Categories
Cookery Bookshelf

Serious Eater: a Food Business Success Story

It’s not often that pizza can change the trajectory of your life. For Ed Levine, his search for the perfect slice brought him across a piece of wisdom from pizzaiolo, Chris Bianco setting a career shift trajectory for Levine: “I’m on a mission. I have a responsibility to do something with integrity and dignity. I’m just trying to do something—one small thing—right.” Levine’s book Serious Eater, is not your typical business book or origin story. This former music booking agent, advertising account executive, and marketing pro had a prescient sense of timing and risk-taking that paid off as he pursued his passion of finding the best food and sharing it with others through his award-winning website, SeriousEats.com. 

Ed Levine knows pizza and shares his trials and triumphs of a food blog, something I dive into in this Serious Eater book review.

The push and pull of artist over businessman threads this book together. His advisors stayed with him through some harrowing experiences of near shutterings. In 2007, he was a food blogging pioneer—there were no examples of successful blogs as business models. He’d pivoted from authoring two books, New York Eats and New York Eats (More) to freelancing for outlets like the New York Times and yet the writing on the wall for how media would shift is glimpsed as his editor’s budget was slashed, forcing Levine to reconsider how he might write about food and make a living. In 2012, Technorati.com listed 16,552 food blogs in existence—that’s seven years after Levine started EdLevineEats.com that would be a practice run for SeriousEats.com 

A series of wins and some hard lessons led up to Levine developing the team that would bring Serious Eats to life. This part of the tale reads like pulp fiction at times—there’s betrayal (two business partners going behind his back for funding on a separate project during a work trip—spoiler: their venture got the funding, not his), the anxiety before a website launch (and the amazing story of what happened to the initial developer after being released from the Serious Eats project), all the fundraising that truly separates the business model for Serious Eats from many food blogs in existence. My stomach churned as Levine chronicles rounds of fundraising just to make payroll while the business was trying to find its footing.

At the outset, Levine knew Serious Eats would be a business—there was never any pivot from personal hobby blogging to professional. He also set out well before food magazines solidly figured out their footing on digital ground (even mentions one reporter pandering to him about how his new project is going) and it paid off. But it almost didn’t. In the book, you read how friends and family fundraising almost threatens relationships (and what it looked like to salvage them—this could be a whole sidebar column by Levine for a business magazine: Mixing business with pleasure—how to repair personal relationships dented by professional investment. There were a few instances where investors capped off their giving due to how advertising might or might not play out at the time. And this was when advertising online was a frontier of opportunity—not at all where online advertising is today. Then, once Levine is ready to sell Serious Eats, he takes us along in Serious Eater for the zig-zagged ride of near misses (backstabbing!) and final acquisition.

Full disclosure: I worked with Fexy Media, the company that would eventually purchase Serious Eats. I worked with one of their other publications on a project. I’ve also been a longtime reader of Serious Eats and somehow never considered it a blog. From the beginning it was always set apart as more universal in its scope than personal. I marveled reading about Serious Eats writers pursuing whatever culinary obsessions they had and recall a time when blogging was so nascent you could write about just anything. How different food blogging is now.

In this Serious Eater book review, I dish on this food business memoir from Ed Levine, a book that chronicles the trials and triumphs of Serious Eats.

Now, there’s understanding by some of how food bloggers can be not just successful but wildly rich, amassing behind-the-scenes teams of content creators, assistants, business developers, and technical support. Recipes have become a commodity and race to owning keywords for organic search dominance. For the past year, I lost my interest in writing and pitching articles encountering the now seemingly formulaic model of keywords leading content for recipe development and writing. So, reading Serious Eater took me back to blogging before it really had found a place in publishing.

Levine has a great sense at sniffing out talent—he says so in the book and before we even begin reading, the foreword verifies that notion. Serious Eats gave Kenji Lopez-Alt a platform within which to write and develop his now legion audience of cooks interested in the intersection of science and cooking. I discovered Lopez-Alt’s writing and sage kitchen wisdom on Serious Eats (and make his spatchcock turkey at Thanksgiving). Then there’s the brilliant Stella Parks, who already had been a force for good baking and witty writing at her blog, bravetart.com before joining the Serious Eats tribe, though I would say that SE amplified her keen sense of nostalgia baking to a bigger audience (side note here, she is a friend).

You can always tell the true measure of a business based on what happens to its employees afterwards—either once well established in their roles at a business or after they’ve moved on. Levine let his “serious eaters” explore their takes on food that most interested them and they have gone off to rich careers for that early shepherding. I appreciated reading how much the right kind of writer mattered and how Levine invested in their careers, noting multiple times, interns who ended up writing their way up the editorial ladder. I’m not going to deny that I read that history longingly sometimes, imagining what it might have been like to be in a supportive editorial environment like that. But then remembering how stressful it is to work in a start-up, how those investor meetings can be anxiety-riddled and how it resembles the peaks and valleys of a sometimes rickety wooden roller-coaster.

What Serious Eater offers for readers is a behind-the-scenes, no-holds barred glimpse at the business side of blogging—what it takes to make a blog profitable and sell it. The personal cost is the one that might make you continue page-turning—this company’s launch came out well before the idea of work-life-balance. But that’s true of start-ups and small business beginnings. You work hard, surround yourself with people who are good at what they do and who show up ready to do the work, and that is in its way, “doing one small thing right.”

Thank you to Portfolio Books for sending me a review copy.

Categories
Cookery Bookshelf

Israeli Soul Cookbook Review

A cookbook worth a permanent spot in an avid reader and cook’s collection can resemble the best kind of salesperson giving a pitch meeting. First, it needs to dress for the occasion— easily communicating its ethos by the cover (and so much time is spent on the publishing side of things, considering what will become the cover!). Then, it needs to woo the reader into submission, not through suave messaging but instead (and in this way so similar to its fictional / memoir brethren) making them care about the main character (in this case, a way of thinking about food), broadening the landscape for the reader whispering new secrets, recipe pages that will soon-to-be-smudged, and in the case of the Israeli Soul cookbook, the newest cookbook by James Beard award-winning authors and restaurant collaborators, Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook, a one-way ticket for the armchair traveler to be transported to Israel and Philadelphia by way of their kitchen.

The Israeli Soul cookbook is a feast for the armchair traveler desperate to devour the flavors of Israel and the spiced soul food and stories that make this book a keeper.

I need to start off by saying I’m horribly biased when it comes to this book. I hounded the PR team at the book publisher (well before my husband gifted me a copy for my birthday) and embarked on reading this book with a set of suppositions.  My first encounter with anything Zahav-related started with a friend who we will call the foremost expert in all things knives and kitchen knife skills dropping a hint that I should go immediately (good luck getting a reservation!), followed up by a great tip to go visit the raven of Edgar Allan Poe fame at the library. And, so on a subsequent trip to the city of brotherly love, I rang up another friend in food and we met up for one of those kinds of meals you know at the end of your life you will still look back on, salivating. It exceeded expectations and then some. I dragged my husband back to Zahav to ring in a new decade (the salatim! the lamb!) only to discover sitting at the table next to ours that evening, a couple from a small town in South Texas, also visiting the city actually knew my cousin. Small world. We continued eating our way through the Cook and Solo restaurant empire, agreeing that Abe Fisher might just be our number one favorite in Philly (get the salad—Caesar with grapes and bread pudding croutons! The savory rugelach amuse bouche! The mocktails! The broccoli kugel!) And, on yet another trip, I’d eaten at Dizengoff, scooping the smoothest hummus with puffed warm hunks of pita. If I could muster up strong feelings for fried chicken and doughnuts, I’m sure Federal would have been on my list even as I long to book another trip just to suck down a tehina shake with fresh falafel on the standby at Goldie’s. So, please know that when Zahav, the cookbook came out, I promptly read it cover to cover, cooked from it deeply (spending almost a day making a lavish spread for vegetarian friends visiting California that then prompted them to buy the book to cook from at home in Texas). As soon as I heard about the Israeli Soul cookbook, it leapt to the top of my required reading list.

But anticipation can be such a double-edged sword—can’t it? Would this book live up to the high expectations set by the James Beard award-winning first cookbook? Yes, it would. I bring up the Zahav cookbook because you can certainly just read and cook from Israeli Soul but without the Zahav cookbook nearby, you might not get the full context of some of the recipes. This is one of the things I particularly liked about the Israeli Soul cookbook—how it was in conversation with Zahav, crushing old methods that might work in a restaurant kitchen with a small legion of line cooks but could leave a home cook a bit bedraggled like their hummus. In Zahav, you soak dried garbanzos overnight with leavener (plan ahead!) and then pop off the skins like raincoats the next day before cooking. Israeli Soul updates the hummus recipe to 5-minute hummus with quick tehina sauce and cheekily states, “We believe 5-Minute Hummus to be a medium step forward for humankind,” which it is. I made the hummus, intending to scatter on one of the suggested toppings (Carrots with dukkah! Roasted corn with long hots! Broccoli and pine nut pesto!) but we didn’t get farther than ravaging it one afternoon with store-bought pita (there is a pita recipe in the book, updated from Zahav to Israeli Soul, now with process photos).

The Goldie falafel Israeli chopped salad from Israeli Soul cookbook is the kind of summer lunch or light supper you'll crave.

The Goldie falafel could easily be the kind of Sunday evening supper and meal prep for salads or stuffed pita throughout the week (if you can get past the fact that it won’t be crunchy in that just from the fryer way, which we could). I particularly liked them stationed atop the herb and Israeli salad, full of chunked tomato and cucumuber with fresh torn herbs, labneh drizzle, and za’atar. Next time, I’m going to try baking the falafel.

If you don't have freekeh on-hand as the mujaddara in Israeli Soul cookbook specifies, make this dish with white rice and you should be fine.

Since beginning my exploration of the book, I’ve stirred a stockpot of Opera bean soup—a slow-cooked affair of tomatoes, beans coaxed into creaminess and a touch of chile heat. Then, formed and cooked Persian meatballs with beet sauce (maybe my least favorite dish of the entire bunch, which is purely subjective since I didn’t love how the paprika played with the other ingredients. I fell hard for the freekeh mujadara (made with rice since it’s what I had on-hand, though I freak over freekeh. I couldn’t help that last one.). We feasted on Bulgarian kebabs (so well-spiced!) and need to find the thick metal slat skewers to properly cook what I’m sure will be my next favorite: Arabic-style kebabs (they had me at lamb with baharat and grated onion). We’ve made two batches of the yellow rice (something you want to keep stocked in the fridge when the craving strikes because it will).

The Persian meatballs with beets from Israeli Soul cookbook wasn't my favorite dish from the book, but it is certainly eye-catching and would make quite an impression.

I’m intending to make the Druze mountain bread and a host of the vegetable salads. I’ve got bulgur in the pantry to make a pot of tomato bulgur. For a fun weekend project, I think it would be a kick to make homemade couscous (and have the semolina on hand to finally give it a go). Ditto the Abe Fisher beet salad—I can almost taste the zing of the prepared horseradish. Egg salad from Akko might be the most interesting way to train hard-boiled eggs into decadent submission (hint: it has everything to do with baharat). I keep grating carrots to make grated carrots with chiles (but then end up eating them in breakfast). And, several butternut squash have almost made the cut to whip up the Libyan squash salad, chirshi. When tomato season is in full force again, Matbucha, a Moroccan cooked tomato and pepper salad will be on the menu. My favorite quick lunch has easily become chickpeas with baharat, tomatoes, and brown butter.

