Suzi’s Blog

Cookbook Review: Brown Sugar Kitchen by Tanya Holland


Like soul food? Interested? Want the very best? Read on.

For a too short time a few years ago, Tanya Holland worked at Cooking by the Book. She was one of the culinary advisors central to our hands-on culinary program. Here, corporate groups come into our kitchen, divide into groups, and each group has a culinary advisor to help them with one dish of a three-course meal. Their cooking finished, the corporate folks retire to the dining room to eat. We clean up the kitchen.

As an advisor, Tanya did not do the cooking for her team. The team, the people in suits did — we do let them take off their ties. But she was there to help, answer questions and provide insurance. We want our guests to have exceptional food. That means our advisors have to be both accomplished chefs and articulate advocates for cooking techniques and insights. We loved how Tanya could help a team work through a complicated dish to culinary success. She obviously has powerful communications skills and culinary insights.

We loved that. We hated when she said she was off to California. We wished her well, though, expecting success. She was venturing to San Francisco we were told, a bistro in her future offering steak frites and bouillabaisse and all the classics she learned cooking in France. She does happen to know the foods of North Africa and the Caribbean and the American South as well. That turned out to be very important.

Maybe all that knowledge just slowed her down. She did not get to San Francisco. Close, but she stopped on the other side of the Bay. In West Oakland, in an industrial area with neighbors like a forklift company and an auto repair shop, she opened a soul food kitchen. If you ask how it’s going, just look at the lines out the door. She’s got a second restaurant now very close by. She may never get to San Francisco, but then she really doesn’t need too.

If you combine Tanya’s talent, a soul food background, and California ingredients you get a recipe portfolio of distinction.

Her Brown Sugar Kitchen first opened for Breakfast and Brunch with offerings like:

Virginia Ham and Fried Apple Croque-Monsieur

Grits Eggs Benedict

Sweet Potato and Kale Hash

Chicken-Apple sausage Cornbread Pudding

If breakfast is too early for you to drive over the bridge, wait for lunch with the Snacks & Salads:

Cornmeal-Coasted Okra Bites

Black-Eyed Pea Salad

Romaine Sal with Spring Vegetables and Cucumber-Buttermilk Dressing

Any Southern table is graced with Vegetables & Sides that come directly from the garden. In Oakland, Tanya can use all the fresh and local abundance of Northern California:

Okra Peperonata

Green Chile-Harissa Potato Gratin

Herbed Mushroom Spoon Brad

Baked Sweet Potato Wedges

If lunch for you is just Soup & Sandwich, then you might choose from:

Creole Gazpacho

Vidalia Onion Soup with Cornbread Croutons

Fried Oyster Po’Boy

There are Large Plates & Big Bowls for dinner. Here Tanya’s world experience is on full display:


Blackened Catfish

BBQ Braised Smoked Tofu with Roasted Eggplant

Jerk Baby Back Ribs with Pineapple Salsa

It can be a challenge for a restaurant to be great from appetizers all the way through dessert. Here Tanya is sure you will not be disappointed. Sweets includes:

Bourbon-Hazelnut Truffles

Caramelized Banana Pudding

Coconut Chess Tart

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

Any meal needs some accompanying liquid refreshment. In the Drinks chapter the beverages are packed, with spice or sweetness or both:

Strawberry Lemonade with Lemon-Infused Sugar

Ginger Beer

Brown Sugar Sangria

Smoked Butter Rum

After her husband, Tanya’s abiding love is for food. The recipes here are studded with her adornments. Little extras abound. Little tips and ideas that take each dish to another level. For example, to make the Strawberry Lemonade just a bit extra sour, it is made with lemon-infused sugar that has been prepared the day before. The result? You don’t get that rush of pure sugar sweetness you would be adding granulated sugar right at the end. Instead there is an added level of lemon tartness that snuggles in with the strawberry flavor — look for the recipe in the coming week!

Brown Sugar Kitchen is carefully, artfully written. If you know soul food, you will be on familiar turf. If you don’t, you are about to be inducted into a culinary world you’ll always relish. And, if you are ever in West Oakland and see a forklift place, do look down the block. That line of people isn’t for the forklifts or for tires. It’s for food, great soul food from an expert chef.


Avocado Corn Relish or Salsa


Yesterday’s post was about roasting corn using your gas grill. Hopefully you will have some leftover corn. Or you can easily roast more. And, while the corn is on the grill, do a few poblano peppers. You are going to need them.

You’ll find recipes for this relish/salsa on the web and in many cookbooks. The principal ingredients are listed below in the recipe. The list is commonly 5 ears of corn, 4 scallions, 4 poblanos, 1 red bell pepper and 2 avocados. I think those relative numbers give you strong visual appeal. But there is nothing sacred about these proportions.

And nothing sacred about the ingredients themselves. Instead of the scallions, you can use diced red onion. Some yellow or green bell pepper can be employed. And I’ve seen versions of this recipe calling for garlic and cumin [1 full tablespoon!] and red pepper flakes [only 1 teaspoon], some cilantro, and lime juice. Feel free to amend and extend the basic recipe below.

