Phil's Cookbook Reads of 2021

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Ah well, I can take that one of my wishlist ;)
I did find a couple of the recipes online and wasn't very impressed. Also the substitute for kecap manis (sweet soy) was just given as soy + sugar. Since kecap manis is quite an portant ingredient in Indonesian cooking, I would have expected a bit more info or at least soy + palm sugar or syrup as a sub.

When you go to the older Indonesian ookbooks (esp the Dutch ones), you'll find a lot of substitutions as a lot of ingredients wete not available. It actually became a different "kitchen", Indisch vs Indonesian.
I suppose something similar happened with Indian food in the UK.
 
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Wanted to let you know that I'm really enjoying this thread! Your conversations about the books are as worthwhile as the reviews. I've learned so much.
One little aside from me -- I got some Red Boat salt the other day. It was pricey, even for a fancy salt, but good. Useful for those times when I need a dry hit of that fish sauce taste.
 

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It seems it's a salt that they add fish sauce to and then dry. Crystalized fish sauce sounds more interesting, but very strong.
 
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It seems it's a salt that they add fish sauce to and then dry. Crystalized fish sauce sounds more interesting, but very strong.
It's good! But I put fish sauce in a pretty much everything, and I also eat a lot of fish.
I just bought Maenam by Angus An, my favourite Thai/SE Asian restaurant chef. Lots of opportunities for using (or overusing) Red Boat.
 

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Coconut & Sambal by Lara Lee

Did not finish.

I find myself avoiding reading it. I've lost faith in the quality of the content. Time to recognize this book is not for me.

Moving on.
 

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One Pan, Whole Family by Carla Snyder

I have three standby books in a similar vein. The Best Skillet Recipes--Cook's Illustrated, Cover and Bake--Cook's Illustrated, Sheet Pan Suppers--Molly Gilbert

So my attitudes and practices going into Snyder's book are already set to a degree. Indeed, certain dishes like Skillet Lasagna appear in both Cook's Illustrated content and in Snyder's. I prefer the less prepared ingredients approach of Cook's Illustrated personally. Snyder uses jarred pasta sauce, bags of precooked rice and similar convenience items quite often to keep it to just one pan and cut time.

And she likes sweeter counterpoints and additions to meals than I do.

I did find a few things I saved to try at a later time. A curried carrots and lentils dish with orange yogurt sauce. And a potato chard custard/gratin sort of thing.

The recipes are all pretty accessible. No odd techniques or equipment necessary. Every recipe gets three enhancements. A suggestion for a simple side to help feed Extra-Hungry Kids like rye bread for flavor and filling power. A tweak for Adult Taste Buds like cherry tomato halve, balsamic vinegar, fresh herbs. And an In The Glass suggestion for adult drinking and another for the youths.

She varies things from the skillet to the sheet pan to the dutch oven and soup pot. All types of one vessel cooking.

The book is fine. My cooking preferences are just divergent from the target audience.
 

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Looks like Xiaoying Cuisine made the dish with meicai I mentioned in post 108https://cheftalk.com/threads/phils-cookbook-reads-of-2021.109407/post-621210

It's a dried pickle. Kind of involved process but interesting to see, beyond just reading about it.

 

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The Vietnamese Market Cookbook by Van Tran and Anh Vu

This pair run a Banh Mi stall in the UK. The cooking strikes me as adapted and streamlined for daily European life. The beef pho is shortcut with beef stock (I too commit this shortcut) and simmered with the spices and charred aromatics. There are also some dishes that strike me Vietnamese influenced, but just using up old things around the kitchen. Pumpkin braised with coconut milk, and not much else in the way of seasoning. Similarly, a few eggplant dishes struck me as thrown together convenience food they happen to enjoy, but not with any real history in the cuisine.

The big learning points for me were gia vi and a language barrier mistake on my part.

