12/07/2017

"This Must Be the Place" for Brutti-Boni


Just finished This Must Be the Place, a novel by Maggie O'Farrell.  She certainly knows how to spin an intriguing story or two.  Or three, or four.  They kept coming, interconnected, and at different dates, and places, leaping back and forth between 1986 and 2016, with the various characters, though most were a recurring group.  I found it a bit confusing, and was continually shuffling around in the book to figure things out and understand what was going on.  Still O'Farrell keeps us fascinated throughout.  She is such a good writer.  I've read a number of her novels at this point and loved them all.   From the Publisher:

"Meet Daniel Sullivan, a man with a complicated life. A New Yorker living in the wilds of Ireland, he has children he never sees in California, a father he loathes in Brooklyn, and a wife, Claudette, who is a reclusive ex–film star given to pulling a gun on anyone who ventures up their driveway. Claudette was once the most glamorous and infamous woman in cinema before she staged her own disappearance and retreated to blissful seclusion in an Irish farmhouse.

But the life Daniel and Claudette have so carefully constructed is about to be disrupted by an unexpected discovery about a woman Daniel lost touch with twenty years ago. This revelation will send him off-course, far away from wife, children, and home. Will his love for Claudette be enough to bring him back?"


 Brutti-Boni, according to Ruth Reichl in Gourmet Today, means "ugly but good" cookies, which I thought was a nice metaphor for life, the good with the not so pretty.  She says they "are found in many regions of Italy, usually made from finely ground almonds in a meringue base.  But the Mattei bakery in Prato, near Florence, makes (and spells) them in typical Tuscan style.  The egg whites are only lightly beaten, and the nuts, which include a handful of pine nuts that add a more complex, creamy flavor, are coarser.  These crisp, chewy cookies were shared with us by the authority on Italian cooking, Faith Heller Winninger."

Thank you Ruth.  I made them first with almonds, as per the recipe and the second time with macadamia nuts.  Both times with 1 cup of cacao nibs subbed in for part of the nuts (since we have a lot around here, and they're great).  Have to say that I actually liked the almond ones better.  Sorry mac nuts.


Brutti-Boni Cacao
Adapted from Gourmet Today, edited by Ruth Reichl

1 cup unblanched whole almonds, toasted
1 cup cacao nibs (or you could use almonds as in the original, if you can't get nibs)
1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
1 1/3 cups sugar
2-3 large egg whites
2 tablespoons cake flour
1/8 teaspoon salt

Put a rack in the middle of oven and preheat oven to 350 F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Pulse almonds, cacao nibs and pine nuts with sugar in a food processor until coarsely chopped.  Lightly beat 2 egg whites with a whisk and add to nuts, along with flour and salt.  Process until evenly moist. (Dough should be slightly sticky but firm enough to hold together.  If it is too dry, lightly beat remain egg white and blend into dough 1 teaspoon at a time.)


Drop heaping teaspoons of dough about 1/2 inch apart onto lined baking sheets.  Gently squeeze each one with your fingers to form a rough cone shape.

Bake cookies in batches until barely browned and still moist in center, 12 to 15 minutes.  Cool cookies for 5 minutes on sheet, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.


The cookies keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week.  If they last that long.  I mailed some off to the Mainland for gifts, and we ate the rest.  Ugly perhaps, but very tasty.  This post will be linked to Weekend Cooking, hosted by Beth Fish Reads.

12/05/2017

First Chapter - First Paragraph Tuesday Intros

I'm doing something new today - First Chapter ~ First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, which is hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea, where bloggers post the first paragraph(s) or introduction of a book they are currently reading or planning to read sometime soon.


I have noticed some stunning beginnings in my reading years, though the books don't always live up to them. My contribution today is This Must be the Place, by Maggie O'Farrell.  I'm just into the second chapter, but it's quite good so far.

11/29/2017

Lamb in Cotes-Du-Rhone for Cook the Books


 I have enjoyed all of the books by Martin Walker, in his series featuring Bruno, Chief of Police.  The Patriarch, is our current selection for Cook the Books Club.  However, a disclaimer here - many of us, myself included, like to start reading books written in a series at the beginning, as further along, the returning characters have undergone some previous development.  I suppose authors don't like to repeat themselves too much.  So, you may want to go back and read the first first.

