Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Cookbook Review: Simply Ancient Grains Fresh and Flavorful Whole Grain Recipes for Living Well!important;%20margin:0px%20!important;%22%20/%3E

I was really excited to dive into Simply Ancient Grains because it’s a topic I’m completely unfamiliar with. Quinoa, buckwheat, corn/grits/polenta, couscous, oats, quinoa, and spelt are stocked in my pantry and cooked on a regular basis but amaranth, barley, bulgur, einkorn, emmer, faro, fonio, frekeh, kamut, millet, rye, sorghum, and teff are grains that I have never heard of. The author included a nice guide on how to prepare the grains and a table for cooking time depending on the method. With a variety of recipes for breakfast, salads, sides, soups, stews, pasta, entrees, and desserts, there’s something for everyone.

My favorite recipes come from the breakfast section. We really enjoyed the saffron millet with toasted almonds and cardamom and cardamom-infused black rice porridge with blueberries and pistachios. If you don’t like cardamom, you can try cinnamon instead. Cardamom can be a bit strong for some people. With Maria’s recipes, you have so much flexibility to change the ingredients depending on the seasons and what’s available in your pantry. You can use berries in the spring, stone fruits in the summer, apples and pears in the fall, or even persimmons in winter. Even though it’s not squash season, I had to try the oatmeal butternut pancakes. I don’t like nuts with my pancakes so I skipped it altogether and ate it with maple syrup and whip cream. The pancakes tasted so good! A bit nutty, sweet, and satisfying! Another favorite is the dark chocolate spelt waffle with warm raspberry sauce. I’m going to try these waffles with cherry compote next time. I secretly love breakfast recipes that straddle the fine line of desserts and breakfast

Simply Ancient Grains is a very resourceful book that opens the readers to a whole new world of ancient grains. I love Maria’s combination of textures and unique flavor to showcase these ancient grains for the modern kitchen. The photography by Erin Kunkel is gorgeous but left me wanting more. If you’re looking for a cookbook to incorporate more ancient grains into your diet, Simply Ancient Grains is the perfect starting place.

*I received this book to review complementary of the publisher

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Chicken kara-age or Japanese Fried Chicken

My friend Gail and I have talked about throwing a dinner party for the longest time. Figuring out what to serve is not the easiest thing. Finally, we decided on a Japanese tapas party, bringing many dishes to life from our favorite Japanese cookbook, Japanese Soul Cooking. Of course, no Japanese tapas party would be completed without chicken kara-age. 

Chicken kara-age is the Japanese version of fried chicken but marinated in a mix of ginger, garlic, soy sauce, sake, and mirin, then dredged in potato starch and deep fried to a morsel of perfection. Using potato starch creates a light and crispy coating similar to the rice flour that I used for the Vietnamese sticky wings. Chicken kara-age makes a perfect appetizer before digging your chopsticks in a nice bowl of ramen but they are also delicious on their own for a snack.  And don't forget your Sapporo!

Chicken kara-age (Japanese fried chicken) adapted from Japanese Soul Cooking
2 lbs of chicken thighs (about 4-6 pieces depending on size)
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and grated
1 knob of ginger, peeled and chopped
⅓ cup of sake
⅓ cup of mirin
⅓ cup of soy sauce (Maggi brand)
vegetable oil for frying
1 cup of katakuriko (potato starch)
1 tsp of salt
2 tsp of baking powder
white rice (optional)
lemon wedge and fried green chiles (optional)

1. In a mixing bowl, combine garlic, ginger, sake, mirin, and soy sauce to make the marinate.
2. Cut the chicken into 1-1 ½ inch pieces and add to the marinate. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.
3. When ready to fry, drain the chicken pieces using a colander.
4. In a mixing bowl, whisk together potato starch, salt, and baking powder.
5. Dredge each piece of chicken in the potato starch mixture and shake off excess flour.
6. In a large pot over medium heat, fill the pot to about 2 inches of oil and bring it to 350 degrees F (if you don't have a thermometer, leave it on medium heat).
7. Fry the chicken for about 5-6 minutes, 3 minutes on each side until golden brown.
8. Transfer the fried pieces to a tray lined with paper towel to drain off excess oil.
9. When ready to eat, serve with white rice, a wedge of lemon, and fried green chiles.

Cook's note: I use chicken thigh because it creates the most juicy and flavorful chicken kara-age.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Cookbook Review: Yogurt Sweet and Savory Recipes for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner!important;%20margin:0px%20!important;%22%20/%3E

I was really excited to read Yogurt by Janet Fletcher because my mom used to make yogurt for us but she never explained the science behind it.  This book goes into great detail about how to make yogurt from scratch using different types of milk (cow, goat, sheep), the starter, and incubation methods as well as trouble shooting tips if something goes wrong.  In addition to making yogurt, she also teaches the readers how to make drained yogurt, Greek yogurt, yogurt cheese, and using whey.  You can find various resources online but the author did extensive research on this topic and put it all in one place.

