March is a favorite month in the Powell’s offices due to Pi Day! We baked and refrigerated our way through a number of pies. In an odd twist for a group who loves poring over new cookbooks, none of us used specific cookbooks this time around. But that doesn’t mean cookbooks weren’t involved. Anyone who cooks spends their early cooking stages reading and following every step of a recipe. Then, when they learn and understand the basics, they branch out to riff on recipes, switching out ingredients to suit their own tastes. Thanks to all of the cookbooks we’ve had in our lives, we’re able to bring our own styles to our cooking.
Which isn’t to say all who made pies were experienced pie makers. We had a delicious Lemon Cheesecake Pie from a first-time cheesecake maker. We also enjoyed Chocolate Mousse Pie, Roasted Tomato and Ricotta Pie, Frozen Lemonade Pie, and Grilled Cheese Pie.
In March, we also had the opportunity to give back to our local community. In a cooperative donation promotion, Workman Publishing and Powell’s were able to donate almost 150 copies of Good and Cheap
to the Portland Food Project, a donor-driven food-sharing group that operates 19 pantries in the Portland area to help feed people and families in economic hardship.
In other cookbook-related news, March turned out to be a pretty big month for new cookbook releases. We tried to cook from as many of these books as possible, but we were overcome by the volume and had to leave some untested.
Big Flavors from a Small Kitchen
by Chris Honor
Chef Chris Honor owns/runs/cooks the tiny Chriskitch eatery in the Muswell Hill neighborhood of London. The Chriskitch kitchen is so small that it necessitates keeping a small amount of equipment on hand and using a minimal amount of fuss in food preparation. Instead, Chef Honor concentrates on menus that start with a base of umami flavoring, and then he brings in a surprise ingredient as the defining touch. The recipes in Big Flavors from a Small Kitchen
are unusual in that they don’t have fancy names: the recipes are titled by the primary ingredients, such as a salad of Carrot Ginger-Root Orange, or Eggplant Dates Tahini. At first I was a bit taken aback by this austerity, but then I recalled how often I’ve been flummoxed by trying to find a recipe with such a frou-frou name that it was impossible to find in the index. And really, isn’t it more helpful to search by ingredient?
The recipes are clean flavored and yet somehow sumptuous. Chef Honor’s pastaless lasagna will be happening soon in my kitchen (Pumpkin Paneer Pickled-Walnut Grape-Leaves. Grape leaves!). I’m also looking forward to making Potato Egg Cured-Ham Parmesan Garlic Soup. I’m a sucker for soup served in a mug, and this one has a rasher of Parma ham laid teasingly at the top.
I recently had been browsing cake cookbooks for a new birthday cake recipe. But once it came down to committing to a cake recipe, I was overwhelmed by the amount of steps, specialized ingredients, and, most importantly, time. I had other things I wanted to do with my day other than dirty every single bowl in my kitchen and most likely splatter the walls with batter or whipped cream. So it was Big Flavors from a Small Kitchen
to the rescue! I made the Chocolate Butter Sugar Egg Almond Cake. I’ve made many a flourless cake, but none quite like this. This was as intense as you’d expect from a flourless cake, but what floored me, and everybody at the birthday party, was how supremely moist and creamy it was! It turned out to be as much mousse as it was cake. I saved a slice to bring to work so as to share a taste with coworkers. Based on just one bite, one coworker is making it for her next-up birthday party.
Don’t have superfine sugar? Toss the required amount plus a little more in a food processer and blend for 30 seconds. As baking can, and will, be different from oven to oven, I had to bake it longer and hotter than the recipe suggested. And for presentation: instead of using sifted cocoa to try to cover the cracked top as the recipe calls for, I decided to celebrate the crack by leaving it bare and by anchoring some raspberries with lemon curd.
by David Bez
combines two of my favorite food things: breakfast and bowls. Or as the author David Bez puts it: perfect little bowls of quick, healthy breakfasts. A common complaint about cookbooks is not enough pictures. Not so with Breakfast Love
— every recipe is almost ALL color-photo, with each simple recipe laid over the top and to the side. Most recipes are vegetarian, and the non-vegetarian recipes have options for vegans and vegetarians. Each bowl is a balanced meal with fruit/veg and protein. I based a breakfast off the Orange Pear Buckwheat and Walnut recipe. I made the recipe a bit on the fly, and grabbed a side of fruit from a local restaurant while en route to work. If you like following recipes exactly, Bez spells it all out for you. If like to mix and match, then Breakfast Love
is an easy inspiration. I hadn’t made buckwheat before, but now I welcome buckwheat into my breakfast porridge portfolio. I say breakfast because this is a breakfast book, but I often have porridge for lunch.
