Tracy Chevalier's Remarkable Creatures is an enjoyable, if not particularly exciting, book about two women fossil hunters in England in the 1800's. The women, of different classes, form an unlikely friendship, their love of fossil hunting drawing them together. I found this book less inspiring than Chevalier's other books (The Girl with the Pearl Earring, The Lady and the Unicorn) which gave a behind the scenes look at some of the greatest works of art. This was intended to give a behind the scenes look at the beginning of the discovery of dinosaurs and the concept of evolution, and I found this subject matter drier. To go with the theme of fossils, I made two kind of homemade crackers with herbs - the herbs - rosemary and sage - mounted on the crackers with egg white, look like fossils. These crackers are easy and delicious bites for a cocktail party.
When Keith Richards' autobiography Life was released, I was instantly intrigued. I am a fiction reader usually, but if I am going to read a biography, it will usually be a rock biography. And how can you not be dying to get a behind the scenes look at Keith? He is the quintessential rock star and a model for every aspiring rock star (or Disney pirate) - wasted, rebellious, gypsy looks with scarves, earrings, skull rings and kohl. But more than anything, Keith is a survivor - he has been through the fire (and looks like it) - he has survived addiction, falls from trees, hotel room fires, multiple arrests and dangerous relationships - how did he make it through all this alive? His book, written with James Fox, was surprisingly wonderful. The book reads as though you are sitting with Keith in a bar and listening to his stories - it is definitely written in his voice and seems a bit stream of conscious. What comes across most in the book is that although he is a rock star, with a rock star life (drugs, sex, groupies, booze and mansions) Keith really is a regular guy with an overwhelming passion (and amazing talent) for music. It is his love for music I think that has sustained him through the drugs, broken relationships, arrests and other adversities through the years. As an example of what a regular guy he is, the book also includes Keith's own recipe for bangers and mash. It is a little vague (excerpts below), so I improvised a bit.
What kind of recipe can you make for a book about the holocaust? I was tempted to skip the food this week and just go with the review, but then I realized Madeleines would be appropriate for Sarah's Key. The book, by Tatiana de Rosnay, is about the Vel D'Hiv roundup in Paris in the summer of 1942, where French police arrested over 13,000 Jews living in Paris and held them at the Vel D'Hiv, a cycling stadium. Eventually, the French police loaded them on trains which eventually took them to Auschwitz and the gas chambers. Sarah's Key tells the story of Sarah, both a ten year old girl whose family is arrested in the Vel D'Hiv roundup and Julia, an American journalist living in present day Paris and writing an article on the Vel D'Hiv roundup on its 60th Anniversary. The book switches between chapters from Sarah's perspective in 1942 and Julia's perspective today (detailing both Julia's own personal life as well as her investigation of Vel D'Hiv). Madeleines seemed the appropriate recipe for Sarah's Key because (a) they are French and (b) of what they symbolize - remembrance. Madeleines, as you can see, are fairly simply little tea cakes. They were made into a literary icon by Proust in his book, Remembrance of Things Past - a massive novel I have never attempted to read. In the book, the little Madeleine cookie Proust dips into his tea serves as an instant trigger for him to remember his childhood, and hence became a symbol for memory and our unbreakable link to the past. Here, let them serve to remind us to never forget the victims of Vel D'Hiv.
Lorrie Moore's Gate at the Stairs is an engrossing and quick read about the life of a college woman shortly after 9/11. The novel begins placidly but shows how quickly a normal life can become seriously screwed up. The novel takes place in a the college town of a large Midwestern university. Tassie is a potato farmer's daughter - a quirky and lonely college student, whose life begins to go awry when she takes a job as a babysitter for a strange but intriguing woman, Sarah, and her absentee husband Edward. From day one, Sarah asks more from Sarah than the average babysitter, and very few people would have stayed on the job after the first day (when Tassie is asked to accompany Sarah to meet the birth mother of the child Sarah wants to adopt). Tassie is a girl who seems to be floating through her life with a great level of ambivalence, and it is this ambivalence that causes her life to fall apart. I put together this potato tart because Sarah's father specialized in special gourmet potatoes, such as fingerlings. Sarah, the owner and chef of the university town's fancy French restaurant, especially loved Tassie's fathers fingerlings. I combined the potatoes with cheese, bacon and eggs, for a decadent and delicious brunch tart, where the potatoes are still the star of the show.
Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel, is the Booker Prize winning story of one of the most famous episodes in Tudor history, told from the perspective of lawyer and royal advisor, Thomas Cromwell. I love stories about Tudor England, and have read a lot of historical fiction about this period in history (e.g. The Other Boleyn Girl, etc...) but no book has had as much depth and emotional weight as Wolf Hall. Cromwell is famous for his rise from an extremely low birth (he is the son of a drunk blacksmith) to become the right hand of King Henry VIII during the most tumultuous period of his reign - the renouncement of his marriage to Queen Katherine, his marriage to Anne Boleyn, and her subsequent beheading. He is equally famous for his great fall from the King's man to the victim of the scaffold, after King Henry's disastrous fourth marriage to Anne of Cleves. Wolf Hall tells Cromwell's story from his childhood, to the time he served as a key advisor to Cardinal Wolsey, the most senior cleric in England during Queen Katherine's reign, and then as Cromwell rises to become the most powerful man in England, after the King. During this time, the King's marriage to Queen Katherine is annuled and he marries Anne Boleyn, who bears him Princess Elizabeth. The novel does not continue on to document Cromwell's fall, and I wish it did, because the Cromwell Mantel creates is a deeply fascinating, witty and likable character. I decided to create a medieval style dish for the book and did some research on what kind of food was available during Henry VIII's reign. I settled on fruit stuff poultry. I also added some touches to the recipe based on food that is mentioned in the book, particularly walnuts, apples and spiced wine. This spiced fruit stuff game hen with spiced wine glaze was improvised, and it turned out great. The stuffing and cooking methods would work with any poultry, it would be great with chicken or capon. Seeing as this is Thanksgiving Week, it would also work for a Turkey - you could add crumbled cornbread or regular bread cubes to the fruit along with sausage and some chicken stock and it would be a yummy Thanksgiving Stuffing.
Phew. Getting through this week’s book, Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem was tough. So tough that I really deserved this massive burger at the end! While I certainly appreciate Lethem’s wit and imagination , which was in full display in this book, it was still difficult to get through. The book is filled with dense dialogue, either in the characters heads or with each other. The book is seemingly about nothing but perhaps also about everything - i.e. the search for "truth." At the center of the book is the friendship between Chase Insteadman (there is that wit with the name), a handsome former child actor, now somewhere in his thirties, living on the upper east side of NY, party hopping, and living off of residuals from the family TV show he starred in, and Perkus Tooth, a strange former rock critic/provocative poster maker, who smokes a lot of pot and watches a lot of obscure movies, but it is unclear what else he does. Perkus also lives on the upper east side, in a rent control apartment. Perkus is the type of guy everyone knows - a bit homely looking, not good at personal interaction necessarily, has the most extensive, random, obscure taste in books, music and movies, and is always anxious to tell you about these books, movies and music and is shocked and appalled when you admit to not having a clue of what he is talking about. Surrounding Perkus and Chase are a few other eccentric characters but most importantly the City of New York. In Lethem's book New York is surreal, but also not so far from reality (for example, the Mayor, Arnheim, is a short Jewish billionaire). The surreal part comes from an escaped tiger that is terrorizing the city, knocking buildings down, from the City's obsession with Chase's girlfriend, an astronaut, Janice Turnbull, stuck in a Russian space station and unable to return to earth, and with newspapers that come in war-free versions. There is a lot to take in here, and it is difficult to know what details matter and what don't. There is not much a plot, and what I found missing from this book as opposed to the others I have liked of Lethem's (Fortress of Solitude, Motherless Brooklyn) is a heart. None of the characters are likable and none of them, except maybe Perkus towards the end, are going through anything that makes you care about them. I am glad I read the book because it does make you think and there are some really funny aspects of it, but it isn't a book I would recommend to many people, except maybe those friends of mine that are into obscure books, music and movies... The burger was inspired by Perkus, he subsists entirely on lots of pot, lots of coffee, and cheeseburgers from the Western themed restaurant around the corner from his apartment.
