Blood, Bones & Butter Review With a Negroni!

We at Cook the Books Club are closing out this segment with our latest book selection, Blood, Bones & Butter, a memoir by Gabrielle Hamilton, and I'm just getting my post in under the wire.  I loved this book, found it a truly enjoyable read!  There's an old saying, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen" and does it ever apply here. Gabrielle not only stands it, she actually revels in it, the overwhelming, awesome heat of a small restaurant kitchen with 10 burners going.  She says: "I am the only one I know who likes it.....I feel like we are two small-time boxers---me and the heat---meeting in the center of the ring to tap gloves..."

Though I hadn't thought about heat too much in terms of restaurant work,  I do know that my own little kitchen often heats up beyond my tolerance and I just have to get out.  Go sit in front of a fan on the deck until I'm cooled down enough.  Not possible for anyone on a restaurant job.

What a trip! Gabrielle carries us along with her, from the beginning of her interest and contact with food prep, watching her French mother,  through years of camp cooking and catering, to the opening of her own unique little restaurant in New York City.   Her stint with various catering companies would certainly put one off ordering from them, by the way.  "The Inadvertent Education" adventures are narrated in a writing style that kept my interest to the end.   She is a truly talented, evocative raconteur and cook, her MFA in fiction writing clearly shows.  From the Publishers:
"Before Gabrielle Hamilton opened her acclaimed New York restaurant Prune, she spent twenty hard-living years trying to find purpose and meaning in her life. Blood, Bones & Butter follows an unconventional journey through the many kitchens Hamilton has inhabited through the years: the rural kitchen of her childhood, where her adored mother stood over the six-burner with an oily wooden spoon in hand; the kitchens of France, Greece, and Turkey, where she was often fed by complete strangers and learned the essence of hospitality; Hamilton’s own kitchen at Prune, with its many unexpected challenges; and the kitchen of her Italian mother-in-law, who serves as the link between Hamilton’s idyllic past and her own future family—the result of a prickly marriage that nonetheless yields lasting dividends. By turns epic and intimate, Gabrielle Hamilton’s story is told with uncommon honesty, grit, humor, and passion."
No recipes were given, though Hamilton did trigger our interest with some intriguing ideas: grilled, butterflied lobster, basted with smoked paprika butter, rye cracker omelette with fried duck skin, rabbit legs in vinegar sauce and of course, her mother-in-law, Alda's eggplant. However, I've reserved her cookbook, Prune, and am looking forward to eating that up.

There was also a drink mentioned frequently, in various places throughout the book, a Negroni, for which Hamilton does give a recipe.  She says: "The negroni is a short and perfect aperitivo made of equal parts bitter Campari, sweet vermouth, and floral gin over a couple of ice cubes with a small slice of fresh orange dropped in it to release its oils.  That perfectly Italian presence, which sparks your appetite and brightens your mood, holds in balance the sweet and the bitter, which I can't help but think of metaphorically, as the relationship with the non threatening Italian..."  Echoing as it does the sweet, the bitter and the sadness of their marriage.

I made mine with Bruto Americano instead of the Italian Compari, a nice switch-out, as this newer model Amaro has a great flavor profile! It’s very bitter (primarily from gentian root), and slightly citrusy from California Seville oranges and woodsy from balsam fir and buckthorn bark.

There you have it, my inspiration derived from our reading.  I enjoyed this little apertivo, and will probably make it on occasion in future, though mixed drinks don't frequently feature around here.  More usually it's wine with dinner.

I'm sharing this post over at Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking event, at Heather's Foodies Read Challenge, as well as at Cook the Books Club, of course.  Be sure to visit and see what everyone else is contributing and cooking. Caio!

 P.S. - Just got Prune, and OMG!  Love the heft and challenge of this book.  So much cooking inspiration, good ideas/recipes.  We can clearly see  how the experiences narrated in our book selection informed and contributed to her unique and very individual vision for Prune, the restaurant.


Cuban Cooking Inspired by Next Year in Havana

This was my first foray into Cuban cooking, and I believe into Cuban history or politics.  Next Year in Havana, by Chanel Cleeton, was an eyeopener, for me anyway.  I love reading about periods in history and about places I'm unfamiliar with, learning new things, especially when enfolded with an enjoyable, engrossing story.  Like this one.  Cleeton's novel is told from two perspectives, of those escaping the revolution and of the granddaughter, visiting Cuba for the first time, to scatter her grandmother's ashes.

From the Publisher:
"After the death of her beloved grandmother, a Cuban-American woman travels to Havana, where she discovers the roots of her identity--and unearths a family secret hidden since the revolution...

Havana, 1958. The daughter of a sugar baron, nineteen-year-old Elisa Perez is part of Cuba's high society, where she is largely sheltered from the country's growing political unrest--until she embarks on a clandestine affair with a passionate revolutionary...

Miami, 2017. Freelance writer Marisol Ferrera grew up hearing romantic stories of Cuba from her late grandmother Elisa, who was forced to flee with her family during the revolution. Elisa's last wish was for Marisol to scatter her ashes in the country of her birth.

