I always think cookbooks make great holiday presents and so I asked Carrie Bachman and Joyce Lin, two of my good friends who work with cookbooks all the time, to share some of their favorites with me. I loved the ones they suggested, the only problem was deciding—because of space issues in this column—which ones to highlight.
I chose Dorie Greenspan’s Everyday Dorie because I have every other cookbook she’s written and I think she’s great and I thought her recipe for Oven-Charred-Stuffed Peppers which can be easily multiplied to serve whatever size crowd you’re expecting and can be served at any temperature so if they cool down after removing from the oven, it’s no big deal.
I enjoyed making and serving the Curry Leaf Popcorn Chicken featured in Nik Sharma’s Season. This is the first cookbook for Sharma who writes the blog “A Brown Table” and his recipes are exotic but also really easy and delicious. I also like that Sharma offers suggestions I can use in making this dish and others such as shaking the chicken (or even shrimp) in small batches in resealable plastic bags to get a uniform coating of flour.
Named Amazon's 2018 Cookbook of the Year, Now & Again: Go-To Recipes, Inspired Menus + Endless Ideas for Reinventing Leftovers by Julia Turshen is wonderful for people like me who have watched leftovers age less than gracefully in my refrigerator before, after serving their time, they get tossed. I won’t have to do that no I have a copy of Turshen’s book. Or at least that’s the plan.
Taking the leftover thing one step further, Lindsay-Jean Hard in her Cooking From Scraps: Turn Your Peels, Cores, Rinds and Stems Into Delicious Meals — 85 Scrumptious Recipe for Zero-Waste Cooking, shows how to make dishes like Carrot Top Pesto Tartlets, Danish Pancakes with Apple Core Syrup and Banana Peel Cake with Brown Sugar Frosting.
Oven-Charred Tomato-Stuffed Peppers
(From Everyday Dorie © 2018 by Dorie Greenspan. Reproduced by permission of Rux Martin Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.)
Makes: 6 servings
About 7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove (or more, if you’d like), germ removed (see page 320) and very thinly sliced
About 8 sprigs fresh thyme, rosemary, mint and/or parsley
6 fresh basil leaves, torn or chopped
Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
5 tablespoons unseasoned bread crumbs
8 oil-packed anchovies, minced
1 small lemon
Pinch of piment d’Espelette or cayenne pepper
3 large red and/or yellow boxy bell peppers
1 pint cherry tomatoes (25 to 30), halved
For serving (optional)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Snipped fresh chives or finely chopped other fresh herbs
DIRECTIONS: Center a rack in the oven and preheat it to 425 degrees F. Put a deep-dish 9½-inch pie pan (or similar-size baking dish) on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone baking mat. Spread a tablespoon or two of the oil over the bottom and sides of the pan, then scatter over the garlic slices, half of the herb sprigs and half of the basil and season with salt and pepper.
Stir the bread crumbs and anchovies together in a small bowl. Grate the zest of the lemon over and squeeze in the juice from half of the lemon (about 1 tablespoon; precision isn’t important here). Cut 6 thin slices from the other half of the lemon, then cut the slices in half; set aside. (If any lemon remains, squeeze the juice from it over the bread crumbs.) Stir in 1 tablespoon oil and season the crumbs with the piment d’Espelette or cayenne. Taste to see if you want some salt (anchovies are salty, so the seasoning might be just fine).
If you’d like (or need room in the pan), trim the peppers’ stems. Slice the peppers in half the long way and remove the ribs and seeds. Spoon an equal amount of the bread-crumb mixture into each pepper, scatter the remaining basil over and top each one with 2 lemon slices. Divide the tomatoes among the peppers, placing them as close together as you can, and season with salt and pepper. (I put the tomatoes in the peppers cut side down because I think they look prettier that way, but there is no set rule here.)
Transfer the peppers to the pie pan, crowding them together and cajoling them so that they all fit. One or two might pop up, or their bottoms might not fully touch the base of the pan, but in the end they will be fine. Drizzle over enough of the remaining oil to lightly moisten the tomatoes and then strew over the remaining herb sprigs. (The peppers can be prepared a few hours ahead to this point and refrigerated, covered; let them stand at room temperature while the oven preheats.)
Bake the peppers for about 1 hour (check at the 45-minute mark), until they’re as soft as you’d like them to be — poke the side of one with the tip of a paring knife to judge. The juices and oil should be bubbling and the peppers charred here and there. Remove and discard the herbs from the top of the peppers.
You can serve the peppers straight from the oven, warm or at room temperature. If you’d like, drizzle them with a bit more oil, top them with a little ricotta (adding a dollop of ricotta is particularly nice if you’re serving the dish warm as a starter) and sprinkle with chives or other herbs.
Curry Leaf Popcorn Chicken
(From Season by Nik Sharma with permission by Chronicle Books 2018.)
Makes: 4 servings
Seeds from 4 green cardamom pods
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
12 black peppercorns
2 cups buttermilk
2 to 3 serrano chiles, seeded, if desired
6 scallions (white and green parts)
30 curry leaves, preferably fresh
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1½ teaspoons cayenne pepper
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
¼ cup fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
3 cups neutral-tasting oil
4 green Thai chiles, seeded, if desired
Favorite hot sauce for serving
DIRECTIONS: Heat a small, dry skillet over medium-high heat. Add the cardamom, coriander, cumin seeds, and the peppercorns, and toast for 30 to 45 seconds, swirling the mixture occasionally until the seeds release their aroma and start to brown. Divide the toasted spice mixture in half. Transfer one half of this mixture to a spice grinder and pulse to a fine powder. (You can prepare the spices up to 1 week in advance and store in an airtight container in a cool, dark place.)