Just for fun, here is a recipe for a delicious sweet potato soup I recently made that is perfect for fall. I found the recipe in a round about way. I love reading pastry chef and cookbook author David Lebovitz's blog (davidlebovitz.com). He recently went to Ireland to the Ballymaloe Cookery School. His pics looked amazing so I went to the school's website and found the weekly letter from an instructor, Darina: http://www.cookingisfun.info/saturdayletter/. Here I found this sweet potato soup with southeast asian flavors. It was easy and yummy. When I make it again I would add more chili for a bit more kick!
The Help by Kathryn Stockett is a literary phenomenon. Over and over when I spoke with friends about the blog, they enthusiastically recommended that I feature "The Help" and make a chocolate cream pie. I was intrigued that so many people recommended the book - it must be the #1 book club this year - so was happy to find a copy at my summer house in Maine (thanks cousin Susan!) I thought the book was great, an accessible and emotional story about race in the South in 1960's. While I really liked it, part of me wished that a book that dealt with race issues today was so popular. Such a book would obviously have a lot more edge, and would stir more controversy. This book, because it was set in the 60's, even though it dealt with real issues, was uncontroversial. The book is told from multiple perspective, and anything that gets you thinking about an issue from multiple angles is a good thing. Anyone who has read the book knows that the chocolate pie is part of a great story in the book. I wouldn't want to give anything away, so won't say anything more about it, other than this pie is just chocolate and cream, nothing else ; )
I consider Philippa Gregory chick lit of history buffs. I have read all of her books on Tudor England, including her most successful, The Other Boleyn Girl. Gregory covered the Tudors from all possible angles - telling the stories of all of Henry VIII's six wives as well as his daughter Queen Elizabeth. As soon as I finish any of her books I jump on wikipedia to read the real story of the historical characters in her novels. Gregory is extremely accurate in her depiction of historical events, and always acknowledges when she takes fictional liberties. The White Queen is the beginning of a new series for Gregory, focusing on the predecessors to the Tudors, the Plantagenets - these are the folks of the war of the roses. The White Queen tells the story of Elizabeth Woodville, an ambitious noblewoman who catches the eye and heart of King Edward IV, the first York, King. The novel is romantic, swooney (I know that isn't a real word!) and also violent. Gregory depicts both the bedroom and the battlefield vividly. Elizabeth was called The White Queen because the banner of her husbands family, the Yorks, is a white rose (while the banner of their enemies family, the Lancasters, is a red rose.) I decided on a large white pavlova for The White Queen, topped with fluffy white whipped cream, but then topped with blood red berries to represent the bloody battles in the book.
I am back from my moving hiatus and back in the kitchen, and a new one at that! Sorry to be MIA for so long, but moving has a way of throwing everything off kilter, especially your kitchen. Well my kitchen was the first room I unpacked in my new place so now I am ready to blog, even if I can't find my fall clothes! I am thrilled to be starting back with Barbara Kingsolver's The Lacuna. She is one of my favorite authors and her books don't come out that often, so I have been anxiously awaiting The Lacuna to come out in paperback. The book did not disappoint, both from the perspective of a reader and a cook! Food is an integral part of the book, as the lead character, Harrison Shepard, serves for many years as the cook to Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. And the famous cameos don't end there, Trotsky also features in the book, which spans from the twenties to the McCarthy era 50's, from Mexico to Washington D.C. to Asheville North Carolina. For me it seemed quite different than other Kingsolver books, but I loved them and I love these books two. Since there is so much food here, I will cook for two weeks from this book. First sweet, then savory. I start with Pan Dulce, which Harrison was especially skilled at making and which was Diego Rivera's favorite. These are Mexican sweet morning buns - basically a challah bun covered in a thick layer of frosting. Yum. After I sampled my handy work I immediately scared down a second one. I felt ill afterward for sure, but who cares, these are irresistible!