Will I finally make the boreka, written about in Zahav and updated in the Israeli Soul cookbook with process photos? I’m a sucker for puddings the world over, so malabi is in my near future. And, the konafi with its long strands of kataifi (fine dough threads), saffron syrup, and buffalo mozzarella, make me want to locate kataifi locally. But the zalatimo dessert awakened a different kind of hunger in me.

While this is a cookbook, it also is a kind of guidebook to Israel, and a storybook of the people whose food inspires, in the tangible way that taste memories tie us to a place and a first experience. Reading stories of how each restaurant purveyor or chef first entered their cooking experience illuminates in that universal-personal way where we can see ourselves inside someone else’s experience. The restaurant owner who failed and through advice from his mom to cook the food he’d eaten and grown up with at home, now has a thriving restaurant and is on a culinary cultural map. The owner who has made one dish all their life and is the master of that dish—with such singular focus, I wonder if in our scattered do-it-all existence, there is some sort of life truth nugget there for you and I. I’ve never been to Israel. It’s one of my top travel destinations for food, but really for spiritual reasons and to see the culture first hand, beyond what gets spit out as headlines on this side of the Pond, only when something bad happens. But, we best experience another culture by entering it, right? The Israeli Soul cookbook gave me a deeper taste of what I’m missing by making a glimpse of it available to me at home.

“Comfort food is, by definition, a link to a time or place when we felt at ease, free of the anxiety of everyday life.” And, in that way, I too can eat the food my hands prepare from this book and taste soul food even if those flavors come together in my taste binder for the first time. In Israeli Soul, I can see the soul of the place in the stories and recipes that offer a different kind of sustenance, one in which we need each other to feed each other through food, but also through shared experience that leads to greater understanding of what it means to be alive.

Categories
Cookery Bookshelf

The Gluten-Free Instant Pot Cookbook Review

For eight months, the unopened Instant Pot box leered at me from a high shelf. I acknowledged it, always with a hearty dose of optimism, When I have time, I will learn how to use it. What started out as a week became six, then dovetailed into almost a year later before I made time. I needed a reason, and it came to pass in the The Gluten-Free Instant Pot cookbook by Jane Bonacci and Sara De Leeuw. I eagerly ripped open the envelope from Harvard Common Press and ended up reading the book cover to cover in one sitting, my skepticism that I might never actually take the contraption out of the box slowly warming to another outcome.

The Gluten Free Instant Pot cookbook review digs into a guide that can get you prepped for using this handy cooking tool. 
It’s not that I’m scared of new technology, although I will be the first to say I’m not keen on adding new gadgetry to my overcrowded kitchen. I believed Michelle when she first led the charge. I trusted Coco when she first wrote about how this appliance would change the game, and maybe that’s the big secret. I didn’t want the game to change. Not really. My slow cooker and I get each other. We meet up at least once a week during the autumn months mostly and I love the idea that while I’m working, it’s working. On dinner. So, in the beginning, perhaps my tepid reactions toward the Instant Pot were actually in response to not wanting to replace my slow cooker. How sentimental! (I guess). And, I thought, maybe it would be really tricky to use.

Instant Pot Steel Cut Oats will make you a fan of your instant pot for easily and quickly cooking whole grains.

I aced the hot water test and then moved onto something bigger. Sloppier. Lentil sloppy joes (p. 100) cooked up in a jiffy and we continued to eat them a few nights later, this time on savory creamy polenta (p. 60) Then, instant pot steel cut oats with golden apple raisin compote that I noshed on for a full week at breakfast. Early on, I stuck around the Instant Pot, checking to see if it gave any cues to the cooking going on inside. Apart from a few beeps, I didn’t hear burbles or see any bubbles popping along the top. Instead, it operated in silence except when the appliance indicates that the machine has come up to temperature and is starting to cook, or after cooking, starts timing down and staying warm.

Trying to eat plant-based is easy when you've got a lentil sloppy joe waiting for you.

The Gluten Free Instant Pot cookbook guided me through how to get started and then offered straight-forward recipes that I couldn’t mess up. I’ve been thinking about something a friend said recently when it comes to following recipes. They involve a silent compact of trust—that you as the reader trust the cookbook author enough to try something exactly as they wrote it. And, trust these two authors I do. Jane Bonacci authored a cookbook on making gluten-free bread in a bread machine as her first book, a feat, I can only imagine. Sara De Leeuw is a certified master food preserver, so not only does she know her stuff, but part of the certification is teaching others. I knew I was in good hands.

Instant pot polenta is far easier to make than stirring it for 30 minutes but there is a trade-off.

The cookbook delves into comfort foods like baby back ribs or mac and cheese, but with a gluten-free spin. I’m still wrapping my head around the logistics of whole baked chicken (p. 84) or double fudge chocolate cheesecake (p. 128) and while the book includes pasta recipes and other main dishes and side dishes—notably a few of them leaning toward Thanksgiving—I think where I’m landing right now with my Instant Pot is in cooking slow cooked whole grains quickly or in making stock. I’m setting my sights at Instant Pot Yogurt and very loudly nudging De Leeuw to write a preserving cookbook for my Instant Pot (goodbye, pressure canner?!). Because, here’s the dirty little secret: I like to cook and I like knowing the Instant Pot can save me time to make perfect rice (p. 64) if pressed or applesauce (p. 126) on the sly. Do I want to stir my polenta for 40 minutes—no. Do I think it will still give me a creamier pot sans cream if I stir instead of hit a button—yes. I’m willing to make trades. But, as I head into the holiday season, I have a hunch the Instant Pot will be a new pinch hitter and am grateful for The Gluten-Free Instant Pot cookbook to have been my first guide.

Categories
Cookery Bookshelf

The Fruit Forager’s Companion Book Review

The Fruit Forager's Companion Book Review

I tend to get swept into a good story, head and heels first. Nothing compares to descending into this kind of delicious alternate universe. So, when I read the tale (and later saw the movie) of a guy named Chris McCandless, I couldn’t help but be pulled into the beautiful ideal of his to live off the land. But then, things went awry and anguish sets into what becomes his excruciating final days. The culprit: misreading a leaf he thought was edible and instead eating one that looked similar and is toxic. He dies. The curtain falls. His story stayed with me and activated some self-preservation switch in me. I didn’t grow up in anything you could remotely describe as outdoorsy. We never camped. In fact, you could say we were taught to regard the woods as suspicious. Untenable. Wild.

Foraging has since been something that catapults my imagination into the depths of a forest, thickets of trees and bushes that only the trained eye can decipher. From afar, I’ve marveled at the truly beautiful dishes being turned out by foraging chefs. At wild food. I’ve always thought I never could be part of that equation. The idea of foraging might sound idyllic to some, but reckoning with it has revealed I distrust myself with being able to deduce wild foods. It’s probably why I never pursued the urge to join up with the Sonoma mycological society on a mushroom hunt, perhaps even silently admonishing myself that if someone was going to pick the poisonous mushroom, it might be me. This could all be wound up in toddler-me eating glossy red berries off a bush and just as quickly being escorted into the emergency room. Can I turn a corner now, and awaken an inner forager?

The Fruit Forager’s Companion by Sara Bir isn’t your typical foraging book. That is to say, you don’t need to be a hardcore, seasoned forager to appreciate it… You could be a farmer’s market forager of the pile of plums and find tremendous benefit from it. What Companion really does is invite the reader to see the world around them in a new way. You may walk the same sidewalk to the bus stop and pass the same bushes everyday and never see the blackberries glistening within the brambles. They might blur into the backdrop of all that keeps you from your intended destination. Because that’s another thing the book does well, it invites you to slow down. That spray of tiny white flowers clustering overhead—could it be elderflowers? Just yesterday, as I pulled into a parking lot in central California, in front of my parking spot: a hedge of pomegranates. On-foot and on the way to a new neighborhood coffee shop, an over-hanging branch heavy with peaches. This book has gotten under my skin even if I’m not yet a “forager.”

Something still stands in the way of me being able to pluck the fruit off the branch—but I am seeing the fruit for the first time and that imbues my everyday tasks with a new sense of marvel. A story that’s stayed with me from Companion finds Bir behind the Wal-Mart in her town, discovering a cluster of fruit trees out back. Wonder can be found anywhere. In Companion, every fruit gets thoroughly examined as she provides, culinary considerations, but also deep harvesting and storage tips that confirm this as an essential handbook on fruit. Her passion for fruits like the pawpaw is palpable: “With pawpaws the party is inside.” Thoughtful essays occur throughout the book like one accompanying the chapter on passion fruit, where she reflects on mortality and fruit, how our fates are bound with those of the fruits being foraged. From Companion’s pages, I learned about the Fruita Gratis program and the complex relationship between fresh fruit and neighbors who might subsist on SNAP budgets. I appreciate that this book could have stayed centered on the fruit but veers into how the featured fruits factor into our past and present circumstances (like grocery store foraging for imperfect produce).

Bir’s approach to using the fruits in recipes lined up with the way I would want to experience these fruits. Sour cherry scones? I’m sold. Now how can I get my hands on mulberries to make a mulberry-strawberry shrub? This winter, I’ll be eager to slice into warm persimmon bread. This summer, I taught a host of campers how to preserve lemons and citrus herb salt using Bir’s techniques. While I may not trust my aptitude at wild food foraging, I trust her. So, maybe if I ever encounter elderberries, I’ll take Bir’s recommendations to “cook or ferment the berries for them to be safe” and then make elderberry kir royales. Next spring, I’m hankering to pick up apricots to pickle them, umeboshi-style. And while it’s still summer, I’m hatching a plan to make her Italian Plum Cake. Again.

What would it be like to visit a bog and gather cranberries bobbing on the surface? Could there be a thrill of exhilaration to find a mayhaw in its natural habitat? Might I add a visit to Ocracoke Island’s fig festival to my bucket list? Rose hips clinging to their stems before steeping into tea? Maybe one day, when I make the leap to forager of (urban) wild foods, I will take her advice to “take some for yourself, leave some for the wildlife, and leave some for the next forager.” Until then, I’ll take to the farmer’s market and keep this Companion as a friendly reference guide.

 

Thanks to Chelsea Green for providing a copy of The Fruit Forager’s Companion for me to read and review. All opinions are my own as is the sordid story of the holly berry incident from my childhood.

Categories
Cookery Bookshelf Poetry Poetry Bookshelf

Cooking with the Muse Book Review

Cooking with the Muse Book review

It’s not often you meet people equally passionate about food and poetry in conversation. At the Association of Writers and Publishers conference a few years back and MFA friend of mine had suggested I meet poet Stephen Massimilla. She said that he also wrote poetry about food. What I did not know until we met is that he had penned a food poetry cookbook called Cooking with the Muse with cookbook veteran, Myra Kornfeld! I beelined over to the Tupelo Press booth and promptly bought a copy. It is a feast of poetry and food that will delight fellow foodies who indulge in poetry (and a great holiday gift!). I dove into Cooking with the Muse more deeply over on Poetry International. At the last AWP, we caught each other at the bookfair and our conversation bubbled with enthusiasm. Recently, I had a chance to chat with Massimilla and Kornfeld on the nitty gritty of how Cooking with the Muse came to life.

cooking with the muse book review

THE FOOD POET (TFP): How did the grain of the idea for this book come about? What is it from a poem Stephen read, dish Myra cooked or a comment made in conversation?
MYRA KORNFELD/STEPHEN MASSIMILLA: So you’re asking about the Muse for Cooking with the Muse? Well, Myra was always a culinary magician conjuring up new dishes and writing and revising new recipes and articles about food, while Stephen was always the literary wizard conjuring up new poems and writing essays and reviews about poetry and literature. We realized we had perfectly complementary skill sets and that we just had to team up. As the great Roger Vergé put it, the chef works “creatively, marrying ingredients the way a poet marries words”—so cooking is like writing poetry, and it takes a poet to cook up colorful and exciting ways to write about food. We also realized that recipes were a lot like poems. We got to thinking that we could write a truly collaborative book together, one all about the marriage of recipes and poetry, of cooking and writing, and the synergy between the two.

