Find a good place to hide the leftovers NOW.

The book:  Cooking Light Global Kitchen: The World’s Most Delicious Food Made Easy, by David Joachim (Oxmoor House, $29.95 – here’s my complete review)

The recipe:  Chocolate baklava

Why I tried it: To be honest, I think it was just because I already had the phyllo in the freezer, as well as a wide selection of nuts.  It’s possible I also wanted an excuse to buy some Nutella, which for me falls firmly in the want-to rather than the have-to shopping-list category.

Why I loved it:  I like baklava, but I’ve never been an addict.  This recipe changed everything.  The baklava looked perfectly OK when it went into the oven.  But when it came out: Oh. My. God.  Those crumbly layers of glistening phyllo.  That subtle crunch.  The chocolate.  The butter!!
I made this recipe twice.  The first time, I hid the leftovers so I could have them for “lunch dessert” (which is a very special time of the day for me).  I tried to eat each piece only with my incisors, so it would last as long as humanly possible.
The second time, we had company.  There were, I think, 10 people.  There weren’t any leftovers, but I did manage to sneak 4 “servings” before it was gone.

Estimated preparation time: According to the book, “Hands-On Time: 25 min. Total Time: 1 hr. 21 min.”  This is true if you already toasted the nuts and remembered to thaw the phyllo last night.

Another great recipe from this bookIndonesian vegetable salad with peanut sauce (“Shortcut gado-gado”)
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Chocolate Baklava

Serves 24 (serving size: “1 piece.” HA!)

3/4 cup honey
1/2 cup water
1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
1 cup hazelnut-chocolate spread (such as Nutella)
1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup roasted pistachios, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup blanched toasted almonds, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
Cooking spray
24 (14 x 9–inch) sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed
1/2 cup butter, melted

1. Combine first 3 ingredients in a medium saucepan over low heat; stir until honey dissolves. Increase heat to medium; cook, without stirring, until a candy thermometer registers 230° (about 10 minutes). Remove from heat; keep warm. Discard cinnamon stick.

2. Preheat oven to 350°.

3. Place hazelnut-chocolate spread in a microwave-safe bowl; microwave on high 30 seconds or until melted. Combine hazelnuts and next 5 ingredients (through salt).

Lightly coat a 13 x 9–inch glass or ceramic baking dish with cooking spray. Working with 1 phyllo sheet at a time (cover remaining dough to prevent drying), place 1 phyllo sheet lengthwise in bottom of prepared pan, allowing ends of sheet to extend over edges of dish; lightly brush with butter. Repeat procedure with 5 phyllo sheets and butter. Drizzle about 1/3 cup melted hazelnut-chocolate spread over phyllo.

Sprinkle evenly with one-third of nut mixture (about 1/2 cup). Repeat procedure twice with phyllo, butter, hazelnut-chocolate spread, and nut mixture. Top last layer of nut mixture with remaining 6 sheets phyllo, each lightly brushed with butter. Press gently into pan.

4. Make 3 lengthwise cuts and 5 crosswise cuts to form 24 portions using a sharp knife. Bake at 350° for 35 minutes or until phyllo is golden. Remove from oven. Drizzle honey mixture over baklava. Cool in pan on a wire rack. Cover; store at room temperature.

From Cooking Light Global Kitchen by David Joachim (Oxmoor House)

“What on earth is poudre de Colombo!?”

The book:  World Spice at Home by Amanda Bevill and Julie Kramis Hearne (Sasquatch Books, $24.95 – here’s my complete review)

The recipe:  Skillet prawns* with “poudre de Colombo”
*but go ahead and use big shrimp, because what’s the difference?!

Why I tried itThis was one of those serendipitous finds that turned up during recipe-testing.  I loved exploring the different spice mixes in this book, which allowed me to make full use of my Devastatingly Awesome Spice System.  But this night I was in a bit of a hurry and between the relatively quick spice mix (only 8 ingredients!) and the quick-cooking shrimp, I figured I could close the deal in 45 minutes max.

