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Mar 8, 2012 12:03 PM

Melissa Clark's Cook This Now - Cookbook report

I really love this cookbook. It's been a slow courting but I am now quite enamored with this book. This wasn't love at first sight (like with Flexitarian Table or Mightly Spice). But, this book wooed me with it's pantry ready ingredients and twists on dinner staples. I've borrowed both the hard copy and the ebook from the library.

Organization - this book is organized by seasons. And, in the table of contents, it will list recipes for each month. If you get the ebook, you can click on the recipe and it brings you right to the relevant page. Also, there are bonus recipes at the end from Clark's, In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite.

At the end of every chapter, Clark adds notes about substitutions and other useful hints. I actually read these and found them to be helpful. I'm a bit notorious for not reading head notes of recipes.

Recipe reports to follow.

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  1. White Bean Stew with Rosemary, Garlic and Farro (pg. 8)

    This was a huge hit. Fairly simple but you do have to plan since you have to soak the dry beans before starting. I'm not sure this would work with canned beans since the beans are simmered with a bunch of aromatics.

    I used fresh dried white kidney beans (maybe Jacob's Ladder?). I forget and I've since thrown the bag away. Since these were fresh dried beans, the soaking and cooking times were significantly shortened.

    Place the soaked beans in a pot with olive oil, garlic cloves, celery, onion, rosemary, thyme, a bay leaf and a parmesan rind. I think the rind is key to the flavorful beans. Simmer until the beans are cooked.

    When the beans are finished, get rid of the onions, celery, herbs and rind. Puree half the beans with minced garlic and return it to the pot.

    This is supposed to be served with farro. I used bulger since that's what I had at home (this will be a common theme in these reports). Cook the bulger/farro. Add the beans and voila.

    The beans were so flavorful and that rind really elevated the taste. I followed the end note and sauteed kale to add to the beans to make this a complete, almost one pot, dinner. I thought bulger went really well with the bean stew and it was a satisifying dinner.

    1 Reply
    1. re: beetlebug

      You don't have to soak beans - just cook them longer if you don't.

    2. Braised Pork Shoulder with Tomatoes, Cinnamon and Olives over Polenta (pg. 77)

      This was a HUGE hit. Apparently, it's also very fragrant because C smelled it from the basement (we live on the second floor), came running up to see if it was our apt or the downstairs neighbor's. He was very happy to discover that it was our place.

      So, brown chunks of pork butt and set aside. Saute leeks and garlic and return the pork chunks to the pot. Add a large can of plum tomatoes, wine, anchovies, a cinnamon stick, bay leaves and rosemary to the pot. Place it in the oven and braise for 2 hours. Raise the temperature and add chopped up green olives and reduce the liquid until the dish becomes stewy.

      Where to begin on the taste. It's hard to say other then it's full of umami goodness. The anchovies, cinnamon and green olives really makes this dish different. It's so well balanced and the pork just melts.

      In her notes, Clark states that lamb can be subbed for the pork.

      I served this with bulger and an eggplant dish from the Indian slow cooker book.

      I can't even really begin to state how fabulous this dish was. It tasted really good for lunch the next day (and the day after) as well.

      1 Reply
      1. re: beetlebug

        Wow, am I happy to read this report! This is the first dish I plan to make, on the first day of April. You make it sound even more appealing than M.Clark does. Thanks for your write-up!

      2. Crispy Roasted Cabbage (pg. 88)

        I love cabbage and I love roasted vegetables. Yet, it never occurred to me to roast cabbage. I either stir fry or I braise the cabbage (Molly Steven's Best Cabbage recipe is a favorite of mine). But, this was a really nice variation.

        Basically, cut the cabbage into one inch chunks and brush with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. Try and keep the pieces together and roast for about 30 minutes (turning once). The cabbage gets crispy and brown.

        15 Replies
        1. re: beetlebug

          Crispy Roasted Cabbage, Pg. 88

          Made this roasted cabbage as part of a St. Patrick's Day dinner. It was really delicious. Thanks beetlebug...! I used EVOO, too, and added 1 t black pepper to the sprinkle of salt before roasting. The edges of the cabbage charred a bit and the leaves were surprisingly sweet. A blogger recently reported a similar recipe but her cabbage was very burnt looking. Clark's timing for roasting here was perfect.

          I have to say, though, the star of the show was a dish I'd never heard of: Dublin Coddle. Sounds like a dessert but it's a layered casserole with sliced potatoes, onions, sausages, and streaky bacon. A small amount of stock is the baking liquid. I included a 1/2 cup wine. Oh My... Sobhlasta.

