7/18/2018

Amazing Food from Garlic and Sapphires

On this round of Cook the Books Club we have been reading and getting inspired by Garlic and Sapphires, a Ruth Reichl memoir, hosted by moi.  Like Miss Ruth, I am a woman who goes through life seeing the comic absurdity at play all around me.  Perhaps why I so appreciate her writing.  The disguises she literally got into here!

And, I absolutely love her many transfixing culinary descriptions. For instance, on the occasion of a meal at Jean-Georges' restaurant in the Trump Tower, in a hastily put together disguise: "'A little amuse bouche as a gift from the chef,' (which should have been the clue she was made) murmured the waiter, setting down a minuscule porcini tart framed by a delicate salad of tiny herbs.  I ate slowly, first the lacy licorice-flavored chervil, then sturdy, spicy wild parsley, and finally the aggressive little fronds of dill.  Poring through them I discovered a single leaf of lamb's quarter, bits of sorrel, dandelion, chickweed.  I followed the flavors in my mind until the walls vanished and I emerged into a deep glade that grew more distinct with each bite.  It was disappointing to come out of the woods...."

At that same meal there are creamed morels, spooned over asparagus.  That certainly caught me up, along with everything else.  But, perhaps something I could manage, when asparagus is back in season.  Later, there was Salmon with a Moroccan glaze, wild mushroom dumplings, scalloped potatoes, Risotto with Lobster and rosemary, Gougeres, and so on and on, throughout this tribute to food and the inventive chefs she encountered during her tenure as food critic for the NY Times.


From the overwhelming selection, I prepared Scalloped Potatoes, Pureed Watercress, Moroccan spiced salmon, and a salad inspired by the delicate mix of tiny herbs, mentioned above.  Served at various meals.


The Scalloped Potatoes alone (a half recipe, mind) were enough as a side for three meals, neither of us being exactly hearty eaters.  It continually amazed me reading this book, as well as her others, how much food that woman can put away at a sitting!  I am planning to make her yummy sounding hash browns, the creamed morels over asparagus, a risotto with lobster and rosemary, short ribs with horseradish dumplings, and some wild mushroom dumplings, perhaps to be served in a simple clear broth of reduced, homemade stock and wine.  We're still being inspired here.


This is my contribution for our current round of Cook the Books.  Stay tuned for the round-up after the 31st.  You still have time to read the book and join in!  This will also go over to Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking event, and to the July Foodies Read Challenge.  Stop by and sample the many goodies - books as well as good food -  at those sites.

6/28/2018

Scintillating Dishes from Indian Cookery

Being a long time fancier of Indian food, I was happy to order, and receive so quickly, Indian Cookery by Sameen Rushdie, recommended by Beth Fish over at her site, Beth Fish Reads.   Her brother, Salman, who seems to have loved his task as official taste tester for his sister's book, certainly has a way with words, and as it turns out, Sameen is also an excellent writer. I enjoyed her comments and many interesting reminiscences on food, her past, the culture, and her mother's cooking.

In the book, regarding chicken:  "'My children only eat chicken,' my father would remark sarcastically to emphasize just how thoroughly spoilt he thought we were.  In the subcontinent chicken is the most expensive meat available, and has become synonymous with good living, hospitality and privilege."  She found things to be much different upon moving to England, and remarks: "Personally I was very pleased to find chickens put in their place in the West.  It is true that I have always been fond of chicken, but the pomp and snobbery surrounding it in the subcontinent did make it a little hard to swallow."

6/21/2018

Stuffing Spinach and Finding Family

An absorbing novel on surviving family life after the death of one's mother, finding one's birth mother and birth sister, wanting to have a real family, dealing with rejection, managing the teenagers of one's boyfriend, and much more, The Survivor's Guide to Family Happiness, by Maddie Dawson.  Terrific stuff, with tongue in cheek good humor.

Of course, it's probably easier to manage teens if they're not related to you.  Must be why she did such a good job in that corner at least.  I loved the story, back story and development of all the characters.   Here's a quote, from when Nina is on her way to the re-cycling place after her mother's death.

"And then I went outside and got into my Honda Civic that held the portable commode and the IV pole and the shower chair, all of which I'd spent an hour wrestling into the backseat before leaving the house, and I jerked the car into reverse, pressed on the accelerator - and immediately got my tires stuck in the pile of snow by the curb.
     I did everything you're supposed to do - cursed, banged my hand on the steering wheel as hard as I could, and then, when that didn't work, I rocked the car back and forth, pressing on the gas, then turning the wheel - but it got progressively worse with every attempt.  The tires kept burying themselves deeper and deeper in, and what had been snow under the tires was now turning to slick ice. There was a squealing noise, and after a while, the smell of something burning.
     I mashed on the accelerator so hard that the car lurched forward, and the commode in the backseat took the opportunity to jump into the front seat and pin me down with its aluminium legs.
     Sometimes when you're moving from the old to the new, the universe likes to remind you who's in charge by spinning your tires on ice and then throwing a toilet at your head.
     At least that's the lesson I took away from it."

