Cook the Book: Dining In by Alison Roman

Cook the Book: Dining In by Alison Roman

About the Book

This month I cooked through Alison Roman’s Dining In. I could say this cookbook needs no introduction and probably be correct if you follow any food writing. After it came out it took Instagram by storm with The Cookies (I was way more into these Instagram famous cookies at the time tbh).

I had already purchased the book a month after it came out based on some very good reviews, and gave The Cookies a try. I hate to be a contrarian and I REALLY wanted to like them, but I just did not find them remarkable (shortbread is an inferior cookie – discuss) so I put the book back on the self and hadn’t revisited it until this month. Now, I regret making such a rash judgement. Sorry, Alison!

EASE OF RECIPES RATING

Dining In uses the subtitle of Highly Cookable Recipes, and it lives up to it. Roman’s style of writing is easy to follow for the most part, and the recipes provide helpful notes that show that she is really considering what it would be like to cook this in your everyday life.

One thing I would have appreciated is an estimate for how long a recipe would take. I found myself reading through the recipes and trying to add up the time it would take instead. And if you’re trying to decide whether you want to make something on a weeknight, it helps to know what you’re getting into.

INGREDIENTS OBSCURITY RATING

Following my favorite trend in cookbooks, Roman is upfront about her hard-to-find ingredients and includes a section that highlights these ingredients. Most of these are found in any grocery store now, or at least a Whole Foods.

Beyond these few special ingredients, you’ll be able to make a lot of recipes with what you already have in your pantry. When I was planning my recipes for the month, I went through each recipe and compiled a list of pantry items I would need. I was pleasantly surprised when I had almost every item I would need, and the ones I had to buy were things I needed or wanted anyway. This was also great because I moved this month and wanted to use up stuff in my pantry anyway.

Grocery Store Rating: Make a few trips to Whole Foods or go to a well-stocked grocery store.

Cook the Book: Dining In by Alison Roman - Chocolate Tahini Tart with Crunchy Salt
When you ask your friend to model the Chocolate Tahini Tart with Crunchy Salt.

A Menu for Ladies Who Lunch

As you may know, I had a big proponent of cookbook clubs. But after having one with about 15 people in my tiny place, I was feeling a bit down on them. So at the beginning of this year, I started just inviting some of my (lady) friends over for a Sunday afternoon lunch. It was more intimate and gave everyone a better chance to talk (or rather yell in agreement over each other).

Here is the menu from our March gathering of Ladies Who Lunch:

The Sides

Blistered Green Beans with Creamy Tahini and Fresh Hot Sauce – This recipe is a keeper on all accounts. The technique used to blister the green beans might be my new go-to green bean preparation. No blanching. She doesn’t even care if you trim the ends or not. Just tossed with oil and put on a hot-hot skillet. My other favorite take-away from this recipe is the fresh hot sauce technique – definitely a keeper.

Butter-Tossed Radishes with Fresh Za’atar – This is easily one of the simplest recipes in the book, but one of the best. I had never had a cooked radish before, and wouldn’t really think of doing anything to them besides slicing them thinly. Maybe quick pickling them in some rice vinegar. But this recipe makes the case for sauteing them every so often.

Fennel and Grapefruit Salad with Honey and Mint – To my surprise, my favorite section in the book was the Fruit Salads. I love the interesting combinations and unexpectedness of them. This grapefruit number had a very balanced flavor, and may be able to convert some of those fennel haters. And bonus, you can make it with the leftovers from the sorbet cups (see below).

Turmeric-Roasted Carrots with Seeds and Labne – I loved how simple and straight-forward this recipe was. The high temperature for roasting also made this a quick recipe. And the seeds and turmeric provided a lot more flavor than I expected. This recipe is also great because it can be served at room temperature and still taste good.