It is hard to know what recipe to make for a book that opens with one of the main characters getting their hand chopped off, ya know? Dan Chaon's Await Your Reply is a dark, bleak book with lots of unhappy characters, untimely deaths and really no upside at all. That isn't to say I didn't like it. I did, it was gripping it at times. But this is not the book to read if you are looking for a happy or light beach read (I will be giving you some serious froth next post). When describing this book to others (and I told a few people about it in hopes of getting some ideas for a recipe), I first refer to the movies "21 Grams" or "Babble." These are movies that tell the dark stories of seemingly unrelated people throughout, with the connections between the stories and people eventually revealing themselves. This is exactly what Await Your Reply does - it tells the story of Ryan (he of the chopped off hand), Lucy, an eighteen year old runaway, and Miles, a sad middle aged man searching for his twin brother who is schizophrenic. All the characters are in precarious situations, all of them are deeply unhappy and all of them are somewhat connected to stolen identities. There is no food in the book, the book takes place across a nondescript Midwest landscape (sometimes Nebraska, sometimes Cleveland, sometimes Michigan, but the author doesn't give these places any local color, they are all depicted bleakly). I was going to make some sort of mistaken identity food (e.g. a meatloaf and potato concoction dressed up to look like a cupcake), or make a pizza with three different sections/toppings. I settled on something agrodolce - the Italian word for sweet and sour. I thought it fit a key character in the book, Miles' brother Hayden - specifically the agrodolce concept - the "agro" suits the character better than the term word sour (and I know that agro in Italian probably means "sour", but you know what I am trying to get at - "agro," meaning agressive). I picked this agrodolce Caponata since it would be great use of summer vegetables!
So this will be a kind of throwaway post, I apologize in advance. I felt kind of blah about the book, blah about the dish, and obviously, could not get a clear photo of the ice cream! So let's just speed through this so we can move on to the next post! The month of August will be crazy for as I am moving, but I promise to be back in tip top form come fall, in a new kitchen and hopefully with better photo skills! Colson Whitehead's Sag Harbor is a coming of age tale about a middle class African-American teenager whose family spends their summers in Sag Harbor, Long Island. The book takes place smack in the middle of the 80's, and the main character Benji spends the summer of his freshman year of high school working at an ice cream shop - that classic 80's ice cream shop where waffle cones and mix ins were huge. This is about the time when the ice cream world started moving away from classics like butter pecan and rum raisin and instead started smooshing gummy bears into ice cream. The book was OK, amusing at times but a bit slow. I struggled a tad to get through it. Ice cream was the obvious choice. I will explain after the jump why this recipe didn't turn out as I would have liked...
Dave Eggers' Zeitoun is a non-fiction account of one man's experience during Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Abdulrahman Zeitoun is a Syrian immigrant to the United States who owns and operates a home contracting business in New Orleans and lives with his wife Kathy and four children. The book reads like fiction, and tells the story of Zeitoun's "perfect storm" - the combination of the tragedy and chaos of Katrina with post-911 prejudice towards Arabs. Eggers does a great job of narrating Zeitoun's experiences with a reporters voice, though it must have been difficult to write in such a neutral voice since what happened to Zeitoun at the hands of the U.S. and local government is shocking and would make even the most moderate person angry. More details on the book after the jump. For the recipe, I wanted to combine a classic New Orleans food with some Middle Eastern flavors. Po boys on pita is what I came up with. Homemade pita, fried oysters, with typical shawarma condiments - lettuce, tahini sauce and pickles. Yum!
Little Bee by Chris Cleave is a wonderful novel about two women, Little Bee and Sarah O'Hara, from different worlds, who in the worst circumstances imaginable find a way help each other. These cupcakes, like the book cover for Little Bee, are cute, but let me be clear - the book is not cutesy in anyway - it is truly heart wrenching throughout. The title character, Little Bee, is a teenage Nigerian refugee, who, at the novel's start, finds herself in a stark British immigration detention center. Little Bee is not her real name, but a name she created as she fled her country. She is a refugee, has been through hellish, traumatic experiences and lost her family, but her immense strength enables her to be kind and loving to Sarah and her child. I made these honey sweetened cupcakes with honey buttercream for Little Bee.