6/15/2018

Lilikoʻi Glazed Roast Duck - Never Change

I've read and enjoyed several of Elizabeth Berg's novels, and this book is definitely one of her best.  Never Change - is a winner, with totally engaging, if occasionally frustrating characters (as in real life) who finally face their need for change in a sometimes sad, lovely, and inspiring story.
From Publisher's Weekly:

Myra Lipinski has been lonely all her life; she trained as a nurse "because I knew it would be a way for people to love me." Now 51, she lives alone with her dog and works as a visiting nurse in Boston, caring for an array of eccentrics that includes the feuding Schwartz couple, the feisty DeWitt Washington and the anxious teenage mother Grace.

Resigned to spinsterhood, Myra is secretly thrilled when her agency assigns her to care for a former crush, Chip Reardon, who has returned to his parents' home with end-stage brain cancer. In high school, Chip was a golden boy, athletic and clever, out of ugly duckling Myra's league. Now, though, he and Myra strike up a friendship based on their mutual loneliness and on Chip's resistance to his parents, who want him to pursue aggressive treatment for his cancer. Chip prefers to die peacefully, a decision that only Myra seems to understand.

5/31/2018

A Meal for Women in Sunlight

Frances Mayes has written another ode to Tuscan living, this one fictional.  Women in Sunlight is her novel, written memoir style. It's the story of a writer living in Tuscany, in a lovely hillside village. (Sound like anyone we know?)  Mayes has also written Under the Tuscan Sun, Bella Tuscany, Every Day in Tuscany and Sunday in Another Country, among others.

Mayes describes the locale so beautifully though, we'd all want to relocate given the chance. Possibly.  In this novel, the expat poet, Kit, meets her new neighbors, three older, retired women, also transplants from America, and they all become best friends forever, with lots of great meals, romance and good times along the way.  That's it in a nutshell.  However the individual stories are well told and woven together. They draw one in, each woman with  her unique character and history, so we want to know how things end up for them.

There is plenty of wonderful food described, as noted.  More than could be reasonably mentioned here. I happen to love a novel that incorporates what people are eating.  Suggesting reality really - we eat - not always a feast, admittedly, though often memorable.  If there's no discussion at all, you have to wonder about a whole, often delicious aspect of life going missing.  Do those people not eat, or is it just unimportant to them?  I know there are folks who consider food merely a necessity for survival.  And cooking an activity that must be got through.  Too sad.

5/17/2018

Mapo Tofu and a Memoir of Eating in China

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading our latest pick for Cook the Books Club - Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper, a Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China, by Fuchsia Dunlop, this round hosted by fellow Hawaii resident, Deb of Kahakai Kitchen  Dunlop writes a mostly delicious, sometimes revolting, entertaining, well researched and fascinating account of the food, culture and the peoples of that humongous country, mixed in with just enough history to punctuate her tale.

Fuchsia starts out as a young student of the Chinese language and culture, then embarks upon learning to cook Chinese as well, in the city of Chengdu, Sichuan province.  There she attends the premier Sichuan culinary school as their first foreign student, a woman at that, in a class of about 50 young Chinese men.

Fuchsia continued to travel widely in China and recounts her many adventures over the years with wit, humor and style. She began what became a long term odyssey by deciding to eat whatever was going, and stuck by that, consuming what a majority of us would consider truly horrifying food.  Not just every bit of an animal, but including the odd critter and bug in the mix; some of which may have started out as frugality in hard times, but have come to be considered exotic and expensive delicacies for the wealthy.  Her title is evocative in that sense - sweet-sour.

5/05/2018

A Cinco de Mayo Kumquat Margarita



Happy Cinco de Mayo, which we all know is just an excuse :)  and after all our earthquakes and volcanic eruptions yesterday, I figure we're due for one.  I do love kumquats, just to eat out of hand, and they're also good for chutney, and lots of other things, like this:

4/28/2018

Ham and Cheese Gougeres for the Sweetshop of Dreams

I've just finished Jenny Colgan's Sweetshop of Dreams, a charming, way sweet, little confection, only edged out of the totally saccharine by her two protagonists and their blessedly sarcastic sense of humor; occasionally just rude.  I've enjoyed a few of Colgan's other novels but this was sort of an exception. The heroine (plot) was pretty clueless.  We all knew where things were headed, both with her boyfriend and the solution at the end.  She was the only one refusing to see things.

