Still looking for the perfect New Year's cocktail? Hopefully this will do. It is special because not only is it festive and bubbly but it also will help keep you hydrated as you party the night away. How does it do this? It has what I consider a magic fix whenever I feel under the weather or headache-y or tired - coconut water! Seriously, if I feel crappy I drink coconut water and I swear I feel better right away. It is probably just in my head, but is rich in potassium I believe so is super hydrating. In addition to a touch of coconut water, this cocktail has muddled grapes, vodka and it is topped off with champagne. The recipe after the jump, Happy New Year to you, may 2012 bring sweet things to us all!
Sarah Waters' "The Night Watch" is a book I must tell you to go out and buy or download or borrow from the library right away. It is not a new book, it was written in 2006, but it somehow just made it my radar. Not until I finished the book (and I was so disappointed when I finished it) did I realize that Waters was the same author of The Little Stranger, which I reviewed here last year. The only similarity of the two books is that they feel so thoroughly British. I loved The Little Stranger - a country house ghost story, but The Night Watch really blew me away. It is set during WWII in London, and follows four young Londoners as they struggle through the blitz and war time London. The book is unique because it progressed backwards in time. We first meet the four main characters in 1947, after the war is over. The book then revisits them in 1944 and 1941. Waters performs somewhat of a magic trick by making this reverse storytelling really suspenseful - the reader first learns where the characters end up, then it becomes a real page turner to figure out how they got there. This dish, sticky toffee pudding, really doesn't have anything to do with the book other than that I associate it in my mind with being thoroughly British. Of course with the sugar and other food rations during WWII in London, this type of dish was probably never made during that time. Nevertheless, it seemed an appropriate dish for this time of year, and I wasn't really excited about making something that got by without sugar. More about this wonderful book and indulgent treat after the jump.
'Tis the season continues with this cute candy cane cocktail. I am almost getting sick of all the holiday stuff everywhere, including this blog, but not quite yet. It helped that the Charlie Brown Christmas Special was on the night I made this - don't you just love it? I especially love the music - so beautiful, and the scene with all those kids dancing is a classic! This was an improvised recipe, and it is a very strong drink. It is sweet, but it has a lot of alcohol that cuts through the sweetness a bit. This probably isn't a drink I would choose every day, but if you are having a Christmas party or feel like getting Christmas-ey, or, better yet, have a bunch of extra candy canes, this drink is perfect. I'll tell you how I made it after the jump.
Here is the second part of my Holiday Baking series, some fun decorated gingerbread cookies from Southern Living. I love the recipes in Southern Living, it is a great "hidden" food magazine since it isn't something that is really around the newsstands a lot up here, and as a Bostonian, why would I buy Southern Living, right? Anyway, these are easy and classic gingerbread cookies. The recipe after the jump.
I was flummoxed trying to come up with something to make for Fannie Flagg's "I Still Dream About You," which was surprising. I picked up the book with the expectation that it would have some great options for the blog in it, since Flagg's classic book "Fried Green Tomatoes and The Whistle Stop Cafe" obviously has some great food in it, ya know? Well, not so much food in I Still Dream About You, and even worse, the book was really no more than just OK. I struggled to get through it and feel entirely ambivalent about it. In those circumstances, it is hard to get inspired to whip something up. But, I managed, and here we have a really great lemon icebox pie. The main character of the book, Maggie, pretty much eats only frozen meals. The day before she is planning to kill herself however, she gives herself a bit of a treat, and some slices of icebox pie is part of it. In the midst of all the heavy chocolate and gingerbread and peppermint desserts (all of which I will share recipes with you in the coming weeks), this lemon was a nice, tart break. I am sorry to say I cannot recommend the book, but the pie, well the pie is definitely something you should make.
This week's cocktail was driven by the fact that I saw some beautiful tangerines in the market this week and bought some on a whim. I never buy tangerines, because with all those seeds, why would I grab tangerines instead of seedless clementines? But the flavor of clementines is mild compared to the slightly exotic tangerine, and they are less juicy. So, the tangerines sat in the fridge all week and when it was time to make a cocktail, they seemed like the perfect solution. Here is a whiskey sour made with fresh tangerine juice and garnished with a candied tangerine peel. I added some lemon to up the sour factor, but unlike cocktails that use sour mix, this does not taste like a sour patch kid - it is a more subtle creature. Topped with some soda water (champagne would work too!) it is easy but festive enough for this time a year.
While I don't celebrate Christmas and never have, I have always loved Christmas traditions and that general festive/cosy atmosphere that rolls around every December. Although my family is Jewish, my mother also loved Christmas traditions and they were a big part of this season growing up - we got presents from Santa (I know bad, it wasn't a religious thing but for my Mom just another opportunity to spoil us, which she never passed up), I even left cookies for him, she played holiday music, and once I remember she tried to cook a goose. That was not a success, though I should probably try again sometime. Anyway, even though Christmas is not my holiday so to speak, I still do love all the Christmas traditions I assume all of you who celebrate the holiday partake in, especially, given my love of food, the baking! Every year I plan on baking loads and loads of cookies, but most years I only make a few. This year may be the same, but I figured for the blog I would endeavor to share some holiday baking recipes with you. My plan will be to pick a cookie from each of the December issues of the leading cooking magazines, like this espresso chocolate snowball from Food & Wine. Maybe I will achieve that, maybe I will make different cookies, maybe I will try a Buche de Noel, which I have always wanted to try, maybe I will only make these cookies - who knows whether I will have the time do so much baking in the next few weeks, but I will try!
