Pok Pok at home

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I recently acquired the Pok Pok cookbook by Andy Ricker, and have been incredibly excited about cooking from it, since Pok Pok is one of my favorite places to eat anywhere. Some friends of our felt the same way, so we got together a week or two ago and made a few things. I warmed up the weekend before by cooking dinner for some other friends, making the mushroom salad, a cucumber som tam, and an incredibly rich and spicy green curry with little eggplants and shrimp. Everything turned out remarkably well, so we had high hopes for our follow-up dinner.

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There was a fair amount of prep involved, including several shopping trips to Asian markets. Linda made a bunch of sauces and condiments in advance, ready for cooking. I only made one sauce, but showed up with a big tub of fragrant duck stock I’d made that morning. We mixed up our first batch of cocktails and got to work. Continue reading

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mustard seeds and pork belly buns

pork bun

I got the Momofuku cookbook for my birthday! To break it in, we had some friends over to dinner and I made a bunch of things out of it: pork belly ssäm, pickled mustard seed sauce with pickled cucumbers (recipe below), sweet corn with miso butter, and steamed buns. Well, the buns were my own favorite bao recipe, but I shaped them based on David Chang’s process, folded over into little pockets before steaming, and it worked great. The sauce was killer. The salty-sweet roasted pork belly wasn’t bad either. There were very few leftovers. Continue reading

more butter

dinner

So we recently caved and bought another cookbook. We’ve really been very good recently, but the cover of this one had been making us drool during our last few bookstore visits and we finally just had to. The book is Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi of the London restaurant Ottolenghi, apparently a collection of recipes from his vegetarian column in the Guardian. One of the first things we tried out of it was a dish of noodles dressed with vast quantities of Moroccan spiced butter, fresh herbs, and pine nuts. I didn’t make the noodles from scratch with saffron mixed into the dough, although I’m sure that would have been lovely, but it just wasn’t happening.

shallots in butter

Nearly every recipe in the book contains a ton of shallots. I hardly ever cook with shallots, so it seems novel to me. They got really sweet and melting after simmering in a stick’s worth of butter for ten or fifteen minutes (but who wouldn’t?)

spices

Once the shallots were soft I added the mix of paprika, cinnamon, coriander, ginger, turmeric and red pepper flakes. After smelling the mixture Jon pointed out I could have just used the Moroccan seven-spice we have in our spice drawer, which smells exactly the same.

mint and parsley

Then I mixed in a big pile of fresh mint and parsley. Our mint plant is producing particularly vast and fragrant leaves right now; when I was chopping these up Jon smelled them from two rooms away.

pasta with spiced butter, herbs and pine nuts

Then all that remained was to toast a handful of pine nuts and toss them in. We ate the noodles alongside small lamb chops and a pile of sauteed Swiss chard, and it was good. Buttery as all get out, but good. It was too rich for us to eat the whole batch, but I saved the leftovers and mixed albacore tuna into them for lunch the next day, which balanced it out nicely.

Tender

Tender (plus beet)

After a bit of a dry spell, we bought ourselves a new cookbook: Tender, by Nigel Slater. Nigel is one of those people that could write a shopping list and I’d buy it. When it’s a discussion of fresh vegetables and home gardening and things to cook in season, there’s definitely no question. I brought it home and immediately read it cover to cover.

The way I envision using this book is the all-too-frequent case where I have a vegetable languishing in the fridge and I can’t think what to do with it. I might not follow one of Nigel’s recipes – much of what he does is very similar to what I do when I’m winging it – but having all the possibilities laid out at once is tremendously helpful, and his tone is deeply encouraging. In this case, I had some beets.

beet

We ate the greens off the beets a couple of weeks ago, and it was about time to use up the roots. Nigel’s recipe for beet tzatziki actually only used one beet, but it reminded me of their existence and I made borsch with the remainder a few days later.

