Posts filed under ‘Cookbooks’

Cooking some meals from Ferran Adria’s new book, The Family Meal

The hardest part of making dinner for the extended family (or even on a regular weeknight with just the 3 of us) is figuring out what to make.  Making meals is not at all difficult.  So, when I saw reviews for Ferran Adria’s new book, The Family Meal, I thought it would be fun to see what set meals he has.

~The beginning of the book describes ingredients and cooking techniques, as well as philosophy.  Clearly, getting everything ready makes things easier.  He also includes basic sauces that are used in many of the recipes.  (One short cut is to buy some of these pre-made.)

~In any case, as would be expected, when you’re cooking for extended family, there’s always food preferences to consider and dietary restrictions, not to mention Lent.  It’s nice to see all 31 meals laid out in a calendar form – You can easily choose things to mix & match meals.  Although the chef discusses side dishes in a small section, each the meal contains an appetizer, main, and dessert; each set has meat or fish.  So, if you’re vegetarian, this would not be the book for you.  Also, given our changes, I have definitely added sides of vegetables or salad to each of the meals I tried.

~What’s nice about the recipes is that each step is shown but you can get this type of cooking notes from looking at websites.  Still, it does give a benchmark.

Caesar Salad

#1:  For my first try, I combined the Caesar salad and Santiago cake from Meal 1 with the Pasta Bolognese from Meal 2.   Both the salad and the pasta were very good.



*For the pasta, I increased the quantities for the recipe to make it a main but not by much and it worked well.  

Rather than increasing all the meat, I added tempeh (steamed and separated) to the mix. The combination of meats in the pasta was perfect; the tempeh added texture but did not add a huge vegetable flavor. (Note that I’m only showing the sauce.)

*The biggest problem I had was with the Santiago cake.  The proportions for a regular pan size seem just off.  The first panel said to grease a 12×20” square pan but the amount of batter seems like too little for that size pan.  I tried a 9” spring form to start but ended up changing it to an 8” spring form.  Without having transferred, I think it would have ended up just a bit better with no altitude adjustment necessary.  The flavor was good and so might be worth trying again.

#2:  For try 2, I made the roasted vegetables and salmon stewed with lentils from Meal 29, and the chocolate cookies from Meal 2.  I made rolls to go with the meal because I thought it would be nice to have something to dip into the stew.  Since I didn’t have much time, I made quick cooking tapioca with coconut milk.

*The roasted vegetables were good but quite standard – nothing special. (I don’t like eggplant and so subbed zucchini.)

*The salmon stewed in lentils were delicious.  This dish required the sofrito and the picada sauces – both smelled and tasted great.  They may have added to the dish’s flavor but also disappeared a bit into the sauce.  It was hard to tell that the extra work had gone into it.

Salmon with Lentils

*The chocolate cookies ended up OK but were again a problem.  The batter was too running to shape into anything.  I added just enough additional flour to get to hold.  As you can see, I rolled and put into a paper towel roll to keep in a circular shape.  However, when I took them out, even after the long freezer stay, they were so soft that I ended up scooping.  If I were to make these again, I would add a lot more flour (and maybe some cocoa to keep the chocolate intensity).  On the other hand, one could just add a bit more flour, as I did above, and then just scoop onto the pans…quite good made in this way, too.

#3:  For try 3, I made the cheeseburger from Meal 1, and the coconut  macaroons from Meal 6.  I served this with a focaccia, details below.

*The cheeseburger mixture is reminiscent of a meat loaf mixture.  The added ingredients help to make the burger stay moister.

*The focaccia I made came from Nancy Silverton that you can find on the Los Angeles Times website ( Nancy Silverton’s foccacia.)  Because I was using this recipe with the cheese burgers, I kept the top simple with fresh thyme and a drizzle of olive oil on the top and baked as described in the topping recipes.  It was delicious.

*I made the macaroons with the regular sugared coconut shreds from the regular grocery store.  So, I reduced the sugar by a half (and could probably reduce it more).  It turned out perfectly.  As a gluten free treat, it’s also incredibly useful to have in the arsenal.

*I served the macaroons along side some tapioca pudding.  Just to let you know, I’ve been very excited about cooking with small pearl tapioca – as opposed to quick cooking.  While it does take a significantly longer time to cook, the texture is unique and completely worth it.

