Book Review: Koreatown


Koreatown: A Cookbook, by Deuki Hong, is a wonderful mix of delicious recipes and guide to the Koreatown food scene.  Chef Hong is chef at the popular New York City K-town restaurant, Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong.  So far I have made the kalbi (grilled beef short ribs), Korean fried chicken, kimchi fried rice (that includes a ton of bacon), and various sides including a delicious potato salad, jap chae, kimchi, bean sprouts, and spinach.  I have made the kalbi twice already, the marinade imparts a ton of flavor, and it goes amazingly well with the ssam jang, an intense mix of gochujang (red pepper paste), garlic, and fermented soybean paste (doenjang).  The Korean fried chicken was also outstanding, crispy, hot, and tossed in a soy-garlic coating.  There was even a quick recipe to doctor up some Shin ramen with American cheese and an egg, which is actually a pretty good meal in a pinch.  I probably won’t make the kimchi again – the fermenting daikon, cucumbers, and even pineapple made my entire refrigerator smell like kimchi.  Luckily, there are some Korean grocery stores in the Bay Area that prepare many varieties of kimchi.  Overall, I would highly recommend this cookbook for some delicious Korean home cooking.

Link to Koreatown: A Cookbook here.

Cookbook Review: Huckleberry


Someday I would love to open a place like Huckleberry, a bakery/breakfast/lunch venue in Santa Monica, CA.  I first became aware of Huckleberry when they were featured in Bon Appetit several years ago with a recipe for a delicious cornmeal blueberry cake.  Now Chef Zoe Nathan has chronicled many recipes in the Huckleberry cookbook, and I have thoroughly enjoyed baking from the book for the past few months.

The book is divided into several sections including muffins, cakes, scones, breads, fried pastries, sandwiches, and grain bowls.  What is immediately noticeable is the use of various different kinds of flours.  All-purpose flour is still the mainstay, but other flours are incorporated including whole wheat, rye, bread flour, wheat germ, and nut flours like pistachio and almond.  These different flours result in a more complex crumb and flavor and hopefully healthier recipes as well with the use of whole grains.

Healthy does not mean lack of flavor.  So far the recipes have been outstanding, with excellent versions of chocolate-chip muffins, chocolate walnut banana bread, carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, and whole-wheat raisin scones.  The most impressive were the pistachio-lemon cake, the cara cara orange galette, and the pear whole-wheat crumb cake, all of which drew raves.

The one recipe I tried that failed was the cover recipe for blueberry brioche.  This recipe called for double the flour that was required, so there was not enough egg to bind the dough.  I saved it by adding two additional eggs, but the ratio of other ingredients like butter and sugar was then off.  Chronicle Books sent me the following list of corrections:

Huckleberry ingredient and measurement corrections:

Page 43: In the ingredient list, MUFFINS, 5th entry (1 tbsp cracked) “wheat, chai seeds,” should be “wheat, chia seeds,”

Page 105: In the ingredient list, 4th line (bread flour), “1 3/4 cups/185 g” should be “1 3/4 cups/215 g”

Page 108: In the ingredient list, 4th line (all-purpose flour), “+ 2 tbsp/280 g” should be “+ 2 tbsp/140 g”; 5th line (bread flour): “+ 2 tbsp/280 g” should be “+ 2 tbsp/140 g”

The corrected version made an excellent brioche punctuated by a ribbon of fresh blueberries that was delicious hot out of the oven.  Overall, this is a great book for impressive breakfast pastries and brunch recipes, introduces a unique use of different flours, and contains a bunch of keepers.  Huckleberry takes a place among my favorite baking cookbooks including Momofuku Milk Bar, Tartine, Flour, and Bouchon Bakery.

Link to Huckleberry cookbook here.

Cookbook Review: Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi


Jerusalem: A Cookbook is the third cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, following Ottolenghi and Plenty.  Ottolenghi is a UK-based chef who has several restaurants and take-out delis in London.  There was an amazing write-up in the New York Times in July 2013 about how Jerusalem was the cookbook of the moment.  I recently got a copy and can now understand why the book has been so popular.

In Jerusalem there is a convergence of Jewish traditions from Israel and Europe and Middle Eastern and Mediterranean influences.  One of the authors is Israeli, and the other is Palestinian, and the dishes in the book reflect those influences, highlighting unique flavors from the region.

The book is divided into sections based on ingredient or type of dish, such as meat, fish, stuffed, and meatballs.  Like Plenty and Ottololenghi, vegetables often are the star of the dish.  The book has gorgeous photographs of the finished dish for most recipes as well as from the city of Jerusalem.

So far, every dish I have tried has been a winner, with bold but balanced and flavorful cooking, fragrant with exotic spices and herbs.  In terms of difficulty, the recipes are mostly all in the easy to moderately difficult range.  Look for upcoming individual recipe reviews with step-by-step photographs for hummus, kawarma, turkey and zucchini meatballs, chocolate krantz cake, and the fantastic chicken with caramelized onions and cardamom rice.

Some recipes requires certain equipment: food processor to make hummus, a stand mixer to mix dough for the chocolate krantz cake.  More importantly, the Jerusalem cookbook also requires many specialty ingredients that cannot be easily substituted: spices such as sumac and whole cardamom pods, pomegranate molasses, date syrup.  Most ingredients can be found at Middle Eastern grocery stores.  I found many of these ingredients, including thick labneh yogurt at Crossroads Market in Palo Alto.  They also sell spices in bulk, which is a bargain.  Penzey’s Spices also carries cardamom pods, sumac, and za’atar.   Many recipes feature lamb, which can be somewhat hard to find.  Most supermarkets have lamb chops but not other cuts or ground lamb.  In the Bay Area, several farmer’s market sellers carry cuts of lamb.

Highly recommended.  Link to Jerusalem: A Cookbook here.

The A.O.C. Cookbook Suzanne Goin Book Tour


Chef Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne at Bookshop Santa Cruz

Chef Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne at Bookshop Santa Cruz

Suzanne Goin is a James Beard Award-winning chef, owner of four restaurants in Los Angeles, and author of one of my all-time favorite cookbooks, Sunday Suppers at LucquesSunday Suppers was a massive hit, and I have cooked so many delicious meals from it over the years and still go back to it.  She thankfully resisted her editors’ wishes to make things simple a la 30-Minute Meals, because if you are going to take time to cook, it should be delicious.  Her food is seasonal, inspired by local produce, with layers of balanced flavors and textures. Eight years after coming out with Sunday Suppers, Chef Goin has just released The A.O.C. Cookbook, and was recently in the Bay Area for a book tour.  Chef Goin told the story of how she opened the restaurant Lucques in LA about fifteen years ago with the philosophy of serving food that she would like to eat, rather than targeting a specific demographic, and in a more welcoming environment than some of the stuffy fine dining restaurants in LA at the time.  At Lucques there was a lively bar scene, focused on wine, but it was limited to a small space.  She wanted to create that same type of atmosphere but in a larger venue, and thus the A.O.C. wine bar and restaurant was born.  There they serve cheese, charcuterie, salads, wood-fire oven cooked items, and desserts, all served on small plates to be enjoyed with wine.  For The A.O.C. Cookbook, Chef Goin has modified the small plates served at A.O.C. into more traditionally sized main courses serving six people.  Readers of Sunday Suppers will find the format and layout of the recipes very familiar.  There is more explanation on why different flavor combinations appear in each dish and similarly, why specific wines are chosen, with wine notes for every dish by sommelier/co-owner Caroline Styne.

Chef Goin answered questions from the audience.  How does she split her time among four restaurants?  The menus at the restaurants change twice per season, and these changes are staggered such that she will often stay at one restaurant for one week for their change, then oversee the change at the next restaurant.  She has gone from focusing on perfection for every protein while working at the grill, to stepping back and enjoying the big picture with well-trained staff in place at each restaurant.  Where do they get their produce?  All sourced from local farmers in Southern California, from Santa Barbara to Inland to San Diego.  Often the farmers will bring new products that Chef Goin will then incorporate or make into a dish.  What about work-life balance?  There are trade-offs in juggling the jobs of chef, restaurant owner, author, wife, and mother, but she emphasized how important it was that when she is with her family she is present and focused on them.

Bookshop Santa Cruz is a great independent bookstore in downtown Santa Cruz and did a wonderful job hosting the event.  They served delicious recipes from the book (Balsamic Glazed Brussel Sprouts with Pancetta, Roasted Cauliflower with Curry and Red Vinegar, Persimmon Cake with Creme Fraiche and Candied Pecans), and later Chef Goin and Ms. Styne autographed copies of the book and chatted with attendees.  Chef Goin will be at Omnivore Books in San Francisco on November 8 at 6 pm.

Here is an Amazon link to The A.O.C. Cookbook, but use it only if you do not have a local independent bookstore that carries the book!

Recipe Review: Thomas Keller Bouchon Cream Puffs


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Cream puffs are light and airy pastries that puff and rise in the absence of any agents such as baking powder or yeast.  They are made from a classic French pastry dough, pate a choux.  Water and butter are brought to a simmer, then flour is added to form a thick paste.  Eggs are then added to the dough, which can then be piped into various shapes, such as cream puffs or eclairs.  The dough’s water content forms steam which creates air pockets and rise in the pastry when baked.

Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel’s recipe for pate a choux has no sugar in it.  Instead, an ingenious “cookie” made of flour, brown sugar, butter, and almond meal is placed on top of the pate a choux, which bakes on top and forms a sweet, crunchy crust.  I had a little bit of trouble with the cookie crumbling when I tried to cut out rounds, but it didn’t matter too much.  The cookbook recommends piping the dough into silicone mold half-spheres to make perfectly uniform shapes, but I simply piped them onto a Silpat, per the suggestion of The Food Groupie Club blog site.

The cream puffs were delicious and airy with the sweet crunchy cookie crust.  They can be filled with ice cream or Thomas Keller’s pastry cream.  The puffs are best eaten soon after baking, because they soften by the next day.

One does need a pastry piping kit to pipe out the pate a choux and the pastry cream, such as this set made by Wilton.

Level of difficulty: difficult (easier than the Bouchon Pain au Chocolat and Pain aux Raisins)

Cost: about $10-15 for 24 puffs

Deliciousness: delicious (4 of 5 stars)

Healthy: no

Make again: yes

As I make more recipes from Bouchon Bakery cookbook, I have found that this book basically gives you perfect recipes for classic french pastries.  Link to Bouchon Bakery cookbook here.

Cookbook Review: Bouchon Bakery Cookbook (and 100th post!)


Chocolate Bouchons

Chocolate Bouchons

Thomas Keller is chef-owner of a number of high-end restaurants including the French Laundry in Yountville, CA and Per Se in New York City.  He started the Bouchon Bakery to supply his restaurants as well as the public with delicious breads and pastries, and there are locations in Yountville, New York, Las Vegas, and Beverly Hills.  The Bouchon Bakery in Yountville is one of my favorite bakeries, so I had been eagerly anticipating this cookbook.  His previous cookbooks, like the French Laundry cookbook, are classics known for their high attention to detail.  The Bouchon Bakery cookbook is a massive 400 page tome written in that same tradition that provides his, along with pastry chef Sebastien Rouxel, approach to French pastries and bread-making.

The level of detail is incredible, and one can really learn how things are prepared at a high-end bakery.  I enjoyed learning about the many tips for how things are done at Bouchon Bakery.  For example, allowing muffin batter to rest in the refrigerator for 36 hours for the flour to absorb moisture.  The downside is that baking muffins takes two days, instead of, say one and a half hours.

However the level of precision can also be a source of frustration.  Eggs are given in volume or weight measurements; instead of a recipe calling for one egg, it might call for 75 gm or 1/4 cup + 3 Tbsp, preferably strained through a fine mesh strainer.  FYI, one extra large egg is approximately 50 – 54 gm.  When it gets really frustrating is when a recipe like the Oatmeal Raisin Cookie calls for 62 gm of egg, or just a little more than one egg.  Who would crack another egg just to get that extra 8 – 12 gm?  Well, me, but still – why did the authors not scale the recipe for just one egg?  I know baking is precise, but I wish the recipes were adjusted to be a little more practical.  And this was just the first, supposedly easiest recipe in the book.

The recipes also use vanilla paste, which is more of a syrup flecked with vanilla bean seeds and is not carried by typical grocery stores but can be found on-line or at Williams-Sonoma.  It is not really explained why vanilla paste is used rather than the more available vanilla extract.  It would have been helpful to provide a conversion.  As an aside, a lot of specialty items required in the book are sold at Williams-Sonoma including molds to make treats like madeleines and bouchons.  There is definitely some sort of corporate synergy strategy between Thomas Keller and Williams-Sonoma.

The Chocolate Bouchons are tiny chocolate cakes in the shape of a cork and are Thomas Keller’s take on brownies.  These are excellent and pretty easy.  I have made this recipe twice, first using Trader Joe’s Cocoa Powder and the second time using the recommended Cacao Rouge by Guittard (available at Spun Sugar in Berkeley for readers in the Bay Area), and I preferred the Guittard version.  To get the right shape one needs the special silicon mold, but a 2-3 ounce ramekin would probably work as well.

The Madeleines are light and airy cakes made in special molds that reminded me of ones served at bakeries in Paris.

The Chocolate Cherry Scones were a big hit and relatively easy to make.  The recipe is pretty straightforward scone recipe that incorporates chocolate chips and dried tart cherries, which can be found at Trader Joe’s.  The dried cherries are macerated for several hours in a simple sugar syrup with vanilla bean.  Then the macerating syrup is used to make an icing.  Nice technique, and easy to do.

For the very patient and resourceful baker, the Bouchon Bakery cookbook is very comprehensive, a great reference, and produces delicious baked goods.  I look forward to attempting (and tasting) some of the more challenging recipes in the book.  Definitely recommended.

Link to Bouchon Bakery cookbook here.

This is my 100th post.  Thanks to all readers and subscribers for stopping by!

Cookbook Review: Tartine Bread


DSC07557Tartine Bakery in San Francisco is well-known for their rustic country bread as well as cakes, morning buns, and other baked goods.  Chef Emily Pruett released the Tartine Bakery cookbook, which has great recipes for brown butter shortbread lemon bars,  croissants, and tea cakes.  Chef Chad Robertson released the Tartine Bread cookbook two years ago, and it had been sitting on my shelf because the recipe for bread, at 37 pages, was quite intimidating.  But actually most of these pages are filled with step-by-step photos and explanations and adjustments of a bread recipe that, as I finally found out recently, is not that much more difficult than Jim Lahey’s super-easy No-Knead Bread recipe.

Unlike No-Knead Bread, Robertson’s recipe requires a yeast starter.  This can be started at home from wild yeast present in your kitchen, in a method explained in the book.  Or one can obtain starter from a local bakery.  I went to the Oakland Eat Real Festival earlier this year and obtained a starter from Sour Flour and have been feeding it in anticipation of finally using it to bake bread.  The starter should be fed every day, but it is pretty forgiving.  For example, it can be fed less often if stored in the refrigerator.  On the night before bread baking, a leaven made with starter, flour, and water is set up to aerate overnight.  The leaven is then mixed with additional flour and water, followed by a rest period of 25 to 40 minutes, and then a bulk fermentation of 3 to 4 hours.  During the bulk fermentation, the dough is turned every half hour.  The dough is then shaped into a round and then undergoes a bench rest for 20 to 30 minutes.  The dough then undergoes a final shaping and rise for 3 to 4 hours.  I had difficulty scoring the bread, so I used Ken Forkish’s method where he puts the bread in the baking vessel seam side up (this will make sense once you bake the bread).  Like with No-Knead Bread, the bread is baked in a Dutch oven to trap steam from the dough itself during the initial twenty minutes of baking.  The last twenty minutes of baking is performed with the lid removed, allowing for the development of a crackling crust.  This is a full-day project, but most of the time is non-active time.  The Tartine Bread recipe produces outstanding bread.  The bread emerges from the oven and fills the kitchen with a delicious aroma and the crackling sounds of the “music of bread.”  There is a crunchy crust and spongy, flavorful interior that makes the day well worthwhile.

The book has variations on the bread recipes, such as olive bread, and also recipes for baguettes, pizza dough, and brioche.  And there is a great section of recipes for using the bread in salads, soups, and sandwiches.  I tried the meatball sandwich recipe, with a very garlicky pesto, pillowy soft meatballs, a simple tomato sauce (add some salt to taste) and provolone that combined for a great Italian sandwich.

My favorite recipe from the book is the French Toast, the most amazing recipe for French Toast I have ever tried.  A thick slice of country bread is soaked in a custard of eggs, milk, vanilla, sugar, salt, and lemon peel.  The lemon peel I think is really the key flavor note that elevates this recipe.  The bread is cooked on a skillet until the bottom forms a seal.  Then more custard is added and the entire skillet is transferred to the oven for the additional custard to set.  The result is a beautifully caramelized crust and soft, delicious custard.  There is also an recipe for Maple-Glazed Bacon – I didn’t realize how easy it was – just cook some bacon, then coat with maple syrup and bake along with the French Toast.  Highly recommended.

Link to Tartine French Toast recipe here.

Link to Tartine Bread cookbook here.

Cookbook Review: Charles Phan’s Vietnamese Home Cooking


Charles Phan Home Vietnamese Cooking Shaking Beef

Charles Phan is a James Beard Award-winning chef in San Francisco and owner of the popular Vietnamese restaurant Slanted Door, as well as other Asian restaurants such as Heaven’s Dog and Wo Hing General Store.  Vietnamese Home Cooking is Chef Phan’s first cookbook.  He is of Chinese parents and raised in Vietnam.  Most of the recipes in the book are Vietnamese, but there are quite a few that are Chinese in origin.  I have enjoyed eating at Slanted Door and love the flavors of Vietnamese cooking, so I was eager to try out some of the recipes in the book.

The book is divided into multiple sections based on cooking technique.  The stocks that are important for Pho and other soups are presented first.  There are also chapters on street food, braising, stir-frying, and grilling.  Each recipe has a helpful introduction, listing of ingredients, and well-written directions.  The book is beautifully laid out with color photographs of finished dishes as well as a helpful pictorial glossary of ingredients for those not familiar with the Vietnamese pantry.  Many of the ingredients are readily available in Asian supermarkets.  Chef Phan also explains how to make everything from scratch, including the various stocks and even fresh rice noodles if one is so inclined.

The Shrimp and Sing Kua Stir-fry was really delicious, fast, and easy.  Sing Kua is also known as a Chinese okra.  It has the same shape but can grow to about a foot long.  It has a mild flavor, a little bit like zucchini which might be a good substitution, and the texture when cooked is soft but not quite as sticky as American okra.  It goes very well with the shrimp, and both the shrimp and sing kua absorb a ton of flavor from only a few additional ingredients: rice wine, fish sauce, garlic, and ginger.  This dish is definitely on the repeat list.

The Shrimp and Pork Spring Roll is a classic version of the popular appetizer.  Nothing fancy, just clean fresh flavors.  The peanut dipping sauce recipe was quite unusual.  It is thickened with sticky cooked sweet rice.  I wonder if there is a mistake in the recipe, which calls for two cups of sweet rice to be cooked and then blended with the other ingredients.  However, cooking that much sweet rice led to about four cups of cooked rice to be added to the sauce, but the recipe states that the final volume of the peanut sauce is only two cups, and I ended up with much more.

Shaking Beef is another popular dish on the Slanted Door menu.  Here, marinated beef tenderloin is cooked quickly with red onions and served on a bed of watercress.  The lime-salt-pepper dipping sauce makes the dish really delicious.

