Dinner with Food52: A Cookbook Review and Giveaway

Chicken That Fancies Itself Spanish, with Lemons, Onions, and Olives (c)2012 La Domestique

Food52 sent me their newest cookbook for review, and have graciously  provided a copy for this giveaway contest to La Domestique readers.

Full contest rules can be found at the end of the review.

I pick up the Food52 Cookbook, Volume 2, Seasonal Recipes from Our Kitchens to Yours, and run my fingers over the smooth, slate-gray cover. The cover photo is a gathering of ingredients that tells the story of a recipe in the making: sliced squash, sprig of sage, sprinkling of salt. Will it be soup tonight? I open the book to find out.

The introduction takes me back to the beginning of Food52, a website founded by Amanda Hesser and Merril Stubbs. Their original project crowdsourcing a cookbook online is now an active community of home cooks (about 100,00) sharing recipes, advice, and inspiration on Food52.com. I turn the page  and see The Year in Recipes begins with my favorite season, fall. Flipping through the pages, I find a somewhat random collection of recipes (noted as winners of weekly contests at Food52.com), anchored by the seasonal theme. Week 1 is the contest winner for Your Best Red Peppers, Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Corn and Cilantro, followed by Your Best Chicken Wings, Korean Fried Chicken Wings, and a Wildcard Winner, the Wicked Witch Martini. Each page turn reveals something unexpected, and I feel this is a cookbook I’ll reach for throughout the year to shake up my cooking routine. Every time I see the words “Your Best” before a recipe, it reinforces the highly tested, curated standard to which Amanda and Merrill measure these recipes by home cooks. Flipping through the pages, several fall recipes catch my eye. I realize they each have one thing in common: a clever combination of flavors that I would not have thought of before. In Week 4, Your Best Brown Bag Lunch, there’s Pan Bagnat: Le French Tuna Salad Sandwich, tempting me with a vibrant and punchy mix of tuna, basil leaves, olives, red bell pepper, red onion, artichoke hearts, and haricots verts (French green beans) atop crusty baguette. The Roasted Cauliflower with Gremolata Bread Crumbs (winner of Your Best Cauliflower) brings to mind an Italian antipasto – so simple and smart – coated in crisp breadcrumbs, lemon zest, garlic, and parsley. Another thing I notice about this cookbook collaboration by home cooks across the world is diversity – from the Moorish Paella to Afghan Dumplings with Lamb Kofta and Yogurt Sauce to Okonomiyaki (Kyoto-style pancakes), the Food52 Cookbook, Volume 2 is anything but vanilla.

I’m pleased to see each recipe is accompanied by at least one photograph, but nothing looks too perfect. I appreciate the simple beauty in a photo of Aunt Mariah’s Lemon Sponge Cup- no whipped cream or fancy dishware to dress it up- just a bit of pudding in a cup. The Food52 aesthetic is simple, unadorned, and approachable, but still inspiring. The design and photography is similar to a naturally beautiful woman who doesn’t need to wear makeup. In each word and photo I can identify with real home cooks in real home kitchens, and I feel connected to these people.

Information about the cook, why the recipe is so loved by Food52 staff, and comments from the community website strengthen my connection to the Food52 community behind the book. It’s fun to get a little story about cooks like drbabs, who is “an optometrist and food lover living in Huntington New York,” or OB Cookie, “an OB/GYN resident and baby-catcher extraordinaire.” I find community comments helpful, like frissberg’s account of how she prepared the Roasted Fennel and White Bean Dip the night before and reheated it in the oven with excellent results. The Why We Love It comments by Amanda and Merrill are great for pointing out the genius technique that make each recipe a winner. For the Sweet-and-Spicy Calamari, Amanda and Merrill write, “We liked SouffleBombay’s technique of soaking the calamari rings in club soda before dredging them in the seasoned flour—it seemed to firm up the rings (in a pleasant way) before frying. The crisp coating is thin and delicate, swaddling the calamari like a silk scarf rather than a wooly muffler.” The Food52 Cookbook, Volume 2 is more than a collection of recipes by home cooks, it’s a manual packed with clever techniques, inventive flavor pairings, and the wisdom of an entire community. As I close my copy with its earmarked recipes, I’m anxious to get in the kitchen and start cooking alongside all the quirky, clever, and inspiring home cooks of Food52.