Rosie seems to wear "rose colored glasses" as far as her long term "fiance" is concerned, and to my mind at least, she had a narrow escape from that situation, out to the countryside.  She is supposed to be helping her great aunt who has just gone through hip replacement surgery.  An aunt who has a closed up "Sweetshop",  or what we would here in the U.S call a Candy Shop.  And we do have them still, at least in Hawaii, as there is an Eastern predilection for various peculiar candies, added in with some carry-over local favorites. I have added on a picture of our Hilo shop at the end.

From the Publisher: "Rosie Hopkins thinks leaving her busy London life, and her boyfriend Gerard, to sort out her elderly Aunt Lilian s sweetshop in a small country village is going to be dull. Boy, is she  wrong.


 Lilian Hopkins has spent her life running Lipton's sweetshop, through wartime and family feuds. When her great-niece Rosie arrives to help her with the shop, Lillian struggles with the idea that it might finally be time to settle up, and wrestles with the secret history hidden behind the jars of beautifully colored sweets.



But as Rosie gets Lilian back on her feet, breathes a new life into the candy shop, and gets to know the mysterious and solitary Stephen-whose family seems to own the entire town-she starts to think that settling for what's comfortable might not be so great after all."
To tell you the truth, I dislike most candy, with the exception of some good quality chocolates.  I don't really have a "sweet tooth" per se, preferring salty chips. So the endless enumeration of all extant varieties as well as their history left my mouth in a pucker.  Easily skipped over however, at the start of each chapter, unless you're interested in that sort of thing.


I don't even make desserts very often, unless expecting guests.   My solution to all this sweetness?  Something savory of course.   I saw these ham and cheese puffs in our supermarket flyer and couldn't resist.  And, they're perfect for guests. I used three instead of two types of cheese here: Gruyere, cheddar and Pecorino Romano.


This was the first batch, and they didn't stay puffed up as I'd like, but tasty.  The post is linked over at Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking scene, as well as with the April Foodies Read Challenge.  Be sure to join in with what you're cooking, or just to visit for some good food and books.


As a P.S. - here is a shot inside our local "Sweetshop", in Hilo Hawaii.

4/12/2018

Toad in the Hole, with Perils of the Night

Toad in the Hole - don't you just love the name?  I have long wanted an excuse to make this dish, without even knowing what it was or having tasted it.  Why, you might say?  Who needs an excuse?  However, be that as it may, whilst reading Sidney Chambers and The Perils of the Night, by James Runcie, Toad in the Hole was mentioned.  That was the trigger, or excuse for making it. Canon Sidney and his friend, Inspector Geordie Keating were frequently having a pint and a pub meal, perhaps Spotted Dick or Toad in the Hole, before one of their weekly backgammon games, often discussing the latest murder.

This book is 356 pages, similar to his other four Grantchester books, and consisting of six longish short stories, connected by the place, the characters and approximate, sequential time.  They follow the adventures of full-time priest, and part-time detective Canon Sidney Chambers, in late 1950s Cambridge.

I love Runcie's thoughtful, intelligent writing as the occasionally absent minded priest goes about his parish business, unable to resist helping out his detective friend with solving various mysteries.

4/07/2018

Tuna Veggie Pancit


My current house guest and friend doesn't consider herself in any way a cook. She is single, travels a lot on missions all over the world, and has no real permanent kitchen.  I pressed her into making a traditional dish from her home - the Philippines - just because I knew she could do it and I wanted something from there.  And guess what? - It was totally excellent, so flavorful and authentic!  Here is Olga at work:

3/30/2018

Lamingtons for The Pearl Sister

 The Pearl Sister by Lucinda Riley, and fourth in her Seven Sisters series, is one of the best she's written yet.  But, of course, I thought that after each one.  I've absolutely loved them all.  She has a way of telling a truly mesmerizing story, that draws you into a place you don't really want to leave.  What a fantastic writer!

This being one of a series, I would suggest you start with her first novel in the progression, if you haven't already,  The Seven Sisters, which is a totally engrossing and excellent read.

The Pearl Sister story follows CeCe, the artist of her family, struggling with dyslexia, and with fitting into the London art world.  Unsuccessfully trying to find her personal metier, she finally drops out, feeling a like a failure.

3/20/2018

The Discovery of Chocolate, Taste of Mexico Stew

Our current Cook the Books Club selection, hosted by Simona of Briciole, is The Discovery of Chocolate, by James Runcie.

