Cookery Bookshelf

Matcha Dusted Maple Chocolate Cupcakes

Matcha Chocolate Cake_anneliesz_5373

First of all, it feels so good to be back blogging again. For the first time in two months, my kitchen has come out of lockdown. I’m back in Oakland and planning some delicious things for coming weeks.

Cookbooks make good traveling companions, don’t you think? With a pencil in hand, hours of entertainment are yours for the simple asking price of three to five pounds of extra weight in your carry-on or backpack. I used to travel with other peoples’ books until I started traveling with a full suitcase of my own. The best part about returning home from a book tour is returning home to Oakland to catch up with friends, and scrounge around in the cupboard and cobble together dinner with Nathan. Part of playing catch-up involves making tea dates or penciling in time to walk with friends. But recently, I played catch-up in a completely different way: taking two cookbooks written by Bay area friends on a road trip to Santa Ana. While Nathan drove and listened to AM sports talk radio, I dove into one book and then the next, pencil in hand. Each book showed the imagination of the person penning it. Now being on this side of the cookbook process, my respect has amplified at least a thousand fold for anyone who sets out to write a cookbook. For those of you prone to the idea of book babies and birthing a book, imagine a year or more of labor without an epidural. It’s quite a feat. I will never forget meeting up for lunch shortly after I’d begun working on Steeped full-time with my friend, Shauna Sever. She shared her experiences with levity, for which I will always be grateful.

Real Sweet Cookbook_5412

When a cookbook is written well, you can hear the voice of the writer leap off the page. Shauna knows the craft of telling a good story and has a distinct personality on the screen of her blog and also on the pages of her books. Her last cookbook, Pure Vanilla taught me all about different kinds of vanilla–don’t get me started on her recipe for Malted White Hot Chocolate. My relationship with all things malted borders on obsessive. Shauna’s new book, Real Sweet takes on the topic of baking with natural sweeteners. With her snappy sense of humor, she shows her extensive knowledge in a way that is approachable and leaves the reader feeling smarter. By the end of the book, I definitely felt smarter, ready to break out the coconut sugar or demerara. Shauna’s described as the next door baker and it’s really true. She is just the person you would want to have living next door, sharing sugar (turbinado!) and plates of oatmeal cookies (Mrs. Braun’s!). I figured who better to demystify the flavor possibilities of natural sweeteners than Mrs. Next Door Baker herself.

Real Sweet Cookbook_5413

The book is arranged into seven sections that take on different kinds of baking situations and focus on a particular natural sweetener. All-day snacks and lunch box treats star the femme fatale, coconut sugar, while the picnics and potlucks section explores turbinado, the hero. My cupboard happens to possess almost all of the sweeteners mentioned in the book, so naturally, I began dog earing pages for later consumption–ahem, research. Rhubarb and Rose ice cream with agave nectar? Say no more. Chocolate Chip and Cherry Date Cake sounds great. Oatmeal and Turbinado Cream Cookie Sandwiches might make it on the menu before the month is out. I’m open to opportunities to whisk, spoon and be the Friday afternoon heroine, showing up at a certain Oakland office building with baked goodies. Could it be yours? Maybe.

On this occasion I had visions of cupcakes dancing in my head to celebrate the victory of our hometown Oakland Golden State Warriors win during game 3 of the NBA play-offs. And, I wanted to pillage my pantry rather than go to the grocery store. I flipped open Real Sweet and landed on the Maple Chocolate Cake. Cocoa powder? Check. Greek yogurt? Check. Maple syrup? Check. Yes. As I finished scanning the ingredient list, my cupcake delivery plan started coming together.

Matcha Chocolate Cake-anneliesz_5404

What I like about this cake is it’s not too sweet but it has great bounce. I poked a few dark chocolate chips into one of the cupcakes and wouldn’t you know, it tasted amazing. But here’s the thing with friendship: you bring who you are to the table and they bring who they are. So, I hope you won’t be disappointed to learn I had to find a way to sneak tea into these black beauties. And, let me just tell you. Dusting the maple chocolate cupcakes with matcha powdered sugar might have been my second best decision of the day. Because good decision number one is sharing with you a book from a person who is as real and sweet as her book title suggests.

PS- If you’re in the Bay area, Shauna is going to be talking about natural sweeteners and signing books on Saturday, June 11 at 3 over at Omnivore Books in San Francisco.

Matcha Chocolate Cake_anneliesz_5370

Matcha Dusted Maple Chocolate Cupcakes

Maple Chocolate Cake printed with permission from Real Sweet by Shauna Sever

 This cake is used in a wickedly good recipe in Real Sweet: the Black and White Pancake Cake (see above photo of the open pages of the cookbook. Just imagine thin layers of chocolate cake sandwiched by cream and drizzled with ganache—need I say more?) But if you want to whip up some Friday afternoon cupcakes with a slight kick of caffeine, matcha dusting is a must. The chocolate and maple goodness are the right foil for the grassiness of the matcha green tea sugar. You can go easy does it and sift a fine sprinkling of the matcha powdered sugar on top of the cupcakes or go for a full-on green blizzard. The choice is yours. Tip: If you have leftover matcha powdered sugar, store it in a sealed container in a cool spot. Sift it over homemade donuts or whisk up a hot cup of pre-sweetened matcha by sprinkling 1 teaspoon into 4 ounces of hot 170F water and whisking until combined. Add 8 ounces warmed milk or hot water and sip.

YIELD: Makes 1 ½ dozen cupcakes, two 9-inch cake layers, or one 9×13-inch sheet cake



1 ½ cups (192 grams) unbleached AP flour, spooned and leveled

¾ cup (72 grams) unsweetened natural cocoa powder

1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

¾ teaspoon baking powder

¾ teaspoon fine sea salt

1 cup (336 grams) pure maple syrup (dark or very dark preferred)

1 cup (242 grams) 2% Greek yogurt

2 large eggs

¼ cup (57 grams) grapeseed oil

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract



1 teaspoon culinary grade matcha green tea

¼ cup powdered sugar

To make the maple chocolate cake:
Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 350F.

Lightly grease a 9×13-inch rectangular baking pan or two 9-inch round pans (and line them with parchment paper), or line 18 wells of two 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners.

Into a large bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

In a large measuring cup or medium bowl, whisk together the maple syrup, yogurt, eggs, oil, and vanilla extract.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry. Using a whisk, energetically blend the batter by hand until smooth and thick, about 1 minute. Spread the batter into the prepared pan or pans. (For cupcakes, fill the cups no more than two-thirds full—you should get 18 cupcakes).

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and the tops of the cakes spring back when lightly touched, 20 minutes for cupcakes, or 30 to 35 minutes for sheet and layer cakes. Cool completely in the pan or pans on a wire rack before inverting and frosting.


To make the matcha powdered sugar: sift together the matcha and powdered sugar in a small bowl. Spoon a small amount of the matcha sugar into the sifter and dust the cupcakes as much as you like. Add more matcha sugar to the sifter as needed.

Cookery Bookshelf

Tea and Cookies: Cookbooks to Use for a Christmas Cookie Exchange at Teatime

A few years ago, I decided that what the holidays really needed was another party. I can’t remember if this was prompted by the desire to see people congregate under mistletoe or just eat, drink, and be merry, but we will go with the latter response. Happily what started out as a small food blogger cookie swap has continued for several years and looped in friends outside of the blogosphere too. This Christmas cookie exchange lets me try new cookie recipes to discover the right mix of flavors and options for an enticing collection. I have further amended the cookie swap, hosting it at teatime and dubbing it as Tea & Cookies. Who wouldn’t enjoy a spot of afternoon tea with their sweets, right? For this year’s cookie swap I focused on test driving new 2014 cookbooks and am sharing my findings. Include your favorite cookie and recipe link if you have it, in the comments section.


Chocolate Teff Brownies - Flavor Flours

Chocolate Teff Brownies from Flavor Flours
Tea Pairing: Mandarin Rose Petal Black Tea from ML Tea

When I heard Alice Medrich was penning a book on baking with whole grain flours from the perspective of flavor first, I became intrigued. My friend, Irvin and I cemented our friendship years ago on this very topic of thinking of flours as a flavor base upon which to build in baking. Teff works marvelously well with chocolate and is naturally gluten-free. How many people think of teff is griddled into injera flatbread used to scoop up delectable Ethiopian food. Teff flour is darkly hued and works so very well with 70% chocolate. What I liked about Flavor Flours is that each of the flours used also is naturally gluten-free, even if Medrich is leading with flavor first, making the entire book gluten-free. I’ve gotten to work with her before and she is meticulous about recipe testing. Her brownies are already a favorite of mine and these teff brownies were popular at the cookie swap. Plan on cutting small squares—they are quite rich. Friends with birthdays coming up can expect me to bake Chocolate Chestnut Souffle Cake (p. 206), Yogurt Tart (p. 110), and Buckwheat Cake with Rose Apples (p. 172), though I’m keeping an eye on these Buckwheat Linzer Cookies too. I’m quite convinced that roses and chocolate are meant to be along with other dynamic duos like basil and tomato or strawberry and vanilla. Mandarin Rose consists of a smooth black tea tinged with a floral high note of rose petals.


