Cookbook Review: My New Roots Inspired Plant-Based Recipes for Every Season

Tuesday, March 31, 2015!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!

Vietnamese shaking beef or thit bo luc lac

Monday, March 23, 2015

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.

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

Sunday, March 22, 2015

<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

Banana nut bread

Monday, March 16, 2015

Somehow we accumulated a lot of over ripe bananas this weekend.  I would feel guilty trashing them so they were put to good use in our smoothies and our favorite banana nut bread recipe.   

I love simple recipe so this one is the most loved at our house but it offers so much flexibility.  You can use any nuts you desire or none at all, sprinkle in some chocolate chips, throw in dried fruits like cranberry, or add fresh ones like mango.  Lately, I’ve been using more spelt flour in my baked goods instead of all purpose flour not so much for health reason but to increase the amount of whole grain we consume.   

If baked correctly, it should be moist with a hint of sweetness.  Many years ago, I discovered the secret to retaining moisture in the banana bread by adding cream cheese.  Who would have thought?!   

To me, banana nut bread is comfort food.  You can have a slice for breakfast, add vanilla ice cream for a dessert, or eat it as a midnight snack.  Well, whatever way you like your banana nut bread, enjoy!

Banana nut bread
6 oz PHILADELPHIA cream cheese, softened (we used low fat cream cheese instead of full fat)
¼ cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened
2/3 cup light brown sugar (you can also use honey or maple syrup)
2 cups of mashed banana (about 4 medium bananas, mash 3 1/2 bananas and save half a banana for the top)
2 eggs
1 ½ cups spelt flour (you can also substitute with all purpose flour)
2 tsp CALUMET Baking Powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup crushed pecans (you can use any nuts you like)

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Beat cream cheese, butter, and sugar in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until well blended.
3. Add bananas and eggs; mix well.
4. Sift in combined dry ingredients; mix just until moistened.
5. Stir in vanilla extract and pecans.
6. Pour into greased 9x5-inch loaf pan.
7. Slice half of a banana length wise into four pieces and place on top of batter.  Press the banana slices down lightly.  Sprinkle crushed pecans on top.
8. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
9. Cool 5 min before serving.  Store any leftover bread in refrigerator.

Cookbook Review: The Perfect Egg a Fresh Take on Recipes for Morning, Noon, and Night

Saturday, March 7, 2015,%20Noon,%20and%20Night%3C/a%3E%3Cimg%20src=%22!important;%20margin:0px%20!important;%22%20/%3E

I have been a follower of the authors’ blog, Spoon Fork Bacon, since its beginning and was really excited to get The Perfect Egg. Our family eats a lot of eggs so we’re always looking for new recipes. First of all, the photography is beautiful and makes all the dishes look so delicious.

Broken into five sections, this book covers general information about eggs, egg basics such as cooking techniques, and then dives into three chapters of recipes for morning, snacks, and evening.  I never knew there were so many egg techniques and have really enjoyed reading about other methods besides poaching, boiling, and scrambling.  The authors also included many basic recipes for sauces, pasta dough, and breads as well as new dishes that I'm not familiar with like bhurji, khai yat sai, gyeran bbang, gochu jeon, chawanmushi, avgolemono soup, quindim, and foi thong.

Breakfast is one meal that we don’t skip so we gravitated toward the morning recipes. We have only made the blackberry stuffed croissant French toast, buttermilk pancakes, Dutch baby, and cranberry cornmeal cookies.  With some minor adjustments, they have all turned out very good. I did notice that some of the recipes called for extra sugar and butter in places that didn't really need them so we scaled back on those ingredients.  I’m waiting for a long weekend to try the more involved recipes like brioche buns and challah since I don’t have much experience baking bread. Our son's favorite egg dish is chawanmushi (steamed egg custard) so I gave it a try.  It was simple to make and he ate it two days in a row, something unusual for a toddler by the way.  Other recipes that I look forward to making are okonomiyaki, poached yolk-stuffed ravioli, tea eggs, peaches and cream cake, and beignets.

Overall, this book is well-designed with many gorgeous photos, solid recipes and clear instructions to get that delicious result. One picture for each recipe is a big plus for me.  I was happy to see a variety of recipes from different cultures but wish there were more. The Perfect Egg is a comprehensive book for anyone interested in basic egg recipes as well as new egg dishes.

*Some of the dishes that I made from this book are posted on my instagram account if you're interested in how they turned out
*I received this book to review complementary of the publisher

Garlic Noodles with Shrimp

Monday, March 2, 2015

Both Vu and I LOVE garlic.  If possible, Vu would deep fry garlic and munch on them over potato chips.  For me, it would be a good hour before I wash my hands after crushing, peeling, and mincing those cloves.  I love the way that garlic scent lingers on my hands.  That scent is quite intoxicating, a lovely perfume to my olfactory bulb.  For other, the smell is too obnoxious. Call us crazy, but there’s something about garlic that we just can’t get enough of.  So naturally we got super excited when Vu’s sister finally shared her elusive garlic noodles recipe with us.  It is supposed to be as good as Thanh Long’s in San Francisco!  We have made it so many times, tweaking the recipe each time until we got the flavor profile that we loved.  This dish is for the garlic lover!  It is loaded with tons of garlic flavor, bite after bite!  We’re so excited to share this recipe with you.

Garlic noodles with shrimp
1 12-oz box of thin spaghetti (Barilla brand)
2 tbsp olive oil
5 cloves of garlic (about 2 tpsb), minced
6 tbsp unsalted butter
3 tbsp soy sauce (Kikkoman brand)
1 tbsp oyster sauce (Lee Kum Kee brand)
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 ½ tbsp sugar
2 tbsp pasta water
2 tbsp scallions, cut
Freshly ground pepper

Sauteed Shrimp
1 pound of tiger shrimp
1tbsp olive oil
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 tbsp oyster sauce (Lee Kum Kee brand)

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add spaghetti and cook according to package directions, about 10 minutes.  Drain in a colander.
2. In a bowl, prepare garlic sauce by whisking together soy sauce, oyster sauce, garlic powder, sugar, and water.  Set aside.
3. In a large saute pan over medium heat, heat oil.  Add the garlic and saute until fragrant but not browned.  Add butter to pan and let it melt.  Cook until garlic is slightly brown.
4. Add the garlic sauce to the pan and mix together until well combined.
5. Toss the drained spaghetti into the pan and mix with garlic sauce.  Add the scallion and set aside.
6. For the shrimp, in a large saute pan over medium heat, heat olive oil.  Add garlic and saute until fragrant.
7. Add shrimp and saute for 2 minutes.  Then add oyster sauce and simmer until shrimp is cooked through and the flavors have combined, about 5 more minutes.
8. Add the cooked shrimp to garlic noodles and toss until combined.
9. Divide noodles among 4 plates and top with additional scallion and freshly ground pepper.  Serve immediately.