Phil's Cookbook Reads of 2021

phatch

Moderator
Staff member
9,319
941
Joined Mar 29, 2002
I've amassed a backlog of cookbooks--mostly of Asian influence--to read. I thought a thread might be of interest and if nothing else is a shared catalog of what I'm reading and thinking of these books. I'd be interested in seeing such lists from other members in their own threads as well.

  1. Cooking South of the Clouds by Georgia Freedman. I heard of this book through a marketing email I get from Mala Market last year. They're a good source of specialty Chinese ingredients and share interesting recipes, They spoke highly of the book and so I added it to my list. It languished there for quite a while particularly as it was slow to come to market in the US. I got motivated to read it because of another Yunnan regional cookbook I'll talk about below. Overall, I liked this one better for it's greater variety of flavoring approaches. Yunnan is known for it's air cured hams and includes the region we call Tibet in the rise to the Himalayas. Thus the South and Clouds. Seasonings seem to focus more on preserved/pickled foods and chilies though the common soy sauce and oyster sauce do make appearances, just less than you might expect. Fried and boiled squash leaves dishes stuck out to me. I'd not seen those cooked before. I didn't know they were edible. I've eaten the blossom, which are just a specialized leaf so it makes sense. This is the better of the two Yunnan focused books in my opinion.
  2. The Yunnan Cookbook by Anabel Jackson. I get weekly cooking emails from the South China Morning Post as well. One of those emails included an interview with Anabel Jackson who has written more on the food of Macao than most anyone else and how that cuisine is fading away. So I've been looking for her books on Macau and she's written some on Vietnamese food and a few on China. And so now I had two Yunnan focused books to read and contrast each other. This is a pretty and elegant book and is missing page numbers on pages with recipes. Where she's talking about a region or category of food, those pages get numbers. This is annoying to me. I usually write notes in the front end-papers with a recipe name and page number that I'm interested in trying out. Couldn't really do that here. And no index either, but without page numbers I suppose that is reasonable. The recipes are very simple and short for what you may have come to expect for a Chinese recipe. Not as much caught my eye as in Cooking South of the Clouds. A zucchini and dried shrimp dish stood out to me and a pumpkin soup. I've seen hard squashes steamed but not made into soup in Chinese cuisine.
  3. Chinese Cooking: The Food and the Lifestyle by Anabel Jackson. This one sat strangely with me. She covers most of what you'd expect, usually with a bit more exotic content. However there are dishes overly simplified--Hot and Sour Soup-- for a non-Asian reader, but others that were surprisingly unadapted. The Egg Fu Yung, Fu Yung just means eggs, is a fried rice dish and not an omelet in gravy as Westerners might expect. Considering its publication in 2004, I think it runs behind the times even when published for sticking closer to traditional ingredients. This feels like it was from 10 years earlier or more. I found her vegetable section the most interesting with some dressed cold vegetable dishes (cabbage and cucumber one looks good) and even a stir fried potato and cilantro one. There's a scallion pancake recipe that just reads wrong to me. This isn't the flour based one (she includes one of those too) but the more rolled eggy style. The picture shows what I think to be an 8 inch non-stick skillet rolling up a pancake. The instructions say to put in 1 tablespoon of batter, cook it, roll it up and cut in three pieces. I just don't see the pancake shown coming from 1 T of batter. Based on the volume of ingredients and suggested yield, it must be more. Not a must have unless you're an Anabel Jackson completist.
On Tuesday 1/19, Vegetarian Chinese Soul Food is released. The original Chinese Soul Food is a good Chinese cookbook and is worth trying out. I don't think this new one will land right on top of my reading pile though.

Expect updates.
 
2,229
839
Joined Jan 8, 2010
I'm currently alternating between a number of books
- Pok Pok (bought yesterday as the kindle version was affordable). I'd been eyeing the book for a long time.
- Hot Sour Salty Sweet and
- Burma, rivers of flavor. Both from Duguid and Alford. I made a couple of recipes from "Burma" and I liked them.
I like their writing style as well.
- How to brew hy John Palmer. My go-to brew book ;)
 
206
53
Joined Aug 20, 2010
I'm currently alternating between a number of books
- Hot Sour Salty Sweet and ;)