Tea Obreht's The Tiger's Wife has been topping most best books of lists for 2011 (see e.g. The New York Times, Amazon) so I was looking forward to sinking my teeth into it. While I must admit that it took me about half the book to really fall into it, it is most definitely a beautifully written, soulful book. What this book is about at its core is death - it is everywhere you turn in this book, and haunts all of the characters. Even though the book is undoubtedly dark (it is about death after all) it is also filled with great old fashioned storytelling that sets an almost whimsical tone to the book. The Tiger's Wife is set in a purposefully undisclosed country in the Balkans (I assume the country is what is now Serbia) shortly after the wars of the 1990s are over. There are new boundaries and country names, but the wounds are still deep, and the dangers of the war remain, both in the physic sense, through peoples remaining anger and mistrust towards each other and in a physical sense, through the many mines still dotting the countryside. The book follows a young doctor, Natalia, and she travels to an orphanage across the border (I think it what is now Croatia) to deliver vaccines shortly after she learns that her beloved grandfather, also a doctor, has died. Woven in with Natalia's journey to discover how her grandfather died are two fables told to her by her grandfather - "the deathless man" and "the tiger's wife." These tales fill as much of the book if not more than Natalia's story. I must admit, I expected to fall in love with the book more than I did. Although it was a beautifully written and thought provoking book, it was sometimes difficult to follow. I definitely think it is a book that would benefit from a second read, which I intend to to do. More about the book and this common Balkan kebab like dish after the jump.
For Cocktail Hour this week, here is a snowy white treat for the first week of December. It has been almost balmy here in Boston during November, and I must admit I am ready for some chill and maybe a little snow to set the season. This is a Ramos Gin Fizz, a fairly classic cocktail that employs egg white to get that nice froth. Yes, raw egg white. So be sure to use very fresh eggs with this, and if you are pregnant, don't make this drink (oh yeah... you wouldn't be making it anyway!) The egg white really gives a nice richness to the drink without being heavy. In addition, there is a touch of cream. I am totally not into drinks with cream or milk or Baileys etc... at all, cause they usually are so sweet and heavy. When I first started drinking, one the first drinks I tried was a Kahlua and Cream, cause that was the drink of choice of my super cool big sis (hi Marcie!) and I thought it must be sophisticated (Marcie also introduced me to delicious Malibu rum by leaving a bottle in her room when she went away to college). But it was not my thing. Here, the cream is mixed with bright and bracing gin, lots of citrus, and a touch of orange flower water. It is a refreshing and festive cocktail and I am converted to cocktails that employ a bit of cream. I know it is bad, but hey, it is the holiday season, treat yourself.
Wanderlust by Elisabeth Eaves is a little bit like Eat, Pray, Love but with more sex and less meditation. Sounds good, right? The book documents Eaves passion for travel, which starts when she takes a school trip to Europe when she in high school. Her obsession with travel is sparked by a boy she meets on the plane, and throughout "Wanderlust" it is apparent that her desire to travel to new places and keep moving is inextricably linked to her relationship with men and sex, which is also defined by her desire to keep moving and seek out new experiences and partners. The book is a great combination of relationship confessional and travelogue. Eaves is undoubtedly a bit irresponsible in the way she treats some of the men in her life, but she owns up to that fact and candidly explores why she treats people the way she does. My favorite parts of Eat, Pray, Love were the travel parts, and to be honest I suffered through the soul searching. In Wanderlust, you have all the great explorations of far off lands, with some navel gazing, but I found the Eaves' navel gazing much more interesting and tolerable. The beautiful salad above has no direct link to the book, but I came upon the recipe when I was searching for something kinda sexy and exotic. The salad is a great anecdote to some of the heavier eating we are doing these days without giving up any pleasure. It was easy and so delicious and will definitely become part of my regular rotation.
This day after Thanksgiving cocktail, the question I have for you is, do you want to be good or bad. If you over did it on the holiday and you want to be good, to cleanse, I have for you the above green smoothie, featuring the super healthy and virtuous kale! If you over did it on the holiday and you don't care, and you want to continue being bad, I have for you the pumpkin butter cocktail below called the homecoming. A farewell to fall and all things pumpkin, it is a doosy. I'll tell you how to make both after the jump.