In this novel Bruno is invited to the chateau of a boyhood hero, a popular leader in the French Resistance, for a lavish birthday celebration.  Of course a murder ensues and our village police chief gets involved.  It looks to be an accident, but Bruno thinks otherwise.  Family secrets and tragedy are exposed.  Also causing trouble in the region, an animal rights activist is protecting deer without any means of keeping them safe, outraging local hunters. 

For this, as in his earlier novels, the food and wine descriptions were plentiful and tempting, however the only difficulty was in narrowing it down to what might be available, or in tune with the season.  I decided to go with a take-off from one of Chief Bruno's very first mentions, a roast of lamb marinated in wine with herbs.  Not being able to secure the Monbazillac, I went with a nice, earthy red Cotes-Du-Rhone from Saint Cosme instead, and made a braise of  lamb shoulder stew chunks.

11/16/2017

Roasted Roots for Blood at the Root

 
Blood at the Root, by Peter Robinson, is the 9th in his Inspector Banks mystery series.  I don't like to admit it really, but a male author's perspective is frequently coming directly from Mars (just my personal opinion here) and I often find the writing of women more simpatico. It would be obvious to most why Banks' marriage is failing.  The real mystery is the length of time his wife put up with things.  But his problems, marital, and job related tend to get in the way of the murder solve, and there is a lack of real resolution at the end.  We're supposed to read the next book apparently.   All that aside, I know some of you are total Peter Robinson fans, and actually the plot was quite intriguing with the supposed "good boy" turning out to be something else altogether.  Neo Nazis, race riots and drug exporting behind it all.

As the Publisher's blurb says:
 
"In the long shadows of an alley a young man is murdered by an unknown assailant. The shattering echoes of his death will be felt throughout a small provincial community on the edge—because the victim was far from innocent, a youth whose sordid secret life was a tangle of bewildering contradictions. Now a dedicated policeman beset by his own tormenting demons must follow the leads into the darkest corners of the human mind in order to catch a killer."

11/02/2017

Pacific Spinach Cannelloni and Nero Wolfe


 Don't you love discovering new authors and new foods?   Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Mysteries have just done it.  He's been around (1886-1975) for quite a few years, but new to me all the same.  The detective hero, Nero Wolfe, head of his own agency,  has been described as "overweight, epicurean and orchid-loving."  And I love how he spends as much time with the orchids as he does solving mysteries and helping his chef, Fritz, to perfect various culinary creations.  In the first of this volume, two novels in one, Black Orchiids and The Silent Speaker, Fritz was making some special sausages, saucisse minuit.  Later on he and Nero, on the advice of a Southern girl, material witness in an ongoing murder investigation, tried adding chitlins to a batch of corned beef hash, in a quest to solve that cooking problem, of nearly equal importance to solving the identity of the murderer.

10/28/2017

Cacao Nibs and Mac Nut Brittle



No Tricks, just treats today! Saturday morning project!  My first experiment in cacao nib brittle making, or brittle making period.  I found 4 recipes to experiment around with, and this is the first, maybe the only.  The kind of guinea pig I don't mind being..  This one was courtesy of  Marc Matsumoto at No Recipes. The only change I made was adding in macadamia nuts. His notes are excellent, so I've included them as well.  My notes and changes are in pink.

10/01/2017

A Death in Vienna - Pastry Disaster

 I just finished A Death in Vienna by Frank Tallis, the debut novel for a new series, and was quite impressed with his unique combination of the history of psychology and early 20th century Vienna, romance and mystery.  This is the era of Freud, Klimt and Mahler. There is a new wave of artistic as well as scientific innovation, contending with old school thought, the reigning, male dominated conservatism which categorized abused and traumatized women as "hysterics" and often had them committed to hospitals for the mentally ill.  It was also an age in which antisemitic feeling was gaining ground.

This then is the setting for a murder, and the fledgling psychologist hero, Max Liebermann, assists his police detective friend in finding the totally unusual and unexpected solution.