I love that one! Have it as kindle and keep coming back to it. It's a wonderful story of an (American I think) family living throughout the region over the years and the recipes are much more accessible than, say, David Thompson, but don't feel dumbed down in the least (which is sometimes euphemistically called ''adapted for ... "). It just feels like homey food from the region. Definitely one of the all time best for me, of any cuisine.
 

phatch

Moderator
Staff member
9,319
941
Joined Mar 29, 2002
Indian and Chinese Cooking from the Himalayan Rim by Copeland Marks. Most of this book is based in ethnic dishes of groups in Calcutta with some other adventures into more distributed groups. The first group is Hakka Chinese and is pretty Chinese. If Hakka diaspora cooking is of interest to you, The Hakka Cookbook is an excellent resource, this book less so, though the local context with the more Buddhist view of the Hakka was interesting. The author says the Buddhists among the Hakka do not use garlic, onion or scallions which is similar to restraint among the Marwari Jain the author also writes about. I've read elsewhere this is to not arouse the passions (for food I assume). I wonder if that's where it came from. The Marwari dishes frequently called for asafoetida which does have a sort of onion-truffle flavor when cooked. The other interesting food restriction was that egg whites were allowed and the yolk not.

Then a section on Jewish pickles, though they are distinctly Indian to my view, just sourced from the Jewish community in Calcutta. Maybe there's more going on there in Calcutta but it didn't come through to me as a reader the ties that were particularly Jewish about this.

Fourth, a Christian immigration from Armenia that had a lengthy stopover in Persia along the way. This was distinctly Eastern Meditteranean ideas that had picked up some tweaks along the way and from their new homeland. A clear variant of Tzatziki does appear called Jajik.

Next a section British-Indian cooking though again it was a bit lost on me how the British influence played through compared to the Indian influence. Perhaps its a heavier meat emphasis.

Now, leaving India he discusses the food of Bhutan, Sikkim, Kashmir and another Jewish group, the Mizos. I was a bit surprised at the number of offal dishes here as those usually get skipped over.

I'm not excited about the food here really. I enjoyed the cultural explanations more as shown in the food than the food itself. I think there are probably better books on all the topics--though I've never seen as much about the Jain in one place before, and that was still pretty minimal. But if you want an overview, this would serve the purpose.
 

phatch

Moderator
Staff member
9,319
941
Joined Mar 29, 2002
Sheet Pan Chicken by Cathy Erway. I liked her earlier book, The Food of Taiwan, particularly her use of black vinegar which is not referenced so often in other books. I like black vinegar as much as balsamic, maybe more because of my preference for Chinese food. So when a sample recipe popped up in my feed last year--when I say feed I mean the News app by Google which you can configure to supply new content from various sources--probably from Bon Appetit, this book quickly got added to my list.

So the gimmick is clearly chicken and a sheet pan.

She pulls ideas from all over the world. Russia, Japan, China, Thailand, India, the Middle East, Africa, Central and South America, Europe... You'll probably find a recipe that appeals to your preferences.

I like how she treats various greens on the sheet pan, particularly the Kale Crown idea. She strips out the ribs, rubs with oil, seasons and onto the pan for the last 15 minutes of a fairly high heat roast to finish. I mean, that's how your roast most anything on a sheet pan, but figuring out the timing is a bonus I reap the benefit of.

I like her method of cooking a sauce at the same time, though I'd just put in a small sauce pan or 8 inch skillet in the oven along side rather than bother with the parchment separation she uses.

I was disappointed how many of the dishes didn't lend themselves to a sheet pan meal, a practice I've adopted from books like Sheet Pan Suppers by Molly Gilbert.

The recipes that made it into my to-try list on the first time through
Bang Bang Crispy Chicken-a Chinese idea that includes black vinegar
Paprika Chicken-the Kale Crown's first appearance
Chicken Schnitzel My mom did oven fried chicken and I liked it growing up. Lets see how this adaptation works in comparison.
Roasted Ceasar including roasting the Romaine.
Soy Chicken-A roasty glaze for this dish seems like a good idea.
Saltimboca Just to see how it compares.

There are some ideas I already did before hand such as the Sumac and Za'atar dishes she does. Mine are similar though her tahini yogurt sauce sounds good.
 

phatch

Moderator
Staff member
9,319
941
Joined Mar 29, 2002
A Chinese Street Food Odyssey by Helen and Lise Tse. Street food usually is harder than it looks. If it's easy then you'll make it yourself and they don't have a business. They have to walk the line between hard enough you won't make it and easy enough to turn a profit on with a compelling price. They might use a long simmered broth or a specialized skill to make great dumpling skins or something. So I wasn't really expecting to make much from this book. And I didn't, but more because they dumbed things down so much, the best part was often lost.