TFP: I’d love to know how you two came together to work on this book.
MK/SM: One day, while we were sitting at Alice’s Teacup sipping mugs of chai, we came up with the idea of writing a recipe and a poem that would go together perfectly. And we remembered having shared a great cup of dirty chai after having hiked together through Ebenezer Bryce Canyon in Utah. Later, Myra’s Dirty Chai recipe and Stephen’s poem by the title “My Dirty Chai” ended up in the “Chocolate and Coffee” section at the end of the Winter chapter.

Things proceeded from there. For instance, the idea for one of the early literary essays in the book—on Galway Kinnell’s sonnet “Blackberry Eating”—came up during another teatime discussion at the start of autumn, when the blackberry muse is at the height of her powers. We made a connection between the Kinnell piece and Mary Oliver’s poem about blackberry picking entitled “August,” which ends with the line “this happy tongue.” We were interested in the polyvalence of the word “tongue”—a term both for language and for the site of gustatory delectation. Kinnell speaks of how words, like blackberries at the peak of their ripeness, “fall almost unbidden to my tongue.” The word “almost” suggests that obtaining the ripest berries does call for some anticipation, but the work of the season can’t be forced. What a great way to think about inspiration! The blackberry recipes at the opening of the book were the upshot. 

TFP: Stephen, You’ve got so many interesting linguistic facts and poems placed throughout the book. What did the research look like for this book?
MK/SM: As a poet and scholar of comparative literature interested in celebrating the cross-fertilization of cultures, Stephen already knew a huge number of culinary poems, but we were startled at just how many we kept encountering. The book includes not only a large number of Stephen’s own poems, but also an unusually wide-ranging anthology of classic and contemporary pieces, including interesting food lore. We collected these materials in folders, which we went through periodically to cull our favorites. We met regularly to pick out the poems that either inspired the recipes or complemented them. We agreed that we both had to be excited about every poem, even Stephen’s original poems. That said, a lot of other research was involved in the writing of the comprehensive introduction to the book, the essays about culinary poems and traditions, and all the historical notes that contextualize both the poetry and the dishes. The bibliography alone was a formidable project.

TFP: How did you two collaborate on the recipes and poems? Did you typically start with a poem that inspired the recipe?
MK/SM: We were continually writing and collecting poems and recipes and looking at them to see how they could fit together. Sometimes poems inspired recipes; sometimes recipes inspired poems; and oftentimes the juxtaposition of poems and recipes inspired other musings. A lot of the work involved adapting recipes Myra was working on to dovetail with poems that Stephen was writing, or that we knew we wanted to use. As we worked on the outlines for the book over the years, we also realized that certain pieces fit together in sequences that brought out new relationships between the recipes, the poems, the essays, and the photos. All the pieces interlocked like multicolored jigsaw puzzle pieces to make a whole that’s even greater than the sum of the parts.

TFP: Myra, this isn’t your first rodeo, but the depth and quantity of recipes in Muse is staggering. What did your recipe development process look like and how long did it take to complete the manuscript from a recipe perspective only?
MK/SM: Myra was and is always developing new recipes. She cooks seasonally, inspired by the Greenmarket Muse, and her flavor combinations are often inspired by traveling. The recipes in the Turkish, Irish, American Southwestern, and Moroccan sections of the book, for instance, were to a degree inspired by travels, and Stephen took a number of the food pictures in the book on these trips.

Given Myra’s background in nutrition and Real Foods traditions, these dishes highlight fresh, local ingredients and encourage the use of seasonal produce, wild seafood, traditional fats, and meat from pasture-raised animals.

Like revising and re-editing poems, recipe writing is an exacting process full of trial and error, but it was great to have had so many scrumptious meals during the planning, writing, photographing, and overall construction of this book. The recipes were also tested on SO many people through our cooking events and classes. We wanted to make absolutely sure that these recipes would be clear and easy to follow for cooks of any and all levels.

TFP: Stephen, there are quite a few original pieces of food poetry in Muse. Where did you find your inspiration to write them on deadline?
MK/SM: While we were working on Cooking with the Muse, Stephen sometimes composed a poem by the stove while Myra was developing a dish. That happened, to give a couple of examples, with “Seared Tuna with Purple Potatoes and Cherry Tomato Sauce” and with the Salad of a Thousand Leaves recipe; in these instances, the recipe changed to match the poem that was based on it. In this sense, writing poems involved riffing on and helping to reinvent recipes. Though it began with a lot of intuitive hunting and gathering and freewheeling improvisation, the book also contains a great many prose introductions, recipe preambles, essays, and carefully researched historical and literary notes, all of which had to be planned, composed and revised in a more systematic way. We were both so inspired because cooking and poetry have so much in common. They are both creative and celebratory arts. They’re both about traditions of nourishment in the very deepest sense. They both reflect our values and feelings. And they’re both inseparable from human relationships, as well as our relationship to the earth, the seasons, and the spirit within us.

TFP: What does your poetry writing process look like?
MK/SM: Stephen always carries a little black notebook full of notes and sketches (he’s also a drawer and painter) about what the Muse happens to be saying—which could take any number of forms. His favorite pieces often reflect more than one source of inspiration, including the time of year; an intriguing word or phrase; a memorable dream; or even another work of art—a painting, a film, a novel, or, as he’s mentioned, a dish. He  composes most of his poems themselves at night, when the house is quiet and the world is calm, when the air freshens and flows around the writer without interruption. 

And speaking of the atmosphere, the greenmarket (a living celebration of the seasons and the lush creations born of human collaborations with nature) was a major source of inspiration for Cooking with the Muse. Not only most of the poems and recipes, but also the poetic-prose essays introducing each chapter could be said to be odes to the farmers’ market.

TFP: Is there one recipe that stands out among the rest that, if you dog-eared pages of the book, would be the one to which you continue to return?
MK/SM: There are many, actually. In the book itself, we mention which ones we consider staples to be making all the time. These include the Foundation Recipes (the stocks and bone broths fit this category), as well as the Oatmeal Deluxe Breakfast Bars and the Coconut Muffins. (Also, at the end of the Pumpkin Pie Bread recipe, we strongly recommend the Pumpkin Pie Bread muffins. They’re a must.) Many of the Turkish and Moroccan choices are regular go-to recipes for us. And there are others that we return to seasonally and on holidays, such as the Turkey with Cranberry Glaze on Thanksgiving and Christmas. The Portobello Muschrooms Stuffed with Chestnuts, Apples, and Wild Rice is also really fun around Christmas time. And the Miniature Lacy Potato Latkes are a Chanukah standby. We love the Mediterranean Caulifower Kale Roast with Feta throughout the winter. The Fudgy Nibby Brownies from the Winter chapter are also a perennial favorite. There is a picture in the book of a Fudgy Nibby Brownie tower that we made for a wedding in lieu of a cake, but they’re great for any party or just to have on hand as snacks, provided you don’t eat the whole tray at once.

As we mentioned, we experienced a big thrill when we saw how the literature and recipes were coming together, starting with a first autumn recipe that pairs Galway Kinnell’s scrumptious “Blackberry Eating” and a poem by Mary Oliver with a luscious “Blackberry Parfait.” This dish is both sophisticated and perfectly appropriate for a beginner cook. The close reading that goes with it also good for a first-time reader of poetry since the essays are designed to make the poetry more accessible. In a more sophisticated vein, we’re really excited about the Middle Eastern Feast in this book, which is spiced with the poetry of Rumi and Hafiz.

TFP: Did you listen to any particular music or albums to get you into the right head space to write the poems / craft the recipes?
MK/SM: For inspiration, we rely more on comedy than music. During a radio show, an interviewer once asked us what piece of music would make the proper accompaniment for our book. We didn’t know what to make of that question, but we referred her to page 266, where we discuss a cantata to coffee by Johann Sebastian Bach, along with a dithythramb to chocolate. We can’t quite say that pieces like these inspired the recipes or the writing. But when we thought the whole project was finally finished, we sang our take on the Jeff Buckley version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” for days.

TFP: What did you not expect from Muse that surprised you?
MK/SM: Well, our respect for each other’s skill sets went up. You learn knew things about each other when you’re in the trenches together. We had a really good working relationship, in short, and we ended up with new respect for each other’s complementary abilities, work ethic, and grace under fire. We simply could not have written this book without each other.

TFP: Who are some of the food poets that inspire your writing?
MK/SM: This large-format 500-page book begins by presenting an historical perspective on the link between literature—especially poetry—and food. The book draws on material from many traditions and eras: from the ancient Greeks and Romans to the Bible, from the medieval Sufis to the Japanese, from the great Romantics and Transcendentalists to a dazzling pageant of modern poets. Authors represented include Homer, Lu Tong, Rumi, Chaucer, Basho, Milton, Keats, Dickinson, Hopkins, Lawrence, McKay, Neruda, Machado, Stevens, Hurston, Plath, Tom Robbins, Derek Walcott, Mary Oliver, Wendell Berry, Lucille Clifton, Michael Ondaatje, Billy Collins, Linda Hogan, Elizabeth Alexander, Jorie Graham, Li-Young Lee, Jane Hirshfield, and a great many others.

TFP: Do you anticipate another collaborative project in your future?
MK/SM: Sure. But give us some time to recover on the island of Maui first. We have to find the right inspirational trigger. And the Hawaiian state triggerfish—called humuhumunukunukuapua’a, or humuhumu for short—is something we’d like to see!

Blackberry Parfaits

Categories
Cookery Bookshelf Recipes

Pumpkin Pie

If someone asked you the question, Are you a cook or a baker, the answer comes quickly for most. I am and always will be a cook first—I like the tactile process of tweaking along the way, tasting until a dish is just right. For a long time I didn’t think there was a baker inside of me. Two things changed that: my sourdough starter, Salvatore, and Kate McDermott. Kate and I met in New Orleans at IFBC years ago. After that food conference, I sought out her blog and discovered a post she wrote about her neighbor Sadie, a story that started me on the road to finding my inner baker. She wrote, “In her gentle way, she taught me that baking from the heart always tastes best, even if it doesn’t turn out quite like the picture in the magazine.” The post and quote made me rethink everything I had ever presumed about baking and question when Kate would write a book about her unfussy perspective on pies and baking.

And, what a book it is. Art of the Pie by Kate McDermott features photography from New York Times food photographer Andrew Scrivani. Each photo is a work of art, shot by my photography mentor numero uno, Andrew. It’s fitting really that they bring this book to pass—I loved seeing him and Kate collaborate on her first cookbook knowing that they’ve collaborated at food photography and baking events and share a deep friendship that I think comes across in the styling of the images. Rumor had it there was even a music jam in between shooting this cookbook.

I’ve been waiting over a year to share this book with you. Art of the Pie, the book, is the only pie book you will ever need. I know that sounds like a grand statement and you might think I am biased, but I’m not. Kate and I are friends, but I’m going to support my bold statement with examples.

