Cookbook Review – Food 52 Genius Recipes

Cut to the chase – I like this cookbook very much.  It has a high concentration of recipes that I want to cook for dinner.  But are they genius? 

The tagline is “100 recipes that will change the way you cook.”  Here’s my breakdown: some of the recipes are those you’ve seen or heard about a million times and probably already have pinned to your Pinterest.  Like Jim Lahey’s no knead bread.  Not only do I have that recipe but I’ve also pinned a food blogger’s attempt to simplify this already simple recipe.  Other famous recipes are included like Marion Cunningham’s yeast waffles, Rao’s meatballs, and Barbara Kafka’s roast chicken. Other recipes seem to have been included so the author could cover the bases on making sure every famous chef was represented.  Pretty much every chef you can think of has a recipe in this book and does it really make sense that all of them would have a genius recipe that changes how we cook? 

Some of the recipes are genius. The cooking method for Chicken Thighs with Lemon produced crispy, juicy chicken with practically no effort. Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onion? You literally combine canned tomatoes, butter, an onion that has been halved (no chopping!), and salt and simmer it for 45 minutes. That’s it. You ditch the onion, which has given its life to the sauce and you end up with thick, oniony, buttery tomato sauce. There’s an eggplant pasta dish where you cook the heck out of the eggplant with some stock until it’s soft enough to mash and you end up with this creamy eggplant pasta sauce.  Salt-baked herb salmon — kind of genius, kind of weird. Genius in that the salmon cooks on a bed of salt – it stays moist, has a lightly salty flavor, and very easy clean-up. But then how hard is it to cook salmon – why this weird method?

Other recipes are not so genius. Rao’s meatballs call for the secret ingredient of…..water. The meatballs were very moist, but tasted bland. The Spicy Tomato Soup, with just onions, tomatoes, red pepper flakes, and basil was meh. The Caesar salad dressing that calls for mayo instead of raw eggs was pretty genius but I came up with a very similar recipe on my own that’s simpler and which I like better. Crispy-skinned fish sounded promising but was definitely not genius.  It called for dusting the fish with Wondra to get it crispy.  Maybe I’m just lazy but I can’t get my fish dry enough for the Wondra to not get gummy. You know what’s a genius way to get crisp skin on your fish? Heat. Sear at high heat and then finish cooking in the oven.  That has always yielded me crisper skin than the Wondra method did.

Other recipes are not genius in that they’re not changing the way I cook, but they were just tasty recipes that I would make again. Mushroom Bourguignon was deliciously hearty, Spiced Braised Lentils & Tomatoes with Toasted Coconut – yum. Gratin of Zucchini, Rice, and Onions with Cheese was good although used way too many dishes, including: a grater for the zucchini, a pan to boil the rice, a pan to fry the onions and the zucchini, a pan to warm the milk, and a baking dish.

Critiques aside, I like this book alot. It gives me lots of dinner options and I like that it includes many vegetarian recipes. This has become one of my go-to books for weekly menu planning.

Salmon and Dill Omelette

I love lox, eggs and onions, but the problem is that as soon as you add the lox to the eggs, it starts to cook and then just tastes like regular salmon.  This omelette solves that.

Ingredients:

  • fresh dill (1 package for 4 omelettes)
  • shallots (2 for 4 omelettes)
  • lox (1 small package for 4 omelettes)
  • feta chesse (goat cheese or cream cheese would also be good)
  • eggs (2 per omelette)
  • salt and pepper
  • butter

Instructions:

1) Slice shallots. Melt butter in skillet and add shallots. Cook until brown and a little crispy. Remove from skillet and set aside.

2) Chop dill. Cut lox into strips (the short way, width-wise).

3) Crack 2 eggs into a bowl.  Add dill, salt and pepper.  Whisk.

4) Melt butter in pan and add eggs.  Swirl pan around until egg coats bottom. With a spatula, move eggs slightly away from the edge and tilt pan so that uncooked egg fills the space.  Keep it up until eggs are almost set.

5) When eggs are almost set (they should still look a little wet), turn off heat. This step ensures that the lox won’t cook. Add shallots, feta, and lox in a line down the middle of the omelette. Fold one side over the filling, then fold the other side over and slide omelette onto a plate.

6) Repeat for second omelette, etc.

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Cast Iron Skillet Pizza

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I have a pizza stone and a peel so I really have no need to make pizza in my cast iron skillet. But now that I’ve tried it, I’m sold. The crust didn’t get as brown as when I use the pizza stone. But it’s so much easier – it makes weeknight pizza a no brainer.

1) Preheat the oven to 475. Brush the cast iron skillet with olive oil.

