When Ten Speed Press offered the opportunity to explore Chef Gunnar Karl Gíslason's new cookbook, North, I couldn't possibly resist.
I was in Iceland l...moreWhen Ten Speed Press offered the opportunity to explore Chef Gunnar Karl Gíslason's new cookbook, North, I couldn't possibly resist.
I was in Iceland last year and although I didn't have the opportunity to experience Gíslason's restaurant, Dill, I did love all the food I encountered. Cod, which I'd never particularly liked until I devoured Icelandic cod, rhubarb tucked into the tiny gardens of homes on the coast, angelica growing wild (and infused in the cough drops I picked up).
We ate at an incredible restaurant in the north, Narfeyrarstofa, rhubarb dessert included, and one of the most delicious meals I've experienced. Since then I've wanted to try some Icelandic-inspired meals.
But in terms of that, this book just isn't going to do it for me. Which makes me sad.
If you're an adventurous cook who loves picking up a cookbook that requires a certain level of skill and look through the challenging recipes and draw up a list of those you'd like to take on....
This book probably isn't going to work for you, either.
Because let me tell you, I am one of those cooks, and the recipes in here just seem impossible for me.
We're talking ingredients and kitchen/scientific equipment and skills that even a relatively skilled and adventurous home cook isn't going to be able to do.
At the beginning of the book, the authors went to great lengths to explain that many of the ingredients are native to Iceland an that it's unlikely that they could easily be sourced elsewhere but that's okay because they can be substituted with other similar ingredients, and they had me convinced.
And then I started reading through the recipes.
Birch Meringue, Buttermilk pudding, and Birch Granita. Dried Trotters, Pickled Onions, and Hay-Smoked Mayonnaise. Lamb Sweetbreads, Caramelized Celery Root, and Blood Sausage.
I was looking for a recipe I could make and so started looking for one of the more simplistic recipes, and also for ones that I could easily replace at least half of the ingredients. I narrowed it down to less than a handful but then, reading in further detail through the recipes, I came to the realization that even those recipes would require things like foam, and sauces and bringing things together that would take at least half my weekend to source and create.
Hmmmm, so I can't tell you that I actually made any recipes. I might try some day, when I want to take on the challenge and devote a weekend to the project.
Please don't walk away, if you're interested in Iceland and fascinating food.
This book is gorgeous. And not just physically. The photographs are pure architectural, landscape, and foodist pornography.
Each section includes passionate storytelling, both about Gíslason's reasons for starting Dill and his love for Iceland and the people there (I did find it odd that Gíslason was always referred to in the third person... I understand that there were essentially three authors here, including the photographer, but since it's primarily about Gíslason and his experiences, this felt odd and stilted).
They profile the producers of the food products in Iceland, including lamb and seaweed and cod and barley (they grow barley in Iceland!). They profiles are absolutely fascinating and educational and beautifully written and photographed.
Even if Iceland hasn't necessarily been on your cultural or foodist radar, if you enjoy profiles about people who devote themselves to a particular craft in their homeland of which they are enormously proud, you'll love this love letter to Iceland.
For me, this book is more for reading about a culture and its people who are thrillingly passionate about their local ingredients than it is a cookbook I'll work much from, but I'm perfectly okay with that.
Elves not included. Or at least, there aren't any photographs. (less)
My entire review including the recipe is on my blog at: wanderaven
I'm not really inclined to make cobblers and crisps.
I like the challenge of bread b...moreMy entire review including the recipe is on my blog at: wanderaven
I'm not really inclined to make cobblers and crisps.
I like the challenge of bread baking, and I love to find a good cake recipe that results in a moist, light crumb.
But I typically fail at (or am disappointed in, at least) cobblers and crisps. This is because the topping is almost always a combination of flour, brown sugar, spices, and butter. I always have difficulty with getting that mixture just right; usually it results in pieces that are too big, with lumps of brown sugar or flour, or too crumbly and small, so that it doesn't crisp or is essentially just a floury layer.the messy baker//wanderaven
Also, most fruit at the height of its season is best rinsed off and eaten out of hand.
But when Rodale gave me the chance to check out this new cookbook and I saw the recipe for Extra-Crispy Peach and Blueberry Crisp, sitting right there next to my local red haven peaches, I was intrigued by its premise.
Christie has us use panko breadcrumbs, instead of trying to get the right consistency with some flour. They, perhaps, don't make for such a lovely texture visually, but they are certainly a great, reliable variation.