Why I loved it:  I doubt Columbus himself ever tasted it, but poudre de Colombo is a jewel of a seasoning from the French West Indies (proving that good things can come from disastrous colonial events).  It’s a warm, dusty mild curry; its hardest-to-get component is fenugreek, and its most unexpected one is raw rice.  Once the seasoning hits the warm butter, it’s magic – a huge, woodsy-spice-chest aroma blossoms into the air.  And then – between their own natural pigment and the turmeric – the shrimp turn a fiery coral, and you end up using them as daubs to scrape up any spice residue left in the corners of the pan.

Estimated preparation time:  45 minutes; but if your shrimp are already de-veined and shelled and you’ve made up the spice mix or bought it in advance, you could do it in 30 minutes flat.

Another great recipe from this book: Amanda’s cumin-crusted cornbread: here are the ingredients, but you’ll have to buy the book for the recipe!

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Skillet Prawns (Shrimp!) with Poudre de Colombo
Serves 4
If you can get true prawns, great! If not, use biggish shrimp (say, at least 21/25’s).  If you can only get small-to-medium shrimp, work as quickly as you can at the end so they don’t overcook.

For the vegetables:
2 tablespoons butter
2 fennel bulbs, trimmed, halved, and cut into 1⁄2-inch slices
1 large yellow onion, halved and cut into 1⁄2-inch slices
1 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon Pernod, or 1⁄2 teaspoon fennel seed, smashed

For the shrimp/prawns:
2 teaspoons ground poudre de Colombo (see below for recipe)
1 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1⁄8 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound medium prawns (about 18-24), peeled and deveined, tails intact
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

To prepare the vegetables, in a 12-inch stainless steel skillet, melt the butter. Add the fennel and onion and cook for 4 minutes, flip, and cook for 4 minutes more. Add the chicken broth and Pernod; cover and cook for about 15 minutes, or until the onion is soft.

Uncover and cook until all of the liquid has evaporated and the fennel and onion begin to brown. Remove from the heat and cover to keep warm.

Meanwhile, to prepare the prawns, in a small bowl, mix together the poudre de Colombo, paprika, lemon zest, thyme, sugar, and salt. In a 10- to 12-inch skillet, melt the butter and olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the spice mixture and the prawns and cook for 2 to 3 minutes; flip over and cook for 2 minutes more.

Rewarm the fennel mixture over medium-low heat. Spoon one-quarter of the mixture onto each plate and top with 4 to 5 prawns. Sprinkle over the lemon juice, garnish with the parsley, and serve.

POUDRE DE COLOMBO
Can’t be bothered with grinding your own spices? Here’s where to buy poudre de Colombo.  Making your own poudre de Colombo? Good on you!  Here’s the recipe.

1 whole clove
Scant ½ teaspoon cumin seed
¼ teaspoon coriander seed
Scant ¼ teaspoon black peppercorns
Scant ¼ teaspoon fenugreek seed
⅛ teaspoon black mustard seed
Scant ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
Scant ½ teaspoon uncooked rice

1. In a dry pan over medium heat, toast the clove, cumin, coriander, peppercorns, fenugreek, and mustard seed, shaking the pan, for 3 minutes or until fragrant. Transfer to a bowl and sprinkle the turmeric over the warm spices.

2. In the same skillet, toast the rice for 2 minutes, shaking the pan. Add it to the other spices while hot (the heat from the spices and rice lightly toasts the turmeric). In a spice grinder, grind the mixture to a powder.

Our series continues with a sleeper hit you might have missed when it released this spring.

After a break for the weekend, we’ll catch up with Best Recipe #3 on Monday. 