Dinner with Food52

Chicken That Fancies Itself Spanish, with Lemons, Onions, and Olives

Aunt Mariah’s Lemon Sponge Cups

Chicken That Fancies Itself Spanish, with Lemons, Onions, and Olives (c)2012 La Domestique

Cooking from The Food52 Cookbook, Volume 2, was a real pleasure. I couldn’t resist the winner of Your Best Recipe with Citrus and Olives: Chicken That Fancies Itself Spanish, with Lemons, Onions, and Olives, by MeghanVK, “a television programmer living in Brooklyn, New York.” I was drawn to the combination of smoky paprika, briny olives, savory onions, and herbal fennel with a hint of cinnamon spice. Adding whole lemon pieces to the tomato and white wine sauce turned out to be a real genius technique. The chicken coated in a mixture of pecorino cheese, flour, and paprika turned out so crisp and mouth-watering. This clever yet easy-to-throw-together dish has secured a slot in our regular dinner rotation.A good crusty bread seemed like the perfect accompaniment to this chicken stew with such a chunky, bold sauce. Also, I think I need to get MeghanVK to help me come up with good recipe names here at La Domestique!

Chicken That Fancies Itself Spanish with Lemons, Onions, and Olives (c)2012 La Domestique

I love a lemon dessert, and  Aunt Mariah’s Lemon Sponge Cups, the Wildcard Winner for Week 22, seemed like a refreshing way to end such a hearty, flavorful meal. Baking at an altitude of 5,280 feet here in Colorado can be tricky, but these airy lemon cakes puffed up perfectly. The only adjustment I made was to bake them hot and fast, monitoring frequently to make sure the tops didn’t burn. Every word in the book is true – the cakes were delicate and airy with a “lush lemony custard that pools in the bottom, waiting for your spoon.” Chapeau!

Aunt Mariah's Lemon Sponge Cups (c) 2012 La Domestique

The Giveaway!

Here at La Domestique we’re giving away one copy of The Food52 Cookbook, Volume 2: Seasonal Recipes From Our Kitchens To Yours. To enter for a chance to win, leave a comment on this post by 11PM PST on Wednesday, December 12, 2012. The winner were be chosen randomly, and this contest is open to readers outside the United States. Please make sure to leave an email when commenting so I know how to reach you.   

43 Comments

  1. Very nice review Jess! I too appreciate when cookbooks include pictures of their recipes and realistic ones :) the pics on ur post are exceptionally beautiful!

    Reply
    • Thank you sis!

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  2. My goodness those dishes look simple and amazing! My husband detests olives and I could eat them for almost every meal. The combination of lemon, olives and chicken is so delicious – anything briny, salty & tart gets my vote. I am going to have to make that dish when he is out of town, more olives for me :) Love Food 52′s food photography for all the reasons you stated above, it’s too hard to connect with over-the-top photos. I always get inspired by your photos because they’re clean, simple and make me feel like I could recreate the dish in my own home. Plus they let the natural beauty of the vegetables shine through! for my entry!

    Reply
    • Valerie,

      You’ll have to make the chicken and olives for a girl’s night in some time! You’re going to love it!

      Reply
  3. Terrific review, Jess and I agree, Megan VK has knack for snappy recipe titles! Your photos are lovely!

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    • Thanks Nikki!

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  4. What a wonderful review, Jess! I enjoy Food 52′s recipes and straight-forward, yet beautiful photography, too. I’ve heard great things about the cookbook! Your photos are beautiful.

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    • I’m glad you enjoyed the review, Nicole! Thanks for stopping by!

      Reply
  5. If my version turns out half as beautiful as these photos I will be the happiest cook ever. My mouth is watering just looking at my computer screen. It is true what they say: half of eating is with the eyes.
    : )
    if I am the lucky winner :)

    Reply
    • Good luck, Nancy! Thank you for the kind comment. :)

      Reply
  6. I’ve been eyeing that recipe for the lemon sponge cups for a while now-I guess I should actually make them sometime, particularly since it’s citrus season!

