Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Wrapping Up Jerusalem

I have mixed feelings about Jerusalem. There are still so many recipes that make me drool when I look at their pictures, but that I didn't try for a number of reasons. Either they didn't abide by whatever diet I happen to be trying to lose weight for my brother's wedding next month (which I acknowledge is unfair to the book), or they were too involved and time-consuming for a weeknight meal, or they relied upon ingredients that aren't in season right now, or I lost confidence in the reliability of the recipes, and didn't want to be bothered with another recipe that I wasn't sure would turn out right. I'm surprised that I've only made 13 recipes in 3 months. That's ridiculous. Of those 13, I actively disliked or hated 5, and liked or loved 5. I was indifferent to 3. That's not a rave review.

Seasoning caused problems for me. Following Ottolenghi's measurements, a lot of this food was way too salty and way too spicy. Often, it felt like the ingredients were not coming together the way they were supposed to.

Even if I hated everything else I cooked from Jerusalem, I'd keep the book for the Baby Spinach Salad with Dates and Almonds alone. Best. Salad. Ever. It is so delicious. I've been keeping a perpetual supply of the simple Spiced Chickpeas in the fridge for the past few weeks, and tossing them in salads, eggs, or reheating them as a quick side dish.

The desserts look amazing. I WILL make Cardamom Rice Pudding with Pistachio & Rose Water, Chocolate Krantz Cakes, and the Spice Cookies. I still want to make Hummus. I still want to make Falafel. And Open Kibbeh. And Saffron Chicken & Herb Salad. And...and...and...

There seem to be as many post-it notes flagging recipes today as there were at the beginning of April. When I look at the book, the photography is so gorgeous that I want to reach into the page and start eating. My enthusiasm totally dies when I think about actually cooking, though, because the recipes have failed me 50% of the time. Tricky.

I will still cook from Jerusalem. There are lots of dishes yet to try. It's not a book that I recommend attempting to burn through all at one time, though. The recipes are unforgiving, the tone is one of "if you're not going to do it exactly as written, don't bother" (which makes me not want to bother), and if you cook from it a lot, the defeats begin to overwhelm the experience. For me, at least. I've never read another bad word about the book, so maybe I just suck. Listen to  me. What has Ottolenghi done to me? Cookbooks should bolster your confidence in the kitchen, not deplete it.

It's a keeper, but I do want to go on record as saying that the book is overhyped. Gorgeous photos, enticing recipes, but, either because our tastes don't align, or because the recipes don't work as written/I messed up somehow, they are unreliable. I would NEVER serve an untested recipe from this book to guests. NEVER. I have to believe that the rave reviews are based upon layout and concept (Muslims and Jews can get along), not from use. I can't be the only person on the planet who cooked some disgusting food from this book.

I leave for NY tomorrow, so I may or may not be around for the next month. I'm not bringing any cookbooks with me, but I'll see if my mom has anything that I want to cook from. She's not a big cookbook collector, but she mentioned that she bought Barefoot Contessa's Foolproof recently. I'll flip through and see if I feel like it.

Monday, June 24, 2013

FFwD: Back of the Card Cheese and Olive Bread

Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men...

I had a grand scheme to catch up on all of this month's Dorie recipes for a BBQ we were hosting on Sunday. I wanted to see my friends one last time before heading home to NY for a month, and thought that this month's recipes--Goat Cheese and Strawberry Tartine (though mine was going to be ricotta cheese and cherry tartine), this cheesy bread, and Sable Breton Galette--would all fit in nicely.

Saturday night, Charlie came down with a fever and a raspy cough. All plans were cancelled, as I need him to feel better by Wednesday. The only thing worse than flying for 10 hours alone with a 3 year old is flying for 10 hours alone with a sick 3 year old.

I'd already made the Back of the Card Cheese and Olive Bread, but I didn't get to the other 2. The galette dough is waiting in the freezer for me, and will make a nice treat upon my return.

So, about that bread.

I used Dorie's bon idea and used pesto instead of tapenade. My Italian-inspired add-ins were salt-cured olives, toasted pine nuts, sun dried tomatoes, basil, chives, crisped prosciutto, and asiago cheese.

I think I loved how this smelled more than how it actually tasted, but it was good. I prefer the other savory cheese and chive bread in Around My French Table, though. Something about the texture of this one was less enjoyable than it could be, but I can't put my finger on the problem. Regardless, it was still good.

One of these days, I'll make up the ever-growing list of recipes I've missed. July's recipes will likely be on that list, as I'm not bringing my book to NY. Oh well. Add 'em to the list!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

A Starting Point

I wasn't blown over by Jerusalem's recipe for Roasted Cauliflower and Hazelnut Salad, as a whole, but I did very much enjoy the combination of roasted cauliflower and toasted hazelnuts. The other flavors--maple syrup, vinegar, cinnamon, allspice, parsley leaves, celery, and pomegranate seeds--all seemed to compete against the two core flavors. They were distractions from the cauliflower/nut combo, which was perfect on its own with just some salt and pepper.
I also disagree that this salad should sit and be served at room temp. I ate some as soon as it was ready, and it was a lot fresher tasting then than it was two hours later, when Matt got home. By then, the 5 TB of oil had settled out, and the cauliflower was sitting in a pool of it. Warm, the salad was just lightly coated in oil, with no puddle.

Conclusion: Just okay, but really like the roasted cauliflower and nuts without the rest of it. It's disgustingly hot here all of a sudden, so turning the oven on is not ideal, but come Fall, I'll make this often.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

I'm Not Sure We Can Be Friends

I really do feel like I'm the lone person who has cooked/is cooking from Jerusalem who is experiencing more flops than expected.

A few weeks ago, Tara over at Tea & Cookies blogged about Ottolenghi's Shakshuka (pg 66), which she prepared for guests. On a side note, Tara writes a lovely blog and you should go check it out. She's who I want to be when I grow up: a writer, a grower of abundance, a photographer, a lover of Nature, who gets out and appreciates where she is, in the now. I planted some vegetables this year--that's a step in the right direction.

Anyway, Tara made shakshuka sound pretty awesome, and I'm sure it was, when she cooked it.

Not so much, in my kitchen.

Shakshuka is a fun name for peppers and tomatoes cooked down into a thick sauce with harissa, cumin, tomato paste, and salt. I used a lot less harissa paste than called for. Once again, Ottolenghi instructs for 1 TB. This man must suck on habanero peppers for fun. I put in a dab. It was plenty. Once that's all soft and good-looking, you make divots in the sauce and crack an egg into each divet. Simmer gently for 8-10  minutes, until the whites are set and the yolks are still runny.

I timed my eggs for 8 minutes on the lowest flame my stove could muster. Things looked good when the buzzer rang...
Perfect, right?

No. The yolks were cooked through, and the whites had acquired a disgusting rubbery texture.

Ewwwww. Worst yolk ever.
Couldn't eat the egg. It was gross. I did eat as much tomato and pepper glop on mashed black beans as I could muster. I'm still hungry.

Methinks my time with Yottam is nearing an end. I'm heading to NY in two weeks, so I'll stick with him until then, but I'm no longer itching to cook from this book, beautiful as it may be.

Conclusion: Disliked. A lot.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

My Bad

Did you know that if you leave dried chickpeas to soak for 2 nights instead of 1, mystery blobs appear in the water? I didn't.

Ew. I think?
I planned to make Ottolenghi's hummus yesterday, but didn't get around to it. I figured no harm would come to the chickpeas if I let them sit an extra night. Worst case scenario, they wouldn't have to cook very long. Right? Wrong.

What is that????

Time to start over.