I loved the topping on this crisp and the entire thing was not-too-sweet, which highlighted the fruit. Well, mostly the blueberries, that is. I used four large peaches to one punnet of blueberries, and although we could see the peaches, and taste them if we singled a chunk out, they were completely overwhelmed by the blueberries. I would like to re-try this recipe but with only peaches, I and suspect that would be quite tasty.
As for the book itself:
Really quite fantastic. I love the conversational tone, including the introductions for each recipe. These are not strictly sweet or dessert recipes (as one might rightly anticipate in a cookbook called The Messy Baker), but also include savory recipes with baking components. I also made some delicious empanadas from the book, which I will also post about.
I have a tendency to sort of skim over the beginning pages in a cookbook, to get to the meat of the thing: recipes! but I paid closer attention to this one, since I knew I was going to review it. Christie includes a couple pages in the beginning with "The Messy Manifesto", rules for using her book and making her recipes. She advises patience, and gives the solution to keys associated with each recipe:
Ready in an hour or less: These recipes can be out of the oven in 60 minutes or less.
Done in Stages: You can make these recipes in short stages over time.
Lazy Sunday Afternoon: These recipes take a bit longer but are worth the time.
Also included is the suggestion to set out ingredients before starting (I love to do this) and reading the recipe - all of the recipe - first (which I desperately need to take to heart). Christie also, later in the book, advises, "Toasting brings out the flavor of nuts and adds crispness. If a recipe calls for toasted nuts and you choose to skip this step, the baked goods won't be as crunchy or flavorful." This woman has claimed my heart. (less)
I was going to make Jeni's Vanilla-Bean Ice Cream Bread Pudding from her new book, which makes sense since this, her second book, is...moreI had grand plans.
I was going to make Jeni's Vanilla-Bean Ice Cream Bread Pudding from her new book, which makes sense since this, her second book, isn't just about the ice cream but also about the desserts to go along with it.
But there was a misreading of the recipe + a kitchen plumbing mini-disaster and so I didn't make the bread pudding.
But it's juuuuuust fine. Because I had on hand ultra-fresh spring strawberries and blueberries. So I made the Salty Vanilla Frozen Custard instead, macerated some strawberries, and ended up with a light, creamy spring dessert.
Very nice! One of the attractions to Jeni's ice cream is her unique and exciting flavour combinations, so I admit it's a bit odd that I ended up with, well, a very vanilla dish here, but I'm happy that I did. It's nice to try a custard ice cream, as opposed to a straight ice cream (without the egg yolks), as it was a richer, definitely custard-y flavour; a lovely counterbalance to the tart strawberries and dark, juicy blueberries.
But I'm still looking forward to trying other recipes from this book. Jeni includes custards, ice creams, frozen yogurt, dairy -free ice creams (créme sans lait), sorbets, cakes and biscuits, sundae combinations, sugar croutons, jams, and gravels.
Want to try:
Honeyed Buttermilk Ice Cream with Corn Bread Gravel
Despite my love for immersing myself in books and all sorts of stories, whether fictional or memoir, it's rare for me to cry when I read. I'm not sure...moreDespite my love for immersing myself in books and all sorts of stories, whether fictional or memoir, it's rare for me to cry when I read. I'm not sure if it's because few books are powerful enough to illicit tears from me or if, because I'm a lifer-reader, I'm somewhat hardened.
When I cried at the end of Kathleen Flinn's first book, The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry, a few years ago, I'm pretty certain that it was one of those serendipitous moments when the book walked hand in hand with my emotional life at the time.
So when Viking offered her new memoir, Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good, for review, I was happy to accept.
Burnt Toast is a series of short vignettes about Flinn's family history and youth. She shares her great-grandparents, grandparents, and parents stories. Her parents had a lot of children, and a few years of financial difficulties (more due to a bad business deal than the number of children). Flinn writes about how their family lived on a farm with bare-bones, homemade meals during the debt-heavy years, but that as soon as they were more financially solvent, her parents moved the family to a more suburban home and started stocking the freezer with processed meals.
There are recipes included with each chapter, each one related to the story in the chapter. I haven't tried any of them yet, but I am interested particularly in her vinegar-based German potato salad.
My hesitation with this narrative is that it does some seem to lack some cohesiveness because it follows only a sketchy linear chronology. Near the beginning of the book, I kept checking back to see whether the story was about the family's time before Flinn was born, or after. Later in the narrative, she would mention an older relative like her grandmother, and I was a bit disoriented as to who she was because her stories were told primarily earlier in the book, and her popping back in surprised me.
