Several years back I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work with the legendary Sylvia Woods on a cookbook. It was her second book, but the intention this time was to tell her incredible rags-to-riches story. That story would be incomplete if it wasn't all about family and friends, which is why we called it Sylvia's Family Soul Food Cookbook. The interesting thing about the project is that I got to know so many members of the Woods family as a result. I remember the cover photo shoot like it was yesterday -- dozens of aunts, uncles, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces, and nephews all dressed up for portraits. I also vividly remember the book launch party at Sylvia's. I made a speech, which I almost never do. I'm paraphrasing a bit, but I said that the book was about love and bringing family and friends together. I was inspired by the Woods family then, and I still am. I've dined at Sylvia's in Harlem more times than I can count now, often for special occasions like birthdays. And I've worn out that cookbook, making the recipes so many times. I can think of no more fitting tribute than to cook up a few of Sylvia's recipes.Amazingly, I'd never tried making her bbq pork before. The truth is, I don't have much experience roasting pork shoulder, but as you can see from the first photo, it turned out quite beautifully, not that I should have expected anything less. After the roasting, you chop up the pork, discarding the bone (and try to resist snacking the whole time).I won't spoil the recipe for the bbq sauce which you make from scratch (hint, it has applesauce in it -- trust me, buy this book!) while the pork is roasting. You toss the pork, bbq sauce, and some chopped onions together.Then you roast everything for another 30 minutes, and you get this. Your kitchen will smell heavenly.Sylvia's black-eyed pea salad has been a favorite in my household for years now. It's sweet, just like you might expect from a Southern-style dish, and the longer you let it marinate before eating, the better it gets.Then there's the tomato-okra stew. At least to me, this is what Southern cooking is all about. Every time I make a dish with okra, I wonder why I don't do it more often. The key to this recipe is the bacon, a half pound of it, chopped and cooked until crisp. Then you cook 1/2 cup of chopped onions in the bacon fat and stir in a tablespoon of flour (I used cornstarch) to thicken things up. Next you add a 15-ounce can of stewed tomatoes, 10 ounces of frozen, cut okra, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon sugar. I used fresh okra, the same measure -- 10 ounces -- and loved the results. The recipe says to simmer, covered, for 15 minutes, but if you're using fresh okra like I did, you might want to cook it a bit longer until the texture seems right.So what did I do with all that great food? Zokos and Cookstr were holding a benefit potluck for City Harvest, so I brought all three dishes along with me. Besides the event being for a great cause (I think they raised about $1,000), lots of friends came out: Jackie, Margaret, Melody, Sara, Hazel, Emily, Yvo, Melissa, and more. There were quite a few raves for the stewed tomatoes and okra. My only regret is that I didn't make a bigger batch!
Recently I was invited to a party by Harvard Common Press to meet blogger Michael Natkin and given a copy of his brand-new cookbook, Herbivoracious. First let me say what a nice guy Michael is. The book is gorgeous, and I couldn't wait to get home and give it a try. I'd signed up for a potluck being thrown by Zokos and Cookstr to celebrate Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution Day, so I decided to try a recipe from Herbivoracious called Chana Masala with Mushrooms. Of course chana masala is a traditional Indian chickpea dish, but this version seemed more substantial to me with the addition of white mushrooms. It also seemed really easy to follow, a nice thing because sometimes Indian cooking can be a little intimidating to newbies like me.I stuck pretty closely to the real recipe. Well, I didn't have cumin or coriander seeds, so I used the ground version of the spices in the blend above, and it didn't seem to cause any problems. I also had to improvise a bit because I was making six times the normal recipe for the potluck -- the cooking times had to be altered quite a bit because my cooking pan was really full.You top the dish off with fresh cilantro to serve. So how did it turn out? Well, let's put it this way. I brought it to the potluck and won a prize for the dish that offered the "best bang for the buck"! So I guess it was a hit. Special thanks to Zokos and Cookstr for the prize, which was an Analon Nouvelle Copper Hard Anodized Nonstick 12-inch Skillet. I can't wait to try it out.Speaking of winners, my friend Dan of Renegade Kitchen won the other prize for "best use of a local ingredient." That's his dish on the bottom-right, a cornmeal cake with an amazing apple-radish salad served on top. (He definitely deserved to win.) Some other favorite dishes included the black rice salad made by Margaret of Savory Sweet Living, and Andrew's guacamole, both pictured above.