This is my first encounter with gia vi which they describe as a basic spice mix. They give quick mix instructions when they call for it: 1 tsp gia vi (or a mix of 2 parts sugar, 1 part sea salt, 1 part ground black pepper, 1 part garlic powder) Googling for it turns up something similar. but usually seems to be intended more as a pho spice. Or maybe as a generic term for a spice mix for different dishes? And they do use theirs in the pho recipes and many other places as well.

Varying use of gia vi
(look at the fourth product image for the ingredient list

In the US at least it doesn't seem as standardized or sugar-salty as they use. I'll have to see if my asian grocer carries something similar to their usage.

The language barrier cropped up early on in the first recipe. They were talking about and then making a shrimp and marrow soup. I was thinking beef marrow, they were thinking the squash marrow. It wasn't until they mention substituting courgettes that it dawned on me.

The book's organization strikes me as gimmicky.
  1. Sweetness and Happiness
  2. Sourness and Change
  3. Spiciness and Adventure
  4. Bitterness and Perspective
  5. Saltiness and Healing
Then further section on Kitchen Essentials such as stock and such. I've noted before that I like the moving of these topics to the end of the book. Anyway, this organization reflects some cultural things, but it doesn't make finding a recipe or topic helpful. And the food follows the topics only loosely to my taste as well. They have a pretty lengthy discussion of sweet flavor that reminded me a lot of Betty Liu's discussion of pure flavor. The other topics are not as explored.

The Market aspect of the title is explored a bit in the introduction and then dropped.

I like the various banh mi and rolls the best of the recipes. Much of the rest didn't really stick out to me. I think I've come away with more confusion than clarity on what Vietnamese cooking is. If you want a glance in a diaspora Vietnamese kitchen, this is that.
 

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Made Betty Liu's Shanghai braised pork belly. Came out pretty good. I like her additions of boiled egg and tofu skin knots. There isn't enough liquid to simmer for three hours, at least as low as my burners go. But you do monitor it and stir it around to catch those things. Neglected to take a pic.

There's a whole variety of gia vi at the Asian grocer. From whole spice blends to ground powder cubes for different dishes.

IMG_20211116_104238215_HDR.jpg IMG_20211116_104332675_HDR.jpg
This one seems pretty close to what they mixed up.
 
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I wrote a reply some days ago, but it has gone missing :(
I have been eying the market place cookbook, but decided I have too many cookbooks already!
My favourite Vietnamese cookbooks are (don't laugh) Australian woman's weekly "Vietnamese" and Andrea Nguyen's "into the Vietnamese Kitchen"
 
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I've never made petis, but I've seen it used in some recipes.
Thanks for the link!
 

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Freddie Bitsoie discusses the stories and food of the book New Native Kitchen, which is on my list. This is an audio interview, no transcript available.

 

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Sambal Shiok by Mandy Yin.

Once again, a regional (Malay) expat now in the UK starts a restaurant and then a cookbook. I'm not complaining. I enjoyed this one pretty well, The cooking and flavors make sense though there is some adaptation. Her cooking is the source of my wondering about petis udang earlier as I'd not encountered that ingredient before (that I recall). Maybe I just hadn't seen it spelled out as prawn molasses.

She mentions adapting dishes here and there, though it seems that using coconut milk is one of her preferred changes. Particularly in the beef rendang where she goes for coconut cream for a more velvety sauce over the use of desiccated coconut, reserving that for garnish. It seems to be less chile intensive than some others, and that's likely reflecting the target audience.

I was struck by the use of garlic powder in a few places. She lists it as one of the ingredients in the section on ingredients and describes it as a convenience and a time saver. Those things are true, but I think she has some other ideas about using that may not be fully formed in her mind. Usually, it turns up in a dry spice blend--a reasonable place for it. But the Golden Fragrant Prawns it shows up alone just to marinate the shrimp before they go in to the pan. She also uses fresh garlic in the spice paste for the dish. So it just seems like using fresh garlic would be an improvement to cooking the shrimp than the powder where we're already dealing with fresh garlic. And the cooking time is short enough that fresh garlic should work.