It's a minor quibble. Flinn's stories are fun and interesting family tales, sometimes bordering on legends. They're light (oh, but for the dark incident with the canary), on the whole, and I loved how the recipes at the end of each chapter were associated. Sometimes, while reading a chapter, multiple recipes or meals were mentioned and I looked forward to finding out which one would be featured at the end. The recipes themselves are lovingly shared, with companionable instructions.
I was somewhat aware of Flinn's second book, The Kitchen Counter Cooking School, but hadn't tracked it down yet in part because I was under the impression it was fiction (nothing against fiction, obviously, but I enjoyed the first memoir so much I wasn't sure I wanted to try something different). It'll definitely be moving up on my list now.(less)
Icon Books gave me the opportunity to read this volume a bit early. The subtitle gives an indication of the hodgepodge-ness of this collection of triv...moreIcon Books gave me the opportunity to read this volume a bit early. The subtitle gives an indication of the hodgepodge-ness of this collection of trivia and facts. There are recipes, as well, usually proceeded by an interesting history or facts about particular kitchen items or ingredients.
I wasn't entranced enough to completely finish the book (although I read the majority). I was somewhat put off by the jokey tone, although there wasn't anything about the description to indicate that the narrative would be anything other than this. Also, many of the facts or history provided were things I already knew, but that may be just because I'm quite interested in foodie-type history (which is why I requested to read this), so I've come across some of it before. Other readers might be more surprised, but if they're interested enough in food to pick it up, they may have the same experience as I did (catch-22).
I've never been a significant fan of stews. This, I realized last night, is because they're often rather bland. They frequently lack significant seaso...moreI've never been a significant fan of stews. This, I realized last night, is because they're often rather bland. They frequently lack significant seasoning, or all the strong flavours just somehow manage to blend together in a nondescript broth.
Last night, though, I discovered my first recipe that will definitely be on the shortlist of go-to hearty and richly flavourful cozy stews.
Ten Speed Press gave me the opportunity to check out the new cookbook by Cathal Armstrong, My Irish Table. Here's the thing about Ten Speed Press: they're actually a publisher I seek out on bookstore shelves. While scanning the titles, if I see the Ten Speed Press logo on the spine of the book, I'll pull it out to check it, even if I might not have noticed it otherwise.
Despite snow here in the valley yesterday, we are slowly but surely moving into spring warmth, so I thought I'd usher winter out with Armstrong's Beef Stew. Throughout the (almost) two hours of braising, there was lots of wandering through the kitchen and exclamations about how incredible it smelled. Let me tell you, this is NOT a bland stew. The herbs and the serrano just fawned all over that meat, dropping compliments that would make Donald Trump blush.
The book is stock full of cooking advice and science. Hagedorn's photographs (of both the food and Irish scenes) are gorgeous, and compliment Armstrong's intimate and warm narrative. He has a story about each recipe. The recipes are almost completely Irish but also have British, American, and African influences.
These are authentic recipes without shortcuts, which is lovely but which also often means long and involved commitments (and usually multiple steps) to the preparations of the dishes. The corned beef takes 17 days to make. The book is very heavily seafood oriented (which, of course, makes sense, but is a bit of a drawback for me until I move to a coastal area somewhere).
Up next: Bakewell Tart (I've always wanted to make this but never have), the Pullman Loaf, and in the summer, hopefully some Horseradish Cream from the horseradish plant I'm putting in the ground this weekend!
*** You can get the recipe and read more notes on it on my blog at: wanderaven(less)
When I'm deciding whether to make a recipe, I tend to scan it for certain elements, many of which I'd find...moreUntoasted walnuts are the harbinger of doom.
When I'm deciding whether to make a recipe, I tend to scan it for certain elements, many of which I'd find difficult to innumerate on cue but that often stand out as either clinchers that the recipe is sure to work or red flags that the recipe should be regarded with a suspicious eye.
Case in point: when a recipe contains a nut, but there's no indication to toast it, it's usually not a good sign. Sure, there are recipes out there, I'm sure, where the nuts shouldn't necessarily be toasted, but I haven't found one yet. Toasting nuts gives them tenderness (but not soft, mushiness) and deeper, richer, flavours, including bitterness and toastiness.
Anova Books gifted me a preview copy of this book through Netgalley. It's published by the National Trust and reading through the book, it has some promising elements that I enjoyed. There's a seasonal chart indicating the months all the vegetables in the book are at their prime. Rich photographs and a helpful metric to U.S. measures conversion chart contribute to making the recipes look tasty and easier. The recipes are grouped by season, which is my favourite way to experience a cookbook, and each recipe has a See Also: addendum, which is an indication of other recipes in the book that would go well with the recipe viewed; great for developing a larger menu.