A beautiful medium is killed in mysterious circumstances – a murder that couldn’t have been committed by anyone alive, from all the available evidence.  The supernatural is invoked, but of course, appearances can be deceiving.  A fascinating, delightful read and highly recommended.

9/17/2017

Bird's Nest Pudding for the Farmer Boy


Our latest Cook the Books Club selection was Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder, her charming, somewhat bucolic, and idealized novel of early American farm life, as seen through the eyes of a young boy. Mostly biographical, as it was based upon her husband's upbringing in upstate New York.

I enjoyed the story, with all of the homegrown vegetables, grains, and meat, the home cooking, preserving of food, weaving, spinning, and their whole life of self reliance and  living on and from the land.  Even using the straw for hats, leather for shoes, etc.  Talk about going back to the land.  We have come so far from that sort of life. Refreshing to read about.

Even the "bad boys" at school get their comeuppance.  This is definitely not a dysfunctional family.  Though of course we know there were lots of those at that time as well as in our own.  She spared her young readers, many of whom likely wished themselves on the little house planet.

8/08/2017

The Corsican Caper and Mashed Limas

 

The Corsican Caper is another of Peter Mayles' light, summer reading type thrillers, with beaucoup good food and wine mingled throughout.  I have been enjoying his various "Capers" with a few yet to read.  Don't expect anything deep, or even thought-provoking here.  Just frothy entertainment.  Despite which, you will get lots of cooking inspiration, and ideas for wine selections.  From the Publisher: In The Corsican Caper, "Master sleuth, Sam Levitt....investigates a case of deadly intrigue among the Riviera's jet set."  His good friend, billionaire Francis Reboul, is being stalked and pressured to sell his villa to a Russian tycoon, who stops at nothing in getting what he wants.

7/30/2017

Salat Olivier for Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking


For Cook the Books Club this round we have been reading Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking, by Anya Von Bremzen, the title of her memoir a bit tongue-in-cheek, as it might have been called Mastering the Art of Soviet Living.  Covering three generations of Russian life, which included millions dead, famine and food lines, before she and her mother fled to America from the repression of a Brezhnev era USSR.

At times horrific, sometimes sad and occasionally even funny, Anya's memoir is historically significant, though I was left somewhat confused, due to the held fantasy of an ideal socialism which never panned out. Russia's successive dictators led their country in a vast experiment, attempting to manipulate society, without regard for human nature, leaving former moral codes and God behind; those controlling powers having deemed religion "the opiate of the people." Von Bremzen seems in the end, to have a surprisingly  retained, lingering nostalgia for this failed socialist dream, looking down on Putin and Capitalism.  She at least has an excuse, having spent years of indoctrinated schooling in her home country.  Here in America it's astonishing how many seem to believe we should travel down that same path.  That it might work?  A scary thought.  This book should be required reading for Social Studies, Political Science or maybe Cultural Anthropology.  Definitely lots of food for thought here.

7/27/2017

A Conclave with Blue Marlin, Harissa and Rose

 I am going to recommend an excellent book here: Conclave, by Robert Harris.  When I pulled it off my TBR stack there were doubts.  Am I really going to get into a book on a Vatican election?  A good half of the books on that TBR stack do end up (on the way out) in the NTBR pile.  Of course, leave it to Robert Harris.  A great author can do wonders with almost any subject.  And as a Wall Street Journal reviewer says, "Harris is incapable of writing an unenjoyable book"  True in this case for sure.

The story concerns a pope's death in the near future, questionable  circumstances surrounding that, as well as the gathering of cardinals from around the world, the dynamics of their views and ambitions, as well as the election itself in the Sistine Chapel, all fraught with terrorist attack, protesters, and scandal.  I totally engaged with Harris' protagonist, the Dean of the College of Cardinals (in his fictional account), Cardinal Lomeli.  A truly spiritual man was well portrayed here, with human failings and struggles, who grows stronger through this trial.  All of the characters were engagingly delineated and believable, as Harris is able to competently connect with Religious life and motivations.  The ending was a bit incredible, but a great book altogether.