In a blender, combine the remaining toasted spice mixture with the buttermilk, serrano chiles, scallions, 15 of the curry leaves, the garlic, 1 tsp of the cayenne, the ginger, lime juice, and 1 Tbsp of the salt. Pulse until completely smooth and transfer to a large resealable plastic bag. Pat the chicken breasts dry with paper towels. Trim excess fat from the chicken, and cut the flesh into 1 in [2.5 cm] cubes. Add to the marinade. Seal the bag and shake to coat evenly. Refrigerate for 4 hours.
Meanwhile, prepare the dredging mixture. In a large resealable plastic bag, combine the remaining half of the ground spice mixture with the flour, baking powder, baking soda, remaining ½ tsp cayenne, and remaining 1 tsp salt, shaking vigorously to blend. Finely chop 10 of the remaining curry leaves and add them to the dredging mixture. Seal the bag and shake again to mix well.
Once the chicken has marinated, use tongs to lift out half the chicken pieces, shaking off the excess batter, and transfer to the bag with the dredging mixture. Seal the bag and shake to coat evenly. Transfer the chicken pieces to a wire rack. Repeat with the remaining chicken.
In a medium Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat to 350°F. Fry the chicken in batches, turning occasionally, until golden brown and cooked through, 4 to 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon or a spider, transfer the chicken to paper towels to drain.
After the chicken is cooked, prepare the garnish: Cut the Thai chiles in half lengthwise. In the hot oil left in the pot, deep-fry the chiles and remaining 5 curry leaves until crispy, 30 to 40 seconds. Drain on paper towels.
Put the chicken on a serving plate, garnish with the chiles and fried curry leaves, and serve hot with the maple-vinegar sauce or hot sauce.
Stuffed Mushrooms with Walnuts, Garlic + Parsley
(From Now & Again by Julia Turshen with permission by Chronicle Books 2018.)
Makes: 4 as a nosh with drinks
¼ cup walnut halves
A large handful of fresh Italian parsley leaves (a little bit of stem is fine!)
1 large garlic clove, minced
3 tablespoons coarsely grated Parmesan or pecorino cheese
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
12 small cremini or button mushrooms, stemmed
DIRECTIONS: Preheat your oven to 400°F. Line a small sheet pan or baking dish with parchment paper and set it aside.
Put the walnuts, parsley, garlic, cheese, and salt into a food processor, in that order. Pulse until everything is finely chopped. Add the olive oil and pulse to combine.
Use a small spoon to distribute the walnut mixture evenly among the mushrooms, placing it in the cavities the now-gone stems left behind. Line up the mushrooms, stuffed-sides up, on the prepared sheet pan.
Roast the mushrooms until softened and the tops are lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Let the mushrooms cool for a few minutes, then serve warm.
Banana Peel Cake with Brown Sugar Frosting
(Cooking From Scraps, © 2018 by Lindsay-Jean Hard. Reproduced by permission of Workman. All rights reserved.)
For the cake:
Peels from 2 very ripe bananas, stem and very bottom discarded (about 100 grams)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened, plus more for buttering the pans
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 2/3 cups cake flour plus more flour (any type) for flouring the pans
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
For the brown sugar frosting:
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup milk, 2 percent or higher
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 3/4 to 2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
DIRECTIONS: Preheat the oven to 350°F.
To make the cake: Cut the banana peels into 1-inch pieces and place them in a small saucepan with 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the mixture to cool slightly, then strain the banana peels, reserving T cup of the cooking water.
Meanwhile, butter and flour the sides of two 8-inch round cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper. Butter and flour the pans again to coat the paper.
Transfer the peels and the 1/4 cup of cooking water to a tall, narrow container and puree until completely smooth with an immersion blender (a mini food processor would do the trick, too!).
Cream together the butter and sugar using an electric mixer (or a wooden spoon for an arm workout) until pale and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the egg yolks one at a time, mixing until incorporated, and scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Mix in the banana peel mixture, then stir in the buttermilk until well combined. 6. In a separate medium-size bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the bowl with the butter mixture and stir gently, just until combined.
Put the egg whites in another bowl (make sure it’s clean and dry!) and whisk until soft peaks form—either by hand or with the whisk attachment on an electric mixer. If using an electric mixer, start slowly and gradually increase speed to medium-high. You’ll know you’re done when you pull out the whisk or beater and a soft peak is formed, but immediately collapses. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter and divide the batter evenly between the two prepared pans.
Bake for about 25 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through, until the top is golden and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake pulls out with dry crumbs rather than wet batter. Let the cakes cool completely in the pans.
When the cakes are completely cool and you’re ready to assemble it, make the frosting. Melt the butter in a medium pan over low heat. Stir in the brown sugar and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Stir in the milk, raise the heat to medium-high, and cook, stirring constantly until the mixture boils. Remove from the heat, and let cool until lukewarm. Gradually whisk in 1 3/4 cups powdered sugar, beating until smooth. Add the additional 1/4 cup powdered sugar if the frosting is too loose. Use the frosting immediately, as it will begin to thicken and stiffen as it sits.
When the cakes are completely cool, remove from the pans and peel off the parchment. Put one layer of the cake on a serving platter and spread about one third of the frosting evenly over the top. Set the other layer on top, and spread the remaining frosting over the top and sides of the cake.