#4:  For the try 4, I made the roasted chicken and pineapple dessert from Meal 22, and the Tagliatelle carbonara from Meal 2.

*I followed the directions for the chicken as directed, with the chicken placed breast-side down first and then flipped over.  This seemed a bit unnecessary and the top seemed a little flat out of the oven.  However, since I served the pieces sliced on a platter, no one saw the top but me.  (Note that I used a roasting thermometer that lets you set an ending temperature.)  The chicken was juicy and delicious.

*The carbonara is interesting because it’s not exactly like an Italian carbonara but does have some similarities.  I think it relies less on the cheese than on just pure fat.  In the recipe, the bacon is fried and then cream is added.  This is cooked for 20 minutes (which flavors the cream).  If I were making this dish again, I would drain the bacon and then cook the bacon and cream together.  This wouldn’t diminish the amount of fat in the dish by a whole lot and make it just slightly healthier.  I made the recipe for 6 servings but used only 4 yolks.  This was just fine and also reduced some of the fat.  Note that to make the dish even healthier, I really lightly blanched some asparagus to add.  With the pieces of bacon and asparagus, it was so pretty.

*I decided to use honey in place of the molasses for the pineapple dessert.  I also baked the pineapple a little in the oven before cutting into serving slices and continuing with the recipe. I warmed the honey in the microwave and then zested the lime on top.  It was great.

~What do I think?  Nice, instructive, flexible…  Heavy on the protein — The combinations could use more added vegetables.  One could skip the appetizer and add that extra vegetable or add vegetables into the various dishes (as I did with the carbonara dish.

*The dishes with protein work really well.  They work true to the recipe and require a little less intuition.  The baked goods needed a little more cooking by feel in order to make work.  (The pineapple dish obviously didn’t require any adjustments but it’s more of a “way to serve” rather than a recipe.)  I would try some of them again but might research to check proportions before starting.

*Note that the quantitites are a bit large and so you can easily adjust the appetizer recipes up by a little to make them into the main and the main could be adjusted down a little to make normal portion sizes.  (Portion size is extremely important.  You can eat a little bit fattier or “bad for you” things, if you keep the portion sizes reasonable.)

~Would I do any of these menus again?  Well, loosely speaking, I would.  Actually, I didn’t do a single one of the menus as laid out – instead I mixed and matched.  This was easy to do because everything was presented so nicely in the calendar form.


March 19, 2012 at 3:03 pm Leave a comment

Chinese New Year 2012 (including Superbowl Sunday)

Gung Hay Fat Choy – Happy Chinese New Year.

This year was different, as I suppose it is most years; but, of course, it was a bit more noticeable this year.  15 days allows usually for 2 weekends with 2 big Chinese banquets.  Since the whole thing started on a Monday, it was hard to justify stopping everything to do a banquet.  Instead I brought lunch in for mother from Zoe Ma Ma (a great local hole-in-the-wall Chinese place in downtown Boulder).  She was confused until she started to eat the noodles…!  After gymnastics, we met my sister and her family at another non-fancy Chinese restaurant in north Boulder.  It was fun all around and with no cleaning.

~Over the course of the next few days, I incorporated the dishes that needed to be eaten and tried new Asian dishes.  (On the first day, we had dan tart – custard tarts, almond jello with fruit, and CNY candy from the red box.)  We ate steamed fish, long noodles, etc.  We brought in many items for my mother.  I made ji (traditional rice noodle dish), orange beef, gai lan, and almond jello; my sister made lamb and broccoli, walnut shrimp, and a Japanese bean/rice mixture.

The last dessert I made for that big celebration with mom was Pichet Ong’s pineapple tarts – that look like little tangerines. (See The Sweet Spot.) I made them last year but this year I made just a few modifications and it seemed to go a bit more easily than the year before.  They tasted amazing.

Then over the whole course of the 2 weeks: dan go (egg steamed sponge cake), almond cookies, Japanese Wagu hamburgers, steamed whole fish, peanut noodles, and steamed fat go little cakes.




~Between Superbowl Sunday and Chinese New Year this year, we also celebrated National Chocolate Cake day!  Here are the cupcakes I made:

~Superbowl Sunday fell the day before the end of CNY.  We (my sister’s family and my family) have a great time making all sorts of bad-for-you-foods – noshing and watching the game and commercials.  This time only one of us was truly invested and so it was a bit more relaxing.  We could enjoy the exciting ending without getting knots in our stomach.  Anyway, my sister used her new 3 crock crockpot for queso, vegetarian chili, and regular chili and she brought 3 other dips with chips.  My daughter made a shortbread sandwich cookie – the first time she did everything with just coaching and hints from me….(She even made her own homemade vanilla pudding mixture to use in the cookie recipe.)