Cook the Book: Dining In by Alison Roman - Blistered Green Beans with Creamy Tahini and Fresh Hot Sauce, Butter-Tossed Radishes with Fresh Za’atar, Turmeric-Roasted Carrots with Seeds and Labne, Baked Summer Squash with Cream and Parmesan Bread Crumbs, Fried Eggplant with Harissa and Dill, and Slow Salmon with Citrus and Herb Salad
Blistered Green Beans with Creamy Tahini and Fresh Hot Sauce, Butter-Tossed Radishes with Fresh Za’atar, Turmeric-Roasted Carrots with Seeds and Labne, Baked Summer Squash with Cream and Parmesan Bread Crumbs, Fried Eggplant with Harissa and Dill, and Slow Salmon with Citrus and Herb Salad

The Mains

Slow Salmon with Citrus and Herb Salad – You may be a little hesitant to pour a cup and a half of olive over the salmon, but just try it. This slow roasting technique has a big pay off: no way to over cook it and a not-even-close-to-dry end result. The other added bonus is that the citrus and herbs makes your salmon look beautiful.

Baked Summer Squash with Cream and Parmesan Bread Crumbs – My friend Tyler, also an Alison Roman convert, showed up with this delicious, cheesey dish. It was a favorite among the group. Tyler suggested cutting it into quarters for more bread crumbs surface coverage. Seems like a good idea to me!

Fried Eggplant with Harissa and Dill – I had a bit of trouble getting these to fry to my liking (and the absorption of the oil is really worrying for your arteries), but they still turned out well. I’m not typically a fan of tomato-y things, but I loved the spice of the harissa and tang of the vinegar in this sauce. One friend enjoyed the sauce so much that she asked for the recipe for it.

Cook the Book: Dining In by Alison Roman - Fennel and Grapefruit Salad with Honey and Mint, Blistered Green Beans with Creamy Tahini and Fresh Hot Sauce, Fried Eggplant with Harissa and Dill, and Baked Summer Squash with Cream and Parmesan Bread Crumbs
Fennel and Grapefruit Salad with Honey and Mint, Blistered Green Beans with Creamy Tahini and Fresh Hot Sauce, Fried Eggplant with Harissa and Dill, and Baked Summer Squash with Cream and Parmesan Bread Crumbs

Dessert

Sorbet in Grapefruit Cups – My other Dining In fan friend Kate came bearing this refreshing dessert. This recipe is all about the technique. It’s easily the most clever way to serve sorbet and will make you feel like a kid again, but fancy. Anyone else remember those sherbet cups? Roman also helpfully suggests using the grapefruit for the salad we made above. No wasting here!

Chocolate Tahini Tart with Crunchy Salt – This was one of the easiest tarts I’ve ever made. Not only was the flavor combo spot on, but the tart just looked pretty. I kept mine in the refrigerator overnight and liked the thick texture it gave it.

Cook the Book: Dining In by Alison Roman - Sorbet in Grapefruit Cups
Sorbet in Grapefruit Cups
Cook the Book: Dining In by Alison Roman - Raw and Roasted Kale with Pistachios and Creamy Pecorino, Cumin-Roasted Cauliflower and Dates with Tahini and Pine Nuts, and Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Hot Honey Browned Butter
Raw and Roasted Kale with Pistachios and Creamy Pecorino, Cumin-Roasted Cauliflower and Dates with Tahini and Pine Nuts, and Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Hot Honey Browned Butter

Weeknight Dinners that Will Make You Feel Fancy

Raw and Roasted Kale with Pistachios and Creamy Pecorino – Kale salads are like a litmus test for any chef now. And Alison Roman gives us a pretty interesting one. The base of this knife-and-fork salad is the standard cheese/olive oil/vinegar/garlic/lemon juice dressing massaged into the leaves, but the top of this salad makes it: oven roasted kale leaves dressed with aleppo pepper. Admittedly, my roommate and I ate mostly the roasted part because they were just that good.

