Cookbook Club

I joined an online cookbook club via food52.

Each month the communinty cooks from a certain cookbook.  July's book was My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz .  He's one of my favorite food bloggers and cookbook writers.  I think I discovered him years ago when he published an ice cream cookbook, The Perfect Scoop.  (Do yourself a favor and check it out while it's still summer.  I just made frozen strawberry yogurt and Vietnamese coffee ice cream last week.)

I have a autographed copy of My Paris Kitchen.  While living in San Francisco, I would visit Omnivore Books, a neighborhood bookstore dedicated to cookbooks.  Various chefs and food writers popped in on their book tours.  I headed over there when Lebovitz stopped by in 2014.

He used to live and work in nearby Oakland, then moved to Paris.  As a lover of food, SF and wine country, and Paris, you can understand why I follow this guy. 


I discovered the online cookbook club late in July, so I made three recipes last weekend.  I had everything I needed for a few vegetable side dishes:

A French lentil salad that has been a tasty lunch the last few days.


A simple, but delicious green bean dish (garlic-centric!).


Roasted root vegetables.  Still the best way to prepare and eat any vegetable, hands down.


Apple Speculoos Crumble

Dorie Greenspan is one of my favorite cookbook authors.  If you've read my blog in the past, you know that I've cooked from her Around My French Table quite a bit.  Last week, I found Tuesdays with Dorie, a site that continues to follow and sample Dorie's more recent cookbooks.  I jumped on that bandwagon immediately.

From Baking Chez Moi, I tried the recipe for Apple Speculoos Crumble.  Spec-u-what?  Speculoos are these little digestive cookies popular in Europe.  A quick search on Amazon and voila!  I had a 3-pack arrive at my doorstep.  G immediately tore into them.  Cinnamon and brown sugar?  Um, speculoos and G speak the same language.

Dorie perfectly describes the aroma and taste of these cookies as:  "...Christmas...-just-around-the-corner..."


Continue reading "Apple Speculoos Crumble" »

Plain and Simple Almond Cake

Last week, my foodie friend, Cheryl, came to visit from Nashville.  She is gluten intolerant and I just bought a bag of almond flour for my pantry.  

To be honest, I wanted the almond flour to start making my own macaron cookies.  You know, these things:

Photo from XTPatisserie

Homemade macarons have been in my sights for a long time.  Sigh...excuse me I while swoon.

Back to the business at hand.  Gluten-free cake recipe and gluten-free friend visiting.  Worlds collide!

The second simple cake recipe in Dorie Greenspan's Baking Chez Moi happens to be a Plain and Simple Almond Cake.

Literally five ingredients.  Six, if you want to dust the finished cake with powdered sugar.


For this recipe, you just have to be a bit gentle with the ingredients.  You fold some egg whites together  with the almond flour and then again into egg yolks.  This is a great cake to dress up, either with the dusting of powdered sugar or Dorie's super smart suggestion.  She slices it in half horizontally and fills it with jam.

Cheryl gave the cake a big gluten-free thumbs up.  It was a great weekend cake for us as we took a small roadtrip to wine country.  Even G, who is not used to gluten-free baked items, loved it.  Although he has requested that the next one I make include the jam.  Some honey.  Some chocolate sauce...

Brown-Butter-and-Vanilla-Bean Weekend Cake

I finally got my hands on Dorie Greenspan's latest cookbook, Baking Chez Moi!

Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table has been one of my favorite cookbooks for years now.  The dessert section of that book includes beautiful French pastries you always see in photos or in person at patisseries if you're lucky enough to visit France.  Dreamy sweets like eclairs, floating islands, coeur a la creme.

Greenspan's latest book is all about what the French bake at home, not necessarily the elaborate works of art from the patisseries.  Chapter one is titled Simple Cakes, what the French call weekend cakes or travel cakes.  I love this idea; a simple cake, perhaps one baked in a loaf pan, that can be a sweet go-to snack during the weekend or for a picnic.

I think I might just have to try each recipe!  First up, Brown-Butter-and-Vanilla-Bean Weekend Cake. 


Nutty brown butter.


Brown butter folded into batter.






Simple, yes.  Simply delicious.  A big hit at our house and, yes, by Sunday evening it was gone.


Mom's 'Fridge Pickles - from Fresh Every Day by Sara Foster with Carolynn Carreno

My first choice for trying a recipe from Fresh Every Day was an easy one.  I thought having some fridge pickles would be a tiny harbinger of spring whenever I opened my fridge.  I even had a mason jar I could use to store the crunchy go-to snack.

