warmth. As soon as I have this post up, I’ll be retiring to the garden to prep, weed, fiddle, and poke around. Or I will cuddle up on my gorgeous orange hammock with my post-it note marked copy of Tender and dream.

You see, I’m way past longing for fresh vegetables other than the ever-dependable kale and chard. I am ready for dinner made from what I grow in the garden. I want to sample, snip, pick, and dig. And I am more than ready for perma-dirt under my nails.  I’m feeling a bit desperate, truth be told.

Usually I have a bit more variety at this point, but apparently I overwintered chard. Chard period. Chard only. A hell of a lot of chard. While it is still to early for warm season crops, I have sown loads of lettuce, arugula, radish, and peas, so at least I have beds full of tender seedlings and sprouts. My perennial herbs are perfect and being added to just about everything. The rhubarb is looking lovely and the fruit blossoms are holding promise.  I’m ready.

Needless to say, I am itching to start on May Cook the Books! We are doing Tender-A cook and his vegetable patch by Nigel Slater…perfect timing, yes?

Nigel’s book starts with an engaging introduction that covers his urge to garden as well as his thirst for knowledge about where the food he eats comes from. He discusses his property (similar in size to an average US urban lot), soil, seeds, compost and pests he encounters (from slugs to foxes.) Yes, this is a cookbook for the cook that wants to be connected to food they prepare. The cook that knows the pleasure of eating something you have grown yourself, finds meaning in talking to farmers at the market, or is delighted by fresh picked vegetables and the act of turning them into a sustainable and nourishing meal.

He covers 29 vegetables, each in a separate chapter.  In each, he introduces the vegetable by way of a story. He then moves to the garden- where it all starts- with growing information and a bit of his garden diary from sowing to harvest, as well as descriptions of varieties. He then moves to the kitchen where he covers how the fresh vegetable is used, ideal seasonings, and a  host of tips/suggestions. Suggestions might include storage, preserving or organic pest prevention in the garden, along with a whole broad swath of other ideas.

Finally, he includes 5-10 recipes that highlight the vegetable.  This isn’t an entirely vegetarian cookbook, in fact he uses bits of bacon or ham frequently. Meat though, when used, is usually done sparingly.

The recipes are seasonal, simple, beautiful, and down-to-earth. I appreciate his humor Regarding jerusulam artichokes he states: “Wind is almost inevitable. Just go with it.” He knows. Farts are funny. And, they are most certainly not a reason to not enjoy something delicious! On parsnips “...their sweetness is welcome in any month from October to March. They feel awkward in summer.” Farty ‘chokes and awkward parsnips. Love it.

cook the books may  tender by nigel slater

spring leeks, fava beans, and bacon….coming up soon!

I love his very British way of being and his writing is wonderful. Nigel is a writer first, gardener and cook second. It is a rare cookbook that I want to read word-for-word, reluctant to miss a sentence. Sure, I read cookbooks- but mostly to thumb through or skim. He combines 3 of my greatest loves- gardening, cooking, and books. I couldn’t be happier unless he was, perhaps, writing about chickens. (*Nigel, for the love, please get chickens and write a book entitled Egg- A cook and his flock. I am certain your observations on living with chickens would be one of greatest books written. Ever.)

I won’t lie, this tome is a touch pricier than previous months, but at 600+ pages, it is a lovely mix of cookbook, gardening resource, and bedtime reading. So really, it is 3 books in one. Think of it this way and you’ll feel like you are getting a screaming deal!

Same deal as past Cook the Books months– Briggs and I will post throughout the month. You’ll post and send your link to us around the end of the month and we’ll include you in our monthly wrap up!  Happy cooking and gardening!

Garden Hopscotch and Games

Like most 5-year-olds, our daughter (can I still call her the Babylady?) loves to move. Bounce. Run. Dance. Swim. Climb.  It doesn’t really seem to matter what she is doing, the girl basically loves to move and be active in her body. Lately, she has taken to hopping. She pretends to play hopscotch on imaginary courts or on the tiled flooring in stores. Other times she just hops on one leg around the house. Girl needs a place to hop.

grow and resist hopscotch pavers

With my ladies out-of-town over the weekend I got busy. Instead of doing what I meant to get accomplished (fixing my drip irrigation), I decided to make her a place to hopscotch at home. I thought about just putting outlines in the hallway with painters tape, but that seemed to require too much attention to detail for my liking to get them all even and perfect. It would probably end up making me a little nutty. But most of all, I wanted her outside when the weather is decent.

grow and resist solo weekend gardening

Solo weekend gardening, cocktailing,and pondering

I pondered my options and decided some sort of pavers would be easiest and set off to the hardware store to sort out the most economical way to get it done easily. I picked up ten 12-inch pavers at 88 cents each, plus spray paint in her current favorite colors (red, pink, yellow, and black) at $4 each. for a total of about $25.

grow and resist paver outdoor hopscotch

The process was simple. Spray paint a few coats, allowing to dry in between coats. Paint on numbers in contrasting paint.  Place pavers in desired spot. Hop.

grow and resist paver outdoor hopscotch

Now, I planned to put it out-of-the-way in an unused area, but as I was painting the pavers  I realized that it would be easy enough to incorporate them into the existing gravel pathways.   Plus, I liked the touch of fun and play it added to our garden and am happy she’ll be able to hopscotch out in the general commons instead of tucking it away.

grow and resist paver outdoor hopscotch

I was having so much fun making this for her that I decided to do a little tic-tac-toe board as well. Erica at Northwest Edible Life had made a great outdoor tic-tac-toe board a bit ago and I tucked the idea away in my head for later.  I found a random 12″ tile and had leftover paint.  It rests perfectly on the edge of the mosaic-covered raised beds with a small, old terracotta pot for storing the painted rocks. And, it is mobile and easily carried to elsewhere in the garden if she wants.

grow and resist tic tac toe outdoor

In the end, I didn’t get the drip irrigation updated, but am happy I did this instead. She is thrilled with it when I surprised her with it last evening and I love how it turned out!

