Donabe: Classic and Modern Japanese Clay Pot Cooking

9781607746997One of the things I love about Asian cooking is that no matter how many recipes, ingredients, and cooking techniques there are, there is still always something new to learn. When I chose to receive my new Japanese cookbook, I had no idea what Donabe was; in fact, I thought it was a Japanese cuisine I had never heard of, until co-authors Naoko Takei Moore and Kyle Connaughton taught me otherwise.

Donabe is a Japanese traditional clay pot cookware that is used for just about every cooking method there is. The donabe can be used in both homes and restaurants, and it is similar to the crockpot in America. One of the things I found fascinating about the history of the donabe is that its main purpose is to bring family together through the sharing of a one pot meal. I thought it was interesting how ingrained the donabe is in the Japanese family structure, and that it isn’t necessarily holiday driven as an excuse to get family together. Moore and Connaughton do an amazing job of illustrating how the donabe is created through the use of their beautiful photography. The only thing that would make me hesitant to use a donabe myself is the fact that it must be used on a gas stove top. I do not like gas stove tops because I am accident prone and that is a 911 emergency waiting to happen. However, I could see myself using a donabe on a grill.

The theme of Donabe: Classic and Modern Japanese Clap Pot Cooking is about tradition, Japanese tradition to be exact, and I was glad to see the book was loaded with traditional Japanese recipes. I had a hard time pronouncing some of the Japanese ingredients and comprehending them on my own, but the co-authors did a wonderful job putting notes at the top of the recipes for how to pronounce the word, what the ingredient is and what it is used for. Although most grocery stores are good about maintaining an ethnic aisle, I discovered in order to get the traditional Japanese ingredients needed for some of the recipes I would have to visit a few Asian markets and thank goodness my city has quite a few.

My favorite recipes were the drunken steam-fried drummettes in shochu sauce, salmon chowder with miso soy-milk broth, and all of the shrimp recipes. I really liked the green tea shrimp because I never knew you could use tea leaves in dishes and have it come out so well. I am so traditional with my tea meaning I drink it, but now I think I will experiment with tea leaves in other dishes and see how they turn out.

Donabe: Classic and Modern Japanese Clay Pot Cooking is definitely a cookbook that couples rich Japanese history with traditional Japanese recipes.

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5 in 5 for Every Season by Michael Symon

9780804186568

Chef Symon is by far my favorite chef! I have followed his career ever since he competed and won Food Network’s “The Next Iron Chef.” He later went on to be quite successful as a chef on Food Network, and later branched out to be a co-host of “The Chew” on ABC. He is so lighthearted in the kitchen and passionate about cooking that it is both contagious and infectious. 5 in 5 for Every Season is the sequel to 5 in 5 which is based on the idea of having a home cooked on table in five minutes.

When I first began reading the book, my main question was how can you have a meal cooked from scratch on the table within five minutes when you have to consider cooking times for poultry or beef, or root vegetables? The answer I received from Chef Symon was simple: Choose fresh ingredients that can be cooked within five minutes. I consider myself to have a well-stocked pantry, however, I do have both a deep freezer and top freezer loaded with frozen meats, vegetables, and fruits. So I would have to break the “fresh” rule half of the time by thawing what I had and buying the rest fresh.

5 in 5 for Every Season is broken into five seasons: Spring, summer, fall, winter, and holidays. Each season consists of at least 28 recipes or more based on the ingredients of that season, which Symon gives you a list just before each chapter so you can review and become familiar with the recipes and ingredients. If you think you are going to read novel headnotes, then think again. All the headnotes are both informative and entertaining in a one paragraph format which makes it easier to be engaged with the recipes, without the tangent some cookbook authors tend to go on, and the recipes are as equally short.

As promised, the recipes are composed of five ingredients, but they are hearty and leaves you craving a second helping. Although Michael Symon does come from an Italian heritage, he manages not to overload the home cook with a lot of pasta dishes, but he does incorporates a few. My favorite recipe, and I do have a lot of them, is the Autumn Panzanella which can be served as either a side or an appetizer. I love salads and I am always looking for new ways to create them and I was glad that it was included in this book. Although the Autumn Panzanella is a Tuscan bread salad, it was similar to the Asian slaw with the extra crunch from the baguette. It was the perfect combination of flavors, and I ended up making it a one person salad.

Visually the book is appealing and has a lot of quick, great recipes for any home cook to work with. Although the book is based on the idea of a home cooked meal on the table in five minutes, it does not skimp out on quality, fresh ingredients which is the foundation of the book and the recipes.

Martha Stewart’s Appetizers

9780307954626Martha Stewart’s Appetizers is a revision of her original appetizers book, Hors d’ Oeuvres. It consists of over 200 appetizer recipes that covers everything from starters to small plates to drinks. I was a fan of the original appetizers book, and I am loving this one just the same.

When it comes to preparing foods for parties I host in my home, appetizers are my favorite to prepare. They are mood makers when it comes to serving full course meals, the can be icebreakers for guests, especially when a lot of them do not know each other, they can be the meal themselves, and overall they are so easy to make.

One of the great things about this book is that it provides variety which is what I try to strive for when making appetizers. I always try to create a variety of appetizers to appeal to everyone without isolating anyone such as vegans or vegetarians. There are recipes for different types of nuts from savory to sweet, side dishes such as potato bites and beans are included, and bite size main courses such as hand pies. The drinks chapter was only okay for me because they are recipes I can find in any bartending book. I was hoping there would be some mixology creativity because I have been inspired by Tipsy Bartender to step up my drink making game.

Throughout Martha Stewart’s Appetizers, it stays true to the idea of appetizers: bold flavors with minimum effort. All the recipes are easy to make and quick on time. They can be made ahead of time and some can be either refrigerated or frozen until serving time. A lot of the recipes I was already familiar with, but I did find a couple of new ones to make.