Do you want an easy and fresh way to make oatmeal or buckwheat porridge? Make it overnight in the fridge. I’ve taken to doing this a couple of days a week. You can do it Portland style in a mason jar! Put your dry porridge in a container, top with your liquid (water, cream, almond milk, whatever you prefer), mix in spices, and salt if this is what you do. You can even top it with fruit at this point. Refrigerate it overnight, and blammo: instant cold porridge in the morning. You can microwave it, but I really like this cool and refreshing, right out of the fridge.
by Blanche Vaughan
I can be skeptical of egg cookbooks. I’m a professional cookbook buyer — it’s my job to view cookbooks critically. Publishers sometimes give us egg-oriented cookbooks that forget to celebrate the starring ingredient. This bugs me. So let me say right out: this is an excellent egg cookbook, and a very stylish one as well. Before you even open the book, it’s a stunner. (It’s not too early to think about Mother’s Day presents.) An artistic depiction of an egg is on the front cover with a die-cut yolk. The edges are a deep, farm-fresh yolky color — not yellow like from the supermarket, but the golden hue of yolks from healthy organic lifestyle-living hens.
This is a very fulfilling cookbook with all the eggy standards (Crepes Suzette; Lemon Curd, Tomato and Gruyere Quiche), plus some surprise entries: Thai-Spiced Scotch Eggs, Kamut Pasta, Squash Gnocchi. In the chapter following egg basics, the first recipe is for Soft-Boiled Egg with Anchovy Toast. The small amount of anchovy on toast gives a nice salty nuance to dip into the richness of the egg. I’m an egg dipper, but not everyone is. For non-dippers, try Mozzarella in Carozza, which translates as “Mozzarella in a Carriage,” whatever that may mean. It is French toast crossed with a grilled cheese sandwich. This turned out to be a satisfying and easy-to-make after-work snack. The recipe suggested white bread, I assume for the ease of squishing the sandwich layers together to keep in the cheese, but I found Dave’s Killer Bread squished up just fine. Egg
is a pretty and thoughtfully put together cookbook.
The next time I make Mozzarella in Carozza, I’ll give a nod of the head to French toast and have a bit of jam to dip the sandwich into. Or maybe I’ll go in the grilled cheese direction with a little tomato sauce.
by Imen McDonnell
Magic tends to happen when Americans move to Europe, mixing our over-the-top tendencies (pancakes as big as your head!) with traditional European styling (would you like clotted cream and jam with your scone?). Farmette
author Imen McDonnell is an American city girl who married an Irish farmer and then became a farmer herself, and her cookbook is filled with traditional recipes with bold American treatments. Her Cream Scones are based on a recipe from the venerated Victorian cookbook Mrs Beeton’s, but with the milk and butter switched out for heavier cream – giving an airier texture. There is nothing traditionally Irish about Fried Chicken, but her fried chicken is the most requested Sunday lunch on their farm (I suppose requested by the ranch hands). Her chicken is brined (yum), and then coated in a flour mixture that includes chickpea flour and a lot of spices. This recipe serves six, so if you don’t have any ranch hands around, this might be a guest night recipe. Tater Tot Shepherd’s Pie… who doesn’t like tater tots?! Our frozen American tots are usually made with unnecessary sugar, so her recipe for making your own tots is a boon. Browned crispy on top of lamb stew, this is a delightful Irish/American combo.
I made the Farmhouse Rice Pudding. Mine came out looking almost exactly like the pictured dish: crusty and jammy. It’s a simple dish that just requires slopping it together, and then some periodic stirring. You can make this dish your own by your choice of jam. Fig and walnut jam went on mine.
has beautiful food and farm photography, with stick-to-your-ribs recipes.
I’m sure using your own handmade evaporated milk makes the Farmhouse Rice Pudding recipe extra tasty; however, fussing over the stove for 2 hours evaporating milk was not something I was interested in doing. I just bought a can of evaporated milk at the store. I understand why she makes her own evaporated milk: farming. When you live in the middle of a cow field, you don’t drive 2 hours to the store to buy milk.
