Rachel Hollis Makes Comfort Food Easy

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Rachel Hollis’ new cookbook, Upscale Downhome, is forcing us to come clean.  First, cooking is not one of our well honed talents and on top of that we love comfort food. So when the opportunity arose to witness Rachel’s cooking in person, we grabbed it and can honestly say we were amazed not only by how tasty everything was, but also by the abundance of short cuts she incorporates into her book. Upscale Downhome is just the home cooking cheat sheet we have been searching for.

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We found the charming presentation and vibrant pesto mayo of her BLT Bites (page 42) too adorable and delicious to refuse and admit to grabbing a few extra for the trip down memory lane they conjured. Perhaps a more seasoned chef would find a recipe for a BLT mundane, but we would proudly display and serve this particular version at all our festive gatherings for the delight they bring to everyone who sees and tastes them.

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One of the best features of this book is that each step is not only explained, but also clearly detailed in photos, so readers know they are on the right track all through the process, not just at the end when it is too late to make amends. Turkey Chili (page 105) puts the slow cooker to good use and we love dishes that practically cook themselves by simmering away for hours.

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Comfort food comes in all forms and there are plenty of produce based dishes to indulge in, including a snappy Fresh Green Bean Salad (page 121).

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But when we think hard core comfort food, we have to say we fell in love with Rachel’s Sticky Ham and Cheese (page 39) which combine the sweetness of King’s Hawaiian Rolls with salty and savory melted Swiss and ham slices. The enchanting miniature size of these beauties make them all the more irresistible.

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Creative ideas for pulling together a variety of festive events abound. Besides sections dedicated to dips, snacks, casseroles, slow cookers and dishes to bring to potlucks, Rachel also has a delightful dessert division. Her Cookie Pudding Pie (page 187) combines all our favorite sweets and serves them in divine, tiny canning jars.

For those interested in endearing recipes, party ideas and presentations for family-friendly comfort foods, Rachel Hollis’ Upscale Downhome is just the guide for you.

Homestyle Azerbaijani Cuisine Has Arrived

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New cuisines light us up, so when Feride Buyuran and Melissa’s Produce teamed up to host a tasting celebrating her new cookbook, Pomegranates & Saffron, A Culinary Journey to Azerbaijan, we jumped at the opportunity. Azerbaijan is surrounded by Iran, Armenia, Turkey, Georgia and Russia, and we found nods to all the neighboring countries in the beautifully prepared dishes.

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Feride’s award winning cookbook features a very accessible cooking style that celebrates Eastern European, Russian and Middle Eastern flavors. Ingredients and spices from the region are presented with a special flare we attribute to Ms. Buyuran’s culinary skills in her adaptation of recipes culled from family and friends.

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Dishes such as tender Meatballs in Sweet and Sour Tomato Sauce (page 71), have pristinely balanced flavors that make them comfort food well suited for a main course as well as a substantial party appetizer guaranteed to keep guests happy from a warming tray perch.

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Ganja-Style Chicken with Eggs (page 98), gives credit to Azerbaijani’s second largest city where this satisfying dish originated. The tender dark meat chicken and egg casserole is ideal for breakfast, brunch, lunch or a new spin on dinner.

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For a serious sampling of the Mediterranean table, the Vegetable Kabab Salad (page 42) is both refreshing and healthy.

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We were also impressed with the abundance of dill that spikes Feride’s perfectly cooked basmati rice, reminding us of the famous, aromatic Persian rice dishes celebrated internationally.

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The final treat that won our hearts and palates was the layer upon layer of pastry dough, not filo, that is the secret to the scrumptious Azerbaijani walnut baklava.  A mild sweetness and loads of crushed nut meats packed between layers of melt in your mouth pastry, is a labor intensive endeavor that is worth every minute put into it.

For those looking for something unique that is easy on the eyes, nose and palate, we strongly recommend purchasing Pomegranates & Saffron, at least until Feride opens her first restaurant.

Mexican Culinary Magic

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Pati Jinich introduces her new book Mexican Today by stating, “This is a book of recipes born out of passion: passion for my family; passion for my native Mexico and its ancient, modern and evolving foodways; passion for the changing Mexican cuisine within the United States, my home for the past eighteen years and the birthplace of my children; and passion for delicious, unforgettable, irresistible food.” And after sampling her recipes we definitely see, smell and taste exactly what she means.