~I made 3 types of wings – 2 different Asian wings and 1 very hot Tobasco wing (using the Tobasco wing sauce, along with another secret mixture) and non-alcoholic sangria.




I also made Boston cream pie (because it was suggested on some site) using Gale Gand’s cake, a pastry cream from some where else, and my own chocolate glaze.  Finally, I usually make regular nachos but decided to make a sweet nacho… crisped tortilla triangles with cinnamon sugar in the oven, sprinkled melted milk chocolate and homemade dulce de leche sauce, finely chopped fruit, and shavings of white chocolate…. The last was one of my favorite dishes of the evening.

This was in some ways a more relaxing way to do things and very much more multi-cultural due to Superbowl Sunday coming at the end.  It did feel very much like we celebrated the whole time and everyone left with good feelings…  Gung Hay Fat Choy — I hope your year will be a good one.

February 11, 2012 at 3:17 pm 2 comments

Daring Bakers Challenge July 2011 Fraisier

Daring Baker’s Challenge July 2011


Jana of Cherry Tea Cakes was our July Daring Bakers’ host and she challenges us to make Fresh Frasiers inspired by recipes written by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson in the beautiful cookbook Tartine.

(You can find the recipe here:  57_Fresh_Fraisiers-DB_July_2011.)


For this challenge, we needed to make the chiffon cake and pastry cream from the recipes provided.  From there we could take it in any direction.  (By the way, the cookbook, Tartine, is fantastic.  I have made a few items from it and all have turned out wonderfully.)

*So…  Fraisier is similar to Fraise which is strawberry in French.  While I love strawberries, cherries have also just come into season.  I decided to make a Black Forest version because cherries are in season.

First, I made the chiffon cake.  In order to give the cake just a tiny bit more chocolate burst, I decided to add chocolate extract, as well as the vanilla extract and the cocoa called for in the recipe.

I also didn’t want to bother with dividing the cake and so used 2 cake pans.

While the cake cooled, I made the pastry cream.  This is an incredibly involved pastry cream.  It’s actually a lightened one – that is, whipped cream is folded into the pastry cream base and the pastry cream is mixed with a melted gelatin.  The gelatin is what eventually holds the whole cake together.

Note that in order to cool the pastry cream quickly, I spread the it on top of plastic wrap on a small baking sheet.  Then I covered the top of the pastry cream with another layer of plastic wrap (to prevent a skin from developing).  Using the method of mixing the gelatin into the pastry cream over the bain marie was good, but I had to whisk a lot in order to make sure that the pastry cream was perfectly smooth.

*The cherries took a long time to pit and cut in half.  When I tried to put them around the edges, they didn’t stay up.  So, I piped a thin layer of the pastry cream.  I ended up facing the cherries with the rounded side outward because it just looked better.

To decorate the top, I whipped together some stabilized whipped cream.  Then I spread some on top and piped little rosettes to hold the whole cherries (with stems) that I had kept for decoration.  (I saw a picture of a black forest cake with the whole stemmed cherries and it just looked dramatic.  It made sense to try to re-create it.)

Note that I didn’t use plastic wrap to line the edges.  Instead I had professional plastic strips that are a bit sturdier.  They allowed me to use a slightly bigger spring form pan and just pull the strip tight around the cake (holding it on the outside with duct tape.)  Worked perfectly….

Result:  The cake was tall and miraculously stayed together when cut.  It was extremely dramatic.  While the black forest cakes on the web seem to have denser chocolate cake and vary in decoration widely, I enjoyed thinking about changing the Fraisier to fit the bill.  Everyone really liked this version – They thought that the cake had enough chocolate flavor and the whole thing was a lot lighter than it looks.  That is, for a summer cake, it was perfect – light (not heavy, as a butter cake would be), fruity, and creamy (but not overwhelming like a full-fat custard).

*Summary: While this is quite an involved production, each of the pieces was not difficult (and the pastry cream could be simplified).  I could see myself making it again with the strawberries.  It was a fantastic, light summer dessert and everyone liked it.

