Book Review

Book Review: The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry

the sharper your knife
I’m currently reading Kathleen Flinn’s The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry (my Amazon Associates link) for my online book club. It’s not nearly as emo as the title suggests! It’s a memoir of the author’s time at Le Cordon Bleu. So many people’s worst fear is to lose their job, but in reality, being fired can make people happier in the long run, because they were are given an opportunity to leave a less than ideal, but comfortable, situation and think about what they truly want to do. Flinn lost her corporate job, and with the encouragement from her boyfriend, being let go gave her a chance to pursue a long-time dream: studying cooking at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. If you’ve ever been curious what culinary school is like, The Sharper Your Knife gives you all the inside scoop.

I’m enjoying the book so far, and it makes me think about taking a break from work and doing something for me. Though I’m in no financial position to enroll in culinary school for fun, it has made me think about how I want to spend the next few years. It made me reflect on the fact that I will soon be leaving a job of six years, and before jumping right back into another job I’m not passionate about, I should think about what my own dreams are. Culinary school does sound fun, I will admit. But that’s something I don’t need to pursue while I’m young…one day, perhaps! Flinn is a great writer and brings her culinary school and Paris experiences to life, drawing you into her story. This has been a very satisfying read so far, especially compared to the last culinary school memoir I read, which lacked the attention to detail and heart that this book has.

Most chapters in the book ends with a recipe inspired by her story. I’ve always wanted to make a quiche, so I went ahead and adapted one of Flinn’s recipe. It came out delicious. Enjoy!

Please check out our online book club, The Kitchen Reader.

sun dried tomato quiche

Sun Dried Tomato and Caramelized Onion Quiche

Pâte Brisée:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick butter, cut into pieces and chilled
4 tablespoons water

Quiche:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 large onions, sliced
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon flour
6 to 8 sun dried tomatoes
1 clove garlic
1 1/2 tablespoon chopped or dried thyme
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 egg, beaten
3 large eggs
3/4 cup heavy cream
3 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated
Salt and pepper

To make the pâte brisée:
Add the flour and salt to a food processor. Process for a few seconds. Add the butter. Pulse until you get coarse crumbs. Gradually add a bit of water ar a time until the dough forms and sticks together. You may want to use your hands and add more water if needed until you get a soft dough. Form the dough into a disk shape and wrap in plastic.Let rest in the fridge for at least half an hour or up to one day.

To make the quiche:
Preheat oven to 425. Melt the butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook the onion and bay leaf for about half an hour, stirring every so often, until soft and brown. Remove the bay leaf, then add the flour and a pinch of salt. Cook for 2 more minutes, then take off heat and let cool completely.

Meanwhile, pour boiling hot water over sun dried tomatoes in a small bowl and set aside to plump for a few minutes, then drain tomatoes. Heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Cook the garlic, drained tomatoes, 1 tablespoon of thyme, and Kosher salt for a few minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

Roll out the dough and press it into a pie pan. Set a large piece of parchment paper in the center and fill with pie weights or dry beans. Bake for 5 minutes. Remove parchment and weights, and brush the pastry with the beaten egg. Return to the oven for 7 minutes. Remove and let the pastry cool slightly.

Whisk the 3 eggs and heavy cream in a large bowl. Stir in one third of the cheese, a pinch of salt and pepper, and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of thyme. Stir in the cooled onions and pour into the pastry shell. Arrange the tomatoes in a pretty pattern on top, and sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. Bake for 20 minutes until firm. Reduce oven heat to 400 and return to oven for another 15 minutes until firm, browned, and a little puffy.

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Lunch and Dinner

The Chinese Takeout Cookbook: Beef Chow Fun

beef chow fun the chinese takeout cookbook

Despite being born and raised in Hong Kong, I never really learned to make Chinese food, aside from simple fried rice and stir-fried eggs with tomatoes. And much as I love Chinese food, I don’t know all too much about it, not even my beloved Cantonese cuisine. I was even more confused when I moved to the US and didn’t recognize items on American Chinese takeout menus like General Tso’s Chicken and Crab Rangoon, though they soon became my favorite guilty pleasures. I’ve been really into cooking for over a year now and am proud of what I’ve accomplished in the kitchen, yet something has always been nagging me at the back of my mind. I need to learn how to make Chinese food. I need to get back in touch with my roots. Looks like I’ve found a little motivation!

chinese-takeout-cookbook

I’m excited. One of my favorite bloggers, Diana Kuan of Appetite for China, recently got her book The Chinese Takeout Cookbook published (my Amazon Associates link). She posts awesome recipes on her blog and I even had the opportunity to take one of her dumpling-making classes here in New York City (she’s just as lovely in person). So of course I had to get a copy when the book came out. It’s filled with all kinds of great stuff I can’t wait to try, both “authentic Chinese” and “American Chinese”. I used to be a bit of a snob about that distinction but she makes a really great point in her book–all food has evolved from somewhere or something else; food changes, travels, adapts.

I chose to make Beef Chow Fun first, as it’s one of my favorite dishes, and I had a huge bloody steak leftover from my Valentine’s Dinner, waiting to be stir-fried. I only have one small Chinese market in my neighborhood and unfortunately they didn’t know what fermented black beans were, so I had to forego those for my recipe. Otherwise, it came out pretty good! I still need much practice with the art of stir-frying and I don’t think I fried the noodles for long enough. Regardless, I enjoyed my homemade Beef Chow Fun and appreciated that it didn’t come out super greasy as it sometimes can when you order takeout.