Cook the Books! Beets, Carrots, Fava Beans, Chard, and More!

may grow and resist cook the books, tender by nigel slater

Despite my lack of Cook the Books posting this month, I have actually made a lot of things from this month’s selection, Tender.  The recipes are simple, yet delicious, and I am really enjoying it so far. I have forgotten to take many photos, other than quick snaps on the phone. This month has been personally very rough for me.  You get the idea. You see, my dad is still sick.  He was on his way to the awaited transplant, but had complications and it didn’t happen. And, we just found out he was being taken off the transplant list, with no chance of a transplant. So, I’m pretty emotionally wrecked and most definitely distracted. I haven’t felt much like cooking, truth be told.

may grow and resist cook the books, tender by nigel slater

That being said, I have still been cooking. My heart just isn’t in it.

    • Chickpea patties and beet tzatsiki (p 46) I realized I haven’t properly expressed my love of all things chickpea/garbanzo. I adore them in about any form imaginable. They rule the legume world.  The patties were a bit falafel-ish, but with a lighter texture and patty-shaped.  I really, really enjoyed them and will be making them again (and again).  Nigel warns about overmixing the beets into the yogurt for the tzatsiki sauce to avoid turning it “a lurid pink.”  I found it turning pepto-bismol pink pretty much on contact, so I decided to just embrace the hot pink pile on my plate. I mean, how often do you get to eat (naturally) hot pink food? I really liked the variation of beet tzatsiki, but would have added more garlic.

may grow and resist cook the books, tender by nigel slater

    • Chocolate-beet cake with crème fraîche and poppy seeds. (p.54)  I have heard folks wax poetically about variations of chocolate beet cake, yet, I don’t know. It sounded kind of odd. However, when it gets right down to it, we put carrots in our cake and love it…so why not beets in our chocolate cake? I gave it a try. And it worked. And it was delicious. What I really liked was that it wasn’t overly sweet or over-the-top chocolatey. I don’t veer toward super chocolatey desserts. I will choose a non-chocolate dessert over a flourless torte anytime. It was a chocolate cake, to be sure, just not cloyingly sweet. I forgot to buy crème fraîche, so we made a barely sweetened whip cream for the top and it was perfect.

may grow and resist cook the books, tender by nigel slater

      • Lentil, bacon, and chard soup (p.184) What do you make when it is unseasonably hot and sunny? Light up the grill? Yes, normal people do. People that aren’t on a cookbook mission might. Me?  I had all the ingredients on hand, and in the garden, for a nice, fit-for-winter soup.  (I went with it, because nothing screams summer weather like lentil soup, right?) I’m new on the lentil soup scene. I love lentils in the form of dal, but other than that I haven’t found them all that interesting.  The soup though? Nice. I liked it. Quick, easy, and even better for lunch the next day.

may grow and resist cook the books, tender by nigel slater

        • Carrot and cilantro fritters (p.130)  I need a food processor again. I got a Vitamix last year and, in an effort to decrease the amount of things in the house, I promptly got rid of my food processor. I was certain I would never need it again. I have since realized the Vitamix rules for just about everything under the sun, except for grating.  It doesn’t grate. It can mince. It can put something into smaller pieces just prior to puréeing them to a lump-free existence. But grate? No, it can not grate.  Needless to say, I tried. And the result was closer to mush, than Nigel’s recommended long strands.  Oh well. What I am loving about the recipes in Tender is that you can improvise. Apart from my need of a food processor, I also could use some inclination to measure.  I used all the carrots I had, which was far more than the 11 ounces he suggests, but I didn’t add more binder (egg), so my fritters didn’t exactly stay together very well.  But you know what? Carrot fritters pieces are fantastic!  I loved them. I can’t wait to properly grate carrots and experiment with different flavor combinations. I loved them!

may grow and resist cook the books, tender by nigel slater

        • Baked celery (p.156)  Have you heard of baked celery? I haven’t it. Is it a thing?  I never, (ever, ever) would have thought to bake celery, especially in a sauce.   Know what is my newly discovered Hangover Helper? Baked Celery.  The Ladyfriend and Babylady were out of town a couple of weekends ago and I decided to bust out a few Cook the Books selections while they were gone. Mostly, things I thought they might not try.  I also went out with some good friends one of the nights and drank…um…a lot. In the order of tequila, then beer, then gin and keep’em coming.  I don’t recommend either the quantity or progression. The following day was generally unpleasant. Until that is, I pulled myself together enough to make the baked celery. And, people, I am here to tell you, that stuff is amazing. One, I felt better (Cured!) immediately. Two, I have been craving it ever since. It was comfort food.  The celery is boiled with onions ( I used leeks from the garden) and then baked with a sort of mornay-ish sauce.  Nigel was right- the mineral nature of the celery with the sauce is fantastic. I even ate leftovers for breakfast.

may grow and resist cook the books, tender by nigel slater

        • Creamed (fava) beans with mint (p.246)  One of other things I am enjoying about this cookbook is his measurement style. I respond well to instructions like “a handful” or “a knifepoint.”  It is how I cook and I appreciate the trust in my ability to cook something to my taste and understanding of the palates I will be serving. Go Nigel!   I made this on another solo night along with some toast, as he suggested. It was a lovely, simple, comforting supper.  It was also my first time cooking fava beans. Again, I appreciate his instruction to “cook until tender.”  One can’t possibly give a certain time to cooking some items because it depends on age and size. I much prefer information on the desired outcome and than some arbitrary time that may or may not be correct.
        • Spring leeks, fava beans, and bacon (p.296)  The Babylady thumbed through Tender (which, I assure you was unbelievably cute) and chose this dish as the item she wanted. So, together we went to PCC and chose our leeks and fava beans. She wanted big leeks instead of the called-for young, spring leeks.  We didn’t have tarragon (and buying those insanely small packets of herbs makes me bonkers), so we used extra parsley from the garden and I tossed in a few fennel seeds.  It was fantastic! Favas are so delicious, but with a bit of salty bacon and loads of parsley? Wow.

may grow and resist cook the books, tender by nigel slater

      • Sea salt-baked potato, Parmesan greens (p.440) More of an idea than a recipe, but a good one. Putting your salad in your baked potato shell? Brilliant I say! Now I am assuming that Nigel, being British and all, did not pick his up and eat it like a taco. But I did. And I’d do it again. Crisp potato shell packed full of salad and parmesan? What’s not to love?

