To me, one of the most iconic Filipino dishes is lumpia, a fried eggroll type item that is served as an appetizer in some restaurants. The area I grew up in had a small Filipino population due to its nearby airbase and the families that came to it over the years. My husband and I have a friend whose mother would send over a container full of lumpia for us whenever we had a small gathering of friends. They’re something I associate with comfort and friends, so when I picked up Amboy, I expected at least one lumpia. So far, I’ve found three.
I was given two lumpia recipes in the early pages of the book, Shanghai Lumpia that are made with pork and shrimp, and cheeseburger lumpia that are exactly what they sound like. The third that I mentioned earlier requires making the wrappers from scratch, but these two do not. I decided to begin my adventure with the cheeseburger lumpia since it is a more personal rendition created by the chef, and I know now looking back on it that I did them wrong. Still, I really enjoy the process.
January has come. I’m swimming in cookbooks gifted to me and cookbooks I bought for myself with gift cards. The question this time of year is always this, where to begin? Do I choose the cookbook based on when I got it or what interests me the most? This year, I answer that we begin with what interests me most. Allow me to introduce you to our January 2021 Cookbook of the Month: Amboy by Alvin Cailan.
You may know the author from his youtube series with First We Feast called The Burger Show, where he often prepares variations on the classic hamburger for and with guests. Amboy is not a cookbook about burgers or the egg sandwiches of his famous restaurant Eggslut, although his Eggslut history does have an impact on a portion of the book. These recipes come from the whole of his life, bringing together his filopino heritage with his American experience. Being an avid filopino food lover, I was most excited to pick up the book for this reason.
Alvin is a personality that a food novice surfing the internet can get behind immediately, and I am interested in seeing if his book will read the same way. The few pages I opened to look at initial recipes have the little blurb at the top as all recipes do about the way they came into the chef’s life, and it reads in the same voice you hear in his youtube videos. I like that, and I think it means good things for the actual recipes.
I’ve picked out a few recipes that I want to try for sure before the month is out. The most filopino-American recipe I’ve ever heard of-- Cheeseburger Lumpia-- is featured on page 98 and absolutely WILL be made in this house. There’s something endearing about it in the way he describes the dish, and it combines in my head a very distinctly American thing that I love with a very filopino thing that I love. There’s more than one lumpia recipe in here, and that makes me happy.
We’ll approach Amboy with the same eagerness that I approach all cookbooks I choose each month, and maybe this time I’ll be able to do it all. January is going to be a big month for me food wise, and Amboy will help me embrace it. Expect one recipe discussion every week and pictures of what I try throughout the month. When February is close, we’ll judge the book by our criteria: Accessibility, Difficulty, and Originality. Let’s start 2020 on the right foot.
Am I a Dessert Person now? Short answer, no. Long answer, maybe eventually? Claire Saffitz’ Dessert Person is a tome of delicious looking recipes that one woman can’t get through in a month, and what I managed to try has soured me to the harder parts of dessert making such as pies. I’ve had more failures than successes, many of which are more than likely my fault. I am not a dessert person, and I haven’t ventured beyond cookies or basic cheesecake in a premade crust in my whole life.
So I admit that my failings in trying to cook from this cookbook are all my own. Claire’s instructions and diagrams are all super detailed, but I know it will take many many tries for me to get to the point that I can turn out something of a quality that I can be proud of. I’ve never made a pie until November, much less made my own crust. Never made a tart, never made sable cookies, never so much as sneezed at a custard.
I came at this cookbook looking for challenges in things that I was unfamiliar with, and I was met with those challenges. So, for me, this cookbook provided exactly what I was looking for when I ordered it. It’s also a look into what internet favorite Claire Saffitz actually wants to cook, not just what internet goblins got Conde Nast to force her to do in the Bon App test kitchen. I love that the Saint Louis Gooey Butter Cake appears. I love that her book has a section for savory baking too.