Ken Follett likes to write really long books. If you have read his work before, you have likely read the large tomes "Pillars of the Earth" and "World Without End," which both, in about 1000 pages, tell the story of two generations of characters in England in the middle ages, with a real focus on the church and the introduction of the architecture of grand cathedrals in England. Follett has a knack for sharing a lot of useful information (about history, about architecture) via some juicy stories, and he has done it again in Fall of Giants - which I liked much more than his previous books. Part of the reason I enjoyed this book so much is that I am a bit of a history buff - I am particularly interested in 20th century history and Fall of Giants is an epic about World War I. Unlike most war books which tend to tell only one side of the story, in Fall of Giants WWI is seen from multiple sides of the war - the main characters are from England, the United States, Russia and Germany. It was also a riveting account of the domestic events that shaped the WWI period that were so earth shifting at the time - the Bolshevik revolution, the rise of the Labor (and Labour) movement and the fight for womens' suffrage. Follett weaves all of this major history with love stories, secret marriages, illicit affairs, and unwed mothers - the epic told from the perspective of the every day. As I was thinking about what to make for the book, I googled around "WWI food" and what kept coming up is the WWI Salvation Army doughnut recipe. More about the book and the recipe after the jump
Cocktail Hour Number Two! If you are looking for an unfussy but festive cocktail for your Thanksgiving gathering, this is it. Also, if you are looking for relief from the crush of crowds at your local Whole Foods grabbing at the heritage turkeys and bags of stuffing mix, this will also do the trick. I had this cocktail last week at a fun little party my friend and I went to at my local J.Crew store for "very special" customers to introduce the new holiday collection. Now, I am sure anyone could have attended the party, but my credit card statement confirms that J.Crew and I have a "very special" relationship. This elegant but simple cocktail fit in perfectly amongst the soft cashmere, sparkly sequins and rabid J.Crew shoppers at the party. Want to know whats in it?
Here is an improvised pizza with some non-typical pizza ingredients and a whole wheat no-knead crust. It is amazing how little effort went into it and how wonderful it turned out. This is one a few book-free posts. There are a couple of reasons for this - first, I am trying to post more often, with great seasonal recipes, and I can definitely cook quicker than I can read! Second, I am on about page 850 of a close to 1000 page book, so it has obviously taken me longer to get through it than my typical book. Next weekend I will (hopefully) be ready to go with some book/food combos! For now, enjoy this wonderful pizza.
This is a first of what I hope to be a weekly post where I share a cocktail or a delicious cocktail snack. Just a quick little post with something yummy for you as you begin your weekend. This week, we have an apple cider cocktail - with just three ingredients - bourbon, apple cider and rosemary. The recipe and some info about the bourbon after the jump.
This gratin/pot pie is a "kitchen sink" creation of the vegetables, pastry dough and cheese that I had left over from a fiasco of sorts. I had planned to make some sort of lattice pot pie for Jane Smiley's "Private Life" to represent the main character's feeling of being trapped in a loveless, unhappy marriage. This veggie pot pie came about because I had purchased a whole bunch of vegetables and other ingredients and made a batch of savory pie dough in preparation for going to a "Master Chef" open call here in Boston. For the open call you were required to bring a dish for the judges to taste, and you may be sitting there all day, so it should be something that tasted good cold. For those of you that don't know, Master Chef is a pretty cheesy show on Fox where celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey screams profanities at a bunch of amateur cooks who want to become a "Master Chef" (prizes are that title, some cash and a cookbook deal). So, anyway, I thought it may be fun to go to the open call even though I didn't really fit the mold - I am not super hot, a fireman who cooks for my crew, or someone with a really poignant sob story. Despite that, I took a day off from work the day before the Open Call and planned to spend the day in the kitchen experimenting and coming up with a really good savory/tart quiche and fall salad combo. Unfortunately, I was unable to cook that day because of a plumbing malfunction in my apartment. So, I have all these great ingredients so decided to throw them together and make this rich vegetable gratin with a lattice crust. It is sort of random, but definitely works and would be a great vegetarian main course for Turkey day. More about the book after the jump.
A few weeks ago, I finally got around to reading the final book in Stieg Larsson's Millenium trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. I was inspired to do so by the totally amazing trailer for the American movie version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I have seen the first two Swedish movies of the trilogy and thought they were really great and Noomi Rapace, the actress who plays Lisbeth Salander, spot on. That said, I personally believe any movie can be made better with the addition of Daniel Craig, n'est-ce pa? Anyway, the Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest was much like the other two Salander books and picked up where the middle book left off. This book had a lot more political intrigue than the last two - which was both a good and bad thing. Good because it was interesting and suspenseful without being overly violent, bad because it frankly included way too much about Swedish history and politics which got pretty boring in some parts. But all in all, while the series had its faults, Larrson created a truly unique and compelling character in Lisbeth Salander, and I am sorry that there will be no more books about her. A mini review and these birds nests after the jump. If you have not read the series and intend to, probably best to just skip this post.
Jonathan's Franzen's Freedom was the "it" book when it came out a little over a year ago. Everyone was reading it and writing about it (a literary masterpiece or totally overrated, which camp do you fall in?) I pretty much only read paperbacks unless someone gives me a hardback (yes, I am in the process of evaluating whether I am ready for the switch to a Kindle), so I was feeling very left out waiting for the paperback. I was a big devotee of Franzen's first book, the Corrections, and was perturbed to have to wait nine years for his next book, and then have to wait a year more because of my stubborn insistence of paperbacks (and it isn't just cheapness, ask my friends, I am not a cheap girl you should see what I drop on a pair of shoes). Anyway, I got Freedom as soon as it came out it paperback and quickly devoured it. My take? I am not in either camp - I thought it was neither a literary masterpiece or grossly overrated. I really enjoyed the book, but I must say I did like Jennifer Egan's Goon Squad a whole lot more (and there was some controversy when her book won the Pulitzer Prize that Franzen had been robbed). What I think is wonderful about Franzen's book is how it is both a detailed character study of the troubled marriage of two fairly unlikable people and to some extent a historical novel - a depiction of our country during the Bush years. The problem with the book blogwise, however, is that it was just impossible to come up with any food for it - it is beyond some cute food analogy really. I thought about it for a bit and I was stumped, asked around, my friends who read it were stumped too. So, as I turn to write my blog post on this chilly fall weekend, the last in October, I have decided that for this book I will make whatever I damn well feel like making, since I have the freedom to do that. Et viola, this seasonally appropriate Pumpkin Cake, cause who isn't obsessed with all things pumpkin the last weekend of October.