Briggs and I are doing monthly dinner party this coming weekend and will be no doubt whipping up a lot of selections. Have you been cooking from Tender this month? If you haven’t submitted your post, send that as soon as you can. We can’t wait to see what you are cooking up, wherever you are!

May Cook the Books! Tarts, Favas, and Soups- Review and Wrap-up: Tender

Well that title sure was a mouthful! Yowsa! But, at any rate, we are closing out another productive month of Cook the Books after exploring Tender by Nigel Slater.  Did you follow along at home? Have you used any of Nigel Slater’s books or recipes? We’d love to hear what you thought in the comments! Here in Seattle, we are just starting to eek our way out of the yearly kale/chard glut. Meaning, the timing of Tender was actually perfect to add a little variety to get us through the final hump into new goods from the garden.  It was also a lovely book to pour over longingly and get inspired for the upcoming awesomeness of summer produce!

grow and resist cook the books Tender

But, hey, we’ve got rhubarb enough to hide a large 5-year-old!

The Cooking:

I already told you about the chickpea patties and beet tzatsiki; chocolate-beet cake with crème fraîche and poppy seeds; lentil, bacon, and chard soup; carrot and cilantro fritters; baked celery; creamed (fava) beans with mint; spring leeks, fava beans, and bacon; and sea salt-baked potato with parmesan greens. Good stuff, all of it!

Since then I busted out some cabbage soup (p.98) and while not a necessarily a new combination of ingredients (cabbage, chorizo, onions, and potato), the soup was fantastic and quick. The night I made it, we weren’t home until close to 6, and I still had this on the table by 645.  Of course it was even better after a day or two in the fridge, but we all really enjoyed it that night. Bonus! Our bay shrub looks perfect and picking fresh bay leaves from the garden for cooking never gets old.

grow and resist cook the books Tender bay leave

beautiful bay

I also made sorrel with new potatoes (p.438).  Nigel cooks new potatoes and adds them to a light dressing with quite a bit of shredded sorrel.  I have loads (and loads and loads and loads) of thriving sorrel in the garden was hoping this would be the recipe to remedy my lack of ideas on how to use it. Alas, I didn’t love it. It was ok, but I likely wouldn’t make it again.  They did make fantastic hash browns for another breakfast though, so all was not lost!

grow and resist cook the books Tender

No potatoes  of our own yet, but the plants seem to be growing really well (with lavender and chives)

Dinner Party!

Cook the Books! Dinner Party returned this month. Briggs and I both had things going on with our own families over the long weekend, so we settled on Monday evening rendezvous. The Ladyfriend and I had my brother’s family, including their 3 kids and a puppy, to add to our usual mayhem, here until the afternoon of the party, so I chose things that sounded easy and fast.  Your Cook the Book hosts weren’t up to our usual wild antics, but not to worry! A good time was had and we had quite a feast!  Check in with Briggs on what they made later!  She went on vacation, but I’m still dreaming about the eggplant bruschetta!

I made: a shallow tart of chard and cheese (p.188), chicken broth with pork and kale (p.281), and a salad of beans, peas, and pecorino (p.366).   Now, I gotta say– aren’t tarts by nature shallow? Have you ever had an incredibly thick tart? I, for one, have not. Oh, Nigel and his funny recipe names.  Some names are long and wordy (I’m looking at you “an extremely moist chocolate-beet cake with crème fraîche and poppy seeds“) others are so plain you might not even notice they exist (such as “cabbage soup“).

Cheesy tart crust and the very last remaining bits of overwintered chard from the garden. Just add fresh eggs and cream and you’ve got a winner!

Anyhow, I had the aforementioned shallow tart of chard and cheese recipe bookmarked from the start. Chock full chard I knew I had in the garden. Eggs from my happy lil’ hens. Thyme from maybe the most gorgeous thyme plant I’ve ever grown.  Yes, it had to be made.  Plus, much to my dismay, I have never actually made a tart. I know! Silly, right? The tart crust came together easily, and the whole thing cooked up beautifully. Perfect for brunch, light supper with a salad, or even a handheld-commute-to-work breakfast (like I did).  I think it would be equally great with leeks or shallots, instead of green onions, or using any green of your choice instead of the chard. Versatile and delicious!

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Last of the overwintered chard that the leaf miners haven’t invaded.

The chicken broth with pork and kale (or Pork Meatball Soup with Greens, if Nigel had asked my opinion on things) was fantastic. Perfect even with store-bought broth. Yes, yes, I know. People love themselves some homemade broth and stock. But you know what? Making chicken broth makes me want to vomit. I have tried. And the smell and look of it cooking does me in. Shudder. So, I buy all my broth. And you know what? It is fine, just fine. And convenient.  But, if you make your own stock, I applaud you!  Maybe someday I’ll get there.  But probably not with chicken because I can hardly eat chicken these days as it is. I’m becoming a veg-red-meat-a-tarian it seems. But anyway, about the soup. Ground pork is mixed with minced herbs and rolled into small meatballs.  The meatballs are then well-browned before finishing to cook in the broth. Blanched kale is added and you are done.  I already am planning on making meatballs ahead of time to freeze and have on hand for quick soup making.

I thought a salad of beans, peas, and pecorino would be perfect to go with the chardy-cheesy tart, and it was!  I had already been hitting the fava beans hard and heavy this month and each recipe has been a keeper. For this recipe, fava beans and peas were mixed over a  lightly dressed mixed green salad with mint leaves and bits of pecorino tucked in with small ciabatta toasts. It was perfect and will be my go-to spring salad. ‘Nuf said. Oh, and I used frozen peas. If they are good enough for Dorie, they are good enough for me.

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Our peas aren’t ready yet, but can I interest you in a game of hopscotch?

The Review:

Recipe/writing style:  I really enjoyed the entire book. I loved the garden diaries, as well as the anecdotes and stories. I nodded along with the discussion of each vegetable in the garden.  I liked his detailed explanations of the vegetable in the kitchen. I found the seasoning ideas and general information (entitled “And…” in his chapters) helpful and, at times, surprising (in a good way).  I liked all of it. His very British-ness. You see, I lived in England in my impressionable youth and I love British-ness. The humor. The speech patterns. Like I said, all of it.