2) Stretch out the dough (I bought pre-made dough at Trader Joe’s) until it’s about as big as the pan and lay out. Stretch the dough as needed until it covers the whole bottom of the pan.

3) Spoon on your sauce. I used pesto for this pizza. Add cheese. I used fresh smoked mozzarella which I sliced. Add toppings. I used two kinds of salami, and mixed olives and peppers from the olive bar.

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4) Put skillet in oven and bake until brown. I checked after 11 minutes, then rotated the pan and baked for another 4 minutes.

5) Let cool in pan for 10 minutes. (I got impatient and took the pizza out of the pan after 5 – I bet the crust would have gotten browner if I let it sit in the hot pan a little longer.) Transfer to cutting board with tongs or a large spatula,

To gild the lily, I added arugula to the top after I took the pizza out of the pan.

Here’s a mushroom pizza I made on another day:

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Cookbook Review – L.A. Son

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You don’t get Roy Choi’s cookbook L.A. Son because you want ideas of what to make for dinner. You don’t even get it because you want to replicate the delicious food you’ve had on his truck or restaurants. You get his book because you love Roy Choi and love L.A. His book is part memoir and part cookbook. I loved the memoir part. He did a great job conveying the immigrant experience – an immigrant growing into an American kid trying to embrace or at least fit in with two cultures. Coincidentally, I just read Gary Shteyngart’s memoir, Little Failure, which covered much of the same ground. Bet you never thought you’d get that comparison in a food blog, right?

I love Roy Choi. I had been hearing about his Kogi truck but never wanted to stand in the long lines that he always gets. And then miraculously, the Kogi truck showed up in front of my house! It turned out that our neighbors were having a party and invited us to join. The Kogi truck food was amazing. The strong flavors of Korean barbecue beef on a taco – it was a natural. The blackjack quesadilla – amazing. It seems simple to say, but the food is so good because the flavors are so strong.

And then there was the time that I went to Choi’s restaurant Chego…on the day Jonathan Gold was reviewing it. Talk about food celebrity! If you look at the L.A. Times online photo gallery with Gold’s review, you can see a blurred out picture of my friends and me. The next time I went to Chego, I saw the man, Roy Choi, himself. He was sitting outside looking at his phone. Here is my lunch companion’s selfie that just happened to have Roy Choi in the background – how did that happen?

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Back to L.A. Son. Since the book is really a memoir, the recipes make no sense unless you read the chapters. I tried some of the recipes and they’re a little crazy but some of them were very, very good. The recipes call for a lot of ingredients, many of which are Asian and must be found in an Asian market. On the other hand, some of the recipes with a lot of ingredients are very easy. It seemed like Choi’s basic instruction is throw all of these ingredients into the blender, pour into a pan, add protein, cook, done. I made an eggplant curry dish this way (he had you add raw diced eggplant into the sauce and cook for about 10 minutes or so – it worked – it tasted no different than if I had sauteed the eggplant first). Same for Korean short ribs – blend a bunch of ingredients, pour into pan, add short ribs, cook for a few hours, add some veggies and cook a while longer. Delicious. Even his crazy dish of chili spaghetti was fantastic. Why don’t we always put chili on spaghetti? I will definitely make that for a Super Bowl party.

Beware of several things, which you’ll notice right away. His recipes seem to be scaled for large quantities so you may have to adjust. Also, the dishes are delicious because they’re highly flavored. Sometimes the recipes get carried away, like the one which called for copious amounts of cayenne pepper. (I don’t think so.) Or he’ll have you throw the whole serrano pepper, stem, seeds and all, into the blender.

I found that I couldn’t find that many recipes that I wanted to cook out of the cookbook. But the ones that I tried were so boldly flavored that my regular weeknight fare seems so bland in comparison. I’m glad I read and cooked out of L.A. Son, but it’s not going to be my go-to cookbook any time soon. Sadly.

A Shameless Plug

This is a shameless plug for my new companion blog, Good Enough Life Coach.  Like Good Enough Gourmet, it will provide hacks for getting through life the easy way.  However, while I’m actually pretty good at cooking, I’m not all that great at the things I plan to write about on Good Enough Life Coach.  But that just makes it more fun, right?

Pizza with Tomato, Prosciutto, and Greens

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This pizza was amazing. I got the recipe from my CSA (Farm Box LA) newsletter.