7/20/2017

Waffling for My Kitchen Year

Having been a fan of Ruth Reichl for quite a few years, I'm only surprised it took me this long to read her latest memoir/cookbook, Ruth Reichl, My Kitchen Year, 130 Recipes that Saved My Life.   Most cookbooks, I find at least, you don't really read from cover to cover.  This is one of those that you should.  I suppose it's the memoir aspect.  And, okay, so the title is a bit dramatic, but no one gets into the positions she has over the years without being something of a drama queen.

Her book was written in a depressive aftermath following the rather abrupt shutdown of Gourmet magazine, where Reichl had been editor in chief for 10 years. Most of us have gone through stuff equally horrid, say the death of someone close, relationship traumas, divorce, children gone off the deep end, job loss, etc., but for a writer like Reichl, it becomes material for a new book.  Taking lemons and making lemonade.  Which is good.  I just wrote a few desperate poems.  Though Jesus was and is my main support.

She is consistently a fine writer, even the tweets, dividing her notes and recipes, haiku like, are so descriptive, sense evocative and full of Ruth's wonder at and love of the surrounding world.  i.e.:

     "Sun coming up. Hawks hovering outside.  Dancing in the kitchen with gnocchi and the blues.  Good way to start a Sunday."

7/13/2017

Beets with an Avocado Cloud for The Marseille Caper


Peter Mayle's The Marseille Caper was a terrifically enjoyable read, right from the first sentence:

 "Shock has a chilling effect, particularly when it takes the form of an unexpected meeting with a man from whom you have recently stolen three million dollars' worth of wine."

Although pretty lightweight, his novel was throughout, entertaining, funny, romantic and included a thrilling high jinks rescue off a grand yacht.  There are gangster thugs, and an intrigue-ridden local real estate war going on in Marseille.  Sam, the fixer, takes on various tricky jobs mainly to make his life more interesting. This is on top of all the wonderful food and wine descriptions, being as our intrepid hero and his client are both connoisseurs.   Good summer reading.

The only other book of Mayle's I've read was French Lessons, a memoir which our Cook the Books group did a few years back.  That link will take you to the round-up with all our inspired dishes for the book.  I think, all in all, I like his fiction better.

7/06/2017

A Trade Wind Pizza

 This post has only a marginal link between book and culinary interest.   Trade wind by M. M. Kaye, is set in Zanzibar, so I had thought of investigating the food of that Island and making something.  Never got to it.  Anyway, I don't really recall  much  local cuisine being mentioned in the book.

However, that is a digression from the central point of any review of her novel.  It is so well written and researched, with fabulous characters who come alive, right off the pages; pirates, slave traders, concubines and sultans included.  The setting is a tropical paradise, though contrasted with the filth, disease and squalor of the time.  Ameliorated by romance, and fascinating history worked into an amazing plot and story.  I absolutely loved this novel.

"The year is 1859 and Hero Hollis, beautiful and headstrong niece of the American Consul, arrives in Zanzibar. It is an earthly paradise; it is also the last outpost of the slave trade. A passionate opponent of slavery, Hero is swept into a turmoil of royal intrigue, abduction, piracy, smuggling, and a virulent cholera epidemic. There in Zanzibar, the most cruelly beautiful island of the southern seas, she must choose her love and unravel her destiny." (from Goodreads)

6/20/2017

Goldy's Potatoes au Gratin


 Over the last few years I have enjoyed reading Diane Mott Davidson's fun culinary mysteries, starring her intrepid, nosy heroine, Goldy, who now has her own cookbook, Goldy's Kitchen Cookbook, Cooking, Writing, Family, Life.  If you've read any of the series you will know there are some terrific recipes included with each book, and they are all here, plus a few.  I especially loved hearing Ms. Davidson's background on the various books, origins of plots and characters, how she got started, and accomplishes her writing.  She is an inspiring as well as an entertaining writer.
 From the Publishers:

 "The beloved New York Times bestselling culinary mystery writer delivers a cookbook packed with more than 160 mouthwatering recipes and charming anecdotes about her writing and cooking life.
Diane Mott Davidson is the author of seventeen bestselling mysteries featuring caterer/sleuth Goldy Schulz, a woman who 'took the lemon that life had given her and made not just lemonade but Lemon Chicken, Lemon Bars, Lemon Cookies and Lemon Meringue Pie.'