  • Did the recipes taste good? Yes! Nearly everything I made and tasted was great!  
  • Would I use it again? Yes! I can’t wait to try out some of the recipes using other vegetables when they come in season. It is a perfect year round cookbook, with something new to try at any time. There is a mix of recipes that easily come together in a hurry for a weeknight, as well as more time consuming recipes. 
  • Is it reliable? Yes! The recipes were easy to follow, simple to modify to your own palate and/or what you have available, and the results were dependable.
  • Does it use real food? Yes! And encourages you to eat in season with what is mostly-local food.
  • Can I replicate the recipes and are the results worth the effort? Yes!

Other: I love that this is a cookbook that I can find inspiration in year-round and that it glorifies even the produce that I find myself very tired of come spring.  I enjoyed the connection of growing your own food, as well as frequenting the farmers market, to eat seasonally and locally. This is a reader’s and gardener’s cookbook for sure! I found some new favorites (baked celery…who would have thought?) and there are loads of sticky notes throughout the book for later in summer. Can’t wait!

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Broody Annie. I forced her off the nest box to come hang out for a cocktail with me. Until she pooped on me. Naughty chicken.

The Participants:

I heard from a few of the prior participants that they weren’t going to participate this month, because they were tired of the available, seasonal vegetables and didn’t want to purchase to purchase the book. I totally get that. I urge you to check it out from the library, if nothing else, for other seasons! Good stuff! And, we’ll see you back next month for Street Food!

Aimée from Homemade Trade made chickpea patties with beet tzatziki, chard with olive oil and lemon, and pilaf of asparagus and mint (sans the favas).  Those favas can be rather elusive, can’t they?  There one minute, gone the next.  Glad you enjoyed the pilaf without them! Aimée got to bust out her new food processor and everything!  I agree- I loved how he presented everything from garden diary to seasoning suggestions.

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photo from Homemade Trade

Karen from Prospect: The Pantry was already a big fan of Nigel Slater prior to this month’s selection, but hadn’t really cooked many of his recipes. She more than made up for lost time I’d say!  She made a salad of beets and apples sprinkled with walnut oil; chard braised in heavy cream with a tad of mustard; a pilaf of asparagus, fava beans and mint; chowder of mussels and leek; spring leeks, fava beans and bacon; kale with golden raisins and onions; and chicken broth with pork and kale. Karen offers up some interesting editorial thoughts as well. As this is my first cookbook of Nigel’s, I can’t speak to the recycled recipes, but I agree with you that the book has earned a permanent home on my shelves!

Casey from Salted Plates roasted asparagus, and made baked potatoes with leeks & fontina.  I’ll have to try the asparagus the Nigel way- I don’t tend to cover mine while roasting either, but it sounds great!  Glad your dilated-eyes mishap in cheese buying didn’t mess up your baked potatoes!  (I don’t tend to eat baked potatoes either, but this month has renewed my love as well!) I also loved how Nigel embraces non-exact measurements!

Sarah from Eat Locally. Blog Globally. turned out some carrot fritters, though she had a difficult time getting them to bind together. I did too Sarah, but thought maybe it was because I didn’t adjust the egg quantity when I likely nearly doubled the carrots.  I’ll have to try it again and see if I can get them to hold up.  And, I’m with you! I am super tired of winter and overwintered produce and am dreaming of beans, tomatoes, and corn!  Hang in there! It’ll come!

JK and Angela from Tea Time Adventures whipped up a beet cake (in a heart pan, no less!), plus creamed leeks, avocado hummus, fava bean salad.  JK created a shortcut with the cake using canned beets and it seems like it worked out perfectly, so if you are short on time certainly give that a try for yourself!  Angela conquered her past bad experience with fava beans and ended up really liking them. However, by the time of their Cook the Books lunch, fava beans were gone. No worries, she made substitutions with what was in season/available and made an avocado hummus (using avocado instead of favas), creamed leeks (again, leeks instead of favas), and got creative and combined 2 of Nigel’s recipes to make one salad that did use the fava beans! I believe they combined the green beans, cool white cheese, and hot radish salad with the spring leeks, fava beans, and bacon.  Am I right Tea Time? Looks like it turned out great!

My partner in crime, Briggs, went on a fun vacation so I’ll update with their review and dinner party information as soon as it is up!

Next month is Street Food with Susan Feniger and it sounds fantastic! Briggs introduced it earlier in the week, so pop on over and check out what you have in store!

Cook the Books! Review: Street Food!

The Cooking:  

In exploring our Cook the Books June selection, Street Food by Susan Feniger, I went for recipes that I already had most of the ingredients for. I barely managed to grocery shop at all this month, so the shopping I was willing to do was firmly planted in the most basic category.  In fact, if a recipe required me getting more than 1 additional ingredient, I pretty much just skipped it for another time. Not awesome, but it is just how June rolled for our family.

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danish licorice and cherry biscotti ready for first bake

I ultimately stuck to the simple and the basic and, except for the lamb meatballs, all vegetarian. I am pretty much off eating chicken (a post for another time), and the non-vegetarian recipes were largely chicken-based or seafood-based (which I still don’t love).

  • Lamb Meatballs with Date and Carob Molasses (p. 38) While there was nothing earth-shattering about the meatballs themselves (lamb, onion, garlic, parsley, paprika, cayenne, salt, pepper), the slice of date and drizzle of molasses knocked them up a notch. I used the alternate recommended pomegranate molasses since I already had some and it worked great.  Though, I am curious about date molasses in general as I imagine it is fabulous!  I’ve made meatballs the past 2 months for Cook the Books and clearly need to make them more often. They are so quick and easy, plus they freeze well.  (items needed: lamb and dates)
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    lamb meatballs with date and carob molasses