Norah's Lemon Lemon Cookies - Isa Does It

Norah’s Lemon Lemon Cookies from Isa Does It
Tea Pairing: Prince Wladimir from Kuzmi Tea 

Winter time in California means citrus in as many shades as you can imagine. I was given Isa Does It as a gift and let me tell you that it paid off in a friendship with a neighbor who saw it in my window and decided she liked the inhabitants of our apartment before meeting us. That is a win. These cookies are vegan and use coconut oil in two very interesting ways: the oil is used in the cookie batter and then again in the lemon glaze. Because I had a pomelo, I substituted it for the lemons called for in the recipe. I also had just picked up some citrus chef’s essences from Afterlier and was jonesing to try them out. So, a dash of bergamot oil and two dashes of blood orange oil later, I had morphed Norah’s Lemon Lemon Cookies into Citrus Cookies. They are screaming good and offer a chewiness with a bit of crunch in the glaze. Cookbook notables in Isa Does It iclude the Tofu Butchery section which shows the myriad ways to process a cube of tofu into edible bites. Dishes I’m looking forward to cooking up include Sunflower Mac (p.116), Sesame Slaw (p. 58), and Tamale Shepherd’s Pie (p. 231). Prince Wladimir tea reminds me a bit of an Earl Grey with sass. It has a bit of a smooth profile with a bit of vanilla playing off the citrus notes. It pairs perfectly with the Citrus cookies.

Sarah Bernhardt Cakes - A Kitchen in France

Sarah Bernhardt Cakes from A Kitchen in France
Tea Pairing: Breakfast Blend Tea from Fortnum & Mason

I sped read my way through this gorgeous book one evening after it appeared in my mailbox. A day later and I learned it was a gift—the best possible kind of gift. I had already marked these little Sarah Bernhardt Cakes as being ideal for a cookie swap given how unique they would be in contrast to more expected cookies. Mimi Thorisson writes in A Kitchen in France that she received this recipe from her Icelandic mother-in-law and serves them with coffee. The base of the cake is akin to a macaron cap, mine even developed feet (that little ridge that crops up around the edges of macaron caps). The caps are then frozen while the mocha frosting is made, which is then smeared on the caps. Lastly they are dipped in melted chocolate. Though they have a few steps involved, these cakes are not hard to make but are quite fancy. They are the kind of sweets for which you pull out the good porcelain dishes. A Kitchen in France is smattered with lush photography and seasonal menus. Other recipes I’m itching to make include her Mont Blanc (p. 281), Chestnut Velouté (p. 248), Roast Chicken with Herbs and Crème Fraîche (p.46), and Happy Valley Wonton Soup (p. 291) from a Chinese New Year section in this French cookbook—look for her Tea Eggs recipe (p.293) there too. The multicultural feel of this book won me over. Thorisson grew up in Hong Kong and describes visiting her French grandmother and learning from her too. It reminded me of my own multicultural roots and the ways that each of us brings all that is woven into our cultural DNA onto the table. These rich little mocha cakes pair well with a stout breakfast blend tea to cut some of the sweetness. This tea stands up well to the cookies.


…The One That Got Away

Buttered Popcorn Rice Crispy Treats from Joy the Baker: Homemade Decadence
Tea Pairing: Korean Sejak Green Tea from DAVIDsTEA

Because an entire table lined with chocolate chocked cookies might set my heart aflutter, but perhaps not appeal to those that don’t have a card in chocoholics-are-us, I had selected this Buttered Popcorn Rice Crispy Treat recipe for its fun flavorful approach to the well-known sticky, chewy sweet. My copy of Homemade Decadence sat on our kitchen table with such promise, decked out with the ingredients required as indication of how easy it would be to pop, melt and mix. As things go with party-hosting, I ran out of time before the cookie swap started to whip up a batch.  This lapse in time judgment will work well for our next movie night–can you imagine anything better for movie-watching that combines sweet and salty? I’m a regular reader of Joy the Baker partly because Joy Wilson has a way of writing that makes baking fun and approachable, much like Joy herself. So, now the real question is to ask,  what movie we should watch when it’s time to turn out these treats.

Art Art Bookshelf Cookery Bookshelf

Cooking with Georgia O’Keeffe

Georgia OKeeffe cookbook

After a brief summer hiatus, I’m back, and so is the fog. We had actually been experiencing summer-like temperatures in San Francisco, which is completely unexpected and requires copious amounts of cold confections to withstand the 80 degree heat. My Texas self would shake its head in shame…

In our last exploration, we dug our heels into the Georgia O’Keeffe Lake George exhibit at the DeYoung museum this spring. I hope I did an adequate job conveying what an important role that museum visit played in forming questions for me about the process of art as well as seeing her own style change. As I exited the exhibit, I happened upon a small book in the gift shop and had to work hard to contain my glee as I held A Painter’s Kitchen: Recipes from the Kitchen of Georgia O’Keeffe by Margaret Wood. I clutched my new treasure and pedaled home quickly to plumb its depths. Little did I know then that O’Keeffe prized good food and did due diligence to seek out nourishing recipes!

The cookbook features a foreword from local Bay Area vegetarian chef and powerhouse, Deborah Madison of the restaurant, Greens, in Fort Mason, and author of Vegetable Literacy as well as my marked up favorite, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (I have the original printing of this now updated cookbook). Her description of the book is right on when she says, “No dish is encumbered with complicated embellishments; there are no intricate layerings of flavors and textures.” (p. x) This insight perplexed me a bit because when I think of O’Keeffe’s artwork, all I can envision are intricate layers, though no embellishments. Does her artistry reside solely on the canvas? The recipes enclosed in this book are brief in method and ingredients. I read the book in two days, annotating along the way.

Madison quotes biodynamic gardener, Alan Chadwick:”The cooking has been done for you in the garden; it’s merely finished in the kitchen.” (p x)  This really gets to the heart of A Painter’s Kitchen. O’Keeffe kept a ranch garden from which most of her meals derived since the alternative for fresh fruits and vegetables was 70 miles away. Margaret Wood describes meeting O’Keeffe and beginning to cook for her when she was 24 years old and O’Keeffe was 90. Her stories and details about O’Keeffe in the headnotes are the real reason to pick up your own copy of A Painter’s Kitchen. From it, I learned that Georgia O’Keeffe occasionally slept on her roof under the stars. What a way to dream! Woven throughout the headnotes are snippets of her practical wisdom, such as this comment from a dinner she held with two visiting poets: “It’s easy to talk about what you’re going to do- you can talk yourself right through without really doing anything.” (p. 44) This was not the first time poetry was mentioned in the cookbook, as Wood remarked on O’Keeffe’s appreciation for Chinese poetry.

The food being served from O’Keeffe’s Ghost Ranch kitchen focused on healthy ingredients, and centered on vegetables from her garden, organic grains and meats. I smiled visibly when I read that O’Keeffe made her own bread using a small mill to grind her own flour, while the housekeeper canned and preserved foods. Her approach to scratch cooking and concern over food sourcing parallels contemporary cooking in my neck of the woods and home (although I play the role of cook and housekeeper).Wood describes O’Keeffe’s style of eating as “simple food… with fresh and pure ingredients.” (p xxi) That neighbors would bring her food gifts of wild asparagus because it delighted her reminded me of why I appreciate her art and compositions.

You can tell from reading the cookbook that this experience working with and for O’Keeffe left an indelible mark on Margaret Wood- the kind you want to share with others. The glimpse she provides to other fans of O’Keeffe’s artwork is one that is intimate, as if inviting us to join them at the table. This cookbook lives with my others but I like to keep the cover faced out, so that when I am cooking, if I happen to glance in the direction of my cookbook collection, Georgia O’Keeffe is smiling out.


Cookery Bookshelf

Cookbooks to Help You Reach New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions get a bad rap. Perhaps that stems from what starts one year as possibility and by year-end equals failure. I, however, do not fall into the camp that recycled resolutions denote some sort of inadequacy on the part of the goal-maker. Instead, I choose to consider that perhaps the lesson of that particular goal has not completed what it needs to, knowing some things take much longer to learn, even in our instant satisfaction society. So, this year, let a cookbook (or cookbook author) help you get one step closer to completing your goals. Selecting one tome to take you into a New Year sounds like a tradition I can get behind (and have selected the Bi-Rite Eat Good Food cookbook as the one feeding us this January).


RESOLUTION: Eat Clean Foods.  

Written by the witty (and fun!) Michelle Tam with illustrations and photos by husband Henry Fong, “Nom Nom Paleo” is a book not just for the paleo population but all people.  Its real food recipes make weeknight assembly a cinch with fun comic book graphics and cheeky commentary along the way. Their real food approach (and her admission in what may seem a shockingly short Dessert section to being a sugar fiend), all point to why their blog of the same name is ridiculously popular. Make a batch of their Bone Broth (p. 105) for its healing properties when you’re feeling under the weather or bake up some Mushroom Chips (p. 75) when you get the urge for something crunchy. Their Coconut Pineapple “Rice” (p. 157), made of cauliflower is a great way to get more veggies into a meal and Fiona’s Green Chicken (p. 193) might just need to be what gets fired up once it’s grilling season.

Duck Duck Goose cookbook

RESOLUTION: Eat Less Meat, but Better Quality Meat.