Arriving in Havana, Marisol comes face-to-face with the contrast of Cuba's tropical, timeless beauty and its perilous political climate. When more family history comes to light and Marisol finds herself attracted to a man with secrets of his own, she'll need the lessons of her grandmother's past to help her understand the true meaning of courage."

Reading this book inspired me to whip up something Cuban.  There were various foods mentioned, it's not all beans, rice, roast pork and rum. Though a Cuba Libre would go nicely with the book and before dinner!  Though I didn't use her slow cooker recipe, I found this Cuban National dish online, at Marta's blog, My Big Fat Cuban Family, and she includes some background on the dish:

"In the 1930’s, Cuban President Gerardo Machado made a proclamation that once a week everyone on the island would eat an “ajiaco” – a type of country stew made mostly with root vegetables and flavored with meat. According to my mom (a 93-year-old guajira) every restaurant, fonda, and home followed the “weekly ajiaco” rule. It was a way to use all the different root vegetables indigenous to Cuba, taking advantage of what was available in each province.

The classic ajiaco includes tasajo (salt-dried beef), which I don’t use at all. Some have chicken pieces. I favor the combination of flank steak, chicken broth and pork loin.  In other words, there are as many ways to make this tasty stew as there are Cubans in exile."

I did my own version, with homemade stock, some sausage and what was available in the market and in my garden.  For extra protein, since I eliminated most of the suggested meat items, and there were gandule beans (pigeon peas) to be harvested, about a cup of those were added too. And I made it in my cassoulet pot.  This is a basic recipe, which you can vary, as most do.

 Ajiaco Cubano
Courtesy of Cuban Recipes

¼ kg of jerked beef (salted meat)
   Note: I used a Kielbasa sausage, cut in pieces and     *chicken stock, instead of the jerk beef, chicken, pork     and bacon.
1 creole small hen.
½ kg of pork
87gram of bacon
National sausage (I used about 1/2 a large one)
2 corncob of fresh corn
¼ kg of yam
2 green plantains
¼ kg of taro
¼ of cassava
¼kg of sweet potato
¼kg of pumpkin
1 big onion
3 cloves of garlic
2 lemons
1 cup of tomato sauce or creole sauce
5 liters of water (as noted above I used about 4 cups stock instead)*
2 spoons of lard.
Salt to taste.

1. Chop the jerked beef, (if using) into pieces and place it to soak at least for 12 hours or from the previous night.  The following morning, drain it well and cook for 30 minutes with the hen already chopped into pieces, in a big pot with the water to medium flame.

2. After half hour, and it begins to get tender, add the pork chopped into pieces, and cook it for another 30 minutes.  Remove any scum that is formed on the surface

3. Meanwhile lightly fry onion in a pan with the lard, and the bacon, then add the national sausage and fry. Add to the soup.

4. Wash, peel and chop all the vegetables, add them to the pot with the stock and the meat, and add the corncob, and the lemon juice.

5. Cook it for 45 minutes until the clear soup gets dense. Add more salt.  If you want a thicker consistency, take out some piece of taro, pumpkin and yam, crush them and and put them again into the pot.

*I make a very flavorful stock in my pressure cooker,.from bones, and vegetable trimmings, accumulated in the freezer. Proven by the amazing taste of this stew.  Another note: you may want to cut the corn off the cobs before serving (or cooking).  It's cute, but....makes eating a bit sloppy.

I'll share the goodness over at Heather's Foodie Reads Challenge, July edition and with Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking event.  Be sure to visit and check out some good food and books.


Making Kim Chi and Reading Reichl

I've been a long time fan of Ruth Reichl, her memoirs particularly, and this latest, Save Me the Plums, is another engrossing read.  So many books, about one life!  Amazing.  This memoir chronicles the years of her Gourmet magazine experience, until just after its sad demise.

Reichl's major talent is an ability to convey an immediacy of taste, the perceptive description of personalities, surroundings and ambiance, in her writing, so that you are at one with the experience, along with her.  You can savor the duck, "rare, with the wild taste of lakes and forests," smell the salty caramel topping, and wonder at the magazine back of house shenanigans, intrigue and silliness.  Delicious fun and inspiring reading. With recipes!  I'm looking forward to making her German Apple Pancakes.   From the Publishers:

"When Condé Nast offered Ruth Reichl the top position at America’s oldest epicurean magazine, she declined. She was a writer, not a manager, and had no inclination to be anyone’s boss. Yet Reichl had been reading Gourmet since she was eight; it had inspired her career. How could she say no?

This is the story of a former Berkeley hippie entering the corporate world and worrying about losing her soul. It is the story of the moment restaurants became an important part of popular culture, a time when the rise of the farm-to-table movement changed, forever, the way we eat. Readers will meet legendary chefs like David Chang and Eric Ripert, idiosyncratic writers like David Foster Wallace, and a colorful group of editors and art directors who, under Reichl’s leadership, transformed stately Gourmet into a cutting-edge publication. This was the golden age of print media—the last spendthrift gasp before the Internet turned the magazine world upside down."