The recipe calls for a total of two hours of baking time, but I’m pretty sure I could have done with just over an hour.
Food with Friends: The Art of Simple Gatherings
by Leela Cyd
Imagine you’ve been invited to an appetizer-style potluck. You know foodie friends will be there. You want to surprise them with a new, fresh-tasting dish, something that you can show off a bit, but only in a gentle way. Food with Friends
is the cookbook for you.
This is a cookbook where you only have to open at random to find a good recipe. Let me do it for you now: First random page: Cotija, Apricot and Rosemary Crisps. Good stuff on lavash. Next page: Chocolate Sandwiches with Caramel and Peanut Butter – this is basically chocolate cake cut into bread-like slices and sandwiched with peanut butter frosting. Last surprise page (I swear, this is random. I’m even closing my eyes while the book falls open): Vegan Hot Chocolate with Coconut Cream. I would make every one of these recipes.
Last night I needed something I could make quickly. Nothing fancy, just something to munch on while watching Project Runway with a friend. The Warmed Olives recipe was the perfect choice — Castelvetrano olives and Marcona almonds (mine were truffled) sautéed quickly in a pan with spices. Olives are delicious on their own, but warmed, they move to an elevated place in the hors d’oeuvres category.
Castelvetrano olives are wonderfully mild and beautifully bright green. If they’re exposed to the air too long, they’ll oxidize and get brown spots. They will still be tasty, but if we want to show off for our foodie friends, we’ll want that powerful pop of green. If you are buying these from an olive bar, be sure to spoon in some of the liquid bath.
Meals for Me
by Sam Stern
Is it possible to cook for one? Whenever I try to cut back a recipe, I still end up making food for a crowd. The key with Meals for Me
is to take one core ingredient – then make two meals from it. For the intermediate cook or adventuresome beginner, this can be a huge help in meal planning. The more experienced cook will find delicious comfort-oriented food that is fairly easy to prepare.
British cookbook author Sam Stern, mostly known for his kids’ and beginner cookbooks, hit the food scene with his first cookbook at age 14. This is his first more general-audience cookbook and his first American release. It has a slightly European bent — Spag Bol, Bubble and Squeak, Posh Beef and Tatties — but comfort food sees no borders. It’s all good. The British title is “Too Good to Share,” and I find this title true to the cookbook. Stern is all about being creative in the kitchen and not wasting your life eating unappealing meals, and his cookbook reflects this well.
I made the Roast Butternut Squash, a quick and colorful dish. I went a little heavy on the ricotta, because that is what I do when it comes to ricotta. The splash of lemon added just the right amount of tang. The attending recipe is Roast Butternut Squash dip, which sounds good, but my squash was too small for leftovers so I’ll try this later.
You can use other squash. I hoard delicata squash every fall, and so I used this easy-to-prepare squash (you don’t have to peel the skin).
Whole Protein Vegetarian
by Rebecca Ffrench
Whole Protein Vegetarian
is great for omnivores trying to get the meatless Monday thing going, without meals resulting in that brain-drained feeling from a lessening of protein. Author Rebecca Miller Ffrench, in moving her family toward a more vegetarian way of eating, began researching plant-based proteins. I always enjoy understanding how and why food works, and Ffrench presents a few pages on Amino Acids (the building blocks of protein). She provides just enough information so that I learned a little something, but not so much that I got bogged down in the science. She also has a surprisingly good chapter on pantry stocking and cooking technique. I often breeze right by this sort of stuff, but her honest and clear writing style pulled me in, and once again, I started to learn from her.
I sometimes like to make a mini-judgement on a cookbook by viewing the very first recipe. In this case, I skipped the beginning recipes, as they were about building pantry basics and I wanted a more robust recipe to look at. With that, I was on to the breakfast chapter. First up: Sweet Potato Almond Milk Smoothie. Everything about this sounds good (vanilla! cinnamon!). I’m just waiting for my bananas to ripen so that I can freeze them for this.
I made the Lentil, Spinach, and Tomato Frittata. This was an easy meal to put together, as long as you remember to get your lentils boiling first. Besides the already mentioned ingredients, there is a hefty amount of fresh basil involved.