I'm so in love with Ken's photo-centric recap of the Tiger Beer Chinese New Year Potluck, I wouldn't think about trying to top it. His photos beautifully captured the event, and adding my own words won't do it justice. It was, quite simply, a great time. Plus I decided not to take photos of the event myself. Once in a while you have to leave the camera at home, right? I do want to thank Ken and Jackie for putting the event together, and big thanks to the sponsor, Tiger Beer.I made two dishes. First came an Indonesian-style beef rendang from Cradle of Flavor by James Oseland. You may already know I love that book, but the recipes are generally not easy. I doubled my batch and so the cooking took so long, I had to spread it out over two days. I'm sure I went wrong somewhere along the way because my meat was more shredded than how Oseland describes it in the recipe, but taste is what it's all about, and I thought this was really good. I'd definitely try making it again, maybe with a few tweaks next time. I have to mention my inspiration for the dish came from a fantastic event I attended recently which was sponsored by Malaysia Kitchen. I hope to have a chance to blog about it soon.I made pork adobo as a back-up and ended up bringing both dishes with me to the event? Is that weird? You see, I wasn't sure how the rendang would turn out, and there was no way I'd show up empty handed at the potluck with all those awesome food bloggers. This dish too required a lot more cooking time because I made a double, no wait, triple batch. I think I messed this up too, because the slab bacon I bought at my local Polish butcher was way too lean, but as I said, it's about the taste. And this was really good. I'd make this again in a heartbeat, though only for a crowd because it's so rich -- pork with bacon. If you're curious, here's the recipe.Philippine AdoboReprinted with permission from The Bacon Cookbook by James VillasMakes 4 servings2 pounds pork shoulder, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces10 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed1 teaspoon black peppercorns, crushed1 bay leaf1/2 cup cider vinegar2 tablespoons soy sauce2 cups water1/2 pound slab bacon (rind removed), cut into 1-inch piecesCooked long-grain riceIn a large bowl, combine the pork, garlic, peppercorns, bay leaf, vinegar, and soy sauce, toss well, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.In a large stainless-steel or enameled pot, combine the pork mixture and water, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 1 hour. Uncover, increase the heat to moderate, and continue cooking till the pork is tender and the broth is reduced to about 1 1⁄2 cups, about 30 minutes.Strain the broth into a small bowl, transfer the pork mixture to a large bowl, discard the bay leaf, and set aside.In the same pot, fry the bacon over moderate heat till almost crisp and transfer to a plate. Pick out the pork pieces from the pork mixture and brown them evenly in the bacon fat. Add the garlic, peppercorns, and bacon and stir till the garlic is lightly browned and some of it has turned into a paste, about 2 minutes. Add the strained broth, reduce the heat to low, and simmer about 5 minutes.Mound hot rice on serving plates and spoon equal amounts of adobo over the mounds.
April threw a little rooftop deck summer potluck over the weekend. Once I got a glance of this incredible view, I understood why. And once I heard about the foodies who were attending, I knew I couldn't miss it. I started book-marking recipes in my favorite cookbooks, first 15 recipes, then three, and finally these two which I made. Both of these recipes coincidentally come from gorgeous cookbooks published by my buddies at Weldon Owen, and as usual, I didn't pay for these books and am friends with the authors too, so keep in mind that I'm a little biased. That being said, these recipes were pretty amazing.First up, a spectacular Endive, Radicchio, and Apple Salad from Good Food to Share by Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan of The Kitchn. This is one of those stunning Williams-Sonoma books and perhaps you were lucky enough to pick it up in one of their stores already. If not, the book is due to be released everywhere else next month. Besides using my mandoline to julienne the apples, the only other change I made was to add extra bacon, and Sara Kate told me she was cool with that. The dressing is made from buttermilk and blue cheese, and trust me, you need to try this recipe.I also made Roasted Cauliflower with Pine Nuts and Raisins. My food styling isn't as pretty as the photo in the book, Cooking for Friends, but it's not fair to compare because authors Alison Attenborough and Jamie Kimm are professional food stylists. This is another gorgeous Williams-Sonoma book, but it's also available in bookstores now. And you won't be worried about your food styling skills once you taste this dish. It's a little hard to see in the photo, but there are golden raisins (I added some extra because I love them) and toasted pine nuts. I forgot to add parsley at the end, but it was still delicious.I thought the potluck was a hit, even if it was insanely hot on the rooftop deck. Our hostess, April, made her own cured salmon. There was some great mac & cheese that someone brought, made by her boyfriend who happens to be a private chef... nice. Margaret brought her now-legendary ribs -- she said she makes it differently each time, but you can check out the master recipe here. The secret must be the guava jam. And Ken brought these killer cinnamon-sugar popovers. I've been out with Ken a few times recently, and he never shows up to a dinner without treats for everyone to bring home. He always claims it's a coincidence that he happened to be baking that day, but something tells me he's just a really generous guy. As for these popovers, let's just say that I ate two of them. Okay, maybe two and a half.