Often the call is for this dish to be served at room temperature. I’ve done that and offered chilled as well. It can be a side dish to accompany some protein main entry, or you can offer it up with chips for an appetizer. This is a dish with multiple purposes. It has, particularly when just made, a sharp, zippy flavor. That brightness will elevate any main course you select to pair it with.

While the recipe talks about ¼-inch you should not obsess. Having different sized pieces does, I think, just add to the zig zag visual appeal.

Avocado Corn Relish/Salsa

Yield: ~ cups or about 8 modest servings


4-6 ears corn

4 scallions

4 poblano chiles, roasted, peeled, seeded, diced into ¼-inch pieces

1 large red bell pepper, with the seeds removed, the membrane cut away and diced into ¼‑inch pieces

2 avocados, skinned, pits removed and diced into ¼‑inch pieces

¼ cup red wine vinegar

¼ cup olive oil

Salt freshly ground black pepper


Cook the corn as your prefer. I suggest grilling it because you need the grill to roast those poblanos.

After the corn has cooled, after the poblanos have been cut in diced portions, remove the corn kernels and mix the corn and chiles in a glass bowl.

Slice the scallions and add to the bowl along with the avocados and red bell pepper.

Add some, but not all, of the olive oil and red wine vinegar. Stir to mix, season with salt and pepper and taste test. Add more oil or vinegar and more salt and pepper to suit your taste.

Enjoy this first when it is just completed, freshly prepared with the flavors radiant. Refrigerate any leftovers and enjoy again the next day, either warmed or cold.

Source: Brian O’Rourke with inputs from many websites; I believe the genesis of this recipe does belong to The Border Grill in Los Angeles

Photo Information: Canon T2i, EFS 60mm Macro Lens, F/4 for1/30th second at ISO‑400




Cookbook Review: Dos Caminos Tacos by Ivy Stark


In Spanish the verb “taquear” has the core meaning “to fill up.” In contemporary Mexico, it means “make a taco of it.” Dos Caminos Tacos lets you make tacos literally from everything: meats and veggies, classical and contemporary, familiar and very surprising.

Executive Chef Ivy Stark is responsible for the special sparkle at the Dos Caminos restaurant group. There are several in New York City, plus more in New Jersey, Florida, Las Vegas and, yes, glorious Pittsburg. Suzen and I love to pop in, start with margaritas, savor some salsa, and move on to entrees.

It’s very hard to be at Dos Caminos and skip Ivy’s gorgeous, flavor-stuffed tacos. In this book, along with accomplished co-author Joanna Pruess, Ivy presents a taco encyclopedia.

After some early chapters on techniques, tortillas, salsas and condiments, Ivy tours the taco world with chapters organized by primary ingredient. Some of these ideas are true culinary gems from Mexico. Some come from Ivy’s imagination, triggered by the markets and streets of New York and especially her home borough of Brooklyn. Here’s the taco tour and some sample recipes.

No, tacos do not have to have ground beef or chicken. In Vegetarian, there ideas here that may surprise and surely will satisfy:

Grilled Asparagus and Avocado

Blue Cheese, Walnut and Cabbage

Butternut Squash

Grilled Sweet Potato Tacos with Ancho Glaze and Spicy Black Beans

For some reason, north of the border our protein tacos really are oriented around ground meat and poultry. Much of Mexico’s population live on or near ocean coastlines that make Fish and Seafood established ingredients for native tacos:

Salt-Crusted Roasted Salmon with Black Bean, Corn and Mango Salsa

Baja-Style Cod with Roasted Tomato Remoulade

Grilled Red Snapper Yucatan Style

Tuna Tacos with Lime Aioli and Honeydew Jicama Slaw

Grilled Soft-Shell Crab with Heirloom Tomato Pico de Gallo

Beef or chicken? If I’m asked I often favor Poultry tacos. Here Ivy appeals to my personal preference with offerings like:

Wood-Charcoal-Grilled Chicken

Chicken Chorizo and Potato

Chicken Carnitas

Smoked Chicken Thighs with Watermelon Pico de Gallo

Chopped Chicken Liver [I told you, Ivy lives in Brooklyn]

Duck Carnitas

And after the chicken, there are Beef, Pork and Game variations for tacos, rich and hearty tacos:

Chile and Beer Braised Brisket

Tamarind Braised Short Ribs

Cascabel Chile Marinated Carne Asada with Caramelized Onion, Pico de Gallo and Catija Cheese

Beef Carnitas with Serrano Chile Sauce

The book closes with chapter for Side Dishes [Mexican Street Corn], Desserts [Dark Chocolate Tacos with Sour Cherries], and Beverages [Summer Peach Margarita]. You can construct a complete meal from Dos Caminos Tacos, a meal that will be strikingly spicy.

There is a major, major reason you want this book: the carnitas recipes. Ivy does venture south of Brooklyn and in her journeys to Mexico she’s discovered the “standard Mexican-home” technique for making carnitas, be it duck or pork or beef or whatever you want to try. Ready? You cook the meat in a mixture of Coca-Cola, sweetened condensed milk and orange juice. Seriously. Really.

Suzen and I have one of our grandsons up for the 4th of July. There will be fireworks inside the kitchen, too. We are doing carnitas. With Coke and OJ and, yes, sweetened condensed milk. I can’t wait. Photos to come.