For this month’s Cookbook Book Club (my once a month “cooking from the same cookbook” meal with Jan from Family Bites – and 3 month-old baby Matthew – and Jenn from Chocolate Shavings), we chose a cookbook that had us all intrigued when it came out last month – Genius Recipes by Kristen Miglore from the Food 52 team (based on the column of the same name).
What is Genius Recipes all about then? They are recipes that, through either a technique, the new use of a familiar ingredient or the debunking of a kitchen “old wives’ tale” help change the way we cook or see a certain dish. They are recipes that Miglore has explored through her weekly column – recipes from cookbook authors, chefs, bloggers and writers – anaylsing them, testing and re-testing, offering tips, variations and techniques that she hopes will change the way people cook. These recipes are supposed to make us feel “genius” in the kitchen ourselves. The book includes recipes from some of the biggest names in the food world – Marcella Hazan, Nigella Laswon, Jim Lahey, Michael Ruhlman, Yotam Ottolenghi and Sammi Tamimi to name but a few – and over half the recipes in the book have not been featured in the column. They are what Miglore calls the “essentials”, creating a cookbook for the modern age.
Certainly it make for a difficult time choosing something – the headnotes are as interesting as the recipes, so it’s not a book you pick up, look up the recipe in the index and get cooking with. No, this is a cookbook to be pored over. A cookbook to make notes in. To flag recipes “to make”. To enjoy as much as a reading book as a cookbook. And it’s the cookbook which, out of all the cookbooks we have worked with over the past 20ish months, we have arguably discussed the most.
For our appetiser, Jenn brought us Classic Guacamole.
The “genius” part about this recipe is the texture. Unlike what many people consider guacamole, this is a very chunky version – the flesh of the avocado is in cubes and only slightly mashed – enough for it to still be considered a dip rather than a salad. While we all enjoyed this, we weren’t sure it would become the definitive guacamole recipe in our respective households – and it sparked a lengthy discussion about how we each prepare our guac (never too smooth!) and why this recipe might indeed be considered “genius”. We decided in the end that for people who have never made their own guacamole (because to be fair, you can get some pretty decent store-bought versions these days), this might be the game-changer that makes them realise that hey, this is actually easy to make (and so much better) – and it may in fact be the starting point from which people create their own versions of guacamole. Jenn served this with flatbread crackers and fresh vegetables for a summery change from tortilla chips.
For the main course, I chose Pasta with Caramelized Onions and Yogurt because hey, according to Kristen, “layer on those onions and long scrapes of pecorino, and you have a five-ingredient powerhouse to get you through anything: last-minute dinner parties, date nights, family affairs, vegetarian friendsgivings, and all the cold nights in between.” I thought it would make the perfect midday pasta – not too heavy but with loads of flavour.
The “genius” part here is the use of yoghurt (and if you have never caramelized onions before, that’s pretty genius but expect that they will take closer to 60 minutes to achieve the deep colour and flavour, not the 20-30 the recipe calls for). The “cream sauce imposter” in the recipe is a brilliant addition that makes it taste luxuriously silky and creamy without, well, all the cream.
We all thoroughly enjoyed this dish – it feels so decadent because of the richness the onions bring to the dish, yet it is actually pretty healthy – I used 2% plain Greek yoghurt and only about 1/2 the amount of cheese called for – we all agreed it didn’t need the entire amount, though we were eating this outdoors on a fairly muggy, sticky day, so I imagine that in a cooler season, one might enjoy much more cheese on this 😉 Next time I might try mixing in some of the cheese into the yoghurt/ pasta water mix to help it coat the pasta a little better. The one thing I would say about this recipe is to enjoy it while it’s hot (and not spent a few minutes photographing it!) – because there is not much “sauce” as such, it could get a little dry if you let it sit out before you serve it. If you make this, double the amount of onions you make and set 1/2 aside (for the freezer, even). Once you’ve had these, you’ll want them on everything… and in terms of leftovers, there was decidedly not enough onion mixture for the ratio of pasta left over….
Get the recipe for Pasta with Caramelized Onions and Yogurt on Food 52.
For dessert, Jan made Nigella Lawson’s Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake and warned us that it was supposed to sink in the centre. And that hers had. A lot. When she uncovered said loaf, we all realised there was no way we could ever slice this (the entire cake, bar the ends, had sunken into a puddingy squidge) so it was time to put resident Food Specialist Jenn to work to doctor up this loaf to make it look presentable…
Despite appearances here, it’s really not a pretty cake. Underneath all that cream and those strawberries is definite “pudding consistency”. More lava than cake. And absolutely, decadently delicious. Just not so pretty. None of us were sure we would serve this to company – it’s pretty “rustic” in terms of its appearance, but for everyday dessert, it’s a wonderful choice. None of us were sure about the “genius” part of the recipe (i.e. which part made it “genius”) but pondered the fact that many people find making lava cakes challenging and that perhaps this felt more “do-able”? We weren’t sure about the presentation in a loaf pan and wondered if it might not work better in smaller tins or ramekins? In any case, it was a winner, taste-wise and gave us a few giggles as we attempted to style it to make it acceptable-looking!
Get the recipe for Nigella Lawson’s Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake on Food 52.
Genius Recipes feels like it could be a whole dinner party series in itself and I’ve certainly marked enough recipes to go back and make that I probably don’t need to look at another cookbook for a few months. It’s a timeless work and one I am sure I will refer to often.
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Interested in our Cookbook Book Club? So far we’ve enjoyed dinner with Marcella, dinner with Nigella, dinner with Ottolenghi, dinner with Maria Speck, dinner with Naomi Duguid, lunch with Jamie Oliver, a dessert party with Butter Baked Goods, dinner with Jacques Pépin, dinner with Smitten Kitchen, recipes from Rachel Khoo, we brunched with Donna Hay, dined with Mark Bittman, got together over a Gatherings-inspired baby shower brunch and dined with Simple Bites.