If you’re anything like the Mister and I, we tend to be highly skeptical of factory-raised protein. The conditions, life span, antibiotics and potential GMO feed animals are fed is enough to make me want to go vegetarian full-time. In steps hunter and angler Hank Shaw to shed light on the possibilities of preparation of wild and domesticated waterfowl in “Duck, Duck, Goose.” This comprehensive guide gives technique and mouthwatering recipes help pave the way for novices to waterfowl. Hank is a cook with serious street credentials and I trust his insights and instruction. His website is called Honest Food and his foraging escapades for mushrooms are legendary (at least in my own mind). That he tries to find ways to use the whole bird is an important detail. Make a dinner of Duck Jagerschnitzel (p. 75) perfect for cold winter evenings or Italian Duck Meatballs (p. 100) for a familiar dish to entice picky eaters. Along those lines, the Confit of Duck with Pasta and Lemon (p. 149) or Duck Egg Pasta (p. 214) would also be easy entrees into waterfowl foods. To change things up a bit in the summer, make his Duck Fat Pie Dough (p. 208) paired with your favorite stone fruit. I’m partial to his Tea-Smoked Duck (p. 92) and think it might be the perfect dish for a Valentine’s Day feast.

Homemade with Love cookbook

RESOLUTION: Why Buy When You Can DIY – Stock Your Larder from Scratch.

If you still haven’t jumped onto the DIY larder locomotive train, there’s no time to start like the present. Would that we could all have a teacher as encouraging and full of heart like Jennifer Perillo. In her book “Homemade with Love,” she sets out to share her scratch cooking secrets to make you a DIY pro. Back when the food poet was a fledgling, she taught me how to make ricotta from scratch. If you’ve never had an interest in stocking your own pantry with housemade goods, you might be missing out on an incredibly empowering opportunity. You too can learn to make Homemade Ricotta (p. 32) – once you lick a spoonful of lush warm ricotta or smear a spoonful on toast with a smidge of marmalade, you’ll never want to buy the store-bought stuff. Instead of buying boxed vegetable stock, make Homemade Vegetable Bouillon (p. 24) to keep on hand and that will also help save money. Jennifer has a tradition in her house of pizza night and she teaches you how to make Homemade Pizza Dough (p. 127) so you can start your own tradition. Perhaps you’ve never made pie? Her Foolproof Pie Crust recipe (p. 178) is sure to set you on firm footing.

Tartine Book No 3 review

RESOLUTION: Eat More Whole Grains.

I’ve been a woman obsessed since at least 2009 with whole grains and even see the word “groats” easily assemble from bananagrams tiles. Whole grains (and by whole, “intact”) have their enthusiasts and absolvers. I fall into the first group and fan the fire of my geekery with growing appreciation of other ways to use them in food. Enter “Tartine Book No 3,” by Chad Robertson, the book that kept me company as I nursed a cold on my birthday. Chad shares his journeys around the world as he continues to deepen his understanding of how cultures incorporate whole grains into their food while sharing his master recipes for baking them into breads and pastries. It’s no secret I’m smitten with his Oat Porridge loaf (or the Rye Porridge loaf or…). Slicing a hunk of these crusty breads with a custard-like crumb made me the bread fan (and budding baker) that I am today. I owe a lot to those loaves. This is a seminal book and I expect it to make out with a Best Picture nod at the food equivalent of such accolades this year. He shows you his master recipe for making the starter and then variations using exotic grains like his Purple Barley Amazake loaf (p. 146) or Sprouted Emmer with Maple & Beer (p. 134). My beloved Porridge loaves are in there too (Oat, p. 178, and Rye, p. 172). I would consider strongly starting a Cook through the Book kind of challenge with others interested in this book (is that you?), but be advised this is a cookbook not for the faint of kitchen. Let the record also show that Chad also shot all of the photos in this book and they are beauties. Get your naturally leavened whole grain bread baking on.

(Bonus: For whole grain breakfasts, go with Megan Gordon’s “Whole Grain Mornings” or if you’re in the Pacific Northwest, pick up a box of her Marge Granola. I’m smitten with the Cacao Nib variety.)

the fresh 20 cookbook review

RESOLUTION: Make a Weekly Menu / Cook at Home More / Save Money.

Sometimes brilliant ideas are in plain sight. Melissa Lanz makes eating real food regularly easy in her book, “The Fresh 20.” Giving the reader 20 ingredients from which to build meals and menus, an economy of ingredients and resources. Melissa’s husband, Trent photographed the book’s bright colorful recipes. Broken up by season, this is an instructive book for knowing what produce is available when. Each section includes menus and a shopping list (which I wish could have been tear-out; good thing for the smart phone camera) to take with you when perusing the aisles at your local grocery store or farmer’s market. With recipes that are easy to prepare, she sets you up for cooking at home success. At our house, to simplify the weekly menu, we’ve implemented Taco Tuesdays and will be making the Greek-Style Lamb Tacos (p. 23) soon. If you’re trying to kick the fast food habit, try making her Fresh 20 Turkey Burgers with Carrot Slaw (p. 91) or swap out the take-out burrito for easy Fish Tacos (p. 108) or Chicken Tamale Spoon Bread (p. 179).


RESOLUTION: Go Gluten-Free.

What is it? Burritos? Beer? Pasta? Pizza? You’ve removed gluten from your diet and feel good. Really good. But, there is something that keeps bringing you back to gluten, in spite of the headaches or brain fog or itchy rash. I’m not a proponent of giving up gluten for weight loss or as a trend. In fact, nothing gets under my skin more. But, I’ve got history to show that for some people breaking up with gluten is the best thing they have done to take back their health and feel well again. In fact, many of my good friends are gluten-free because it makes them feel glorious! If you happen to be that person, “Gluten-Free Girl Every Day” is the book for you. Shauna Ahern’s love of life and of good food comes across in a book filled with stories and recipes that remove the gluten, focusing on enticing ingredients that make delectable dishes. Recipes like Chicken Teriyaki with Kale and Sweet Potato (p. 128) make for an easy replacement to questionable (is there gluten in that sauce?) take-out. Are you a sucker for soul food? Her Gluten-Free Biscuits and Sausage Gravy (p. 58) may help you stop singing the blues. Perhaps you bake and find gluten-free baking perplexing. Stir up her All-Purpose Gluten-Free Flour Mix (p. 31) and you’re on your way to making Gluten-Free Sandwich Bread (easy to make!, p. 48) or Gluten-Free Hamburger Buns (p. 242). Dog-eared pages in our book include Peanut Butter and Jam Bars (p. 304) and our favorite, Millet Waffles with Smoked Salmon, Crème Fraiche and Capers (p. 103). Working through this cookbook is like having a friend talking you through the recipes and helping make living gluten-free easier.

eat drink and weigh less review

RESOLUTION: Lose weight.

You knew this resolution couldn’t escape the list, right? Given the obesity epidemic in the U.S., I don’t know why it’s shameful to admit to wanting to lose weight, but somehow, this is the resolution that gets paraded around as the one to avoid, the one that is so cliché. If you happen to be someone (like me) who recycles this resolution with unerring regularity, can you pull up a chair? Instead of attempting some fad diet that is going to be more destructive than helpful, perhaps it’s time to consider a different path? In “Eat, Drink and Weigh Less,” one of my favorite cookbook authors, Mollie Katzen teams up with Walter Willett, M.D., head of Harvard University’s department of nutrition to explore how to eat for the long haul and not just quick results. If you’ve ever attempted recipes from Mollie’s seminal book, “The Moosewood Cookbook” or even her new book, “Heart of the Plate,” you know she advocates for fresh ingredients that don’t skimp on flavor. Here, she assembles recipes along with a meal plan (to get you started) that includes wine, dark chocolate and favorites like Broiled Eggplant Parmesan (p. 216). Coupled with Dr. Willett’s nutrition expertise, this is a book for foodies looking to whittle their waists without turning to bland food.

Cookery Bookshelf

Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese

Melt The Art of Macaroni and Cheese Cookbook Cover_IMG_6574

When Garrett McCord and Stephanie Stiavetti first started working on their cookbook, “Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese,” I leapt at the opportunity to test some of their recipes knowing this would be a fun kitchen exercise that would also double as a bowl of creamy decadence my cheese-loving husband could sink his fork into.  So, we set out to build a cheese sauce for that evening’s mac and cheese making notes throughout the preparation and tasting notes after dinner. 

Fast forward many months later to Seattle and the International Food Blogger Conference where Garrett held the cookbook in his hands as a small group of us chatted out in the hall about writing and skipped one of the blogging sessions. As I flipped through the book, I couldn’t wait for my own copy to arrive as I had already begun conspiring about a mac and cheese filled fall menu… in between the properly green and fiberful foods that would offset this foray into sheer indulgence. When the brown paper package arrived from Helen at Little & Brown, I had to stop myself from tearing it open, such was my enthusiasm for a book that would be henceforth dubbed in our house as the book of consolation also known as a slippery slope. It’s a bit of a game we have contrived where every bad statement turns into an uplifting answer. It goes like this:

“What, you had a bad day? Let me make you a bowl of Raclette with Farfalle, Cornichons and Sauteed Onions.” (p.93)

“I’m so sorry I forgot your birthday. How can I make it up to you?” The look exchanged says, “Nicasio Square and Spinach-Pasta Mini-Cocottes.” (p. 131)

“Someone stole the car? Oh, no. I know what will make you feel better. Yodeling Goat with Golden Beets and Orecchiete.” (p. 40)

“You vacuumed the whole house, did three loads of laundry and scrubbed down the bathroom on a Tuesday night. You deserve a bowl of “Humboldt Fog with Grilled Peaches and Orzo.” (p. 29)

Do you see how handy this book might be? It gives me the leverage that Tyrion could never quite achieve over Cersei in “Game of Thrones.” It also might just win me wife of the year as if there is a sash or medal waiting in the wings because I know my hubby’s achilles heel and cheese, you are it. It gives me a secret weapon for guests who don’t believe in the power of a bowl of mac and cheese to loosen the tongue.