July 27, 2011 at 5:57 am 2 comments

Chinese New Year 2011

Ever since I finished college, I’ve been very interested in learning and keeping my mother’s traditions.  For several years when I lived in New Mexico, I also read books and the internet and gathered the information – including my mother’s own handwritten notes.  There are differences between what my mother does and what is considered “traditional”; however, after so many generations of the family living here, it’s not surprising.

~This year is different from previous years.  My mother is now living here in town.  So, aside from getting everything ready in my own home, I have also had to get everything ready for her.  This is a great honor for me; but, as you can imagine, it has meant a great deal of extra work – on top of my actual paid work and the general care of my family.  (The 15 days after Feb 3rd are filled with Superbowl Sunday, 2 birthdays and Valentine’s Day.)

~Feb 3rd was the first day of Chinese New Year.  I made Dan go, red bean soup, and fat go (or faat go, fatt go, fatt gou or fatt gao – all spellings on the web for prosperity cake).  The dan go is my mother’s recipe for steamed egg cake. (I prefer my mother’s cake. I have made this with a rice flour mix substitute to mimic neen go’s rice cake idea (also spelled neen gow).)  The red bean soup is a cobbled together from The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen. Finally, the fat go used half the pancake recipe from The Breakfast book plus the rest from the prosperity cake recipe of Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan’s website. (Notice that the cakes blossom up – into what look like flower petals.  I added more baking powder, even though we’re at altitude, to insure the flower – otherwise it wouldn’t be the same.)

origami fortune cookies

~I visited mom after breakfast and brought her a piece of dango and some of the sesame and peanut candies from my red box (as shown above).  This was my mom’s box.  She gave it to me after the first Chinese New Year in my own place after college.  I fill it with the Chinese candies from the store that I like and the Valentine’s day candies because they are often red, gold, and silver.

~We took mom out for a traditional Chinese dinner.  It was good – 3 cold dishes (vegetable stuffed tofu, cold chicken, and a scallop/shrimp ceviche like dish), whole fish, duck, Cantonese style noodles, vegetables in deep fried potato dish, lobster, and sesame seed balls for dessert.  I had not seen mom eat so much since she’s arrived.

~On Friday I went to visit my mother in the morning – brought her a pine nut cookie and another sesame candy.  That evening the extended family ate the leftovers – I added fresh rice and peanut noodles because there was not quite enough of each item left for the number of people.

~In previous years, I have had multiple CNY dinners, inviting many guests.  I am still not quite into the routine of this year.  So, my sister and I just celebrated together.  She brought 2 dishes (walnut shrimp and Chinese chicken wings) and I made whole fish and ji.  Ji consists of rice noodles, fat choy (mushroom), dung go (shiitake), and cabbage (which I forgot) and it can be made vegetarian but I used dried shrimp and oyster sauce (in the sauce for the dish).

~For dessert, I made almond jello with mandarin oranges, lychees, and maraschino cherries (for the bright red color, not for health).  I also tried “tangerine pie” (caramelized pineapple pastries) from Pichet Ong’s cookbook, The Sweet Spot. This is an involved recipe.  I made the dough and filling separately on Friday (to let the dough have time to rest).  Today I brought the dough to workable condition and made the rounds.  They have to sit in the fridge before you can brush them with yolk, stick the clove in (not edible), and bake.  However, they tasted great…

~One of my friends posted that she had missed National Nutella day. When I looked, I found David Lebovitz’s site stating that World Nutella day is today. I hadn’t missed it…! I took a brownie recipe, removed 1/3 of the batter, mixed the nutella in, and then swirled it on top. It was very chocolatey…

February 5, 2011 at 10:27 pm Leave a comment

Daring Bakers Dec 2010 – Stollen

The 2010 December Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Penny of Sweet Sadie’s Baking.  She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make Stollen. She adapted a friend’s family recipe and combined it with information from friends, techniques from Peter Reinhart’s book………and Martha Stewart’s demonstration.


The Stollen is a great December choice because many friends and neighbors have a relative who made these as they were growing up.  They are usually made with a lot of alcohol which allows them to stay “fresh” for a longer period of time.  Because they are studded with dried and candied fruits, they also seem like a treat.