The Widower's Tale is another winnner from author Julia Glass, the author of Three Junes, The Whole World Over and I See You Everywhere. Glass once again turns to the delicate and complicated relationship of families as the subject of this novel. The main character of The Widowers Tale is Percival (Percy) Darling (what a name, right?) a 60-something retired Harvard librarian who is a cranky, odd New Englander. His wife passed away many years ago, leaving him on his own to raise his two young daughters. Although he is very much a part of his adult daughters' lives, his relationship with both of them is fraught under the surface with unsaid things stemming from their mother's death. As the novel begins, Percy has just opened up an old Barn his beautiful property by a pond in a leafy/wealthy/sort of rural suburb of Boston to the local pre-school. The opening of this pre-school sets in motion a series of events that causes trauma to both Percy and his entire family. More about the book and this classic after the jump.
The heroine of Karen Russel's Swamplandia - Ava Bigtree - is the most unique, remarkable and heartbreaking character I have encountered in a long time. Swamplandia is Russell's first novel and in it she creates a vivid and strange world that seems to some extent not of this world, but of course it could very likely exist in Florida, a place I associate with weirdness. The Big Tree family (who, btw, are not actually Native American despite the name), run a gator park and show in the Everglades. It is, obviously, a quirky family - there is Ava, the youngest, her older sister Ossie who communicates with ghost, her rebellious brother Kiwi who is tired of island life, her father "Chief Bigtree" who runs the place, her grandfather who started the park, and the star of the show, her mother Hilola Bigtree, a champion gator wrestler. The book documents the disintegration of the family and park after Ava's mother dies. Much of the book centers around a perilous journey through the everglades/keys that Ava takes in small boat, and the real sense you got from both her journey and the description of the island that the family lives on is that it is a muddy, swampy, dense and wild place. I knew since it takes place in Florida I needed to do something with key limes, so I decided on a muddy key lime tart - made with an Oreo crust and swirled with melted chocolate. I purposefully made the chocolate swirls messy because Swamplandia is messy!
Jaimy Gordon's Lord of Misrule is the story of the down and out characters at a second rate (maybe even third rate) horse track in West Virginia. The really standout feature of the book is Gordon's use of racetrack lingo. All of the characters speak this slang-like language, and it admittedly took me a while to get use to it (and understand what was going on). I do think I may have missed some things because of this, but it really gave the book, for lack of a better word "atmosphere." Horse racing is a dirty and superstitious game, and throughout the book there was a sense of foreboding and danger - something bad was going to happen to one of the characters - it was inevitable. These beans were inspired by one of the main characters - Maggie. We first meet her through the eyes of an old African American horse trainer, who simply refers to her as the frizzy haired girl. Maggie has come to the track with her boyfriend Tommy Hansel - a handsome trainer with a dangerous side. Maggie seems in over her head, but loves the horses and is good with them. In one scene, Maggie makes a pot of beans as a sort of call to bring Tommy home to her when he had gone away to "see about a horse." The recipe she recited was irresistible to me...
Tana French's Faithful place is her third book about hardscrabble detectives (with a mysterious past) in Dublin and it is definitely my favorite. While her books so far have all followed the same formula - some heinous crime, a detective from the undercover squad of the Dublin police is called in to solve the crime, and the detectives past coming in to play somehow in the story. In Faithful Place, Frank Mackey is the central character in the book - he was a smaller character in French's previous books - he is an intense supervisor in the undercover squad who runs investigations and pushes his officers right up to if not over the proverbial line. Here, Frank's past comes back to haunt him when the skeleton of his high school love is found in an abandoned house on "Faithful Place", the street where he grew up and his family still lives. More on this and the insanely delicious Guinness Ginger Cake with Brown Sugar Frosting I made after the jump...