These pickles are so easy and so good.  I'm planning on having them in the fridge throughout spring and summer.

Into the mason jar and with a good shake went white vinegar, sugar, salt, black pepper, whole cloves, bay leaves, red pepper flakes, and dill seed.  Then I added some thinly sliced kirby (pickling) cucumbers and white onion.  Ta da!  Tasty pickles that will last for at least a month in your fridge.

Pickle mix


Cukes two




Pickles two

April Cookbook Spotlight - Fresh Every Day: More Great Recipes from Foster's Market

In my constant work in cookbook discovering, I always keep an eye out for Southern cooks and authors.  I spent some happy years in Nashville in the nineties and have been under the spell of Southern food ever since.

I found Sara Foster and Foster's Market a couple of years back in my internet and library searches.  As a dedicated farm market consumer, I was especially attracted to the fresh aspect of this cookbook published in 2005.

(Foster's Market has two locations in Durham and Chapel Hill, NC.)

Coriander and Orange Roast Chicken - from Michael Symon's Carnivore

I'm a sucker for a roast chicken recipe.  At least two Sundays each month there is a chicken in my oven.

Because, God forbid, I make the same roast chicken twice in a row, I was happy to see this flavorful roast chicken recipe in Michael Symon's Carnivore.

I also love a marinade.  This one included toasted coriander seeds, orange zest and juice, honey, and minced jalapeno. 

Chix marinade








The chicken hung out in that yummy marinade overnight.  Before I put him in the oven, I placed some orange slices and bay leaves under the skin and surrounded the chicken with garlic cloves, onion, and fresh thyme. 

The final product was beautifully browned (seriously, that browning brought joy to my heart).  The aroma of orange and thyme and general spiciness was intoxicating.  This recipe went in the Keep file.



Moussaka - from Michael Symon's Carnivore

I admit it.  I have a thing for Michael Symon.  No, not like that.  He's a hometown boy!  We both hail from Cleveland, Ohio which is now something of a Midwest food destination.  I never would have predicted that as a kid.  I think Lake Erie perch and homemade pierogis were the stars of the Cleveland food world back then.

Now, when G and I roadtrip to New York to visit relatives, we always make sure we're hungry right about the time we hit Westlake (West Side) or Woodmere (East Side).  Symon's burger joint, B Spot, has outposts there. 

Hold please, I need to stop drooling before I continue.

Okay, so, I thought for my first cookbook spotlight, I'd choose Symon's latest, Carnivore.

When I picked up Carnivore, I opened right to the page for Symon's Moussaka recipe. 

Lamb?  Works for me.  As the pickiest of eaters as a kid, I liked lamb.  Once in a while, Mom would make lamb patties for dinner. What exactly were those things, Mom?  They weren't thick and juicy like a burger.  They were flat and brown and quite boring, but for some reason that distinct lamb flavor got me.

Years later, when I finished my vegetarian phase and discovered lamb at a Middle Eastern dinner, I had a flashback.  Omigosh!  I remember this flavor.  I like lamb!


The first step of the recipe is to soak golden raisins in warmed red wine.  Once I read that, I knew I was going to enjoy making this recipe.

I browned the ground lamb in olive oil and spices such as cinnamon, cumin, coriander, and red pepper flake.  Then I sauteed red peppers and onions, adding garlic and tomato paste, red wine, the raisins, and chopped parsley and oregano.  (I didn't have the required mint on hand.)









Next step is to slice eggplant and pan fry it.  This can be a bit tricky.  The eggplant absorbed the oil so quickly that I struggled with achieving the proper texture.  Some of the eggplant were perfect and some were downright soggy.  I still used all of the slices as the foundation of the dish.  If I hadn't told you, no one would know I struggled with the eggplant!







Lastly was to make the bechamel sauce that tops the dish.  Butter and flour to start a roux, add milk (and a bay leaf) and whisk, whisk, whisk until thickened.  The recipe wants the whisking to last 30 minutes; I only lasted about 20 minutes.  Once the bechamel sits for a few minutes to cool, egg yolks, Greek yogurt, lemon zest and feta are added to make this beautiful rich, golden "white" sauce.












Feta sauce








Once out of the oven, the moussaka was bubbly and the creamy bechamel was spotted with almost-crispy browns and golds.  The final product made me beam.

