Review: Martha Stewart’s Vegetables

Sorry for the radio silence over here, friends. I was feeling pretty uninspired all of October, I don’t think I even finished a single book. And then this past week has been a doozy, hasn’t it? I am emotionally and spiritually exhausted. I have been pottering around the kitchen and taking a lot of naps. I thought I’d focus some of my energy away from politics and the news by adding what I hope becomes a regular column about Learning to Cook. Here, we will be doing our usual cookbook reviews, but also (hopefully) sharing other recipes and stories with you as well. What better way to start a culinary adventure than with Martha Stewart?


Martha Stewart, domestic and culinary goddess, recently released a new cookbook on Vegetables. I have been searching for ways to bring more veggies into my life. While I love salads and stews, sometimes you just want something different. Do not be fooled by the title, this is not a book for vegetarians. I was a little disappointed by this, because while veggies are in every recipe, they are not necessarily the star of each meal. I don’t need Martha to tell me I can add onions to a stir fry, do you?

The book is organized by types of vegetables – flowers, tubers, legumes, etc. While I can understand this categorization, I think I would have preferred the book to be organized by season. (I know, I know, you could also argue that different types of vegetables are also a form of eating seasonally.) There are photographs of each recipe, which I really loved. The food is all beautifully plated and presented – the photographs alone are worth flipping through the book to look at.

The first recipe I tried was her Roasted Pork Chops with Sweet Potatoes and Apples, because I was feeling the autumn crisp in the air and excited for fall produce. I’ve shared the recipe below, along with some of my notes:

Ingredients:

  • 4 bone-in pork chops, each about 1 inch thick (about 2 1/2 pounds total)
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
  • 1 large sweet onion, such as Vidalia, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
  • 1/3 cup apple-cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup apple cider
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 2 apples, preferably Honeycrisp, thinly sliced, seeds removed

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Season pork with salt and pepper. Heat a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat; swirl in oil. Cook chops until golden brown, turning once, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Remove all but 2 tablespoons fat from skillet.

  2. Reduce heat to medium. Add potatoes and onion; season with salt. Cook until golden in spots, about 10 minutes. Add vinegar and cider. Cover and simmer, stirring a few times, until potatoes are tender, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with caraway seeds. Return pork and juices to skillet; tuck apple slices between chops. Roast until a thermometer inserted into thickest part of chops (without touching bone) registers 138 degrees, about 10 minutes. Serve pork, vegetables, and apples with pan juices.

Jessica’s Notes:
I am not especially a fan of sweeter dishes. I generally prefer savory, spicy, & salty things. That being said, this recipe made some very juicy and tender pork chops. I think the combination of sweet potato, apples, and apple-cider vinegar was a little too much for me. I think next time, I would replace the sweet potato with normal potatoes and throw in some jalapenos or star anise for an extra kick. The recipe suggests you could use apple juice instead of apple cider vinegar, but I think the acidity of the vinegar is really necessary. As I’ve been cooking more and more, I have become feeling more confident about modifying recipes. I might try tweaking and writing my own recipes in the future.

The recipes in Martha’s book range from very simple salads to slightly more complex meals. I think it’s a pretty safe choice for beginner cooks like me, because you could slowly build a repertoire that you feel confident about. There are a wide range of recipes, so there will be something for any palate. I like that there are a manageable number of recipes, so that you don’t feel completely overwhelmed the way you might when you’re browsing online.

***

I would recommend this book to people who love beautiful cookbooks and who are looking for ways to incorporate more veggies into their lives. However, like most recipes, a lot of these are available on Martha’s website.

  • I’d like to thank Blogging for Books for sending me this book in return for an honest review.
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Book Review: A Super Upsetting Cookbook about Sandwiches

Tyler Kord is the chef of the No. 7 Sub restaurants in New York and author of A Super Upsetting Cookbook about Sandwiches.

The New York Times said I might be “the Willy Wonka of submarine sandwiches,” but I prefer “Sandwich Batman”.

Kord comes off as an irreverent sort of guy, but the sandwiches look delicious. The text in the cookbook includes quips, sarcasm, and notes from the editor left in for humor. The writing is a bit sophomoric, but the real content are the recipes, right? (How much value do you place in non-ingredient bits of a cookbook?)

The sandwiches are definitely more creative than what you can get at Subway, and so are their names (“The Battle on Pork Chop Hill”, “Lazaro’s Revenge”). They’re divided by what the main component is — you are probably thinking this means what meat but one section is dedicated to broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, and another to muchim, a Korean brining/seasoning mix.

Included are directions for how to make a great but simple main component (how to make your own chorizo sausage, roast a chicken, and anything else needed) as well as recipes for sauces and sides that you might want with your sandwich — chips, salads, coleslaw, etc.