You guys all know how much I love my British chefs. So although the recipe I made from this book, Celeriac, Apple and Walnut Salad warned me by giving no indication that the nuts should be toasted, I decided to try it because the overall ingredients looked complimentary and because I had a head of celeriac giving me the dirty eye.
And yes, I betrayed the recipe by toasting the walnuts. But otherwise, I followed it to the letter and the final result was... uneven. The textures blended well together, and the dressing - creme fraiche, wholegrain Dijon, lemon juice - was definitely the best part of the salad. But the ratio of celeriac to walnuts and to apples was off, with the pungent and fibrous celeriac dominating the salad. Also... had I not toasted the walnuts, as the recipe indicated to just add them raw, it would have been rather more bland. Truth be told? I tossed the remainder of the salad after serving it to guests and just receiving polite silence while they ate.
So, I'm not saying untoasted walnuts destroyed the salad; just that failure to advise on techniques like this can indicate a larger issue with the recipe.
I wanted to love this book - hey, it's British and veggies! - but I'm definitely not in love with it yet. I would like to try the Carrot and Cardamom Cake next. At least the whole almonds placed on top in the lemon icing should be "lightly roasted".... (less)
It's a great book but I'm not sure much can fully live up to Chocolat (which is okay), and so towards the end of the book, I was wondering whether I'd...moreIt's a great book but I'm not sure much can fully live up to Chocolat (which is okay), and so towards the end of the book, I was wondering whether I'd be giving it three or four stars. I was reluctant to do three, it felt stronger than that, but wasn't affecting me as much as Chocolat. But then Pantouf (not sure of spelling, as I listened to it on audiobook), a flitting presence throughout the narrative (and ties in with the title) makes his presence most strongly felt towards the end and, I suppose because I do feel like I have my own little Pantouf as well, he made it feel more like a four.
Some readers might not appreciate the layers, the realizations of the meaning of shadow (as in, they may think it too transparent?), but I loved it, and Anouk, and Roux, though it was difficult to make the transition to his role here, when it clearly didn't exist in Chocolat, the book at least. But I liked the movie even though it didn't mirror the book, so I'm okay with it. I've marked this book under categories of both magical realism and supernatural/fantasy because although some of the elements could remain as magical realism, far too many of them are too strongly magical to simply be magical realism.
Enjoyable and magical (perhaps just a bit too much towards the end for my tastes), and always love Harris' food and its role in the story.(less)
Sure, this book is about Spain and cheese and wine. And even, as the title says, betrayal and revenge, but it's in those that the reader discovers tha...moreSure, this book is about Spain and cheese and wine. And even, as the title says, betrayal and revenge, but it's in those that the reader discovers that what this book is really about is the stories we tell: the stories we tell ourselves, the stories we tell other people, and the stories we tell about the stories we've told other people... and how we think they've perceived them.
Every person's story in this book - from Ambrosio's story of betrayal to Julian's counter-story, and especially to Paterniti's own story - illustrates how the stories we tell, whether to ourselves or other people, shape how we view ourselves, others, and the world - and it doesn't much matter, in the end, how true or authentic to reality those stories really are. All that matters is how true we think they are.
It's somewhat convoluted, when you really think about everything Paterniti relates, from his own experience with the whole story, to Ambrosio's story, to the village's stories, and even the local and regional histories and how they play out in the contemporary dramas. But Paterniti skillfully plans out and reveals the bits and pieces at the right times.
I debated as to whether to give this book four or five stars - I'm pretty stingy with my five stars - but ultimately it was his beautiful writing throughout the book that will keep it top in my mind for some time to come. Paterniti shares his admiration throughout the book for Ambrosio's engrossing storytelling but he, himself, seems the enthraller, with writing like this, about his daughter, May:
She was nearly fourteen months old, this little girl with fine strawberry-blond hair and round eyes who had blossomed from that fleshy, swollen-eyes, wailing lump to this burgeoning nymph, this shiny, ever-alert creature who seemed to miss nothing. Even her squalls were fantastic, fits of tears and high emotion. She was still light, but heavier than when we'd arrived.
If I feared anything, this is what I feared: We were all growing so fast. And here was my daughter, her limbs reaching farther, her eyes focusing higher. Now her mind sparked and glimmered, her mouth motored on. Her gaze was so intent, it seemed to belong to an old woman from another time who had seen it all, and was seeing it all again. She wiggled and giggled, shouted her holas and aguas, burst into tears, and waddled with such determination and brio as to have earned a new nickname, Goosey. When we inevitably brought her into our bed during the night, she slept between us, plugging fingers into both of our belly buttons, then falling fast asleep.