The book:  The Broad Fork, by Hugh Acheson (Clarkson Potter, $35.00 – here’s my complete review)

The recipe:  Leek fonduta

Why I tried itOne word, really – leeks.  I really think leeks are my favorite allium, if you don’t count sliced and sizzled garlic (which is not so much a favorite as an existential necessity) or crisp fried shallots (which really belong in the fried-food family).  This year, owing to a chronic fetish for this baked eggs in cream breakfast, I was never without leeks in the house, and that meant that leeks were bound to feature in a weeknight, emergency, no-idea-what-to-make-for-dinner-in-half-an-hour, pasta-type meal before long.

Why I loved it:  It doesn’t take much to take a leek from raw, crunchy, and vegetal to sweet, soft, and seductive – just 20 minutes of gentle heat and a modest quantity of butter. On its own leek will founder and practically melt, a plant that longs to lose its identity in cream.  But in this recipe, it’s helped along by some decadent accomplices – cream and crème fraîche and grated Parmesan.  Oh, it’s so terribly naughty, and embarrassingly easy too.  It’s good on a bit of toasted baguette, or on some fresh pasta.  And I’d be lying if I said I’d never eaten it straight out of the pan with a spoon.

Estimated preparation time: 30 minutes, tops?

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Leek fonduta
Serves 4

4 medium leeks, white and light green parts only, washed and thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup heavy cream
½ cup creme fraiche
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Grated rind of ½ lemon

1. In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine the leeks, garlic, butter, and a generous pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes, or until the leeks are translucent but not brown.

2. Add the cream and creme fraiche. Bring the liquid to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 5 minutes.

3. Add the Parmesan, parsley, lemon, and pepper. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, if you like.

Adapted from “The Broad Fork”, by Hugh Acheson (Clarkson Potter, 2015)

The book:  Crossroads, by Tal Ronnen (Artisan Press, $35.00)

The recipe:  Pasta with roasted balsamic mushrooms

Why I tried itCrossroads is a vegan cookbook.  I am (news flash!) not a vegan. But the book had enough style and promise to tempt me to hunt down recipes that might cross over into our meat-loving household.  When I saw “roasted” and “mushrooms” I instantly thought, like mushrooms, only better.  When I saw “balsamic” I instantly thought, like roasted mushrooms, only better. 

Why I loved it:  It’s not just the balsamic reduction that makes this so so irresistible.  It’s really the tomato-butter sauce too.  Do you have to use Earth Balance instead of butter? Do you have to use, or make, eggless pasta?  Of course not,  unless it’s a matter of principle.  You could make your own pasta and your own marinara sauce if you’re up for throwing a couple more hours at it.  That would make it like what I made, only better.

Estimated preparation time:   1 hour, unless you’re making your own fresh pasta first.  If you’re making your own pasta, give yourself an extra hour.  If you’re me, give yourself two.
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Photograph by Lisa Romerein

Linguine with Balsamic-Roasted Mushrooms and Tomato-Basil Butter Sauce
Serves 4 to 6 (Makes 4 cups sauce)

Homemade, store-bought fresh or store-bought dry linguine

2 pounds mixed mushrooms, such as cremini and shiitake, stemmed, wiped of grit, and quartered
4 large shallots, halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into large slices, plus 1 shallot, minced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup Balsamic Reduction (recipe follows)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
Nonstick cooking spray
4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter or Earth Balance butter stick, cut into chunks
3 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup dry sherry
4 cups homemade or store-bought marinara sauce
8 large fresh basil leaves, cut into chiffonade

1. To prepare the balsamic mushrooms and shallots for the sauce: Preheat the oven to 400°F.

2. Put the mushrooms and sliced shallots in a mixing bowl and drizzle with the oil. Pour in the balsamic reduction, season with salt, black pepper, and ¼ teaspoon of the red pepper flakes, and turn the mushrooms and shallots over so they are well coated. Spread the vegetables out in a single layer on a baking sheet that has been coated with nonstick cooking spray and roast for 20 to 25 minutes, until tender and deep brown. Set aside. (The roasted mushrooms and shallots can be prepared a couple of hours in advance, covered, and held at room temperature.)

3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

4. Meanwhile, prepare the sauce: Put a large sauté pan over medium heat and add 3 tablespoons of the butter or butter substitute. When it has melted, toss in the minced shallot and garlic and cook, stirring, until softened, about 1 minute. Season with salt, black pepper, and the remaining ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes, add the roasted balsamic mushrooms and shallots, and toss until well coated. Pour in the sherry and cook for 30 seconds to evaporate some of the alcohol. Stir in the marinara sauce and simmer until heated through, about 5 minutes.