Rou Jia Mo or Chinese Hamburgers for example. I've made this a couple. of times. I've even cheated on the Mo bread with a thin sandwich roll though it did lack some of the quality of the original. Here are three worthwhile versions of this from my Chinese Youtube mainstays:

These guys went with ground pork, no soy sauce or rice wine and did more of a stir fry than a braise. I can see where this could be pleasant enough, but it's quite a departure from the real thing. They also fry the bread kind of like it was an oily english muffin rather than the dry toasting step it usually is. They seem to cut corners like this all the time in recipes where I have experience enough to recognize it. So I don't really trust the recipes that are new to me.

It's also pretty clear in the Shrimp wonton soup using chicken stock with a drop of soy sauce just really doesn't cut it.

I did like the idea of eating scallion pancakes with XO sauce. I'll have to give that a try. But really, skip this book.
 

phatch

Moderator
Staff member
9,319
941
Joined Mar 29, 2002
IMG_20210122_165441928.jpg

Saltimbocca was dry. She used wetter veggies so there would be more juice and steam. I think the method has merit but watch the chicken closely. Breast is finicky that way.
 

phatch

Moderator
Staff member
9,319
941
Joined Mar 29, 2002
I'm now in to The Adobo Road Cookbook by Marvin Gapultos. Not as far in as I'd like. I'm really not familiar with Filipino cooking so I have a tougher time thinking through the flavors and a number where I really can't. Even the ingredient discussion section has been quite new to me. Coconut vinegar, OK, I've seen that, I thought it was more of a Thai thing--clearly I'm not well versed in Thai cooking either. Cane vinegar. I think i've seen that (I have). Mutant Coconut. That's new. A coconut variant that is jell-like through out, no liquid center, usually Jell Coconut.

I want a picture of can that says Mutant Coconut if I can find it. And Google will suppy something if I can't find it in person.



The Asian grocer that has all those nice Phillipine vinegars, does have Jell Coconut in the can. but no Mutant Coconut labeling. However, they all carry The California Proposition 65 label for lead and cadmium.

I can't qualify why that bothers me more than the usual prop 65 cancer label I see on my seaweed, but it does.

My Philippine dining is limited. I've eaten some greasy lumpia, some lackluster pancit and some good turkey tails. I look forward to better things.
 
2,229
839
Joined Jan 8, 2010
I got the adobe cookbook as well.
I haven't cooked very much from it, except 1 or 2 adobe recipes.
He has a blog as well, although no current posts. Google ' burnt lumpia" ;)
 

phatch

Moderator
Staff member
9,319
941
Joined Mar 29, 2002
I'm looking forward to some of those adobo dishes too. There are a few other Filipino cookbooks to come as well.
 

phatch

Moderator
Staff member
9,319
941
Joined Mar 29, 2002
Finished Adobo Road last night. I was glad he included a sisig recipe though I'd have liked to have the pork belly/jowls version he supplies as well as one that gave amounts and directions for the ear, snout and jowls traditional version. Not sure I could source those easily, but learning how to use those ingredients would have been interesting in their own right. And Mike Chen speaks highly of the ears in the versions he's eaten on his Youtube channels. There is another dish that uses ears in the finger food section so it seems it's a long simmer to soften the collagen/gristle of the ear, then grilled in that dish. I like tendon so I suspect I'd enjoy ear too. I bet a pressure cooker would simplify cooking ears.

The various adobo look pretty good and I think I'll be trying some of that soon. I was pleased he supplied a version of longganisa to make at home. That will be useful.

I'll pass on the grilled chicken feet. I'd certainly eat them, but they're one of those things I would rather let someone else do the work for. Braised Oxtail in Peanut Sauce struck me as iffy. First, most of my family doesn't like peanut sauce things. I do, but it means I skip most peanut oriented dishes. Second, the non-traditional addition of cocoa powder sits off kilter with me. Maybe it's like chili where it can work and its only a minor amount. But the other hurdles for family acceptance mean I'll likely not know.

For a first entry for Filipino cuisine in my collection, it seems worthy. I'll let you know how I think it stacks up as I read others this year.

