Cookbook Review: The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles

March 12, 2013 in cookbook, Food Porn, review


When I was given an opportunity to review this delightful cookbook “The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles” by Rinku Bhattacharya I happily accepted.

I simply adore all types of Indian food. It is all a wonderland of new and old favorite flavors.

My introduction to Indian food was through Bengali home cooking – my boyfriend in graduate school was from Bangladesh, via Hyderabad.

My ethnic food background is Colombian food (which doesnt go heavy on spice although it is nicely infused by cumin and cilantro) and American Midwestern Farm home cooking.

When I sat down to the first curry I had ever eaten, made by my then new boyfriend, it had boiled eggs in it! And it was served with rice and shiny red chili pods. I loved it, I can actually remember as I type this just how it tasted.

I then promptly lost the ability to taste anything when I chomped on one of the “garnish chilis” and the boyfriend laughed and laughed at my silly American ways. I was less amused and learned not to consider them edible.

This cookbook echos the techniques I saw him use and expands them hugely into a Big Bang of edible deliciousness.

Bengali cuisine is not vegetarian and does feature fish – makes sense considering that Bangladesh is composed in large part of the Ganges Delta at the confluence of two major rivers – The Bramaputra and The Ganges as they empty into the Bay of Bengal.

The book begins by introducing the core Bengali five spice blend also called Panch Phoron (all whole seeds):

  • Fennel seeds
  • Cumin seeds
  • Nigella seeds
  • Black Mustard seeds
  • Fenugreek seeds

The author shares a large pantry of spices at the beginning of the book. I suggest not going out and simply using it like a shopping list but rather get spices/items as needed for each recipe you try anew. Please take the time to store these items properly so that they do not lose their flavor in between your Bengali experiments.

She goes on to discuss spice pastes and blends. One can usually find these in local Indian stores. Be sure not to get old imported jars of it – get freshly prepared pastes/blends made by the Indian store proprietors or someone near by. You can also make your own!

The remainder of the book is filled with delicious recipes that will work you through the major broad fundamental categories of Bengali cuisine.


In the center of the book is a grouping of color photographs for some of the recipes in the book. They will entice you to jump right in and start learning about Bengali cuisine.

Chapters cover topics such as:

  • Rice and Breads
  • Dal (lentils)
  • Bhaja (fried items)
  • Vegetarian 1st courses
  • Vegetarian Entrees
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Poultry
  • Meat dishes
  • Chutneys, Relishes, Bhortas
  • Drinks
  • Snacks
  • Desserts

I highly recommend this cookbook and suggest that – if you are interested in expanding your cooking repertoire – you should dive into this well written, personal, and very usable book!

Book Information:

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Hippocrene Books
  • Title: The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles”
  • Author: Rinku Bhattacharya
  • Publication Date: Nov 15 2012
  • ISBN-10: 0781813050
  • ISBN-13: 978-0781813051

The Blue Jean chef: Comfortable in the Kitchen By Meredith Laurence

October 11, 2010 in Ad free, cookbook, Food Porn, giveaway, review


(Chicken Fried pork medallions, fried green tomatoes, sautéed garden spinach, white pan gravy)

This is a both a cookbook review and a giveaway. Five copies of this cookbook will be given away, the winners being selected on October 31, 2010 when there will be a simultaneous live event by Meredith Laurence, the author, on QVC on In the Kitchen with David at 12pm EDT. She will also be introducing her line of cookware along with her book on that day. The details on the giveaway are found later in this post.


Table of Contents

  • Soups and Salads
  • Snacks and Sandwiches
  • Pasta
  • Meat and Poultry
  • Fish and Seafood
  • Vegetables
  • Breakfast
  • Desserts and Treats

As with any cookbook author, Laurence seeks to present a select group of recipes to the reader in a certain way to make cooking easier and more enjoyable. Laurence crafts her book around core or basic recipes that introduce basic techniques. She shares some of her experience in these basic recipe sections to help the reader feel more comfortable with these techniques and suggests cookware and tools that makes the job easier. She then shares related recipes that helps novice cooks spread their wings with confidence and creativity.

Examples of basic recipes include:

  • Chicken Noodle Soup
  • Mac n Cheese
  • Roast Chicken
  • Meatloaf
  • Hamburger
  • Mussels
  • Roasted Vegetables
  • Pancakes
  • Cheesecake
  • Pie Dough
  • Dessert Souffle

For this review I chose the “Chicken Fried Steak” recipe which is listed under the basic recipe “Pan Fried Chicken”. In my version I used pork because thats what I had on hand!