The recipes are illustrated with alluring photographs, and the layout is easy to read. This is one of those cookbooks where all the recipes look good. I’m looking forward to summer to try the Brown Rice Berry Crisp. I should mention that all of her recipes have been vetted by Ffrench’s friends and family.
Never be afraid to make changes to a recipe. I’m a fan of a lot of flavor, so I’ll probably add some nutmeg to the frittata. It has plenty of salt and pepper, but I felt it needed a small boost.
Around the Fire
by Greg Denton, Gabrielle Quiñónez Denton, and Stacy Adimando
Portland’s Ox restaurant has blessed us with a cookbook of their upscale BBQ recipes, and we are all pretty excited about it. It is impossible to write a review of Around the Fire
without using the words “next level.” Grilling brings up visions of beef on a rack over coals, but the folks at Ox give as much attention to fish and vegetables. Grilling at Ox is done Argentina style over an open fire, but Around the Fire
is presented with options for all styles of fuel, including gas.
The opening chapters give some lessons on grilling and an explanation of what Argentinian grilling means for Ox, then moves onto what might be the most important recipe of the book: Ox’s famous bright green Chimichurri sauce. Not far away is a ridiculously delicious-sounding recipe of Broiled Cantaloupe (with hand-stretched mozzarella curds and prosciutto).
A must-have at the restaurant is… wait for it… Clam Chowder. It’s not your commonly expected grilling fare, but it is much loved here in Portland. Now we can make it in our homes, but don’t think it will be easy. Remember, this is next-level stuff. There is purging of clams to do, and smoking of beef marrow bones, besides the making of soup. But if you serve this chowder to your friends, I’ll bet your friends will talk for years about the time you made this amazing dish.
The Ash-Seared Lamb Loin (with celery, cilantro, charred orange, and cumin-chile oil) looks amazing, and the Grilled Radicchio and corn (with triple cream cheese and roasted vinaigrette) almost has me dropping this cookbook in order to race over to Ox for an early dinner.
I wanted to have sample photos of meals we’d cooked, but none of us have fired up our grills yet this year. In my case, it would take a massive overhaul of the junk in my garage just to get to where the grill is parked from last summer. I’ll brush off my mad grilling skills later in the season for this enticing ’que cookbook.
If you are a grill master connoisseur, this cookbook must find its way to your kitchen/backyard/deck.
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Here are a few more recent cookbooks, plus one non-cookbook release that I heartily recommend.
Naturally Sweet Food in Jars
by Marisa McClellan
Love preserving but want to keep the white sugar to a minimum? You can pick out your sweetener of choice (honey, coconut, maple, etc.) and browse that chapter alone, or freewheel it throughout the book to sample various alternative preserves.
Churrasco: Grilling the Brazilian Way
by Evandro Caregnato
Churrasco grilling is not for the faint of heart. Huge skewers of meat, served quantity style. You’re probably not going to try this for a small family; you need a bit of a crowd to feed. If you’ve been to a churrasco restaurant, you know that while the meat takes center stage, the side dishes are the upstaging supporting cast. These full-flavored fruit and veg recipes balance out the heavy meat of the meal.
by Klancy Miller
I’m very challenged when it comes to cooking for one or two. I seem to end up cooking for five or six, even when I feel like I’ve cut back on all of the ingredients. Clearly I need my hand held, and Klancy Miller is just the person to do it. Playful and inspiring, Miller’s omnivorous recipes make a good use of farmers markets and butcher shops that don’t mind giving small cuts of meat. Recommended: dance and listen to loud music while you cook, just like Klancy Miller.
by Lukas Volger
Vegetarian food in a bowl, Bowl
gives a strong nod to Asian cuisine with ramen, pho, and bibimbap, and embraces other cultures as well, with pesto, broths, grains, and veggies. And dumplings! I’m a big fan of a big brothy bowl full of dumplings, and it won’t be long before a summer squash dumpling finds its way into a bowl near me.
Love, Loss and What We Ate
by Padma Lakshmi
Author/model/foodie Padma Lakshmi has had a life unlike almost any other person on our planet. At home in both India and America, traveling through Europe, family and food serve as constants in Lakshmi’s life. This is a celebrity memoir, not a food memoir, although there are a few recipes. Life can be a messy challenge and Lakshmi spills her life out on the page, including some of her married/divorced life to literary star Salman Rushdie.