I love, love, loved Allegra Goodman's The Cookbook Collector. I picked the book because I thought with the title it was about food, but not so much. While a very rare old cookbook collection does feature in the book, it has a pretty broad range of topics - it's about family, about sisters, about the dot com bubble, about politics, about trees, about religion, about friendship, about business, about aging, about growing up, about finding oneself, about rare books, about Berkeley and about Cambridge, and in its best parts, it is about falling in love. The love story that is the center of the book (but as my list in the preceding sentence makes clear, there is a lot going on here with lots of characters though one central story line) finally gets off the ground as the result of a perfect juicy peach. Jess, one of the two sisters that are the main characters of the book, is a student at Berkley, studying philosophy. She also works at an rare book store, which is run by George, a wealthy middle aged man. George made his millions working for Microsoft, quit, moved to San Francisco and opened the book store. Where Jess is a free spirit, George is uptight and particular - he has the best things - an architecturally significant home, filled with art and rare treasures, he is obsessed with special wines and eats only exquisite food, skillfully prepared. Jess is scatterbrained, a vegan, and lives in a "Tree House" a group house run by a political group that fights against deforestation. Through the first half or so of the book it is clear these two have a connection, but it is a gorgeous peach, procured at the farmers market, that brings them together. This peach tart is a recipe from the classic place that represents the snooty, foodie Northern California scene - Chez Panisse, and it is made from peaches procured in the other main setting of the book Cambridge, Mass - where I live! More after the break.
Innocent is the sequel to Scott Turow's best seller from the 1980's, "Presumed Innocent." I had enjoyed both the book and movie with Harrison Ford immensely many years ago, but haven't read any Scott Turow in ages. Innocent picks up many years after Presumed Innocent left off, with the murder charges against Rusty Sabich dismissed but the truth behind the murder of his mistress, Carolyn Polhemus, still haunts him. The book starts with Sabich waking up to find his wife Barbara dead in bed beside him. This seemingly unsuspicious death quickly turns into a potential homicide, with the man that prosecuted Sabich in Presumed Innocent, Tommy Molto, who is now District Attorney, charging Sabich for Barbara's murder. Molto and Sabich truly hate each other and most of the book is told from one of their perspectives. In addition, Turow uses Anna, Rusty's law clerk and his moody son Nate as narrators. The book is like a really good episode of Law and Order, or actually, it is more like the Good Wife. An explanation of why this panini, filled with salami, stinky cheese and red wine onion jam is relevant to the book, after the jump.
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann is the same style of book as The Imperfectionists and A Visit From the Goon Squad which seems to be so popular these days – the book is broken up into the stories of seeminingly unrelated characters that as the book goes on, the reader discovers are connected. The book takes place in 1974 in New York, and the unifying thread (pun intended!) is a man's miraculous tightrope walk between the World Trade Center Towers. A frenchman, Phillippe Petit, really did walk across the Twin Tours on a tightrope in 1974. The novel is told from the perspective of several disparate New Yorkers and what was going on in those individuals' lives the day of the tight rope walk and how it effected them. In addition, McCann weaves in a few chapters told from the perspective of the tight rope walker himself, but doesn't identify him as Petit. Despite a really interesting concept, I did not enjoy this book and much of it felt like a bit of a chore to get through. Parts of it were moving and it is certainly well written, but there is a dour pall over the book that made it difficult for me to get through - the mood is so dark. This is not surprising giving the time and place the book is set in - New York during the bad old days of the 70's when crime was high, the economy was bad, and it was the end of the Vietnam War. New Yorkers were disillusioned and struggling - and this is depicted in the characters McCann creates. I wanted to go with a quintessential NYC food for the book, and was not up for making hot dogs from scratch! Maybe someday! While the book was a bit of a struggle to get through, making these pretzels was a breeze...
Is that a pyramid made out of chocolate mousse you ask? Why yes it is! Is that gold paint on the top of it? Yes! Why in the world would you complicate something as simply delicious as chocolate mousse by fussing it into a mold and painting it? The answer is Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code follow up, The Lost Symbol. And as anyone who has read his books can attest to, Dan Brown is good at complicating things. The Lost Symbol takes place is Washington DC and the focus of the book is the mysteries of the Masons and specifically a super secret super special pyramid, whose top is gold. While I was dragging through The Great World Spins a few weeks ago (Genuine NYC pretzels and a review coming soon), I decided I needed something lighter for a few days - The Lost Symbol was exactly what I needed. I read it in a couple of days and was refreshed and ready to re-tackle and finish up the more serious book. And, it gave me a reason to make chocolate mousse...
This post has taken forever for me to get out! I read the book weeks ago, then made the biscuits and bought the ingredients for the hot pepper jelly. The biscuits alone were not right for the book - I needed the spunky and spicy jelly in order to represent the spunky and spicy (and slightly crazy) main character in Joshlyn Jackson's Backseat Saints, Rose Mae. So I made the biscuits, photographed them, saved three and brought the rest to my sister, my brother in law reportedly quickly ate them all, but still, I could not get my act together to make the hot pepper jelly! Finally, this weekend, after a few weekends away and friends visiting I got around to making the jelly. I think the process of sterilization is what held me up - I was just scared of it. I will only give rough directions on this process after the jump, but will refer to you better sources - I don't want to be responsible for anyone getting sick! More about the food and the fun book after the jump.
No book with this post, just an impromptu stone fruit pie, made with apricots from the farmers market, bing cherries, and a couple of other stone fruits I had in the house to fill it out. This was my first time making a pie with cherries, and I found an ingenious way to pit them, which will make cherry pies something I tackle a lot more often. For our next book recipe, I am doing biscuits and red pepper jam (the biscuits are in the oven as I type), but for now, follow the link for the recipe for a simple summer pie.