GOLDEN FRAGRANT PRAWNS​


Whenever I’m back in Malaysia I always schedule time for dinner at Meng Kee, a restaurant halfway down Jalan Alor, one of the great food streets in Kuala Lumpur’s Golden Triangle. Meng Kee has a large menu with over a hundred dishes, from which you would first choose the type of seafood you want to eat, then choose a sauce to go with it. You will also find chargrilled chicken wings and an excellent version of stir-fried butter prawns (shrimp) with egg floss.

This recipe pays homage to their kam heong sauce which goes wonderfully well with lala sweet little clams. Kam heong means ‘golden fragrant’ because of the many aromatics used: dried shrimp, curry leaves, garlic, yellow bean paste and black pepper.

Don’t be deceived by its ugly, dark appearance. Once you’ve tasted it, you won’t be able to stop eating the sauce alone with rice – the prawns in this recipe becomes a bonus!

This recipe can be used with a whole host of different proteins and seafood, such as clams, prawns, thin slices of chicken, pork or beef, and even lots of sturdy veg and/or fried tofu puffs. To make this vegan, replace the oyster sauce with mushroom sauce, and replace the dried shrimp with blitzed up nori seaweed and a touch of tomato purée to add more umami.

SERVES 4


500g (1lb 2oz) raw peeled king prawns (jumbo shrimp) – you can choose to leave the tails on for presentation purposes
1 tbsp garlic powder
2 tbsp dried shrimp, first rehydrated in 100ml (scant ½ cup) water then drained, reserving the water for the sauce
100ml (scant ½ cup) oil



SPICE PASTE​


2 tbsp curry leaves
2.5cm (1in) ginger
4 bird’s eye chillies (if you want it less spicy, use 1 larger chilli instead)
4 garlic cloves
100g (3½oz) onion, roughly chopped



SAUCE​


1 tbsp yellow bean sauce
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp dark brown sugar
1 tsp ground black pepper
Reserved water from soaking the dried shrimp

1.
Marinate the prawns with the garlic powder for 30 minutes.

2. Blitz the rehydrated shrimp with 50ml/1½fl oz of the oil into a paste and empty out into a small bowl. Blitz the spice paste ingredients into a fine purée.

3. Heat up the remaining 50ml/1½fl oz oil in a wok on high heat until smoking. Stir-fry the prawns quickly until just cooked (this should take no more than 2 minutes). Empty them onto a container or plate.

4. Using the same wok, turn the heat down to medium and stir-fry the shrimp and oil paste until fragrant, which will take around 1 minute. Then add the spice paste and sauce ingredients. Stir-fry until the oil separates, which will take no longer than 2 minutes. Taste and adjust the salt/sugar to taste.

5. Finally add the cooked prawns back to the wok. Stir to incorporate and serve immediately.

My one other ingredient complaint is for the Bak Kut Teh, Pork Herbal Soup where she calls for

"2 sachets herbal soup herbs (I use the brands Teans Gourmet or A1 – some will also come with loose dehydrated herbal strips in which case just add to the soup to infuse with the sachets and remove with a slotted spoon before serving)"

I'd have liked having the herbs broken out for me in the amounts needed. I have seen similar recipes that use these pre-fab packets, I'm just not sure they're available, but the individual herbs should be.

Here's a list for a different recipe for bak kut teh just as an example (from https://tasteasianfood.com/bak-kut-teh/)

The herbs: B​


  • 10g Angelica sinensis (当归 / dang gui)
  • 8g Rehmannia root (熟地 /shou di)
  • 10 g Ligusticum striatum (chuan xiong / 川芎)
  • 15g Polygonatum odoratum (玉竹 / yu zhu /Solomon’s seal)
  • 20 g Codonopsis pilosula (Dang shen / 黨參
  • 1 tbsp goji berries

The spices: C​


  • 2 star anise
  • 2 bulbs garlic
  • 3 cinnamon bark
  • 2 tsp white peppercorn
She opens the book about street food and promptly offers a string of intriguing dishes. A chicken satay that looks pretty good, then a chicken satay burger that sounds better, simply for the easier production imho. Next a satay cauliflower fry up, fried chicken and gado gado. All seeming winners.