Kate writes like a cooking teacher, bringing her decade plus experience of pie teaching (from Pie Camp!) into well-written recipe instructions that are specific, informative, with a touch of personality, as if she is with you when you are baking. Art of the Pie includes helpful sidebar conversations for the pie baker such as “lemon vs. vinegar” (p. 153) and a method for rendering your own leaf lard (p. 334). She calls herself a “pie-chiatrist” with rule number one on her tips for baking and life is to “Keep Everything Chilled, Especially Yourself.” That kind of no-nonsense attitude courses throughout the book. Baking pie is a small act of kindness: Kate invites you to do a Pie-By (p. 229) and offers tips for hosting a Pie Potluck (p.227).

But let’s start at the beginning. Have you ever made your own pie dough? Do you find it perplexing? Does your pie dough shrink or is it brittle rather than delicate under the fork? If you’ve never made pie crust from scratch before, it’s time and you’re in good hands with Art of the Pie. The section describing how to roll out pie dough is affectionately entitled, “Techniques and Tricks that Let the Good Pies Roll,” where she encourages the reader to “Look forward to rolling rather than fearing it.” (p. 43) She breaks the science behind how to nail a flaky dough every time with process photos along the way showing how the dough looks from start to finish. You will find not one but 10 pie crust recipes in the book—that’s not counting the graham cracker-style crusts, and of those 10, a handful are gluten-free (like Kate), and one is vegan and gluten-free.

Assembled less by season and more by pie style, an entire chapter is devoted to Apple Pie with an extensive list of varietals and their flavor profiles as well as a notation for when they are in season. Next spring, I’m going to snag rhubarb during its short window to bake a Rhuberry Bluebarb Pie (p 255). This winter, I’m making a plan for Cranberry Pie (p. 236). As soon as the lemons on my tree ripen to yellow, I’m eyeing the Shaker Lemon Pie (p.264). Next year will be the year for Nectarine Pie (p.228) and there’s a fairly strong possibility that Grasshopper Pie (p. 275) will sub in as birthday cake this year. The Cottage Pie from the savory chapter gets is requested when it’s cold out—I turn it into a Shepherd Pie (ground lamb instead of beef) and we love her brilliant addition of cheddar mixed into the mashed potatoes topping the meat.

But I know why you’re here. Last year, I hosted my first Thanksgiving feast, baking Art of the Pie Pecan Pie (p. 294) and Pumpkin Pie (p. 296). Before that day I was a charter member of team Pecan Pie. The only way I liked Pumpkin Pie was in my Curry Pumpkin Hand Pies. So, I’d never eaten traditional-style Pumpkin Pie quite like Kate’s before. There was a supple luscious quality to the custard that usually is so sturdy. The secret ingredient, in my opinion is the light coconut milk. It skips the rich dense filling heavy cream brings on with just enough eggs to hold it together. This pie is a marvel and the light coconut milk doesn’t make the pie taste coconutty. But don’t take my word on it. There’s still time to make this the Pumpkin Pie at  Thanksgiving. Or, plan a Pie-By, as Kate might nudge, a twinkle in her eye, leaving a warm pie stealthily on the porch of an unsuspecting friend for whom you are grateful.

art of the pie pumpkin pie - anneliesz

Art of the Pie Pumpkin Pie

The single-crust pie dough recipe called out below is in Art of the Pie but you could always use store-bought shells if you’re in a pinch for Thanksgiving. Rather than topping it with freshly whipped cream, I like this with a scoop of Greek yogurt. If you have someone attending who is gluten-free head over to her gluten-free pie crust.

(Reprinted with permission: Art of the Pie by Kate McDermott, published by The Countryman Press, 2016.)

Makes One 9-Inch Shallow Pie
 

1 recipe single-crust pie dough

3 eggs, lightly beaten

One 15-ounce can (about 2 cups or 245 grams) pumpkin

1 cup canned light coconut milk or evaporated milk

¾ cup (150 grams) sugar (equal parts white and packed brown sugar)

½ teaspoon (3 grams) salt

1 teaspoon (2 grams) cinnamon

1 teaspoon (2 grams) ginger

¼ teaspoon (.25 gram) freshly ground nutmeg

A tiny pinch of clove

 
Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C). Roll out a pie shell and place it in a pie pan. Trim excess dough from the edges and crimp. Whisk the eggs in a medium bowl until they are light-colored and fluffy. Stir in the pumpkin, coconut milk, sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and clove until the ingredients are thoroughly mixed. Pour the filling into the pan. Place the pie in the oven and turn down immediately to 375°F. Bake for approximately 50 minutes. Remove the pie from the oven and set on a rack to cool completely.

Categories
Cookery Bookshelf Recipes

Warm IPA Braised Cabbage Salad with Pastrami and Swiss

As the outdoors get chilly during autumn, serve warm salads. We love this Warm IPA Braised Cabbage Salad with Pastrami and Swiss cheese.

Let’s say you’re a beer drinker. And, by beer drinker, I don’t mean no-other-adult-beverage-is-in-the-fridge-so-I-guess-it’s-a-good-night-for-beer drinker. Instead, you’re someone who first evaluates a restaurant by what’s on their beer list. What’s on tap first only to be followed by the bottled options. It may be very en vogue to be a beer drinker now, what with the explosion of amazing craft brews available from independent outfits, but I know someone whose delight for hops and yeast knows only the limits of what’s available in IPA. I can appreciate that kind of fixation with my gaze on tea (and have been noted to say more than two handfuls of time that “kombucha is my beer.” But let’s be honest, I can’t imagine tacos without Negra Modelo and have a penchant for Ranger with its elderflower notes. I’m a fan of dark oatmeal stouts too, but it must be said, anything I appreciate or know about beer originates with my main squeeze). Oh, husband. Lover of India Pale Ales. My dear heart. The man to whom I once gave an anniversary gift of a new-to-him-brand six-pack of IPA and a smattering of cheeses. Man whose dad once owned a t-shirt emblazoned with the sentiment, “Wisconsin: Beer, Cheese, and a Few Weirdos.” He’s my weirdo and as such, I’ve never seen the kind of enthusiasm he laid down when he picked up Lori Rice’s first cookbook, Food on Tap. It should be known I’m a fan of adding beer to food (hello, frijoles borrachos!) and every autumn I make my Beer Braised Lamb and Leeks and, now to add to the list will be Warm IPA Braised Cabbage Salad.

Lori and I met a few years ago through a mutual friend, but aside from a few hellos by twitter or likes via Instagram, we never really got it together to get together until after she moved out of the Bay area. It didn’t stop me from tracking her down at IFBC and asking if I could write about her book because I understand that kind of single-minded obsession with an ingredient and wondering how its variations can imbue familiar foods with awesome flavor. And, let me tell you Food on Tap did not let me down. Let’s start here though: I’ve made one of the recipes. Three times. That doesn’t usually happen, but I couldn’t get over how easy it is to eat a not sad desk lunch with the Warm IPA Braised Cabbage Salad. I can almost recite the recipe off the top of my head (and literally did so as a friend who was headed to Bend for work mentioned he needed to make an easy staff meal. Bingo!)

food on tap book review

To continue, I like that each recipe name in Food on Tap tells you in the title which kind of beer you will use. She also includes tips in tiny print of specific beers to consider for the recipes, which will give you the best chance to taste what’s in her mind as she’s crafted these recipes. Or, that the recipes have both a homey essence to them but also with a deeper insider understanding that Lori’s background is in nutrition (and she’s penned a blog entitled Fake Food Free so you know that there is temperance in there somewhere. Her take on Pub Cheese for example riffs on holiday flavors for a Pumpkin Ale Cheddar and White Bean Dip (p. 63) where she sneaks in creamy legumes for texture but I’d bet also because they lighten a recipe that could’ve gone solely indulgent. I’ve cooked with beer before, but have received a request for the Nachos with IPA Beer Cheese Sauce (p. 97) or the Three Cheese IPA Soup Shooters (p. 59).

Do you see a pattern emerging? I, for one, am keen to bake with stout over the holidays, most notably Gingerbread Stout Bars with Brown Butter Frosting (p.147) or the Peanut Butter Stout Chocolate Chip Scones (p. 53)– can you imagine those paired at teatime with a bold Assam or Yunnan tea?

Warm IPA Braised Cabbage Salad Recipe from Lori Rice - Food on Tap Book Review

Warm IPA Braised Cabbage Salad with Pastrami and Swiss

(Recipe reprinted with permission from Food on Tap by Lori Rice, published by The Countryman Press, October 2017).

The beer suggestions for using in this salad inspired by a Ruben Sandwich include Stone Brewing Stone IPA, Bell’s Brewery Two Hearted Ale, and Bear Republic Brewing Company Racer 5 India Pale Ale. Racer 5 is a favorite in our house because of its flavors, but also because there might be a bicycle hanging from the ceiling of the Bear Republic restaurant in Healdsburg that belongs to one of my family members.

Serves 6

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 medium head green cabbage, thinly sliced (about 8 cups)

3 to 4 ounces IPA

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 pound sliced pastrami, chopped

6 ounces Swiss cheese, cubed

 
Heat the olive oil in a large pot, such as a Dutch oven, over medium high heat. Add the cabbage. Turn to coat it in the oil. Reduce the heat to medium. Carefully pour in 3 ounces of the beer. Cook, stirring often, until the cabbage begins to wilt and the liquid has evaporated, about 4 to 6 minutes. If you would like the cabbage softer, add more beer and continue to cook to reach your desired texture. Stir in the salt and pepper. Transfer the cabbage to a serving bowl. Toss in the pastrami and Swiss cheese. Serve warm.

Categories
Cookery Bookshelf Recipes

Roasted White Chocolate Brownies with Strawberry Balsamic Swirl

Roasted White Chocolate Brownies have an extra dimension of flavor.

I should start by telling you anything I could possibly write about Irvin Lin’s first cookbook would be biased. I hung the equivalent of a save-the-date postcard for cookbooks of Irvin Lin’s Marbled, Swirled, and Layered in the coveted spot on the front of my fridge months before his book had even reached his hands hardbound. I bought the book. Attended a book signing. Asked at least one inquisitive question during Q&A. So, as my full disclosure to you, I can give you more than you might ask for in a cookbook review. I can go behind the scenes.

Marbled Swirled and Layered Book Review

You need to know that when I worked on my cookbook proposal for Steeped, I wrestled with images to include in it, having a very specific aesthetic I was looking to accomplish (and that my fellow lover of words and images, Stephanie Shih realized wonderfully in the printed book). Irvin and I had been friends for years at this point and recently had teamed up at a food photography workshop that proved to be quite productive. When I asked if he would shoot the photos for my proposal, he didn’t hesitate and we spent an afternoon under the overcast skies making pictures.

Have you ever tried roasting white chocolate? One key is low heat and then checking for color.

I say this because to understand what Irvin’s trying to accomplish in his cookbook comes from a place of generosity. It’s not often you see the front matter in a cookbook really seek to instruct instead of just providing a basis for why a baker uses certain equipment and ingredients. In Irvin’s hands, you’ll find six paragraphs dedicated to eggs with handy tips (freeze egg whites in a dedicated ice cube tray; freeze egg yolks with a pinch of salt or sugar to help with clumping when defrosting). A giddiness echoes in the way he shares these nuggets, much like a friend pulling you into earshot to spread news that’s too good not to share. For as long as I’ve known Irvin, he has always wanted to write a baking cookbook and notably one with suggestions on how to tweak recipes for gluten-free sensibilities. Early on in our friendship, we shared this sensitivity for friends who have Celiac disease or an intolerance that showed me we were kindred spirits. You’ll find a gluten-free conversions section before the recipes arrive where he shares his whole-grain gluten-free flour blend and chocolate gluten-free flour blend (p. 29).

The color of roasted white chocolate, according to Irvin Lin, should resemble "dark peanut butter."

The recipes in Marbled, Swirled, and Layered evoke Irvin’s unique sensibility for baking. His recipes are never one note. I described them recently, when I brought the Roasted White Chocolate Brownies with Strawberry Balsamic Swirl (p. 99, recipe below) to music practice as being emblematic of how he dresses. It’s not unusual to find him wearing a mix of several kinds of stripes in candy-colors where instead of them clashing they make him look dapper and one-of-a-kind. His baking is like this and it’s one reason I’m glad that the title includes the word layered. It’s never enough to just create a riff on linzer cookies with hazelnuts and cocoa, but the jam includes blackberries and mint (p. 59) citing in the headnote how blackberries and hazelnuts both come from Oregon and pair well together especially with “an extra layer of flavor (fresh mint.)”

Keep an eye on the white chocolate as it's roasting to determine if the chocolate is done, as it can quickly burn.

He’s chatty in real life and you can hear it in his headnotes where his stories set up the recipe below. If you read his blog, eat the love you’ll know stories of his life make up a big part of the recipes he shares. It was a fun surprise to find that a cake he and I had eaten inspired the Carrot and Parsnip Layer Cake with Honey-Cream Cheese Frosting (p. 139). I remember when he won the pie contest he describes as a lead-into Lemon-Blackberry Chess Pie (p. 197). The baking and raw ice cream pop-up he notes with the Jumbo Arnold Palmer Cookies (p. 33) did sell out quickly of said cookies, and I was happy to get there to snag one of the cookies before they were gone. I’ve hosted yearly cookie swaps during the holidays and am pretty sure the Cinnamon-Honey Bun Cookies (p. 36) and the Chocolate-Vanilla Checkerboard Cookies (p. 45) both have made appearances here. Along with Anita and Shauna, for several years, we co-hosted a Food Bloggers Bake Sale for No Kid Hungry on a Saturday in the Spring where we would set up shop over by Omnivore Books. His bake sale contributions always had the best branded packaging showing his skill at graphic design with bakeshop quality cookies inside.

Cook down the Strawberry Balsamic Jam after making the Roasted White Chocolate Brownie batter.

On more than one occasion, I subtly (and not so subtly) nudged him that he needed to open a cookie shop because his cookies surpassed what was available in my opinion at neighborhood bake shops. So I suppose it’s not surprising that’s where I focused the bulk of my interest when reading Marbled, Swirled, and Layered—you too can see why if you try baking his Malted Chocolate Chip and Reverse Chip Cookies (p. 81)—his textures are everything I want in a cookie: chewy in the middles, deep flavors, crispy edges, and usually at least one esoteric ingredient. I have every intention of making the Pumpkin S’mores with Maple-Brown Sugar Marshmallows and Dark Chocolate (p. 77) when tomato / apple season ends and pumpkin season officially begins. Wink, wink. The cakes, pies, muffins, and a little bit more sections all have something to offer, (believe me, he’s a master in those categories and bakes for DAYS prior to hosting a dessert party that’s been a can’t miss event in my calendar in past years) but some part of me gravitates back to cookies and bars… especially his Roasted White Chocolate Brownies with Strawberry Balsamic Glaze.

Drop clumps of jam on the brownie and then with a fork, scrape and swirl!

Back when I worked at the cereal company several years ago, we had agreed to meet for lunch. He brought the dessert, a recipe he was working on for his cookbook. I, a self-declared lover of the darker-the-better chocolate became smitten with roasted. white. chocolate. A strawberry balsamic jam swirled the crispy tops providing a counter-note of tangy fruit to the toothsome bar. He left me several of these brownies and I squirreled them away as treats for teatime during the week. Once I’d exhausted my stash I couldn’t stop thinking about them! White chocolate had never held this kind of spell over me before or since and I bided my time until I could make them at home. Roasting the white chocolate gives the usually cloyingly sweet chocolate a burnished edge to layer in unexpected flavor. It’s kind of like Irvin himself. He adds a bit of his unmistakable charm and flavor wherever he goes, his inquisitive passion for baking so beautifully captured in a book to enliven the kitchens of intrepid home bakers.

Once the brownies appear golden on the outside and cooked through, cool them thoroughly. Resist the temptation to cut into them before it's time!

ROASTED WHITE CHOCOLATE BROWNIES WITH STRAWBERRY-BALSAMIC SWIRL

Roasted White Chocolate Brownies with Strawberry-Balsamic Swirl excerpted from MARBLED, SWIRLED, AND LAYERED© 2017 by Irvin Lin. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

When you’re picking up the ingredients to make these brownies, Irvin says, “make sure the white chocolate you purchase has cocoa butter listed in the ingredients. Bypass white chocolate chips or cheap white chocolate (which uses vegetable oil in place of the cocoa butter) as he notes those don’t melt or caramelize well.”

 MAKES 24 small brownies

BROWNIE BATTER

1 2⁄3 cups (10 ounces or 285 g) chopped

white chocolate (in about 1⁄4-inch chunks)

3⁄4 cup (170 g or 1 1⁄2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

3⁄4 cup (150 g) granulated sugar

3⁄4 cup (165 g) packed dark brown sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt

3 large eggs

1⁄2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 1⁄4 cups (315 g) all-purpose flour

 

STRAWBERRY-BALSAMIC SWIRL

1 cup (5 1⁄2 ounces or 160 g) chopped

strawberries (in about 1⁄2-inch chunks)

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1 tablespoon cold water

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

 

ROAST THE WHITE CHOCOLATE

Preheat the oven to 300°F. Spread the white chocolate on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and stir with a clean spatula until the browned chocolate at the edges is evenly mixed with the uncooked white chocolate in the center. Once completely stirred, the white chocolate should be the color of dark peanut butter. If it isn’t, continue to bake in 5-minute increments to darken it. Watch the white chocolate closely once it starts to brown, as it can burn pretty fast. Let cool on the baking sheet while you make the brownie batter.

MAKE THE BROWNIE BATTER

Lightly coat a 9 x 13-inch metal baking pan with cooking spray and then line it with parchment paper, with 2 inches of the paper overhanging the edges of the pan. Increase the oven temperature to 350°F.

Place the butter and both sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat together on medium speed until light and creamy, about 2 minutes. Add the vanilla and salt and beat to incorporate. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each egg to incorporate completely and scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl before adding the next one. Add the oil and beat to incorporate. Scrape the roasted white chocolate into the bowl (it may have hardened and gotten a little grainy, but don’t worry about that) and mix it in. Add the flour and mix on low speed until absorbed. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan.

MAKE THE STRAWBERRY-BALSAMIC SWIRL

Place the strawberries and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon and smashing the berries, until the strawberries release their juice and fall apart, 10 to 12 minutes. Stir the cornstarch into the water and then drizzle it into the strawberries, continuing to stir and cook for a minute or two until the mixture has thickened into a jam. Continue cooking for about 2 more minutes, stirring constantly, then remove from the heat. Stir in the balsamic vinegar. Drop generous tablespoons of the strawberry swirl over the brownie batter and then use a butter knife or chopstick to swirl them together. Don’t overmix; just gently pull the strawberry swirl here and there and pull some brownie batter over the strawberry swirl as well.

Bake until the brownie is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack, then remove the brownies by grabbing the sides of the parchment paper and pulling directly up. Transfer the entire slab of brownies to a cutting board. Cut and serve.

Roasted White Chocolate Brownies with Strawberry Balsamic Swirl are a great teatime treat and pair well with Darjeeling tea.

alternative to strawberry balsamic swirl

ROASTED WHITE CHOCOLATE BROWNIES WITH CHOCOLATE-HAZELNUT SWIRL

Make the brownie batter. Omit the strawberry-balsamic swirl. Make the chocolate-hazelnut swirl by placing 1 cup (130 g) hazelnuts, 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, 1⁄4 cup (30 g) natural cocoa powder (not Dutch-process), and 1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt in a food processor. Turn the processor on and slowly drizzle in 3 tablespoons olive oil while the processor is running. Blend until a paste forms. Add up to 3 teaspoons more olive oil, 1 teaspoon at a time, if the paste is too thick (you want a peanut butter–like consistency). Swirl into the brownie batter in a decorative pattern. Assemble and bake as directed. Or cheat and use 3⁄4 cup Nutella to swirl into the brownie!

Roasted White Chocolate Brownies might turn you from the dark side.

 

Categories
Cookery Bookshelf

Feast of Sorrow Book Review

Thanks go out to Touchstone Publishers for sending a complimentary copy for a Feast of Sorrow book review.


For readers of foodie fiction, Feast of Sorrow transports you to the kitchen of a patrician through the vantage point of his cook.

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ear! It may seem cheesy to start with this widely known adage, but the world in Feast of Sorrow by Crystal King so completely transports the reader to ancient Rome that you begin to wonder what color stola you might wear and start to rue the extinction of the herb, silphium. The story centers around the kitchen of a “vulgar rich patrician” Apicius and his cook, Thrasius that propel the reader into Roman intrigue, cultural mores and a dizzying collection of recipes (Roasted Peacock, anyone?).

Historical fiction hinges upon an answer to the question, what if? King qualifies in her author’s note that a cookbook with Apicius’ name on it is the oldest known collection of recipes. So, in the midst of the story a cookbook is penned. I had worried for a moment that the book would be one-sided with an overwrought hand as sometimes food stories can gluttonously go. Instead, King offered deeper understanding of the culture such as fashion cues of patricians or the politics of relationships with the food as accent. I confess I found fascination in these bits almost more than the food. What I appreciated about the book is that I wasn’t looking for cliffhangers or climaxes, I let the tale take me from one city to the next, from how slaves were purchased during the Roman era and even how they might be released. The book transfixed me in the satisfying way that makes being a reader pure pleasure.

From a craft standpoint, you could tell King had done a tremendous amount of research, whether it was locating the appropriate recipe method to open each section or uncovering the proper way of people addressing each other. Recently, I had a chance to connect with the author (isn’t that every readers secret hope?) to learn more about what brought this story to life. One quick note, tread carefully below. SPOILER ALERT! I’d encourage you to read the book and then circle back to the interview for insights.

Feast-of-Sorrow-Book-Review - anneliesz

THE FOOD POET: What sparked you writing this story?

CRYSTAL KING: I was writing a different book at the time but I had read a line (I love food books and food memoir—it’s always been a passion of mine) about Apicius and how he died in a crazy way. I wrote a scene where Apicius received the knives. As I was writing it, I ended up thinking that was a better book. I’ve always loved ancient Rome.

TFP: How long did it take to research and write this story?

CK: Writing and research was about three years. It took about three  years to find an agent—it’s been about a decade for the whole project.

TFP: Where did you go to find primary sources for your research?

CK: When I started to do research, I realized there were a lot of people who are obsessed with ancient Rome. I spent a year or more reading everything I could get my hands on. I would read Virgil, Cicero, Marcus Aurelius, Cato the Elder, Pliny the Elder – natural history – how people in ancient Rome thought about slavery, how  slaves were treated. There’s so much information that made it through from those times. I also visited Italy eight times. It changed the physicalness of the book – like where they had to walk through the forum to get to the stairs. Where the market was, where you bought the fish. I could walk where the characters would have been. 

