Pepper’s Year of Joyous Cooking in January

Pepper’s Year of Joyous Cooking – Alison Roman’s Dining In (January)

I bought this cookbook when it was published a few years ago and read it cover to cover a few times, but really had not delved into it for some reason. I really haven’t used cookbooks lately, relying on them for inspiration and the simple joy of reading them. I really wish I had cooked from this book sooner. The recipes are phenomenal and range from quick, after-work recipes to lazy, Sunday-afternoon dishes. The flavor combinations are inventive and downright ingenious at times. 

All of the recipes we tried were hits and will be worked into our regular repertoire. A favorite? Well, Mr. Perfect says it’s a tie between the Chicken Soup with Toasted Garlic, Mushrooms and Celery, and the Crispy-Skinned Seared Salmon. I agree about the soup but I also fell in love with the Whole Wheat Pasta with Brown-Buttered Mushrooms, Buckwheat and Egg; the Endive-Apple Salad; and the Delicata Squash with Coconut Gremolata. Oh, and the Best Bakes Beans truly are the best I’ve ever made. 

The Chicken Soup is a winner because the broth is simply amazing. We roasted a chicken and cut/shredded that meat for the soup and then made stock with the bones and skin, so we started with a great building block. The Rio Grande Valley is blessed with a chicken farm based in Socorro known as Pollo Real and owned by Tom Delahanty. Tom has a remarkable operation where his birds are grazed in fields, eating grass, weeds, bugs and whatever else they find. These birds are truly free-range. They are butchered humanely and Tom produces some of the best chicken (and turkeys) imaginable. Most of my chicken and turkey dishes are brought to you courtesy of Tom! So, this soup had a remarkable base to begin with but it was enhanced with a copious amount of mushrooms. (This is one of the reasons Mr. Perfect enjoyed the soup so much; he’s a mushroom fiend.) 

The soup pot started with sliced garlic browned in oil and pulled out to be used as a garnish later. We then sautéed shallots in the oil to a golden brown and then added more than a pound of mushrooms – cremini and portobello because that’s what we could find right now. These were fried to a meaty, slightly crunchy, consistency before we added that amazing stock. All of this simmered until the stock absorbed the mushroom and shallot goodness. The chicken and celery were added near the end of the cooking – really just to warm everything up – along with fish sauce and lime juice which brought umami and acidity to brighten it up. All of this was topped with celery leaves, cilantro and the fried garlic chips. Mr. Perfect thinks this is one of the best soups he has ever eaten!

We also loved the Seared Salmon served on Green Romesco sauce. This is definitely a dish to make after work because the salmon cooks right up and the romesco was a breeze. The pickled shallots and watermelon radish also came together quickly and was such a pretty side! I appreciate eating pickled vegetables when eating fish because it helps cut through the fishiness of the fish. (Does that make sense?)

Let me tell you a bit about the Whole Wheat Pasta dish! This is another easy, after-work dish. I’m generally not a big fan of whole-wheat pasta due to the poor quality from decades ago, but they’ve come a long way and I was impressed with the taste and texture of the pasta. Not only that, but it was the perfect palette for the mushrooms. Here we used about two pounds of mushrooms cooked in a lot of brown butter to a deep, crispy brown. The brown butter was the key to this dish. The meatiness and richness worked well with the whole-wheat pasta. The pasta was topped with toasted buckwheat of all things. I wasn’t sure about it, but WOW! It was the perfect topping! Crunchy, wheaty, sublime. Don’t skip this ingredient if you make this. (We toasted extra and put it on our yogurt and fruit salad now.) And then, we added a raw egg yolk to each plate, which, when broken, coated the hot pasta for added richness – sort of like a take on pasta carbonara without the bacon. We were licking our plates!

There are still a lot of tags on recipes that we simply did not have the time to try and we look forward to making these, as well as some of our new favorite recipes. There are recipes to suit everyone, including an entire chapter devoted to the big, knife-and-fork salads that are truly belly-busters. OK, there are a few other favorites from that section! Really, it’s almost impossible to choose a favorite!

We ate well in January. Onward to February!

One of the recipes from Pepper’s January cookbook selection.

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