  • Scandinavian Mixed Greens and Apples with Juniper Vinaigrette (p. 53) My Mom’s side of the family is largely Norwegian and the Babylady (by way of sperm donor) is ½ Danish, so I am generally curious about things touted to be Scandinavian. I am also a salad freak, so I naturally I needed to try this intriguing combination. The salad was a combination of watercress, lettuce, apples, gouda, parsley and a vinaigrette that included ground, dried juniper berries. I didn’t like the watercress alone, but it added a needed bite to the mix that I ended up enjoying.  If I make it again, I would add more parsley.  The relatively mild creaminess of the gouda was perfect and rounded out the salad well. The vinaigrette reminded us (naturally) of gin, which isn’t a bad thing, but certainly unexpected in a salad. It was most definitely unique. Now, all that being said, while I liked it,  I am not totally sure I’d make it again. I am just not sure what kind of meal I would serve it with, as the juniper has such a pronounced flavor that it limits pairing. (items needed: watercress & gouda)
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    scandinavian salad with junper vinaigrette

  • Couscous Tabbouleh with Dried Apricots and Pistachios (p.91)  I enjoyed the version of tabbouleh that used dried fruit and pistachios, in place of the more traditional cucumber and tomatoes. Pistachios are my favorite nut (well, kind of one of the only nuts I like) and I always have dried fruit on hand.  It came together quickly and tasted good! I would make it again and switch it all up based on what I had on hand in terms of dried fruit and fresh herbs. Omitting the more seasonal cucumber and tomatoes means you can make this year-round (items needed: nothing! score!)
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    tabbouleh with dried apricots and pistachios

  • Danish Black Licorice and Cherry Biscotti with Buttermilk Koldskål (p.181) Again with the Scandinavian thing!  I understand that black licorice has a fairly divisive flavor. I, for one, love it.  I was somewhat shocked that the Babylady didn’t, as she will eat fresh fennel fronds by the fistful and doesn’t shy away from intense flavors.  The licorice intensity is tamed in the biscotti after cooking, so unless you are completely horrified by the flavor, I would give this a go!  I thought the little biscotti were fantastic.  I haven’t made biscotti before. I dunno. One of those “bake twice? nah, that sounds fussy” things. Yes, it is true, I tend to blow recipes off based on some fairly ridiculous criteria.  In all honesty, the most difficult part was chopping the licorice.  And the koldskål was delicious.  It can be used as a dessert, a snack, or meal and is commonly served in warm weather.  At first I thought it sounded odd— a cold soup of buttermilk, sour cream, sugar, and cherries?  But it was delicious! A bit like kefir, but better. (items needed: sour cream and cherries)
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    danish licorice and cherry biscotti with cherry koldskal

  • Thai Tea Pudding with Lime Caramel and Candied Cashews (p. 186) I really love pudding. And thai tea pudding sounds like perfectly grown-up pudding doesn’t it?  Plus, I had pretty much everything on hand. Except for, you know, dried thai tea mix. Now, you might think that means I was missing a rather crucial ingredient, but a quick google search on just what was in thai tea mix helped.  Ingredients varied between sources, so I just went for it. Instead of adding the thai tea mix, I steeped the half-and-half  with several bags of lemongrass black tea and a tea infuser full of assorted spices (cinnamon, cloves, vanilla bean, cardamon, and star anise).  Perhaps not totally authentic, but then again neither is thai tea pudding.  So, how was it?  I’d call it “interesting.”  Oddly (since I chose the recipe), I don’t love thai tea, though I also don’t dislike it.  So, it was no surprise I am not totally sure how I feel about the pudding.  Since I didn’t follow the recipe exactly, I don’t really have a way of knowing if my spice combination was too bold or not, but my version was fairly intense.  However, adding the lime caramel (which was fantastic!!)  somehow tempered the intensity and made the whole thing work.  If I was looking for an different dessert for friends I knew liked thai tea, I would definitely make it again (and lighten up on the spice).  I know I will make the caramel sauce again.   Spoon-licking good! (item needed: whole milk)
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    thai tea pudding with lime caramel (but without candied cashews)

  • Mango Lhassi (p.214)  This recipe makes an enormous amount of mango lassi. As in 4 quarts of lassi.  That is a lot of lassi.  I halved the recipe and it was still a lot of lassi.  I really like mango lassi… I mean, it is essentially a mango smoothie right?  The evening I made it I thought it needed something, though wasn’t sure what.  The next morning both the Babylady and I were fairly ambivilent about it so I put it back in the Vitamix with some blueberries. Better, but still not amazing. On the 2nd day, however, I suddenly loved it and couldn’t get enough.  Was it the hot day? Did it get better with age?  I don’t know, but I loved it.  I’ll make it again, but probably add something. It seemed to need a dash of something (cardamon maybe? Or maybe a touch of something acidic, such as a squeeze of lime? (items needed: mango and mango pulp)

The Review:

Recipe/Writing Style:

  • Did the recipes taste good?  Overall I  think they turned out well.  I appreciate Susan’s eagerness to try food and re-create them at home, as well as her excitement about introducing new flavors to readers.
  • Would I use it again?  Likely. There were a lot of things that sounded fantastic and that I bookmarked (green sriracha sauce, moroccan carrot salad with harissa vinaigrette, egyption bus stop kushary, and anatolian ravioli with chickpeas, feta, and brown butter), but I didn’t have the time or inclination to go ingredient shopping. I don’t think any of the items would have been difficult to source, but my life has been a mess this month. I’ve barely been home and, other than what I did for Cook the Books, it has been a month heavy on the taco truck and pizza by the slice. To that end, a post on grief is forthcoming.
  • Is it reliable? Yes
  • Does it use real food? Yes
  • Can I replicate the recipes and are the results worth the effort?  The recipes I chose to prepare were simple to replicate, easy to get ingredients for, and I believe worth the effort.

Other:  Street Food is chock full of things that I would love to eat….if someone else made them for me.  It is the food I love to eat, but don’t always  enjoy cooking. Some gems though: I love that I can now make biscotti! And that I discovered koldskål, something I didn’t even know existed.

I am really glad that Briggs and I schemed up Cook the Books on a whim. I am grateful that I am getting pushed out of all my cooking ruts, trying ingredients I normally don’t use (juniper berries!), digging into recipes I ordinarily might not give more than a cursury glance, and continuing to cook when I honestly don’t feel like I have it in me at all. I’ll return to it when I am in a better place to give a more thorough range of recipes a go!

