Food with Friends: The Art of Simple Gatherings, written by Leela Cyd, features an assortment of sweet treats and savory bites designed for entertaining and get-togethers. Add an international flair to your table with Irish Soda Bread with Rum-Plumped Figs & Candied Walnuts, NYC Black & White Cookies, Dutch Orange Blossom Hagelsag on Toast, South Indian-Style Veg Cutlets, Turkish Red Lentil Soup, Argentinian-style Chard Empanadas with Pistachio Crema, Japanese Matcha Mochi, and other worldly offerings.
Leela Cyd is a food blogger and photographer based in Santa Barbara, California. She is also a longtime contributor to The Kitchn and has been featured in Food & Wine, Sweet Paul, The New York Times, Kinfolk, and more.
Chapters are divided based on the type of gathering: Secret Ingredients, Style File, Breakfast & Brunch, Teatime, Happy Hour, Potlucks & Picnics, Desserts, and Tiny Takeaways.
Leela begins by sharing a short list of some of her favorite pantry ingredients to help boost the flavors of a dish- including cheeses, finishing salts, oils, and mustards. I enjoyed the personal touch of the Style File section with beginner tips on where to source food props, how to set the table, style the food, and photograph it.
What stood out the most for me was the absolutely gorgeous photography taken by Leela herself with food styling by Ayda Robana. Every single recipe includes a photo, generally of the finished product and often full-page. A couple of the more complicated recipes also have step-by-step photos to accompany the instructions, such as how to braid the Chocolate-Orange Challah with Saffron or brush edible flowers onto Sugar Cookies.
Every recipe includes a headnote describing the dish, its inspiration, serving ideas, and substitutions. Pre-planning and storage notes are also mentioned. Measurements are provided in US Customary.
This book is a great pick for those who enjoy entertaining, but don’t want to spend all day in the kitchen. Many of the dishes are sweet-based, but there is a nice blend of savory treats and offerings as well. I appreciated that beverages were not forgotten, though meat-lovers won’t find anything here. There are even a handful of snacks for vegans. Many of the ingredients are readily available in the average American grocery store. A few may require venturing to an International food market or purchasing online such as whole cardamom pods, tahini, matcha, bee pollen, burrata cheese, rosewater, cacao nibs, orange blossom water, sweet rice flour, harissa, and fresh flowers. While the recipes overall wouldn’t be considered “kid-friendly” (though I’m sure the Unicones-decorated ice cream cones and a few others will be big hits), I can see this book being used often as my daughter grows for tea parties and the like, particularly with the whimsical pastel and floral notes among the ingredients.
Matcha Egg Cream is a delicious, yet interesting beverage. Contrary to its name, you won’t find any eggs or cream in the ingredient list. Leela was inspired by the traditional Jewish Egg Cream with seltzer water, chocolate syrup, and milk. She adapted it a bit by substituting matcha (green tea powder) for the chocolate and adding some sweetened condensed milk. The drink comes together quickly by simply shaking together the matcha and milks in a tightened jar, then pouring together with the ice and carbonated water. It reminded me of a green tea flavored cream soda.
Matcha (MAHT-cha) is a powder created by grinding whole green tea leaves. There are various grades of matcha. The higher quality grades are made from the fine, new leaves from the very top of the Camellia sinensis tea bush. Use the premium grades for drinking, while the lower, culinary grades are fine to use in baking. Be careful in the storing of matcha. It can become stale and brownish when exposed to oxygen. I have been able to find matcha at the local Asian food markets. It is also available on Amazon: DoMatcha DoMatcha Organic 2nd Harvest Matcha, 2.82-Ounce and less expensive, smaller size: 1.05 ounce Matcha Green Tea Powder.
I also made the Spiced Strawberry-Balsamic Lassi, The Queen Bee, Coconut Lamingtons, and Maple Kettle Corn.
This wasn’t my first time trying a Strawberry Lassi, but I loved Leela’s take on it. She adds a bit of spice to the strawberry yogurt-based drink with the addition of balsamic vinegar, honey, date, and black pepper. It is so refreshing, plus easy to prepare with just the whirl of the blender.
The Queen Bee is one of the a few types of Tartines and Small Toasts Leela features (you will also find Beet-Tinted Chèvre & Radish Toasts, Charred Lemony Asparagus & Raclette, and Tostada de Tomate). I bought bee pollen from the local farmer’s market and have been looking for new ways of using it other than in smoothies and yogurt bowls. I loved sprinkling it over toast! Toasted slices of bread are spread with butter, then topped with toasted wheat germ, bee pollen, and honey. It was another easy to make snack.
Coconut Lamingtons are Australian squares of pound cake coated in a layer of chocolate and shredded coconut. Leela takes them a step further by incorporating even more coconut. Coconut milk is added to the batter of the pound cake itself and the cut squares are coated in large coconut flakes instead of the small shredded pieces. I made a bit of a mess with the coating, but they were overall delicious.
Leela includes three toppings for homemade popcorn. The Maple Kettle Corn caught my eye and I actually made popcorn on the stove for the first time to try it. It was a huge hit. Popcorn kernels are popped on the stovetop in a little coconut oil and coated in a caramel made from maple syrup and sugar. It is finished off with a sprinkling of smoked salt.
Disclaimer: I received this book as a part of the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review. All comments and opinions are my own.
Matcha Egg Cream
Adapted from Food with Friends
2 cups ice
2 teaspoons matcha powder
1/2 cup whole milk
3 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk
1 1/4 cups carbonated water
Fill two large glasses with ice and place in freezer until ready to serve.
Pour the matcha powder, milk, and sweetened condensed milk in a mason jar or screw-top pint jar. Add the lid and tighten, then shake the jar until the mixture is thoroughly combined. Remove the chilled glasses from the freezer and divide the shaken mixture between the glasses. Fill the glasses to the top with the carbonated water.
Use a spoon to stir and serve immediately.