I’m actually moving back to Hong Kong soon, where I won’t need to trek to a Chinatown to gather ingredients, so this cookbook is coming with me. I have a feeling that I will be turning to this book again and again. It will feed me comforting, nourishing food in the years to come.

beef chow fun

 

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Dessert

No Hearts of Darkness Here! My 2013 Valentine’s Treats

My seventeen year old self would be disgusted with me. Back then, when my college dorm roomies suggested we cut out paper hearts and color them red and pink to decorate our suite for Valentine’s Day, I proceeded to color one black and wrote on it: “HEART OF DARKNESS“. Guess who was the most popular roommate. (Not I.) Fast forward a decade later, I listen to a lot less death metal, LOVE pink, and own a heart shaped muffin tin. Yikes.

Valentine's 2013 chocolate strawberries and muffins

I decided to start a new tradition last year: to spread the love on Valentine’s and make treats for everyone. Last year it was heart shaped chocolate chip cookies and homemade “Milano” cookies. This year I decided to make chocolate dipped strawberries, which is awkwardly sexual for my coworkers I guess, but I figured the weight-conscious people would appreciate an alternative to baked good. But I had to do some baking too, ’cause c’mon, that heart-shaped mini muffin tin is just too cute.

I even made some Valentine’s crafts. Take that, seventeen year old Iris.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! I hope this day and everyday of your life is full of love. <3

Valentine's 2013 strawberries and muffins

Chocolate Cranberry Mini Muffins
Makes about 36 muffins

3/4 cup dried cranberries
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 egg
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus extra for greasing tin
10 ounces sour cream
3/4 cup chopped chocolate or mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350. Grease mini muffin tin with butter. (Bonus points if it’s heart-shaped one like mine, but a regular tin is just fine!) Put dried cranberries in a bowl and cover with very hot water. Set them aside to plump while you make the batter. Drain before mixing in with other ingredients.

Mix flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk the egg in a second medium bowl, then add the sugar and whisk until thick. Add the 4 tablespoons of butter and whisk to combine. Add the sour cream, whisking just to combine.

Add the chocolate and drained cranberries to the dry ingredients and gently mix to combine. Pour in the sour cream mixture and gently fold it in with a spatula or wooden spoon until the batter comes together and the chocolate and cranberries are evenly distributed.

Divide batter among the muffin cups. If you do have a heart-shaped muffin tin, I’ve found that filling each cup about 3/4 full gets you better heart-shaped muffins. Depending on the number of cups your muffin tin has, you might have to do the baking in a few batches. Bake until light golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the pan front to back halfway through the baking time. Check if they are ready by inserting a toothpick into the center of a muffin–it should come out clean. Invert onto a wire rack and let them cool for 5 minutes.

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Dessert

Joy the Baker’s Peanut Butter Bacon Cookies

joy the baker book

I said a while ago that I was going to rely more on my cookbook collection rather than the internet for recipe inspiration. Err, that didn’t happen too often. Oops. But I’m ready to recommit to this plan. Now I have extra motivation–I’m relocating in a few months and I won’t be able to take most of my books with me. Sad! I’ll have to make good use of them while I can.

I have a not-so-secret love for the Joy the Baker blog, as well as Joy’s podcast. (I also have a not-so-secret OBSESSION with podcasts in general. It’s a sickness, really.) Ironically, I’ve owned Joy’s book for a while now and had only made one of the recipes. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that all her recipes are sinfully delicious, and I’m convinced I won’t be able to stop myself from inhaling it all. But last month I decided to give this book the attention it deserves and made a few more of the recipes.

So far, my favorite has been her Peanut Butter Bacon Cookies. They are to die for. And, though far from being healthy, I like that they don’t have flour. It’s nice to switch it up in the kitchen like that, you know? They’re the perfect dessert for dudes, too. Well, who doesn’t love peanut butter and bacon?! Oh yeah…my vegetarian friend with a peanut allergy. But everyone else will love them, so go make a batch now!

Peanut butter bacon cookies

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Recipe Face-Off!

Recipe Face-Off: Walnut Brownies

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Time for Eating Clean in the Dirty City’s second Recipe Face-Off! I first heard about black bean brownies when Rocco DiSpirito went on the show The Doctors to promote his book. I haven’t heard the best things about either him or his book, so I already knew it would unfair competition to use his recipe for this post.

But here’s someone I do trust: Joy the Baker. I decided to compare her Triple Chocolate Black Bean Brownies to my go-to classic brownie recipe from Big Girls Small Kitchen.

Big Girls Small Kitchen’s Brownies

Walnut BrowniesI love these. They are what brownies should be. Not too sweet, moist with a crackly top, and that teaspoon of espresso powder makes the flavor amazing.

Joy the Baker’s Triple Chocolate Black Bean Brownies

Triple Chocolate Black Bean BrowniesI under-cooked these a little so they look a little more moist in the photo than they should (although, no complaints from me!). I was a little surprised at how good these brownies were, though I really shouldn’t doubt Joy. If you didn’t know there were beans in them, you probably wouldn’t even notice that these aren’t regular brownies. I did taste the black beans, but I thought they gave the brownies a nice kick that complemented the chocolate.

Final Verdict

As good as the black bean brownies are, I still have to pick Big Girls Small Kitchen’s brownies as the winner. They are the perfect, classic brownie for me. But Joy’s black bean brownies weren’t far behind, taste-wise. If the recipe were a little healthier (there really weren’t too many beans involved) and tasted just as good, I could call it the winner. But given the minimal extra protein and fiber compared to the regular brownies, taste still trumps.

Have you ever made black bean brownies? How did you like them?

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