For too long, macaroni and cheese has been synonymous with a blue box. Stiavetti and McCord help the reader make the shift. As Michael Ruhlman deftly cites in the foreword, “This cheap dinner in a box epitomizes the travesty of America’s processed-food industry and the damage it has wrought on the people who rely on it and on our land. This book is a personal reminder to me to appreciate real food.” The cookbook talks about so many nuances of cheese-making and cheese culture in the United States. I particularly enjoyed the profile of one of my favorite Northern California food companies, Redwood Hill Farm.

Steph Stiavetti Garrett McCord_IMG_6523

This book has been well named because it really does take into account the artistry of the cheese makers as well as pushing the limits of what constitutes a mac and cheese.  You can tell quickly that these two know the names of their cheesemongers and give the kind of respect to artisan cheese usually reserved for the cheese board into the heavy bottomed pot of al dente pasta. At the Oakland launch party of the cookbook this past weekend, we tried the Drunken Goat with Edamame, Fennel and Rotini salad (p 32) and found this pairing of macaroni and cheese light and refreshing. On the opposite end of the spectrum with bold, bright flavors, I spooned into the Lincolnshire Poacher with Cotija, Chorizo and Penne (p 114). After such dramatically different mac and cheese expressions, we couldn’t wait to sink our teeth into more mac and cheese. The problem consisted of where to start… So we bought Cabot Clothbound Cheddar at the Sacred Wheel Cheese Shop in Oakland in case we wanted to start out with what I’m lovingly calling Guacamole Mac and Cheese (Beecher’s Flagship Cheddar with Avocado, Lime and Shell Pasta) and picked up several hunks of Lamb Chopper cheese in case we decided upon making the Grand Ewe with Golden Raisins, Pine Nuts and Macaroni. Decisions, decisions.

Guacamole Mac and Cheese_Melt Cookbook_IMG_6568

In the end, it might have been how the avocados almost sighed beneath my gentle squeeze that tipped the scale in favor of the Cheddar with Avocado and Lime Mac and Cheese. Spooned into small bowls, our late afternoon lunch reminded us of Sunday as the day to toss your cares aside. It tasted like a revelation with the creaminess and flavor of the avocado still detectable even as the tangy cheese shone through. I’d say we made a good choice. On Halloween, we are planning to make the Grand Ewe with Golden Raisins and after what we have tasted this far, I think the guests at our small fete will be infinitely happier with cheese than sweets. Even my sweet tooth can’t complain.

Cookery Bookshelf

True Food Kitchen Cookbook by Dr. Andrew Weil

True Food Kitchen Cookbook by Dr. Andrew Weil, Sam Fox and Michael Stebner

THE SKINNY: If you’re looking for a cookbook with a focus on whole foods, eating seasonally and an anti-inflammatory approach to eating, check out True Food Kitchen cookbook, and expect higher grocery bills.

true food kitchen dr andy weil quote true food kitchen santa monicasalmon farmers market salad true food kitchen santa monicaDining as Phenomenon
If you’re lucky enough to live in Santa Monica (or Denver or Phoenix), you might already know about the dining phenomenon that is True Food Kitchen. Phenomenon might feel like a bit of a stretch, but I think it’s exactly the right word. Let’s talk supply and demand. The cookbook states that Kale Salad is their most ordered menu item, which affects supply. They cite being partly responsible for kale’s popularity in the U.S. and because of the demand, more farmers are growing kale to keep up with their orders. It’s interesting to take a macro perspective on a single ingredient, isn’t it? Yet what makes True Food Kitchen, the restaurant, a phenomenon is what Sam Fox mentioned of “people eating here three, four, five nights a week (p.5).” To snare that kind of loyalty and frequency is unheard of at a singular restaurant.

Clean Eaters Anonymous
My interest in the True Food Kitchen cookbook springs from my keen delight in dining at the restaurant. And this is where I started my cookbook journey with True Food Kitchen. It certainly helps to read Dr. Andy Weil’s sidenote that his “own cooking evolved toward simpler dishes with bold flavors” (p. 2), something I share. Executive chef Michael Stebner described their approach of having “an almost fanatical respect for the quality of ingredients and the integrity of traditional, simple dishes (p. 4).”  He, Sam Fox and Michael Stebner all take turns sharing anecdotes and recipes throughout the cookbook. One detail I particularly appreciate is that each section features one or two articles told through the lens of defining terms, like “True Whole Grains” on page 21 looking at whole grains and intact whole grains or addressing food and health cooking implications like “Avoiding Sugar, Fat, and Salt Crutches” on page 30.

Proximity to a True Food Kitchen restaurant necessitates a visit and in this case, cajoling the rental car driver to join me in a sumptuous feast of cold-pressed juice and sustainable seafood. Eating clean foods while traveling is a developed skill and outright necessity, albeit often challenging. Recently, while attending Expo West, I relished the idea of a meal at True Food Kitchen in Newport Beach and bided my time. Two personal goals seemed within reach while at the food show: empty my water bottle each day and get a daily ration of kale to undo the damage done by the “all natural” foods at Expo. True Food Kitchen helped me achieve one of those goals.

umami burger true food kitchenThe evening we drove to Newport Beach, certain menu items leapt out, familiar from cooking through the cookbook. I selected the Umami Burger, intrigued by the inclusion of bison meat. Sides of savory kale and sweet potato hash played to the earthy flavors of the burger. The umami sauce complemented parmesan, sautéed mushrooms and mellow bison meat. That same umami sauce slathered on brussels sprouts during a meal at home had practically caused felicitation.

Stebner comments about tailoring their menu to address a number of food avoidances and allergies, also remarking on sodium in restaurant food, “You have to be continually ready to discard an ingredient, or practice, that’s been central to your craft for decades when something better comes along (p. 32).”

true food kitchen newport beach quotable meryl streep
Why Be SAD?
In 2012, City Arts and Lectures in San Francisco hosted a conversation between Dr. Andy Weil and Mollie Katzen. Dr. Weil spoke a bit about his reinterpretation of the FDA My Plate / food pyramid configuring it into an anti-inflammation diet pyramid, “using the Mediterranean diet as a template.” (p. 47).” SAD (the standard American diet) is actually increasing inflammation through the foods most Americans regularly eat. Here, he made me think twice about foods we do eat often, and rethinking how they might exacerbate inflammation. In the darkened room, my pen attempted to scratch copious notes onto the pages of a red moleskine.  Luckily, much of what Weil discussed with Katzen was printed in the cookbook- things like the difference between intact whole grains and pulverized or the need to cook certain mushrooms to draw out their health benefits. I found their camaraderie charming and the conversation engaging, a perfect introduction to finally dive into the cookbook after the holiday mayhem subsided.

On the whole, my assessment of the cookbook is that even if you are not looking for recipes for healthier cuisine, you’ll find the flavors and textures of the recipes you create from True Food Kitchen to be enticing. I did find myself griping a few times as I turned its pages though. After reading the Avoiding Sugar, Fat, and Salt Crutches” article, it surprised me to see sugar as an ingredient in unexpected places like the Curried Cauliflower Soup on page 102 or the Salmon Kasu entrée on page 122. I also found that as much as I was taken in by eating on an anti-inflammatory diet, I questioned whether this would be sustainable long term monetarily or be within reach of people who don’t have high quality ingredient dispensable income. I abide by the idea that if you don’t pay for it in the grocery store, then you will at the doctor’s office, but when considering food deserts and access to real food, much of the beautiful food in this cookbook would be out of reach of most Americans.

Dr. Andy Weil describes the perplexing mindset of many Americans “that food that tastes good and food that promotes health are in opposition- it’s either/or, but it can’t be both/and (p. 6).” I would posit that at True Food Kitchen and via the cookbook they accomplish the goal of promoting good food that is good for you, accomplishing both/and, which is something worth extolling.

Cooking through the Book
So, now, let’s explore the cookbook a bit, shall we?

We varied the recipe, using the ingredient substitutions available like swapping in shaved Brussels sprouts for cabbage and adding in coconut oil and cilantro as well as Bella mushrooms. This would make a wonderful addition to a picnic or potluck.

quinoa tabbouleh true food kitchen cookbookQUINOA TABBOULEH (p. 85)
If you gauged the outcome of this recipe by its photograph in the cookbook, you might think something had gone terribly wrong. Either they used golden beets in the photo or your fuchsia version had made a misstep. Rest assured, this salad is quite filling with a lovely interplay between mint and marcona almonds, quinoa and beets. Make a batch on Sunday and you’ve got lunch for the week.

