14 May 2022

A Kitchen Miscellany (Weekend Cooking)

Happy Saturday! In today's Weekend Cooking post, I talk about two books and a some delicious bread. Let's start with the bread.

Photo of a box of baked goodsLast month, the company Wildgrain reached out to me to see if I wanted a review box of their artisan sourdough breads and pasta. I did a little research, and saw nothing but positive reviews about Wildgrain's products and services. Now that I've worked with the company and baked their breads, I couldn't agree more.

Here's how their delivery subscription works. For $89 a month (which includes shipping), you receive a box of frozen goodies. A typical box includes three loaves of sourdough bread, two packages of hand-cut pasta, a bag of sourdough rolls, and a bag of croissants. Everything arrives frozen, ready for the freezer. The products are non-GMO and vegetarian, use unbleached flour, and contain no artificial colors.

photo of a sourdough bread loafMy box contained a plain sourdough loaf, a sourdough sesame seed loaf, a sourdough cranberry pecan loaf, fresh fettuccine, fresh tonnarelli, chocolate croissants, and sourdough rolls. One of the really great things about the Wildgrain products is that you bake directly from the freezer. No thawing required. You simply preheat the oven as directed, place the bread directly on the oven rack (croissants go on sheet pan) and wait about 25 minutes for the magic to happen. The hardest part of baking Wildgrain bread is letting it sit for 10-15 minutes so it can cool a bit and finish baking. The bread smells sooooo good, you want to eat it immediately. Okay, so I confess, we did eat the rolls pretty much right away.

photo of chocolate croissantsThe breads and rolls are everything you want from a sourdough: crusty crust with a tangy soft interior (see my photo). The chocolate croissants (see my photo) were to die for. Seriously good and not overly sweet. Both pastas cooked quickly and were every bit as delicious as any fresh pasta I've had.

When I did a price comparison with local artisan bakeries and vendors at our farmer's markets, I found the cost for Wildgrain to be competitive both for the sourdough bread and fresh pasta. The advantage of a Wildgrain subscription is that you have the breads on hand for spontaneous baking.

I noticed on the Wildgrain website that they're currently running a special (free extra croissants for life) for people who subscribe by the end of May. Note that I get no commission if you subscribe. I did get my box for free, but my thoughts are completely honest. We loved our Wildgrain products and also loved the convenience of home delivery and knowing we could have fresh bread, even when I didn't feel like baking myself.

For more information visit the Wildgrain website and read their FAQ. Thanks again to Wildgrain for the opportunity to try their products.

book cover of Good Eats: The Final Years by Alton BrownNext, I want to alert you to Alton Brown's new cookbook: Good Eats: The Final Years. (Thanks to Abrams for sending me the review copy.) I loved Brown's Food Network shows Good Eats and the spin-off shows subtitled "Reloaded" and "The Return." This cookbook is very much an offspring of the television series, with each chapter linked to a specific Reloaded or Return episode.

As you would expect from Alton Brown, the Good Eats cookbook covers practical advice (like how to spatchcock a chicken), food history (all about dates), food science (how milk fat foams), and so much more. The book is amply illustrated with photos from the television set, drawings, step-by-step photos of techniques, and the like.

There is an incredible amount of information in this 400+-page cookbook. I'll turn to Good Eats: The Final Years for answers to my culinary questions and to revisit the special zaniness that Brown brings to his kitchen lessons. I haven't yet cooked from this book, but I want to point out some things of interest. Good Eats includes a recipe for a Gluten-Free Flour Mix (see below), a thorough section on immersion cooking (kind of like, but not really, sous vide), a chapter on sourdough, and a chapter on rediscovered grains (like chia, quinoa, and amaranth).

