Cooking the Book, Vol. 4: 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 wonderful, highly readable cookbook. 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. 

The book is just a delight to read though. If you're a bit of a food snob, you'll like this book. If you're a bit of a hipster, you'll like this book. If you like to challenge yourself to try new flavors, then this is for you. I happen to be all of these things, so I was super excited when I read it for the first time. I know Alison Roman has become a bit of a controversial figure, with accusations of cultural appropriation and shade thrown at Chrissy Teigen and Marie Kondo coming back to bite her in the ass. I'll just leave it at this--some of the recipes in here are quite good, and you don't have to like Alison Roman to like the recipes. 

Moving on...

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. My husband hated the tahini in this, and didn't have more than a bite or two. I thought it was decent when warm, but it was really tasty the second day when I ate it cold out of the fridge, especially the roasted dates. I substituted basil for the mint and cilantro, as my local grocery store was curiously out of both. This was a bad idea--I learned that cumin seeds and basil do not go together. We ended up picking the basil out. I also left out the pine nuts because small quantities of nuts are hard to come by where I live, and the big bags are hard for me to store in our tiny freezer. 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. I did leave out the pistachios (once again, a small amount of nuts is hard for us to find), but I don't really think it needs them since the raw veggies are crunchy enough, and the feta adds enough fat. Recipe here.

Split Pea Salad: 2/5 stars. I followed her instructions exactly, even draining my split peas a few minutes early, but they still turned out mushy. There is a lot of bacon grease in this, which muddles the flavors. The roasted potatoes don't add any flavor, only mushiness. 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: 3/5 stars. I used brown lentils, and unfortunately they got too mushy when I cooked them according to the low end of her suggested cooking time. The rest of the dish never came together as a result. The flavors were otherwise decent, though nothing amazing considering how much oil goes into this. 

Kinda-Sweet Granola with Coconut and Turmeric: 4/5 stars. I loved the level of sweetness in this granola. It was perfect for sprinkling on yogurt. I ended up increasing the amount of cinnamon and leaving out the turmeric. The suggested amount of sesame seeds was way too much, however. I would lower it to 1/4 cup. 

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 left the dish too heavy for me. I left out the walnuts (see above for why), but I can't imagine it would solve that problem. 

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: 4/5 stars. I've made a few slow-roasted salmon dishes, and this one was good, but not the best. The salmon was very tender and had a nice citrus aroma, but not as much as I had hoped. Covering and cooking it in oil did not add a whole lot, and I could do without it next time. 

Perfect Steak with Buttered Radish Toast: 2/5 stars. I made this as described, 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. I didn't make the buttered radish toast, so I can't comment on that. 

Vinegar-Braised Chicken with Farro and Watercress: 1/5 stars. The chicken was tender, but we found the vinegar flavor really off-putting. The farro also got mushy in the braise, and the watercress felt out of place. We ended up throwing the leftovers away.

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. 

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 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 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: 3.4/5 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. I also had to leave out a lot of ingredients here and there, mostly nuts and herbs, because I can't always keep my pantry stocked like that. I have a feeling if I lived closer to a Whole Foods or at least a grocery store with a bulk bin and a better herb supply, it would have been a lot easier to cook from this. 

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
  • Baked Pasta with Artichokes, Greens, and Too Much Cheese
  • 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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