Don’t be fooled if you think every recipe in this cookbook is “healthy;” there’s a good chance you haven’t made it over to this chicken salad yet. Creamy with the right amount of lime, curry and sultanas, this is a balanced salad of savory and sweet flavors great smeared on toast or lettuce leaves.

This soup convinced me to make a big pot of soup once a week. The TFK approach, noted in several of their soup preparations consists of tossing veggies in a scant amount of oil and then roasting them together to create the base of the soup was genius. This soup’s bold personality resulted from roasted peppers, crunch of corn and mild sweetness of carrots and sweet potatoes.

Using the same fashion of oil tossing and then roasting as the soup above, this one is a keeper. Since I only had three apples available, I substituted in a pear and let me tell you it gave a floral quality to this soup that you couldn’t quite put your finger on. Serve during a fall dinner party.

immunity soup true food kitchen cookbook

A nasty cold had struck the entire 7×7 of San Francisco late winter. Armed with my True Foods Kitchen cookbook, I took action and sought out astralagus root. It only took three store employees and two stores, but I located these herbs purported to have immune-boosting properties. We found the soup to be delicious in its own right, and will add more broccoli and carrots in future batches.

The cookbook photo and ingredients had me jazzed to try it, but after making it, somehow it felt lacking. I hadn’t been heavy-handed with the spices and we kept looking for ways to spruce it up.

I had high hopes for this Bolognese, but found, in the end, I prefer my own version of the classic sauce with carrots. The cooked shiitake mushrooms were distracting and chewy.

Enchiladas in our home are sacrosanct. The surprising crunch of jicama and corn in this version, paired with diced chicken, manchego and fresh salsa gave a healthier  hearty twist on a family favorite. This was a popular evening for dinner. Make extra fresh tomatillo salsa.

umami brussels sprouts true food kitchen quinoa tabbouleh

If you can get your hands on Brussels sprouts, make this tonight. This vegetable side dish comes together with a delectable umami sauce that complements the slightly charred sprouts. The method used to cook them is one I will employ again soon.

When making the Immunity Soup, you have to make the mushroom stock, a helpful exercise to show how easy it is to DIY. Make extra and freeze in an extra ice cube tray. Then store in a sealed container for when you need a bit of umami oomph.

chocolate pudding true food kitchen newport beach

Chocolate pudding fail. First, my batch that I made at home never set and ended up a thin soupy mess. Then, when at TFK in Newport Beach, I made a point to order it and see how it should have looked and tasted. I found it both times to surprise me as cloyingly sweet.

Still Up
The verdict on a cookbook is usually a measure of how I can’t keep myself from trying out more recipes after I’ve tested a few out to give the book a thorough review. True Food Kitchen has a few winners we will revisit and more recipes left to explore in my home kitchen like the Tomato-Braised Tuna (p. 136) or the Pistachio Dream (p. 213). Already, we made the Kale Salad this week, and though I found the version in the restaurant to be pepped up with more pepper, it almost takes me back to an evening with a friendly waitress handing us cards on the anti-inflammation diet and describing the philosophy of a restaurant that pulls me in with its colorful clean eating.

Cookery Bookshelf

An Edible Mosaic by Faith Gorsky


I weary of war.

I, an American, born in a town far from any war torn territories, weary of war. I don’t understand the need for dominion and the desire to wield power. As a non-land owner, I don’t understand the need to own land. But it doesn’t matter what I believe or understand. That desire and movement to possess and to own continues. My dominion of ownership extends shallowly to whether or not I’m going to serve polenta at dinner or need another book of poetry.

My world is so very different from those in the Middle East.

And yet, I believe in love. Love cures so many ills and evils, yet we regale it to a four letter word bound for the trite cliché likes of words like “nice” or “delicious”. We forget it is a verb and as such must work in the past, present and future to exercise the inevitable power latent when those four letters combine.

An Edible Mosaic- Juzmuz Eggs Poached in Spicy Tomato Sauce

This may seem like an odd place to start a cookbook review of “An Edible Mosaic” by Faith Gorsky, but I can’t separate our cooking through a book of Syrian recipes without considering how much tragedy has befallen the country itself. We read articles, watch the tweets come and go and find ourselves comfortable. Fed. Safe.


It’s important to note that this cookbook and the recipes therein give me such hopefulness for the future. Again, perhaps an odd commendation to give a cookbook, but love plays a central figure in the collected recipes. Had it not been for love, Gorsky might not have met her Syrian husband and learning a cuisine from a culture so very different than her own. She might not have been self-charged with months of shadowing her mother-in-law in the kitchen, neither speaking the other’s language.

An Edible Mosaic- Meat and Vegetable Casserole with Pomegranate and Rice with Toasted Vermicelli

So, I would posit that this is an important book, not only for the pleasure the recipes will bring to recipients, but because it brings Syria into the home. It makes those headlines closer as I wonder if someone else ate Maqluba (upside down rice casserole) tonight too and in that small act of eating a specific dish, I am connected with someone in Syria. In the act of cutting the onions and lopping off the cauliflower florets or slicing the potatoes, I am reminded of the violence that sweeps across that country. This leads me to keep Syrians in my prayers even as I welcome their food to my table. It makes me want for them to know peace.

And shouldn’t all people come to know peace?

An Edible Mosaic- Beet Salad with Tahini Dressing

When I consider intercultural communication classes and the role culture plays in food, it makes me curious to know if Syrians are bold like their spice combinations (nine-spice, anyone?) or pithy and bright like the accents of lemon and yogurt in much of the cuisine. It makes me think they are rich in the love they lavish upon friends and family like the tahini that makes a common appearance in sauces.

An Edible Mosaic- Falafel

I could yammer on about how much we enjoyed the recipes in this cookbook and believe me when I say, every meal was a feast of flavor, texture and complementary contrasts. I could tell you how my falafel looked more like fritters bursting with garlicky goodness or how a drizzle of pomegranate molasses over the sesame sauce made those falafel something revelatory. I could tell you about the evening we made the Meat and Vegetable Casserole and my husband helped himself to thirds, something as rare as catching a jackalope in the Texas wilds. I could let you in on the secret that is sprinkling salt over eggplant slices to extract their moisture before pan-frying them into a simple addition to a maza (appetizer platter).

An Edible Mosaic- Scrambled Eggs with Meat and Onion

But somehow using all those words in that way might feel like a cheat. Instead, I will tell you that combining the spices to make the Nine-Spice Mix slowed me down to smell the cumin, the coriander, and ginger, letting me get a feel for how they might play nice with each other. It made me wonder how countries fighting internally and fighting neighboring countries might find a way to play nice. And just as the flavor of a nine spice mix is complex, so too is the pathway for the Middle East. But I wonder if somehow food, the table, a meal could be the place where peace starts. Where all the so very different ingredients work together to make a dish that makes me want to swoon like the Fish Pilaf.  And really, that Fish Pilaf doesn’t come easily. But some of the best things in life are not easily won, right?

An Edible Mosaic- Fish Pilaf

Cookery Bookshelf

Herbivoracious by Michael Natkin

Herbivoracious by Michael Natkin

A fledgling cookbook with this much heart, I would say you might be hard pressed to find. That is a very broad and ridiculously pointed statement, but wherever you look in Herbivoracious, you find author Michael Natkin. Almost each recipe is accompanied by a photo, 115  in total, styled and shot by Natkin. The recipes span a variety of cultures taking the reader through Southeast Asia and all the way to the Middle East and the United States. Is it bad to call a cookbook ambitious? And yet, that is what a reader finds upon cracking open “Herbivoracious.”

I had the pleasure of meeting Natkin earlier this year when he hosted a cookbook release party in North Beach. That conscientiousness I found in his head notes and notes peppered throughout the book also was evident as he finished preparations for that evening’s party. Being early gave me the singular opportunity of unadulterated observation. As the doorbell rang and familiar faces began filling the room, I knew I would be in for a good evening. The long range had been laid out with accouterments for the appetizer demo Natkin deftly undertook as he began sautéing grapes for his Chevre with Sauteed Grapes (pg 46).

A few ooh’s and ah’s  escaped the group at this unusual preparation which further intrigued me when he tossed them into a bed of parsley leaves. Here, parsley played a central role and gave endless ideas of swapping them in for future salads, in place of greens. The piquant notes of the parsley and the just warmed red grapes mingled well with the tang of goat cheese and savory accent of chives. Yes, indeed, the evening would be glorious.  And so it was.

For the next course, the oven door was flung open. Up, out of the oven Natkin heaved a heavy and absurdly large casserole dish within which we caught a quick sight of bubbling cheese and the faint aroma of tarragon. A square of the Stuffed and Baked Polenta (p. 235) certainly sufficed but had me licking the tines of my fork, long after my plate had emptied.  As the evening wrapped up, I tucked a copy of Herbivoracious into my bag with grand plans to tackle it with gusto.

Natkin takes his time making the case for clever cuisine that is meatless. He opens the book sharing his story of becoming vegetarian. The intimate look at learning to cook vegetarian while his mom battled breast cancer and then later, keeping it up after she passed away definitely pulled at the corners of my eyes. He goes into great depth in a section earmarked for ingredients and then later considering the cooking equipment to welcome into a well-apportioned kitchen. Aside from these introductory sections, Natkin dives straight into the recipes, letting his descriptive head notes provide personal commentary and suggestions.