Although there are fifty recipes included in this book, I was most excited about the meat recipes and some of the dessert recipes.  I’m always curious about how yogurt heightens the flavor of a dish and can’t wait to try the harissa roasted chicken, lamb meatballs in yogurt sauce, and lamb souvlaki with skillet flatbread.   For the dessert recipes, both the Greek yogurt panna cotta and absinthe’s golden yogurt cake sound amazing.  I was disappointed not to find any recipes for frozen yogurt except for a yogurt sorbet.  

The book also has many gorgeous photographs by Eva Kolenko but definitely needed more pictures to showcase the recipes.  I would buy Yogurt just for the method section and not so much for the recipes.  Once the weather gets really warm, my mom and I plan on trying some of her techniques to see how they compare with the way we make Vietnamese yogurt.   Yogurt is the perfect book for anyone interested in making your own yogurt and needing recipe ideas for savory and dessert yogurt based dishes.

*I received this book to review complementary of the publisher

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Homemade Rum Raisin Ice Cream

Ice cream flavors like mango, jackfruit, durian, coconut, pandan, and coffee were the ones I grew up with.  My mom sold ice cream and frozen yogurt as a side job when I was very young.  I was the chief taste tester and couldn’t be happier to play that role.  

It wasn’t until we moved to America that I was exposed to exotic flavors like cookies and cream, rocky road, salted caramel, cherry garcia, and rum raisin.  We went through a period of time where a new flavor was brought home whenever my mom went grocery shopping.  

Throughout the years, one flavor has remained my favorite—rum raisin from Haagen-Dazs!  The first time I had rum raisin ice cream, my taste buds did a happy dance.  There’s something about that hint of rum that makes it so good!   

With the weather warming up and my freezer semi-empty, I decided it was time to experiment.  After several batches, I found the ratio of milk, cream, egg, sugar, raisins, and rum that I like.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Rum raisin ice cream
1 ½ cup of 2% organic milk
1 ½ cup of organic heavy whipping cream
4 small egg yolks
½ cup of sugar (If you like your ice cream on the sweet side, use 3/4 cup of sugar instead)
3 tbsp of dark rum

For the raisins
½ cup of raisins
½ cup of dark rum (reserve 3 tbsps of rum for ice cream)

1. Combine the raisins and dark rum in a bowl and let the raisins soak overnight.
2. In a medium heatproof bowl, whisk the yolks just to break them up, then whisk in half of the sugar.  Set aside.
3. In a heavy, nonstick saucepan, stir together milk, cream, and remaining sugar.
4. Put the pan over medium-high heat and let the mixture boil gently to bubbling just around the edges (gentle simmer).  Reduce the heat to low.
5. Carefully measure out ½ cup of hot cream mixture.  While whisking the eggs constantly, whisk the hot cream mixture into the eggs until smooth.  Continue tempering the eggs by adding another ½ cup of hot cream to the bowl with the  yolks.
6. Pour the cream-egg mixture back to the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly until it thickens and coats the back of a spatula. 
7. Strain the base through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean container.
8. Stir in the rum soaked raisins and 3 tbsps of rum.
9. Pour the mixture into a 1-gallon Ziplock freezer bag and submerge the sealed bag in an ice bath until cold, about 30 minutes.  Refrigerate the ice cream base for at least 4 hours or overnight.
10. Pour the ice cream base into the frozen canister of your ice cream machine and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

11. Spin until thick and creamy, about 25-30 minutes.

12. Pack the ice cream into a storage container, press a sheet of parchment directly against the surface and seal with an airtight lid.  Freeze in the coldest part of your freezer until firm, at least 4 hours.

Cook’s note: 
-When you’re cooking the egg yolk-cream mixture, keep the heat low to avoid scrambling your ice cream base.
-I like to chill my ice cream base overnight to let the flavor fully develop.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Cookbook Review: Seven Spoons My Favorite Recipes for Any and Every Day!important;%20margin:0px%20!important;%22%20/%3E

I have been a follower of Tara O’Brady’s blog since its beginning and couldn’t be more excited to try the recipes from Seven Spoons. After perusing the book several times, I decided to make the ones that seem the most interesting and/or delicious. Honestly, I was sold at Vietnamese coffee ice cream. Vietnamese coffee and ice cream are two of the few things that we can’t live without so it was a no brainer. After 2 hours of prepping/cooking and overnight freezing, the ice cream debuted the next day and became an instant hit. I have made Vietnamese coffee ice cream many times but Tara’s addition of caramel brought it to another level. This recipe will be added to our arsenal of ice cream favorites.