6/15/2017

Split Pea with Fresh Corn Soup for Bertie

 Bertie needed a bit of comfort food in this book, another from the inimitable writings of Alexander McCall Smith, The Bertie Project, from Smith's 44 Scotland St. series.   Seven year old Bertie has a mother everyone loves to hate, the horrid Irene.

As the publishers write:
"Bertie's mother, Irene, returns from the Middle East to discover that, in her absence, her son has been exposed to the worst of evils -- television shows, ice cream parlors, and even unsanctioned art at the National Portrait Gallery. Her wrath descends on Bertie's long-suffering father, Stuart." 

Admittedly Stuart is a total wimp, but might just be acquiring some wee cojones by the end of this book.

6/10/2017

Olive Oil and Fresh Rosemary Cake - Happy 21st!!


 Ever since the bit of time I spent in Greece, and subsequently buying Greek cookbooks, I've been intending to make one of those lovely olive oil cakes popular around the Mediterranean.   The idea is a little off-putting, but they have two good things going for them: 1.  the excellent taste and 2. the ease of putting one together.  Being as we are celebrating my grandson's 21st birthday today, and as I was making a chicken curry, my thought was that this Rosemary Olive Oil Cake would be an excellent dessert pairing , accompanied by a light sorbet.

6/03/2017

Nuevo León Style Tamales


It's Potluck week at IHCC (I Heart Cooking Clubs) and I'm doing tamales.  Way too long since my last go around.  Those were Carnitas with Black Bean Tamales.  These were inspired by some excellent pork - wild boar brought me by a hunter friend.  A whole leg (what ham is made from for you folks not up on "know your cuts of meat".  Does anyone remember where that came from?  The old David Letterman Show, I think.  So you might say it was inspiring a whole cartload of meals.  And this has cleared out the lot.

From Rick Bayless - Nuevo León Style Tamales, which may be found in his excellent and extremely well-researched book,  Authentic Mexican.  I varied mine by using a formula for making the dough without lard.  For which recipe I am sadly without a source.  Someone over at the now defunct "Daring Cooks" event.

Tamales are quite an involved process, which can be broken down into 2 days worth of steps if you like.  Firstly soaking the corn husks.  Next making filling, by shredding the cooked pork and adding various spices, and seasonings.

5/25/2017

Warm Leek and White Bean Salad from River Cottage

 I've been enjoying dipping in and out of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's  River Cottage Every Day, though really, it's only a "cottage" in the sense of those lovely, big estates of a bygone era, on the East Coast, humbly referred to as cottages by their owners.  He at least is out in the vegetable patch occasionally, (judging from photos in the book) working at his gardening as well as cooking.

This recipe for warm leek and white bean salad with mustard dressing was delicious and a perfect first course along with some fresh baked bread.  We must give some credit here as well to Tamar Adler's section on beans in An Everlasting Meal.  She was such an encouragement to me about something so basic.  After a run of bad experiences, due to the keeping ability of dried beans in Hawaii.  I tossed all of mine and have begun again, with small amounts of a select few, meant to be used rather soon.  They don't keep long in the tropics, and refuse to soften.  She takes such care with the preparation, and suggests making a big pot of them, enough  for several meals during the week.

5/18/2017

Pub Grub for Bryant and May


 My latest read in the Peculiar Crimes Unit Mystery series by Christopher Fowler, is Bryant & May: Strange Tide.  I'm caught up now and will just have to wait (impatiently) for the next in line. Anyway, being as the I Heart Cooking Clubs (IHCC) theme this week is Pub Grub, it fits right in with my fiction book selection.  The two elderly detectives spend a goodly amount of time in London pubs.  So, we're serving them up a digital lunch of Chicken and Leek pasties.  Though that term is a bit cringe-worthy, harkening as it does to naughty night club strippers.  I would prefer turnovers, empanadas, meat pies, hand pies, take your pick.  Good, tasty finger food at any rate -  the recipe from our IHCC featured chef, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's scrumptious cookbook, River Cottage Every Day.