6:30 a.m., Halloween Morning
Two sticks of unsalted butter stared me dead in the face as I reached into the refrigerator for my coffee creamer. I had a task to perform, they told me wordlessly. It was time to conquer the pie anxiety. So with a hot coffee and a clean kitchen island, I set myself to the task first thing in the morning.
I am, regrettably, a morning person. The sun had yet to rise, and pie crust came together on my kitchen island while my husband continued to sleep in. The process of making a pie crust remains intimidating to me, but Dessert Person continued the strong tradition of very detailed images to display each step, just like it did in the first pages of the book for very basic techniques.
Cut the cold butter into pieces. Chill the butter in the fridge. Press it into the flour with your fingers, and then bring together with ice cold water. I still had many areas within my pie dough where you could see solid leaflets of butter inside, but I didn’t worry about it at the time. The fact that it came together as a dough at all filled me with some pride as I put it into the fridge for its first two hour chill. My husband woke up at the end to watch me roll it out and do the first letter fold.
I was as proud of that pie dough as I was when I passed my Certified Professional Coder exam earlier this month. I remained proud of it when I pulled it out and rolled it into a circle. I was proud of it when I put it into my pie plate, and a little less proud when I cut one side a little too close to the plate. The pleating process after cutting the round left one side shorter than the other, but it could have been worse. It was a pie dough.
Like most cookbooks, Dessert Person opens with sections about how to use the cookbook, what hardware you’ll need, and even a chart of how hard the recipes are compared to one another. Unlike most cookbooks, the majority of this information actually appears to be useful. I’m known to skip over introductions and charts and graphs at the start of other similar cookbooks because I feel like I already know a lot of what there is to be learned before diving into it.
Dessert Person does not make these sections out to be the be all end all of information, which is lovely. Still, a novice baker can look at photographs of how to fill a pastry bag, how to line a round pan with parchment paper, and various stages of beating egg whites so that they are never in the dark while trying out new techniques and recipes. These are things I don’t know much about. I know what bread dough is supposed to look like, to always measure in grams, etc… but these aspects of baking are foreign.
Or, November 2020 Cookbook of the Month: Dessert Person by Claire Saffitz
When I first started cooking, I thought I would be an avid, lifetime dessert baker. I loved cookies and my pumpkin cheesecake. There was a while there where I tried to start a cookie business out of my own home (it never panned out). As soon as I was out of my parents’ house and on my own, the desire to bake sweets dwindled to complete minimum unless Thanksgiving or Christmas was right around the corner. Desserts were a vehicle through which to express my love to other people, less about loving them myself, and when my social circle shrank and outings lessened, so too did my desire for baking sweets.
Which begs the question, why in God’s Green Earth would I want a cookbook called Dessert Person when I am not, in fact, a dessert person? First of all, I love and worship Claire Saffitz. She’s a St. Louis area native, like myself, and her stint on the now tainted Bon Appetit remains one of my favorite cooking shows of all time. I have an immense amount of respect for her as a chef and as a person, and I couldn’t imagine going past this release without picking it up for myself the moment it was available.
Let’s face it. I’ve been lusting after this book like a lot of people have been since the BLM movement hit the culinary writing scene. I had no idea who Bryan Ford was until I started digging into Black food creators on the internet, and his book happened to debut right on top of the wave that was BLM. It sold out immediately, and I didn’t get my hands on it until mid-August when it finally arrived in my mailbox as a gift from my mother-in-law. I’ve used some of the author’s recipes from his blog during my lengthy wait and found them easy to follow and productive for a sourdough novice, so the book itself is already promising.
Like most bread baking cookbooks, New World Sourdough begins with the author's instructions on how to care for your starter. These instructions are often universal between bread baking books with mild variations. If you have a starter made already, keep doing what you're doing. If you do not, this section of the book is clearly important before you can move on to the recipes. I did not spend a ton of time in this section while I prepared to bake from the book. Woops.