The avocado toast was an easy and tasty breakfast item especially when my day begins at 5 AM with no time to make our usual noodles, eggs, or oatmeal. I skipped the sprouts and didn't think I missed anything.  And the bostocks! Where do I even begin? Bostocks are brioche slices soaked in orange syrup, slathered in almond cream, and baked until the edges are crispy and caramelized but the center becomes custardy. They were amazing and reminded us of almond croissants. Forget about making almond croissants! Bostocks are way easier to make and taste just as delicious any time of the day. I’m contemplating playing with different syrups to see how they pair with the almond cream.

Last but not least, the moussaka was better than I expected. I have been using chef Gordon Ramsay’s moussaka recipe from World Kitchen for years so it was time to try something different. Tara’s recipe was spot on and more flavorful than chef Ramsay’s recipe and just as good as the moussaka from our favorite Greek restaurant. Her judicious use of spices and seasoning created a more complex moussaka.  Another winner!

Overall, Seven Spoons is a great cookbook with solid recipes. I love the global influence reflected in the dishes that Tara chose to feature in this cookbook--from her Indian heritage, husband’s Irish and British roots, Canadian upbringing, Middle Eastern flavors, and so much more. Her style of cooking and philosophy resonate with mine and I can’t wait to try other recipes from Seven Spoons.

*I received this book to review complementary of the publisher

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Cookbook Review: Franklin Barbecue a Meat-Smoking Manifesto!important;%20margin:0px%20!important;%22%20/%3E

Franklin Barbeque is one of those cookbooks I have been anxiously waiting for since I first heard about its publication.  Our friends in Texas said that Franklin BBQ opens at 11 AM but people usually line up at 9 AM and everything is sold out by noon.  They vouched that Franklin BBQ is the best so we wanted to see if it lives up to its reputation.  

Unlike other BBQ books that are broken down into the different types of meat, Franklin organized his book in a way to teach you the concepts and technicalities for making the best Texas BBQ.  Franklin started the book off with Franklin BBQ’s humble beginning or rather Franklin’s journey of enjoying BBQ as a hobby at the time he met his wife, to his first BBQ job at John Mueller chopping cabbage, onion and cutting brisket for customers, and long road to opening his own BBQ joint.  I love his stories, DYI spirit, Craigslist prowling skill, willingness to get his hands dirty, and unwavering drive to make his dream a reality.  His success is truly reflective of one’s grit and passion to make the American dream come true.

Chapter two goes into the the nitty gritty of building your own smoker should you choose to.  He teaches the readers how to build an offset smoker vs an upright drum smoker but he also included many useful tips for buying a smoker if you’re not in the DYI camp.  In chapter 3, Franklin talked about the different types of wood, getting down to a molecular level which made the nerd in me smile, to provide the readers with the tools to bring out the best flavor of meat they’re smoking.  With the remaining chapters, Franklin teaches the readers how to start and observe a fire, choosing the best meat to BBQ, as well as making the different dry rubs, sauces, and side dishes.

We have only tried the ribs and the beans, and they turned out really good.  Mind blowing ribs?  Not quite, then again we are not smoking experts.  We would love to eat at Franklin BBQ in the future just to compare the book’s recipes to the real deal.  If you’re looking for a lot of recipes, this book will disappoint you.  Only twelve recipes are included in this book which cover dry rubs, meats like brisket, pork ribs, beef ribs, turkey breast, and a few side dishes.  If you’re willing to read the book from cover to cover, take really good notes, and pay attention to all the detail when you’re prepping and cooking meat, you’ll be well on your way to making darn good BBQ right in your backyard.  

In a way, this book reminds me of Relae and chef Christian Puglisi’s philosophy to teach concepts and techniques with the hope of inspiring people to explore and to transform the ingredients rather than restricting people to the written recipes.  As Franklin quoted, "I would like somebody to take away from it the fact that they don't need recipes... It's all about the craft."  Franklin Barbeque is really a meat smoking manifesto that explains why wood, fire, smoke, and meat work together the way they do.  We still can’t believe he put all of his insight and secrets into those pages.  Many good cookbooks exist but truly exceptional ones are rare.  This is one of those exceptional ones given how much depth and attention to detail Franklin brought to this book.  Franklin Barbeque is truly a masterpiece from from the country’s most celebrated pitmaster. 

*I received this book to review complementary of the publisher