I cut thin medallions from the loin to use in place of the tenderized beef steaks.

I found that we got a delightful and moist result from this simple recipe, I recommend it! As a side, I made fried green tomatoes because its the end of our gardening season and I have an abundance of green tomatoes! That recipe is not one I found in this cookbook.

Chicken Fried Steak (Page 118, modified here to pork vs beef)


  • 1 C buttermilk
  • 1 C + 2 tablespoons flour, divided in half
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 4 tenderized round steaks (~5-6 oz each, 1/2 inch thick)
  • 1 pound shortening (2 C oil)
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 C milk, room temperature

Preheat oven to 170 F. Pour buttermilk into shallow bowl. Combine 1 C flour, salt, pepper, garlic powder and divide mixture between two separate bowls or plates.

Heat shortening/oil (I used olive oil) in a 12 inch heavy bottomed saute pan, about 1/2 inch of oil. Heat to ~ 350 F. When hot, dip tenderized steaks, one at a time, in the flour, then the buttermilk, then the flour and then put into the pan. Fry about 2 – 3 minutes per side (until golden) and then remove to the oven to keep warm.

Chicken fried pork and fried green tomatoes, garden spinach

When done cooking all meat, drain all but 1 tablespoon of the oil from the pan. Add 2 tablespoons of flour to the pan along with the fresh thyme. Cook about 2 minutes or until flour is cooked. Add the room temperature milk to the pan and scrub up all bits of fried meat from bottom of the pan. Whisk this sauce and cook until it comes to a boil and then thickens. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Pour this gravy into a gravy boat ad serve with the steaks as well as your desired sides.

Chicken fried pork and fried green tomatoes, garden spinach

Chicken fried pork and fried green tomatoes, garden spinach

Fried Green Tomatoes


  • 4 large green tomatoes
  • 1/2 C flour
  • 1/2 C bread crumbs
  • 1/2 C corn meal
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 C milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • enough oil for about 1/4 to 1/2 inch oil in bottom of pan

Preheat oven to about 200 F. Heat oil to about 350 F. Slice green tomatoes about 1/2 inch in thickness. Dip tomato slices in eggs/milk and then dredge in the flour mixture. Place dredged slices into hot oil and cook until golden on each side. Remove slices to a baking pan in the 200 F oven to hold until time to serve. Sprinkle with some salt before serving.

Giveaway Details
To enter for a chance to win one of five copies of this cookbook you must do at least one of the following and may do all three to enter up to three times:

  • Leave a comment below telling me about your most important basic go-to recipe
  • Tweet about this giveaway with this specific tweet ” I entered 2 win @bluejeanchef ‘s cookbook Comfortable in the Kitchen @ Nikas Culinaria visit 2 enter! #recipes #foodies ” MAKE CERTAIN to comment below to let me know about the tweet
  • Blog about this giveaway and then let me know that you blogged it (with valid link) in the comments below

At the end of the contest, I will use a random number generator to select the winner.

I am looking forward to hearing from you!

Product Details

  • BLUE JEAN CHEF: Comfortable in the Kitchen
  • By Meredith Laurence
  • Walah!, LLC Publishing
  • October 2010
  • $24.95/Softcover
  • 96 full-color photos
  • ISBN-13: 978-0-9827540-3-0

Viva Vegan – a cookbook review

July 8, 2010 in cookbook, Food Porn, latino, review, vegetable


When I was offered an opportunity to review the book “Viva Vegan!: 200 Authentic and Fabulous Recipes for Latin Food Lovers” by Terry Hope Romero I was intrigued. Knowing latino cuisine as I do, the thought of a vegan adaptation of this heavily pork laden foodway boggled my mind. You can see from the traditional Colombian recipes that I have blogged about on this site, meat often figures heavily in our cuisine.

It should not have boggled my mind but it did. One has to banish the thought of chicharrones from one’s mind to be able to grasp vegan latino food and that seemed like too dear a price to pay! (winks)

When I got the book and browsed the recipes I had a huge head-bonking “I get it” moment.. of course! Latino food is at its VERY best when you eat the freshest ingredients and that doesnt really encompass chicharrones but avocados, cilantro, tomatoes, corn, platanos (plantains), yucas (casava), lime, and so much more.