The book:  Vegetarian for a New Generation, by Liana Kassoff (Stewart Tabori & Chang, $24.95)

The recipe:  Tamari-butter roast potato wedges

Why I tried it: I love roast potatoes almost – yes, actually, I think, yes – better than fries.  My standby recipe involves blanching the potatoes in baking soda-water and roasting them in duck fat, and I rarely depart from it.  But the phrase “tamari butter” had an electric effect on me.   I remembered how, when I externed for Wylie Dufresne a million years ago, he used to finish a gratin with this lava-like, dangerous sweet soy-butter glaze – maybe it had balsamic in it too –  and how I couldn’t get enough of it.  I had to try.

Why I loved it:  As much as I love duck fat, this recipe reminded why butter and potatoes are such a compelling match.  While any kind of fat can guide you to that terrific potato texture – the crisp edges, the fluffy, piping-hot interior – only butter sings out its presence in every bite.  And what butter!  infused with rosemary, seething with garlic and that lingering, umami-filled bottom note of tamari, you could drape it over just about any roast vegetable and nobody would even remember there was anything else at dinner.

Estimated preparation time:  Just under an hour, if you prepare the tamari-butter mix while you preheat the oven.
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Tamari-Butter Roasted Potato Wedges

Serves 4

Kassoff warns that you mustn’t skip preheating the tray!  Potatoes need high heat to set that crispy roast crust the way you like it

4 tablespoons (65 g) unsalted butter
3 tablespoons tamari
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large sprig fresh rosemary, leaves stripped off and minced
Freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds (910 g) russet potatoes, peeled if you like, and cut lengthwise into 3/4-inch (2-cm) wedges

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F (205°C). Set a large rimmed baking sheet in the oven while it heats.

2. In a small saucepan, combine the butter, tamari, garlic, rosemary, and a few grindings of pepper. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until the butter is melted, then remove the pan from the heat.

3. Put the potatoes in a large bowl, drizzle them with the tamari-butter mixture, and toss well to coat. Spread the potatoes on the hot baking sheet in a single layer. Roast until nicely browned on the bottom, 25 minutes, then turn the potato wedges with a metal spatula and roast until browned on the other side and tender throughout, 15 to 25 minutes more. Serve hot.

From Vegetarian for a New Generation; Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2014.

Hurray! It’s time for everyone’s favorite series: the Best Recipes of 2014!

Every night is recipe-testing night here at Cookbook Central.  Yet over the course of the year, only a few dishes turn out to be so unforgettable, so ravishing, so droolworthy that they make it into the regular rotation.  This year, there were 11!  Stay tuned over the next couple of weeks, and we’ll celebrate and sample each one together.

The book:  A Mouthful of Stars, by Kim Sunée (Andrews McMeel, $27.99 – here’s my complete review)

The recipe:  Crab & pork Spanish tortilla

Why I tried itI have a sort of weakness for what you might call “trayf combos” – especially shellfish and pork.  Also, I have a daughter who has a reluctance toward crab, but a profound, overriding enthusiasm for pork.  I figured that I’d likely end up with something I could feed the whole family, so long as I could refrain from eating the whole thing myself.

Why I loved it:  Haunted by the memory of many liquid, eggy disasters, I had the usual momentary panic when I went to flip the tortilla.  But – miracle! – it held together as firmly as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich!  I realized later that the bean thread noodles acted as a stabilizer, creating a webbed substrate in which all those fine and flavorful elements could hang suspended.  And the flavors – the crab, the pork, the ginger and garlic and condiments, all mingled together – were like something you’d find in your very favorite dumpling at your very favorite dim sum place.

Estimated preparation time:  45 minutes, if you don’t muck about.
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Photo credit: Leela Cyd

Crab and Pork Spanish Tortilla

Sunée recommends a sturdy non-stick skillet – it helps with the flipping.  If you’re scared of flipping, you can use a cast-iron pan and run it right under the broiler to cook the top.

Makes 1 (10-inch) tortilla, serving 4 as a light meal.