I was the only taste tester for the Moussaka.  I made the mistake of telling G that there was eggplant in the dish and then he didn't come near it.  He really missed out. 

At first, I found the Moussaka almost a tad sweet for me, for which I blamed the raisins.  I enjoyed it more the following day, once the flavors had time to meld, like a good stew or chili.  If I were to make this again, I would add a bit more red pepper flake and fresh herbs.

This recipe is what I would call a Sunday dinner dish.  The recipe is not difficult but it does take a good amount of time to put it all together.

Monthly Cookbook Spotlight!

It's dull, dreary February, the time when I think winter will last forever.

G and I are trying to eat healthily during the week so it's dinner reruns.  Poultry, salads, fish, salads, vegetables, salads.  I try to devote Sunday afternoons to cook and prep for the upcoming week.  I roast a chicken, I roast or steam some vegetables, I prepare easy-to-grab salad fixins.

But I crave the time in the kitchen when I can open up a new cookbook, or a favorite cookbook, tie on the apron, and create something new.

To amuse myself and learn a few things (as well as share with you), I'm going to feature a cookbook each month.  I'll cherry pick a handful of recipes to try throughout the month and share the results.  I plan on having some special guest stars as tasters as well!

March's Selection:  Michael Symon's Carnivore: 120 Recipes for Meat Lovers

White Bean Stew

I made this beautiful pot of white bean stew a while back and shared the photo on Facebook.  I wanted to share this recipe on my blog for other reasons as well.  First of all, the recipe is from one of my favorite cookbook authors, Melissa Clark.  Secondly, I used white beans straight from Italy (sigh).


From Clark's latest cookbook, Cook This Now (serves 6):

1 pound dried cannellini beans

1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil, more for drizzling

5 garlic cloves, peeled

1 celery stalk, cut in half crosswise (reserve celery leaves for garnishing)

1 large onion, halved lengthwise from root to stem to it holds together

1 whole clove (stick it in the onion half)

2 rosemary springs

2 thyme sprigs

1 bay leaf

Piece of Parmesan rind, if you like**

2 1/2 t. kosher or coarse sea salt, more to taste

1 c. farro, rinsed

Flaky salt, such as Maldon or fleur de sel

1/4 t. Turkish or Syrian red pepper such as Urfa, Maras or Aleppo

Chopped celery or parsley leaves for garnish (optional)

Lemon juice and/or grated Parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)

1. If you have the time and would like to soak your beans ahead, this will shorten your cooking time.  Put the beans in a large bowl and cover with several inches of water.  Let soak for as long as you can.  Overnight is optimal but even a few hours will hasten the cooking.

2.  When ready to cook, drain the beans and place them along with the oil, 3 of the garlic cloves, the celery, and the onion in a large pot over medium-high heat.  Bundle the rosemary, thyme, and bay leaf together, tie securely with kitchen twine, and throw into the pot (or just throw the untied herbs into the pot, though you will have to fish them out later.)  Add the Parmesan rind, if using.  Cover everything with water and stir in the salt.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and allow it to simmer, partially covered, until the beans are soft.  This can take anywhere from 1 to 3 hours, depending upon how long (if at all) you soaked your beans and how old your dried beans were when you got them.

3. Meanwhile, while the beans are cooking, prepare the farro.  In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the farro, pasta style, until softened.  This could take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, depending upon what kind you use.  Drain well.

4. Mince the remaining 2 garlic cloves.

5. When the beans are cooked, remove and discard the onion, celery, herbs, and Parmesan rind if you used it.  Ladle half of the beans into a food processor or blender; add the minced raw garlic, and puree.  Return the bean puree to the pot.

6. Serve the beans in bowls over the farro, drizzle each portion with plenty of olive oil, then sprinkle with good flaky salt, red pepper, and celery leaves or parsley.  If the stew tastes a bit flat, swirl in some lemon juice at the end to perk up the flavors.  Grated Parmesan cheese on top is also nice.


One of the reasons that I love Melissa Clark's cookbooks is that she incorporates many options for each recipe.  Don't have or don't like farro?  She suggests wheat berries or couscous.  Need some advice since you haven't really used dried beans before?  She provides practical and unintimidating advice for you.

**I found a small package of wrapped Parmesan rinds at my local Whole Foods Market for just $2.00.

Here is my finished stew.  I practically licked the bowl clean!