When Bakers Cook, Part 2

This post is a continuation of the previous post. After discussing Rose Levy Beranbaum’s non-baking books, we now turn to Joanne Chang, and her second cookbook, Flour, Too, following on the heels of her excellent baking book, Flour.

flourtooI loved Joanne’s first book, and was quite excited when I learned that she was coming out with a sequel. I advance ordered my copy from Amazon, so that it would arrive on the day of publication. It was only when I ripped open my Amazon package and started going through the book, that I realized that this was not another baking book, but instead concentrated on the non-bakery items available at Joanne’s Flour cafés. That was okay; I would have ordered the book in any event, and there were still a good number of baking recipes, but my thrill level dropped a notch or two. Most of these recipes for non-bakery items are attributed to Chef (whose various human components are named in the acknowledgments), and are only Joanne’s in that Chef is her employee, and presumably it is Joanne who has adapted and tested these recipes for home use.

There were still a lot of things about this book (in addition to my fondness for Flour) that predisposed me to like this book, even before trying any recipes. First, any cookbook that mentions the Riemann hypothesis in its introduction gets a lot of points from me. (Joanne was once a Harvard math major). Also, I completely approve of Joanne’s list “In Our Heads” (pages 54-56), twelve points to help her readers become better cooks. Here she dispenses and expounds on obvious advice that most of us know, but that most of us too often ignore, such as “sharpen your knives”, “clean as you go”, and “salt your food”. It is hard to trust a svelte pastry chef unless she has a very good reason for being svelte, so I like that Joanne runs marathons. The book, like almost all cookbooks from the publisher, Chronicle Books, is well laid out, stylish yet not too glitzy.

I cooked a lot of recipes from this book, because I was sure that I should be able to find recipes I liked, despite an initial failure to do so. Unfortunately, some of the guests to whom I served these dishes were not wild about them. Thus my evaluation of the recipes I do not care for is shaded by this experience.

The first recipe I tried was “Vegan Carrot and Ginger” (page 104), a beautiful and delicious orange colored soup (which happened not to be on the menu for the picky eaters). This is a purréed soup of roasted carrots, fennel, ginger, and apple (with other usual soup ingredients). The soup was best when first made; the taste diminished day by day. However, for several days this soup was the highlight of my lunch.

Another soup, “Chilled Spanish White Gazpacho” (page 102) simply does not work. Its main ingredients are green grapes, almonds, and cucumber blended with secondary ingredients. The green grapes are just too overpowering. The soup is like a chunky white grape juice with some weird accents. I, for one, will stick with the green gazpacho from Jerry Traunfeld’s Herbfarm Cookbook.

My attempt to reproduce “Slow-Baked Atlantic Salmon with Tabouli” (page 189) was less than a success, although I think that I must take a lot of the blame.  This is simply salmon on a bed of tabouli, to be served plated in individual portions. I refuse, in general, to plate, so I think my presentation failed. Furthermore, when I went to buy my fish, salmon was $25 per pound, and there was no way I was paying that amount. The trout right next to the salmon was affordable, so I got trout instead. Trout is a nice enough fish, but lacks the character of salmon. This dish not only looked but tasted pretty unexciting. Of course, if my guests had all been avid eaters, who knows what I would have thought of this recipe? One technique that I picked up from the recipe was the slow roasting of fish in a 300º oven. The advantage of this method is that you have a fairly wide window,  5 to 10 minutes, during which the fish is perfectly cooked.

lemondressingThe Flour, Too experience started looking up a bit with “Asian Celery, Fennel, and Edamame Salad with Candied Lemon” (page 164). The combination of vegetables was not particularly inspired, but the candied lemon dressing was amazing! Chopped-up candied lemon (slices of lemon boiled in a sugar syrup) is combined with vinegar, soy sauce, sriraracha, and sesame oil. This dressing was so interesting, and could be put to good use in so many other ways; e.g., as a sauce for some otherwise boring slow roasted trout.

lasagnaUnlike the carrot soup, Joanne’s “Mushroom and Leek Lasagna with Creamy Béchamel” (page 181) just got better and better as the days passed. The title of this dish describes it well. The recipe called for goat cheese, which Henry did not appreciate, although I did. Instead of using Joanne’s “Roasted Tomatoes” (not having a ready supply of homegrown tomatoes), I used a small can of tomatoes, augmented with some sun-dried tomatoes.

hotsour1Finally, I was quite satisfied with my vegetarian version of “Mama Chang’s Hot and Sour” soup (page 124). This recipe is good in that it calls for no particularly exotic ingredients, unless you call tofu or sriracha exotic. My previous hot and sour soup recipe called for tree ears and dried lily buds, which necessitated a trip to the Asian grocery. This was not that convenient, so I had not made hot and sour soup for a long time. In Mama Chang’s recipe, instead of ground pork I used fake ground meat; I think my adaptation would have been better if I had used only half the amount of fake meat as the amount of real meat called for.

To summarize, there are good recipes in this book, as well as a few duds. I will certainly keep my eyes open for whatever Joanne Chang comes up with next.


Hot and Sour Soup

Adapted from Joanne Chang, Flour, Too

Peanut oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch piece ginger, minced
4 scallions, minced (reserve some for garnishing, if you want)
4 ounces fake ground meat
4 ounces mushrooms, sliced
4 cups vegetable broth
1 pound tofu, cut into 12 inch cubes
1 teaspoon sugar
23 cup rice vinegar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
Lots of black pepper
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon sriracha sauce
2 eggs

Heat a little bit of oil in your soup pot. Add the garlic, ginger, scallions, fake meat, and mushrooms. Cook, while stirring, for a few minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients except for the eggs. Heat up the soup and let it simmer for about ten minutes. Beat the eggs together, then drizzle egg strands into the soup. Taste to see if you want more vinegar, soy sauce, pepper, sesame oil, or sriracha.

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