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    • They are so good, Hannah, and pretty easy to throw together!

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  7. I like that, Nancykp – half the eating is with the eyes. Mm. This sounds like a beautiful cookbook. So glad I checked in to see what you’ve been up to. I agree with the others – your images are so simple and lovely. How do you get the lighting to be so clean? Not that I expect anything less on your site :)

    Reply
    • Hi Jenni! I’m so glad you came by! I shot these photographs in the afternoon next to a north-facing window. The light was soft and indirect, and the rest of the room was dark. Hope that helps!

      Reply
  8. Oooh I love new cookbooks! Lovely looking food! *omnomnomns*

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    • Thanks, Jeff!

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  9. Lovely cookbook and review. Congratulations! Would make a great addition to my collection!

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    • Good luck, Karen! I’m glad you enjoyed the review!

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  10. My goodness, the worst part about being a photographer and learning about food photography is how hungry this makes me!

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    • True, Elizabeth! I hope you have something tasty for supper!

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  11. Wow, that chicken dish looks so delicious I can’t wait to get my hands on this cookbook!

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    • I was really impressed by the bold flavors throughout the book, Jess. It’s guaranteed to inspire!

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  12. Jess, your book review intrigued me to a point that I want that book to read more about all the cool stuff in Food52. Your photography is stunning. I admire you for achieving such results. Great work! :)

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    • I appreciate your comment, Marina. I had a great time with this project, and I think it shows in the photos.

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  13. Great review Jess! And your photos are stunning as always. I’m a huge fan of Food 52, and sounds like their cookbook is just as awesome. Can’t wait to see what else you cook from it!

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    • Thank you, Renee!

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  14. I love a good cookbook! I have been dreaming about writing my own a lot lately. Maybe I will! Hugs!

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    • Elyse,
      I want to photograph it! :) Big hugs back to you!

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      • I love nothing more than a cousin collab!

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        • That would be so fun, Elyse!

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  15. A cookbook of wisdom and comfort would be my Christmas elf on a shelf.

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  16. Jess, these photos are outstanding! And I think that chicken dish is a tough one to photograph but you made it looks absolutely delicious! Great write up about this new cookbook.

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    • I appreciate that, Sarah. Your family would love the Spanish chicken stew!

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  17. Jess,
    Your description is so vivid my mouth waters for these dishes.Your photography is outstanding keep up the good work.

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    • Thank you, Mom!

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  18. I can’t decide what I love more; the fact that your reviews actually cook something from the book, the way you describe it- or that your Mum is commenting on your blog :) I think I love it all. Food52 is one of my Peter Pan Happy Places on the internet (apart from La Domestique, of course); if I’m frustrated or grumpy I always go and flick around. After about 10 minutes, I usually feel good about the world again.

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    • Tori,
      You made my day! My Mom is sweet, isn’t she?

      Reply
  19. So happy to see this book land on my doorstep a few days ago! The Roasted Fennel and White Bean Dip is at the top of my list right now. I agree, I love how Food52 makes things simple, accesible, and unfussy. Can’t be said for a handful of the ones I have in my collection… sadly. Happy Holidays, Jess. Enjoy the crisp day!

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    • Kelsey,
      I made the bean dip last weekend and though it’s not a pretty dish, the flavor is addictive- so good! Happy holidays to you too! :)

      Reply
  20. I’ve been in a heavy duty cooking rut (have devolved into mostly just making cookies?!?), and this sounds like JUST the ticket to get out. Which, of course, also brings my husband up into a land of new & tasty dishes. =) Thanks for the review–sounds JUSt right.

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    • Samantha,
      I’m glad you enjoyed the review. Picking up a new cookbook is a great way to renew your excitement for cooking with a bit of fresh inspiration.

      Reply
  21. Nicely done! I like the fact you also tried out the recipes. I actually just stumbled on to your site via Food52. I was lusting after your Gravlax recipe and decided to look for more. I will be back and am passing your site on. Keep up the good work.

    Reply
    • Thanks for coming over to La Domestique, Paul! I appreciate your kind comment. Cheers!

      Reply

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