I am a big fan of Richard Russo. His latest book, That Old Cape Magic, is the story of a middle age professor of screenwriting whose marriage is falling apart. That professor, Jack Griffin, spends much of the book reflecting on his parents and their marriage, which ended in divorce. The book begins as Griffin is traveling to Cape Code for the wedding of one of his daughters friends. Although his parents, both professors, taught at a university in the Midwest, they family spent their summers on Cape Cod, and that is where his parents were most happy. I decided to make a Cape Cod inspired recipe and came up with these simple Stuffed Quahogs (clams), a classic Cape Cod appetizer and perfect for the summer. Enjoy.
This week we have The Tourist by Olen Steinhauer, a sharp, interesting spy novel about Milo Weaver, a beleaguered CIA operative (called a Tourist) who finds himself accused of several murders, including the murders of his old friend, his boss, and of the assassin he has been hunting down for years. Of course Milo is iannocent of these charges and the novel follows with a frenzied pace his attempt to clear his name. This book was born to be made into a film, so I was unsurprised when I learned that George Clooney had optioned it. The book has nothing to do with food, the only things the characters imbibe are cigarettes and vodka, and that wouldn't have made anything too tasty. So in honor of the 4of the July and the book's tale of the patriotic CIA with a serious dark underbelly of manipulation and deceit, I decided to make a patriotic red white and blue tart with a dark underside of bittersweet chocolate.
For a continuation of my South of Broad post, I was going to make Benne Wafers for today. But it was too hot, so I turned to another Lee Brothers recipe for Banana Pudding Ice Cream, which better suited the weather. This is from the Lee Brothers Southern Cookbook. This pair of bespectacled hiptser brothers are from Charleston, and they are also alumns of my alma mater - Amherst College. This is a great cookbook, and this ice cream recipe was super easy and delivers big time flavor wise. Cooking the bananas in brown sugar and rum give it a real depth of flavor - almost a burnt sugar type of thing. I used fancy Whole Foods Vanilla Wafers, next time I would switch to the Nabisco kind cause they are more sturdy and have that special flavor. Next week I will be reviewing the great spy novel - "The Tourist," which has presented a real challenge to come up with a recipe for. For the Banana Pudding Ice Cream recipe, keep reading.
For Pat Conroy’s South of Broad, a novel that is as much about Charleston, South Carolina as it is about its main character, Leo King, I made two dishes – one sweet and one savory. I will present these in two posts – first, a basic Shrimp and Grits, the recipe adapted from Pat Conroy’s cookbook (I believe it is called Recipes of My Life) . The second will be Benne Wafers, a sesame cookie that was created in Charleston cookie. This recipe comes from The Lee Brothers, also from Charleston. The cookies have special significance in the Conroy book - Leo King, bakes the cookies as a teenager for his new neighbors, the twins Sheba and Trevor Poe. Leo loves Charleston with a passion and thinks of these cookies as the quintessential Charleston welcome gift. I have never been to Charleston, and before this book I was dying to go – after the book I am even more anxious to get down there. I have mixed feelings about the book, but Conroy certainly depicts a vivid, charming and fascinating portrait of Charleston. And these Shrimp and Grits are rich and indulgent, just like Conroy's writing.
So this is the first "Just for Fun" post - stuff that isn't related to a book, stuff I made and looked pretty or stuff inspired by things other than books, and usually stuff I want to post when I haven't finished the book for the week yet! This dish I made last weekend, inspired by all the beautiful spring green veggies at Whole Foods. Boston lettuce, peapods and fresh peas. Let me tell you, it is totally worth it to buy fresh shelling peas and take the time to shell them rather than buying frozen. They are only available for a short time every year and are like a different veggie than the frozen variety. So with the lettuce and peas I seared some sea scallops and made buttermilk dressing (exra buttermilk from the scones) from one of my favorite cookbooks "Screen Doors and Sweet Tea" by Martha Hall Foose. Although I am a born and bred Yankee (though of course NOT a Yankees fan), I am obsessed with southern food and southern food cookbooks. This one is amazing and I am sure I will be featuring more recipes from it in this summer. The recipe for the dressing after the jump.