Next up is The Best of Singapore Cooking by Mrs. Leong Yee Soo.
 

phatch

Moderator
Staff member
9,319
941
Joined Mar 29, 2002
The ebook conversion of The Best of Singapore Cooking is worthless.

It seems the book was laid out with ingredients in the left column and a marking line and letter in the right column to show how those ingredients are grouped for cooking. She'll then say to combine or maybe stir fry A. Sometimes there is a B section too.

On most recipes you can kind of figure it out by some spacing breaks, but not always.

Another time the ingredients list includes some pork ribs and tails. They might be part of A but it doesn't seem likely. The instructions say to add them back in at one point. They were never obviously added in the first place and never instructed for removal at all even if they were added with A.

Ok, I reread the recipe yet again. If they're part of A, then you do strain them out. The rest of the straining is not returned. The formatting made me think they were not part of A, but they must be. Very confusing conversion.

And just to niggle some more. The char kway teo recipe uses cockles, no shrimp. The photo is with shrimp.

So this is pretty much a disaster, at least in ebook form. And i suspect the physical form is problematic at best.

Did not finish.
 
Last edited:

phatch

Moderator
Staff member
9,319
941
Joined Mar 29, 2002
Now I'm into Homestyle Malay Cooking by Rohani Jelani. It's going much better. And right early in there's an interesting congee type dish but it's very out in the ordinary in my experience of congee.

Bubur Lambuk (Savoury Rice Porridge)
200 g (1 cup) uncooked rice
2 ½ litres (10 cups) water
1 cinnamon stick (4 cm/1 ½ in)
1 star anise pod
4 cloves
3 cm (1 ¼ in) fresh ginger, scraped and bruised
150 g (5 oz) lean beef, minced or very thinly sliced
100 g (3 ½ oz) boneless chicken, diced
150 g (5 oz) fresh medium prawns, peeled, deveined and diced
185 ml (¾ cup) thick coconut milk (optional)
¼ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons deep-fried shallots, to garnish
1 spring onion, sliced, to garnish

1 Wash the rice in several changes of water until the water runs clear. Place in a pot with the water and bring to a boil.

2 Add the whole spices, ginger and beef. Reduce the heat, partially cover with a lid and simmer gently, stirring several times, for 1 hour until the rice is very soft and mushy. Add a little hot water if the porridge threatens to dry out.

3 Discard the cinnamon, star anise and ginger. Add the chicken and simmer for 10 minutes. Then add the prawns and simmer for 5 minutes.

4 Add the coconut milk, if using, and season with the salt. Simmer for another minute, then serve hot, garnished with fried shallots and spring onion. The rice should be cooked until the grains are broken and the texture is smooth and very soft.

Serves 4
Preparation time: 15 mins
Cooking time: 1 hour 15 mins

The spices, the coconut milk, the trio of meats, is all a departure from what I think of for rice porridge. If my family will help me eat it, we'll have to give it a try.
 

phatch

Moderator
Staff member
9,319
941
Joined Mar 29, 2002
I don't know a lot about this kind of cuisine. One thing I've noticed about Malay/Singapore cookbooks is they call out different sorts of curry powder as though they commonly available such as fish curry powder. But I've only seen recipes for these online. The books never give them nor have i seen any for sale.

The braised pepper chicken looked particularly accessible.a couple of different fish curry caught my eye. I wish they would have included a chili crab. They give a chili shrimp, I wonder how similar they are?

Anyway, it's not a big book but there were things i noted to try out and look forward to.
 
2,229
839
Joined Jan 8, 2010
I've seen that too, in some Singaporean cookbooks ("Singapore heritage cooking" There even was a call for Rendang powder!)
I haven't seen this in any of the Indonesian cookbooks I got.
There are a lot of similarities in Indonesian and Malay cooking, so maybe this has something to do with "foreign" influences on the different Malay styles (Perankan/Nyonya, Indian, European etc)?
 

phatch

Moderator
Staff member
9,319
941
Joined Mar 29, 2002
Binging with Babish by Andrew Rea. I enjoy his youtube channels. I'm not a subscriber but I enjoy his technique and deadpan delivery. The food though has never made me want to replicate it. I haven't seen most of the TV or film the food is inspired by and so I have no particular resonance with it.

So this seemed sort of like a stunt cookbook, a performance of food styling. Nothing really stands out to me as something i must try or do differently than i do. I guess i was hoping for technique insight more than anything.