Coming up next: Gran Cocina Latina (The Food of Latin America) by Maricel E Presilla is our July pick. I’ll do a quick introduction later on this month, so stay tuned as this is a giant (850+ pages!)cookbook chock full of amazing sounding recipes!

Cook the Books! July: Gran Cocina Latina with Maricel E. Presilla

We are headed into the 2nd half of Cook the Books!  Can you believe it?  At over 850 pages, July’s selection is our largest cookbook yet.  Yes, you read that right. A veritable encyclopedia, if you will. It is an enormous cookbook. And not a fluffy cookbook either. It is absolutely crammed with recipes (more than 500!) and loads of both useful, and thought-provoking, information.


Funny enough, Briggs and I seemed to have chosen a lot of cookbook authors that hold doctorate degrees, or at least were in PhD programs. Dorie Greenspan (gerontology), Noah Bermanoff (law), and now Marciel Presilla with her PhD in medieval Spanish history.  From this I will deduce that the world of academia might drive one to cook.  In her case, her academic mentor taught her to learn history from every angle and this led to an exploration of how Iberian colonialism shaped the cuisine of Latin America.  She is inspired by both the creation of a broad, border-less Latin American identity as well as find what is being preserved of very traditional and regional ways.

So exactly what is in this great book?  Just about everything.  After a chapter on what is considered Latin America, along with some history, she hits off with a chapter on The Latin Kitchen.  A lovely discussion of space  (being married to an academic who writes about and creates specific spaces, I can tell you that academics love themselves some chats about space!) sets the stage and tone.  The usual introductory things are discussed, such as tools  and how to have a well-stocked Latin kitchen in the United States.   However, Marciel also brings forth the idea of a kitchen as a source of liberation (I love this!), the connection of cooking and love, as well as superstitions and kitchen lore.

The next chapter is about the layers of Latin flavor, including 8 pages devoted to peppers– variety, uses, preparation, and flavor.  In this chapter she talks about the layering of flavors- sour, sweet, salty, hot, and savory.

Beyond the far-from-basic introductory chapters are:

  • Table Condiments
  • Tropical Roots and Starchy Vegetables
  • Squashes, Corn, Quinoa, and Beans
  • Rice
  • Drinks
  • Little Latin Dishes
  • Empanadas
  • The Tamal Family
  • Cebiches
  • La Olla: Soups and Hearty Potages
  • Salads
  • Breads
  • Fish and Seafood
  • Poultry
  • Meat
  • Hot Pepper Pots: Adobos, Secos, Saices, Picantes, Sajtas, Pepianes, and Moles
  • Dulce Latino

Whew, right?

I have no idea at all where to start cooking, but I sure hope Briggs and I can sort out an official Cook the Books! Dinner Party this month, because I have an unopened bottle of Peruvian pisco in the bar cupboard from a trip my parents took to Peru awhile back that is begging to be turned into dinner party cocktails (Pisco Sour anyone?)

July Cook the Books! Review and Wrap-up: Gran Cocina Latina

So, I’m churning this out from the road. I’m in California, with my brother and parents, working through things with my Dad.

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Corn tortillas are so easy a Babylady can do it

We were out-of-town for a chunk of the month. July brought a fantastically fun road trip (bring my folks car back to California from Iowa). We took a long, non-direct way, stayed off the interstates as much as possible, and saw family and friends along the way. We did a few short hikes in Colorado and Utah. We went to some national parks. Listened to chapter books with the Babylady (Matilda, The BFG, The Penderwicks, and The Wizard of Oz) and discovered she is amazing on road trips. She rocked the 10 hour days in the car, interspersed with breaks, perfectly and we really had a fun time together.

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fresh corn tortillas

July also brought us a new-to-us puppy! He is an 8 month old Labradoodle. He belonged to my brother and family, but wasn’t working out for them. He is a the cuddliest, softest, little Muppet around. We re-named him Mister Rogers, or “Freddy.” So far, he is the perfect four-legged companion- meaning, he walks well on a leash, doesn’t jump on people, and will happily (and calmly) hang out at coffee shops. There is a bit of a separation barking issue that is resolving, but other than that? Perfect. He has even learned not to harass the chickens through the coop/run fence.

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Corn on the Cob on a Stick, Mexican Street Vendor Style

Yeah, yeah, yeah…but what about the cooking? There wasn’t enough time to do all I had hoped (per usual). In fact, the more I read the cookbook, the more overwhelmed I became. where to start? What to make?

I went down the street to the local Castillo’s Supermarket to stock up on an amazing selection of assorted dried peppers and Maseca corn flour. (*Note, I subsequently discovered that my local Safeway also carries nearly anything I could have needed. However, that depends entirely on the community where you live.) Sadly, I didn’t actually use any of the peppers. Yet. I’ll get there. There were so many things I wanted to try and didn’t get to. Tres Leches, Rice Pudding (though, I might get on those this weekend). Barbacoa. Something with plantains. More meat. I’ll get there. What I discovered in using the book is that this is more encyclopaedia. Packed with information and something to go to when you are wanting to make a particular item. Mostly, I wasn’t in the mood to cook really so the longer and more interesting recipes, I didn’t attempt.

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corn on the cob, columbian green beans, black beans, fresh corn tortillas

The Cooking:

  • Corn on the Cob on a Stick, Mexican Street Vendor Style (Elotes con Crema y Queso Plaza de San Francisco), p. 237 I love corn-on-the-cob, but have shied away from this version at the food truck down the street because I don’t like mayonnaise-y or sour cream-y things. But, the mexican crema mixed with butter and spread on the cob, then rolled in aged cotija cheese, sprinkled with salt, ground ancho chiles (it asked for piquín chiles, but I used what I had), and a squeeze of lime juice? Pretty damn good! It started off our summer corn season well I’d say!
  • Cuban Cornmeal Polenta with Sofrito (Harina de Maíz Guisada) p.256 I was very underwhelmed with the polenta. Onions, tomatoes, and garlic– it was all there, but the taste was blah
  • Columbian-Style Green Beans Cooked in Milk (Habichuelas Guisadas al Estilo de la Costa) p.263 I made these at the beginning of the month and don’t really remember anything special about them one way or the other. Not a fantastic endorsement I suppose. I didn’t note that cooking the beans with milk added anything special.
  • Mexican-Style Boiled Black Beans (Frijoles Hervidos) p.271 Standard, straight up cooked-from-dry beans. Beans rule. She spells the process out well if you haven’t cooked your dried beans before. If you have, it is pretty standard.
  • Mexican Rice (Sopa Seca de Arroz Mexicana) p.302 A few others made this and liked it, but I really didn’t. Mine turned out really mushy for some reason. Though, I like the idea of cooking the rice with the tomatoes, onions, and garlic…so I’ll try it again.
  • Avocado and Onion Salad (Ensalada de Aguacate y Cebolla) p. 547 Simple and fantastic. Just picked and sliced walla-walla onions from the garden, avocado and a vinaigrette. I added some cilantro, which I would do again.
  • Cuban Avocado, Watercress, and Pineapple Salad ( Ensalada de Aguacate, Berro, y Piña) p. 548 I really, really, REALLY loved this salad. A lot. I have loads of lettuce, arugula, and kale in the garden to use, so I didn’t buy watercress. No worries. It turned out perfect. I want to eat it every single day.
  • Mexican Corn Torillas (Tortillas de Maíz) p.579 I haven’t made tortilla before. Though, I did buy a press a few months ago at Goodwill and it has been riding around in my truck with me for about 4 months. So it was time, right? I can’t believe how simple straight corn tortillas were to make. I didn’t get to the wheat variety, but I want to do that soon.
  • Caramelized Milk Custard (Dulce de Leche) p. 809 Sadly, the only dessert that I got to this month. The recipe called for caramelizing some of the sugar in the pot and then quickly pouring in the (cold) milk. That caused the caramalized sugar to solidify on the bottom of the pot. No worries. I switched pots, added the amount of sugar that was now hardened on the first pot and proceeded without the caramelizing step. Afraid of overcooking the mixture, I stopped to soon. I imagine that, like jam making, a sense of done is developed. I stopped cooking when my thermometer read 225°F, as recommended, and it turned out way too thin. I was hoping it would thicken up, as she mentioned it would, but alas, it did not. No worries. I get it. It is a ‘feel’ thing and I rushed it. I was going to try and heat it again and see if I could get it to thicken. But, know what? Even runny dulce de leche rocks. And it is rocking my ice cream….so I doubt I’ll get around to it.
  • Grilled Skirt Steak with Argentinean Chimichurri (Entraña con Chimichurri Argentina) p. 704 I love skirt steak. Cooks up quick. Tender and flavorful. Makes great leftovers. The perfect meat. This steak was pretty similar to the Romanian Steak I made back in April with the Mile End Cookbook– lots of smoked spanish paprika. I loved it then, and I loved it this go around.
  • Pisco Sour p I hadn’t tried Pisco before, but a bottle came my way after a trip my folks took to Peru. I’ve only a handful of drink with egg white, but enjoyed them all. The Pisco Sour was no exception.
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cuban cornmeal polenta with sofrito (with an over easy egg)

The Review:

This is going to be short, given the circumstances. It is all I can do in my fog.

Recipe/writing style:

  • Did the recipes taste good? overall, yes. I LOVED the salads. They were amazing and in in my permanent rotation. The rice, polenta, and green beans were meh. I loved the meat (skirt steak) as well!
  • Would I use it again? Yes. And, for others I suspect, this cookbook will serve as a cooking encyclopedia of sorts. A great book to refer to when a Latin American inspired meal is desired. I really can’t wait to dig in further. I am looking forward to making empanadas, tamales, moles, pupusas, barbacoa, short ribs, and condiments
  • Is it reliable? Yes, for the most part. Definitely for the types of recipes I am most likely to use the resource for!
  • Does it use real food? Yes
  • Can I replicate the recipes and are the results worth the effort? I can’t speak to this as much as I didn’t chose any recipes that were overly complicated or even implied any real effort. But, it seems that those that did really enjoyed the more complex sauces and such and that the recipes make large portions to continue to use in future meals. So, I am guessing that the more complex layers (such as mole) will be worth the effort
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avocado and onion salad

The Participants:

Marisa at Marisa Makes returned to Cook the Books this month (and with gusto!) Welcome back Marisa! She made:

  • Coconut Chicken from Cartenga (p. 668)
  • Mango and Hearts of Palm Salad (p. 551)
  • Avocado Watercress Pineapple Salad (p.548)
  • Chicken Fricassee (p. 662)
  • Mexican rice (p.302)
  • Coconut Shrimp (p. 621).

Somehow I missed the Braised Chicken in Coconut Sauce in the Style of Cartenga! That looks and sounds fantastic and is now on my list. And, I agree, the Avocado/Pineapple Salad ruled.

grow and resist july cook the books gran cocina latina

Braised Chicken in Coconut Sauce in the Style of Cartenga, from Marisa Makes

Janet at Jams, chutneys and other misadventures had some problems with cross-referencing and editing that she didn’t like. While I didn’t note that on the recipes I made, I agree! That would be super annoying to me as well! Bummer! Janet made:

    • scallop cebiche (p. 486)
    • fried plantains (p. 182 or 184)
    • onion avocado salad (p.547).

I also loved the Avocado and Onion Salad- simple and delicious! If you make it again, try it with a generous pile of cilantro too! I regret not trying the plantains, so glad to hear that they came out well! Janet wondered if she is a recipe book person or not. Who knows, but I understand. I have a really hard time following recipes and not improvising. I tend to lean towards books that are full of things I can imagine cooking on a regular basis (day-to-day), but are well rounded and reliably just work. And a selection of others that I won’t use on a regular basis, but keep around in case I am dying to make something from a specific genre (Good Fish, Asian Dumplings, and now this fit the bill for me) I hope you’ll stick around for ice cream! Because, ICE CREAM!