Arthur Bryant, the oldest of the detective duo, by 3 1/2 years, is also the funny, wildly eccentric, totally intuitive, odd man out to his straight man, John May, who tries, unsuccessfully, to keep his partner in line with Metropolitan Police standards of operation.  Let's just say that Mr. Bryant operates out of the box.

Christopher Fowler has got to be one of the most inventive, witty, and hilariously funny writers on the scene today.  Mystery or otherwise.  As The Guardian says, he "takes delight in stuffing his books with esoteric facts, together with a cast of splendidly eccentric characters (and) corkscrew plots, wit, verve and some apposite social commentary, they make for unbeatable fun."  Totally on spot. Of course I've raved on previously about his novels, The Memory of Blood, and The Water Room.  Terrific reads.


So, Pub Grub.  I've had some in my day, not a whole lot as I don't really frequent pubs, since my husband doesn't drink.  In London I did enjoy fish and chips with a side of mushy peas in a nice pub near the Tower bridge, in Honolulu there are a couple of Irish pubs we've gone to, where the music was great, and in Ireland we  popped into one or two.  That's about it.   Still, you don't need to be in a pub to serve up some typical pub grub.


I especially liked the way Hugh's recipe separates the slices of chicken from the lightly caramelized onion and cream filling.  When you bite in it's not all smushed together, and the taste is sublime.  I used a thick kefir cream and previously prepared chicken. (you notice how I'm not using the L-O's term anymore?)  My pastries didn't get crimped too beautifully though.  Still they were yummy.


These little meat pies are great to take on picnics, as your lunch to go, or just for dinner with a bit of salad. You'll notice I'm also having mine with a glass of Guinness for more pub authenticity.

And, now a slight diversion on a little known pathway, about that particular sort of Guinness, the Draught, black label with the harp, it gets rid of tape or heart worms in your cat or dog.  I kid you not.  Just 1 oz. per 20 lbs. of critter, due to the particular type of hops, and that Dublin water, which renders worms sterile.  You can do your own research, but here's a link..  I was looking for something more natural, to replace the rather toxic meds from the vet, for our elderly kitty and came upon this info. And, yes the cat is fine now.  End of rave.


I'm linking this post to Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking event and to IHCC (I Heart Cooking Clubs), so be sure to drop in and link up yourself or get some good book suggestions and or cooking ideas.
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5/11/2017

Cooking In Her Kitchen


An absolutely delightful book!!  In Her Kitchen, Stories and Recipes from Grandmas Around the World, by Gabriele Calimberti.  Soooo precious, these lovely women in their kitchens with a meal they've prepared for family and friends.  And, what a raft of countries are represented in the pages of his beautifully photographed book.

Gabriele begins with a photo of his own grandmother, Marisa, in her kitchen in Castiglion Fiorentino, Italy on one side and a shot of the meal on the opposing page, then her story and recipe follow on the next two pages.  He continues with that format throughout the book, making for 58 evocative profiles and recipes.

All so different, and sympathetically portrayed.  Several of them had me in tears.  No matter their situations these special women show their love for home and family through the food they prepare.  As the publisher's blurb states:

 "The kitchens he photographed illustrate both the diversity of world cuisine and the universal nature of a dish served up with generosity and love. At each woman's table, Gabriele became a curious and hungry grandson, exploring new ingredients and gathering stories....From a Swedish housewife and her homemade lox and vegetables to a Zambian villager and her roasted spiced chicken, this collection features a global palate: included are hand-stuffed empanadas from Argentina, twice-fried pork and vegetables from China, slow-roasted ratatouille from France, and a decadent toffee trifle from the United States."

5/02/2017

Mango Crepes for Life from Scratch


Our Cook the Books Club selection for April/May is Life from Scratch, a Memoir of Food, Family and Forgiveness, by Sasha Martin.  All in all, heart rending, and poignant, but not my favorite memoir.