Better visuals than victuals, at least for my interests.
 

phatch

Moderator
Staff member
9,319
941
Joined Mar 29, 2002
Chinese Feasts and Festivals by S. C. Moey. This book sits in my mind against another I read some years ago, Good Luck Life by Rosemary Gong. Both are guides to celebratory food and the cultural behaviors around particular events and holidays. It could be just the fading of my memory in time, but I'm liking Feast and Festivals better. I think it has better cooking information and more details about the beliefs of the celebration.

A quick scroll (most of the books I'm reading this year are epubs, as is my copy of Good Luck Life) through Good Luck Life shows it is less about cooking and more about the ritual and meaning and calendar structure. More of the myths and legends too. So my memory wasn't super accurate.

An example from the cooking front, most of the whole fowl preparations also include an accenting sauce recipe for use at the table. Usually this gets a short cut of just plum sauce, hoisin sauce, or commercially prepared duck sauce and often no suggestion at all. Moey offers interesting sweet and sour dip and many other combinations for accenting the eating.

On the traditions regarding eating the whole fish, the senior at the table who gets first pick of the fish, also has the duty to properly prepare eating the other side of the fish after eating the top part. This is by removing the skeleton from the fish rather than simply turning it over. Turning it over is bad luck, perhaps spilling your fortune or overturning the fishing boat.

As this is celebration food, the recipes are more involved and usually involve more expensive ingredients, so I don't have a particular set of dishes I'm planning on. I do plan on using some garnishes and dips for other purposes.

If you want to learn some more about Chinese New Year and other celebrations, both of these books are worthwhile. If food is more to your interest, Chinese Feasts and Festivals strikes me as the better of these books.

The Lunar New Year celebrated by the Chinese occurs this year on 2/12. My plan is not to cook from this book, but something like a Grill Pot and some dumplings.


If you're looking for some ideas for your own celebration, a few have come through my feed recently that are worth looking at.




 

phatch

Moderator
Staff member
9,319
941
Joined Mar 29, 2002
I made the Classic Chicken Adobo from the Adobo Road cookbook above. Very good and easy.

Everything is thrown into a pot and simmered, the sauce is boiled and reduced, done. It is adobo in its simplest, most basic, and perhaps best form.
But don’t confuse basic with bland. As the sauce for this dish finishes and boils, the bubbling helps to emulsify the liquid with the chicken fat in the pan, creating a simple yet flavorful glaze. And even though the chicken isn’t browned or seared, it still achieves a beautiful brown sheen from the luscious sauce.

Serves 4–6 as part of a multi-course meal
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 45 minutes

¼ cup (65 ml) soy sauce
½ cup (125 ml) white Filipino cane vinegar, or distilled white vinegar
6–8 cloves garlic, smashed with the side of a knife and peeled
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
6 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs

Place the soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, black peppercorns, and bay leaves in a large, nonreactive sauté pan, and then nestle the chicken thighs, skin side down, into the pan. Bring the liquid to a boil over high heat, and then cover and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes. Turn the chicken over, and then cover and simmer for another 10 minutes.

Uncover the pan, and then increase the heat to high and return the sauce to a boil. While occasionally turning and basting the chicken, continue boiling the sauce, uncovered, until it is reduced by half and thickens slightly, 5–7 minutes. Serve with steamed white rice.

VARIATIONS: While the sauce is reducing, transfer the chicken thighs, skin side up, to a foil-lined sheet pan. Brown the chicken thighs underneath the broiler for 3–5 minutes.
Use freshly ground black pepper instead of whole peppercorns. For a “drier” chicken adobo, you can reduce the sauce until it is almost completely evaporated. The chicken will then begin to fry in its own fat that is still left in the pan. This is how my grandmother finishes her adobo.
For a saucier adobo, double the amount of soy sauce and vinegar.
To make this adobo as an appetizer, use 2 lbs (1 kg) of chicken wings instead of thighs.

I made it with ground pepper, double sauce, and broiled the thighs, all ideas from the variations list. I did skim some fat from the sauce as i know my digestion wouldn't do well with the full fat dose. There was no shortage in the finished dish still.
 
2,229
839
Joined Jan 8, 2010
I've made it with the chicken pieces grilled on a charcoal braai.
Very tasty as well and as far as I can remember, not difficult at all!
 
Top Bottom