August Cookbook of the Month: Soul
August is just around the corner, and to welcome it, I have chosen Soul by Todd Richards as our August cookbook of the month. I was first introduced to Todd Richards by a Bon Appetit podcast on July 5th where Adam Rappaport had him in for an interview. They talked extensively about the cookbook and some of the recipes within it, and I knew instantly this would be one to add to my list. This cookbook would be a new experience for me.
Todd Richards is a James Beard Award nominated chef from Atlanta, self taught by years and years in restaurants. I can really appreciate this kind of grit, but what sets him apart from the other chefs who’ve provided my monthly cookbooks is that he is an African American Chef, part of a vastly underrepresented demographic in cooking despite the deep impact of African American cooking on the American experience.
I was fascinated by his journey as he told it on the July 5th podcast, and so when his cookbook arrived on my doorstep this week. I was excited to see where his journey would take me. Already, I can see that he balks at the stereotype of soul food that I have in in my head. Yes, there is an entire section devoted to collard greens. But do you know how he tops that bad boy off? Collard Green Ramen. Collard. Green. Ramen.
I have never actually cooked collard greens for a variety of reasons. Firstly, I didn’t know what they looked like. Secondly, I never had a recipe that didn’t sound like a pot of boiled leaves. Todd Richards makes this ingredient welcoming to me, and I will be tackling it for sure.
On deck for cooking this month:
If these little peeks aren’t enough to convince you to cook along with me, may I just say that Amazon voted this cookbook as the best of 2018 so far? Even in just a cursory look through at Todd Richards’ recipes has me very excited to begin cooking his unique southern dishes. I very much look forward to shattering both expectations and stereotypes I’ve developed over the years regarding both southern and African American cooking through this cookbook.
July Cookbook of the Month Finale
Dining In by Alison Roman has been an experience. When it first arrived, I spent hours pouring over it’s pages and deciding which recipes to pick up for July. I got distracted by each personal section she wrote to go with the recipes or sections. I knew by the first few pages that I was going to like her. She’s such a personable writer, which I find makes a huge difference in a cookbook. When I feel like it’s really the cook and not a persona, I find I trust what’s in the pages a little more.
Like most cookbooks, Dining In is littered with a variety of personal blurbs and looks into the woman’s life that lead her up to writing the book. Together with the way she describes her pantry staples and condiments, you can almost feel like you’re in her kitchen with her. Would that I could one day be in the kitchen with her. She has a lot of good tips for home cooks within the pages of Dining In. I would relish the opportunity to probe her brain for some tricks at the stovetop.
I approached her recipes with the trust that her opener gave me. There are many meals within these pages that can see some use with my husband and I. My rules on pescetarianism are slowly growing lax, so we tried some of the meat centered recipes that involve chicken or pork on top of her little neck clams recipe. Alison Roman has created a few classics that are going to land right in the middle of our rotation.
Speaking of that littleneck clam recipe, Littleneck clams with green garlic and leftover wine, I made a good discovery with this when I cooked it for my husband. Turns out that he likes cannellini beans! Those cannellini beans were a surprising addition to the recipe that helped to bulk it out just enough to feed us both. Rob is a huge clams guy, so the bag we got wouldn’t have filled us both without that surprise touch of beans added to the dish. We have had no shortage of good clams recipes in the last few books we’ve tried.
There was, however, one little disaster that I am sure I brought onto myself while working through her recipes. She has an imposter tacos al pastor that I was very interested in when I found it in the book. I could not get ahold of the chilies that she calls for, and so I tried using jalapenos. You have to char them and then boil them for a bit in water, which I assume is to neutralize the capcasin in the peppers.
I did those things, but not for long enough, I think. After marinating the section of pork and then cooking them to a nice char, I started to have some trouble breathing. That trouble lasted a whole week. I can only attribute it to burning the ground up jalapenos and breathing it all in. Still, it was delicious afterward. I know that it’s all about correcting how I went about the recipe, but goddamn.
Don’t let this one bad experience get you down on the book, though! She has a good section for desserts in the back that I still haven’t gotten into as much as I would like. Her famous cookies are in there, and my first attempt came out a little dry. I will definitely be giving it a shot again to do them justice. She and many others out on the internet swear they will never make normal chocolate chip cookies after making her recipe, so I must be the problem here!