3 ounces bean thread or glass noodles

6 large eggs
1 to 2 tablespoons heavy cream or half-and-half
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, grated or minced
½ teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more as needed
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
8 ounces fresh lump crabmeat, picked through for any shells or cartilage
1 tablespoon olive oil or canola oil
8 ounces ground pork
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 medium shallots, thinly sliced
Fresh cilantro, mint, or Thai basil, for garnish
Julienned carrots, for garnish
Bean sprouts, for garnish

For serving: fish sauce, soy sauce, hot chili sauce, or black vinegar with sliced ginger or shallots

1. Place the noodles in a large bowl and pour boiling water over to cover. Let soak for about 10 minutes, until the noodles are soft and plump. Rinse under cold water if still hot and drain thoroughly.

2. Combine the eggs, cream, garlic, ginger, salt, and pepper in a large bowl and whisk to combine. Add the crabmeat and stir. Add the drained noodles to the egg-crabmeat mixture.

3. Heat 1 teaspoon of the oil in a 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pork and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 3 minutes. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Drain off any excess fat and let cool slightly; add the pork to the egg-noodle mixture.

4. Return the pan to medium-high heat and add another 1 teaspoon oil and the butter. Add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the egg-noodle mixture to the pan and cook on medium heat, tilting the pan and using a spatula all around the edges of the tortilla, pressing the egg mixture toward the center so that the liquid runs to the edge of the pan; repeat several times and cook until most of the liquid starts to set, about 5 minutes. Set the pan evenly on the heat and let cook until the bottom begins to turn a nice golden brown and the tortilla starts to firm up, another minute or two. Keep checking the bottom so it doesn’t get too brown. When the eggs are still slightly loose and just a little runny, slide the tortilla onto a plate. Cover with another plate and, holding both plates tightly, invert them so that the golden cooked side is facing up. Add the remaining 1 teaspoon oil to the pan and slide the tortilla back into the pan. Quickly use the spatula to tuck the edges under and round out the sides. Let cook for another 1 to 2 minutes, shaking the pan. You don’t want to overcook the tortilla; it will continue to cook once it’s off the heat. (If you are not feeling fearless, instead of flipping the tortilla, heat the broiler to high and place the tortilla under the broiler to cook until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Make sure your skillet is ovenproof if you do this.)

5. Transfer the tortilla to a large plate or platter and let sit for at least 10 minutes to firm up. Garnish with the herbs and vegetables. Serve warm or at room temperature with fish sauce, soy sauce, hot chili sauce, or black vinegar with sliced ginger or shallots.

From A Mouthful of Stars: A Constellation of Favorite Recipes from My World Travels by Kim Sunée/Andrews McMeel Publishing

Forget about Black Friday – you know the gift-giving season is truly underway when the NPR Book Concierge comes out, guiding you to all the best books the year has had to offer.  It’s available both through your browser and as an app, and it is a Monumental Undertaking – over 250 titles picked by NPR staff and critics.  Once the list comes out each year, I use it as a starting point to find reading matter for an entire year – in waiting rooms, on summer vacation, for my bedside table – until the next one comes out.  And I’m sure I’m not the only one.

This year I picked, I think, 9 of the 17 food and cookbook selections.  And some of the other 8 – like Apples and Baking Chez Moi – were titles I would have picked too if my colleagues had not gotten to them first!  But all’s fair in love, war, and reading.

Check out the food and cookbook selections on the NPR Book Concierge.

Anyway, all this is just the tip of the iceberg for cookbook coverage this month.

  • Starting this week, I’ll be running the Best Recipes of 2014! series again (check out the Best Recipes of 2013 here)
  • I’ll be talking up the 2014 Concierge selections on (swoon!) Morning Edition next week; and
  • I will be releasing my own independent Best of 2014 cookbook roundup at NPR the week after that.

Stay tuned!

Are you getting your pie in gear for Thanksgiving?  I am!  Last week, I ordered 10 pounds of rendered leaf lard.  Next week comes the traditional trip to Clarkdale Fruit Farm in Deerfield for pie apples.   Following that, the traditional internet searches for better, nicer-looking crimps and troubleshooting pastry problems.