Alton Brown's Good Eats: The Final Years is recommended for fans of Alton Brown and anyone interested in the nitty-gritty of culinary techniques.

book cover of Home Ec for Everyone by Sharon and David BowersFinally, I've been enjoying Sharon and David Bower's Home Ec for Everyone: Practical Life Skills in 118 Projects, which I received as a member of the Workman Ambassador program. When I was in junior high and high school, girls took home ec and boys took shop. At my school, home ec focused on cooking and sewing and not too much on the other adulting skills. Home Ec for Everyone provides a more well-rounded approach to general life skills.

Each short section of the book explains a specific skill or a useful household bit of knowledge, complete with charming drawings by Sophia Nicolay (see the cover). For example, in the kitchen chapter, you'll find information on equipment and appliances, on basic cooking skills, on how to properly prepare and store food, and even cleaning advice. The laundry chapter includes a chart for deciphering laundry labels in clothing and helps you figure out whether your "dry clean only" shirt can actually be thrown in the washing machine. Besides recipes, activities include simple sewing projects, how to remove stains, how to make a household budget, how to make a household first aid kit, and how to fix a broken zipper.

Whether you're an experienced domestic god or goddess or you're new to taking care of yourself and your living quarters, Home Ec for Everyone deserves a place on your bookshelf. It's a great resource to have on hand next time you have to hem something or need to launder a down comforter or your curtains. I have to note, however, that in the 21st century, much of the information in Sharon and David Bowers's Home Ec for Everyone can be found via a quick internet search. Still, I like the idea of having a basic print resource.

Now for the promised recipe. According to Alton Brown, the following mix is for cookies and "cookie-like baked goods." This is not for bread. This mix will last 6 months in an airtight container. Brown, of course, encourages you to weigh the ingredients instead of using volume measures.

Gluten-Free Flour Mix
Makes about 7 1/2 cups (1000 g)

  • 250 grams (1 3/4 cups plus 1 1/2 teaspoons brown rice flour
  • 250 grams (1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons) white rice flour
  • 150 grams (1 1/4 cups plus 2 teaspoons) tapioca flour or starch
  • 150 grams (1 cup plus 1 tablespoon) cornstarch
  • 100 grams (1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon and 1/2 teaspoon) potato starch
  • 90 grams (1 cup) nonfat dry milk powder
  • 10 grams (1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon) xanthan gum
Combine all of the ingredients in a large airtight container.

Note: The recipe is used in the context of a review; all rights remain with the original copyright holders. The photos of the breads are my own.

Shared with Weekend Cooking, hosted by Marg at The Intrepid Reader (and Baker)

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07 May 2022

Gullah Geechee Home Cooking by Emily Meggett

Book cover of Gullah Geechee Home Cooking by Emily MeggettHappy Saturday, my friends. I've been absent for the past couple of weeks and wanted to let you know we're fine. We were busy, and I didn't have time to do much interesting cooking to share with you.

Today I want to talk about a special cookbook I received from Abrams because I'm a member of their Abrams Dinner Party review group. Emily Meggett's Gullah Geechee Home Cooking cookbook is a collection of the author's everyday recipes. These dishes not only are often found in Meggett's kitchen but also grace the tables of her neighbors on Edisto Island, South Carolina.

What's more, these foods would likely be familiar to Meggett's ancestors who, despite the odds, preserved many aspects of their African heritage, including farming, crafts, music, and cooking. The Gullah Geechee people share an African creole language that allowed enslaved peoples from diverse homelands to communicate with each other.

I'm pleased to say that the editors of Gullah Geechee Home Cooking wisely preserved Meggett's voice. When I was reading the many stories and informative pieces in the book, I could imagine Meggett was in the room talking to me directly. This added so much to the experience of using this cookbook and helped further one of Meggett's goals:

I hope my book, and these recipes, invite you into our culture, our history, and our present. Through my cooking, I hope you enjoy the best of the South and appreciate the Gullah Geechee influences that have made this region what it is today.
Sliced Banana Bread from Gullah Geechee Home Cooking by Emily MeggettWhen I first opened Gullah Geechee Home Cooking, I was surprised to find so many common recipes, such as crab cakes, slaw, and fried green tomatoes. But after I read the introductory chapters, read some of Meggett's stories, and learned her approach to cooking and ingredients, I couldn't wait to try her versions of dishes I have made often. Many of her recipes have a unique ingredient or come with advice for how to tweak the consistency or spices. Though I've made countless banana breads in my time, the loaves I made following Meggett's recipe were close to the best I've baked (see photo).