When I get a cookbook, my process for reading it is akin to working my way through a book of poetry. First comes the straight read-through, jotting annotations in the margins or marking recipes I want to take my time getting to know through taste, touch and smell. Given this method, the variety of recipes gave me a lot of ground to cover. I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to ask from cooking through the book: did I miss the meat? Did those dining with me miss it? With those questions in mind, we set off to get our fingers dirty.

Recipes for Aspiring HerbivoresBaked-Stuffed-PolentaA few weekends ago, my cousin Samson, flew out for a long weekend to celebrate his birthday. I asked him to give me an idea of what he would like fixed for his birthday meal, to which he replied, “something you don’t usually cook that’s special.” I pulled out “Herbivoracious” and turned to page 235, deciding to make a batch of the Baked Stuffed Polenta I had enjoyed at the food blogger dinner, with him. Let it be known that this carnivore went back for seconds and perhaps snuck in a bit the next day too. What makes this recipe a winner is how much food it makes up, great for leftovers to last throughout the week or to serve to a large party.


Another day, we whipped up a batch of the Loaded Otsu Noodles (p. 169) before heading out to the DeYoung to see their Modernism exhibit of Paley paintings. Think of this recipe as a riff on the typical Asian Noodle Salad in Peanut Dressing, where this one uses a base of tahini instead and the tender texture of sautéed eggplant contrasts the crunchy cucumber well. I recommend nixing the iceberg lettuce, as I attempted to incorporate it into the consumption by making lettuce cups, trying to make it more than decorational.


Reminiscent of a memorable salad in North Beach, the Grilled Treviso Radicchio brought together several of the tastes into one- bitter radicchio, charred and the better for it with a slight sweetness from the balsamic and saltiness from the parmesan. I fully intend to revisit this recipe again as it makes a satisfying counterpoint to a typical salad.



San Francisco “summers” can be unexpectedly chilly, and as such we took on the spicy flavors of the Red Curry Delicata Squash (p. 191) and Caramel-Cooked Tofu (p. 189) the same evening. This meant revising the red curry dish by omitting the tofu that’s called for and bumping up the broccoli. I have a soft spot for Delicata Squash and found that this preparation did not overpower the unique flavor of the squash. Usually, you expect curry to be creamy, but Natkin’s treatment calls for the vegetables to be sautéed in the curry paste giving a much more concentrated flavor. The Caramel-Cooked Tofu was a real delight with its crisped edges and the complexity of the sauce. The green onions added to a distinctive take on tofu.


Usually, I tend to stick with savory recipes, but found my jaw slack upon reading the headline for a Stout Chocolate Malt (p. 298), looking forward to an evening that would require such a suspension of reality. That evening came, and sure enough, I found the malt to be in proper proportion of ingredients, giving a slightly boozy take on a chocolate malt that really made it exceptional.

Thinking ahead to Thanksgiving, I considered which dishes might make a welcome appearance at our table. The Roasted Beets and Cipollini Onions (p. 259) makes the most of two vegetables that sweeten when roasted and drizzled with balsamic. Another side dish that could be an interesting addition is the Apio- Lemony Celery Root (p. 257) with its characteristic celery flavor spiked with citrus. But, take note that after Thanksgiving comes and goes, when the Fall deepens into Winter, I plan to serve the Spanish Lentil and Mushroom Stew (p. 205). This comfort food is meant for those cold evenings when a chill creeps up your spine. The secret combination that makes this dish shine are the additions of paprika and sherry vinegar. Be on the lookout for the Stew recipe to be posted here soon.

Spanish Lentil and Mushroom Stew

“Herbivoracious” lives up to its name. Here is a cookbook for herbivores and those aspiring to add more meatless mains and sides into their menus. Here is a cookbook from the voracious appetite for culture, curiosity and clever approaches to common ingredients. Here, Michael Natkin has outdone himself with a delicious debut.

Cookery Bookshelf

The Inspired Vegan by Bryant Terry


If you think of what inspires you, perhaps a person comes to mind.  Maybe, you envision a painting, the lyrics of a poem or a dynamic speech that stir you to action.

What Bryant Terry uses as the catalyst for his incredibly interesting cookbook “The Inspired Vegan” are people who have made a difference in their community and the role of places that have left their inspiring marks upon him. This includes everyone from his parents to Detroit community activists Grace Lee Boggs and James Boggs, from New Orleans to Hong Kong.

This cookbook is described as an impromptu “jazz jam session” and is not far from the mark. Each chapter encompasses one single, thoughtful meal. He begins the chapter telling a story and engaging the reader to become part of the source of inspiration through cooking what comes next. Terry composes well-crafted menus with the skill of an artist bringing all the dishes and flavors into harmony.

To cook through this book, I considered how it would behoove me to actually cook an entire menu at once. In the spirit of brief moments logged at home during the past month and the ensuing airplane miles, I found myself taking an a la carte approach, while still appreciating all the components invested into his menus.  The book is broken up into three sections: Basics, Interlude and Menus.

In the Basics section, he offers simple preparations and techniques to amplify the flavors in everyday cooking such as making your own vegetable stock, oven-roasting your own tomatoes or quick-pickling mustard greens. He then later cross-references how to use these preparations in recipes that appear later on in the menu section.

If this was a musical album, Interlude would reveal the B side songs you’re about to encounter, listed as bites, salads, side dishes, main dishes, sweets and drinks. The simple categorization helps the cookbook reader use Interlude as a resource from which to easily assemble their own meal or pick and choose the components, if they don’t delve into an entire menu.

Menus run from spring to winter, highlighting fresh and seasonal ingredients available. The menus bring a playful artistic sensibility to the concoction of drinks intended to play off the mains, sides and sweets. I, for one, appreciate his clever drink suggestions that are not always alcoholic but created to complement the menu. You’ll find a spicy tea or limeade along with his version of a Bloody Mary.

Instead of wine pairings accompanying each recipe, he suggests a song, film or book. It’s a clever trope intended to expand the story started early on in the chapter, as if setting the table and knowing that meals shared together are the gathering places for ideas and the nourishment of community.

I met Bryant Terry in an elevator earlier this year. He had just finished being a panelist in a chat on “The Intersection of Great Food, Good Health, and Social Justice.” I appreciated a comment he made about the importance to draw up leadership from the community itself, believing that is essential to long term change. It’s hard to not yammer on about the need for kids to get in the kitchen early or the right for low-income neighborhoods to have access to fresh foods and not just boxed offerings, but after we sufficiently chatted about such topics off we went in our separate directions with some similar goals. Special thanks go out to Da Capo Publishers for sending a review copy my way.

Since I’d gotten a taste for his food justice passion, I knew I needed to check out his style of cooking – a plant-based approach to empower in good health and good flavor. “The Inspired Vegan” does seek to inspire understanding that “the food revolution will find its spark in home kitchens.” (p. xvii)

Cooking through the Book in Our Kitchen


I’m usually good in abiding by the seasonal mode of eating, but I broke one of the rules out of an incessant need to sample a spring menu item in late summer.  Let me tell you, the Aromatic Asparagus and Sweet Potato Curry with Cilantro, on page 67 was worth the in season rule-fudging. This “South Asian Supper” menu item featured the mellow sweetness of melted sweet potatoes paired with al dente asparagus in a curried coconut milk sauce. Think of this curry as more of a riff on an Indian curry than Thai. We looked forward to leftovers with much gusto.


One weekend, we poked into the “Fete before Fast” menu dedicated to New Orleans and soaked red beans on a Saturday night to make the Red Beans with Thick Gravy and Roasted Garlic on page 181, the next day. Here’s a perfect example of Terry at work as he makes his “thick gravy” by pulsing some of the red beans with the roasted garlic. What results, is a pot of red beans that are so soft, they win me over to actually liking kidney beans. This recipe is easy to prepare for the week ahead and makes a fine hot breakfast served over rice or the beginnings of a simple dinner.


His Savory Grits with Sauteed Broad Beans, Roasted Fennel and Thyme from the “Grits. Greens. Molasses.” menu on page 45, might have been my least favorite of the recipes we tried as it seemed a little flat in flavor. I intend to try this recipe again when favas are in season, since he suggests going fresh or frozen and I used dried. I would happily use his grits technique anytime. In a move akin to the kidney beans’ roasted garlic addition above, Terry adds cashew cream to the grits making them rich, supple and entirely unforgettable.


In keeping with the “South Asian Supper” menu theme, but on a different night, I prepared the Yellow Basmati Rice, (p. 71) and the Saag Tofu (p. 69). Stay tuned later this week for Terry’s Saag Tofu recipe. I’m of the mind that it might make a believer out of the harshest tofu critic. Instead of using paneer, the cheese for which Saag Paneer or Palak Paneer is originally named, this recipe introduces a zesty flavor in slow-roasted tofu cubes. Served over bright yellow rice, made vibrant by spicing it with turmeric, you’ve got one winning South Asian at-home meal better than take-out.


