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 email@example.com
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.)