To make things easier on her readers, Alison Roman offers alternatives to some of the ingredients that may be hard on the average reader to find, like Labne, green garlic, and the infamous creme fraiche that I can just never seem to find. It’s a nice touch from some of the other cookbooks I’ve been looking at since we started this whole cookbook of the month thing began. She knows what’s going on in some of these little towns.
She knows the kitchens of her readers in that she absolutely understands we don’t want to be slaving over the oven all goddamn day just to make Tuesday night dinner. Her recipes, as the title implies, are for dining in. Some of them do take a little time, but the vast variety of true meals are quick, and the side dishes are easy to make alongside any piece of meat you might decide to serve.
If you are looking for a cookbook with a variety of challenges as well as some quick dinners, Dining In is a good investment. Where some cookbooks are no good for anything but the actual recipes, Alison Roman crafts an interesting narrative section to section to help keep you engaged as you browse. Those personal sections--- they mean something here. They don’t fade into the pictures of food.
Credit where credit is due: Dining In is a champion of the home kitchen. The pictures are beautiful, the writing is fantastic, and I can only hope to continue cooking from it in the future. I will be sure to give you an update when I finally get a successful turnout of her cookies.
Bread Part 2
It’s now been almost three months since I bought a jar of yeast and set out on my bread baking journey, inspired by Paul Hollywood, Mary Berry, and my baking waifu Amanda. I have learned a lot in the pursuit of the perfect french bread loaf, and I have returned to you with the lessons I gathered along the way. There is so much that recipes themselves just don’t prepare you for before you start cooking.
I hear in a lot of places that cooking is instinct. This flies in the face of the supposed rule that baking is a science. If you were primarily a cookie baker (like me) before going to bread, the exactness is hard to break. It serves bread only to a point; then it all comes down to instinct and feeling. When it comes to bread, I didn’t have this.
I can cook pasta to perfect al dente by instinct alone. I know my salmon is ready by the color, when to flip my steak by feeling in own chest. Is my water for my yeast too hot? Hell if I know. Did I use too much water even if it's right on the nose with the recipe? Apparently. I struggled week after week to find the sweet spots. Every Saturday morning was an exercise in trial and error.
I woke up, made my grocery list, and started my dough. Every time, it felt like the water came at a different temperature. The yeast activated immediately, foaming up, or it did nothing at all. I put my faith in a bread god which failed me more often than it heard me. I did not know the prayers the bread god wanted to hear. It was luck when I got a good loaf, and I did everything I could to replicate that luck with little success.
With the heat now settling into the Delmarva peninsula, the measurements and proofing time are all over the place. The ‘feeling’ for baking is so temperamental! It’s like the bread just isn't into the mood to let me do my thing with it. Not that I can blame it, really. I get moody when it's hot too. So I’ve changed the kind of recipes I try when I can't trust the weather. The Italian loaf I replicated week in and week out just acts differently in the summer climate.
I have plans to start trying flatbreads that cook on the stovetop to see if that works any better for me in all of this heat. Dining In has a good sour cream flatbread recipe that appears reliable, and I’m sure I’ll talk about it at the end of the month when I finish my cookthrough.
My hope is to continue learning the feel for bread in the same way I have learned to feel other food preparations. Everyday, I get a little closer. Though the conditions change, some things don't. Time is nothing to bread. It ebbs and flows, and the yeast works when it wants to work. Patience is key in this kind of cooking, and it's an exercise in developing this supposed virtue.
I’ve got to tap into the community surrounding baking out in the internet. Pinterest has been an invaluable resource as I try new loaf recipes, but I also think it may be worth picking up a cookbook. I have learned a lot in other cooking from the cookbooks I’ve used each month. What are your suggestions for baking cookbooks?
What kind of cooking have you experimented with this year? Are you struggling with it, and can I help you? Let me know in comments here or on Facebook. I am looking for topics you, my readers, might be interested in exploring together.
Grain to Glass Tour
If you are a frequent reader, you know that I spent my birthday at the Dogfish Head Brewery in Milton. The whole reason we went was to take part in their Grain to Glass tour, a deeper look at the operations going on behind those steel walls. It was my first brewery tour. I didn’t know what to expect from what was inside or the tour guide. I was pleasantly surprised all along the way, and learning about what goes into what is easily one of my favorite craft breweries of all time was an enlightening experience.
