Cooking with Julia in Mastering the Art of French Murder

Our latest Cook the Books Club pick is the clever and very entertaining novel by Colleen Cambridge, Mastering the Art of French Murder. I loved this truly enjoyable read, both from the mystery perspective as well as the enticing food and wine discussions.  From the Washington Post:

"Set in midcentury Paris and starring Julia Child’s fictional best friend, this magnifique reimagining of the iconic chef’s years at Le Cordon Bleu blends a delicious murder mystery with a unique culinary twist.

“It’s Child’s ebullient personality that is the heart of the book. Part historical fiction, part mystery, Mastering the Art of French Murder is totally delectable entertainment for fans of lighthearted detective fiction.” – The Washington Post

And from the Publishers' report: 

"From fine Bordeaux and freshly baked baguettes to the friendly chatter of the green market, postwar Paris is indulging its appetite for food, and life, once more, as Tabitha Knight, a young American woman, makes friends with chef-in-training Julia Child—and finds herself immersed in a murder most unsavory . . 

Between tutoring Americans in French, and sampling the results of Julia's studies at Le Cordon Bleu cooking school, Tabitha's sojourn is thoroughly delightful. That is, until the cold December day they return to Julia's building and learn that a body has been found in the cellar. Tabitha recognizes the victim from a party given by Julia's sister, Dort, the night before. The murder weapon is recognizable too—a knife from Julia's kitchen."  Of course, she must help to find the killer and protect her new friend.


An Old Classic Ngaio Marsh and Kedgeree


My problem is not a surfeit of books to read, but of Ngaio Marsh novels I haven't read.  I might be at the end, but now re-reading ones forgotten.  Like this latest, A Man Lay Dead.  The first in her 33 book Inspector Roderick Alleyn series.  From the Publishers:

"This classic from the Golden Age of British mystery opens during a country-house party between the two world wars—servants bustling, gin flowing, the gentlemen in dinner jackets, the ladies all slink and smolder. Even more delicious: The host, Sir Hubert Handesley, has invented a new and especially exciting version of that beloved parlor entertainment, The Murder Game . . ."

Crime comes to a country house: “Any Ngaio Marsh story is certain to be Grade A, and this one is no exception.” —The New York Times

I really don't think I've read a bad Marsh novel.  Anyway, to go with the Golden Age British theme, I made a dish from the era, Kedgeree.  And, as the guests in the story were under orders not to leave during the investigation, a lot of delicious country house food was consumed meanwhile.


Stacked or Unstacked Enchiladas for Relish

Our current book selection for Cook the Books Club is Relish: My Life in the Kitchen, a Graphic Memoir by Lucy Knisley.  Cartoon formatted books are not my usual go to read, or cookbook for that matter.  I found some of it entertaining and humorous, some recipes a bit questionable, and a few that made me want to give a try.  The pickle episode was funny, but in actuality, pretty bad.  I've never seen such a complicated and strange procedure for making pickled vegetables.  Cooking the cucumbers first?  1/2 gallon apple cider vinegar?? She says that her grandmother made incredible pickles, and further that both she and her mom were never able to duplicate the process.   It totally made me want to email her a good recipe for naturally fermented pickles, which is probably what her grandmother made.  Here it is for anyone interested: https://honeyfromrock.blogspot.com/2010/10/they-cant-be-that-easy-pickled.html


Undercooked - A Persian Lamb Stew


For this (December/January) round, we at Cook the Books Club have been featuring the collection of essays, memoir really, Undercooked by Dan Ahdoot, hosted by Debra of Eliot's Eats.  It's a very personal, sometimes light-weight romp about his obsession with eating, frequently at high end restaurants, all over the world, to the detriment of any personal relationships, and how he got that way.  As the sub title of his books states "How I let Food Become My Life Navigator and How Maybe That's a Dumb Way to Live".  Well, duh.  It was at times funny, though often in a sad sort of way.  An enjoyable read for the most part.

I loved the description of Dan's first kitchen experiment as a kid.  A ten year old, and he wanted to make a Grand Marnier Souffle!  Then totally nailed it with the assistance and encouragement of his mom. 

From Kirkus Reviews: "A comic describes his lifelong love affair with food. "A good meal gives me more happiness than almost anything in life, including sex, money, and sex," Ahdoot writes in this collection of humorous essays. Later, he adds, "I'm probably the best comedian in the country with a deep obsession with food, so that's something, right?"  Much of the narrative describes how he got that way. Unfortunately, the book is like a restaurant that can't keep good chefs because the offerings vary wildly in quality. As the middle of three boys, Ahdoot was the only child in their Iranian Jewish household who shared his father's love of fine cuisine, a passion his father maintained until the oldest son died of cancer. Ahdoot's parents then turned to religion and frequented "subpar kosher immigrant eateries…". 


It's Fall with Savory Stuffed Mini Pumpkins

Our current Cook the Books Club read has been The City Baker's Guide to Country Living, by Louise Miller.  A fun, food filled and romantic light read.  Nothing too serious, but still an encouragement for anyone wanting to begin again, or starting a new project in a new place.  I enjoyed it and found lots of delicious cooking inspiration, for desserts especially.  