It was too hot in Boston this past week to do any real cooking. Luckily, for Sloane Crossley's breazy second collection of essays, a cocktail seemed just as appropriate as food. In general, I don't drink at home that much. While I love a cocktail or beer or wine out, at home, I just don't get the urge. So it was a fun treat to put together this fruity bourbon cocktail during the 100 plus heat wave we had. Bourbon is definitely my hard alchohol of choice, it has the most character to me and has a little bit of sweetness that makes it easier to drink than whiskey or scotch. And it has loads more character than vodka. The recipe for this easy Cherry Smash cocktail after the jump, and more about "How Did You Get This Number?"
The Red Queen is part of Phillipa Gregory "Cousin's" series, about the War of the Roses period of English history. As you may recall, I read and reviewed the first in the series, The White Queen, some months back. That book was the lusty tail of Elizabeth Woodville, a supposed witch and wife of King Edward, the first York king. The Red Queen tells the tail of Margaret Beuford, the mother of Henry Tudor, who eventually became King Henry VII, and the first monarch of the tudor dynasty. It is a much less lusty tail, as Margaret is portrayed as a celibate woman obsessed with the Church and advancing her son's claim to the thrown. I thought this book was less of a fun read than The White Queen, but it still delivered that Phillipa Gregory punch - a trashy romance/adventure disguised as historical fiction. Sometimes something light is needed. As soon as I read the title of the book, and in light of the season, I knew I wanted to try the British "Summer Pudding" dessert. Unfortunately, this was a bit of a fail - maybe I didn't use enough berries (if I used any more I would have had to take out a second mortgage), but I just didn't get it. Kind of a gloppy mess. But I will pass along the recipe and maybe you will have better luck.
I have been totally remiss in my blog posting as of late. It's not that I haven't been reading - I have been reading A TON! It's that with the heat and the sun and the draw of being outside on the weekends, I have not done any heavy lifting in the kitchen. But, starting with this post I hope to get back on track with a bunch of fun books and recipes. First up, Peter Carey's witty (but dense!) Parrot and Olivier in America - a re imagining of Alexis de Tocquiville's first experiences in the United States. The book follows Olivier de Garmond (the de Tocquiville character) a silly and foppish (is that a word, I say yes!) French Aristocrat who is forced to escape to America during the French Revolution. De Garmond is sent to America to study the American Prison system, and his meddling mother arranged this trip for him as a way to keep him out of harm's way during the tumultuous years in France during the First Republic. Olivier is accompanying by a cheeky British servant, who goes by the name of Parrot. More about the book after the jump. Since the book was about a Frenchman's first impressions of America, I wanted to make a Franco-American dish - classic French Fries seemed the perfect tongue in cheek idea. I used Julia Child's recipe - the American mother of French cuisine in the U.S.
Another great absorbing book! Lisa See's Shanghai Girls is about two sisters, May and Pearl, who start the book as glamorous middle class models in 1930's Shanghai, and end up as poor immigrants, married off by their father to men they have never meant in order to settle his debts. We go through their harrowing escape from China, which has just been invaded by the Japanese with them, and live through their disappointments of a Chinese immigrant's life in Los Angeles in the 40s and 50s. The book has a large scope - from China during war time to Angel Island in San Francisco and then Chinatown in Los Angelles - but it feels intimate, because we get to know these sisters so well, and in particular Pearl, the older sister who serves as narrator. I knew as soon as I started reading the book that I wanted to try to make a favorite Shanghai dish of mine - Xiao Long Bao aka soup dumplings aka Shanghai Dumplings. These are not just normal dumplings, they are feat of cooking magic - inside the dumpling wrapper is hot soup! How is that done? See after the jump...
David Nicholls One Day is about to be released as a movie starring Anne Hathaway. I saw the trailer, and I must say, I did not buy her British accent at all! So when I saw the book in the store, I figured, I better read this quick before the movie ruins it. I am glad I did - maybe the movie will be great, but the book was a wonderful, fun, romantic read. The book follows two Brits - Dexter and Emma, and explores their lives and relationship by checking in with them on the same day - July 15, every year. As you can imagine, there are great ups and downs, and the characters are sometimes charming and sometimes awful and are sometimes wonderful to each other and sometimes horrible to each other. The book breezed by but ended with a bit more drama and emotion than I was prepared for. That's all I say. I should have made something British but I got in my head I should make something heart shaped since this was a book about love. These strawberry cheesecake ice cream sandwiches (made with homemade graham crackers) fit the bill of being both heart shaped and season appropriate. Enjoy!
Sorry for the long absence, sometimes life gets in the way of blogging. I have a lot of books to catch up on! First up is Michael Lewis' The Big Short. Most of what I know about Wall Street I learned from Michael Lewis. I loved his first book Liar's Poker about the macho world of bond trading. I was excited when he released a book about the latest financial crisis. Lewis has an amazing ability to explain complicated financial instruments and systems, and in The Big Short, he also makes an examination of the sub-prime mortgage crisis read like a suspense novel. Lewis tells the story of the financial crisis by focusing on a handful of people in the industry who saw the sub-prime mortgage debacle coming - and this foresight made them millions. Lewis tells us enough about each of these characters so that we feel like we know them and care about what they have to say. I learned a lot by reading the book, I think I now understand sub-prime mortgages, credit default swaps, CDOs, and shorting stocks. And before the book I blamed Wall Street for the crisis, after the book that feeling is stronger, and I am genuinely shocked at the crooked and stupid game they played and angry that bonuses are back up on Wall Street yet our economy is still limping along trying to recover. After the jump, the light and airy meringue cookies I made that were inspired by the fragile and hollow sub-prime mortgage CDOs that caused this whole mess.