          1. re: Gio

            Interesting. I have another Irish book by the same author. It is all in calligraphy. There is quite a bit of overlap in recipes, but the book I have contains more, um, how to put this... well, less accessible recipes. Like Pig's Head Brawn, which calls for a pig's head and tongue and 2 feet. Also nettle broth & carrigeen moss blancmange. The Dublin Coddle is in both books, but the recipe in the book I have is a bit different. Here's a link to the one I have:

            1. re: MelMM

              Love the cover of your book, Mel. (terrific design) The recipe I made had an editing problem, but it's easy to work around and interpret what Murphy's driving at. Onion is a listed ingredient but no direction is given for its use, for example. Don't know if other recipes suffer that ailment, though.

              Absolutely No Way would I even consider eating the tongue of either 4-legged, 2-legged, or swimming creatures... NW. LOL

              1. re: Gio

                The book is very charming, but the calligraphy is a bit hard to read.

                I noticed the onion issue in the recipe you made. The version on my book does tell you what to do with the onions. The difference is it is just one set of layers - meat on bottom, onion and potato on top, as opposed to repeating layers. Also the proportions look to be a bit different.

              2. re: MelMM

                Mel & Gio, would either of you recommend your Irish books? I have 3 Irish books on my shelf but every year in anticipation of SP's day I pull them off the shelf and I'm uninspired. I'd like a book with some traditional dishes.

                These are the 3 I have (and really should donate):

                • The Irish Spirit: Recipes Inspired By The Legendary Drinks of Ireland by Margaret M. Johnson and Leigh Beisch

                • Irish by Matthew Drennan
                • Gourmet Ireland by Paul Rankin and Jeanne Rankin

                1. re: Breadcrumbs

                  To tell the truth, BC, it's a sweet book and the illustrations are charming (even got a matching bookmark!), but it's tiny, probably about 3" x 5", which is really OK since I was able to cook from it. There are only about 50 - 60 pages... I think. I bought it on impulse but I wouldn't call it a definitive book on Irish cuisine by any means. I don't think I'd actually recommend it but if someone wanted it for its cuteness factor I'd say go ahead. btw; got it for a song, (Danny Boy?) from an Amazon reseller and it's in Perfect condition.

                  1. re: Gio

                    LOL @ your Danny Boy Gio!! Thanks for the description, I think I'd find the book charming as well and sometimes less is best in terms of selection/options.

                    I've added it to my cart at Abes. As you say, not pricy at all. Thank-you.

                    1. re: Gio

                      Gio, just rec'd my lovely little Irish book. I love it, as you say the illustrations are charming. The Potato Farls recipe is exactly the same as that of my husband's Grannie. Now I'm curious, what type of sausage did you use for your Dublin Coddle?

                      oh, my only regret is that I didn't get the matching bookmark... ; - (

                      1. re: Breadcrumbs

                        I just came here to search for a Clark chicken stir-fry recipe and spotted your question, Breadcrumbs. Sorry.

                        For the sausages in the Coddle recipe I used a hot and spicy Italian pork sausage made by our local salumeria. The recipe only calls for a "good" sausage, IIRC..

                    2. re: Breadcrumbs

                      Well, the one I have is traditional enough. But it is a small book, with no photos, and not what I'd call comprehensive. It is also very heavy on offal.

                      I guess if you want traditional, I'd recommend Irish Traditional Cooking by Darina Allen. Or even her other books, like The Forgotten Skills of Cooking, which may not be billed as Irish, but is heavily Irish anyway.

                      I know a couple years ago, Colman Andrews came out with an Irish book, but I don't have it so can't comment one way or another.

                      Less traditional, but very charming, is West of Ireland Summers by Tamasin Day-Lewis. Unfortunately out of print so sometimes hard to find, but if you are patient, it will show up.

                      1. re: MelMM

                        Thanks for all this great info Mel. West of Ireland Summers really appeals. I have another book by Tamasin Day-Lewis and find her recipes enticing. It's a bit pricey on Abes but I'll take a look around and see if I can find a Canadian seller. Thank-you!

                        1. re: MelMM

                          I've also made a few things I've found by Tamasin Day-Lewis and they were always delicious. Aside from her recipes, though, I've had pretty miserable luck with anything supposedly Irish that I've tried (could be my lack of red-meat eating though!).

                          1. re: LulusMom

                            One of my all-time favourite recipes for SP's Day had to be Jamie Oliver's Steak & Guinness Pie. I made it during the COTM last year and it was absolutely delicious. I bet this would be outstanding with chicken as well LM...might that work for you? Here's a link to my review jic it tickles your fancy and you want to make a note of it for next year:


                            1. re: Breadcrumbs

                              Mmm, I think that would be a huge hit here. I could maybe do ground turkey if not chicken, I'm guessing? His stuff tends to work well for our family. I appreciate the tip!

                              1. re: LulusMom

                                Absolutely LM or even chopped turkey thighs would be great. I shouldn't have brought this up though because now mr bc is bugging me to make it!! ; - )

                2. Roast Chicken Legs with Smoked Paprika, Blood Orange and Ginger (pg.117)

                  The first not successful dish. It wasn't bad by any stretch of the means, but it wasn't as flavorful as I would have thought. Especially given the marinade. The saving grace was that the chicken was very juicy and tender.