beet tzatziki

Beet tzatziki is pretty darn simple: just yogurt seasoned with garlic, fresh mint, and grated raw beet, in pretty much any proportion. The trick seems to be finding any middle ground between the moment you start stirring it together and the moment (very soon afterwards) when it suddenly looks like thickened Pepto Bismol. Or raspberry ice cream. Something very, very pink. In any case, it tastes good. It makes your dinner plate look kind of awful, though.

beet tzatziki

about to process

The chickpea fritters that Nigel suggests to go with the tzatziki were a lot of fun. I’ve made falafel many times from a mix, and read recipes for making it with soaked, ground chickpeas, but it never really occurred to me that I could just puree cooked chickpeas with herbs and an egg and fry it. It might not be a true falafel but they were extremely good. They’re very soft-textured, though, so I think they’re best eaten with a fork rather than stuffed into a pita, which would just mush them into hummus. Not that that wouldn’t be tasty, too.

falafel ingredients

falafel

falafel

Chickpea Fritters

adapted from Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch by Nigel Slater

  • one can chickpeas, drained
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 egg
  • bunch of parsley
  • handful of mint
  • salt and pepper

Roughly chop the parsley and mint leaves and the garlic. Put everything into a food processor and whirl it around until it’s mixed but still just a touch chunky. Let it sit for ten minutes (apparently this is important, although I didn’t notice much difference).

Heat a film of olive oil in a nonstick pan (or two, if you don’t have a pan big enough for all of the fritters at once). Add the chickpea mixture in dollops – it will be very soft. Smooth out the dollops with the back of the spoon, then leave them the heck alone until they begin to brown on the underside. Don’t poke at them, they’ll fall apart! When they seem to be getting a good crust, flip them over quickly with a thin spatula and cook the other side.

Serve with tzatziki (beet or otherwise) and a green salad.

rosemary-lemon chicken

ready for the oven

We’ve had a big influx of new cookbooks in our household this week. This was partly our own fault, as we used my husband’s birthday discount at Village Books as an excuse to go a little nuts in the food section. Then a friend who’s in the midst of serious decluttering offered me some of her books, and I never can say no to a cookbook. So we have nine new books to find space for on our bulging shelves. Not to mention cook out of.

the cat and the cookbook

They all have possibilities, but the one I’ve been glued to most is David Tanis’ new book Heart of the Artichoke. I don’t own his previous work, A Platter of Figs, but I checked it out from the library so many times it felt as if I did. I love his approach to food and the way he puts meals together, plus I adore the shadowy, evocative photographs that accompany his work. I will always be grateful to him for turning me on to parsnips roasted in butter, something I love so much I tend to eat the whole pan’s worth while it’s cooling on the counter.

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regrettable food (vote for your favorite!)

The Sunday News Family Cookbook

One of my birthday presents this year was a truly enthralling item: The Sunday News Family Cook Book. It was published in 1962 by the New York News, and includes “favorite recipes” from readers as well as recipes from the paper itself. Many of the dishes in it sound just fine, although instructions are occasionally a little vague. Others, however, are mind-numbingly weird, and the food photography is…um…fascinating. Have you seen James Lileks’ book The Gallery of Regrettable Food? This book is right up that guy’s alley.

Some highlights (you can vote for your favorite at the end):

Hamburger Bean Medley

Hamburger Bean Medley. This includes baked beans, kidney beans, lima beans, and chow mein noodles, and makes my eyeballs ache. And just think of what it might do to your digestion.

molded chicken salad with cranberry topping

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red bean khachapuri

red bean khachapuri

Like the regular, cheese-filled khachapuri that I usually make, this bean-filled variation is from the book Flatbreads & Flavors by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid (I’ve only recently discovered Naomi’s evocative personal blog – check it out, it’s wonderful).

well loved cookbook

I’ve raved about this cookbook repeatedly on this blog (do you have a copy yet? If not, why not?) The only thing I wish is that the first edition had been bound more effectively, because my copy is completely shot. You can tell it’s been well-loved. It’s the only place I’ve found recipes for Georgian food, which is a wonderful savory cuisine full of walnuts, cheese, pomegranates and herbs.