TFP: The relationship between Apicius and Thrasius is a complex lens into slave masters and slaves in ancient Rome. What inspired you to take this approach in telling the story?

CK: I wrote the first 15 chapters four times from four points of view. There wouldn’t be any surprise in the ending if I told it from Apicius standpoint. I wanted to resist first person—so many historical fiction books are told this way. I wanted the reader to be wondering about Apicius and could do more with food, the preparation and serving of it,  by telling it through Thrasius. Apicius is on a tragic path—I needed a balance for that / someone the reader could get behind and a character that could give you insight into Apicius and could understand him in a way.

TFP: How did you decide what recipes would open up the sections?

CK: I had an agent interested in working with me on this book. Originally written in historical fiction fashion with dates at the tops of the sections, she felt the dates slowed the reader down. How do I manage time, so the reader isn’t confused if they skip years? I decided to section it out based on the chapters of the Apicius books.

TFP: Did you make up many of the foods Thrasius cooks in the story?

CK: All of the food in the book was real—directly from the cookbooks. There were foods not from Apicius’ cookbook but from other ancient Roman cooking. They ate silphium all the time in the food but it was also used in birth control. Med researchers are trying to understand what it was in that root to control unwanted pregnancies.

TFP: There’s a Downton Abbey-esque feel to the book, especially in the beginning–how did you feel out how much of this is Thrasius’ story versus Apicius’?

CK: In the first draft this is Apicius’ story. As my early readers and writing group workshopped it, they kept asking, “whose story is this?” As Thrasius is telling the story, it’s about him. Early drafts I struggled with that. It’s a story about the whole family. That’s when I started to add more about Passia and Sotas. That’s when it took on a different life.

TFP: I always wondered how Apicius made money– he seemed to run through it quickly!

CK: Early on, Apicius’ father had left him a ton of money. What patricians would do is they would make trade deals, buy land, or they owned farms, salt mines—I wanted him to not care about any of that.

TFP: The fate of women was also very stark in the story– theirs seemed like a different kind of slavery.

CK: The women are all very marginalized in a lot of ways. The book cover from the publisher originally depicted romance but we worked to find something better. This story is not a romance, not about the women, and it’s also a good reminder of how far we have come. These women were owned by their husbands, who they married and who they didn’t. I wanted to make them strong characters with some personality but they couldn’t go so far. Apicata was married to Sejanus in real life. Apicius did sleep with Sejanus early on.

Categories
Cookery Bookshelf Recipes

Chocolate Brownies with Salted Tahini Frosting

Chocolate Brownies with Salted Tahini Frosting

We eat with our eyes first and so it shouldn’t be such a surprise to say that the way I found Jennifer Farley was through her photography. Her sense of minimalist style mirrored my own desire to let the food speak for itself without much adornment. Last Fall, her cookbook The Gourmet Kitchen came out and I toted it along with me on a trip, doing my first pass of marking recipes to cook and making annotations in the margins.

Jennifer Farley's Chocolate Brownies with Salted Tahini Frosting

We dined on her Broccoli Cheddar Baked Potatoes (p. 124) finding the double-baked approach a delightful way to enjoy that stellar pairing of broccoli and cheese. Her Poached Salmon Soup with Udon and Mushrooms (p. 72) is unbelievably easy and warmed us on rainy days. We noshed on Baked Acorn Squash with Garlic-Yogurt Sauce (p.140), an Afghani dish also known as kaddo bourani, as it reminded us of a favorite wedding anniversary meal several years ago. The Quinoa, Blueberry, and Almond Salad with Honey Lemon Mint Vinaigrette (p. 96) is on the menu this week for lunch, and I’m jonesing to prep the Sesame-Crusted Tofu Salad with Spicy Peanut Dressing (p.87) using some Hodo Soy tofu that’s in the fridge. Can you think of anything more decadent for dinner celebrations than Jumbo Lump Crab Pot Pie (p.185)?

Chocolate Brownies with Salted Tahini Frosting

I’m not sure I can wait until next Christmas to make the Orange Cardamom Cinnamon Buns (p. 45), though I know I’ll have to wait until that sliver of time in September to make the Peanut Butter and Jelly Shortbread Bars (p. 261) since the Concord grapes necessary for the Concord Grape Curd (p. 222) aren’t in season until then. I initially became familiar with the author through her exquisite photography and blog, Savory Simple. Gourmet Kitchen gives Farley more room to dig deeper into au courant flavors like the Spicy Gochujang Chicken Wings (p. 168) or Salted Caramel Toffee Ice Cream (p. 209). She shares tricks from her culinary school training in methods like how to make ghee (p. 5) or in tips noted in the headnotes like using the corn cobs to make the corn stock for her Chilled Summer Corn Soup (p. 75). This is a cookbook for people who like to cook. Her recipes offer a straightforward approach to introducing sophisticated flavors into recipes easy enough for weeknights and others to pull out for parties.

Chocolate Brownies with Salted Tahini Frosting - anneliesz

In preparation for January 10, I pulled down my copy of The Gourmet Kitchen for one simple reason on page 253. Some friends knit pink pussyhats. Others made signs on poster board with permanent markers. Still others boarded airplanes bound for DC. I baked Jennifer Farley’s Chocolate Brownies with Salted Tahini Frosting.

Chocolate Brownies with Salted Tahini Frosting - anneliesz

I couldn’t shake the vision of offering something sweet to others who decided it would be a good idea to march for whatever reason that brought them out. See, I have this crazy idea that if somehow we could all sit around a table and eat good food, we might be able to listen to one another, or at the very least give each other a chance to be seen. I’ve made these brownies twice and here’s something true: both times these brownies made friends and strangers smile. And, isn’t cooking or baking all about bringing a bit of something sweet into someone else’s life?

Maybe that’s the real secret of the gourmet kitchen.

Chocolate Brownies with Salted Tahini Frosting

Chocolate Brownies with Salted Tahini Frosting

(Reprinted with permission from The Gourmet Kitchen by Jennifer Farley, published by Gallery Books, 2016.)

YIELD: 36 mini brownies / 16 full-sized brownies

BROWNIES
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 1/2 ounces (5 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 ounces (1/3 cup) all-purpose flour

SALTED TAHINI FROSTING
3 ounces (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup well-stirred tahini
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease an 8×8-inch brownie pan with baking spray or butter and line it with parchment paper, allowing two sides to hang over the edges.

In a large heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, heat the chocolate and butter, stirring until evenly combined and smooth. Remove the pan from the heat. Add the sugar and whisk vigorously until smooth. Whisk in the eggs, vanilla, and salt. Sift in the flour and stir until smooth. Pour the mixture into the pan. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow the brownies to cool to room temperature.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter on high speed until light and fluffy. Add the tahini and mix on medium speed, scraping down the sides several times, until evenly combined with the butter. With the mixer on low speed, add the sugar and salt. Mix until the dry ingredients have incorporated. Scrape down the sides and turn the speed up to medium-high, allowing the frosting to mix for another minute, until light and smooth.

Use the excess parchment paper to lift the brownies out of the pan and place them on a cutting board. Use a spatula to evenly frost the brownies. Cut the brownies and serve.

Categories
Cookery Bookshelf

Christmas Cookies

Christmas Cookies anneliesz

How is a tradition made? I’m inclined to think the plain response is repetition. But look for the underlying root cause and you’ll find desire–that holds something of intrinsic interest. Is it desire for gobbling sugar-laden rounds, crispy or chewy at a yearly cookie swap? Perhaps. But, peek beneath that layer of parchment paper and the desire goes well beyond unsalted butter creamed into brown sugar and granulated white. If we cook to nourish, we bake to share.

Growing up, Christmas cookies didn’t factor into our holiday experience. My mom regularly kept keen tabs on the sugar supply entering our house. Once, while visiting family in Mexico, my eyes bugged out of my head seeing the elaborate platters of cookies baked simply for service when guests visited. Can you imagine keeping a cookie inventory with the expectation of people regularly visiting? More often, cookies around here get frozen, packed up and toted to work or washed down with a sip of tea. But, once a year, for the past few, we congregate to share cookies with friends who have brought their own batch to dispatch to a new home.

This year, I contemplated making this year’s get-together the final hurrah in a string of past year cookie parties. I thought I had baked my last Christmas cookie until the day of the party when I pulled down the new cookbooks I had been waiting to put to good use and which I’m going to highlight below. What I had failed to see as I considered cutting the cookie swap ties is what I actually love about cookie parties. Each person brings cookies that reflect their personality, whether they’re nuanced and complex, simple and straightforward, or adventurous. This year’s batch was no less interesting.

Pierre Herme chocolate sables sidled up to chocolate peanut butter buckeyes. Linzer cookies with cranberry orange jam sat near Mexican pfeffernusse. Saffron snickerdoodles and sandwich cookies cut in animal shapes slicked with tomato jam set up shop near double chocolate chip cookies. Chocolate fudge punctuated by white chocolate chips kept company with chocolate hazelnut thumbprint cookies with hot fudge. The array of cookies distributed on the platters reflected the interesting assemblage of characters in our house. Each person’s individuality positively impacted the party and the wild collection of cookies served as a visual depiction.

Snickerdoodles - Cookie Love

“Any Which Way But You Will Never Lose” Snickerdoodles

from Cookie Love by Mindy Segal with Kate Leahy

When my friend Kate’s newest cookbook came out in April, I pre-ordered it even though I knew I wouldn’t use it until December. I’ve visited Mindy’s HotChocolate in Chicago and toted home a bag of one of her hot chocolate blends to keep the sweetness going strong. What I liked right off the mark with Cookie Love is how cookie plates play a regular role at HotChocolate.  The book is organized like a cookie plate–even the table of contents resembles a tic-tac-toe grid of cookie types. Segal says, “Like serving a cookie plate, making cookies is a generous act.” (p. 4) Her cookie plates focus on providing cookies of different textures, flavors, and colors, offering a cookie type for each kind of eater. Two methods for shortbread yield fun and aesthetically pleasing sandy crisps of Leopard Print Vanilla Bean and Chocolate Shortbread with Hot Fudge (p. 61). Best Friends cookies (p. 119) marry coffee and malted milk hot fudge. In her tough love front matter section, Segal implores you to “Embrace the extras.” (p.4) She puts her methods where her mouth is giving multiple ways that extras can be used up. The photography is inventive and sometimes whimsical much like the cookie-maker herself, evidenced in cookies like the Black Sabbath (p. 85), a deep dark chocolate sandwich cookie with frosty peppermint filling and that pays homage to Segal’s appreciation for heavy metal. Next up on the cookie-baking front: quite possibly the Peanut Butter Thumbprints with Strawberry Lambic Jam (p. 145). But, for the Cookie Swap, I made the Snickerdoodles. Rolled in cinnamon sugar, the flavor is all familiar but the cookie clincher can be easily summed up as two kinds of salt–one to round out the sweetness and the other, a bit of crunch. It just so happened that Kate brought Chocolate Hazelnut Thumbprints dented with gooey hot fudge, a variation of Hot Fudge Thumbprints (p. 147) that another party-goer exulted over when the second layer of cookies made an appearance.

