Cookbook offers comfort food for foodies

Book: “The American Cookbook: A Fresh Take on Classic Recipes” by Elena Rosemond-Hoerr and Caroline Bretherton. 256 pages, $25. Published by DK, 2014.

What you get: This collection of more than 150 recipes takes American classics and gives them a contemporary makeover, like Strawberry-stuffed French Toast (Page 55), Sweet Potato Parmesan Tots (P. 156) and Chocolate Bread Pudding (P. 174). Think of the recipes as comfort food for foodies.

In her own words: “I am a typical American, able to draw inspiration from the world’s cuisines and present them with a twist — a new take on an old favorite. This book does just that, celebrating the best that America has to offer in a fresh and inspiring way, truly capturing the country’s rich, diverse and ever-evolving food culture.” — Elena Rosemond-Hoerr

What we made: Two recipes jumped out at me — both calling for dark chocolate. I couldn’t resist.

MOLE SHREDDED PORK ENCHILADAS (P. 132)

2 pounds pork tenderloin or filet

1 cup grated cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese

4 large tortillas

For the mole sauce:

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, crushed

2 tablespoons semisweet or dark chocolate

2 15-ounce cans chopped tomatoes

1 teaspoon chipotle paste

pinch of cayenne pepper

pinch of ground cinnamon

pinch of sugar

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. For the mole sauce, heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and saute for 4 minutes until soft, then add the garlic and saute for a further minute. Stir in the chocolate, tomatoes, chipotle, cayenne pepper, cinnamon and sugar. Season well. Reduce the heat to a simmer.

2. In a frying pan, seal the pork for about 30 seconds on each side over high heat. Transfer the pork to the saucepan containing the mole sauce, turning once to coat. Simmer the meat in the sauce for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Remove the pork from the sauce and pull the meat apart with a fork.

3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Divide the meat and halt the cheese between the four tortillas. Roll up the tortillas tightly.

4. Spoon half the mole sauce into a large flameproof casserole or baking dish. Lay the stuffed tortillas, seam-side down, in a row over the sauce. Top them with the remaining sauce and cheese and bake for 25 minutes.

LAVENDER CHOCOLATE PRETZEL RODS (P. 238)

5 ½ ounces dark chocolate chips or squares

20 large, thick pretzel rods or knotted pretzels

3 tablespoons dried culinary lavender

1. Melt the chocolate in a small heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water.

2. Dip two-thirds of a pretzel rod or knotted pretzel into the melted chocolate, tilting the bowl for a good coating. Carefully dip off any excess chocolate into the bowl. Continue to dip all the pretzel rods.

3. Sprinkle over the lavender sparingly and transfer the pretzel rods to a lined baking sheet to dry. You can also try topping the pretzel rods with sprinkles, crusted nuts, dried fruit or candy pieces for a delicious alternative.

Our assessment: First, the pork enchiladas: All my taste testers loved the mole sauce, which takes regular ol’ enchiladas to a new level. The dark chocolate adds a suggestion of sweetness while bringing out other flavors and taming the heat of the chipotle paste (if you can’t find the paste, just buy a can of chipotle peppers in sauce, chop up finely and use about 1 tablespoon).

Now, for the pretzel rods: The lavender (dried flower buds) and chocolate combination confused the men, who said the pretzels tasted like a candle, perfume or a flower. Needless to say, those tasters didn’t much care for the lavender. One man, however, thought the lavender tasted like bacon and wanted more.

The women were much more receptive. “I like it! My taste buds are fighting my brain, which is telling me I shouldn’t like it,” said MyDaytonDailyNews.com Dining Diva Michelle Fong.

Culinary lavender adds a bit of sweetness and an almost citrusy flavor to a dish, and although it’s been a popular ingredient for centuries in other parts of the world, most Americans are unfamiliar with it. To buy it locally, your best bet is a health foods or speciality grocery store. In Dayton, it’s available at Dorothy Lane Market (I checked at the Oakwood store located at 2710 Far Hills Ave.) for $5.49 for ½ ounce. At Olympia Health Foods at 4077 E. Town and Country Road in Kettering, you can buy it in bulk for $3.69 per ounce. At Health Alternative at 2235 N Fairfield Road in Beavercreek, it’s $3.62 per ounce. At Starflower Natural Foods at 142 Dayton St. in Yellow Springs, a jar of lavender grown on a botanical farm in Wilmington costs $6. At Jungle Jim’s at 5440 Dixie Highway in Fairfield, an 11-ounce jar by Vanns is $4.79 or a 7-gram bag by Mi Costenita is $.99. Check the specialty grocery or health foods store nearest you. If you don’t have any luck, online vendor Curious Country Creations offers a 4-ounce bag for $6.99 plus $6.87 shipping.

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