I’ve fallen in love with a cookbook. There, I said it. From the moment I layed eyes on it, I’ve barely let it out of my site. I’ve carried it with me practically everywhere I went, hoping to steal a few moments in times of inactivity to flip through its sumptuous pages of aspirational recipes.
It hit me from the start. Chef Travis Lett begins the book with an ode to his dearly departed mother. He describes how her acts of environmentalism, animal activism, and sustainability instilled in him a sense of accountability. That food can be looked at as medicine, and how diet is an overall statement of health and a person’s belief system.
“People just want to know that someone cares at some point in the process of creating food, that someone is concerned with the big picture. We feel a sense of connection to a greater cause and dare to think we are making a difference, all the while with admiration for others who are furthering the cause.”
This book is not preachy. It is honest. It does not force you into a way of life or mindset that you are unprepared for or unwilling to face. Rather, it shines a light on what can be, on the possibility of food, and the important role it plays in our lives.
Gjelina epitomizes grain-and-vegetable-centric, globally inspired cuisine. For all the chatter about sustainability, veganism, and how we should be living our lives, this book delivers it’s message in a very non-threatening and non-judgemental way.
The cookbook features more than 150 recipes and includes salads, toasts, pizzas, vegetables, grains, meats, fish and seafood. More than 175 photographs capture the people, street scenes, and surf and glossy-gritty of the restaurant’s locale, Venice Beach, and the colourful, rustic food of Gjelina’s kitchen.
A chapter is devoted to salsas, spice blends, and dressing such as California Za’atar and Smoky Tomato Butter. The book contains Gjelina’s most-requested recipes, including their famous Pork Meatballs Braised in Red Wine & Tomato and the now-classic Butterscotch Pots de Crème with Salted Caramel (see recipe below).
The key to the meatballs success is a balancing act of pork, fat, bread cubes, and egg so the meatballs are barely but not quite falling apart. The meatballs made a satisfying meal when served with a couple of slices of bread and a few fresh greens. Chef Lett notes that the Butterscotch Pots de Crème with Salted Caramel are the single most talked about item at Gjelina. And with good reason. The dramatic contrasts in flavour and texture are deeply satisfying—smoky caramel-flavoured custard, combined with whipped cream fraiche, thick caramel sauce, and flaky sea salt. The deliciousness of this dish was punctuated by my family’s dramatic “oohs,” “aaahs,” “yums,” and, “OMGs” upon taste-testing it. I also received lots of “Thank You’s.”
The book showcases new ingredients and techniques for cooks of all skills levels. The Pots de Crème recipe was easy as pie. The meatballs took no more time to cook than ordinary meatballs do (yet these are no ordinary meatballs). A majority of the recipes list a minimal of ingredients (10 or less).
It’s a rare occurrence for me to let a cookbook become such an object of obsession. This is a cookbook for the way we want to cook and eat now and for those with an eyes-wide-open, childlike curiosity, and a constant desire to learn and improve. Count me in!
BUTTERSCOTCH POTS DE CRÈME WITH SALTED CARAMEL
This is the single, most talked about item we sell at Gjelina. Since we work tremendously hard on our entire menu, we would love to see some of this attention go to our more recent creations. But our butterscotch pots de crème inspire childlike wonder, giving us reason enough to continue serving them after all these years.
9 egg yolks, at room temperature
1¼ cups [250 g] packed dark brown sugar
4 Tbsp [55 g] unsalted butter
3½ cups [840 ml] heavy cream
1 tsp kosher salt
½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise
SALTED CARAMEL SAUCE
¼ cup [50 g] granulated sugar
2¼ tsp water
¼ tsp kosher salt
¹⁄³ cup [75 ml] heavy cream
WHIPPED CRÈME FRAÎCHE
¼ cup [60 ml] whipping cream
1 Tbsp Buttermilk Crème Fraîche
Flaky sea salt for sprinkling
Preheat the oven to 300°F [150°C]. Arrange eight ramekins or custard pots with a ¾-cup [180-ml] capacity in a large, shallow baking pan. Set a fine-mesh sieve over a large liquid measuring cup or pitcher. Place the egg yolks in a large bowl and set aside.
In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, cook the brown sugar and butter, without stirring, until the sugar turns a deep amber color and develops a nutty smell, 10 to 15 minutes. Pour the heavy cream into the mixture gradually (and carefully, to avoid hot spatters), whisking constantly. Remove from the heat. Add the kosher salt, and scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the mixture. Stir to combine.
Slowly pour the hot butterscotch mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Strain the custard through the sieve into the measuring cup. Pour into the ramekins, dividing the custard evenly. Pour hot water into the baking pan until it reaches halfway up the outside of the ramekins, and cover the pan with aluminum foil. Bake for 45 minutes. Rotate the pan and continue to bake for 15 minutes more, or just until the custard has set and doesn’t jiggle with you shake the pan. Remove the pan from the oven, uncover, and, using tongs, carefully lift the custards from the water bath and set on a cooling rack. (The custards can be made up to 1 week in advance and stored, covered, in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before serving.)
To make the caramel sauce: In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the granulated sugar, water, and kosher salt and cook, without stirring, until the mixture turns red-brown in color, about 5 minutes. Gradually add the heavy cream, whisking constantly until the sauce is smooth. Set aside until ready to use.
To make the whipped crème fraîche: In a large bowl, whip the whipping cream with the crème fraîche until soft peaks form.
Serve the pots de crème at room temperature, topped with a dollop of the whipped crème fraîche, a drizzle of the salted caramel sauce, and a sprinkle of sea salt.