5. When the water comes to a boil, add the pasta, give it a couple of good stirs with a wooden spoon, and cook until tender yet firm. Drain the pasta well, reserving ¼ cup of the starchy cooking water to use in the sauce if necessary.

6. Add the linguine to the sauce, tossing with tongs to coat. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon butter or butter substitute and the basil, season with salt and black pepper, and toss to distribute evenly. If the sauce gets too thick, thin it with enough of the reserved pasta water so the linguine is thoroughly coated.

7. Divide the linguine among plates or transfer to a bowl. Serve immediately.

Balsamic Reduction
Makes ½ cup

½ cup agave nectar
1 cup balsamic vinegar
1 shallot, halved
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat the agave in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until it thins out and is warmed, about 5 minutes. Add the vinegar and shallot and gently simmer, swirling the pan a few times, until the sauce has reduced and thickened to the consistency of maple syrup and coats the back of a spoon, about 50 minutes.

2. Remove the shallot and add a good pinch each of salt and pepper. The reduction can be stored covered at room temperature for up to 3 months.

Adapted from an excerpt reprinted by permission of the publisher, from “Crossroads” by Tal Ronnen with Scot Jones (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2015.

I’m a bit late with it, and everything else this year, but at last it’s time for the Best Recipes of 2015!  And what a wild mélange it is.  Between reviewing for the Boston Globe and the Washington Post and having a big hand in NPR’s year-end cookbook coverage, I’ve seen a huge range of books this year  But as always, there’s just a few memorable recipes that have demanded, and won, a place in my regular repertoire.

The book:  A Bird in the Hand, by Diana Henry (Mitchell Beazley, $29.99)

The recipe:  Bourbon & marmalade drumsticks

Why I tried itI have a thing, sort of, for bourbon.  It’s the only hard liquor I thoroughly enjoy, and I’m willing to try it in just about anything short of an egg salad sandwich.  So I had already experienced the joys of bourbon and orange conjoined in splashy matrimony.  Also, no matter how many great chicken recipes you have, you can always have another.

Why I loved it:  This is one of those recipes that’s so much more than its half-dozen ingredients would suggest.  It reminds me of the first time I made black-currant glazed pork chops a million years ago – it was so shockingly easy, and so shockingly good, I felt like I’d committed a crime.  This is like that.  Most of the work gets done by the marinade (which takes 5 minutes to put together) over a couple of leisurely hours while you surf the internet, paint your nails, and do whatever it is you do when you’re not cooking.  Then a 45-minute (cocktail time!) blast of heat roasts the drumsticks, sets the glaze, and transforms the whole thing into a sticky, gorgeous mess.  You might as well eat it with your fingers, since you’ll be licking them afterward anyway.  Besides, silverware might be too much work.

Estimated preparation time:  Couple hours to marinate, 1 hour to preheat & roast – but seriously, only like 15 minutes active time.
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Photo credit: Laura Edwards

Bourbon and marmalade-glazed drumsticks
serves 4

8 drumsticks
½ cup orange marmalade, divided
4 tsp Dijon mustard, divided
3 tbsp bourbon
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 red chiles, halved, seeded, and minced
2 oranges (preferably thin-skinned), halved and cut into ¾-inch thick wedges
salt and pepper

Make small slits in the drumsticks with a sharp knife. In a small bowl, mix 2 tablespoons of the marmalade and 1 teaspoon of the mustard. Set aside. In another bowl, mix the remaining marmalade—squash it down with the back of spoon to break it up—with the remaining mustard, the bourbon, garlic, and chiles. Put the chicken into this and roll it around so it gets well coated. Cover and put in the fridge for a few hours (or leave it all day, or overnight if you prefer). Bring it to room temperature before cooking.

When you’re ready to cook, preheat the oven to 410°F. Put the drumsticks—with all the marinade and any juices—into a roasting pan or gratin dish where they can lie in a single layer. Add the orange wedges. Turn the chicken and oranges over so that the oranges get coated in the marinade, too. Season everything with salt and pepper.

Roast for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the drumsticks are cooked through, glossy, and almost caramelized. In the last 10 minutes of the cooking time, brush the top of the drumsticks with the reserved marmalade and mustard.
Transfer the oranges and drumsticks to a serving platter and spoon some of the juices evenly over the top. You can’t eat the orange skin, but the flesh is nice: sweet and tart.