Since I started the blog, I have wanted to make an effort to post more than once a week. That has proven incredibly difficult in light of my day job and all, especially if I was to review two books a week! I would never sleep! So I will start my two post a week with a great weeknight dinner that uses the star (in my opinion) of spring produce - Asparagus. I will share my "recipe" of this incredibly simple dish after the jump...
I am in a springy mood! I will be honest, the strawberry rhubarb compote I made this week really has nothing to do with Adam Haslett's Union Atlantic. It was a great book (with a bit of a slow start) about three really messed up people and how their lives unexpectedly intersect. It is also to some extent about the financial crisis and how it happened. I was stumped when it was time to come up with a dish that was inspired by the book. But, it being May, I was inspired by the beautiful spring ingredients in the stores and also by mothers day. So I decided to make my Mom's stewed strawberry rhubarb stuff (she never called it compote, but seems like a good name for it). She made it every spring and we ate it with dinner like a vegetable. Unfortunately, I don't have a recipe for it and unfortunately never got a chance to make it with her. I knew it must be simple since it was a weeknight thing she threw together. I remember coming into the kitchen filled with a sweet strawberry smell tinged with something a little sour and different - the rhubarb, which turned stringy when cooked. I tried to make this before last year but it was nothing like my Mom's - I cooked it too long and it was sticky and heavy like jam rather than light and refreshing. This time I cooked it for less time and added less water, and it came out just right. This is a quick and simple recipe and a great way in my opinion to use some spring rhubarb without putting in the effort to make a pie. I eat it as is but it also would be great with yogurt, ice cream, stirred into a pound cake or cheesecake.
I did not know when I picked up Tom Rachman's The Imperfectionists, right after Visit From the Goon Squad, that is was a similarly styled book. Rachman's book chronicles the lives of a handful of people who work at (or in one instance read) an struggling English language paper in Rome. There is no specific plot which ties all the characters story together, rather, like The Goon Squad it is almost like individual short stories, characters in one story show up in the others of course because it all about this one newspaper. In between each person's story is a history of the paper, from its founding in the 50's through its eventual demise, roughly in the present. Like The Goon Squad, this book was a great success. There is a lot of humor in here, as well as some more serious stuff. But it is the funny stuff I liked best. To go along with a book set in Rome I made Carciofi alla Guidia, which translates to Jewish Artichokes. I had these wonderful things in the Jewish quarter in Rome too many years ago and it is a dish Rome is known for. Also, one of the characters in the book, Herman Cohen, makes them for his visiting friend. It is a great way to use some wonderful fresh spring artichokes.
I have perfect timing! This week's selection is Jennifer Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad, which earlier this week won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. This is far and away the best book I have read in a long time - and I usually love everything I read for this blog! I can't quite put my finger on what made this book so amazing, but it was both technically impressive and really funny and emotionally affecting. It is a fantastic book. I did the puzzle cookies cause the book has a lot going on - it is a bunch of chapters about different characters at different points in time, but all connected in some way. It should be a confusing book but it isn't, but it is still a bit of a puzzle, hence the cookies. This is a different review this week as well, I did a power point review, in tribute to a chapter of Egan's book which is entirely done in power point. I thought it was a great chapter, and man, do I hate power point!
Blood, Bones and Butter is the autobiographical book by Gabrielle Hamilton, the chef at New York City's Prune restaurant. Prune is a restaurant that is small in size but huge in success and reputation - it is pretty much universally acclaimed. I was lucky enough to go to Prune once very long ago, probably in its first year of opening and really loved it - both the food (I still remember what I ate many years later) and the comfortable and welcoming atmosphere. Hamilton has a somewhat "tough" and no-nonsense reputation, and this book certainly confirmed that for me. No question about it, she is pretty bad-ass, and to be frank, kind of a bitch (apologize for the bad language, but if you can't tolerate swears, this is not the blog for you) - but in a good way. I didn't like the book quiet as much as I thought I would - it was also widely acclaimed (Tony Bourdain called it the best chef memoir ever). I think I was looking for more about the food and running a restaurant, but this book was about Hamilton's life - the ups and downs, and really about her family - the one she came from and the unique family she formed on her own. More about the food - my version of Blood (red-wine marinated...) Bones (lamb chops...) and Butter (first sweet spring peas of the season with butter).