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Pati’s Simmered Shaved Corn with Chiles and Epazote, glistens with full bodied sweetest from the freshest corn enhanced by her unique spice blend. We went back for seconds and thirds and would have continued but for our engorged, happy tummies.

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We were particularly taken with her Fast Track Chicken Pibil, a recipe that simplifies the cooking process without skimping on the smokey achiote essence or richness.

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She recommends serving the chicken pibil atop crisp corn tortillas and alongside her refreshing pickled onion and cabbage salad, also found in her book.

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We were tickled and surprised by the chewy sweet, salty and savory Everything in the Pantry Cookies which combine most of our own pantry staples including pretzel pieces.

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Pati’s drink recipes also surprise and delight and we found ourselves thoroughly enchanted by her honey and hibiscus flower tea with its understated, sweet-tart core.

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Mexican Today provides simplicity, as well as new and old twists, on contemporary Mexican cooking. The recipes reflect a long practiced fusion in the Mexican kitchen. Pati explores the way Mexican foods have merged and evolved on both sides of the border. A consummate storyteller, as evidenced by her five seasons as host of the PBS series “Pati’s Mexican Kitchen”, she shares not only the research but also personal experiences behind the making of this book. All her dedication and hard work unify into an inspired cookbook and a great read.

Link here Mexican Today to purchase Pati Jinich’s book from Amazon.

Southern MasterChef Winner Shares Her Favorite Recipes

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Whitney Miller’s second cookbook, New Southern Table, lightens up the cuisine of Whitney’s childhood and adds her interpretations of global cuisine to the mix.

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Her book launch, hosted by Melissa’s Produce, began with fresh fruit of the season including Christmas crunch grapes and cinnamon persimmons. Both sweet reminders of the glorious fruits and vegetables currently at their peak of fresh sweetness.

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Whitney introduced us to her cookbook with Creole succotash salad. Corn, grape tomatoes, cucumber, green onion and feta cheese are doused in a light vinaigrette. A side of bacon crumbles adds some salty, smokiness if guests choose to toss that in as well. Whitney grew up on a farm in Mississippi, so fresh produce abounds in her book.

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Chopped green beans and mushroom sauté, are covered with slivered almonds and dollops of goat cheese, creating an exhilarating combination of healthy, whole food bounty.

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Inspired by Roy Choi’s sliders she sampled in Los Angeles, Whitney crafted her Mississippi banh mi using seared beef tips and a carrot and broccoli slaw. She doesn’t hold back on the heat either, adding both sliced jalapeños and a mighty tasty Sriracha spread slathered on a sturdy french roll.

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Baked apple hand pies use the authors own olive oil pie dough recipe to insure the crusts stay flakey all the way around the cinnamon and granny smith apple filled centers.

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And simply because everyone loves brownies, she regaled us with her brownie cookies. These addicting, crisp edged, fudge centered disks of joy had us eating more than we care to admit. At least they were calories well spent.

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For guidance on healthier versions of Southern cuisine with a global slant from a 22 year old winner of MasterChef, pick up a copy of Whitney Miller’s New Southern Table and enjoy the ride.

 

Indian Cuisine Made Easy With Crack The Code

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The charming Nandita Godbole has come out with the second edition of her inspired book, Crack The Code, Cook Any Indian Meal With Confidence. This latest version contains more recipes and supports fine tuning of the culinary skills involved in the preparation of Indian food.

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The ancient secrets behind the multitude of spices, herbs, techniques, skills and kitchen supplies necessary to craft this wondrous cuisine are simplified and spelled out in detail by Nandita who has created a curry cravings code cheat sheet to help along the way.

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Ms. Godbole’s previous book, A Dozen Ways To Celebrate: Twelve Decadent Indian Feasts For the Culinary Indulgent, is a beginners guide to Ayurvedic principles and how they influence Indian cooking, allowing readers to enjoy both delicious and health propagating meals. In-depth sources for information on Ayurveda are available in her bibliography.

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A proponent of healthful eating, she supports procuring the best quality, unadulterated ingredients possible, such as those sold by Melissa’s produce embracing organic, locally sourced and environmentally sustainable attributes.

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Recipes suitable for vegetarians and omnivores alike fill her books and she includes guides for basic indian spices and how to create your own spice blends.

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Soups, salads, snacks, entrees and side dishes from exotic regions in India are easily broken down into bite sized morsels, so even those with relatively little cooking experience can master them.

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Nandita’s daughter and husband are heavily involved in the preparation, cooking, recording, public relations and photography surrounding her books.