When you remove the pork and replace it with olive oil you still have the beautiful flavors of latino foods. I would not recommend the margarines that the author does but she is trying to recapture some of the magic of butter that veganism bans. Any vegetable fat that is solid or semi-solid at room temperature is in some way modified (hydrogenated) and that is not good for your body. The best solution here is coconut butter – organic only and produced by a company that you trust and KNOW isnt using benzenes to purify their product.

The book consists of two parts and within those two parts a broad array of basic knowledge about vegan cooking and the adapted recipes:

Part One:

  • The Vegan Latin Pantry
  • Kitchen Tools (or How do I slice a mango)

Part Two:

  • A Few Essential Latino Vegan Recipes
  • Salsas and Condiementos
  • Bocadillos, Snacks, and Appetizers
  • Ensaladas
  • Beans and Rice, Los Dos Amigos
  • Vegan Asado: Tofu, Tempeh, and Seitan
  • Complete Your Plate: Vegetables, Plantains, and Grains
  • One Pot Stews, Cassaroles, and Cazuelas
  • Super Fantastico Latin Soups!
  • For the Love of Corn: Arepas, Pupusas, Tortillas, and More
  • You, Too, Can Tamale
  • Empanadas!
  • Drinks
  • Desserts and Sweets

For this review I intentionally chose a recipe that uses a common vegetarian/vegan ingredient that is relatively foreign to latino cuisine – tempeh – so that I can see if the author had been successful at making the translation. I prefer authenticity and loathe fake meat concoctions (tofurky?). I like tofu for its tofu-ness and would never eat it hoping to feel like I am eating meat.

What is tempeh? Trust me the following description might sound a bit – umm – revolting and it kept me from trying it for a long time but also trust me that tempeh is in fact really quite delicious!

“Tempeh, or tempe in Indonesian, is made by a natural culturing and controlled fermentation process that binds soybeans into a cake form. Tempeh is unique among major traditional soy-foods in that it is the only one that did not originate in China or Japan. It originated in today’s Indonesia, and is especially popular on the island of Java, where it is a staple source of protein. Like tofu, tempeh is made from soybeans, but tempeh is a whole soybean product with different nutritional characteristics and textural qualities. Tempeh’s fermentation process and its retention of the whole bean give it a higher content of protein, dietary fiber, and vitamins. It has a firm texture and strong flavor. Because of its nutritional value, tempeh is used worldwide in vegetarian cuisine; some consider it to be a meat analogue.” Source

I bought the organic three grain tempeh for this recipe (in addition to whole soybeans – brown rice, barley and millet). I can highly recommend this product – quite delicious!

Cookbook review: Viva Vegan

Just a quick side note: The notion of “stuffing” an arepa is most popular in Venezuela versus Colombia. In Colombia, generally, arepas are not stuffed but eaten simply with butter and salt. I am sure now a days the propensity to “stuff” them is also spreading into Colombia (its not immune to change!). I qualify the term “stuff” here because the arepa isnt really suited for stuffing because it falls apart. Its not a pita bread. You cant really form a hinge by cutting half way through it and then stuffing it. Its more like you cut the arepa in half and then make a sandwich sort of thing.

Cookbook review: Viva Vegan

The Recipes

For today’s review I worked from the following recipes (with some modifications based on availability of ingredients):

  • Pan-Fried Tempeh with Sofrito (page 112)
  • Basic Onion-Pepper Sofrito (page 32)
  • Black Bean – Corn Salsa Salad (page 72)

Feedback: I can tell you ahead of time, before we go through all the recipes, that my non-vegan chicharron-eating family (3, 6, 13, adults) reveled in the deliciousness of this tempeh dish. I was fully ready for the kids to reject this new food (and I didnt tell them how it is made, they just need to trust me that its edible) but they LOVED it.

The tempeh has a unique nutty flavor (a stretch for our family too, we have extreme nut allergies here) and had a great mouth feel. My 13 yo said it tasted sorta like meat (likely with respect to the texture). They also gobbled down the corn-black bean salsa.

It was a definite hit here! I hope you give it a try and see for yourself. You do not need to be vegan or vegetarian to love these foods, they are a way to expand your own personal food habits and expose you to new flavors!