I love scones! After I finished The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters, a spooky post-war British "great house" novel, it seemed inevitable that tea and scones were in order. The Little Stranger tells the story of the Ayres, an aristocratic British family that have fallen on hard times and their family doctor, Dr. Faraday. The real star of the novel is their home, "Hundreds Hall" a once great house now shabbily falling apart and seemingly haunted by some malevolent spirit. The characters in this book drank a lot of tea. Tea seemed to be a cure all for all the creepy goings on at Hundreds. So I settled on old fashioned currant scones, with an earl grey tea infusion. As you will see below, I made a big error in my tea infusing (good tip - don't heat buttermilk, it separates!) but I was able to recover the scones and they were delicious. Along with it I made a quick strawberry jam from Ina Garten. This is not the canning kind of jam but one that will last in the fridge only a couple of weeks.
Swedish author Steig Larsson's so called Millennium trilogy has become a phenomenon of the publishing world, much like Dan Brown’s books or Harry Potter. The three books, first published in Sweden (in Swedish) were major best sellers in Europe before being translated into English and becoming hits in the U.S. Part of the hype surrounding the books is caused by the fact that the author, Larsson, a Swedish journalist, died suddenly of a heart attack at age 50, before the books were released in the United States. But the books are also deserving of the hype because they are dramatically plotted, tightly wound thrillers – the type of book you don’t want to put down. I found this to be the case with the second book in the series, The Girl Who Played with Fire, in particular. While reading the book I actually looked forward to going to the dentist and being kept waiting for 20 minutes or so before my appointment (which is the typical waiting period my dentist puts me through) so I get in some more reading time! I have read the first two books in the series, the third, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest, is being released this week, and according to Michiko Kakitani of the New York Times, it is even better than the first two. As for what recipe to make, it was tough to come up with something, because (1) the books are pretty twisted and dark and do not make you think of food and (2) the characters, especially the heroine, Lisbeth Salander, seem to subsist on lots of coffee and lots of fast food In particular, there was a lot of mention in the second book of something called "Billy's Pan Pizza", which I discovered via google is a popular frozen pizza in Sweden. So I decided to combine the pizza idea with something Swedish, and settled on gravlax, a cured salmon kind of like smoked salmon, but less smokey. The gravlax was super easy as was the pizza dough, enjoy.
This week we have our first foray into both "chick lit" and nonfiction in the form of I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti by GuiliaMelucci. This book is in a format I really like - a dating memoir with recipes. Another great book in this genre is Amanda Hesser's Cooking For Mr. Latte. I chose to do a post on Melucci's book because her stories and recipes are less perfect, more messy, which I identify with both in my cooking life and my real life... Enjoy
Lark and Termite is a poignant and somewhat strange novel about an unconventional family in West Virginia. The title characters of the book – Lark and Termite, are siblings. Lark is nine years older than her brother Termite, who is both mentally and physically disabled. Lark is Termite’s devoted caretaker. Neither Lark nor Termite know their actual birthdays, so every few months, Lark bakes her brother a birthday cake. The cake she describes in the novel is a cake she dies the three layers blue, pink and yellow. In addition, she flavors the blue layer with some anise and the pink layer with almond. The piece de la resistance is the fluffy white “divinity” frosting. I thought recreating the cake made sense for this entry. The flavor combinations were surprisingly delicious. This is a perfect spring birthday cake, and you can play with the colors and flavors endlessly. For the recipe and more on the book
Abraham Vergese's Cutting For Stone is a grand, romantic medical and family novel which is mostly set in Ethiopia. I love Ethiopian food, and Doro Wat is probably my favorite dish. Google tells me that Doro Wat is often referred to as the Ethiopian National Dish, and I have seen it described this way on menus. It is a firey hot stewed chicken, served with hard boiled eggs and injera - a crepe like pancake made with fermented sour batter that is served with all Ethiopian food. The injera serves as the utensil with which to eat the food. As the main character Marion comments in the book, you can tell an Ethiopian native from a foreigner as to whether there hands are clean after eating Wat - for Marion, he noted that his hands were clean while his fathers were stained red at the finger tips. Doro Wat is mentioned a couple of times in the book, most memorably for me at the beginning, when a young woman doctor Hema, arrives back to Addis Ababa and the hospital she works at after a long and harried (including near plane crash) journey from India, and immediately requests Doro Wat at her arrival. I also attempted some injera, but did not have the time to ferment the dough so used some soda water to give it the characteristic bubbles. This recipe took a lot of effort, as before you can make the Wat you need to make a spice paste (Berbere) and spiced clarified butter (Nitter Kibbeh), but the end result was tasty, though not as tasty, I must admit, as in an Ethiopian restaurant .