~I made Peter Reinihart’s version last year while working through his book <The Bread Baker’s Apprentice>.  This time I used the challenge recipe but did not use the rum, nor did I use the candied fruit.  I used dried cherries soaked in orange juice in place of the raisins.  I divided the dough in half so that I could try something else with the other half.  (To see my full baking adventure with this book, click here.)

~For the first half, I made the ring and forgot to cut the slits.  I tried to overlap the layers in the portion to connect but did not succeed.  The round split and I ended up with a crescent.  I suspect that the slits would have prevented the separating into a crescent form.

~For the second half, I took some almond paste (less sugar than marzipan in the store) and did the traditional method of rolling it into a log and placing it along the fold.  I had leftover almond paste and decided I wanted to stuff it into the front smaller section in order to have more almond.  You can see that the flatter portion ended up like a thin, flat roll on the other side.

~Penny suggests 3 layers of powdered sugar (while Reinhart uses 2).  This does  create a great coat.

~Result:  Two huge loaves….  Very huge.  The main part of the bread tasted good and the almond paste made it even better.  With the great taste and dramatic look, I’ll definitely do this again – with almond paste.

December 27, 2010 at 9:56 am Leave a comment

BBA Last two: Potato-Cheddar-Chive and Roasted onion-Asiago

I finished the last two breads this week from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.  It is true that I skipped the rye breads because I actually get ill when I eat rye; however, I made all the other ones and am glad that I completed this much.

37. Potato, Cheddar, and Chive Torpedoes:  I liked the idea of this bread because there’s a lot of cheese but most of it is on the inside and so therefore will not burn.  Also, using potatoes should keep it more moist for a longer period of time.  I don’t know what happened but the bread loaves were huge.  From the description (to lay the loaves width-wise on the pan), I had the impression that they’d be small.  However, when I rolled them out, they were so large that I put them length-wise on the pan.  The flavors were good.  I’d actually prefer more cheese flavor some how.

38. Roasted onion and asiago miche:  So, the answer to the “not enough cheese flavor” was definitely answered in this bread.  There’s cheese in the dough, as well as on top.  I did have to cover the top in order to get the dough to bake long enough (until it was done). I made half the recipe and the loaf was still huge.  The flavors were amazing – from the roasted onion (which I put under the final cheese on top rather than above it) to the green onion, chives and cheese in the dough to the long hold times for the dough itself.  In some ways, it was a fitting last bread because so many of the breads in this book use a several day method or a form of autolyse – barm, and mixture sitting for 30 min after brief mix, over-nighting in the fridge…  The texture was also very good – although I think that there were a few odd spaces where I pressed the dough in and it rose up around those places.  I loved this bread.  There were so many layers of flavor that it’s hard to describe.  You’ll just have to make it.

What do I think now that I’ve made all of these breads? First, I’m really glad that I went through the book.  It was fun and I feel more confident.  I also think that I want to go back and make some of the earlier breads again now that I feel like I’ve mastered more of the skills.  There were some very stand-out breads that I will make again for fun:  Portuguese bread, Roasted onion from above, the Greek bread and the bagels (which I’ve already re-made many times now).  Thanks to Nicole of Pinch My Salt for starting the challenge and Peter Reinhart for writing his fantastic book.

April 16, 2010 at 10:07 am 2 comments

BBA – white bread & whole wheat bread

~It’s been a long time since I baked and a long story about why. Needless to say, I haven’t been near my own kitchen until this week and have been happily baking away.

~I’m nearing the end for the Bread Baker’s Apprentice. There were 2 more breads and 2 Artisan breads left. In the last 2 days, I baked the 2 breads in the regular section. I think I’ve done one or the other of the versions already but it’s been so long that it makes sense to just bake them again.

35. White bread (version 1): This version has so much butter that it’s actively hard to tell whether you’ve gotten the right consistency. The dough just feels way too soft. However, not only did the bread rise to a nice height, it tasted fantastic…. This bread was so good that you definitely don’t need any added butter or jam or anything. I would make this again.  (My daughter has been eating slices of this bread for her lunches.)

36. Whole wheat bread: I bake a lot of whole wheat bread; however, it’s usually a mix of white and whole wheat. Adding white gives it more texture, ability to form gluten and a lighter taste and texture. This bread requires an overnight soaker and poolish – These both add flavor.  (My family did not care for this bread.  I transformed it into a garlic bread loaf and that was very well received.)

April 1, 2010 at 7:38 pm Leave a comment

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