Pan-Fried Tempeh with Sofrito (page 112)


  • 1 (8-oz) cake of tempeh
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • vegetable oil, for pan-frying
  • 1/2 cup Basic Onion-Pepper Sofrito (pg 32)
  • 2 plum tomatoes, seeded and minced
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 cup white wine, vegetable broth, or beer
  • olive oil for pan-frying


Slice the tempeh cake in half lengthwise, slice into thirds (I cubed it). You now need to steam it in a steamer basket, a covered saucepan with 1 cup water or in a microwave (covered dish, 1/2 cup water, nuke about 5 minutes). Drain all the water and then sprinkle with the soy sauce (I also sprinkled with lemon juice). Set aside.

Make your sofrito (see below).

Pan fry your tempeh on medium high in small amount of oil until golden on all sides.

To the hot pan add the following: sofrito, tomatoes, wine vinegar, cilantro, cumin; fry all until tomatoes are soft – 6-8 mins. Add in the tempeh and stir to coat and warm, ~ 5 mins. Pour the wine over this until almost absorbed, some sauce remaining. Serve in arepas, as shown.

Note on my modifications: We do not drink so we have no wine on hand, didnt add that. I also didnt add vinegar but added a splash of lemon juice.

Cookbook review: Viva Vegan

Tempeh before preparation.

Cookbook review: Viva Vegan

Steamed tempeh on to toast.

Cookbook review: Viva Vegan

Golden tempeh

Basic Onion-Pepper Sofrito (page 32) (note – I made a few key changes to this recipe for this review)


  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 6 cloves of garlic, chopped coarsely
  • 2 pounds green bell peppers, seeded, chopped finely
  • 2 pounds yellow onions, diced
  • generous pinch of salt
  • freshly ground black pepper


Saute peppers, garlic, onions, salt and ground pepper in a heavy pan on medium heat for about 10 mins. Lower heat and continue to cook for some 20 – 30 mins until all is soft and reduced to a 1/3 original volume.

Use immediately or cool and store in the refrigerator as a condiment.

Note on my modifications: In Colombian cuisine, we call the analogue to this “Hogao” and it doesnt include peppers or black pepper and would NEVER be made without cumin or cilantro. I had no peppers on hand so I made more of a traditional hogao versus this version. This means I also added cumin and tomatoes. Green onions are also especially good in this.

Cookbook review: Viva Vegan

Cookbook review: Viva Vegan



  • 1 C “La Venezolana” or “ArepaHarina” precocida masa harina (extremely fine precooked corn meal – you simply can not use any substitutes here, find this ingredient)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 C boiling hot water


Mix arepaharina with salt and hot water, mix well. Set aside for 5 – 10 mins. Shape into small balls (larger than a golf ball, smaller than a baseball) and then flatten into pucks (smooth edges).

Cookbook review: Viva Vegan

Toast in a hot pan until brown on sides, put into 350 F oven until ready to serve. Poke holes on top and slather with butter and sprinkle with salt or prepare as per desired recipe.

Cookbook review: Viva Vegan

Cookbook review: Viva Vegan

Black Bean – Corn Salsa (page 72) (I am leaving out the salad part as I only made the salsa portion)


  • 2 cups roasted fresh corn
  • 1 (14 oz) can organic black beans (2 cups cooked black beans)


Drain the can of beans, add the roasted corn.

Note on my modifications: I added 1 tablespoon chopped vidalia onion (raw), 2 plum tomatoes (chopped), salt, good sprinkle of cumin, 1 teaspoon minced garlic.

Cookbook review: Viva Vegan

Bring all of this together for a delicious meal! In a traditional latino home, this would not be served without rice (I recommend organic brown rice) but we are dealing with a nasty heat wave here in the Northeast (104.7 in the shade the other day, 109 with heat index) so cooking and eating rice was the LAST thing we wanted or needed. As it was, making these arepas and hot hogao and roasting corn – it all made my kitchen hot and I was POURING with sweat – not a happy picture, that.

Cookbook review: Viva Vegan

There are MANY more very delicious recipes in this cookbook. I recommend it for all – vegan or not. I also especially recommend it to the Latino/a who is considering or is a vegan and would like a taste of home with not so much pork in it!

Product Details:

  • Viva Vegan!: 200 Authentic and Fabulous Recipes for Latin Food Lovers
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Lifelong Books; 1 edition (April 27, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0738212733
  • ISBN-13: 978-0738212739

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Eating Raw: A Review

December 6, 2009 in cookbook, Food Porn, raw, recipe, review, vegetable


[This was cross posted at my raw food blog Raw+Simple]

I had an opportunity to dive into the book, written by by Mark Reinfeld, Bo Rinaldi, and Jennifer Murray, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Eating Raw.