They have you meet up in the Tasting Room, an onsite bar. It is a good, central location, and they have a box of safety goggles and close toed shoes there for your safety before the tour. Definitely wear a pair of jeans and sneakers if this is something you want to do one of these days. They recommend it on the website, and they won’t let you go if you aren’t wearing long pants on Grain to Glass. If you aren’t sure where to meet up, no worries. They do a PA system page for each tour about ten minutes before they get under way.
Dogfish Head Brewery
I had an amazing, glorious birthday weekend. Despite the fact I am a little under the weather, the experiences I was able to share with my husband and close friends were untarnished. Sunday, we went to Milton, DE for the Grain to Glass tour at Dogfish Head Brewery. The primo shit. We talked about doing this from our first sip of Dogfish Head beer in December, and my birthday seemed like the perfect time.
We arrived a little more than two hours ahead of our tour time to visit their new onsite Kitchen and drink a shit load of exclusive beers. They are set up to be a hangout spot before or after a tour, thankfully. There is a ton of outdoor seating and games to be played. You were allowed to take your drinks outside among the fun after ordering.
One thing to keep in mind if you plan a visit is that the kitchen is not a restaurant in the traditional sense. No one seats you. No one comes out to take your order. It’s a walk up window that totally fits with the laidback vibe all around the brewery. Their menu is constantly shifting between a variety of quick cook, delicious foods. I ate so much. I drank so much. The brewery itself is an out of the way destination that unfolded in three pars.
The Kitchen itself may be small, but it’s treats are mighty. Cumulatively, our party must have ate our way through the entire menu. They produced everything from Calzones to pulled pork sandwiches at lightning speed. It was something to watch. We got the food faster than we could get inside and fight the other patrons to order a flight of beer.
It was all delicious, but the pulled pork sandwich was the star of the show to me. The spent grain bun cradled pork in a flavorful sauce perfectly. A minimal slaw at the bottom added a much needed crunch. The sauce never intermingled with the slaw below or soaked the bread, a problem I find on a lot of barbeque sandwiches. It’s thickness kept it firmly on the pulled pork, and it added a soft heat to the meat that could be amplified by the hot sauces available at the counter.
Their calzones were a gem of the menu as well. They served cheese and meat varieties, both of which packed unique flavors. Much to my husband’s delight, the cheese variety did not contain tomato sauce. The filing had a nice, stringy pull when you bit into it. The garlicky sauce inside was enough that you did not miss the marinare.
When I did get a marinara sauce inside the meat calzone, the sauce brought a ton of flavor to the sausage they packed inside. It mingled with the melted cheese, adding on what I believe to be the same cheese blend used in the dedicated calzone. I could write about every damn item, but then we would never progress to the good stuff.
The Kitchen is a reasonable upgrade to the food truck set up that the brewery ran with prior to its opening. It can serve as quickly and do a little bit more creative food out of the set location, for which I am most grateful. I look forward to visiting it in the future with beer drinking family.
The Tasting Room
The actual bar of the brewery was incredible. It was standing room only with very few seats, but with the seating outside, it did not matter. For one thing, they had a number of exclusives available from their R&D brewing department that you can’t get anywhere else but that very spot. The classics, of course, were also available alongside the exclusives and seasonals. It was all too much beer for one trip, but there was something for everyone to try. Beer flights went for only six dollars, and you get a free one at the end of the Grain to Glass tour. Plenty of chances to try at least half of what they have available.
The staff is awesome. Everyone acts like they really want to be there, and they give you a suggestion as to which order to drink the selection for your flight. They didn’t do this for me when I got a flight at Brewings and Eats, not that I mind. The suggestions did make for a more enjoyable tasting experience, however.
I drink a lot of beer when I go out, usually all Dogfish Head, so there seemed to be few items I needed to focus on. The real discoveries came during the actual tour when I was offered samples outside of my normal wheelhouse. I want to discuss those, however, in a separate article for the tour itself which will come this weekend.
Even if you can’t make it out for the Grain To Glass tour or any of their other cheaper and free options, the Kitchen and the Tasting Room are a fun place to go if you are looking for good, cheap food and drink to share with a party. I can’t imagine just going with my husband, but it was so much fun with my friends Josh and Amanda.
Keep an eye out for my article about the tour, coming Saturday, July 21.
An idea born in Normal, Illinois, Eating Normal hopes to chronicle the eating Experiences of a Red bird.
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