Monday, January 25, 2016

Cooks a-Plenty!

Life happens. I've disappeared from blogging for about 3 months, then life happened, and I just had to blog again.

As a mom of two very spirited kids, everyday seems like a wonderful whirlwind of chaos at home. Outside of work, I find myself constantly shuttling kids between preschool, home and various activities - swimming, ballet, gymnastics, and Hebrew class. I love it, and love that they love being busy, but I realize that I have been so occupied with family activities that I really don't do any socializing outside of my work. I don't really mind as my work tends to be very social - with meetings, interacting at conferences, and more meetings. So... what's the issue, dear? None really. Life happens, and I'm ok with that.

Still, it was a pleasant thing when a group of wonderful folks at our shul came up with an idea for a cookbook club. I happen to like cooking - passionate even. The kitchen is my lab at home. I can experiment and create wonderful things. Sometimes, I have to calmly put out fires too - just like 2 days ago. See? I've been well-trained.

Back to the cookbook club. If you like to read, cook, or better yet, read a cookbook - try joining/starting a cookbook club! Make recipes from the same book and feast as food critics. The idea is simple:
  1. The group selects one cookbook 
  2. Everyone picks a recipe from it (ensuring all courses are covered), 
  3. cooks the dish unaltered (ideally), 
  4. brings it to the group dinner (rotating hosts), 
  5. describes the process to the group,
  6. and the group critics the dishes, while enjoying company and food

It's all win. It's one day a month for this mom to socialize, and discuss one thing I'm most passionate about (outside of family) with similarly passionate people. 

The book we chose was Plenty, a vegetarian cookbook by Israeli chef/author, Yotam Ottolenghi. It's a beautiful book from cover-to-cover, featuring recipes that I'm unfamiliar with. (Translation: I love a good challenge.)  After borrowing a copy from the library, I was tempted to buy the book, but thought I'd wait until after I've tried the dishes during the club dinner. This turned out to be a good decision.

During dinner, it became evident that a lot of the dishes were time-consuming to make. This is not really a deterrent as far as I'm concerned, but something to note if you have very limited cooking time. I also found, from trying 2 recipes outside of that dinner and during the dinner, that as described some of the recipes just didn't work and would need to be tweaked. One recipe I tried, the glass noodles with edamame, was so bland that I had to change it so much it didn't resemble to recipe at all when I was done with it.  The other dish, soba noodles with eggplant and mango, was spectacular. I did, however, used honey instead of sugar, and used mirin instead of rice vinegar.

There were some standout dishes from last night's dinner though. If I were to pick 2: I really loved the peach and goat cheese soufflé, which I'm looking forward to making but will probably add a drizzle of honey, and replace the cream with almond milk. I also liked the lima beans with feta, sumac and sorrell as is, and would note the tip on how to avoid frothing (add oil to beans, but will also use a bigger pot)

Now for the dish I actually made, Gado-gado, which Ottolenghi described as a "substantial salad". 'Substantial' would be not strong enough. Substantial salad in my book would be a Cobb salad. Also, prep-wise, this is no salad. If it involves making a paste for 1 hour in multiple pots, and separately blanching veggies (potatoes in turmeric, cabbage, green beans, bean sprouts, etc.), and deep-frying shallots and wanton wrappers (or cassava chips), it doesn't qualify as salad in my book. I believe I used a total of 5 pots and pans for that 'salad'. And did I mention that not only does it have hard boiled eggs, but tofu too? Trust me, this is a main course. So, was it worth the trouble? Yes and No.  Yes, because... just look at that beautiful and colorful plate. It shows the layers of laborious cooking, methinks. Or, to pick up the yiddish word I learned yesterday - it's potchke! Heck, all the dishes last night had some potchke level of prep. It can certainly and easily take the centerpiece of your Shabbat menu. Nope. Not a salad. On a certain level, I felt that it was also a NO, not worth it to make all the steps as outlined. For instance, why grind and boil the peanuts to make the satay sauce? Why not just add raw peanut butter? Will I make it again? For sure, but with tweaks. I will use less sugar in the sauce, and add more lemongrass, and  possibly lime. The satay was too sweet for my taste, masking the citrus flavor of the lemongrass completely. I may also just skip the deep-fried wanton wrappers, and serve vegetarian wanton soup instead! 

As for the cookbook club? I can't wait until the next one in February!