I had not previously read one of these Idiot’s Guides but I found that they use uncomplicated first person language that feels quite direct and the layout is actually a great one because there are useful summaries as you move through the content which leads to great knowledge pick-up and retention. There are little call out boxes with nice tips relevant to the recipe or topic on that page.

There is a VERY useful chart showing you times and temperatures for dehydrating a range of foods. As recommended by many raw food chefs, this book suggests starting the dehydrating run at 145 F and then turning it down to 105 F some 2 hours later. This might seem contrary to what you have heard, which is likely that you should NEVER raise the temperature on living foods above 115 F. What is happening in those first 2 hours at 145 F is that the rate of evaporation is higher because there is the most water at the beginning of the cycle. This evaporation COOLS the food so the food is not actually at 145 F, just the air blowing over it. This 2 step process is recommended to ensure that the food you have put so much work into does not begin to mold before it dries sufficiently.

There is so much fundamentally useful information in the first several parts that its hard to cover. I think there really is very little if anything they have failed to cover for the beginner and the experienced.

The chapters are well organized and include:


  • Part 1: Raw Foods Illuminated
  • Raw Benefits
  • Myth Busters
  • Going Green with Raw Cuisine
  • Ancient Foods, Superfoods, and the Future of Food
  • The Perfect Pantry
  • Tools of the Trade
  • Part 2: Raw Techniques
  • Preparation Basics
  • Soaking and Sprouting
  • Advanced Techiques
  • Part 3: Recipes on the light side
  • Appetizers and Spreads
  • Salads and Dressings
  • Sublime Sauces and Toppings
  • Sumptuous Soups
  • Nut Milks and Cheeses
  • Bountiful Beverages
  • Part 4: Hearty Fare
  • Unbeatable Breakfasts
  • Filling Wraps and Sandwiches
  • Pizzas, Crackers, and Breads
  • Delicious Main Dishes
  • Puddings, Pies, and Parfaits
  • Cakes, Cookies, and Energy Bars
  • Part 5: Raw Transitions
  • A Day in the Life
  • Fasts and Cleanses
  • Four Week Raw Success Program
  • Glossary
  • Further Resources

As usual in these reviews, I choose a recipe and test it as well as photograph it.

I chose the following mushroom recipe and I can tell you, I was quite happy I did. This is an explosively flavorful dish with a lovely contrast between the intense meaty mushroom and the fresh tartly marinated asparagus. It was a huge thumbs up from everyone in my family from the 2.5 yo to the old adults.

I also found the marinade so beguiling that I used it on other vegetables, loved it all.

Portobello Mushroom Steaks with Balsamic Asparagus (Page 226)


  • 4 portobello mushroom caps
  • 2 cups filtered water
  • 1/4 cup plus 3 teaspoons nama shoyu (raw soy sauce)
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • pinch salt
  • pinch freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon stone ground mustard
  • 1 bunch asparagus (or enough for 4 servings
  • 1/2 medium red bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1/2 medium yellow or orange bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • undisclosed amount of maple syrup (try 1/4 cup) – book left this out of the ingredients!


Must caps in quarters and place in a baking pan with gills facing down. Add the water and 1/4 cup nama shoyu and put into 145 F dehydrator for 30 minutes. Remove from dehydrator and pour off the marinade (save 1/2 cup).

In a separate bowl mix basil, garlic, 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 teaspoons nama shoyu, salt, black pepper. Push mushrooms into this marinade, coat evenly.

In a bowl, mix 2 tablespoons olive oil, balsamic vinegar, stone ground mustard, maple syrup, 1 teaspoon nama shoyu.

Clean and trim asparagus, put into pan, add this balsamic marinade.

Put asparagus in pan into 145 F dehydrator for 1 hour, stir every 15 minutes.

After this hour, add remaining 1/2 cup balsamic marinade to bottom of mushroom pan and put it into the 145 F dehydrator with the asparagus for 45 to 60 minutes.

Remove from dehydrator and serve warm, if desired (its not bad at all cool). Recipe suggests sprinkling with the bell peppers but I didn’t for my photos.

Again, this recipe was amazing and I would recommend it completely, lots of amazing flavor.

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Eating Raw: A Review

Product Details