One cold summer evening in San Francisco, we dipped into the “Winter in Hong Kong” menu finding the 2 Rice Congee with Steamed Spinach on page 164 a welcome evening meal. If you’ve never had rice porridge before, it’s a cinch to put together provided you’ve got time. A bowl of this congee warmed us right up in spite of the bank of fog lodged outside our house. We took Terry up on his suggestion to serve the Congee  with Quick-Pickled Mustard Greens on page 19 and the Tofu with Peanuts Roasted in Chili Oil on page 166. The acidic greens complemented the roasted peanuts and slightly spicy tofu cubes, lending a nice kick of flavor to the rice porridge.

This winter, I long to try out the recipe for the Wet Jollof Rice with Carrots, Cabbage, and Parsley-Garlic Paste on page 94 and intend to make a big pot of Roasted Winter Vegetable Jambalaya on page 179 when our late summer turns back to fog. Also, while the cookbook notes Vegan in the title, it does not require that a person adhere to the vegan lifestyle to enjoy it. Greater emphasis for health reasons, environmental and accessibility quandaries are all reasons for folks to consider incorporating more vegetables and legumes into their everyday diets.

And Terry certainly makes a plant-based diet inviting and exotic. His use of spices denotes a love of culture and people and in concocting recipes and meals that hearken their place, shares their story. I have a hunch that you might find new sources of inspiration within the pages of “The Inspired Vegan.”


Cookery Bookshelf

Reading Corner: August

Very soon, you will see a few changes afoot in these parts. I trust you will find them worthwhile and winsome almost as much as I am chomping at the bit to see them in their full technicolor glory. In the meantime, I thought it might behoove me to tell you what’s coming up and what’s keeping my eyes occupied in my veritable reading corner. Think of it as a travel agent handing over a proposed itinerary to places you have yet to visit. And the best part is we get to visit together.

So what are you reading right now? 

Reading Corner- August

“Constance” by Jane Kenyon

I would be lying if I said that reading this book of poetry didn’t elicit the response of promptly ordering copies of all Kenyon’s other books. I am completely late to the party, having first read Kenyon’s husband, Donald Hall’s book of poetry, “Without” first. A friend at a local bookstore discovered that Greywolf is no longer publishing her individual books. Upon perusing a different used bookstore, I found a thick “Collected” tome. This of course led to my fingers scavenging amazon for used copies in good condition. You can imagine the elation I am experiencing as each book makes its way to me from around the country. A book review of “Constance” will be forthcoming.

“The Inspired Vegan” by Bryant Terry

You might be wondering, “Annelies, are you vegan?” To this, I would respond a very coy, “not exactly.” And yet, over the years the cookbooks that I began amassing in my home collection regularly included stalwart vegan or vegetarian titles. I blame it on “Candle 79” in New York or “Brenda’s Kitchen” in Minneapolis. We don’t really eat all that much meat around here for the sheer reasons of economics (good meat without hormones or antibiotics is expensive and thus in its way, a treat) and  for health. So, there’s that. I became intrigued to cook my way through “The Inspired Vegan” after meeting Bryant Terry in an elevator at Blogher Food. I found in our brief conversation, we share similar passions of access to clean foods in low income neighborhoods and a desire to show that healthy food doesn’t have to be difficult to prepare or have to sacrifice flavor. Clearly, from tonight’s repast of his Red Beans with Thick Gravy and Roasted Garlic spooned over rice, we are eating well. I’ll keep you posted on how my Cook the Book exploration goes.

“The Elegance of the Hedgehog” by Muriel Barbery

While I would say I’m on a diet of poetry often enough, there is also a splash of fiction thrown in for good flavor. The clever start of two key characters stories in “Elegance” hooked me enough to see what will happen next. That it is set in Paris adds to its appeal. That it follows the stellar “The History of Love” by Nicole Krauss is only somewhat lamentable as I am still a part of the world created therein and the last pages of that incredibly memorable book. “But, Annelies,” you ask, “you don’t review fiction books.” And this is true, reader. Which is why in my somewhat Type A need for organization and order, I started a book review blog with two friends. Think of it as our attempt to have Book Club in a space germane to London, Denver and San Francisco time. If you’re curious, check out our Literary Locus book review blog with each of us posting what we’ve read lately along with a short write-up and notes on our favorite city bookstores. It keeps us in touch in a language that transcends the colloquial.

What you read is what you’re thinking about and in a way, who you are.

Cookery Bookshelf

Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

BOOK REVIEW- Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

Yotam Ottolenghi is not scared of butter. In fact, his appreciation for the combination and results of a ratio of fat to vegetables really is something worth extolling in this book of 128 recipes. He gives you plenty of ideas from which to become a voraciously eager eater of vegetables. But this is no vegetarian cookbook for the solely health-conscious. He describes his first reaction to farro in his headnotes for Farro and Roasted Pepper Salad (p. 234) as tasting “a bit too ‘healthy’ for my liking.” That admission makes me more endeared to Ottolenghi as he proceeds to describe his later attempts at farro and pointing out its flavor profile as what changed his mind.

I sometimes tend to be late to the party so when his cookbook launched late last year I found myself intrigued by all the buzz it received. Ottolenghi contributed several recipes to Bon Appetit and after I found I had cooked through each one (and even found occasion to host a party so I could share one of the recipes) I found myself with plenty of reasons to tackle this cookbook personally, finding his approach to imbuing his food with fresh herbs and often with a dollop of yogurt to be in line with my own cooking sensibility, though he describes this addition in a headnote to Cucumber Salad with Smashed Garlic and Ginger (p. 166) as “a terrible habit of adding yogurt or sour cream to almost anything that’s been cooking for a long time, has got a lot of heat, is slightly greasy or just seems a bit heavy to me. “ He sounds like my kind of cook!

Plenty” by Yotam Ottolenghi is recipe-driven in the way that some restaurants can be described as ingredient-driven, which deserves an explanation. He opens the cookbook with a brief letter describing this recipe collection of contributions over the years in a column called “The New Vegetarian” to the UK newspaper, The Guardian. He is quick to point out he’s not personally vegetarian but that designation doesn’t stop him from crafting some of the most inventive and absurdly edible vegetarian recipes to make their way through my kitchen. This brief introduction spills out into a book of lush images and recipes. The high ratio of 68 photos (at last count) to recipes also endears me to the book.

His headnotes that start out each recipe are personable and often give suggested pairings, but sometimes are lessons in and of themselves, such as how he gauges selecting appropriate cheeses for melting in his headnote for Stuffed Portobello with Melting Taleggio (p. 56).  He introduces his Asparagus Vichyssoise (p. 184) as something similar to the chilled soup his father made for him when he sequestered himself at the family home to write all of the cookbook’s recipe introductions.

In trying to imagine what Ottolenghi is like in person, I envision someone with great passion for good food, a zeal for perfecting recipes, and an underlying sense of humor. I imagine him to be prone to small pranks or a bit of a jokester. Perhaps I’m wrong.

Let’s consider his intro for Eggplant Tricolore (p. 114) that suggests a “sacrilegious use of cilantro in a very Italian dish.” He continues his admission, “I’d go even further into very dangerous territory by suggesting, God forbid, that fresh cilantro could fit perfectly in traditional Italian cuisine.” Not convinced of his humor? The recipe headnotes for his Broccoli and Gorgonzola Pie, (p. 92) recalled a vehement letter received about the amount of fat in the pie that rattled his “normally-very-good-tempered-self.” To that complaint, he responded, “I say, enjoy this pie fully!” And before we move on, he says as much himself in his headnotes for Swiss Chard, Chickpea and Tamarind Stew (p. 148) when he expounds on “I always want to add sharpness to slow-cooked, stewy type dishes, something to break down the heavy seriousness of the dish and introduce a little refreshing edge to it-  a bit of humor even.”

Plenty evokes a philosophy of a zest for living and a cup half full mentality. This trickles out from the personality evidenced in his headnotes to surprising ingredient pairings that in other hands might be questionable, but not with Ottolenghi. I plunged safely headfirst into curious combinations and tried new-to-me ingredients, eschewing the familiar for the fantastic.  Some of his recipes bear that joyous verve for life in their nomenclature. His Tomato Party ( p. 131) is a spectacle of colors and textures and elsewhere in the book he boasts a Very Full Tart (p. 84).

But do the recipes in Plenty live up to the hype? Onward, we go.


For a recent birthday party of three carnivores, I invited them to let me cook and entered into a delicious pact with myself to make the meal vegetarian. We started off the meal with the Asparagus Mimosa (p. 182) an easy appetizer with a contrast of flavors. The briny capers played off the mellow asparagus and creamy hard boiled egg.


The star of the meal based on compliments and guttural sounds of approval was the Caramelized Fennel with Goat Cheese (p. 172). Here, he does something that completely bewitched and confounded my gourmande Tia B in his preparation of caramelizing fennel. This decadent side dish is made all the more intriguing with the punch of dill that rounds out the sweet flavors from the fennel and the tang of the goat cheese.


We capped off the meal with the Pasta and Fried Zucchini Salad (p. 254). Talk about a celebratory dish! Penne noodles with fried zucchini coins tossed in red wine vinegar playfully mingle with torn hunks of buffalo mozzarella, fresh basil leaves, lemon zest and a basil, parsley, olive oil sauce making this one refreshing summer entrée. That evening, the cookbook made its rounds from our set of hands into another as each guest took their time flipping through it after dinner and cooing over other recipes they wanted to try like the Roasted Garlic Tart (p. 38). Success!