Maine! I have spent my summers in York Beach, Maine my whole life. It is definitely my favorite state, so I was thrilled to pick up Olive Kitteredge, a Pulitzer Prize winning book about the people of Crosby, Maine and mostly Olive Kitteredge, a grumpy middle school teacher. The quintessential Maine food is of course lobster and lobster Rolls, but it is my opinion that lobster is best eaten in Maine, especially lobster rolls, so I wanted to stay away from that. The next thing that popped into my mind when I thought about Maine food was Indian Pudding, which is a traditional New England dessert that is hard to find these days. Indian Pudding is kind of a stodgy dessert, with a molasses bite, which I think fits Olive’s personality to a T. I have always associated Indian Pudding with Maine because Indian Pudding was my mom’s favorite dessert, whenever it was available she ordered it (or the equally stodgy grapenut pudding) and it was also her favorite ice cream flavor at our favorite (and amazing!) ice cream place in York Beach, Brown’s. I have since taken over carrying the torch for Indian Pudding ice cream and I always order it with a scoop of Maine Blueberry ice cream on top. A great combination which inspired this traditional Indian Pudding with Blueberry Sauce (and I tossed in some whipped cream for the hell of it.) My Mom would have loved this book as well -- Olive is the type of woman she would have kibitzed with at the local library. This one is for you Mom, miss you.
Note: I have been stuck in New England for a couple of posts now, next time we will be heading to Ethiopia (Cutting for Stone) and the spicy chicken stew – Doro Wat!
For book review and recipe
The Given Day by Dennis Lehane is one of the best books I have read this year. It takes place in Boston, my hometown, during the Boston Police Strike of 1919. An obvious choice for a recipe to go with this book is Boston Cream Pie, which is no named because it was created by a chef at the Parker House Hotel on Tremont Street in the 1850s. I decided to "Boston up" the recipe by adding Irish Whiskey to the pastry cream and the chocolate glaze. This final cake was my second try, it was worth the effort. For book review and recipe,
If you have not had them before, Knishes are wonderfully rich dense baked dumplings, usually filled with meat, potatoes or other vegetables such as broccoli or spinach. They are a traditional Jewish-American food and so are therefore usually kosher – they are made of either meat or dairy, never mixed, and don’t contain non-Kosher foods such as pork or seafood. I decided to make Ham & Cheese Knishes since they are a “twisted” version of the traditional knishes – decidedly not Kosher, just like the characters in The Believers. I have eaten MANY knishes in my life but never made them before. I was surprised at how easy they were. I improvised these – taking the traditional potato and onion filling and simply adding ham and cheese. This recipe made about 16 apple sized knishes. I had some extra dough left over, which is fine as it can be used to fix and holes in the dough.
4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons white vinegar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup warm water
2 cups chopped yellow onion
1 -2 Tbs of oil
2 lbs potatoes (I used red potatoes)
1 cup ham, chopped
1 ½ cups shredded cheese (I used Gruyere which worked very well, I think any good melting cheese that goes with ham would work1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 egg beaten (for eggwash)
Put all dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer with a dough hook (I made this with a standing mixer and it worked great. It can be done by hand, I just haven’t done it). Stir the dry ingredients together for a few seconds. Add all wet ingredients to the bowl.
Start the mixer on low for the first minute and then turn mixer to medium-high and let knead for approximately 8 minutes, until the dough is somewhat elastic.
Take the dough out of the mixer, form into a ball and divide in half. Place each half in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest for about an hour. While the dough is resting, you can make the filling. Sauté the onions in about 1 – 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil on medium to medium low heat for approximately 25 minutes so that the onions are dark brown. The onions should brown slowly so keep the heat low so the onions do not burn.
Peel the potatoes, cut into large chunks and put in a saucepan covered with water. Bring to a boil and cook until the potatoes are cooked through. Drain the potatoes and mash with a potato masher or potato ricer. Add sautéed onions, salt and pepper, cheese and ham.