Chocolate Wafer Cookies - Gluten Free Wishlist

Chocolate Wafer Cookies

from Gluten-Free Wishlist by Jeanne Sauvage

I met Jeanne in person only this year during a brief trip to Seattle. She kindly let me prep for a cooking demo in her kitchen and after every last ingredient had been measured and bagged, we sat down for tea and she offered me cookies from a batch she was testing. That cookie! Chewy in the middle, crisp around the edges and deeply doused in chocolate, it left quite an impression. When she offered to pack up the batch for me to ferry away to my hotel room, I happily accepted them. Every year at the Cookie Party, I bake a batch of gluten-free cookies. I knew that this year’s fete needed to include one of her cookies and she happily sent me a copy of her cookbook to check out and cook through. I love the premise behind Gluten-Free Wishlist creating a collection of recipes that include foods that have been missed when living gluten-free. As testament to that idea, one Cookie Party attendee decided to purchase a copy of the cookbook for his sister upon seeing the photo of Ramen Soup (p. 186) on the cover. Sauvage’s foundation in technique comes through in her precise instruction, including a six-page method for making Croissants (p. 147) with a variation for Chocolate Croissants. Using Jeanne’s Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour (p. 39), a blend that kicks off the book means the recipes  that follow it are straightforward with expert guidance of what to look for as you bake and cook. The morning of the Cookie Party, I was running a bit behind schedule and I say this primarily to highlight how easy the Chocolate Wafer Cookies (p. 196) were to make. If I’d had enough time, I would have converted those Chocolate Wafer Cookies into Jeanneos (p. 205), slathering their middles with frosting. And the same cookies would make a fabulous base crust for an icebox pie (hello, Peanut Butter Cream or Banana Cream Pie!). I’m eyeing the Soft Pretzels (p. 69) next and am intrigued by the Gluten-Free Master Sourdough (p. 87) though the recipe for Stroopwafels (p. 206) hits all the high notes for Dutch food taste memories of morsels my Dad would bring home from Henk’s Black Forest Bakery.

Chocolate Chip Cookies with Hazelnuts - Gluten-Free Girl Everyday

Hazelnut Chocolate Chip Cookies

from Gluten-Free Girl Everyday by Shauna James Ahern with Daniel Ahern

Over in Emeryville, there’s a tiny bakery that sells a screamingly good hazelnut chocolate chip cookie. For this year’s Cookie Party, I knew I wanted to bake two types of gluten-free cookies because I figured most of the cookies friends would bring would be glutenful and I knew three people attending are gluten-avoiders. I wanted their cookie options to be interesting, delicious, and safe. When Shauna James Ahern and Dan Ahern launched a kickstarter last November, I kicked in and was rewarded with a box of their gluten-free flour with a chocolate chip cookie recipe on the side of the box. I had a hunch that the ingredients were within reach and proceeded to mix them together. I discovered happily the suggestion to add chopped hazelnuts to the batter. Bingo! When these cookies hit the cooling rack, it was mighty hard to hold myself back from just eating one with chocolate melting as the cookie is torn in two. Aside from the cookie being a good gluten-free cookie, this was one good cookie. I spirited over to my cookbook shelf. Sure enough, inside Ahern’s James Beard award-winning cookbook, Gluten-Free Girl Every Day, there on page 289, was the Chocolate Chip Cookies with Hazelnuts recipe. Ahern and I worked together at a previous company. Her writing wins me over and her recipes are easy to navigate. Earlier this year, we earmarked several of their recipes while going through a Whole 30 nutrition reset. I’ve bookmarked others like the Edamame and Sweet Rice Salad with Salty Seeds (p. 151) for a quick weeknight meal or the Millet Fritters with Feta, Spinach, and Golden Raisins (p. 98).  I’ve made their Millet Waffles with Smoked Salmon, Creme Fraiche, and Capers (p.103) which were light, crunchy, briny, creamy, and smoky. This cookbook leans on the more savory side and so do I.

Christmas Cookies- anneliesz

I believe in Christmas and the reason for the season. But, I also wish my friends Happy Hanukkah who celebrate that holiday and send Happy Holidays greetings to friends who exchange gifts without attachment. This is the first year I’ve caught a few sentiments thrown out declaring, “Happy Everything!” and I don’t know what that means. Let’s say that next year, the cookie party assembled under one theme, say chocolate chip cookies. I can guarantee that if there are 15 people in attendance, there will be 15 variations on the same chocolate chip cookie idea. And doesn’t that diversity make for a more interesting conversation?

It’s hard to celebrate the season singing Christmas carols or being merry and bright in light of recent events including the massacre in San Bernardino. The Los Angeles Times style of reporting short bursts of updates has satisfied my need to know and stay current, perhaps to my detriment as I scroll and refresh the page with frequency, gobbling information like aforementioned cookies. We are at the start of two holidays that are celebrations and in the back of my mind I think about employees gathered at an ordinary office Christmas party in Southern California, not knowing as they drank cider or punch that their lives were about to change. Perhaps they too ate cookies before the doors splayed open.

We gather together bringing who we are to the table. What we bring, who we are can vary differently from the person next to us, but isn’t that part of the beauty of a cookie swap? Your cookie will be different from my cookie and that makes it delicious in its own right. I can’t imagine requiring everyone to bring the same cookie made from the same recipe as the only way to party. Each cookie and each person who bakes them holds so much intrinsic worth. Sometimes, it is all we can do to come to a cookie party, toting a baker’s dozen to share with the stranger who looks nothing like us and who just might become a new friend. Sometimes, it is all we can do to spread cheer and be the change we wish to see in our world, in our living room, right here.

Categories
Cookery Bookshelf

Whole30 Meal Plan Menu & Book Review

Late one evening in a hotel room tucked into downtown Philadelphia, only two things were still awake: me and a growing desire to pull out a take-away tub of butterscotch pudding. Earlier that evening at Tallulah’s Daily, a dear foodie friend and his wife recommended trying something that would be life-changing after our feast had ended. Fast forward: it’s 2 a.m. and I am grinding the coal for that post-midnight oil to continue burning. I began toying with the idea of taking one drag of a spoonful through the thick, luscious pudding. We can guess how long that idea lasted as my love of puddings, custards, and such might be a tad legendary. He was right. My life was about to change. And, as you can imagine, I woke up with a sugar hangover. My normally spry self crawled out of bed unsure about tackling the day ahead that thankfully was devoid of any major events or needs to operate heavy machinery. I also began toying with another idea, one that had been planted at a book signing in Dallas earlier in May.

At a Steeped pop-up tea, one of the guests handed me her copy of Steeped and sucked on locally-brewed kombucha that I also enjoyed drinking. We talked about scobys and she spelled her name. Afterwards, she began talking to the other guests about how she was finishing up her second Whole30. I tend to be curious by nature and had heard this term only once before from a childhood friend. While it usually takes a person nine times to hear the same message before acting on it, according to the oracle known as Google, it only took me twice. I bought the book and relished the idea of a nutrition reset to try and right the wrongs of butterscotch pudding at 2 a.m. and the kinds of passes a person gives themselves when traveling for long stretches at a time. Past cleanses as prescribed by my previous naturopath helped provide context of what what Whole30 meals might look like in the focus of what foods to avoid.

Whole30 Book Cover

So, for this week’s summer reading list title, I submit to you the Whole30 by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig. Let’s dive into the meat of the book. Pardon the paleo pun. You can tell this book has gotten a lot of action over the years. Each page and section is so well thought out it’s as if they are reading my mind and wondering what I might be positing as a question next. I like the testimonials that begin each chapter almost as much as the conversational tone that can become quite specific in doling out tough love, which is to say I never knew so many people liked and would miss pancakes. The e-reader copy has thoughtful hyperlinks that take the inquisitive reader to what the authors promise they will address later in the book, as if understanding that the question needs to be dealt with before the reader can turn their attention back to what the author next wants to disseminate. Equal parts cheerleader – drill instructor – and cooking mentor, this book must be a beast in real life because it does so much. I deeply appreciate that the focus on cooking for self is underscored as a decision for health and includes cooking basics with enticing imagery as well as meal plans, and deep sections of recipes. If the Whole30 had been written 15 years ago, it would not have had the groundswell that it is achieving today. The program laid out in the book is  deeply rooted in online community and support available in the forum, social media, and free bi-weekly newsletters.

What interested me about undertaking the Whole30 is that it brings vegetables, proteins, fruits, and healthy fats to the forefront and the reintroduction period afterward gauges in a thoughtful way each person’s body’s response to food groups they’ve been avoiding for 30 days. I like that it’s not technically in my mind a diet (because let’s face it, the very word makes me want to hide in my hovel) but more a culinary challenge and I am usually ready to suit up for culinary challenges. I’m keen on listening to how my body responds and the idea of curbing my ever-present adversary, refined sugar back down to “occasional” size. Also, summertime is such a wonderful time to gorge on the gorgeous produce available at farmer’s markets.

So, I thought it would be fun to chronicle our weekly menus with the idea that they might give inspiration to others considering just such a reset. I am going to update this post throughout the month, so circle back if you are visiting after the first week. After conferring with my best friend who just finished her own Whole 30, she armed me with ideas for how to make meal planning manageable. I have also found my copy of my pal, Michelle Tam’s award-winning cookbook Nom Nom Paleo invaluable (especially with her printable PDF of Whole 30 recipes in her book- it’s genius). Hyperlinks and comments will abound though some things will be MacGyvered in my home kitchen and won’t have links to other recipes as I tend to cook off-road most of the time based on what’s in the cupboard and fridge (or what I’m particularly craving). I’m not a dietitian. I am not a nutritionist. I’m a curious home cook who is planning to mine the heck out of the spice cabinet (hello, tea spices!) and herb garden during the next month. I procure spices from local spicery Oaktown Spice Shop– most of their blends do not have sugar in them, but when in doubt, I ask. Let’s get busy cooking, shall we?

WEEK 1

Whole 30 Meal Plan Menu

DAY 1

Breakfast
Stovetop Frittata with Banana
This is my favorite frittata and one I developed for my last Cooking Matters class for parents. It’s chock full of veggies and flavor.

Lunch
Tuna spinach salad with homemade ras el hanout mayo
The ras el hanout spice blend bumps up the flavor of my homemade olive oil mayo.

Dinner
Nom Nom Paleo’s Slow-Roasted Kailua Pork (p. 234, NNP Cookbook) Cabbage Cups, Roasted Carrots and Beets
This was a satisfying meal. The pork is a perfect foil for sauce. Next up, making salsa to drizzle over it. The cabbage worked well- they were sturdy and had lots of crunch. The beets are a show-stopper.

Whole 30 Meal Plan Menu
DAY 2

Breakfast
Scrambled Eggs with Avocado and Banana
I’m going to jazz up this combo in the future.

Lunch
Kalua Pork Cabbage Cups and Roasted Root Vegetables with Salsa
The salsa turned this into something we would easily eat again and all of the elements make this an easily transportable lunch.

Dinner
Nom Nom Paleo’s Cauliflower “Fried Rice” with Pork (p. 159 NNP cookbook)
When Michelle says you might eat a second bowl of this delectable concoction, she’s not kidding. I would agree that this version of fried “rice” is better than what you might find at a Chinese restaurant. We will be making this again. Also, don’t substitute for the bacon, it adds a layer of flavor to the rice that would be missed.