In this fantastical tale, chocolate is indeed discovered, by Europeans anyway. Based on historical events, this is the very inventive, and frequently implausibly fleshed-out, tale of one, Diego de Godoy, a young Spaniard who joins up with a ship bound from Spain for the exploration and plunder of the New World with Hernan Cortes. Diego embarks on the journey, to impress and hopefully, win the right to marry his young and rather superficial Spanish sweetheart, despite his low class. She will wait for him to return with a treasure from the New World, something fabulous and worthy of her beauty and love.

Though Diego’s treasure turns out to be chocolate, he also finds true love when he meets Ignacia, a native woman in Mexico. This meeting leads him on an incredible, five hundred year journey, due to an "elixir of life" she mixes into his cocoa drink.



3/16/2018

Lavender Scones In The Apple Orchard

I've just finished another terrific Susan Wiggs novel, The Apple Orchard.  It is like many of her books, setting permeated throughout.  And, happily for me, recipes sprinkled here and there as well.

Tess Delaney, in this book is  is a driven, ambitious, and stressed out provenance authenticator for a major auction house.  She loves her job, travels frequently and has no personal or home life to speak of.  Tess gets some dramatic news while dashing to a meeting, and basically flips out with a full-blown nervous breakdown.  From the Publisher:

"Tess Delaney loves illuminating history; returning stolen treasures to their rightful owners and filling the spaces in people's hearts with stories of their family legacies. But Tess's own history is filled with gaps: a father she never met, and a mother who spent more time traveling than with her daughter.  
Then the enigmatic Dominic Rossi arrives on her San Francisco doorstep with the news that the grandfather she's never met is in a coma and that she's destined to inherit half of a hundred-acre apple orchard estate called Bella Vista. The rest is willed to Isabel Johansen, the half sister she never knew she had. Isabel is everything Tess isn't, but against the rich landscape of Bella Vista, with Isabel and Dominic by her side, Tess begins to discover a world where family comes first and the roots of history run deep."
A lovely book with nuance and meaning, plus family reconciliation and love.  Highly recommended.

3/01/2018

Roast Stuffed Pumpkin and The Art of Mending

I just finished The Art of Mending, by Elizabeth Berg.  A novel and fine allegory on mending things rather than throwing them out.  Family members and friends particularly.  The woman makes quilts, and uses both new and old materials for her commissions.  She discovers the idea might also be transferred to seemingly hopeless people.  Berg delivers a well done bit of personal character growth, along with her story of a family coming together for an annual event, where tragedy faces them.  From the Publishers:

"It begins with the sudden revelation of astonishing secrets—secrets that have shaped the personalities and fates of three siblings, and now threaten to tear them apart. In renowned author Elizabeth Berg’s moving new novel, unearthed truths force one seemingly ordinary family to reexamine their disparate lives and to ask themselves: Is it too late to mend the hurts of the past?
Laura Bartone anticipates her annual family reunion in Minnesota with a mixture of excitement and wariness. Yet this year’s gathering will prove to be much more trying than either she or her siblings imagined. As soon as she arrives, Laura realizes that something is not right with her sister. Forever wrapped up in events of long ago, Caroline is the family’s restless black sheep. When Caroline confronts Laura and their brother, Steve, with devastating allegations about their mother, the three have a difficult time reconciling their varying experiences in the same house. But a sudden misfortune will lead them all to face the past, their own culpability, and their common need for love and forgiveness."

What all this has to do with pumpkins is your guess.  Well, the big family get together was at the State Fair, where of course, pumpkins are displayed, usually monstrous prize-winners .  And then I ran into this beautiful, though wee specimen.  Couldn't resist taking him home.  And finding a good recipe to stuff the little prize with.

2/15/2018

Family Tree and A Sweetheart Dinner

An engrossing, romantic novel, packed full of good food ideas.  What more could you ask for a Valentine's Day read? Family Tree, by Susan Wiggs is all of that and more.  It's about Annie, an independent minded cook, with vision and ambition.  However the career push takes her away from her home, her roots and from the love of her life.  I loved this book.

From the Publishers:

"Sometimes the greatest dream starts with the smallest element. A single cell, joining with another. And then dividing. And just like that, the world changes. Annie Harlow knows how lucky she is. The producer of a popular television cooking show, she loves her handsome husband and the beautiful Los Angeles home they share. And now, she’s pregnant with their first child. But in an instant, her life is shattered. And when Annie awakes from a yearlong coma, she discovers that time isn’t the only thing she’s lost.Grieving and wounded, Annie retreats to her old family home in Switchback, Vermont, a maple farm generations old. There, surrounded by her free-spirited brother, their divorced mother, and four young nieces and nephews, Annie slowly emerges into a world she left behind years ago: the town where she grew up, the people she knew before, the high-school boyfriend turned judge....Family Tree is the story of one woman’s triumph over betrayal, and how she eventually comes to terms with her past."