I am already glad to have been given this book as a gift because the recipes within it are not only box standard sourdough recipes I already have from Tartine Bread. Sure, there IS an English Muffin recipe. There IS a French bread recipe, but it's not limited to traditional breads you associate with a sourdough book. It's called New World Sourdough for a reason.
I’m excited to explore new recipes in sourdough beyond what people think of as the traditional breads. My starter, Quaran-Tina, remains one of my proudest accomplishments of 2020, and getting to use her a little more often as the weather cools down up here in Wisconsin is a comforting thought when things feel as bad as they do right now.
Are there any particular recipes you’d like to hear about from this book? Instagram is loaded with people trying his Semitas de Yema and Mallorcas, both of which are already on the list. We'll try something new every weekend until the end of September, and given the first weekend is a three day weekend, maybe even two projects!
Let's explore a new world of sourdough together in the month of September after we spent the entire quarantine obsessed with the traditionals.
by Alice B. Winn-Smith, Copyright 1942
The Macmillan Company
Are we at war right now? We’ve been ‘at war’ for most of my adolescence and adult life, so the actual answer to that statement is probably still yes regardless of the actual pressures we all feel during the age of COVID-19 to be more conscious of our food consumption. The internet is rife with the resurgence of WWII food practices such as victory gardens, and while I’ve had this book on my shelf for quite some time, it seemed most apt to pull it down this week and regard it a little closer.
The last two long visits I’ve made to my in law’s home have ended with me taking home a box of vintage cookbooks that my father-in-law, Paul, graciously offered to me from his auction visits since the last time we saw each other. This book was part of my first haul of old cookbooks, as I was fascinated by the historical context of the book. I really never thought that I’d pull it from my shelf thinking that was inside might be useful for the modern era, but here we are.
Thrifty Cooking For Wartime first hit shelves in 1942, at the center of the second World War. The pressure was on on the home front to conserve so that all resources could be given to the boys across the ocean. Even her dedication shows the spirit of the age.
To my family, whose splendid cooperation has made the writing of this book possible
And to all other families, who are gladly and willingly cooperating to conserve everything that will help to win this war and thus preserve our homes and the freedoms we enjoy
Let’s keep ‘em marching
Let’s keep ‘em sailing
Let’s keep ‘em rolling
And above all
Let’s keep ‘em flying
I impulse purchased the Up South Cookbook during a dive into online black food personalities, writers, and chefs while attempting to find my way to both learn and contribute to the ongoing cultural conversation as a white lady food blogger. I woke up during the protests about George Floyd’s murder and saw I had only one cookbook by a black chef on my shelf. I’ve more than once treated myself to cookbooks by Asian writers, but this is a place where my collection is lacking.
I made this impulse purchase at the height of BLM activity on twitter at the beginning of June. It’s now July. I made some attempt at it, but given the financial constraints upon my husband and I while unemployment wasn’t coming through the door, I couldn’t give the book its proper dues and cook it right. Now that I am working, however, it’s time to just call this book what it is. It’s our July Cookbook of the Month.
Nicole A. Taylor, the writer of this cookbook, came up in my research as a James Beard Award nominee, podcaster, and cookbook author. Her Up South Cookbook showed up beside her recipe in The Way We Ate as ways for me to begin educating myself on the cuisine of African Americans in my own country. While my means are limited during the pandemic, I could afford the about ten dollars each book was on sale for on Amazon at the time, so I clicked.
Last year, I declared with ferocity that Tartine Bread, often described as the bread bible of cookbooks, was just too much fucking effort for a home cook and you probably shouldn’t buy it if you have minimal interest in bread baking. There are much easier, realistic methods out there for people like you and I. That much remains true. Tartine Bread is a lot of effort. There ARE easier, more realistic methods out there for people with limited time in the day.
What has changed is that I haven’t been working for two months, and I actually managed to get my sourdough starter to survive longer than a week. I finally had the tools available to me to tackle the contents of the cookbook appropriately: time and starter. Quaran-Tina thrived over the two months I spent nurturing her before I felt comfortable coming back to Tartine Bread in any way. Even so, I remained afraid.