If you deep-fry just ONE THING this year….

The book:  Fried & True, by Lee Brian Schrager and Adeena Sussman (Clarkson Potter, $22.50 – here’s my complete review)

The recipe:  Keralan fried chicken – recipe actually by Atlanta chef Asha Gomez

Why I tried it: I can’t even begin to describe to you the mixed pleasure and pain of recipe-testing a fried-chicken book in the middle of summer.  I saw the picture of the chicken atop the waffles, and then I read the bold, unstinting ingredients list (one bunch of mint! one bunch of cilantro!), and I thought “Maybe this will make it all worthwhile…”

Why I loved it:  The waffles may have sold me on trying this recipe, but they weren’t the clincher when I made it. No, the clincher was two-part: 1) Boneless pieces!  It was a pain boning all that chicken, but it was totally worth it.  The marinade penetrated from both sides, and the chicken cooked up fast & juicy, and you could eat it with a knife and fork.  2) Cilantro-mint flavor + crisp skin crust +  spicy maple syrup!  This is what a chef would call a nice move, and what I would call a close-your-eyes-and-thank-your-god-you’re-alive-to-taste-this moment.

Which is why, having eaten more fried chicken that any sane person would want to over the summer, I made it again for my birthday at the end of August, and made my friends eat it with me.  I skipped the waffles, thereby leaving more room for chicken.

Estimated preparation time: 24 hour marinade, followed by about 1 hour prep & fry.  Add a half hour if you’re boning the chicken yourself, and you’re pretty fast at it.  (And add more time yet if you’re making your own waffles to go with it.)


Photo: Evan Sung

Keralan Fried Chicken and Spicy Maple Syrup (plus Insert Your Favorite Waffle Here)

This recipe originally included these cardamom waffles – a great idea, but I found the waffle recipe a little lackluster for the effort. You could use your own favorite waffle, or a frozen Eggo, or no waffle at all. But even if you do without the waffle, don’t skip the spicy maple syrup, because it’s incredible on that chicken skin.  Oh – be sure to use skin-on boneless.  The skin is important, and so is the lack of bone.

Serves 8
For the spicy maple syrup:
2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds, coarsely ground
2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds, coarsely ground
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 cups maple syrup

For the chicken:
2 cups buttermilk
10 garlic cloves
1 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
6 whole serrano (or 3 large jalapeño) peppers, seeded if desired
Bunch of fresh cilantro
Bunch of fresh mint
2 tablespoons kosher salt
8 boneless, skin-on chicken thighs (about 3 pounds)
Vegetable oil, for frying
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 stems fresh curry leaves
2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted

1) Marinate the chicken: In a blender, purée the buttermilk, garlic, ginger, peppers, cilantro, mint, and salt until smooth. Place the chicken in a large glass dish or bowl, pour the buttermilk purée over the chicken, toss to coat, and marinate for 24 hours.

2) Make the syrup: Toast the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, and red pepper flakes in a dry, hot medium skillet until fragrant and the seeds begin to pop, 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk the toasted spices into the maple syrup and let the syrup infuse at room temperature for 24 hours.

3) Fry the chicken: Fill a large (12-inch) cast-iron skillet with 1⁄3 inch oil and gently heat to 300°F. Set a wire rack on top of a rimmed baking sheet and set aside. While the oil is heating, remove the chicken from the buttermilk purée, gently shake off excess, and dredge each piece in flour. Place the chicken in the skillet, skin side down; the oil should come halfway up the pan. Cook the chicken until it turns golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes per side. Drain the chicken on the rack and drizzle with the melted coconut oil. While the chicken is draining, crisp the curry leaves by frying in the oil until crisp, 10 to 15 seconds.

4) Serve the chicken on top of the waffles and drizzle with the spiced syrup. Garnish with the fried curry leaves.

Reprinted from Fried & True by Lee Schrager with Adeena Sussman. Copyright (c) 2014 by Lee Schrager. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, a division of Random House, LLC.

Welcome, NPR listeners, chowhounds and recipe hunters, and newcomers to my blog! Whether you’re here because you’ve just heard the NPR cookbooks segment on your local public radio affiliate or because you heard there’s a “Best Recipes of 2014″ countdown going on, you’ve come to the right place.

Just want the list?  OK!  NPR’s Top 11 Cookbooks of 2014 (in no particular order)

Of course, the cookbooks that made the roundup are just a small selection of the many wonderful titles published in 2014.  

What follows is my shortlist of titles equally notable in one way or another:

Best Actually Pretty Easy, Actually Thai Book Ever
Simple Thai Food, by Leela Punyaratabandhu

Generous Compendium From A Much-Missed Culinary Ambassador for Spain
1000 Spanish Recipes, by Penelope Casas

For Those Who Wonder What It’s Like Cooking in a Restaurant, Complete with No Handholding Whatsoever
Prune, by Gabrielle Hamilton

This Year’s “You Know You’re a New Yorker When…” Shibboleth
Eating Delancey, by Aaron Rezny and Jordan Schaps

This Year’s Convert-a-Carnivore Choice
Vegan Without Borders, by Robin Robertson

For Those Who Hate Wasting Food More Than Anything Else In the Whole World
The Kitchen Ecosystem, by Eugenia Bone

For Ambitious DIY-er’s Who Know No Fear
Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry, by Cathy Barrow

For DIY-ers Who Are Fine With Just the One Food Group, Thanks
Fermented Vegetables, by Kirsten K. Shockey & Christopher Shockey

For Very Ambitious Pasta Lovers
Flour & Water, by Thomas McNaughton

For Pasta Lovers Who Just Want Something New In Their Pasta In 45 Minutes Flat
The Best Pasta Sauces, by Micol Negrin

For Bakers Who Own a Scale, and Are Proud Of It
The Baking Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum

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”)

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!


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.

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.

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.

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.


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