Miller weaves some quirky characters in with lots of good country music, I felt like I could hear it all, as the lead, Olivia joins in with the musicians. She has escaped life in the big city, working in a fancy Club/Restaurant, after accidentally setting the place afire with a flambeed dessert.   Leaving behind a dead end relationship as well, she joins an old friend in a small country town.  When she is offered a job at the Sugar Maple Inn, the getaway becomes something more lasting.  Of course, there are various hurdles in the way, mostly from the cantankerous owner.


The Portuguese Escape and Bacalhau, Etc.

The Portuguese Escape by Ann Bridge, an author I have only recently discovered, then also saddened to hear she is no longer with us, in one sense anyway, but luckily her books live on!  This is the third novel of Bridge's I've read, and the second of her Julia Probyn mysteries.  What a wonderful, witty, and intelligent writer, always a delight to discover such an author!  Very highly recommended.  

From the Publishers:  "Julia Probyn, journalist and amateur sleuth, must acquaint herself with the world of counterespionage. Hetta, a young Hungarian Countess, just released from behind the Iron Curtain, is drawn into a communist plot. Together the two young women will need all of their strength to unravel the schemes and machinations closing in from all sides.

With Ann Bridge's talent for evoking place and mixing mystery with humor, The Portuguese Escape, book two in The Julia Probyn Mysteries, is full of danger and adventure amidst Communist intrigue." To put it mildly! And with romance touchingly thrown into the mix.


Home Cooking and The Great Ulu Project

When you have uku (Hawaiian for plenty) ulu (breadfruit) then you make flour!   That way the useful season gets extended further into the year.  Currently researching the best recipes for it.  No gluten, so you have to move on from there. I don't normally do gluten free cooking.  So, I've found one solution is to incorporate some Semolina flour!  My banana-chocolate brownies came out well.  With a mix of AP flour and ulu flour half-half.  The focaccia not so well.  It needed more water as I found the ulu flour absorbs more.

Which brings me to the book: Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin, various essays, which I've been reading in a sort of haphazard way.  There's her Cold Roast Chicken recipe with buckwheat noodles.  And that inspired the next step.  Make noodles.

Meanwhile, a short review on the subject of that book:

From the Publishers: "Weaving together memories, recipes, and wild tales of years spent in the kitchen, Home Cooking is Laurie Colwin's manifesto on the joys of sharing food and entertaining. From the humble hot-plate of her one-room apartment to the crowded kitchens of bustling parties, Colwin regales us with tales of meals gone both magnificently well and disastrously wrong."


Love and Saffron with Ulu and Deconstructed Kebabs

We at Cook the Books Club are currently reading Love & Saffron, by Kim Fay,  this round hosted by Deb of Kahakai Kitchen.  It's sub-titled A Novel of Friendship, Food and Love, and truly is.  A series of letters written between two women who come to know one another well, beyond which it becomes a friendship that deeply affects their lives and those they love.  It was also a reminder of the friendships in my own life, those I communicate with daily.  Particularly a good friend of many years, just recently more closely reconnected with.  We now email back and forth about what we're cooking, planting, research of the various aspects of it all, and food we're experimenting with; occasionally visiting local farmers markets, and sharing meals.  Lately the experimentation has been ways of utilizing breadfruit (ulu), including making flour.  (A post on that to come.)


A Good BBQ For Food Americana


Our most recent Cook the Books Club selection is Food Americana  -The Remarkable People and Incredible Stories behind America's Favorite Dishes, by David Page. This round hosted by Simona, of Bricole.  

Not my usual sort of reading material.  This is a lovely club/ reading group, which gets us all out of ruts! :). .. My usual sort of rut being escapism, light mystery fiction, or non-fiction totally based on what project I'm involved in or researching.  At the moment, improving my chocolate making.  Just finished making a fermentation box, and it's cooking away at the moment. So much for that.  This book, on the other hand, is about food in America.  In case you weren't aware of it all, and with background on the various types: Hamburgers, BBQ, bagels, spaghetti, ice cream, etc. etc. including those not so American, i.e. Mexican, sushi and Chinese food.  According to the publishers:

"David Page changed the world of food television by creating, developing, and executive-producing the groundbreaking show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Now from this two-time Emmy winner comes Food Americana, an entertaining mix of food culture, pop culture, nostalgia, and everything new on the American plate.

The remarkable history of American food. What is American cuisine, what national menu do we share, what dishes have we chosen, how did they become “American,” and how are they likely to evolve from here? David Page answers all these questions and more.

Engaging, insightful, and often humorous. The inside story of how Americans have formed a national cuisine from a world of flavors. Sushi, pizza, tacos, bagels, barbecue, dim sum―even fried chicken, burgers, ice cream, and many more―were born elsewhere and transformed into a unique American cuisine."  I would beg to differ.  These items may be what we or some of us eat, but they are not our National cuisine.  We obviously don't have one.