Overall, I think these sandwiches are very inspiring and require a bit more work than your usual ham and cheese. The book is also pleasantly well-organized, and I appreciated the extra recipes at the end. I would recommend this book to adventurous sandwich-lovers. Below is the recipe I am most looking forward to trying (though there are many close seconds).

This is a Chicken Sandwich
Makes 4 of the best sandwiches you ever had

  • 1/2 cup Special Sauce
  • 4 kaiser rolls, split in half
  • 2 cups shredded Roasted Chicken
  • 4 large slices Fried Eggplant
  • 6 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced into 4 thick slices
  • 2 loosely packed cups of arugula

Thanks to Blogging for Books for a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

Book Review: The Basque Book

The Basque Book: a love letter in recipes from the kitchen of Txikito is a beautiful cookbook and guide to Basque food. When I chose the book, I had no idea what Basque food looked like, and I had a fun time finding out. book

The book is by Alexandra Raij and Eder Montero, the chefs of the restaurant Txikito based in NYC. The love Alexandra, who writes the introduction, and Eder have for really sharing the roots of their food come through in the book. They take time to explain what ‘the basics’ look like in Basque cuisine (how to cook an egg four ways, how to make your own mayonnaise, and many other stock items), how to put together a coherent meal using recipes they provide, and plenty of other information and anecdotes that go beyond the recipe.

The photos are really beautiful, the writing is meaningful, and the recipes range from pretty easy three-ingredient (albeit maybe more exotic ingredients than you can find at your chain grocery store) recipes to half-day endeavors within each division. While I am still not sure I could explain Basque cuisine to a friend, I do think I learned enough to know it doesn’t really suit my tastes (I’m not really into olives or anchovies or seafood in general…) but it was a wonderful journey regardless.

The book is available from the publishers here. Thanks to Blogging for Books for a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review

Running in the Family – A Sinhalese meal

We are having a formal dinner. String hoppers, meat curry, egg rulang, papadams, potato curry. Alice’s date chutney, seeni sambol, mallung and brinjals and iced water. All the dishes are on the table and a good part of the meal is spent passing them around to each other. It is my favorite meal – anything that has string hoppers and egg rulang I eat with a lascivious hunger. For dessert there is buffalo curd and jaggery sauce – a sweet honey made from coconut, like maple syrup but with a smokey taste. – Ondaatje

For my last Running in the Family post, I wanted to explore Sinhalese food since I truthfully didn’t recognize half the foods in the above passage.

While hoppers are like thin, crispy pancakes of rice flour and coconut milk made in a bowl-shape (which look really incredibly delicious), string hoppers or idyyappam are steamed and springy in texture. Their name is fairly evident once you’ve compared the two types of hoppers.

 

Egg rulang is a scramble of eggs and sliced onions. Papadums I have actually had before but never learned the name of! They are thin and disc-shaped, typically made from a black gram flour or a variety of other materials like lentil, chickpea, or rice flours. A typical variety I’ve had include ground black pepper and garlic.

Now, I’m not sure what Alice’s date chutney is like, but this chutney recipe is sweet and tangy with ginger and red chili spices.

chutney

Seeni sambol is a sweet caramelized onion relish that, like what I’ve been learning about Sri Lankan food, comes with a punch of spices.

Mallung, also called mallum, is a dry dish of cooked chopped greens and coconut. One version with kale is shown below. Brinjals are what we know as eggplants!

Finally for dessert, a buffalo curd with jaggery sauce is like a yogurt and honey mix.

Here is an excellent introductory article to Sri Lankan food. More egg hoppers! They look so good.

A Literary Cocktail Party inspired by Arrowsmith

literary

I would call Sinclair Lewis’ Arrowsmith a “pretty serious book”, but one of my favorite things about it is its setting within the Prohibition Era. We see the protaganist, Martin Arrowsmith, going into speakeasies with his friends and sneaking into the back rooms of warehouses alongside the general public warnings on the dangers of drinking and gambling. I think this especially stood out to me as the other Pulitzer winners set in this era have all shied away from any mentions of drinking. Without further adieu, I invite you to The Ice House in the West Indies to join Martin Arrowsmith for his signature “rum swizzler.”

barrio47

This is Barrio 47, but I imagine The Ice House is similar to this

The Ice House, that dimmest and most peaceful among saloons, with its cool marble tables, its gilt-touched white walls, had not been closed, though only the oldest topers and the youngest bravos, fresh out from Home and agonizingly lonely… were desperate enough to go there, and of the attendants there remained only one big Jamaica barman. By chance he was among them all the most divine mixer of the planter’s punch, the New Orleans fizz, and the rum swizzle.

rum swizzle.jpg

Recipe courtesy of Liquor.com

Bermuda Rum Swizzle Cocktail:

  • 4 oz. Gold Rum
  • 4 oz. Black Rum
  • 8 oz. Pineapple Juice
  • 8 oz. Orange Juice
  • 3/4 oz. Grenadine
  • 6 dashes of Angostura Bitters

Shake vigorously with crushed ice, and then garnish with pineapple, oranges, maraschino cherries, and any other tropical fruit that catch your eye.