Cumin-Roasted Cauliflower and Dates with Tahini and Pine NutsThis was a dish that I loved in theory. But I’m starting to wonder if I like tahini as much as I think I do. The cauliflower has a bitter edge and so does the tahini. And I don’t know that the dates were enough to sweeten the dish. I would probably make this dish again to see if I had these same (personal taste) issues again.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Hot Honey Browned Butter – This recipe seems like a bit of a commitment for a dinner, with an hour roasting time. But I liked that I could leave this recipe to work its magic while I made the rest of my meal.  And while I made the browned butter for that matter. The butter is really the star of this recipe. Even if you don’t make the potatoes, this butter is worth putting on something (anything) else.

Cook the Book: Dining In by Alison Roman - Crispy Chickpeas and Lamb with Greens and Garlicky Yogurt
Crispy Chickpeas and Lamb with Greens and Garlicky Yogurt

Crispy Chickpeas and Lamb with Greens and Garlicky Yogurt – The recipe is enjoyable to eat (super crunchy) and a leisurely dinner to make. It’s also representative of what I like about Roman’s recipe writing: she reminds the reader that they are not done with the skillet after finishing the lamb/chickpea combo. This might seem like something minor, but I can’t think of a single cookbook that has done that courtesy. She also includes a note to warn the reader that, yes, you do need to use that much oil and single-handedly saves the reader from some unexpectedly soggy chickpeas.

My Failure

Spelt with Crispy Sausage, Flowering Broccoli, and Green Garlic – So I go into this recipe thinking it’s going to be a pretty simple weeknight dinner. I don’t know what went wrong, but it ended up being quite a mess and just too rich of a meal for my tastes. Everything was going fine with the crispy sausage, but as soon as I added the farro (subbed for spelt), everything went wrong. The bottom of my brand-new-beautiful pan got this thick layer of crispy stuff. The broccoli rabe didn’t seem to wilt enough for my tastes. And this may be the one time I will say this, but, I think the cheese was just too much. Everything just tasted too rich or too bitter. But give it a go, and let me know what I did wrong!

Cook the Book: Dining In by Alison Roman - Luckiest Biscuits in America
Luckiest Biscuits in America

Breakfast Time

Luckiest Biscuits in America – I consider myself a biscuit recipe connoisseur, but without the bias that only biscuits from the South are “real biscuits” (Side note: I tried White Lily flour biscuits and they were only just ok). These biscuits are definitely keepers in my recipe rotation. They are crispy/buttery on the outside and fluffy layers on the inside. Don’t be worried by the pool of butter underneath your biscuits after they come out of the oven. Just embrace it.

Cook the Book: Dining In by Alison Roman - Kinda Sweet Granola with Coconut and Turmeric
Kinda Sweet Granola with Coconut and Turmeric

Kinda Sweet Granola with Coconut and Turmeric – I’m not usually one to be impressed by a granola recipe. I mean, there’s not that much to it, right? Grains + nuts + sweet things. But there’s something about this recipe that is so unexpected. First, there’s all the crunchy bits (oats, shredded coconut, pecans, buckwheat groats). Which is great for clearing out an overstocked pantry, honestly. Then the flavor combo of turmeric and coconut. It’s borderline savory and makes this a granola that I would actually make again. And I’m not the only one that thought so because my roommate shamelessly ate this straight out of the container for dinner one night.

Decidedly Not-Sweet Granola – This was another great recipe to clear out my pantry. I didn’t end up using this for the Smashed Cucumbers and Scallions over Garlicky Yogurt as the cookbook suggests. But I will likely use it for the purpose of a crouton substitute in salads (also a headnote recommendation). The Aleppo pepper is listed as optional, but I recommend adding it to make the granola more flavorful.

What I Want to Try Next

In preparation for this month, I had about 70-80 recipes selected that I was interested in making (BTW there are 125 in the book total, so yes, I wanted to make the majority of the book). Obviously, I didn’t get even close to making them all. Here are some of the ones I plan to make in the future:

Next month, I’ll be exploring The Palestinian Table by Reem Kassis

To follow along with all posts in the Cook the Book series, visit the Cook the Book tag.

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