Karen at Prospect: The Pantry always blows me away and July was no exception. I agree, Karen, on the the discussion on the effect of the medieval cooking on Iberian colonialism and onto local foodstuffs. And, you were a medivial scholar as well She made:

  • Achiote-infused Oil, page 89,
  • Salpimentado, page 536,
  • The Famous Mole Poblano of Santa Rosa, page 771,
  • Turkey in Mole Sauce, page 781,
  • Mexican Rice, page 302,
  • Brazilian-Style Simple Pilaf, page 298,
  • Shrimp in Coconut Sauce in the Style of Bahia, pages 621-22,
  • Scallop Cebiche in Tumbo Juice, page 486,
  • Black Bean Soup with Epazote and Chipotle, page 506,
  • Dominican-Style Corn Stew, nicknamed “Parrot’s Crop,” pages 238-39

Aimée from Homemade Trade, no stranger to the foods of Latin America, whipped up

    • Hibiscus Syrup (p.807)
    • Smoky Pureed Pumpkin & Cacao Soup (p.527) ,
    • Peruvian Rice Pudding with Brown Sugar and Coconut (p.808).

I was intrigued by the soup as well, and I might still give it a try. That hibiscus syrup is stunning! What a gorgeous color, I can’t wait to try that. Sounds like you did it up right with cocktails. Rice pudding is on my agenda as well, hopefully this weekend!

grow and resist july cook the books gran cocina latina

hibiscus syrup from Homemade Trade

Angela and J.K. from Tea Time Adventures popped in under the wire and made:

  • Costa Rican Hibiscus Wine p.339
  • Short Ribs in Black Sauce with Chocolate and Cacao p.713
  • Basic Pupusas p.402
  • Garifuna Coconut Bread p.593
  • Spicy Prickly Pear Cocktail p.376

How did the coconut bread turn out? It sounded intriguing. I can’t wait to try a few of those options as well. And, you were not alone in feeling overwhelmed with how to begin on the book! So.Much.Information!

*Update:  My partner-in-crime, Briggs, at Oh, Briggsy got their post in under the wire! Briggs has been busy growing amazingly ginormous tomato bushes and hanging out this summer, but also got down to business this month!

  • Veracruz Tomato Sauce for Fish, page 48
  • Red Chimichurri, page 133
  • Cuban Style Rice, One Step Boiling Method, page 294
  • Pupusas with Cheese and Loroco, page 403
  • Grilled Skirt Steak with Argentian Chimichurri, page 704

Agreed! The skirt steak was fantastic! Our favorite cut of meat for summer grilling.  And I can’t wait to make pupusas!  Official Cook the Books Dinner Party this month, friend! Ice cream and catch-up month!

grow and resist july cook the books gran cocina latinaThe feathered kids are the reason I can’t make corn cob stock, even though I desperately want to make it. Leftover cobs are their favorite thing on earth.

Will you play along in August? Briggs will officially introduce the selection this week, but we’ll be doing Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones: 90 Recipes for Making Your Own Ice Cream and Frozen Treats from the Bi-Rite Creamery. It is August! And Ice Cream! Perfect time to whip up a ton of ice cream and hit up the previous Cook the Book selections, now that all the summer bounty of vegetables are coming in! I’ll be re-visiting Dorie Greenspan and Nigel Slater in particular!

 grow and resist july cook the books gran cocina latina

Mister Rogers “Freddy” likes to hang out at coffee shops

Cook the Books! Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones: “Daddy Tracks”

Now, I’m an ice cream snob so, while I appreciate the realm of mix-ins, the ice cream itself is lackluster at best. I am firmly in the if-you-are-eating-ice-cream-make-it-premium camp. I can’t find the point to low-fat or fat-free ice cream.  You find yourself eating something in hopes of it be something else. So you end up eating more and more to satisfy a craving that will likely never, ever be satisfied by the imposter. Because (newsflash!) the imposter isn’t actually a real food. It is a frozen pile of sketchy-at-best additives and chemicals held together by some form(s) of dairy-ish product.

So, Dad and I discussed the base (vanilla? chocolate? malted?) and potential mix-ins. He rattled off things that are in the vein of the assorted Tracks. Peanut butter, chocolate, caramel, and peanuts would all be welcome in his ice cream.  So, I went to the bookstore, grabbed a copy of Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones, and snapped a picture of the recipe for basic vanilla ice cream and for the peanut butter fudge swirl ice cream. I figured since I already own the book, so this tactic was legit.  And, if not totally ok…then, well, dire circumstances people. I’m making ice cream for the most lovely dying man. Screw it.

I went with crunchy peanut butter, chopped mini reese’s peanut butter cups, chopped mini kit-kats, and some dulce de leche. (Yes, I traveled with a carry-on jar of very liquidy dulce de leche from last month. And, security didn’t care. Because TSA is completely, and ridiculously, arbitrary. Though, I’ll spare you that little tirade.)

grow and resist cook the books august sweet cream and sugar cones

Getting the chunky bits churned in

I’ve made a fair amount of ice cream in the past. Some were just ok-passable, but not memorable. Others were pretty decent. But, really, you want more than decent when you are making ice cream right? Sometimes they are too eggy. Or too heavy cream-ish. I don’t know…the proportions usually seem just slightly off the mark from what I am after. Of course there have been exceptions. Alton Brown’s chocolate ice cream comes to mind and is pretty close to perfection in my book.

For Dad’s ice cream, I followed the recipe for the vanilla ice cream base, but after cooking the base I ended up following the remaining directions for the peanut butter fudge ripple ice cream.  Without the ripple. The cooked ice cream base is poured into a bowl with the peanut butter and stirred in while the whole mess of it is on an ice bath to start the cooling down process.  The result was a vanilla-peanut buttery base with areas of small peanut butter bites that didn’t get thoroughly mixed in (which was my goal).  Near the end of the churning I tossed in the the chopped peanut butter cups and kit-kats.  Lastly, I twirled in some dulce de leche.  I was hoping for dulce de leche swirls, but it ended up getting mixed in. I’ll check out how best to accomplish that once I have my book in my hands, though I imagine letting it firm up a bit before hand-stirring it is the way to go.

grow and resist cook the books august sweet cream and sugar cones

Not bad, eh?

First foray into Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones?  A resounding success. Creamy. Perfect balance of egg-cream-sugar. Most definately rich. Personally, I would prefer it with a more natural peanut butter (sans additional sugar), but I was making for my Dad so I used the Crunch Jif that he loves.