Cooking our way through the book included several stops in the Eggplant section. One evening, we prepped the next night’s meal of Soba Noodles with Eggplant and Mango (p. 112), a wacky combination I knew we needed to try because of its curiosity. And sure enough the light dressing with the melt-in-your-mouth smooth eggplant worked well with the sweet burst of mango chunks and the ever so slightly heat of thin red onion slices. A pot of this happily fed us for a few days.


As an appetizer, I attempted the lush recipe photographed on the front cover of Plenty which incidentally has a lot of cookbook and author recognition from foodies in ways that most front covers don’t usually evoke. His Eggplant with Buttermilk Sauce (p. 110) can truly make a believer out of those who might ignore eggplant altogether. Softened from olive oil and roasting, we swapped out a variation of the buttermilk sauce for a cashew crème sauce since one of our guests had an intolerance to dairy and let me tell you, that alchemy of visual color pop to flavor of ingredients was not disturbed. This is one sexy dish of food.


And the Sweet potato cakes (p. 32) with their mild sweetness subdued by green onions and a bit of minced green pepper came to life with the lemony yogurt sauce. Oh my goodness. I took several cakes to lunch the next day and shared one with my foodie boss telling him I was sharing a real treat with him as he scraped his plate with his fork trying to get as much of the yogurt sauce as possible on the tines of his fork.


When San Francisco started showing the signs of our typical foggy summer weather, we pulled together the Swiss Chard, Chickpea and Tamarind Stew (p. 148), for an easy weeknight meal. The tangy essence of tamarind played off the rich garbanzo beans and the stewed Swiss Chard. With a dollop of yogurt on top and some buttery rice below, we tucked in well that night!


One evening as a side dish, we assembled the Spicy Moroccan Carrot Salad (p. 14) that truly lives up to its name and goes to another level with yogurt spooned atop. Next time I make this, I will cut back on the oil as we found it a bit slick and I’m not sure it would be remiss in that subtraction.


For a refreshing salad that’s both lovely to look at and delectable in its simplicity of focus, the Asparagus, Fennel and Beets with Verjus (p. 170) was a good way to spend the dregs of our well-loved Navarro Verjus. It evoked a bit of summery crunch and flavor to the lush and ever so slightly mouth-puckering Verjus and sumptuous pine nut, dill combination.


The Warm Glass Noodles and Edamame (p. 198) when compared to the myriad other recipes we worked our way through taste testing didn’t stand out with the same oomph as the other recipes for us though we found the tamarind a welcome addition to this dish and the mint a sweet note.


And what I might consider my own personal obsession du jour involved a taste test of one of Plenty’s recipes served not once or twice in a three week span but three times. The Malaysian street food entrée Mee Goreng (p. 185) has wormed its way into our regular lineup of weeknight meals. We even recently noticed that our neighborhood Thai restaurant has it on their menu, but their version doesn’t capture all of the fun and enhancements of the toppings recommended in Plenty. You’re in luck too as I will be sharing the recipe with a few minor variations tomorrow.


Often times, people say that vegetarian food and vegetables are boring. But people like Ottolenghi inspire me to color with all of the crayons in the crayon box – to experiment and cook for the joy of it. Plenty doubled me over with its creative combinations and the playful pairings of a New Vegetarian. From one to another, long live the mighty vegetable.


A special thanks goes out to Chronicle Books for sending Plenty for me to review. For the Plenty cookbook review, I did receive the  book from the publisher at no cost, but all the thoughts above, whether well intended or overly verbose are my own.

Cookery Bookshelf

Hero Food Cookbook by Seamus Mullen

BOOK REVIEW- Hero Food by Seamus Mullen

You might think Seamus Mullen’s new Hero Food cookbook is a health-centric cookbook from the press it’s been receiving. It’s true, he writes a whole chapter on his hero food, parsley and waxes poetic about the benefits he finds from his daily drink of Parsley Juice (p. 155), but don’t be deceived. “Hero Food” may talk about foods that make Mullen feel better but he approaches it from the culinary perspective of the New York chef star that he is. This is notably evident in his technique tips dispersed throughout like the photo instructions of Cutting Up a Duck (p.120).

I became intrigued with the idea of “Hero Food” through reading a day in the life meal journal via the Vulture and then also through the spread in Bon Appetit. Years ago at the New York Wine & Food Festival just after Mullens’ stint on the TV cooking competition, “Next Iron Chef America,” we met. I had been impressed with his professionalism and the creative concoctions of food he put together during the show and was just as equally taken with his friendly demeanor and delicious food in person. What I learned from the articles above that really made my admiration grow is that he suffered a flare-up of RA, rheumatoid arthritis during the heat of the finals for Next Iron Chef America. RA is a cause close to my heart and something I’m trying to learn about. Mullen shares, “In the years since that diagnosis, I’ve come to understand a very, very important part of my disease and that is the effect food has on overcoming the discomfort of my RA.” (p.3)

See, my Mama has rheumatoid arthritis. She has good days and other days when she doesn’t move far or fast. The idea behind “Hero Food” of preparing and eating foods that can be nourishing and healing, thoughtfully prepared with the intention of flavor and reducing inflammation instantly hooked me. So much so that for Mother’s Day I bought and sent a copy to Mama for her to scribble her own notes in the margins.

But this is not a cookbook relegated for the health aisle of bookstores, it is chock full of sumptuous recipes like Pan Roast of Arctic Char with Sorrel Sauce. Mullen takes creative license listing out his 10 “hero foods”, foods that he feels bring benefit to his body and living with RA. They also happen to be foods he is passionate about eating anyway. The book is divided into four seasonal sections starting with Winter in Barcelona, moving onto Spring on his Rooftop in New York, then onto Summer on the Farm, and finally Autumn in Vermont. Each of these locales is central to his style of cooking and he is sure to include stories or snippets of how he got inspired to create the recipe in his head notes or in the chapter introductions.

His hero foods consist of olive oil, dried beans, almonds, grains, anchovies, sweet peas, parsley, berries, carrots, corn, stone fruit, squash, mushrooms, and greens. Additional chapters on good eggs, good birds, good fish and good meat take a moment to consider the conditions and environmental impact on the food in question. In good birds, he talks a bit about factory egg farms, describing the conditions and then considering how those conditions affect the lives of the birds and in the end, the food that we eat. Being raised in Vermont, Mullen describes his childhood on the farm with his homesteader parents (and butcher mom!), as well as the difference between a free range chicken hunting for its food and the kind of egg it lays. This upbringing impacts his cooking. The cookbook is dedicated to his grandmother “Mutti” and she makes an appearance in recipes like the Plum Cake (p. 212) or in stories throughout the book.


My style of cooking is to take what I like and leave the rest. Since I haven’t eaten pork or any derivatives for almost six months, I did find myself flipping quickly through the Spanish section of the cookbook looking for more veggie-friendly recipes more my speed. And I found them quite easily.


We made Mullen’s easy Chilled Carrot Soup with Tarragon and Yogurt (p. 186) on a balmy Saturday evening and found it to be a refreshing side to the Tortilla Espanola (p. 111). A delectable perk to the Tortilla Espanola resulted in onion and garlic infused olive oil dregs which have tastefully imbued their flavor into weeknight food. What seemed better for a sultry Sunday afternoon than the Sunday Roast Chicken (p. 130)? One morning we happily drank Mullens’ well-loved Parsley Juice (p. 155). We found the Salsa Verde (p. 155) an easy sauce that brought a bit of zip as a finishing sauce for roasted fish or drizzled on roasted veggies.


His “10 Things to Do with” lists on almonds (p. 58) and corn (p. 193) give clever recipe idea asides also buried in the chapter introductions, which are really superb considerations of multiple uses beyond the recipe for some of his hero food ingredients.  Several of the recipes in “Hero Foods” felt familiar. Mama’s housemade salsa reminds me of his recipe for sofrito (p. 65) with essentially the same ingredients and process. His recipe for White Peaches, Pistachios, Honey and Ricotta (p. 211) reminded me of my own Elberta Peaches with Housemade Ricotta because really what is better than fresh peaches and just strained warm ricotta?

peaches and ricotta and mint

Recipes I’m planning on tackling in coming weeks include entrees including Lamb Meatballs in Tomato Sauce with Ricotta (p. 293), Chilled Sweet Pea Soup (p. 147) and Stuffed Spaghetti Squash (p. 254). Some interesting and fun takes on traditional foods include Mullen’s Homemade Lamb Bacon with Kale and an Egg (p. 290) and a refreshing take on Ranch dressing of Kefir Vinaigrette (p. 148). Savory side dishes caught my eye: Cremini Mushrooms al Aijillo (p. 265), Spicy Rapini with Almonds (p. 272) and Chard Croquettes (p. 280).

In short, Seamus Mullen has created a cookbook that Marion Nestle recommends on the front cover. “This gorgeous book proves without a doubt the point I’ve been making for years: Healthy food is delicious!” If you are looking for fresh ideas on cooking with seasonal ingredients that also happen to be “hero foods” get your hands on this cookbook. Then again, if you happen to be someone smitten with Spanish cuisine and culture, this is a good book for you. And if you have rheumatoid arthritis, consider that the food you cook and eat might be your heroes too. For a fun Q&A, check out this Q&A on Goop with Chef Seamus Mullen.