I liked the addition of grated bell pepper in the meaty filling for her Stuffed Bell Peppers and the use of two different Cheddars in her Pimento Cheese. Other recipes I tried were Meggett's Creole Shrimp and her version of cornbread. I have more recipes marked to try, including her no-milk Sour Cream Cake and her version of Macaroni and Cheese, which calls for evaporated milk.

It's true that you may already have recipes for a number of the dishes in Gullah Geechee Home Cooking; however, Meggett's versions are well worth trying. Plus she also shares some of her signature dishes, such as Stuffed Fish with Parsley Rice and Roe. I had amazing success with every recipe I tried, but the real beauty and worth of this cookbook is learning about a strong, interesting woman; a beautiful island; and the Gullah Geechee culture. This is a cookbook that's just as important to read as it is to cook from.

Scan of Chicken Perloo from Gullah Geechee Home Cooking by Emily MeggettI recommend Emily Meggett's Gullah Geechee Home Cooking to anyone who wants to help preserve a peoples' heritage and to promote Black cooks and Black American history. This cookbook would make a great gift for new cooks moving into their first apartment or for anyone who would like a reliable source for everyday cooking that will help them nourish the souls of friends and family. Note that vegans and vegetarians may not find a ton of recipes, but I encourage them to check this cookbook out of the library so they can read about Meggett, her family, and her background.

The recipe I'm sharing is for Emily Meggett's Pink Sauce, which is an Edisto Island favorite. The author suggests serving the sauce with "most seafood and fried vegetables," but I also suggest you give it a try on roasted veggies, spooned over hard-boiled eggs, and even with avocados. Enjoy.

Pink Sauce
Makes about 1 1/2 cups (360 ml)

  • 1 small onion, grated
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup (115 g) mayonnaise
  • 1/3 cup (75 ml) ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
In a large bowl, mix all of the ingredients together.

Note: The recipe and scans are used in the context of a review; all rights remain with the original copyright holders. The photo is my own.

Shared with Weekend Cooking, hosted by Marg at The Intrepid Reader (and Baker)

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16 April 2022

Weekend Cooking: The Forest Feast Road Trip by Erin Gleeson

Book cover for The Forest Feast Road Trip by Erin GleesonA few years ago, I discovered Erin Gleeson and her Forest Feast cookbooks and website when I received her Mediterranean cookbook via the Abrams Dinner Party. This year, Gleeson has a new cookbook: The Forest Feast Road Trip, which was, as the subtitle says, inspired by her travels through her home state of California. Thank you to Abrams for the review copy.

Of course, The Forest Feast Road Trip is full of fantastic, easy-to-make recipes for vegetarians and vegans, but it also features gorgeous photos of California, such as poppy fields, vineyards, the beach, holiday houses, and farmer's markets. The book closes with resources for easy road trips and places to visit.

While I've marked some future vacation destinations, my current interest is on the recipes. As you know, we eat meat in the BFR household. But because close to half our dinners are vegetarian, I was excited to find fresh ideas in The Forest Feast Road Trip. One of things I really love about Gleeson's books is the way she marries art, photography, and recipes. See the following scan (click to enlarge, if needed) for a good example of how beautiful this cookbook is.

Recipe and photo of corn salad from The Forest Feast Road Trip by Erin Gleeson

Most of the recipes in The Forest Feast Road Trip are based on fresh vegetables with clean, bright flavors. That said, it's important to note that Gleeson also incorporates pre-prepped ingredients when it makes sense, such as canned beans and jarred sauces. Another thing I appreciate about her recipes is that she often gives variations on a theme or makes recommendations for substitutions. For example, one recipe calls for a local goat cheese, but the recipe introduction tells us we can substitute blue cheese or feta in her lovely beet and greens salad.

