4/26/2017

An Everlasting Meal - Potato, Brussels Sprouts Salad


I have recently been reading a charming little book picked up at a secondhand book shop, An Everlasting Meal, Cooking with Economy and Grace, by Tamar Adler.  It's lovely popping into that store when you have a bit of time between things, getting a "free" book for later browsing with a cup of latte.  I say "free" because my account usually has a credit line from books brought in for re-sale.

Books about cooking and food in general, or cookbooks are especially nice when you come away with at least one excellent idea or re-encouragement.  This particular book had more than one, and reinforced something taken away from another recent purchase - A New Way to Dinner from Food 52 - purposefully preparing food ahead of time - not left-overs, combining various previously made foods in creative ways.  Also a good bit on how to "sharpen strategies for turning failures into successes."

Along those lines, I like Adler's note:  "A recipe for onion bread soup from Simple French Cooking by Richard Olney demands stale bread that is 'coarse, vulgar, compact.'  We have all tossed loaves for meeting that description at some point.  Stale bread cannot be bought.  It must be waited for, which gives all dishes containing it the weight of philosophical ballast, as well as dietary and budgetary ones."

And on the subject of adding herbs: "Fresh herbs have always been relied on to perk up whatever needs perking.  Parsley, in particular, has long been called into duty when things were fading:  in ancient Greece, anyone or anything on its way out was said to be 'in need of parsley'."  I often feel that way myself.

Her comments on the issue of steaming versus boiling vegetables, and for how long were also thought provoking as well as practical - "For boiled vegetables to taste really delicious, they need to be cooked.  Most of ours aren't.  Under cooking is a justifiable reaction to the 1950s tendency to cook vegetables to collapse.  But the pendulum has swung too far.  When not fully cooked, any vegetable seems starchy and indifferent: it hasn't retained the virtues of being recently picked nor benefited from the development of sugars that comes with time and heat.  There's not much I dislike more than biting into a perfectly lovely vegetable and hearing it squeak."

Tamar Adler, a former editor at Harper's Magazine, and chef at Chez Panisse and Prune, her writing in this book, on everything from eggs to olives is both wise and insightful, as well as being delicious and thought provoking.  Besides her interesting philosophical ramblings she does include lots of recipes, and with approachable instruction.

Thus in honor of Adler's philosophy of re-combining, enlivening, and transforming, I put together a sort of re-purposed potato salad.  It was built around several prior preparations, first a little tub of Creamed Kale (you notice how we're not saying left-overs) from a recipe in Food52 A New Way to Dinner, next a healthy portion of Aromatic Brussels Sprouts (which I had combined with potatoes) from Cooking with Mary Berry, and third, some experimental poached and soft-boiled eggs, made earlier in the day just for this salad.  I was trying once again to poach, not too successfully I might add.


The dressing was composed of mayonnaise, a bit of kefir and kefir cream cheese, blue cheese (just a bit), lemon juice and mustard.  Each of the major players were so flavorful in themselves that no additional seasoning was needed.  Just blended the dressing together, chunked up the potatoes and Brussels sprouts, chopped the kale finer, and added some capers.  Gently tossed and topped with the eggs.  Just so you know, the Creamed Kale was made with a bit of crisped up soppressata, as well as cream and the Aromatic Brussels sprouts had mustard seeds.  It was a sooooo delicious and even elegant salad.  Really all you need for dinner.  Well, maybe a glass of chilled white wine.


There was even enough for my lunch the following day - just added some lettuce and cilantro for a bit more green.  See how perked up it is.  This will get linked to the April Foodies Read Challenge, at Deb's Kahakai Kitchen for Souper, (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays, and with Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking event.  Stop by for inspiration on books and good food,


4/15/2017

Pasta Cheese Soufflé

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, gotta love that name, is featured chef of the moment at IHCC (I Heart Cooking Clubs); especially focusing on recipes with eggs in them this week, since it's that time of year.  I have a cookbook on order, but for now am going with something found at his BBC site: Spaghetti Cheese Souffle.  So, for Happy Resurection Sunday, we had this - risen eggs!  How appropriate.  I think so anyway.


4/11/2017

Chouquettes - The Postscript


As a bit of an addendum to my previous review post on Gourmet Rhapsody, I am sharing the lovely Chouquettes, which were mentioned as the elusive, wonderful flavor sought in that novelette.  Just couldn't resist making them, and so glad I did after eating about 100 of the little delights for breakfast with my hot cocoa.  They are just small cream puffs without the filling, and baked with coarse or pearl sugar on top.