Just extemporizing here, as it's all another's history, but right at the outset, one would have thought that a woman with "Mom's" independence of mind, and spirited personality would have tucked her kids into their car, with all essentials and split for the West Coast or somewhere in between, rather than give up her precious children once again.  Especially since she regretted turning over her first two to an ex.  It's not explicitly stated, but perhaps she would have lost her welfare?  It happens all the time, for one reason or another, children are put into foster homes. That whole scenario bothered me.  Particularly as we see the awful effects it had on the children of both her relationships, based on Martin's memories. Definitely where forgiveness came into play.

Children without the mother they loved, no father, the business of her beloved brother's molestation and suicide, the coldness of her foster mother (which you can actually sort of understand, taking on two teens, angry and unhappy at leaving their own mother).   An interesting, honest, albeit sad story.


All that aside, and two thirds of the book in, we come to a point of, "Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead,"  I loved the whole concept of  her Global Table Adventures, cooking right through the countries of the world, alphabetically.    I would like to give that a try myself, maybe take the remainder of my life, certainly no rush if you're not planning a book from it.

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.

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."

2/21/2017

Butternut Apple Enchiladas

 I've just finished a wonderful book by Kathleen Flinn, The Kitchen Counter Cooking School, How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks, which is the second of her books I've read.  We at Cook the Books, featured  Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good last year, and I did enjoy it, and posted about my  Perfect Pizza, but this one I'm way fonder of.  Great sense of humor right from the first paragraph, where she explains what got her started on the project that led to this book.  She says: "Normally, I do not stalk people in grocery stores.  I confess to the occasional practice of supermarket voyeurism."
Following a woman and her daughter through the supermarket aisles, amazed at what they were putting in their cart, how she found herself convincing the woman to make better choices, without preaching or haranguing. Flinn gives down-to-earth information on changing eating habits whilst being entertaining at the same time. All that and with recipes thrown in.

2/17/2017

Gooey St. Louis Butter Cake for Lovers Everywhere


I'm reading The Architect's Apprentice, by Elif Shafak, a truly Byzantine epic, and romantic tale involving, among other things, the doomed love of an elephant-tamer/architect's apprentice and the Sultan's daughter.  Hence the heart-shaped pan above, with my Valentine's dessert, a Gooey St. Louis Butter Cake.

The book is quite an adventure, full of historical interest, and lots of local color, as it's partly set  in the royal menagerie of the sultan's palace in Istanbul of the 14th Century.  However, books are something like desserts.  Sometimes you just have a taste, and stop, occasionally you get maybe halfway through and put it aside.  This was one of those, more than halfway finished, and I am unapologetic about this, it was too much or not enough, either way,  I think I prefer a more continuous flow going somewhere in a life.  Not the whole life, with countless occurrences.

 First time making this particular cake, though it  has been on my bucket "to cook" list for awhile.  Apparently it is a tradition in Missouri.  I added some dried cranberries on top for a bit of red, as well as balance against all the sweetness.  Nice for breakfast the next day too.  Especially with blueberries added on.  I do love my fruit, and we are between tropical fruit seasons at the moment, in our gardens at least.  Aside from lemons.

2/09/2017

Survival Garden Duck Soup


Not long ago I posted about a type of tropical spinach, the Pacific Spinach, after I had succeeded in identifying it.  In doing so, I mentioned other types, that it wasn't, but one of which I was then going to get, if that makes sense.  It's here now and planted, Okinawan Spinach, with mulch all around.  It's a bit wilty, having just been put into the ground. You will notice it has a sort of maroon color underneath the leaves and green on top. The Pacific variety is more tree like, this one is a lower growing, ground cover sort, hopefully. Trust me, this is going somewhere.

1/24/2017

Crispy Rice and Eggs for Stir

 Lots of reviews going on for this book, Stir - My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home, by Jessica Fechtor, and due to it being our current Cook the Books Club selection, I'm joining the crowd, and delighted to do so. It was a book I hadn't thought to really enjoy. As Fechtor herself says:
"When I tell people that I am writing the story of a blocked and broken brain --- and oh, by the way, there will be recipes, too --- I get some strange looks.  Food is not supposed to top the list of things you think about, apparently, when you're recovering from a near-fatal brain explosion."
Surprisingly, to me anyway, it was a terrific read, due to the author's straightforward account, evocative writing, and her ability to keep a sense of perspective, objectivity and (gallows?) humor through a truly horrific time.  All that and the fact that we know she does get better in the end.