This week’s story looks at some recent cookbooks and some easyish, slightly non-traditional pies – an apple hand pie and a super-boozy whiskey crumble pie, and a couple of others- just in case you’re sick of your double-crust, or in case it’s giving you fits.

Click here to read today’s apple pie story in the Boston Globe.   Hit the paywall?  Click here for the PDF version (the links won’t work, but at least you can read the story!). 

Just in time for what I call Fatstember and Carbuary – my two favorite baking months – the unapologetic and seductive new baking book from Dorie Greenspan.  It’s French home baking, and a sight easier than the high-flying pastries you may think of when you consider French desserts.  While there is one suitably neurotic macaron recipe, nearly everything in here is doable with the confectionery skills of a mortal.

This also marks my first collaboration ever with the Washington Post‘s terrific food section.  I hope there will be more to come.

Click here to read today’s review of  ‘Baking Chez Moi’ in the Washington Post. 

Period poster from the heyday of absinthe.

Since I don’t have a cookbook review to post this week (I’m furiously testing for roundup season), here’s the audio commentary that ran this past Friday.

It’s all about that powerful and evocative spirit, absinthe –  known to bohemians of every age as “the green fairy”.  Just the idea of it was enough to make me fantasize, in my 20’s,  about being an artiste in fin-de-siècle Paris.

For better or worse, I was and remained a fairly well-brought-up Asian-American girl with a good education and all her shots.  Still, it was fun to dream.

The delightful poster was hunted down by NEPR’s ace producer Jill Kaufman.  I’m not quite sure why the station’s post is titled “Absinthe makes the heart grow ponder“. But it’s certainly making me do just that.

Hear my radio commentary on absinthe here.

The wind was so strong last night I dreamed a tree fell in our driveway, and the woodstove’s been going for a week.  October has us in its teeth, and it’s strange to think back to the green, tropical flavors – coconut, banana, heaps of herbs and ginger – I tested this past summer.

The week we ate from Caribbean Potluck was a satisfying one.  The thing that most surprised me was the authors’ liberal way with thyme, which I’d never thought of as particularly island-y.

Yet I came away from the book feeling like I’d missed a learning opportunity.  When it comes to ethnically or regionally organized cookbooks, I’m always looking for something that will teach me something fundamental I can apply elsewhere in my food (the way Simple Thai Food, from last week, did).  If not, I’ll take a book with two or three swooners for recipes.  This, though, is nothing more nor less than a collection of pretty good work – fun in July, forgotten by October.

What is foremost in my mind this fall, though, is the annual CiderDays festival here in western Massachusetts.  More varieties of apples and hard cider than you’ve ever tasted, as the orchard fling wide their gates for an end-of-season celebration.  All the deets here in my Globe post and here at their website.

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

I always thought the problem was me.

I love Thai food.  I have ever since my college roommate Christina (who had lived in Thailand as a teen) and I used to splurge on lunches at the Thai restaurant across the street from our dorm.  But every time I got a Thai cookbook – and all of them were colorful, inspiring productions you could almost taste – I just couldn’t get through them.

I could get the lemongrass and galangal and the kaffir lime leaf.  But there was always something: gaeng hang lae powder, green tamarind pods, dried salted radishes, one particular kind of fish.  I wanted to do it right! and so the best became the enemy of the good, and I never made those recipes.

Every so often I would get an “easy” Thai book.  But it would turn out to be all soy sauce, oyster sauce, ginger and garlic – pretty much like an “easy” Chinese book.  Where was the easy Thai book that actually tasted Thai?

So here at last it is.  It’s not *totally* easy.  But it’s not dump-a-Maesri-curry-paste-in-some-coconut-milk either.   The writing’s entertaining, the recipes work, and the flavors will knock your socks off.  What more could you ask? (other than slightly larger print, as usual.)

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

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