Ingredients:

  • pizza dough (homemade or store bought – I used Trader Joe’s brand for this)
  • cornmeal
  • olive oil
  • garlic (1-2 cloves)
  • salt (optional)
  • 2-3 medium tomatoes
  • fresh oregano (optional)
  • fresh mozzarella cheese
  • 4 slices prosciutto
  • greens of your choice (e.g. chard, kale)

Instructions:

First a note on quantity.  A tub of fresh mozzarella balls (get the medium or large sized, not the tiny ones), a 4 oz package of prosciutto, and a bunch of greens will be enough for two pizzas.  So make two pizzas! Double the very approximate quantities listed above.

1) Preheat oven to 450 (preferably with a pizza stone in the oven but ok if you don’t have one).

2) Cut or tear the greens and add them to a baking sheet, tossed with olive oil and salt.  Put in oven for 10 minutes, until they’re a little brown and dried out, but not completely dry (i.e. not as dry as kale chips). Remove from oven and set aside.

3) Roll out pizza dough and stretch it to a roundish shape.  Sprinkle cornmeal on a pizza peel or a baking pan.  Transfer the dough to the peel or pan and adjust shape.  Brush some olive oil on the dough.  Add chopped garlic and brush it around to make sure all the garlic’s not in one place.  Then – my secret pizza technique – sprinkle a little kosher salt on the dough, especially the outer edges that won’t be covered with toppings.  Slide the dough onto your pizza stone or put the pan into the oven and bake for 4 minutes.

4) Slice your tomatoes.  After the dough has baked for 4 minutes, add the tomatoes.  The tomatoes don’t have to cover the whole pizza – just make sure there’s tomato in each bite. Bake for 10 minutes.

5) Slice the mozzarella balls.  After the pizza has baked for 10 minutes, add the mozzarella balls and bake for 5 more minutes until the crust is nicely brown. Remove from oven.

6)  Slice prosciutto into thin strips.  Scatter the prosciutto strips over the pizza and then scatter the greens over the top.

Enjoy.

 

Cookbook Review – VB6

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Ah Mark Bittman, why don’t I like your recipes more?

I like Mark Bittman.  I like his approach to cooking and eating and I like what he has to say about food.  I have his “How to Cook Everything” and “Minimalist Cooks Dinner” cookbooks.  “How to Cook Everything” has pages falling out of it because I refer to it alot – it really does have recipes for pretty much anything you want to make, with lots of variations.  None of the recipes are the best one you’re going to find for that particular dish but they’re passable.  I only cooked from “Minimalist Cooks Dinner” a few times because the recipes were, meh.

I first heard about Bittman’s VB6 diet at a lecture he gave in 2012.  I arrived early, hoping to stalk him – I mean make chit chat with him, and get a good seat.  He was sequestered away in a private room so stalking was not possible but I did get an excellent seat.  His talk was about the type of food Americans eat (bad) and where it comes from (also bad).  I kept forgetting that I wasn’t listening to Michael Pollan — their messages are similar.  During the Q&A, he talked about his diet which he calls VB6, or Vegan Before 6:00.  (The VB6 cookbook hadn’t come out yet.) He needed to lose some weight and had some health problems so his doctor recommended that he become a vegan.  His compromise was VB6.  He eats vegan for breakfast, lunch, and any midday snacks and eats what he wants for dinner.  The diet was successful for him and over time, his dinners became less meat heavy and healthier. He still has the flexibility to eat what he wants or splurge from time to time, but his overall diet is good.

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I found the VB6 cookbook to be a bit overwhelming.  To follow the suggested diet, you’d have to cook breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.  Bittman gives alternatives, for example when you’re eating in a restaurant, but I get the impression that this should be an exception.  I generally eat toast (no cooking involved) and coffee with frothed milk (one of my reasons for living – coffee with frothed Clover whole milk – no way am I giving that up) for breakfast, I go out for lunch when I can (my opportunity to take advantage of the wonders that is Los Angeles) and dinner is the meal that I cook every day. I went on a three-week cleanse once and had to cook all three meals and snacks and although the food was delicious and healthy, it was alot of work.  I was so happy to go back to my morning toast and coffee.

However, I did cook some recipes from VB6.  I liked that the recipes, even the ones with meat, were veggie-centric. I make a vegetable-laden pasta sauce that yielded enough for two meals — I froze half (sauce was ok, nothing spectacular), baked falafel (bad idea or maybe it was just my execution), a vegetable-laden frittata (very good), muesli (excellent and simple, a worthy replacement for my morning toast), and baked ziti with greens (by this time, I had returned the book to the library and had to remember the recipe along with some improvisation).

Bottom line, I did not love any of the recipes.  However, I do like the VB6 approach if you’re the type that needs rules to guide your diet yet also don’t want to be denied the foods you love.