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. 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. 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 root, 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 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Passion fruit mango and mint lassi

I haven’t been out in the garden for a few weeks and was really surprised at how well the herbs and passion fruit vines are doing.  The mint has overgrown the garden box even though we’re only a few weeks into spring.  The passion fruit vines made it through winter with lots of fruits ready to be picked, over 10 pounds to be exact!  We made lots of drinks and smoothies using mint and passion fruit. 

Passion fruit, mango, and mint lassi is one of our favorite smoothies.  Lassi is a popular yogurt-based drink from India and Pakistan.  It can either be savory or sweet, but we prefer the latter.  This lassi is incredibly refreshing, especially during a hot day.  Both the passion fruit and mint give this sweet drink a kick and it totally hits the spot when you’re craving for something sweet.  We’ll often whip up this lassi as a way to end a heavy meal instead of indulging in sugary desserts.

Passion fruit mango and mint lassi
2 cups of Champagne mangos, flesh only
2-3 passion fruits, pulp only (reserve seeds for serving)
¼ cup of yogurt
¼ cup of coconut milk
6 mint leaves
a handful of ice cubes
1 tbsp honey (optional)

1. Combine all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
2. Taste for sweetness and add honey if needed.  Divide between two glasses.  Add the passion fruit seeds on top and serve immediately.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Giveaway: My New Roots by Sarah Britton!important;%20margin:0px%20!important;%22%20/%3E

The really nice folks over at Random House gave us an extra copy of My New Roots: Inspired Plant-based Recipes for Every Season by Sarah Britton to give to one of our lucky readers.  To enter, please leave a comment below and let us know your favorite plant-based dish.  The winner will be selected at random.  Comments will close on Friday, May 1st at 9 P.M. Pacific. US residents only please :)

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Cookbook Review: My New Roots Inspired Plant-Based Recipes for Every Season!important;%20margin:0px%20!important;%22%20/%3E

Having not known about Sarah Britton’s blog prior to getting My New Roots, I dove into this book without any preconceived notions. I loved the way she opened the book with how a yellow, pear shaped tomato changed her life. She described her experience as, “When I put the fruit in my mouth, I immediately noticed the softness and delicacy of its skin. But then I pressed it against the roof of my mouth with my tongue, and it burst into a universe of flavor quite unlike anything I ever experienced before. it was bright, fresh, grassy, sweet, and overflowing with juice. The tomato tasted off all the things that had made it--the sun, the rain, the soil, the hands that tended it.” That very moment made her realize that she is connected to what she eats and led her to a year long food immersion experience on an organic farm where she worked the land and ate what she grew. I also enjoyed reading about her experience in Copenhagen as a cook and how her blog came to be.

After the short introduction, My New Roots has a quick section for essential techniques with useful information on how to cook legumes and grains, making ghee, nut and seed milks, nut and seed butter, and growing your own sprouts. Our family loves breakfast so we tried some of the morning recipes first. The strawberry coconut milkshake, raspberry breeze smoothie, and dark chocolate cherry overnight oats were delicious. I will probably use one tablespoon of chia seeds instead of two for the overnight oats since they soaked up too much of the milk and the consistency was too thick for our liking. We also tried the “life-changing loaf of bread” given its interesting name and how popular it seems. In the end it was a flop for us. Bread might have been the wrong name for this recipe. Granola bar might have been more appropriate. It was too seedy and didn’t have the texture that we would expect from a bread. Chad Robertson from Tartine bakery would probably agree with me on this one. We also tried the strawberry chamomile no-churn frozen yogurt and it was really easy to make and quite refreshing. I skipped the chamomile since we didn’t have any at our disposal. We’ll make it again with the chamomile to see how differently it would taste.  My favorite salad was the roasted butternut squash with grilled halloumi and dukkah on massaged kale. The flavor profile of the salad was spot on, and it’s on rotation with some of my favorite salads for lunch.

Some of the recipes that I’m looking forward to making are the apricot rhubarb clafoutis, ginger ale, pina colada passion fruit popsicles, raw cashew yogurt, fig and buckwheat breakfast tart, upside-down plum cake, banoffee pie, and blood orange chocolate cake.

I initially got this book to get more ideas for planted based breakfast and lunch recipes. What took me by surprise is the number of plant based desserts that I want to try from this book. At least they’re healthier desserts, right? Overall, we liked most of the recipes that we tried so far and look forward to cooking more from My New Roots.

*I received this book to review complementary of the publisher

By the way, did you enter our current giveaway for this book?  Head over to this post and leave a comment for a chance to win this lovely book!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Vietnamese shaking beef or thit bo luc lac

Growing up in Vietnam, the only beef I remember eating was from pho.  Other than that, luxurious beef dishes like shaking beef (thit bo luc lac) were reserved for the rich since quality cuts of beef were quite expensive in the post Vietnam war era.  Back then I doubt Vietnamese people even knew what wagyu is.  It wasn’t until we moved to the US that my mom began cooking thit bo luc lac for us given its affordability.  

To this day, thit bo luc lac is one of my favorite beef dishes.  The term “luc lac” stands for the movement of the beef or “shaking” as they are quickly seared in the wok.  So no you don’t get dancing beef or quivering beef when the dish arrives at your dinner table.  Many Vietnamese restaurants serve thit bo luc lac with sauteed onions, lettuce, tomato, and red rice or on a bed of watercress.  I prefer the latter because watercress with its peppery and refreshing taste lends a nice contrast to the deeply flavored beef.  For those who are willing to shell out money for filet mignon, you will get super succulent and flavorful thit bo luc lac.  I usually stick to sirloin and it stills turn out quite tender and delicious.  Whatever way you like your shaking beef, enjoy!     