4/07/2017

A Not So Rhapsodic, Gourmet Rhapsody

 Just finished a little, 156 page, novelette, Gourmet Rhapsody, by Muriel Barbery.  I had read a review of this book last month, which led me to check it out myself.  So, my two cents' worth follows.  Especially as it follows Dinner with Edward, this provided such a contrast in characters.  One a loving  husband, caring father and warm human being, the other a greedy, self-indulgent, self-absorbed and cold hearted individual, who treats his wife, children and most other people with contempt.  We know from the outset that he's an arrogant douche-bag, so no surprises there.

The book alternates the reminiscences of a renowned food critic on his death bed, trying to recall a particular flavor from his past, with chapters from the point of view of various his relatives, acquaintances, etc.  He blatantly  enjoys his power to make or ruin both chefs and restaurants; a man who has spent his life, as Barbery notes, among those erecting "temples to the glory of the goddess Grub."  Definitely an extreme of living to eat, rather than eating to live.  I found the whole thing rather sad, as there are so many in this world who do spend a lifetime seeking pleasure in one form or another, often at the expense of others, dying unregretted, and spiritually bankrupt.

3/28/2017

A Meal in Memory of Edward


I am currently hosting our bimonthly edition of Cook the Books Club, Dinner with Edward: A Story of an Unexpected Friendship, by Isabel Vincent. This was a book I read last year, and at my re-reading had to wonder -  how does one compose a proper tribute for a guy like Edward?  However, our author has totally nailed it.  I feel as though I was graced to know a wonderful man, just a bit, through her poignant memoir, She brought him to life for us.  Though it was also about her, and what she was going through at the time, that story served as a fine contrast and underscore to Edward's own character, his concern, compassion, ability to love, and enjoyment of life, which he is able to gradually regain after the death of his great love and wife, Paula.

 Isabel's old friend, Valerie, is worried about her grieving father, as as she and her sister are both out of the country. Valerie asks that Isabel look in on him occasionally.   When she does, he invites her to dinner. The book serves as a chronicle of their developing friendship and the dinners he prepared for her, with menus heading up each chapter.

Something Edward told Isabel early on, sums up his attitude toward entertaining, and hospitality:
"The secret is treating family like guests and guests like family,"  And she continues, " No matter how terrible I felt in the moments before I knocked on his door, I always left Edward's apartment with a smile on my face, a sensation that I had just experienced some kind of pure joy."

There was so much to inspire as far as food, lots that I eventually want to prepare.  The meal I finally chose came from near the end of the book, a dinner celebrating the anniversary of Edward and Paula's wedding.  His menu reads:

                         Chicken Liver Pate, Crackers
                          Flounder alla Francese over Steamed spinach
                          Grilled Sweet Potatoes
                           Chocolate Cake
                           Riesling


Well, I have made chicken liver pate, but not right at this point in time.  I'm attaching a photo of it though.  Mine has cognac included as well, and is from Elizabeth David's recipe.

Next adjustment - the flounder - which I couldn't source, but changed out for cod, and instead of Riesling, there was my Carambola wine.  Nonetheless it all came together wonderfully.  I am doing things in a more relaxed mode these days, thanks to a terrific cookbook, Food52 A New Way to Dinner, by preparing parts of a meal ahead of time.

3/21/2017

Spicy Roasted Cauliflower from Food52



What a terrific Cookbook.  I keep telling myself, "You do NOT need any more cookbooks Claudia!!" - however we are making an Executive Exception for this one -  A New Way to Dinner, by Amanda Hesser & Merrill Stubbs, sub-titled, A Playbook of Recipes and Strategies for the Week Ahead.  This was actually my first acquaintance with Food52.

At the present point in time, I've composed (yes, they're artistic compositions) a number of the recipes in this book, starting with that one shown on the cover, Steak with Arugula, Lemon and Parmesan.  In addition, there were Grilled Pork Chops with Hacked Romesco, which I double hacked, doing a more Mexican take with tomatillos, some wonderful Chicken Fingers (yes, home-made and delicious), Tad's Roasted Potatoes, which I converted to Claudia's Roasted Cassava, a lovely Braised Chickpeas with Celery (another adaptation using lentils instead), some wonderful meatballs (Bob's favorite), the Brussels Sprouts Salad with apples and Anchovy Dressing (pictured below), the wonderful lamb merguez with preserved lemon cream, and my featured Spicy Roasted Cauliflower.