Although I’m glad we no longer have this law, it’s a period of time that I don’t know much about and am intrigued by. I suppose finding a book on the Prohibition should be added to my to-do list!

Additional Reading:

  • Font courtesy of Manfred Klein
  • Curious about the difference between gold and black rum? Apparently there are four types of rum.
  • Check out our first Literary Cocktail Party post here, featuring Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, and Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall.
  • Arrowsmith was the 1926 Pulitzer winner, and Sinclair Lewis was the first (and only) writer to refuse the prize. Read more about it here.
  • Fun fact: 1926 was also the year The Great Gatsby was published. Some people would say that Gatsby deserved the Pulitzer much more than Arrowsmith did.

Cook Book Review + Recipe: Lucky Peach 101 Easy Asian Recipes

101 easy recipes
I have been a distant admirer of Lucky Peach for a few months now, ever since I flipped through a few of their magazines at an independent bookstore in Boston this summer. I found the magazine hip, interesting, and just the right amount of an approachable pretentiousness. I’ve also decided that one of my new ongoing goals is to become a better cook. That being said, I jumped at the chance to review Lucky Peach’s new (and first) cookbook: 101 Easy Asian Recipes.

I thought that I would test Lucky Peach’s recipe for “Chineasy Cucumber Salad” and compare it to my mother’s recipe. Although my mother’s recipe is better in my opinion (she uses garlic instead of sesame seeds and peanuts and we add a splash of soy sauce.)

Makes about 2 servings, easily multiplied.

1T Chikiang vinegar
1t Sichuan chili oil
1t sesame oil
1t turbinado sugar
1/4t kosher salt
3 Persian or Kirby cucumbers or 1 English cucumber
1t toasted sesame seeds
2T crushed roasted unsalted peanuts
2T cilantro leaves

1. Whisk together the vinegar, chili oil, sesame oil, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl until the sugar dissolves. Set the dressing aside.

2. Halve the cucumbers lengthwise. (If using English cucumbers, remove the seeds with a small spoon and discard.) Set them cut-side down on a cutting board and lightly smash them: Give them a couple angry thwaps with the side of a cleaver (or a large chef’s knife) until the cucumbers crack in a few places. (For less drama, just press down on them with the side of the knife.) Cut the abused cucumbers crosswise into 3/4-inch-thick half-moons.

3. Toss the cucumbers in the dressing, portion them onto plates, and top each serving with sesame seeds, peanuts, and cilantro.

My thoughts on the cookbook:

  • I am so thrilled that Lucky Peach even includes smashing the cucumbers with the side of a butcher knife or cleaver. I remember learning how to make this with my cousin and gleefully wreaking chaos in the kitchen.
  • I never thought that a cookbook could be written in a “fun” way, but I found the instructions easy to read, follow, and copy.
  • However, I found some of the photography kitschy, such as the meta-iPhone-taking-a-photo-of-food-at-the-dinner-table-shot.
  • Also, a few of the recipes were just a bit too glib – there’s a recipe for “sliced oranges” which would be okay, if it were the only one-item-recipe in the book, but shortly after, there’s a recipe for baked yams. I think I would have told Lucky Peach’s editors that it would be okay to stop at 99 or 100 recipes, there’s no need to force it!
  • I liked that the cookbook truly included all sorts of Asian recipes. There’s a lovely mix of Vietnamese, Cambodian, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, and Malaysian cuisine. There may even be more that I haven’t recognized yet.

***

I would recommend this book to anyone who’s a beginning chef, interested in learning more about Asian cuisine or a fan of Lucky Peach magazine. It might even be fun to read through like a book during a rainy hungry day.

Additional Resources:

This Week in Review – 11/6/2015

This Week in Review

hot and hot shrimp and grits

women of the hour lena dunham

  • As I’m reading The Magnificent Ambersons, I’ve been absolutely befuddled as to how Booth Tarkington could win two Pulitzers and then basically disappear from history. The Atlantic does a great piece on this.

One finds no mention of Tarkington in The Oxford Book of American Literary Anecdotes, let alone in the diaries and letters of his fellow Princetonian Edmund Wilson. Another alumnus, F. Scott Fitzgerald, had Tarkington in mind when he expressed his fear of lapsing into a condition that would render him uninterested in anything but “colored people, children, and dogs.”

  • And finally, a few of my favorite new songs to tide you over this weekend:


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This week, we posted:

  1. A Pairing: Francis Bacon + Sharon Olds
  2. Books I Read in October
  3. Book Review: The Time Garden, Daria Song
  4. The Magnificent Ambersons – Vocabulary

I hope you have a marvelously warm and cozy weekend!