I recently glanced at my small collection of cookbooks and realized that I was pretty uninspired by all of them. I don’t buy cookbooks often, as I find I can usually get a good recipe on the internet or by checking out a cookbook at the library; thus, my cookbooks are dated and I rarely find myself cooking from them. And to be honest, I don’t cook from recipes all that often anyway – I find it’s simpler to throw together a stir-fry, pasta dish, salad, or tacos by “feel.” But this holiday season I began to feel like it was time to trade out some of the old for a few fresh new titles for my cookbook repertoire, so I treated myself to a Christmas present: Alison Roman’s Dining In.
I had heard Alison Roman interviewed on the Bon Appétit podcast (Episode 135 from October 25th, 2017: It’s Not Entertaining, It’s Having People Over). Based on her description of the book, I had a feeling it would speak to me: quick recipes using fresh ingredients, with plenty of salt, sour, heat, crunch, and creaminess for a balanced, satisfying meal. The online reviews of the book were excellent and the food style sounded right up my alley.
I’ve made five dishes so far from Dining In, and everything has been unique and delicious. I will highlight what I’ve made here:
Caramelized Winter Squash with Toasted Coconut Gremolata (page 48)
This was one of the best vegetable dishes I’ve ever made. It happens to be plant-based, so this would be a perfect offering for your vegan friends. I miss summer vegetables so much in the winter, so it’s nice to find an exciting recipe for winter squash so I don’t feel too sorry for myself! This recipe offers a nice balance of flavors and textures. Be sure to keep the toasted coconut separate if you plan to eat leftovers – it will start to soften as it sits with the herbs in the refrigerator. I did not remove the seeds when I made this; however, I probably will next time, toasting them up separately and adding them for an extra crunch as desired. They softened as well in the refrigerator, therefore my leftovers had some texture issues.
Avocados with Everything (page 119)
Alison includes several recipes for condiments in Dining In, including an Everything Seed Mixture (page 20) like you would find on an everything bagel. This avocado recipe simply uses fresh lemon or lime juice and this seed mixture to dress up your avocado. It was delicious and unique. Now, was the effort of making the Everything Seed Mixture worth it in light of Trader Joe’s Everything But the Bagel Sesame Seasoning Blend? I’m not sure – either would work in this situation (add the toasted poppy seeds and caraway seeds to the Trader Joe’s spice seed blend if desired).
Clam Pasta with Chorizo and Walnuts (page 147)
This was my first experience cooking clams and boy was it tasty. The chorizo and garlic added a nice richness to this pasta. I think it would be good with shrimp or mussels in place of clams, or as part of a seafood mixture. My clams took a few extra minutes to open, causing me to overcook my pasta a bit, so I recommend starting the pasta later than the recipe advises. The pasta will continue to cook a bit when added to the clams, so definitely err on the less-than-al-dente side. I made this dish for myself one night when Jack was out of town – I can’t wait to make it again for the two of us!
Salted Butter and Chocolate Chunk Shortbread or Why Would I Make Another Chocolate Chip Cookie Ever Again? (page 261)
If you’ve seen one recipe from Dining In on social media, it’s likely this one. Even Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen jumped on the salted butter chocolate chip cookie bandwagon. I made these last night for a family get-together and they were fantastic. Now, unlike Alison Roman, I do not believe chocolate chip cookies to be “deeply flawed” (especially not my mom’s chocolate chip cookies). Alison’s cookies are a bit more fussy and have a few extra steps than my mom’s cookies, so I doubt they will replace my usual recipe (be sure to let them cool at least five minutes before moving them or they will break into a million delicious pieces). They have a crunchier shortbread consistency than a typical chocolate chip cookie, but they soften up nicely after 15-20 seconds in the microwave if you’re looking for some “chew.” The crunchy Demerara sugar and flaky sea salt add a nice texture and flavor balance. These are definitely a crowd pleaser that I hope to make again.
Chocolate-Tahini Tart with Crunchy Salt (page 269)
I made this tart for our Christmas family get-together last weekend. I used Ghirardelli 70% cacao baking bars (the recipe calls for “at least 68% cacao”) and it turned out very rich. In fact, it was a bit too chocolatey for me (I know…) I was amazed how the tahini just blends in with the chocolate and you can’t really distinguish it in the final product. I think I would have enjoyed this dessert more with a bit of peanut butter swirled in or a dollop of barely sweetened whipped cream to balance out the richness. The flakey sea salt was a nice touch – I might be more generous with the salt next time. The crust turned out a bit crumbly for me – not sure if I did something wrong or if this is how it’s supposed to turn out. I might even make 1.5-2 times the crust next time to get more butter/salt to balance out the chocolate. Or maybe I’m just not a chocolate tart kind of woman? It was very popular with the chocolate lovers at our holiday gathering.
If you’re looking to add a new recipe book to your collection, I highly recommend Dining In. Alison Roman has definitely mastered the art of combining ingredients of varied textures and flavors to make delicious dishes that are balanced and satisfying. I hope to cook more in 2018 and this is just the tool I need to help me do that. I wish you a happy new year with plenty of delicious meals and lots of adventures!