3/10/2017

A Long Time Gone and Hawaiian Style Gumbo


 This novel, A Long Time Gone, by Karen White, takes place in the Mississippi Delta, my okra is getting harvested, and I was in the mood for Gumbo.  Life working in concert.  I'm calling it Hawaiian style because there is Ahi tuna in it, Kauai shrimp and vegetables from my Hawaiian garden.  Most traditional gumbos won't have fish other than shrimp and crab, but as Bob is picky about shellfish generally, I have been adding in fresh ahi to various dishes that call for shellfish.  So we're both meant to be happy.  Theoretically.

I do believe this is the first book by Karen White I have read, and will certainly be reading more.  She is an excellent storyteller.  Her novel involves a family where it seems the women always leave their children behind at some point.  They come back and often leave again.  It concerns the emotional damage and the danger of  relying on assumptions about the motives of others, frequently false assumptions,  rather than giving the benefit of doubt, until we know better, also the need for forgiveness,and  letting go of bitterness.

As the Publisher's blurb states: "When Vivien Walker left her home in the Mississippi Delta, she swore never to go back, as generations of the women in her family had.  But in the spring, nine years to the day since she left, that's exactly what happens --- Vivien returns, fleeing from a broken marriage and her lost dreams for children."

White weaves together seamlessly the family relationships, and Delta history going back several generations, up to and including the recent broken tie with Vivien's step-daughter.  Then there is the mystery of a woman's bones found under a lightening felled cypress in the back garden, as well as a new romance with an old love.  Terrific reading.

3/06/2017

Tea and Scones for The Chilbury Ladies' Choir

Jennifer Ryan's debut novel, The Chilbury Ladies' Choir, is just marvelous, so inspiring and heart-warming.  A World War II tale, involving the women of Chilbury in Kent, who have been left to manage on their own, with most of the men away fighting.  How, with the encouragement of a new singing teacher, they re-organize their disbanded Village choir, in defiance of a notice posted at the Village Hall by their Vicar.  "As all our male voices have gone to war, the village choir is to close."  That bold little turnaround is just the beginning.  Singing competitions, and concerts soon follow, cheering and lifting hearts in a sad, dreary time, as they put aside differences and learn to rely upon and draw strength from God and their own inner resources through music.

A bit reminiscent of Maeve Binchy, Ryan follows individual members of the choir in a pivotal year - 1940, with excellent characterizations, through diaries, letters and journals.  We see in these pages women and young ladies developing character, wisdom and maturity,  with occasionally gripping, emotionally stirring, even humorous, and interconnected village life stories, which draw the reader in.  My interest was held throughout.  There is mystery, a love story or two, bossy individuals, tragic death, greedy looters and spies.  These are not perfect people, but people tried, enduring and growing through their circumstances.

Music provides a unifying, comforting common bond.  As their choral director states: 'Music takes us out of ourselves, away from our worries and tragedies, helps us look into a different world, a bigger picture."

 Kitty, the Choir's 13 year old, talented lead soprano notes in her diary, "Does Hitler have any idea of the force and determination of 13 impassioned women?  At the very least, I suspect he's never considered the lethal potential of a three-tiered cake stand."  They had been practicing self-defense with objects to hand during a WIC (Women's Invasion Committee) meeting.

And always, throughout, there is the traditional English comfort - A Nice Cup of Tea.  Here, mine is Lapsang Souchong, and  with a scone.  I made a batch of blueberry ones.  Recipe to follow, for those interested.

3/01/2017

Vodka Rig for Tricky Twenty-Two


 Have just finished Tricky Twenty-Two, and must say  I really don't know how Janet Evanovich has so consistently accomplished putting out one completely hilarious novel after another.  I know, I know, it wasn't all that long ago I reviewed Turbo Twenty-Three, but somehow this one had gotten skipped. Her characters are just over-the-top, the situations original to say the least, and the plots excellent.  You might say "light and fluffy" but way better than that.  I've read them all, and now will be starting over from the first, One for the Money.  To give you an idea, for those not Evanovich cognoscenti, from this book, on the locale:

"The funeral home is on the edge of the Burg, short for Chambersburg (NJ).  Originally the Burg was a mob enclave, but most of the mob has now moved on to classier neighborhoods...I grew up in the Burg, and my parents still live there.  Houses are modest.  Bars are plentiful.  Crime is low.  Gossip is rampant.  The funeral home is the Burg equivalent to a country club.  It's free entertainment for everyone but the immediate family of the deceased.  People in the Burg go to viewings for the cookies, not for the dead guy in Slumber Room No. 2."