Whole 30 Meal Plan Menu

DAY 3

Breakfast
Stovetop Frittata with Banana

Lunch
Leftovers Salad – Pork simmered in salsa with root veggies and spinach

Dinner
Nom Nom Paleo’s Fiona’s Green Chicken, Smashed Potatoes with Thyme and Spinach Salad with Creamy Ras el Hanout Dressing
The marinade really makes the chicken. I’ve determined this might be the perfect protein for potlucks or grilling at parties. It’s juicy and lively with flavors. Thanks to my friend Tara for the smashed potatoes recommendation, that duo worked well together. The leftover ras el hanout mayo (about 1 tablespoon) made it into a homemade salad dressing. I hate to waste food.

Whole 30 Meal Plan Menu

DAY 4

Breakfast
Stovetop Frittata with Watermelon

Lunch
Leftovers Salad- Pork Simmered in Salsa with Root Veggies and Avocado with a Peach
At this point, I had reached my limit of pork, so we froze the rest of the shredded pork, which will make an appearance later this month.

Dinner
Leftover Green Chicken with Mashed Sweet Potatoes, Stir-Fried Kale and Strawberries
I love kale- the key is to let its savory flavor really come through. Here I sauteed it with coconut oil, shallots, garlic, salt, white pepper and unsweetened coconut flakes. I finished it off with a squirt of lime on top.

Whole 30 Menu Meal Plan_2227

DAY 5

Breakfast
Kale, Onion Scramble with a Peach
I had saved half of the shallots and garlic already sauteed so I could include them at the end of the scramble. Coriander worked its magic with the kale here too.

Lunch
Leftover Fiona’s Green Chicken with Smashed Potatoes & Greens

Dinner
Bruschetta Turkey Burger, Roasted Cauliflower and Mashed Sweet Potatoes
My craving for bruschetta led to this dish. The turkey meat was seasoned with salt and pepper, but other than that, no fancy tricks here.

Whole 30 Meal Plan Menu_2232

DAY 6

Breakfast
Kale, Onion Scramble with a Peach

Lunch
Green Salad and Lemon Wedges at a Sushi Restaurant, Bruschetta Turkey Burger at Home, Banana with Almond Butter en route to the sushi restaurant
Whoever said to eat well before going to a sushi restaurant (Nom Nom Paleo) was right on. After reviewing the menu online and trying to call ahead to see if I could get steamed vegetables and a simply prepared piece of salmon, I discovered it was their day off and I needed to make provisions. So, noshing on the banana and almond butter on the way and an emergency date, coconut bar in my bag helped me know that the tiny green salad was not all I had for help when hunger assailed. The banana and nut butter really helped and I could curb the tide until I got home.

Dinner
Lamb Bolognese with Spaghetti Squash and Watermelon
I make marinara from scratch often and had picked up ground lamb. My craving for mushrooms paired up nicely with the last stems of basil in the fridge so we went the Bolognese route for this dish. Usually I bastardize my Bolognese with carrots for sweetness and an earthy herb like thyme. Served over spaghetti squash, this has been one of my favorite meals thus far.

Whole 30 Menu Meal Plan

DAY 7

Breakfast
Kale, Onion Scramble with a Peach

Lunch
Leftover Spaghetti Squash with Lamb Bolognese

Dinner
Against All Grain’s Crockpot Thai Beef Stew and Watermelon
We love Thai food. So, I looked for a recipe that could work while I worked. Enter this stew. You brown the meat and mix it with the sauce to simmer for 8 hours- perfect! I prepped all the veggies ahead of time and added them to the pot at the final hour of cooking. I got a big thumb’s up for dinner.

WEEK 2

Whole 30 Recipes

DAY 8

Breakfast
Scrambled Eggs (with a few of the curried veggies snuck in) and strawberries
Any leftover bits of vegetables make a great addition to scrambles and omelettes.

Lunch
Beef Burger Salad with Romesco at Mission Heirloom Café
This restaurant in Berkeley is paleo and offers several tasty options that are Whole 30 okay.

Dinner
Wild Sockeye Salmon with Pistou, Beets and Flash-Fried Padron Peppers
I decided to play around with the idea of food art. The axiom goes that we eat with our eyes so if the food is pretty then we will find extra delight in it.

Whole 30 Menu Meal Plan
Day 9

Breakfast
Mushroom Thyme Scramble with Homemade Marinara and Peach Slices
Homemade marinara might be my new favorite way to sauce eggs apart from salsa Mexicana.

Lunch
Leftover Thai Beef Curry

Dinner
Sweet Potato with Wild Sockeye Salmon, Steamed Spinach, Pistou and Crispy Shallots
This was pretty easy to throw together and the texture and taste of the crispy shallots made the dish stand out.

Whole 30 Meal Plan

Day 10

Breakfast
Italian Flag Frittata (kale, mushroom frittata drizzled with marinara and pistou) and strawberries
Whoa. These two sauces side by side left quite an impressive punch of flavor.

Lunch
Leftover Thai Beef Curry

Dinner
Grilled Chicken, sautéed Swiss chard and grilled root vegetables
This dish was the outcome of my mother-in-law answering the question, “What can I make for my kids who are on the Whole 30. It was a good opportunity to talk about why we are setting aside 30 days to reset and listen to our bodies and the meal is something that can be a good stand-by if you’re trying to suggest foods to eat for a potential party / to a host. 

 Whole 30 Menu

Day 11

Breakfast
Swiss chard scramble with berries and nectarine chunks

Lunch
Grilled chicken kebab with citrus-infused potatoes and cucumber, black olive, tomato salad

Dinner
Artichoke Garlic sausage with kale, sweet potato, tomato, red pepper sauté
This might be my new “fast food” go-to. It’s a chop, saute, serve kind of situation that’s mighty tasty. Check the labels on the sausages. We used Aidell’s.

Whole 30 Recipes

Day 12

Breakfast
Zucchini scramble with leftover marinara and a peach
I steamed the zucchini chunks the night before so I would have something to add to my morning eggs. Good decision!

Lunch
Shrimp salad doused in Crystal hot sauce with beets, lettuce, black olives and tomato slices.
I’m pretty convinced that Crystal hot sauce is a gift from above. It certainly made what would have been a boring Pier 39 salad into something with a bit more pizzazz.

Dinner
Juicy brisket with melted onions, smashed potatoes and parsley beet salad
This was a revelation. You can take the girl out of Texas but somewhere deep down I will always have a soft spot for brisket. Also, the jus was oh so nice drizzled on the crunchy bits of the smashed potatoes.

Whole 30 Recipes

Day 13

Breakfast
Spinach omelette

Lunch
Sweet potato with chopped brisket and a bowl of blueberries in coconut milk
This was my first flub- and as I look at breakfast, it was too. Breakfast should have included more fat- 1/4 or 1/2 an avocado sliced. Lunch should have had vegetables and much more protein than the scraggles of brisket pieces. Plus the bowl of blueberries and coconut milk felt like my first cheat even though they were both “okay” on the W30 list. Live and learn, right? I was hangry and frustrated the entire afternoon. I took a walk. I phoned a friend. I moved on and will plan better.

Dinner
Leftover brisket with beets and spinach avocado salad dressed with leftover pistou

 Whole 30 Recipes

Day 14

Breakfast
Tomato omelette with avocado and blueberries

Lunch
Leftover brisket with steamed cauliflower and broccoli

Dinner
Chicken with melted onions and bell pepper atop steamed butternut squash and roasted Brussels sprouts
This chicken is something I have been making for a while. It is a kind of comfort food and thigh meat just has more flavor and juiciness. Also, I know butternut squash and Brussels sprouts are technically “not in season” but variety is the spice of life and I’m okay with painting outside the seasonal lines occasionally.

Week 3

Whole 30 Recipes

Day 15

Breakfast
Tomato Omelette with a nectarine

Lunch
Leftover chicken with butternut squash spinach salad and avocado

Dinner
Cabbage sauté with sausage, mushrooms, tomatoes, and peppers

Whole 30 Menu Mealplan

Day 16

Breakfast
Tomato Omelette with a nectarine

Lunch
Leftover sausage cabbage sauté with a side of blueberries

Dinner
Niman Ranch flank steak salad with grilled onions, avocado and tomatoes

Whole 30 Recipes

Day 17

Breakfast
Slept in- oops!

Lunch
Salad bowl from Chipotle with chicken, fajita vegetables, pico de gallo and guacamole

Dinner
My version of Salade Nicoise with a side of blueberries

Whole 30 Menu Mealplan

Day 18

Breakfast
Tomato, Green Bean Frittata with a banana

Lunch
Spaghetti Squash with Homemade Marinara and Meatballs

Dinner
Adobo chicken with steamed potatoes and carrot avocado spinach salad

Whole 30 Recipe

Day 19

Breakfast
2 eggs sunny side up with avocado and tomato slices and a side of blueberries

Lunch
Leftover Salade Nicoise

Dinner
Leftover Spaghetti Squash with Homemade Marinara and Meatballs along with a side of watermelon

Whole 30 Menu Meal Plans

Day 20

Breakfast
Green Bean Egg Scramble with Blueberries

Lunch
Leftover Sausage Cabbage Saute

Dinner
Braised Beef with Onions,

Whole 30 Recipe

Day 21

Breakfast
Sausage Scramble with a Banana

Lunch
Leftover Adobo Chicken with Spinach

Dinner
Ground Beef Cabbage Cup Tacos with tomatoes, avocado and a side of cherries

Week 4

Whole 30 Recipes

Day 22

Breakfast
Tomato Omelette

Lunch
Leftover Spiced Ground Beef Tacos in Cabbage Cups

Dinner
Poached Fish with Aioli, Steamed Carrots and Sliced Fennel

Whole 30 Menu Meal Plan

Day 23

Breakfast
Tomato Omelette

Lunch
Leftover Spiced Ground Beef Tacos in Cabbage Cups

Dinner
Tuna Cakes with Creamy Carrot Curls Tossed in Leftover Aioli

Whole 30 Menu

Day 24

Breakfast
Tomato Omelette

Lunch
My version of Salade Nicoise

Dinner
Shredded Pork with Carrots and Potatoes over Shredded Cabbage Slaw in Cilantro Dressing

Whole 30 Recipe

Day 25

Breakfast
Tomato Omelette

Lunch
Leftover Shredded Pork with Carrots and Potatoes over Shredded Cabbage Slaw in Cilantro Dressing

Dinner
Shredded Pork Green Curry

Whole 30 Recipes

Day 26

Breakfast
Tomato Basil Omelette

Lunch
Leftover Shredded Pork Green Curry

Dinner
Caldo de Pollo with Avocado

Whole 30 Recipe

Day 27

Breakfast
Tomato Omelette

Lunch
Leftover Caldo de Pollo with Avocado

Dinner
Spiced Ground Beef Tacos with Mexican Gremolata in Cabbage Cups

Whole 30 Recipes

Day 28

Breakfast
Tomato Omelette

Lunch
Leftover Caldo de Pollo with Avocado

Dinner
My version of Paleo Chicken Schnitzel with Swiss Chard and Fingerling Potatoes

Whole 30 recipes

Day 29

Breakfast
Tomato Omelette

Lunch
Leftover Caldo de Pollo with Avocado

Dinner
Salmon with Squash and Mushroom Garnish, Cabbage Slaw with Basil Dressing, and Cherokee Purple Heirloom Tomatoes

Whole30 recipes

Day 30

Breakfast
Tomato Omelette

Lunch
Leftover Chicken Schnitzel with Leftover Cabbage Slaw

Dinner
Taco Salad with Spiced Ground Beef, Sunchokes, Avocado and two kinds of tomatoes (Early Girl and Cherokee Purple)