well loved cookbook

I love cheese-filled khachapuri so much that it was hard to make myself try something new, but I’m glad I made the effort. What I really like about the bean filling is that it really highlights the flavor of the bread, which is very tender and tart. Full of protein from both beans and yogurt, it makes a great vegetarian meal. I made a quick pureed spinach soup to dip the breads in, but a sharp green salad would also be good alongside.

red bean khachapuri

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pomegranate marlin and dill pilaf

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So we came back home from our Vancouver trip loaded down with new cookbooks, and of course I had to immediately find something new to cook. The first recipe that jumped out at me was a pomegranate molasses-marinated swordfish from the Casa Moro cookbook. Hey, I thought, we still have pomegranate molasses! And, as fate would have it, we were able to buy big fat steaks of Hawaiian marlin at the store – plus the weather was good enough for outdoor grilling!

To go along with the fish, the book recommended a pilaf, so I tried out the Moro recipe for rice with dill and pine nuts.  It involved rinsing and then soaking basmati rice so that it took very little cooking – not a technique that I’d tried before, but it worked like a charm.

new recipe
marlin steaks

About two hours ahead of time, I combined pomegranate molasses, cinnamon, cilantro, garlic and salt in a pie pan and rubbed it all over the fish steaks, which then went back into the fridge. Then I measured out the rice, rinsed it several times and set it to soak in warm water and salt. J got the grill started, then sliced eggplant and rubbed it with olive oil and salt. Continue reading

shrimp gratin

prawn gratin

It’s a strange thing that sometimes, when you first glance through a new cookbook, one particular recipe catches your eye. You make it, and like it, then never make any other recipe out of that book – you just keep making that first recipe over and over again. Or maybe that’s just me.

This recipe is out of a library book, Jacques Pépin’s Fast Food My Way, which I checked out when I was feeling particularly crunched for time and wanted some quick dinner ideas. I was thrilled when I discovered this gratin, which is quick to assemble, even quicker to bake, and doesn’t taste quite like anything else I make. And it’s very easy to make just enough for two people – no messy leftovers. The shrimp both bake and steam in the moisture from the wine and vegetables and are beautifully crisp and tender, with the nice crunchy breadcrumb topping over all.

rainbow chard

Because of the basic perfection of the original recipe, I’ve not played around with it at all, except to get rather casual about quantities – except that this time I decided to gather a few leaves of fresh rainbow chard from my tiny backyard plot, shred them and scatter them into the gratin. Continue reading

Ethiopian beef tartare

tartare and curds in pita

I may have mentioned my deep and abiding love for the book Flatbreads & Flavors by Toronto-based husband-and-wife team Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. It introduced us to cooking all sorts of ethnic cuisines that we might not have attempted, by making the recipes simple yet authentic. Each chapter has a limited number of recipes, but they fit together perfectly – there might be two different breads, a beef dish, a chicken dish, a vegetable and a condiment. So just from this one cookbook, you could make a feast from Georgia, the Middle East, India or Italy!

I had fallen in love with Ethiopian food from the first time I had it, at a restaurant in Minneapolis, of all places. It never occurred to me that you could make it at home – then I got this cookbook. When I made the chicken stew from it, with its simple combination of chicken, butter, cardamom, berbere paste and red wine, it was like an Ethiopian restaurant had opened in our kitchen. We’ve also made injera at home (with mixed success, frankly) and tibs wett. But our favorite go-to dish is definitely the partially-cooked beef tartare, kitfo lebleb. It’s fast, rich, and very very spicy.           

For this dish J defrosted a sirloin steak and chopped it very finely. You could certainly use ground meat but we’ve always preferred the texture of chopped. The original recipe calls for onions, but we usually leave them out. Adding mint is great if you have it, but I don’t think dried mint is a good substitute – leave it out if you don’t have fresh.

spiced curds
microplaning serranos Continue reading