If I haven’t mentioned, Mr. Bookdwarf and I bought a house last year that needed to be completely gutted. We finally unpacked most of our cookbooks a few weeks back and start cooking, but now is the time to finish the kitchen, so we have no kitchen sink for a while! Before that, however, we did cook a delicious beef stew from The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook. This is a classic cookbook, one we turn to time and time again. It’s a straightforward beef carbonnade made with beer. We cheat and add potatoes and carrots. Yum!
We started unpacking cookbooks that had been in storage for over a year in our new house. I forgot how many I have! Mr. Bookdwarf and I decided to make a recipe from each cookbook, as a way to try new recipes and to test that they’re worthy of keeping. Last night, we cooked this Winter Minestrone from David Tanis’s One Good Dish.
As an aside, you should also know is that I got an Instapot for Christmas this year. Did I (or you) need another kitchen appliance? Honestly, after living in a temporary apartment with not much of my kitchen stuff, I realized there was a lot I didn’t need could get rid of. But this device is many things in one—pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice maker, yogurt, and more. I’ve used it a few times and had fantastic results.
Tanis’s recipe is quite simple. Sauté some aromatics, add pancetta or bacon and cook for a few minues. Then cook cannellini beans that have been soaked overnight in 6 cups water for 1 1/2-2 hours. Meanwhile, you roast some winter squash to add to the beans at the end. I simply adapted the recipe to use non-soaked white beans with water in the Instapot on the pressure cooker bean setting after sauteing the aromatics and bacon on the sauté setting. It took about 45 minutes until the beans were tender and creamy. And we used acorn squash—a complete pain to peel FYI—roasting it with olive oil, s&p, and a dash of red pepper flakes for 35 minutes. I also threw some bacon to crisp up toward the end of the squash cooking for garnish because I’m fancy like that.
This was both easy and delicious and I would definitely make it again! I can’t wait to pick another cookbook to try.
Early in December @TenSpeedPress tweeted that Daily Candy “dares you” to cook from @pokpokpdx in a post titled Four Books Destined for the Coffee Table. Never one to pass by a challenge, I said I would cook from Pok Pok by Andy Ricker soon and report back. Then the holidays happened and frankly after all of that eating, drinking, and cooking I needed to lay low for a while. On Saturday I decided to try and recover my cooking spirit and cracked open Pok Pok. Folks have been swooning over this book–it made all sorts of best of the year lists, best gift to give, etc. I’ve seen a hard copy with it’s lovely, colorful design and it is a marvel. My copy is a galley so it’s all black and white, with no pretty pictures to distract me!
I read through most of the book before deciding what to make. I’ve had a whole frozen chicken from a meat share that I’ve been wanting to cook so decided on Yam Jin Kai (Northern Thai Chicken Soup). To accompany the chicken I would make Phat Khanaeng (Stir-Fried Brussels Sprouts) and Khao Niaw (Sticky Rice). One of the things I noticed in this book is that each recipe often requires one if not more of another smaller recipe, as simple as fried garlic or as complex as a broth or a homemade shrimp and spice paste. This didn’t deter me. No, it was the rare ingredients that made me pause for a second, but it also meant I could trek up to the Burlington H Mart and wander the aisles. So I did that yesterday and guess what? H Mart doesn’t stock kaffir lime leaves or galangal and the Whole Foods near me which usually does was also out. I did what any self-respecting cook does. I went to Russo’s in Watertown which had all of these things and more, even culantro (not to be confused with cilantro, of course). Yes, reader, I went to three stores to get the ingredients for this meal. Anyway, I digress. I really just wanted to share with you my enthusiasm for cooking from this book.
I managed to find everything except for gouramy (a preserved fish of some kind), two kinds of specialized peppers (pippali and mak hwen) and Vietnamese mint. I skipped the extra fish and used extra Thai peppers and regular mint.
The soup calls for adding aromatics like lemongrasss, galangal, and cilantro stems to a pot with a whole chicken and shrimp paste, covering it all with water, and simmering until the chicken legs start to fall off. Then you remove the meat, strain, and make a soup. It was pretty straightforward, actually, and once I had the broth made the soup came together quickly: combine more lemongrasss, galangal, shallots, garlic, kaffir lime leaves, more spices, more shrimp paste, and 6 cups of the broth. Add green onions, cilantro, and culantro. Simmer for 5 minutes and done. Serve with a bit more of the herb mixture and some fried garlic. You get a rich chicken soup filled with funk and herbs until it’s opaque.
The brussels sprouts were even easier. Blanch and sauté the sprouts, then add an easy-to-make sauce of oyster sauce and fish sauce. Tasty!
And there you have it. My first and certainly not my last meal from Pok Pok. The book is worth reading if only for the lovely introductions to the recipes. Now that I own something called Thin Soy Sauce I’ll have to continue exploring this fine addition to my cookbook collection, though perhaps one day I’ll get the color version.
I bought a purple cayenne pepper plant earlier this Spring for my front porch. We had such a rainy beginning, that it took a long time for the peppers to arrive. Apparently if you leave them on there, they’ll turn red!
I’ve always imagined that making jam or putting up things required whole days standing over a hot stove stirring and stirring, sweat dripping off my nose, jars everywhere, fruit juice staining the walls. As canning and jam making has gotten more popular in this DIY decade, more and more books appear on the market. Many are nice and instructive, but I couldn’t get past what I imagined it would entail. That is, until I tried the simple strawberry jam recipes in Kevin West’s Saving the Season. The whole process took only an hour and we ended up with 4 half pint jars of the most amazing jam.
We kept going. So far we’ve made spicy agrodolce onions, Maraschino cherries with fruit that we foraged from the parking lot of a Valvoline near our house, the most delicious sour pickles ever, blueberry jam with gin, and last night, Methley plum jam with star anise. The last one was really a riff off of a recipe he had, but not quite the same. I’ve gotten so confident now that I want to make jam or pickle out of everything I find at the farmers’ market.
My favorite part of the book isn’t the recipes. It’s the approachable, extensive text that West includes. There are plenty of beautiful pictures of food, of course, but they’re matched with tons of stories and poems that you don’t find in other cookbooks. You get tales of his family making jam, the history of the preserving pan, and cocktails you’ll want to make instantly, plus charts and graphs about every fruit or vegetable you can think of preserving.
Below you’ll find a photo of what we’ve been up to at Chez Sullivan & Weber. From left to right, Blueberry Jam with Gin, Strawberry Jam, Pickles, Maraschino Cherries, and Spicy Agrodolce Onions: