What We're Cooking Now

What We're Cooking Now - My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Lynne Kasper and Sally Swift are NPR (National Public Radio) legends. In "How to Eat Weekends", hosts and producers of NPR's The Splendid Table share recipes that inspire us to cook from scratch.  As such, it came as no real surprise that the recipes contained in this cookbook were labour intensive. While we didn't encounter a dud in the bunch, we would say that most recipes we tested were not really good enough to warrant the significant amount of time required.  We are all busy -- with kids, work, life in general. Our overwhelming consensus is that the amount of time these recipes warranted combined with the lack luster results, just will not make us turn back to this book--in other words, the balance between effort in and ultimate result, simply did not measure up.

What we loved about the book:

This book contained many interesting quotes and a few really good tips in their "Cook-to-Cook" sidebars.
Some of our favourites:
  • You only need ONE colander - just buy the biggest you think you'll ever need
  • Make sure to own an oven thermometer - buy a good one and make sure you let the oven heat for a good 20 minutes to test the temperature
  • When buying pasta noodles if the box says to rinse, don't buy the pasta as the quality is likely poor
We also loved the Wine pairing suggestions with most recipes, the suggested menus, and some of the Work Night Encores (which advised on how to re-purpose some of the more labour intensive weekend recipes into quick, last minute week night meals).

What we didn't love about the book:

The photos that are contained in the book are lovely, but there aren't enough of them.  For several recipes with multiple steps, photos would have been very useful - see biryani, cider chicken and fortune salad as examples.

In a few cases, the pan sizes required to say brown off meat, were FAR too small, necessitating a last minute addition of a 2nd pan, thus doubling the mess and increasing prep time on what was already a labour intensive recipe.

In multiple instances, the yields were also off-for example way too much dressing for a salad, or too much sauce for a alskdfjal;sdkf;a


Rice Paper Rolls of Herbs & Shrimp (p 42)

Julie:  This was a straightforward recipe. However (and here's a case where some photographs would have been very helpful)--folding the rolls is quite tricky and instructions were minimal. I ended up looking on youtube to see a demo. The rolls were incredibly fresh tasting and easily adapted to accommodate a variety of vegetable choices should you so desire. There was a lot of prep required prior to rolling, but once you got 'rolling' things moved along quickly. The recipe yielded a large amount of rolls, so best to 1/2 the recipe unless you have a large crowd coming.

Jumble Cheese (p46)

Deb: I made this with blue cheese and claret cheddar.  I chose it because it sounded easy.  It did not take long to put together, however I found that the wine spattered in the food processor and the "jumble" didn't ever come together as I thought it might.  (A picture would have helped.)  It was, however very tasty and enjoyed by guests.  I will try it again to see if it emulsifies.

Mahognay-Glazed Chicken Wings (p48)
Kristi: A great wing recipe that my husband and his friends really enjoyed.

Tomatillo Salsa with Fresh Cheese from El Cardenal in Mexico City (p52)
Bonnie: What? Where in Mexico City do I need to travel to to get this cheese??? You get my point, right? Despite the pretentious nature of the title, I did love this salsa. Although tomatillos are not always easy to find (strangely I found them at a local Asian Grocery), this salsa could not be easier to make--it literally took seconds. Fresh, zesty, amazing...even without cheese from Mexico City :)


Moraccan Harira Red Lentil Soup (p70)
Deb:  This soup was easy to assemble and a big hit in our family.  It was rich and flavourful and kept well for 3 days in our refrigerator.  I was a bit confused as to how to serve the accompaniments or what exactly to do with them as the instruction in the introduction is that each diner takes his or her harira "as desired."  That said, I did send along dried figs and a honey apple muffin as accompaniments in my son's lunch and he loved both.

Bonnie: LOVED this soup...and despite the advice to serve with any number/combination of accompaniments...I did neither. Just enjoyed the soup out of the pot. Interesting sidebar...Julie (one of our testers) just spent time in Morocco this summer...and this soup is NOT indicative of any Harira soup she had while travelling. So while the provenence of the recipe may not be strictly authentic, it is still a heartwarming soup to be enjoyed on a cold day.

High Summer Tomato-Melon Soup (p74)
Deb:  This is a curiosity.  It says it makes 3-4 servings, but it yielded only 750ml.  There are recipes included for the leftover soup, but you're unlikely to have any.  It was very easy to make, but it tasted awkward.  I wasn't at all sure it knew what it was trying to be.  Melon, tomato, fish sauce...  There was something missing, but I wasn't able to put my finger on exactly what it was.  It tasted better (to me) without the optional coconut milk.

Buttermilk-Garlic Slaw with Smoky Paprika (p78)
Julie: This comes together quickly and easily, primarily due to the miniumal ingreditent list (compared to many other slaw recipes).  Smoked paprika added a nice 'zip' to the salad which gave it a great depth of flavour. Here's one of the examples where the yields were off--there was SO much dressing, which resulted in a very wet/liquidy salad. You could (and should) cut the dressing by half.

Cucumber & Melon Salad with Mint (p80)
Julie:  This was quick, easy and light--a really refreshing salad, but I would not make it again as I found the flavour of the cucumber did not compliment the watermelon in any way--I would have preferred the salad without cucumber.

Sandra: I loved this salad....essentially, summer in a bowl.

Growing Fortune Salad (p93)
Deb:  I'll admit it.  I made this salad because it seemed easier than many of the others in the book.  The dressing was easy to prepare and tasty.  I don't think the preparation of the head of lettuce added anything and there were no instructions on how to serve it...it was a pain.  If I make this again, and I might as it was nice enough, I'll just toss the salad as I would ordinarily do.

Pineapple, Greens & Tofu with Roasted Chile-Coconut Dressing (p97)
Sandra:  We LOVED this salad--even my meat loving sons! I did find that the recipe made way too much dressing however.

An Unusual Italian Salad (p101)
Sandra:  A great salad.

Candied Lemon Peel (p102)
Bonnie:  I had to make these as they were an integral part of another recipe I tested (Sweet & Sour Chicken Meatballs with Candied Lemon Peel p206). Having never candied peel before, it was an interesting process, and the results were lovely. I'm dreaming of some wonderful Christmas cookies using candied orange peel this December!


Midnight Pasta with Prosciutto (p110)

Deb: Okay, a trend.  Another easy recipe.  It was great.  We thoroughly enjoyed it and will make it again.  As with the Marcella Hazan sauce, there's butter in this sauce, and it is good.  The recipe suggests it will serve 4 as a main, but using the full pound of pasta, it made enough for 6 I'd say.

Homemade Ricotta Gnocchi with Saffron Tomato Sauce (p117)
Julie: The instructions for making homemade ricotta were straightforward, but I found that it took longer for the curds to form than indicated. While this was a great experience, the cost of the ingredients (especially the milk as you need a gallon!) made it slightly cost prohibitive. I would rather use store bought ricotta as it lasts longer then the homemade variety.  The gnocchi recipe is the FIRST gnocchi recipe that I have had success making--and my first time making ricotta gnocchi. I found them to be very light and delicious. I did not make the saffron tomato sauce, as I had other sauce in the fridge. The gnocchi worked just as well with the meat sauce I had in the fridge.

Bonnie: This recipe is not for the faint of heart...or for the last minute "gotta whip something up for dinner" moment. The ricotta was amazing (but takes a minimum of 2 hours too cool before you can use it), The gnocchi dough needs at MINIMUM 2 hours of resting time (one hour for the dough, and another hour for the actual gnocchi once they are cut)--so we are now at a minimum 4 hours + at least 1 hour of prep...and that doesn't even take into account the making of the sauce-which is all be it, very easy. So...would I make this again....yes. And I have. 3 times. It's amazing. Find the time and try this recipe. 

Long-Life Noddles of Chinese Broccoli  Garlic Pork (p126)
Julie: This is yet another recipe with straightforward instructions which came together quite quickly. For perhaps the first time in this book, I found the sauce to be minimal--and I even used 1/2 of the required noodles. Having said that, the sauce is very bold, so the recipe still worked. The end result was slightly oily, but still very tasty.

Vietnamese Green Mango Noodle Salad with Grilled Pork (p128)
Bonnie: Labour intensive on the chopping/prep side, but worth every second. The three of us loved this main course salad-very similar to a tasty Bun in Vietnamese restaurants. I loved the "Cook-to-Cook" tip on how to cut a mango into sticks. Another tip on how to work with lemon grass was helpful as well.

Summer Tomato Pudding (p161)
Julie: This dish uses ingredients that most of us have on hand--and if you do need to shop for this recipe, the ingredients are not so fanciful that you won't find yourself using them later in the week. I used canned tomatoes as fresh tomatoes are not currently in season--but if you make this when tomatoes are abundant, the result would be even better). This recipe is BIG...however, leftovers are easily frozen. I really liked this casserole and will definitely make it again for a meatless meal--it would also be great to feed a crowd at a brunch.

Sweet Yam-Tamarind Curry with Basil & Lime (p165)
Sandra: Unappealing appearance--didn't love and certainly won't make again.

Chicken in Chinese Master Sauce (p183)

Cider-Glazed Chicken (p189)
Deb: Closest to a dud in my view.  It is a LOT of work and it's really not that interesting.  There are also typos - para 1 says Pat the chicken dry twice.  An entire chicken in 8 pieces cannot fit in one 12 inch pan with the pieces not touching.  I had to use two pans but belatedly realized that the liquid was not high enough as a result.  I got no sticky glaze.  Looked good but tasted - meh.

Pine-Smoked Chicken (p193)
Sandra: We prepared this up at the cottage where fresh pine boughs were readily available. The chicken was moist and good...but like we have found with so many of the recipes we tested in this book...ultimately, the effort far outweighs the pay off. I won't be making this again.

Sweet-Sour Chicken Meatballs with Candied Lemon Peel (p206)
Bonnie: Essentially the 'mosh pit' of meatballs. Except at least at a mosh pit, everyone at least has the music in common. This was such a strange assortment of ingredients that the entire time the recipe was coming together, I kept shaking my head. I could not imagine how cinnamon, red wine vinegar, spinach, almonds, salami and candied lemon peel could work. And I was right. Even though my people liked them, I really didn't. Won't be repeating this again.

Ginger Shrimp Stir-Fry with Snow Peas, Chinese Mushrooms & Baby Corn (p209)
Julie: As with any stir-fry, there is a lot of chopping, but minimal cooking times with this recipe. The ingredients work well together and result in a very flavourful stir-fry which would please most palates--having said that, it was also quite basic and unremarkable and I would not consider making this again.

Smoke-Roasted Salmon (p219) 
Sandra|: This was a great way to cook salmon. We really enjoyed it, but again, it takes a lot of effort to smoke the fish. 

Malaysian Spiced Pork (p230)
Bonnie: I was so excited to make this, having never cooked anything Malaysian before. As you can see there are lots of wonderful spices that go into this dish--star anise, cloves, cinnamon, fresh ginger etc.

There were some issues with the instructions however. The recipe calls to brown the meat in all at once and then continue making the sauce in the same pan, making the most of the 'fond' at the bottom. However...there was SO much meat that cooking it all at once would have yielded no browning at all. The meat would have just steamed. So, I brought out a second pot to brown the meat in. 

At the end of the day, the meat was tender, but also quite dry. Really a disappointment. I will not make this again.

Wedding Lamb Biriyani (p245)

Deb:  Now this is a weekend dish.  I started on Saturday morning thinking I'd serve it Saturday night, but then I read the part where it says one or two days before serving...  My overall comment is that the lamb is fabulous.  It was great the day of cooking, and I don't think it got better for sitting for a day.  In fact, I don't think it was better for becoming biryani.  In future, I plan to make this as a lamb curry, and serve with basmati or a saffron basmati or maybe a rice pilaf.  There was a great pilaf in Vij's cookbook.  But the biryani preparation was much too time consuming, there was way too much rice and it was a bit dry.  Other comments.  First, a 12 inch saut√© pan will not hold 3-4 sliced onions AND 3-3 1/2 pounds of cubed lamb.  The recipe suggested adding water to cover the lamb, but I didn't need to do so as the sauce already covered the lamb.  This recipe calls for 4 cups of rice for 6-8 people.  My usual amount is 1 cup for 4 people, so this was one crazy amount of rice.  The finished dish fed our family of 3 meat eaters for 4 meals.  This recipe needs a picture.  When the lamb was finished cooking there was a ton of sauce.  I didn't understand how you'd mound it the next day.  What to do with the sauce?  However by the next day the sauce had congealed and you really did need to mound it all to offset the somewhat dry rice preparation.  The saffron milk was lovely and yellow but didn't add much taste - again 1/2 tsp saffron threads covering 4 cups of rice.

Brown Sugar-Chile Flank Steak (p252)

Easy, tasty, readily available ingredients.  I hate flank steak.  Won't make it again.

Julie:  This was a TOTAL winner and my favourite in the book.  The marinade came together quickly and used ingredients that most people have on hand. The end result was a very tender flank steak with a sweet and spicey flavour that can easily be modified to suit personal preference with regard to levels of sweetness or spiciness.


Rosemary-Orange Cauliflower (p279)
Julie:  This is a slightly unusual spin on a side dish that has gained popularity in recent years.  Steaming the ingredients together made this recipe very quick and easy to pull together--the end result, however, was a very strange coloured concoction with an unusal flavour that just didn't make sense. While I could see using rosemary and orange in cauliflower again, I am not sure I would add the kale next time--again, the colour was just off-putting.

Not Boston Baked Beans (p288)
Deb:  Yum!  These beans were a hit at our house.  I am craving them just typing this.  They do take a long time...about 5 hours from start to finish....but they are worth it in my view.  One small recipe observation - it doesn't say when to add the beans to the recipe.  Oops!  If you follow the recipe, you've got a lovely baked sauce  on the stove and a bowl of cooked pinto beans in your fridge.  Also - dark brown mustard is called for.  After failing to find any such product at Loblaws, Bruno's or Cheese Boutique, I googled and learned it is also called deli mustard, which I was able to find.

Julie: I made 1/2 the recipe and still this yielded a riddiculous amount of beans--you definately need to be feeding a crowed if you make the whole recipe--or resign yourslef to eating beans for every meal throughout the week. I found the recipe very frustrating as it was vague and missing some key steps/instructions (ie see Deb's comments about when to add the beans to the sauce). Another annoying aspect of this recipe is that it kept indicateing to add more seasoning to suit your preference for sweet, spice, heat or tart--I would prefer a recipe that captures the optimal balance of each. The final burst of vinegar that is recommended was totally unneccessary and made the beans too sour.

Bonnie: The worst bean recipe I have ever made. First of all there was a HUGE vat of if--more than any human being could possibly consume and, like Julie, I found that last blast of vinegar essentially made the beans inedible. So sad...


Iced Fudge Lollies (p294)
These are fun and very tasty.  They are described as comic relief for the end of an impressive meal.  We have decided to all them - whimsicles. :)  

They are rich dark chocolate - perfectly pleasing.  The kids loved them and they were quick to compose.  I made both lollies and sorbet.  Haven't tried the sorbet yet so not sure how it serves.

Chile-Spiked Mexican Wedding Cakes (p302)

Julie:  I loved the end result of this cookie as it is very spicy and unusual, but still manages to appeal to someone like me who is not normally a fan of cookies and desserts. The recipe yielded a dough that was very shaggy and dry and generally difficult to work with--the instructions say to press the cookies down slightly, but \I found that this caused the entire cookie to crumble, so I ended up with very misshapen cookies. Another flaw I found is that the recipe tells you to bring the dough to room temp until it is pliable, but it would be helpful to have a rough indication of how long this could take.

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