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For those interested in capturing the essence and techniques of the Indian kitchen, Nandita’s books offer easy to read and understand, beautifully illustrated guidebooks to the cuisine.  For access to Crack The Code by Nandita Godbole as well as her previous book A dozen Ways To Celebrate, please click on the titles to be transported to Amazon where you can purchase electronic copies for your iPad or Kindle.

 

Healthy And Delicious From A French Kitchen

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We miss French food, there used to be more of it in Los Angeles at all price points, but now it seems to have fallen out of favor and we can’t understand why.  Susan Herrmann Loomis, the author of In A French Kitchen, believes it may be that people think French is too heavy or not healthy and she says that is not the case at all and then proves it with her latest cookbook.  Her story filled read explains French cuisine and why it’s so remarkable, while sharing the dishes she loves.

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Our introduction to her book began with  herb infused ice water, always a restorative libation that we keep forgetting is easy and elegant.  We are up for making this traditional drink a regular part of our lives, thank you Ms. Loomis for the reminder.

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Rosemary, lavender, basil, lemon, orange, cucumber, almost any combination, of fruit, herbs or vegetables will work.

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We like simple and Susan introduces a delightful appetizer of breakfast radishes sprinkled with salt then placed  atop french baguette slices slather with thick layers of butter.

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And not just any salt, but Fleur de Sel Guerande, a mineral heavy, grey salt that Susan finds superlative.  Based on how wonderful the radish appetizer is, we have to agree with her.

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The melon salad with shallot vinaigrette (page 93), combines sweet and savory in the most refreshing of ways.  The citrus, mint, shallots and freshly ground Szechuan peppercorns give the juicy sweet fruit something to play off.  We could eat this salad for breakfast, lunch and dinner all summer long.

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Mushrooms with chorizo (page 290) is another uncomplicated dish, requiring only that the mushroom cups be filled with Spanish chorizo, cracked pepper and herbs of your choice.  They are baked in the oven for about 5 minutes or until hot throughout.  Easy, attractive platters fly out the kitchen almost by themselves.

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Braised broccoli (page 76) takes advantage of the vibrant color and flavor of the cruciferous gem by honoring its natural character with onion, garlic and herbs.

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Sausages with tomatoes and golden rice (page 42) create a hearty dish that allows the spice of the sausages to incorporate with the tomato, onion and spices, the perfect match for turmeric scented basmati rice.

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Susan informs us that every meal she has in France, which has been her home for two decades, ends with a big green salad and we were regaled with simple greens lightly tossed with classic vinaigrette (page 96).  The perfect ending to a healthy, well balanced and delicious dinner.

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Of course we had to partake in her sweet pie pastry (page 208) filled with raspberries and creme.  The rich pastry shell is a wonderful base for the sweet-tart berries and the thick yellow creme which come together to form a sweet, tart, creamy, cookie crumble reminiscent fruit tart.

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Thank you Susan for reminding us that French food can be healthy, makes the best use of seasonal produce and celebrates the flavors of the French countryside that we can all relate to even if we’ve never set foot in your beautiful village.  Until Los Angeles expands her French offerings we are happy to use your guidance to indulge in some time honored French principles from the kitchen.

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In A French Kitchen by Susan Herrmann Loomis is now avaialbe through Amazon.

 

 

 

 

The Blender Girl Smoothies Are Outside The Box

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The always effervescent Tess Masters, also known as The Blender Girl, has just released The Blender Girl Smoothies, her collection of 100 inspired, healthy and scrumptious blender concoctions that make adding fruit, vegetables, herbs, spices, healthy oils and superfoods to our diet an absolute delight.

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The book is broken into headings, Light and Fruity, Clean and Green, An Exotic Ride and Dessert, so we can design our smoothies around how we’re feeling at any given moment.

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We’ve sampled a number of her recipes and are particularly thrilled with the cohesive balance and tangy, sweet, spicy blend of Pineapple Salsa (pg. 118) as well as the Raspberry-Lemon Cheesecake (pg. 186), where raw cashews mimic the flavor, creaminess and delight of the rich dessert.   We are looking forward to checking out the Spicy Mango Magic (pg. 140) and her Pina Colada (pg. 112). 

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Tess turns us on to the myriad of ingredients we never imagined pulling together over our yogurt, banana and arugula smoothies that we have been repeating for over a year.  Wheatgrass, natural extracts, orange blossom water, flax seed, chilies and cacao are just a fraction of the healthy options available to boost both flavor and healing properties in our morning or anytime smoothie routine.

