Two months ago I reviewed The Migraine Relief Plan by Stephanie Weaver and I loved the assignment of digging into a cookbook to really understand the author and explore more than one recipe at a time.
My friend, Tara of Tara’s Multicultural Table, does a lot of cookbook reviews in serious detail and so, I decided to give cookbook reviewing a trial session before jumping into it on an official scale.
I decided to take to my personal cookbook selection and review those I already own. To start off, I chose The Chef Next Door by Amanda Freitag.
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You probably know Amanda from her roles on Food Network as a judge on Chopped and a contestant in Next Iron Chef America. She is a highly talented chef and a successful restaurateur.
She opens her book with a very heartfelt introduction admitting her insecurities when it comes to cooking at home. For her, the kitchen comfort zone is her busy restaurant kitchen with a loud atmosphere, staff, and countless kitchen tools at her fingertips.
To help the reader learn to feel more comfortable in their own home kitchen, she provides tips and skills that any cook can learn to call on. Spoiler alert – none of them cost a dime.
The book is broken into 9 chapters and even has a section with menu suggestions for special occasions. Each recipe includes a miniature story including tips before the ingredient list. To really help out the home cook, Amanda has included the steps for prepping each recipe before the official list of steps on how to complete the dish. There are also photographs to accompany each recipe.
Because it’s Easter week, I’m featuring her Cocoa Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Icing. The frosting is incredible – cream cheese icing is usually my go-to, but her version features far less sugar than my grandmother’s and I’m sorry, Busia, but I like this cheesier alternative better. As for the cake, it’s a rich, dark cake chocked full of carrots and walnuts.
This recipe will make a 10″ round cake or a 9″ round cake and 10-12 cupcakes.
Cocoa Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Icing
Ingredients for cake:
- 2 C packed dark brown sugar
- 1 1/2 C vegetable oil
- 4 eggs
- 1 3/4 C flour
- 1/4 C cocoa powder
- 1 tbsp cinnamon
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 3/4 tsp nutmeg
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 1 lb carrots, peeled and grated
- 1/2 lb walnuts, chopped
Ingredients for icing:
- 3 stick butter, at room temperature
- 3 8 oz pkgs cream cheese, at room temperature
- 3 C powdered sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a cake pan with parchment paper and then grease with nonstick spray.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine brown sugar and oil until combined. Add the eggs two at a time, mixing well.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, baking soda, nutmeg, and salt. Slowly add it to the stand mixer, mixing until combined.
- Fold in the carrots and walnuts.
- Pour batter into prepare cake pan. Bake 45-60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out cleanly. Allow cake to cool slightly before turning out of the pan onto your hand and flipping again onto a cake stand to cool completely.
- Make icing: In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese and butter with an electric hand mixer. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla extract, mix on low to start. Mix until smooth.
- Frost the cooled cake. Decorate with extra chopped walnuts, if desired.
- Keep in refrigerator at least an hour. Allow cake to come to room temperature before serving.
One of Amanda’s tips is to not be afraid to veer from the recipe. If you’re missing an ingredient, figure out something else that would work. All it takes is practice in the kitchen to become comfortable understanding the purpose of each ingredient in the recipe.
Following that advice, I made her Puerto Rican Pernil using a boneless pork shoulder and my slow cooker instead of the oven. I made Salmon with Peas, Pearl Onions, and Mint taking advantage of frozen pearl onions instead of peeling fresh ones myself. I also made Cornmeal-Crusted Chicken Thighs with Jamaican Spice, reducing the cayenne to appeal more to the little ones in my home.