Recipes are well linked (cross referenced) to recurring sambals/pastes. Usually, these are not standalone recipes, but given within the recipe that first called for their use. They're clearly broken out in the ingredients and instructions so this is no hardship, and even fairly reasonable.

She finishes the book with a tourist eating guide to her favorite spots in country, organized by city.

Cooking from this book is likely to stretch a Westerner's pantry and shopping habits. I think that's a good thing. And so is this book.
 
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I'll have to check this one out ;)
Interesting remark about her using coconutmilk instead of descicated coconut!
In my opinion it is the other way around with coconut cream or milk being the more common approach!
It might be a Malaysia vs Indonesia diffetence.
The trick with Rendang is to reduce the coconut milk/cream till the meat starts frying in the fat. I've never done this with only descicated coconut....
 
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Interesting remark about her using coconutmilk instead of descicated coconut!
In my opinion it is the other way around with coconut cream or milk being the more common approach

I think the Malaysian Rendang does usually contain toasted coconut (known as kerisik) but also coconut milk or cream. The recipe I've seen of hers on Great British Chef website does indeed contain both as do most recipes that I've come across including this one from BBC Good Food : https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/beef-rendang-turmeric-rice. This is a pretty reliable tried and tested UK website.

And here is another: https://www.singaporeanmalaysianrecipes.com/beef-rendang-daging/

So - whatever she says, I don't think what she is doing is exactly ground breaking or much different from the 'standard' approach.
 
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How to Grill Vegetables by Steven Raichlen

Raichlen has written 31 books. I've read at least half at them, own probably 10 or so. I prefer his work on outdoor grill/barbecue to his lower calorie ethnic cuisine from the '90s.

He wrote an excellent book, How to Grill that taught me a lot. In 2011 he was a guest here at Cheftalk for 4 days, but I can't pull that forum up on the new software.

Raichlen is a bit chatty and wordy. I don't mind it so much here but I think that's informed from having watched his many PBS cooking shows where he's similarly loquacious. In this particular case, the layout of the epub and the wall-of-words content make finding things a little more work. Rather than breaking to a new "page" at the start of each recipe the next one starts right up with similar spacing and breaks and just bolded text to show the beginning. Yes, it works, but white space adds a lot to readability and friendliness of the text. Some of it has to do with my preferred ereader app, Librera. Librera is very tolerant of epub quirks and supports lots of ebook formats. It will open books my earlier preference, FBReader, will not. But its tolerance means some of this book's nuance gets simplified. When viewed on my PC in Calibre, the font and color and layout do improve. But I do most of cookbook reading on my phone so the app makes some layout tweaks for the device. I don't know how to resolve this issue as its the one of the trade-offs of reflowable text. Still a forced page break in an epub doesn't waste any paper so I would hope it becomes more standard.

In How to Grill, Raichlen gave detailed instructions and photos for setting up a grill for every recipe. It was highly repetitive, but I appreciated it for those times you are just coming back to look at a specific recipe. He never did it again that I've encountered. Instead, he's tended to start books talking about how to set up and use different kinds of grills and smokers to achieve the different temperatures and techniques he'll use in the book. A Weber Kettle type grill is probably the most versatile of these tools if you're looking for just one device. Dedicated smokers may not be able to lay on the sear or hit the higher temps of some of these recipes.

Anyway, the opening discussion is worth reading even if you're experienced with this sort of cooking. You'll know how he's using particular terms and temperature ranges for the recipes. Every recipe calls out the gear and the technique/method so you might have to look in the first chapter for an explanation of what he intends for the recipe.

The recipes tend to be a bit more complex than just oiling up the grates, seasoning the vegetables and grilling. For the Shitakes Channeling Bacon, you'll thinly slice the shitake, shallow fry in a fry pan, cool, then smoke and finally season at the end. Not that any of that is hard, but most of the recipes involve some extra steps in a similar kind of way. The starters chapter was a strong start to the book for me, with every recipe opening up new ideas. The bacon I just mentioned, Buffalo Broccoli, the grilled avocado dishes..

