Holiday cookbooks bought to use or give as gifts should educate as well as entertain. We submit two excellent candidates.
If all that comes to mind when slow cooker is mentioned is pot roast made in your mother’s old Crock-Pot, chef Hugh Acheson’s new cookbook will quickly change your mind. In “The Chef and The Slow Cooker,” Acheson extols the cooking method, technology and versatility of the slow cooker – not to mention the free time you get when you don’t have to mind the stove. With a little prep work in the beginning and a few finishing touches, he demonstrates that the modern slow cooker can produce almost anything, including jams and desserts. The perfect example: the milk-braised pork shoulder below, a sure winner to simplify holiday entertaining. Clarkson Potter/Publishers. $29.99.
The name of London chef and restaurateur Yotam Ottolenghi on a cookbook signals that the recipes will be unique — think “plenty” and “Jerusalem.” His latest, “SWEET,” written with his longtime pastry developer, Helen Goh, is no different. Ottolenghi began his culinary career on the sweet side of the kitchen, but his take on its dishes is as complex and exciting as those on the savory side. Brownies and shortbread featuring tahini and halva, a pavlova that is rolled instead of piped, soufflé-like chocolate “puddings” laced with lime zest, and the oversized spiced praline meringues seen in the recipe below will give a taste of what’s ahead. Ten Speed Press. $35.
Milk-Braised Pork Shoulder with Fennel, Pecans & Figs
Adapted from "The Chef and The Slow Cooker"
Prep time: 40 minutes Cook time: 8 to 12 hours
Slow cooker size: 6+ quarts
3 pounds boneless pork shoulder
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, diced
6 bay leaves
6 whole cloves
2 quarts whole milk
2 fennel bulbs
½ cup pecan halves, toasted and chopped
8 dried figs, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
Preheat a slow cooker on the high setting for at least 15 minutes.
Pat the pork shoulder dry and season it well all over with salt and the pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large braising pot, such as a Dutch oven, over medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the pork and sear it for about 3 minutes on each side until golden, for a total of about 12 minutes. Remove the pork from the pot and set it aside. Add the onions, bay leaves, cloves, and milk to the pot and cook, scraping up any browned bits, for 3 minutes.
Add the milk mixture to the preheated slow cooker, then add the pork. Cover with the lid, reduce the setting to low, and cook for 8 to 12 hours, until the pork is very tender.
Before serving the pork, prepare the fennel by removing the bottom ½ inch of the root ends and cutting away the branches about 1 inch above the bulbs. Cut the bulbs in half lengthwise and then into thirds.
Heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the fennel pieces, season them well with salt, and cook for 5 minutes, until caramelized. Then flip the pieces over and cook until done, about 5 minutes more. Remove the fennel from the skillet and set it aside. Add the pecans and figs to the skillet and cook for 3 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice and chopped parsley, and immediately transfer the mixture to a small bowl.
Remove the pork shoulder from the slow cooker and place it on a platter. Arrange the fennel around the pork, and garnish the dish with the pecan and fig crumble. The pork will be so tender that you don’t really have to carve it—you can just pull it apart and serve it.
Reprinted from "The Chef and the Slow Cooker." Copyright (c) 2017 by Fried Pie, LLC. Photographs copyright (c) 2017 by Andrew Thomas Lee. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.
Spiced Praline Meringues
Adapted from "SWEET"
Makes 6 extra-large or 12 regular-sized
The meringues are intentionally oversized — just as good hung from the tree as an ornament as they are to eat — and last for 10 days. If you want to make them just for the table, use the same amount of meringue mixture to produce twelve regular-sized meringues. These are great served with cream and stewed cranberries as a seasonal dessert.
1/3 cup/50 g blanched slivered almonds
1½ cups/300 g granulated sugar
2 tablespoons water
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
Finely grated zest of 1 large orange (1 tablespoon)
¼ teaspoon flaky sea salt
5¼ ounces/150 g egg whites (from 4 large eggs)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Spread the almonds out on a small rimmed baking sheet and roast in the oven for 5–7 minutes, until lightly browned. Set aside to cool. Line two large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
Place 1/4 cup/50 g of the sugar in a small saucepan with the water and stir to combine. Cook over high heat for about 4 minutes, until it has turned a light golden brown; do not stir, just gently shake the pan to help the sugar dissolve. Add the almonds and cook for 1 minute, so the nuts are coated and the caramel turns dark, without burning. Pour the mixture onto one of the lined baking sheets and set aside until cool. Once cool, break the praline into smaller pieces, place in a food processor and process to form a rough powder. Remove from the machine, place in a shallow bowl and combine with the spices, orange zest and salt. Set aside.
Spread the remaining sugar out on the second lined baking sheet and place in the oven for 7 minutes, until the sugar is hot. Remove from the oven and lower the temperature to 275 degrees. As soon as the sugar is out of the oven, place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer with the whisk attachment in place and beat on high speed until they begin to froth up. Carefully add the hot sugar to the egg whites, 1 tablespoon at a time, and continue beating for 7–8 minutes until the mixture is completely cold. At this point it should be silky and thick and keep its shape when you lift a little bit from the bowl.
Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Use an extra-large serving spoon to scoop up some meringue, and use another large spoon to help shape it into a rough ball the size of a large apple. Sprinkle some praline over half the meringue ball, then place on the baking sheet, repeat with the rest of the mixture, spacing the balls as far apart as possible, as they will increase in size. Place the meringues in the oven for 2–2½ hours. Check that they are done by lifting them from the baking sheet and gently tapping to make sure the outside is completely firm and the center is only a little soft. Remove from the oven and leave on the baking sheet to cool.
Tip: If placing the meringues on the tree, use a strip of ribbon to gently wrap each one, as you would a present, creating a bow and leaving a long piece of ribbon to hang them with.
Storage: These will keep for up to 10 days. If you are not hanging them on the tree, wrap them loosely in aluminum foil and keep at room temperature.
Reprinted with permission from "Sweet: Desserts from London's Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh," copyright © 2017. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.
Photography credit: Peden + Munk © 2017