Beef Bavette with Tomatoes and Potatoes is Chef Phan’s version of the Peruvian dish Lomo Saltado.  Marinated skirt steak is stir-fried with tomatoes, fish sauce, and oyster sauce that combine to make a flavorful sauce that is absorbed by french-fried potatoes.  The recipe calls for deep-frying potatoes, but I cheated and used store-bought frozen french fries.

Bun is a dish made with rice vermicelli and different toppings, like grilled shrimp, egg rolls, pickled daikon, bean sprouts, cilantro, and a fish-sauce-based dipping sauce.  This is a multi-component dish which is good, but might be a little bit too involved for home and probably better at a restaurant.

These relatively simple dishes have a ton of flavor, and I am looking forward to trying some of the more complex dishes.  Based on the results of the dishes I have tried so far, I am confident the rest of the recipes in the book will deliver.  Definitely recommended.

Link to Vietnamese Home Cooking here.

Coming soon…


Bouchon Bakery in Yountville, CA (with branches in New York and Las Vegas) owned by Thomas Keller, is one of my favorite bakeries (along with Tartine and Sand Box in San Francisco; Bakesale Betty in Oakland; Flour, Clear Flour Bread, and Mike’s Pastries in Boston; and of course Momofuku Milk Bar in New York).  Bouchon Bakery makes perfect versions of classic French pastries and refined versions of American classics like ho-hos.  I have been there twice, and both times I told the person at the counter, I am going to need a bigger box…

October 23, 2012…just in time for Christmas or a belated birthday gift (hint, hint)…I will definitely be making recipes from this book when it arrives!

Link to Michael Ruhlman’s website about the making of the book here.

Evvia at Home: Kokkari Cookbook Review


Evvia in Palo Alto and its sister restaurant Kokkari in San Francisco serve delicious Greek food in a warm, upscale setting.  Chef Eric Cosselmon and co-author Janet Fletcher have written a cookbook of dishes from the restaurants entitled Kokkari: Contemporary Greek Flavors.

Calamari stuffed with feta, orange, and bread crumbs is a good recipe for meze, or appetizers.  It’s a bit tricky to stuff the calamari tubes (the feta crumbles are often only just a little bit smaller than the opening diameter of the tube).  These are threaded onto bamboo skewers and either grilled or broiled.  The tentacles can be cooked quickly in a saute pan since they are difficult to skewer.  Serve with a squeeze of lemon.  Swordfish skewers are simple and delicious, with a little thyme, lemon zest and juice, and salt, quickly broiled.

Evvia is famous for its grilled meats and seafood.  Home grilling is a little difficult in the winter or without a grill, but many of the recipes can be adapted for the broiler or using a grill pan on the stove.  Chicken Souvlaki is marinated in yogurt and spices that tenderize the meat and add lots of flavor.  Lamb chops (Frenched lamb rack from Trader Joe’s) are simple to make, seasoned with garlic powder, salt, oregano and then grilled on the grill pan.  Serve with Kokkari potatoes, which are roasted in the oven with lemon and oregano.  Broiled whole branzini (available at Whole Foods) is really good, fresh and healthy, and it’s enhanced by the Kokkari dressing or Tzatziki sauce.

Kokkari dressing is made with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, shallots, capers, parsley, and oregano and helps to punch up several of the grilled fish and meat recipes.  The Tzatziki sauce is made with shredded cucumber that is salted to draw out its water, Greek yogurt, lemon juice, dill, scallions, mint, and garlic, and its cool creaminess works well with almost every recipe.  I like how the sauces and recipes feature a lot of herbs like dill, mint, and parsley that add a lot of freshness and flavor.

Most of the ingredients are widely available, and most of the techniques are doable for the home chef, allowing one to re-create restaurant-worthy Greek dishes at home.  The text is well laid out and roughly a third of the recipes have photographs of the finished dish.  I definitely recommend both the book and the restaurants.

Link to Kokkari cookbook here.

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