Thit bo luc lac (Vietnamese shaking beef)
1 lb of beef (sirloin cut), cut into ½ inch cubes
1 tbsp soy sauce (Maggie brand)
3 tbsp oyster sauce (Lee Kum Kee brand)
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp water
1 tbsp sugar
½ tsp freshly ground pepper
4 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 cup of red onions, thinly sliced
1 bunch of watercress, washed and cleaned with tough stems removed

Dipping sauce
2 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 tbsp fresh lime juice

1. In a mixing bowl, whisk together soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, water, and sugar until well combined.
2. Add the cubed beef and pepper to the marinade.  Toss to combine and let stand in refrigerator for an hour.  (If you’re hungry and can’t wait, 30 minutes will suffice.)
3. When ready to cook, heat a wok over high heat.  Add two tablespoons of olive oil around the top of the wok, letting it run down the side and into the middle of the wok.  Add half of the beef to the wok in a single layer and sear for 3 minutes.  Shake and toss the beef in the wok and cook for another minute or two. The beef should be seared on all sides.  Transfer to a plate and keep warm.
4. Add the rest of olive oil and repeat with the remaining beef.  
5. While the wok is still hot, add the garlic and onion and continue to stir fry until fragrant and tender, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and onion to the beef and toss to combine.
6. When ready to serve, arrange the watercress on a plate and top with the beef.
7. For the dipping sauce, stir together salt, pepper, and lime juice.
8. Serve the shaking beef with dipping sauce and rice. 

Cook’s note: cook the beef to your liking but try not to overcook the meat.  Medium-rare should take 3-5 minutes.  You also don’t need to dress the watercress because the sauce from the beef already adds so much flavor to the dish.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Cookbook Review: Mastering Pasta The Art and Practice of Handmade Pasta, Gnocchi, and Risotto

<a href="">Mastering Pasta: The Art and Practice of Handmade Pasta, Gnocchi, and Risotto</a><img src="" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" />

Having not know who Marc Vetri is (one of the best pasta chefs on the planet), I am completely smitten with this book.  To my surprise, I found Mastering Pasta captivating from the first page when he shared his philosophy that pasta and sauce are two entities that become one, like a marriage, and should be treated as such.  I also enjoyed his personal stories of travel and culinary discovery throughout the book and caught myself smiling at his genuine enthusiasm and passion for pasta.

As I read through the different chapters of pasta, gnocchi, and risotto, I was inspired to dust off my hand crank pasta machine as well as all my gadgets to try some of the recipes.  Having made pasta from scratch only a few times, I decided to tackle the easier recipes first.  I wanted to make his potato gnocchi since all of the recipes that I had tried before failed.  They all turned out very gummy and dense.  His potato gnocchi is the best I have had thus far.  They are light and paired perfectly with the short ribs ragu we made instead of the corn crema that the recipe called for.  Chef Vetri gives you the secrets for making the best gnocchi like what type of potato and flour to use and why moisture matters.  I attempted the squash gnocchi with brown butter and crispy sage another day and it took less than 2 hours before we had a delicious dinner ready for my family.  Our other favorite is the spaghetti with tomato and basil sauce since we had both tomatoes and basil from our garden.  It was such a simple dish but the flavor was spot on.  Our toddler ate it two days in a row for lunch and dinner.  The last dish that we made was ricotta ravioli which turned out just as we hoped for!  His philosophy of the pasta dish being a marriage between the pasta and sauce is evident in the recipes that he presented.  

I’m looking forward to making the squid ink linguine with uni and crab since I had a really good dish from chef Richard Blais’ restaurant and would love to compare them.  Other dishes that look interesting are the pappardelle with rabbit ragu, eggplant cannellini, heirloom tomato and burrata lasagna, cocoa fettuccine with venison ragu, and shellfish risotto.  Honestly, all the recipes sound very interesting and I would love to cook them all if someone babysat for me with a nice pasta dinner in exchange.

I have quite a number of pasta books in my collection and can honestly say that he has opened my eyes to a whole new world of pasta.  The book taught me the fundamentals of pasta making but got me even more excited about new flavor combinations--using mint, saffron, parsley, swiss chard, porcini, chestnut, and so much more.  Forget about using "00" flour!  This is the best cookbook I have seen for making pasta from scratch.  Chef Vetri gives easy-to-follow and detailed explanations of how to make fresh handmade pasta for more than thirty different types of pasta.  He also included a lot of useful information like advance preparation, storage notes, and how to make the best sauce.  His recipes are perfect for the home cooks who need flexibility with ingredients and have time limitation as well as the experienced chefs who want to play with the ingredients to create flavorful dishes that are traditional but with a modern twist. 

Both my husband and I are pasta enthusiasts and agreed that unless another life changing book about pasta comes out, we won’t need another pasta book for years to come.  I also love the beautiful photography by Ed Anderson and drool worthy dishes presented throughout Mastering Pasta.  The power of a great cookbook is to inspire, to teach, to transform, and to put us in the mood to cook and Mastering Pasta does exactly that.  This is beyond a pasta masterpiece but a culmination of chef Vetri’s life’s work. 

*I received this book to review complementary of the publisher