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Blenders of all sorts work beautifully with Tess’ step by step instructions, from order of ingredients added to secrets for sneaking in the super healthy stuff.

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We have been using Melissa’s Produce in our smoothies, from their sweet seedless pearl sized champagne grapes to their super spicy arugula, with stunning results.  It’s important to remember that the higher quality, pesticide free, chemical free, non GMO, locally sourced produce we use, the greater the benefit to the body.  We are now intent on making sure we buy organic within the dirty dozen category.

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For a little help in the health and wellness arena that tastes wonderful, Tess Masters and The Blender Girl Smoothies book gives us a new perspective and a ton of options to spice up our life and our wellbeing. Thank you Tess.

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For more information on Tess Masters and her vegan, gluten free world, check out her web site healthyblenderrecipes.com                                                               

Also at:

Facebook – The Blender Girl   Pinterest – The Blender Girl                                 Twitter – @theblendergirl       Instagram – @the blendergirl

Healthy Eating Made Scrumptious

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Amy Riolo has a new book out to add to her exciting collection.  The Ultimate Mediterranean Diet Cookbook delves deeper into the benefits and delights of the world’s healthiest diet.

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She divides her book into the following sections: whole grains, fruit, vegetables, legumes and nuts, olive oil, fish and seafood, dairy, poultry, eggs, meat and sweets, each with nutritional benefits, history, culture, lore and recipes.  In the fruit section we are quenched by her revitalizing North African fruit “cocktail” (page 50) of orange juice, strawberry puree, pomegranate syrup as well as the seeds.  We drink and eat this with a spoon to make sure we get the crunch of pomegranate seed in every sip.

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From her vegetable section, we find the green beans, potato and cherry tomatoes with pesto (page 70) a well balanced blend of fresh produce, natural textures and herb driven flavors.

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Quinoa, arugula and fig salad (page 40) from the whole grains section, has us embracing healthy dining with new vigor.

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Citrus marinated salmon with fennel creme (page 116) is an easy to make dish that tastes like it was slaved over for hours.

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And we love the fact that she doesn’t demonize dessert, but instead makes the fresh and wholesome into healthy treats like raspberry citrus clafoutis (page 174).

For those looking to explore the benefits of the Mediterranean diet and expand their repertoire with easy, whole food recipes, Amy Riolo’s, Ultimate Mediterranean Diet Cookbook is a first-rate resource.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Global Yogurt Culture

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For those of you as crazy about yogurt as we are, there’s now expert guidance in the form of a new cookbook titled, Yogurt Culture. Author, Cheryl Sternman Rule begins with her passion for the subject, defines and moves through the history, reputation and fact versus fiction, culminating in a bevy of yogurt recipes that embrace a global perspective and contributions from far flung destinations.

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Cheryl offers step by step instructions on how to make your own homemade yogurt, Greek yogurt and Labneh, the Middle Eastern thick strained yogurt.  You can choose to try your hand at the art form, or simply pick up a container of the culture rich stuff at your local market for use in the recipes she supplies.

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We were refreshed and surprised by the ease of preparation for her pineapple lassi (page 132), a creamy mix of yogurt, frozen pineapple, cardamom and saffron threads.

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Another knockout in both simplicity and pure smooth satisfaction, is the Greek Yogurt with Lemon Vinaigrette (page 111).  There is something that happens when wholesome, straightforward ingredients are combined in just the right way that creates a finished pleasure-inducing product beyond what one would expect from such basic ingredients.

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Shitake frittata with lebneh, kale and shallots (page 185,) is perfect for a party and can be served hot or at room temperature.   It’s dollops of thick strained yogurt look alluring against the green kale and egg yellow.

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lebneh-stuffed peppers with feta and pistachio (page 182), can be made with any type of pepper, the little sweet ones play especially well off the tang of yogurt and feta.

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Mixed fruit and yogurt sheet cake for a crowd (page 256), is a sweet completion to any meal that capitalizes on natures bounty.

Because this is such a stunningly beautiful, well organized, comprehensive, photo heavy cookbook, with easy to follow directions, dedicated to simple, creative uses for a staple in our kitchen, we consider this book a highlight in our collection.  Thank you Cheryl for sharing the history, internationality and versatility of one of our favorite dairy products.

Yogurt Culture, by Cheryl Sternman Rule available at AmazonBarnes and NobleIndie Bound and Amazon Canada.