The Salad, Slaws, Soup chapter was probably the low point for me personally. Most of these ideas struck me as retreads. It only included one soup. I don't think he put much effort into this one. Minestrone, Hot and Sour would both lend themselves to some grill time or smoker just off hand.
George Hirsh's PBS grilling prgrams from the 90s would help you in thinking this way. He tended to have pre-grilled vegetables ready to go for building these sorts of recipes in his programming.

Similarly with the next chapter for breads, these ideas are largely well established and practiced. Good to have for completeness though if you're new to the ideas.

Things pick up again as we transition to small plate ideas, then main dish kinds of things, then various accompaniments. The great thing about this is that you can pick a few different recipes to prepare simultaneously as many grills are big enough to support the task. Just make sure they share a similar temperature and cooking method.

I particularly enjoyed his eggs and cheese chapter. Eggs take to the grill and smoke surprisingly well. His cheese tends mostly to the grill rather than smoking. I'd have liked more ideas about smoking cheese and using it.

The desserts chapter wasn't so much to my taste. Smoke is often too much for these things and the grill can be tricky to avoid burning the sugars. Probably my favorite here were the Hasselback Apples, indirect grilled on a cedar plank. p273.jpg

He's not done though. The Appendices offer up a variety of sauces, condiments and such. And an alphabetic listing of vegetables that offers ideas on how to prepare each in a variety of live fire methods as a launching point for your own explorations.

Very much worth adding to your cookbook library if you like grilling and smoking. Or if you're thinking about getting into that kind of cooking, this will help you understand the versatility.

The original How to Grill is also a book I highly recommend.
 

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Rice by Michael Twitty. This is part of an ongoing series of books, Savor the South. This is number 25.

This one is shorter than some of the others though none is long. I was surprised I was through it one go.. Most of that was not to my interest. It opens with discussion of rice coming to the Americas and a fair bit of Africa rice heritage talk.

The opening recipe is probably the most interesting to me of the book.

Kitchen Pepper​


Kitchen pepper is an old-school spice mixture that was very popular in early American cooking, especially in the coastal South. While it takes its main cues from quatre épices, a spice mix of pepper, cloves, nutmeg, and ground ginger common in French cooking, it also helped to preserve both medieval and Silk Road flavors in southern foodways, as well as the flavors of West Africa, where indigenous and Middle Eastern spices had long influenced the cuisine. This is my take on this classic. It has the complexity of garam masala without quite the punch and heat.


MAKES ABOUT ½ CUP


2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
1 tablespoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon ground allspice
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground mace
1 tablespoon ground white pepper
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes


Combine the ingredients in a small bowl. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to six months.

And it gets used a number of times later on. I think I'd go with just teaspoons instead of tablespoons or I wouldn't get through it all before it ages out.

I was a little puzzled by his use of cloves in his chicken stock and vegetable stock. Not a flavor I would think of using there. He studs the chicken carcass with cloves prior to the cooking. Not something I remember seeing before.

The next section largely shows heritage rice dishes of Africa and such, though in modern guise. I can see why he wants to talk about it, but it doesn't meet my interests in this series. Felt out of place to me given the content approach of the rest of the books of the series. There are also a Thai rice dish and a Mexican rice dish seemingly because he's friends with the celebrity chefs?

Anyway, when we get into the more Southern dishes the book improves for me. It's a bit of tricky topic to discuss because rice is usually part of another dish or the key accompaniment. So how to present rice recipes without treading on the toes of other authors in the series? You really can't so he treads as lightly as he can with Jambalya, Country Captain, Pork Chops and Rice and so on. These sorts of things have shown up often in their own topics on Pork, Chicken and so on. It's certainly fair to revisit them from the rice perspective.

I was introduced to Limpin' Susan, the relative of Hoppin' John. And an interesting rice waffle.

But it's a short book. And not the best of the series for my interests. Too much Foreign than Southern than I was expecting, though of course US cuisine is heavily influenced by the people who came here, willingly or not.
 
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