A pan of vegetarian enchiladasI've made quite a few dishes from this book. One of the most surprising was the mushroom, black bean, and walnut enchiladas (see the photo to the right). The enchiladas were outstanding, and I think I'm going to have to add walnuts to my enchiladas--vegetarian or meat--in the future.

I also really liked her pita tostados, which uses pita bread as the base for a variation on the traditional Mexican dish. Her recipe calls for canned refried black beans as the first layer with a variety of familiar ingredients on top (avocado, Mexican crema, cilantro, etc.). This recipe also comes with a Mediterranean variation: pita toppings include babaganoush, hummus, feta, and chickpeas. Such a great idea and so easy to put together.

Other recipes we tried (and liked) were a chickpea curry stew, veggie calzones, and sweet potato and black bean salad. We had the stew and calzones for dinner and ate the salad for our lunches.

Muffins on a decorative plate; one muffin cut openI also baked her quick blender muffins (see the photo to the left). The main batter consists of eggs, bananas, and oats. You can then put in fruits and/or vegetables to your liking or you can try one of Gleeson's three variations. I made the carrot raisin muffins  per her suggestion. The texture was perfect and, despite the maple syrup and golden raisin, they were not too sweet.

Finally, I made her shortbread, which also had three variations. I couldn't resist trying the brown butter version. We loved the flavor, though the texture (due to the melted butter) wasn't quite what we were used to.

Recommendation: If you can't tell, I love Erin Gleeson's The Forest Feast Road Trip. The recipes are easy, pretty, and tasty. This book is perfect for anyone who enjoys vegetarian and vegan dinners and is looking for new ideas.

For a sample recipe from The Forest Feast Road Trip, either click through to the Forest Feast website or enlarge the scan above for a vegan salad. If you want to make the corn salad, you'll need the recipe for the tahini dressing:
Whisk together 1/4 cup (60 ml) tahini, 1/4 cup (60 ml) olive oil, 3 tablespoons lemon juice (about 1 lemon), 2 teaspoons agave, 1 grated garlic clove, water to thin (add 1 teaspoon at a time for desired consistency).
Note: The scan and recipe are used in the context of a review; all rights remain with the original copyright holders. The photos are mine.

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09 April 2022

Weekend Cooking: 3 Books for Young Chefs

Are you lucky enough to have young companions in your kitchen? If so, here are three books you can share with them. Though all are geared to kids, adults and teens will enjoy reading these books too. Thanks to the publishers for the review copies.

Book cover of What's Cooking in Flowerville? by Felicita SalaWhat's Cooking in Flowerville? by Felicita Sala (Prestel Junior, April 5) is a gorgeous book that takes cooks and gardeners through the course of a year, with one painting and one recipe featuring a seasonal food item for each month. The book starts in the spring with asparagus and a yummy quiche recipe (see scan; click to enlarge). Other months feature pears, cucumbers (with tzatziki), cherries, squash, and herbs (with lemony bean dip).

Though youngsters may need help making the recipes, the dishes are all easy to put together and include steps even the youngest can accomplish, like stirring and adding in ingredients.

The paintings in What's Cooking in Flowerville? show a diverse group of people in terms of both skin color and age and depict the joys of being in nature and growing and harvesting one's own food. The gardens themselves are also diverse; we see balcony trellises, indoor potted herbs, rooftop gardens, backyard fruit trees, and a community pumpkin patch.

Book page from What's Cooking in Flowerville by Felicita Sala

The book ends with tips for gardening, harvesting, recycling, and sharing as well as illustrations of seeds, garden tools, and beautiful fruits and vegetables.

What's Cooking in Flowerville? by Felicita Sala is a delight for people of all ages and a great companion to Sala's earlier book, What's Cooking at 10 Garden Street?, which I reviewed a couple of years ago.