1/19/2017

Spinach and Mushroom Quiche Served up With Mystery


 I've just finished another of the marvelous Peculiar Crimes Unit novels by Christopher Fowler, The Memory of Blood.  Books like this one are what keep me reading!  Wit, comic relief, craziness, wit, entertaining, outstanding characters, mysteries, wit, you get the idea.  Very well written and yes, witty, original writing.  Plus, the murderer gets caught.  Not too long ago I reviewed another of their adventures, The Water Room.

Arthur Bryant and John May, a partnership of elderly detectives, along with their quirky, team of investigators, form what is known as the Peculiar Crimes Unit, an off-shoot of the Metropolitan Police, of which the affix 'peculiar' originally was meant in the sense of 'particular', in order to handle politically sensitive cases, or those with the possibility of causing panics or general public malaise.

Here, the cast party for a shocking new play ends with an even more shocking murder.  As the daughter of a prominent government official is involved, the case gets referred to the PCU.

The book begins with a prologue of the close-of-play party, (theater folks do enjoy parties) which is completed at the very end, revealing the solve.  And, since food is involved, I'll share with you the opening paragraph:
"Arthur Bryant stood there pretending not to shiver.  He was tightly wrapped in a 1951 Festival of Britain scarf, with a Bloody Mary in one hand and a ketchup-crusted cocktail sausage in the other.  Above his head, a withered yellow corpse hung inside a rusting gibbet iron.
     'Well,' he said, 'this is nice, isn't it?'"

1/12/2017

Very Bad Food, Very Funny Book

Stephanie Plum, in this latest novel, Turbo Twenty-Three, by Janet Evanovich, is not eating any better than usual.  She is in fact, the Queen of Fast Foods, an often inept bounty hunter for her cousin Vinnie in Trenton, N.J., and occasional undercover for a security company.  When she does eat good it's her mother's or boyfriend's mother's cooking, or sometimes tasty neighborhood deli take-out, like cannoli and a Jersey hot dog.

Evanovich's Stephanie Plum novels are pretty much all hysterically funny.  The plots, the scrapes she gets into, her goofy sidekick, friends,  family members, co-workers, hot boyfriends, and other assorted characters are so over-the-top, I just laugh my way through the books.  This one is no exception.  Love it, though perhaps you may need a rude, crude and sexy warning.  Keep in mind though that laughter is good medicine. :)

Turbo Twenty-Three involves murder at the local ice cream plant, requiring Stephanie to go undercover on the factory line, on the loading dock and in an ice cream truck.  Among other things.  There is a comment at one point, by her partner: "It's sad to see a broken-down ice cream truck full of bullet holes," Lula said, "What's this country coming to?"  And, on top of all the humor, they actually catch bad guys and help solve mysteries.

One of Stephanie and Lula's favorite stops on the job is their local Cluck-in-a-Bucket, where Plum might get a Hot and Crunchy Clucky Meal and Lula a Supersized Bucket of Cluck with the Works, which includes mashed potatoes and gravy, biscuits, coleslaw, fried okra and an apple turnover.  After ordering, Lula remarked, looking back up at the menu, "I might need some ice cream as a palate cleanser."


Some nights Stephanie's fiance, Joe, will do BBQ.  So, in honor of the grill, I've served up some grilled steak and mash, which I mentioned in an earlier post.  I love that mixed mash and am adding some cassava root to the parsnips, celery root and sweet potato for this batch.  So, despite the post title, this is not bad food.  That is in the book.


You all know how to grill steaks, nothing new here.  I used only a bit of marinade on them, a few tablespoons of shoyu, garlic, a dash of vinegar and a tablespoon of olive oil.

Will share with Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking event and with the Foodies Read Challenge.