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.
An idea born in Normal, Illinois, Eating Normal hopes to chronicle the eating Experiences of a Red bird.
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