Book cover of Olaf Hajek's Fantastic Fruits with text by Annette RoederNext is another beautifully illustrated book featuring food. Olaf Hajek's Fantastic Fruits, illustrated by Hajek with text by Annette Roeder (Prestel Junior, April 5) is a stunning book that reveals some of the secrets of our favorite foods.

Each two-page spread features a single fruit (see scan). On the left we learn all kinds of interesting facts about the fruit, such as its origins, its growing conditions, and/or how to eat it. Here are few things I learned:
  • Some mangoes are called "smelly."
  • There are more than 1,000 different kinds of strawberries.
  • Melons are closely related to zucchini.
  • Peaches have been cultivated since about 6000 BCE.
In addition to this kind of information, Roeder also tells us at least one myth, fable, or legend relating to the fruit. We learn a Hungarian fairy tale about a girl who loved currants, that St. Barbara's Day is celebrated with cherry sprigs, and a Vietnamese story about how a watermelon united a king with his children.

Pages from Olaf Hajek's Fantastic Fruits with text by Annette Roeder

Each fruit profile is accompanied by one of Hajek's paintings. The illustrations are richly colored and enhance the text. If you look carefully, you'll find hints for how to eat or grow the fruit as well as a nod or two to the featured tale or story.

Olaf Hajek's and Annette Roeder's Fantastic Fruits begs to be shared with readers young and old.

Book cover for The Recipe-A-Day Kids Cookbook by the Food Network MagazineThe final book is from The Food Magazine: The Recipe-A-Day Kids Cookbook (Hearst Home Kids, April 5). This fun cookbook, for children aged 8 to 12, provides 365 dated recipes to inspire young chefs throughout the year. You can get an idea of some the dishes by looking at the pictures on the book cover.

A number of the recipes are linked to a specific holiday or special day--like ruler cookies for Teacher Appreciation Week and Coconut Rice and Peas for Puerto Rico Constitution Day. Others are simply seasonal--like Banana Caramel S'mores in July and Microwave Apple Crisp in September.

Most of the recipes in Recipe-A-Day Kids Cookbook are for snacks and desserts, though you'll find some fun drinks and salads and even a pizza recipe. The instructions run the gamut from as easy as flavoring popcorn or decorating store-bought doughnuts to a full-fledged soup recipe and from-scratch mini pineapple upside down cakes. The majority of the recipes will catch kids' attention, and the range of difficulty will help you match the right recipes for your young cooks.

A book page from The Recipe-A-Day Kids Cookbook by the Food Network MagazineThe Recipe-A-Day Kids Cookbook isn't just for kids. A number of the recipes will appeal to the whole family. I plan on trying several, such as the breakfast sliders (egg sandwiches), the peach Melba milkshake, the puff pastry tart with berries, and the miniature pimiento cheese balls.

The only way to tell if The Food Magazine's Recipe-A-Day Kids Cookbook is right for your family is to look through it. Note that while a number of international celebrations are included (like Brazilian Independence Day), the book is founded on U.S. holidays and the major Jewish and Christian holidays. (See the scan for three days in April.)

Note: The scans used in the context of a review; all rights remain with the original copyright holders. Any quality issue is on me.

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26 March 2022

Weekend Cooking: Salad Freak by Jess Damuck

book cover of Salad Freak by Jess DamuckI'm so thrilled that the spring and summer cookbooks are starting to hit the bookshelves . . . and my doorstep. Thanks to Abrams Books and the Abrams Dinner Party for a copy of the cookbook I'm talking about today.

Salad Freak, which comes out next Tuesday, is an entire cookbook of delicious and unique salads. It's written by Jess Damuck, who after attending the French Culinary Institute went on to cook for Martha Stewart for more than a decade. Damuck perfected many of the recipes found in this book during those years.

We eat a lot of salads in the BFR household, often at lunch and almost always as a side dish to dinner. I usually put together a fairly typical salad, such as tossed, wedge, pasta, chopped, nicoise, or caprese. However, once I started looking through Salad Freak, I was inspired to broaden my horizons, especially because the cookbook is full of beautiful photographs of delicious-looking dishes.