                  Marinate bone in, skin on thighs with a puree of blood orange juice, orange zest, garlic, cilantro (I used parsley), jalepeno, ginger, kosher salt and smoked hot paprika. Mine marinated for about 6 hours.

                  Put the chicken into a skillet and roast for about 40 minutes, turning once. I started skin up, then skin down, and then I flipped again so the skin was up. At that point, turned it to broil to crisp the skin for the last bit.

                  The chicken was juicy, but I tasted none of the ginger, paprika or jalepeno. I only tasted faint hints of orange. C tasted none of it and his palate is usually more sensitive then mine. I was surprised since Clark talks about the heat and smokiness of the dish. I probably have to up the spices a bit.

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: beetlebug

                    Thanks for the update! Blood oranges aren't a "pantry staple" in my kitchen. Why not use regular orange juice instead, which actually is found quite often in people's kitchen.

                    1. re: momskitchen

                      Neither oranges nor orange juice is a pantry staple in my home. Chicken thighs aren't either. If I'm going to to the store anyway to buy those items and I happened to see blood oranges. So, I decided to follow the recommended ingredients.

                    2. re: beetlebug

                      I had the same complaint about this dish, although it was easy enough to throw together that I didn't mind too much. I used regular orange juice. Thanks for starting this thread! I'm going to have to take a look through and see what I've made and what I remember well enough to report on.

                      1. re: TxnInMtl

                        So odd, the lack of flavor, isn't it? I have found that I have to up the spice amounts for many of these recipes. Thanks for playing with me.

                      2. re: beetlebug

                        Roast Chicken Legs with Smoked Paprika, Blood Orange and Ginger (pg.117)

                        I wish I had come here and read your reviews before making this dish. It sounded so tasty. And indeed, the marinade was tasty (and spicy), but it mostly all slid off and stayed on the baking sheet instead of flavoring the chicken. I kept the juices and will make a soup with the leftover chicken, so will recover some of the flavor that way.

                        What I wish I had done instead was take off the skin since the marinade doesn't penetrate it and most of it stayed flabby anyhow, and then braised the chicken in the marinade. I'm not even convinced it made any difference to marinate it, could probably just put it together and stick it in the oven immediately. Next time.

                        I did use blood oranges, but subbed mint & lovage for the cilantro (as usual for me, because I dislike cilantro). I sprinkled fresh mint over the chicken, and the roasted beets that I served along side, which was quite nice.

                        1. re: Karen_Schaffer

                          You know, reading the recipe for something like "Mom's roasted mustard chicken on toasts" (forgive me, I don't have the book in front of me), I wondered if making it with skinless chicken would be the way to go, since she says something like "if you want crispy skin, stick it under the broiler for a few minutes." My immediate thought was "shouldn't all roasted chicken have crispy skin?" and my second thought was "if it doesn't, I don't want that skin on there." Would skinless have made a difference in the recipe you are talking about though? Or would it still have ended up with the marinade all lying around the bottom of the baking sheet?

                          1. re: LulusMom

                            Skinless would definitely have helped, because the underside of the chicken where the marinade had made contact definitely had more flavor. But I still think braising would be even better.

                            I swear, I am never making another wet marinade roasted chicken again! Salt, pepper, maybe some herbs or spices. That's all roast chicken needs to taste great anyhow.

                            1. re: Karen_Schaffer

                              Thanks for the tip/answer. I'm thinking I'll make the roast chicken I mentioned above with skinless. Who wants flabby chicken skin?

                              1. re: Karen_Schaffer

                                I totally agree with your last sentence, Karen. Our roast chicken gets wonderfully crisp skin and tastes great simply with spices: always with S & P, sometimes with paprika or other spice added too, inside the cavity as well. A braise is another matter entirely.

                        2. Bulger Pilar with Swiss Chard and Dried Apricots (pg. 120)

                          I served this with the chicken and smoked paprika and this saved dinner. This was great. My one mistake was to not cut the chard up into smaller pieces bc it was a bit unwieldy to serve and eat.

                          This was also a different way to cook bulger. I usually boil the bulger with the requisite amount of water and then let it steam at the end. This, you have a big pot of boiling water, add the bulger (and chopped apricots), and then drain. I didn't really notice a taste difference in texture.

                          Anyway, while the bulger cooks, saute pistachios in butter and cumin (I used pepitas since I had some lying around) and remove from the wok. Sautee garlic and shallot and then add the chard. Stir in the bulger and nuts.

                          There were a lot of interesting textures and flavors to this dish. I usually don't like fruit with my savory dishes but I had 4 odd apricots lying around, half a shallot in the fridge and some pepitas. I thought it would be a good way to use up the odd ingredients. The cumin contrasted the apricots nicely and everything just complemented each other.