From A Bird in the Hand: Chicken Recipes for Every Day and Every Mood by Diana Henry/Mitchell Beazley

Since 2013, NPR has been offering its holiday book coverage in the form of the Book Concierge, an interactive tool that lets you filter your selections (want a geeky book that’s also funny?  A comic book about music?  A cookbook for kids? It’s all there, and tag-searchable).  I do a big chunk of the cookbook coverage on the Concierge, and I generally try to find quirky, gifty, interesting books that may not have made their way onto others’ lists.  I think I chose 15 of them this year, and I’d be happy to receive any one of them if I didn’t already have them all.

This is not the same list, however, as NPR’s 10 Best Cookbooks of 2015, which I’m still pulling out my hair over (the deadline’s tomorrow!  plenty of time!)  That will go live next Monday, Dec. 14th, so stay tuned.

NPR Book Concierge shot

A few classy moves translated to the home kitchen – that’s the gist of what I found in The Broad Fork. Some, like the leek fonduta, were good enough to enter the weekly repertoire.  But you’re not going to find me picking the leaves off Brussels sprouts and blanching them for one of many components in a compose- d salad – or boiling and deep-frying grains of farro for a garnish again any time soon.  At least not until my kitchen staff expands from 1 to 2, or 3.

Click here to read today’s review of ‘The Broad Fork’ in the Boston Globe.   Hit the paywall?  Click here for the PDF version of this week’s ‘Broad Fork’ review

It was not without a certain trepidation that I undertook the testing of The Food Lab.  “Kenji,” as so many of us casual cooks and Serious Eats readers adoringly call him, has a devoted following.  Some of us are in it for the exhaustively tested recipes, some of us for the droll wit, and some of us for his pure, joyous geekery.  But – when the rubber hit the road – what if it didn’t work out so well?  What if the recipes didn’t work?  What would that say about our idol? and what would that say about us and our competence as cooks?

Still, there was only one way to find out.  Armed with measuring implements, just-sharpened knives, a pencil, and my friend Mark’s Thermapen, I gave it my best shot.

Click here to read this week’s review of ‘The Food Lab’ in the Washington Post.  

It happens, every once in a while – a book comes along and I can’t keep my hands off it.  I start testing even before I’ve pitched it as an assignment, and then, once I’ve got the assignment, I can’t stop testing more and more, beyond what duty calls for.  By the time I’m done – if I’m ever done – the book is a porcupinish hash of Post-its and scrawled notes and mysterious stains.  Afterward the resulting monstrosity takes its permanent place on the kitchen shelves, a battle-scarred altar of 70 or 80 titles I refer to regularly.  The other 900 live upstairs.

Chinatown Kitchen is not a perfect book, but I adore it even with its flaws.  I find myself returning to it again and again, even though I may have other plans or better ideas.  That’s love, I suppose.  As with death, taxes, and that last bit of pork belly, what use resisting?

Click here to read this week’s review of ‘Chinatown Kitchen’ in the Washington Post.  

OK, it’s August and maybe you have no interest in turning your oven on unless it’s to make a peach pie.  Fair enough.  If you live in Brooklyn, you can trot on over to Ovenly in Williamsburg and get Agatha Kulaga and Erin Patinkin to fork over one of their confections.

If you don’t live in Brooklyn, though, it may still be worth your while to brave the heat for the sake of the pistachio-cardamom cupcakes with dark-chocolate ganache.  They’re potent enough keep you buzzing for days, but maybe only if you eat three.

Click here to read today’s review of ‘Ovenly’ in the Boston Globe.   Hit the paywall?  Click here for the PDF version of this week’s ‘Ovenly’ review

It’s been a busy summer and I’ve been a bit behind on updates…but a couple of new cookbooks from the new crop are worth looking at.  In the Washington Post last week, a review of Atlanta chef Steven Satterfield’s major release.

 Click here to read this week’s review of  ‘Root to Leaf’ in the Washington Post.

And in the Boston Globe, a review of Brown Eggs and Jam Jars, by blogger Aimée Wimbush-Bourque.  It’s yet another tale of homesteading and renewal of the spirit – but it’s a very attractively packaged one.

Click here to read this today’s review of review of ‘Brown Eggs & Jam Jars’ in the Boston Globe.   Hit the paywall?  Click here for the PDF version of the ‘Brown Eggs & Jam Jars’ review

I almost missed this one, which came out yesterday (I wrote it in February) – the last hurrah of the late, great Penelope Casas.  As is often the case with doorstop cookbooks like this, there’s good value to be had, and a decent overview of a vast culinary landscape, but you do have to keep your wits about you.

Click here to read today’s review of ‘1000 Spanish Recipes’ in the Boston Globe.   Hit the paywall?  Click here for the PDF version of this week’s ‘1000 Spanish Recipes’ review

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