Most of my readers are experienced cooks, but younger or less confident cooks will want to pay attention to the beginning chapters, which give advice on pantry items and equipment and how to shop for, wash, and store fresh produce. All of us will appreciate Damuck's playlist of "music to make salads by," which can be downloaded from Spotify.

A serving dish with a composed salad from Salad Freak by Jess DamuckThe recipes in Salad Freak are arranged by season and highlight fruits and vegetables during their peak times. Two from the winter chapter are the Caesar Brussels sprouts salad with walnuts and the shaved fennel and tuna salad with a lemony vinaigrette. Spring features a carrot salad with a mustard dressing (see recipe below) and an asparagus, peas, and cucumber salad (see my photo).

Summer includes a BLT potato salad as well as a cantaloupe-cucumber salad with a minty-lime dressing. Finally, the fall chapter provides recipes for a celery and grape salad with smoked almonds (see my photo) and a riff on a Waldorf salad. The final chapter contains recipes for spice mixes, dressings, and the like.

I also made the lamb meatball salad (no photo), which was delicious. The meatballs were so good that I plan to make them again for other dishes too. I have a bean and farro salad on the menu for tonight.

This is a cookbook I didn't know I needed until I started cooking from it, and I can't wait to make the many recipes I have flagged to try. I think I've become a bit of salad freak myself.

Note that most of the salads will fit a vegetarian diet and many will work for vegans, though a few do contain meat or fish. Most of the finished dishes are gluten-free as well. For each recipe, Damuck includes the inspiration behind each dish and often provides tips for meal pairings, preparing, and serving.

a composed salad from Salad Freak by Jess DamuckI can't end this review without talking about two aspects of Salad Freak I wish were different. First, as discussed in the introduction of the cookbook, Damuck assumes you'll be serving the salads almost immediately, so there are no make-ahead or storage tips (or none that I noticed). I'm the primary cook in my house and so prefer to make my side salads ahead of time. I didn't have any trouble figuring out how to balance finishing the salad with finishing up the main dish, but some cooks might.

The other issue has to do with the way the ingredients are presented. Instead being listed in the order needed (the cookbook industry standard), the ingredients are separated into sections labeled produce, dairy, meat, and pantry. The recipe directions indicate how to prepare or cut the produce and other ingredients. I'm a mise en place kind of cook, so I'm not a big fan of this recipe format--though I easily adapted.

The good news is that every recipe in Salad Freak either I or the other Abrams Dinner Party members made was a huge success. The salads were both beautiful and delicious. I wouldn't let the unconventional ingredient list prevent you from giving Salad Freak by Jess Damuck a try.

The recipe I'm sharing is for the carrot salad, which I served with BBQ ribs. The salad was delicious right away and again the next day at lunch. Note that Damuck suggests cutting the carrots with a julienne peeler, but I used the julienne disk in my food processor.

Carrots for Lauryn
photo of carrot salad from Salad Freak by Jess Damuckserves 2 to 4 as a side

  • Produce
  • 1 lemon
  • 4 medium to large carrots
  • 1 handful fresh parsley
  • Pantry
  • 2 tablespoons grainy mustard
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Make the lemon and mustard vinaigrette: In a large bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons mustard, 1/4 cup (60 ml) oil, and the zest and juice of 1 lemon. Season with salt and pepper.

Prep, assemble, and serve: Peel and julienne 4 carrots and add to the bowl with the dressing. Roughly chop 1 handful of parsley and add to the bowl. Season to taste and toss to combine. You're done; that's it. Really.

Note: The recipe is used in the context of a review; all rights remain with the original copyright holders. The photos are my own.

Shared with Weekend Cooking, hosted by Marg at The Intrepid Reader (and Baker)

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All content and photos (except where noted) copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads 2008-2020. All rights reserved.

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