This is how it looks all mixed together.
When the dough has rested, preheat the oven to 375 and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Take one ball of dough and roll it out into a long rectangle. I found that I did not need any flour on the rolling pin or rolling service, since the oil in the dough made it not too sticky.
After you have rolled out the dough as thin as you can, take it with your hands and stretch it in all directions so that it is so thin you can almost see through it. You may create holes when stretching it which is fine. Patch up with extra dough if this happens.
When the dough is stretched out, put half the potato mix in a thin line about one inch from the end of the dough.
Then take the end of the dough and roll it over the filling and keep rolling like a jelly roll. Pinch the ends of the jelly roll so that the filling will not leak through. Depending on what size you want your knishes, cut the roll about every two inches and pinch the ends together so that the filling is covered by dough. To cut the knishes from the roll I used my hands, not a knife. Turn the little knish cylinders so one pinched end is down and put an indent with your thumb in the top end. Line them up on the baking sheet so they are not touching.
Brush egg wash over knishes. Bake in over at 375 for approximately 50 minutes, until they are golden brown. They can be served warm or at room temperature. These would be delicious with deli brown mustard. Yum!
The Believers by Zoe Heller is a harsh satire which tells the story of a family in crisis. The Litvinoffs are a clichéd left-wing New York family, led by patriarch Joel Litvinoff, a famous, flamboyant civil rights lawyer. For most of the book however, Joel Litvinoff is in a coma, and the effect of his illness on his wife and three children is the focus of the novel. The book primarily describes the struggle of Audrey, Joel’s wife, and two daughters, Rosa and Karla, to figure out what they believe about themselves and about their family (the character of Lenny, the drug addicted son, is somewhat poorly developed). Heller alternates telling the story from the perspective of Audrey, Rosa, and Karla. For Audrey, Joel’s coma and the revelations about his behavior that arise as a result cause her to question the years she spent devoted to building her husband’s legacy. Meanwhile Rosa, who for most of her life followed in the radical footsteps of her father (spending several years helping “the workers” in Cuba), finds herself inspired to explore becoming an Orthodox Jew (a severe rebellion from her aggressively secular upbringing). Finally Karla, who is the classic do-gooder, a social worker and peacemaker in her family, is in an unhappy marriage and is contemplating having an affair. Heller presents each of characters in a supremely unpleasant light – they are all for the most part unlikeable (especially Audrey, who hurls cringe worthy insults at her children and anyone else she comes into contact with). But Heller tells their story in a highly entertaining way. I really enjoyed the book and highly recommend it.
The book inspired me to make a twisted version of a traditional Jewish food, decidedly not kosher, like each of the Litvinoffs.
Welcome to Bookcooker! Just a brief note to explain where I am coming from and what to expect from the blog. Bookcooker is a blog that combines my love of reading and my love of cooking. I have wanted to start a cooking blog for a while now, but was having a hard time deciding where to start. I am an avid reader, and realized the other day that after I finish a book I just add it to the many piles of books scattered throughout my apartment, move on to the next book, and often forget what I liked about the books I have read. This realization is what inspired me to get off my butt and start the blog. My plan for the blog is to provide a brief review of a book I have recently read as well as a recipe inspired by the book. In some cases this might be some sort of food or dish described in the book and in others it will just be something inspired by the themes or location of the book. I am an amateur cook and baker and will be posting recipes that will not have been exhaustively tested. In addition, be forewarned, I don’t know anything about blogging and so will be learning on format and layout as I go.
A word about what kinds of books I read. I pretty consistently stick to contemporary fiction, and only read paperbacks so will not be reviewing any books close to the release date. My taste in fiction is pretty varied, sometimes it will be higher brow like Phillip Roth but I also proudly partake in chick lit. Recommendations welcome.
Want to email me? You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
This is the spot where I would like to hear your recommendations for books (and recipes inspired by them). Once we get enough recommendations going, I will choose one every couple of months to read and cook from! And the person who recommended the book will be invited to guest post their thoughts. So add any recommendations in the comments section below(click on comments and the option to post a comment will appear.)