2/08/2018

Chocolate Liqueur via Sous-Vide or Not


Happy Valentine's Day!  At the back of Lisa Q. Fetterman's Sous-Vide at Home book, I noticed she was making her own bitters and liqueurs and it occurred to me that my cacao nibs would make a lovely home-crafted Creme de Cacao. Some research pulled up a number of articles on the subject: Supercall has a good recipe, for which you don't need a sous-vide appliance.  Then there's Making cacao nib infused liquor, and a great lesson on video for using sous vide to infuse cocktails.

1/29/2018

Polenta with Garlicky Greens and Poached Egg for SPQR


 This has been a TRULY Roman season for me.  First there was Feast of Sorrows, for our Cook the Books Club, then I read Pompeii by Robert Harris, a very interesting and enjoyable book, which I didn't review however, and now The Year of Confusion by John Maddox Roberts. All accompanied by my various ancient Roman cooking experiments, with some help from the excellent little handbook on that subject, Cooking Apicius, Roman recipes for Today by Sally Grainger.

 This novel (which stands alone fine) is in Roberts' series of mysteries, entitled SPQR*, in which the investigator, is a Senator in the years 45-46 BC.  The reason for it being the year of confusion, is partly due to Julius Caesar's decision to change the old calendar out for a new one.  Yes, the Julian calendar.  General unrest as a result, political scheming and various murders, connected with Cleopatra who is present in Rome with her own complications and agenda.  A well developed tale, entertaining characters, and fascinating history, with a helpful glossary of relevant terms at the back. Can't wait to read more in this series.

1/24/2018

Cooking for Picasso, A Daube de Boeuf Provencal


I must say, Cooking for Picasso, by Camille Aubray, was a particularly enjoyable novel.  As Margaret Atwood says, "A tasty blend of romance, mystery and French cooking.  There's Picasso exposed, the French Rivera, food, passion and love, difficulties overcome by terrific characters.  What more could you ask? 

 From the Publishers:
"This captivating novel is inspired by a little-known interlude in the artist’s life.
The French Riviera, spring 1936: It’s off-season in the lovely seaside village of Juan-les-Pins, where seventeen-year-old Ondine cooks with her mother in the kitchen of their family-owned Café Paradis. A mysterious new patron who’s slipped out of Paris and is traveling under a different name has made an unusual request—to have his lunch served to him at the nearby villa he’s secretly rented, where he wishes to remain incognito.
Pablo Picasso is at a momentous crossroads in his personal and professional life—and for him, art and women are always entwined. The spirited Ondine, chafing under her family’s authority and nursing a broken heart, is just beginning to discover her own talents and appetites. Her encounter with Picasso will continue to affect her life for many decades onward, as the great artist and the talented young chef each pursue their own passions and destiny.

1/19/2018

Sous Vide at Home, a Salad and Ahi alla Pesto


Sous Vide  - the device and a book -  my Christmas present to myself.  Cheers!! Fun with a new appliance.  At least it takes up very little room when not in use.  I did try McGivering this technique, without too much success a number of years ago.  There are now amazing  and inexpensive tools for doing sous vide at home, like the restaurants do it.  The handy tool clamps onto a large pot of water, circulating and heating it to an exact temperature, programmed to cook for the set time. You probably know all this, but it was only recently brought to my attention.  Sous-Vide at Home, by Lisa Q. Fetterman, is the bomb!.

So far I've done the poached eggs, beets marinated in various good things and ahi in pesto.  Looking forward to making duck confit without loads of duck fat, tempering chocolate and infusing liqueurs.

1/12/2018

Cooking Roman for Feast of Sorrow


We at Cook the Books Club have been reading Feast of Sorrow, by Crystal King.  This, our current bimonthly selection is being hosted by Debra of Eliot's Eats.  Ms. King has written an excellent novel for anyone interested in ancient Roman history, food or just some fascinating reading.  It's a fictional memoir, based on the life of an individual, historical gourmet, Marcus Gavius Apicius, even though not much is really known about him, and his imagined head chef, a slave named Thrasius.  It begins in 1 BCE, the 26th year of Augustus Caesar's reign. The author has certainly done her research, everything rings true, often horrifyingly so. 

From the publishers:
"Set amongst the scandal, wealth, and upstairs-downstairs politics of a Roman family, Crystal King’s seminal debut features the man who inspired the world’s oldest cookbook and the ambition that led to his destruction.