Cooking the Book, Vol. 5: Dining In: Highly Cookable Recipes by Alison Roman


In classic Kat fashion, I'm a few years behind the rest of the food-blogosphere in reviewing this cookbook that took the food world by storm when it was published in 2017. And for good reason. The struggle has been finding a way to incorporate the recipes into my everyday meal plan, as they can be a bit fussy and involve looking for ingredients that your mainstream grocery chains may not stock. Highly cookable they are not, unless you exclusively shop at Whole Foods and farmer's markets. 

Despite my grumblings about the book, it is a delight to read. Misguided comments towards POC aside, Roman happens to be a strong writer with a compelling voice. Every recipe seems to tell a story, and the story makes you want to cook it. I felt super inspired during my first read-through of this book and quickly bookmarked nearly every recipe. I've been cooking out of it for a year now (yes, it's taken that long to make 12 recipes from it--not a great sign), and here's my standard recipe breakdown with my thoughts on everything I tried.

Cumin-Roasted Cauliflower and Dates with Tahini and Pine Nuts: 4/5 stars. This is hard to rate because I changed quite a bit when I made it (I've become that kind of recipe reviewer apparently). Due to my Stop and Shop running out of mint and cilantro, I had to sub with basil (turns out basil and cumin do not mix), and I just couldn't justify buying pine nuts for one side dish. The finished dish was okay the day of, but pretty tasty straight out of the fridge a day later. I picked out the basil and happily polished it off. My husband however hated the tahini in this and didn't have more than a bite or two. I imagine with the mint and cilantro, this would be much better, so I gave it a 4 rather than a 3. For the amount of effort this involved, however, I wouldn't make it again. I've made a lot of roasted cauliflower dishes and have enjoyed easier recipes more. 

Raw and Roasted Carrots and Fennel with Feta and Pistachios: 5/5 stars. This was my first time working with fennel, and I was nervous because I typically dislike the flavor of anise. This was delicious though! A salad full of different flavors and textures--creamy, bright, and crunchy. Recipe here.

Split Pea Salad: 2/5 stars. I followed Alison's instructions as closely as I could, but despite draining my split peas a few minutes earlier than called for, they still turned out overcooked and quite mushy which ruined the dish for me. The roasted potatoes further contributed to the mushiness when tossed with the split peas. Even all that bacon couldn't save it. I found the amount of bacon grease overwhelming, and it actually muddled the flavors. I added a lot of vinegar to cut through the bacon grease, but even that didn't save this dish. 

Spelt with Crispy Sausage, Flowering Broccoli, and Green Garlic: 5/5 stars. Brilliant! Like an Italian fried rice, but somehow better because every grain becomes both crispy and chewy. I used her suggested substitution of farro for the spelt, and it worked beautifully. We've made this a couple of times now, and my husband always enjoys it. Recipe here.

Olive Oil-Fried Lentils with Cherry Tomatoes and a Chile-Fried Egg: 2/5 stars. I used brown lentils (which she suggested as a possibility), and unfortunately they got too mushy even at the low end of her suggested cooking time. Another dish ruined. The flavors were otherwise decent, though nothing amazing. My husband hated this.

Kinda-Sweet Granola with Coconut and Turmeric: 4/5 stars. A good, but not great granola recipe. I did enjoy that it was not very sweet, which made it perfect for sprinkling on yogurt. I didn't have millet, so I used her suggested substitution of sesame seeds, which unfortunately ended up being way too much. I would lower it to 1/4 cup next time. 

Clam Pasta with Chorizo and Walnuts: 3/5 stars. This was the rare recipe from this book that my husband liked more than I did. I thought it was just okay. The amount of chorizo overwhelmed the flavor of the clams. Would not make again. 

Roasted Tomato and Anchovy Bucatini: 5/5 stars. My favorite recipe in the book! This is the best spaghetti with tomato sauce I've ever had. The umami flavor is off the charts. After I made it the first time, I immediately made it 3 or 4 more times--it's that good. This went in my heirloom recipe notebook. Recipe here.

Slow Salmon with Citrus and Herb Salad: 3/5 stars. Just okay. The salmon was very tender and had a nice citrus aroma, but not as much flavor as I had hoped. I didn't feel that the oil confit did anything for the salmon, as I've made other slow-roasted salmon dishes without this that tasted comparable and didn't leave a pool of oil on my plate.

Perfect Steak with Buttered Radish Toast: 2/5 stars. I made this following the instructions exactly, and my steak ended up well-done and leathery. I even checked to make sure I had the right thickness and everything, but 6-8 minutes on each side is too much (we usually do 4 minutes on one side, 3 minutes on the other). The flavor was fine, but we could barely cut into our steaks. A waste of good beef. 

Vinegar-Braised Chicken with Farro and Watercress: 1/5 stars. I can't emphasize enough how much we hated this. The chicken was tender, but the vinegar flavor was really off-putting. The farro also got mushy when cooked according to her suggested cooking time, and the watercress felt out of place. We ended up throwing the (substantial) leftovers away. I'm still puzzled by this dish as everyone on the Food52 Cookbook Club seems to love it.

Paprika-Rubbed Sheet-Pan Chicken with Lemon: 4/5 stars. This was pretty tasty, but again, there were issues with the cooking time in the recipe. I tested the chicken 5 minutes before it was supposed to come out, and it was already overcooked. The flavor was solid though, and it ended up being really nice on top of pizza with kale. You can't go wrong with paprika and fennel seed. 

Anchovy-Butter Chicken with Chicken Fat Croutons: 5/5 stars. One of the best roast chickens I've ever made. Super moist and flavorful. I unfortunately didn't do the chicken fat croutons because I didn't have good bread around, but will have to do that next time.

Cocoa Banana Bread: 1/5 stars. This was such a failure for me. I'm not sure if it's because the amount of batter was more than my standard-size loaf pan could take or if the weight of the sliced bananas on top had something to do with it, but the middle never ended up rising or even baking all the way through even after I baked it a full 30 minutes longer than the recipe called for. The banana bread ended up an unsightly, gelatinous mess. The flavor was nice, but this was one of the biggest baking fails I've had in my kitchen. And I make banana bread all the time! 

Average Recipe Rating: 3.3/5 stars

This was a tough one. While there were some shining stars in this cookbook (that roasted tomato and anchovy pasta is just unfff so good), a lot of these were misses, and I didn't find the recipes as a whole all that reliable. The cooking times for a lot of the recipes were too long and ended up ruining what could have been good meals. She would have benefited from more recipe testing. 

Overall, I applaud Alison Roman for her creativity and her fresh, modern take on cooking, but I'll have to approach her recipes with a more judicious eye, especially regarding the cooking times. 

I'll update this as I continue to cook from it. 

Recipes I'm Excited to Make Next: 

  • Blistered Green Beans with Creamy Tahini and Fresh Hot Sauce
  • Crispy Kimchi and Cheddar Omelette
  • Crispy Chickpeas and Lamb with Greens and Garlicky Yogurt
  • Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder with Citrus and Garlic
  • Chocolate Tahini Tart

Did you enjoy this review? Here are my other previous Cooking the Book reviews:

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