I have a thing for Vietnam movies - Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter, Born on the Fourth of July and my favorite of them all, Platoon (remember when Charlie Sheen wasn't a punch line?) The Lotus Eaters reads like a really great Vietnam movie. The book follows three war photographers from the early days of the Vietnam War in the mid-60s to the very end, as Saigon toppled on the edge of collapse. The main focus is Helen Adams - a young Californian woman who travels to Vietnam with no photography experience, but some unexplainable desire to become a war photographer. Shortly after her arrival she meets Sam Darrow, a hardened war-zone photographer who is addicted to danger and his soulful but secretive photographer's assistant, Linh. The book has both riveting accounts of the war and its horrors and captivating romantic entanglements - once it got started it was hard to put down. The clear choice for a Vietnamese dish was the classic beef pho. Helen savored many bowls of pho throughout the war, the broth serving as nourishment and as a way for her to connect to Saigon and its people.
This cake doesn't really go with Chris Bohjilian's Secrets of Eden, but it is hard to come up with an appropriate recipe for a book about domestic violence. I am a big fan of Bohjilian's books. They are mostly set in Vermont, where Bohjilian lives, and each book deals with what I would call a "hot button" issue of the day. His past books have dealt with midwives, alternative medicines, gender reassignment, gun control, and homelessness. He deals with these issues through great stories of real people dealing with difficult and dramatic things. Secrets of Eden continues this trend and tells the story of the murder of Alice Hayward, who died at the hands of her abusive husband George. It was a great Bohjilian book, with more of a suspense/murder mystery vibe than past books. Because no recipe or food is really appropriate for the subject matter, I went with something Vermontey and something I wanted to make and eat - a maple infused crumb cake which came together quite easily.
Brick Lane by Monica Ali is the story of Hazneen, a Bangladeshi girl who moves to London when she is eighteen for an arranged marriage to Chanu, a middle aged municipal worker. Hazneen and Chanu live in the housing projects of London, and the novel follows about twenty years of their lives. The book gives an insightful portrait of the immigrant experience in London, but is mainly the story of one woman's personal growth and awakening. There is lots of mention of food in the book, as Hazneen spends a lot of her time cooking for her family, though she never eats with them. She is always sneaking into the kitchen when her family is asleep or away and eating cold food - cauliflower curry, rice and dal (lentils) - eating alone is her way of coping with her unhappiness. I dug around the internet looking for Bangladeshi recipes, and it was so hard to decide what to make. I decided to go with the basic Bangladeshi/Bengali red dal, thinking it may be kind of boring, but was the type of food Hazneen's family would eat every day. Well I was wrong about it being boring - this is a highly spiced dish that is both warm and comforting and exciting to eat.
This week's book, Unfinished Desires, is about teenage girls and all the drama that they bring to the table. The book is about a "toxic year" at Mount St. Gabriel's, an all girl's catholic boarding school in North Carolina. The stories of multiple generations of students and teachers (nuns) are told in the book, with the events of one generation inextricably tied to the events of the generation before. The way girls and women treat each other - Mount St. Gabriel's is referred to in the book as a "hotbed of bitchery"- are depicted by Gail Godwin and an incredibly insightful and real way. The women and girls that fill the book are each interesting and honest characters, all of them are likable in some way and horrible in others. The oatmeal cookies do not play a big part in the book, but were merely a passing reference to a favorite dish of students made by one of the founders of Mount St. Gabriel's, Mother Fiona Finney.
Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind is a fun, suspensful and rollicking novel which at its heart is about the love of books and storytelling. The novel was originally written and Spanish and translated. I usually like to read novels in their original language, but this translation was great and felt really natural. The book takes place in Barcelona and tells the story of Daniel, a lonely son of a bookdealer, as his obsession with a mysterious novel takes him on a dark journey as he grows from boy into man. The Barcelona in the book is a moody, damaged place still unsure of its future after civil war and fascism. Food does have a place in the book, mainly as the subject of desire and enthusiasm of Daniel's strange and amusing friend - Fermin. Fermin provides the heart of the book as well as its comic relief. He has a big appetite and often requires Daniel to stop on their adventures for a bite to eat. They seem to eat a lot of spanish ham sandwiches, but that seemed to boring for the blog (and I doubt I could get my hands on real spanish ham). So I went with a traditional spanish tapas, codfish fritters, made with salt cod. These were easy, though you must plan ahead since the cod must be soaked for several days before cooking.
No book today, later this week I will be posting a review and recipe for The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, but for now, here is some Super Bowl appropriate (and winter appropriate) simple beef chili.
I really loved Bloodroot by Amy Greene. It was totally engrossing and transported me to the world of Bloodroot mountain in Appalachia. The book is eerie, disturbing and beautifully written. The book takes place on Bloodroot mountain, which was named after the rare flower that grows there. According to wikipedia, it is a perennial flowering plant, which has a white flower and dark roots that when you cut open, ooze a dark red colored sap. We learn about bloodroot early in the book and the dark underside of the bloodroot serves to set the dark tone of the book. I had a hard time deciding what to make, red velvet cake seemed to upbeat, beet ravioli seemed so removed from the Tennessee setting of the book. So in the end I decided on making some corn muffins with a hidden pocket of dark fruit of the forest preserves. These were a super quick and easy recipe that would be especially good in the summer when you can use fresh corn.
Harold Jacobson's The Finkler Question is a funny book about anti-semitism, which seems impossible to do without being offensive, right? But Jacobson does it. The book won the 2010 Booker Prize, which is how I heard about it, and I usually love Booker Prize winners (e.g. Wolf Hall, White Teeth). It took me some time to get into The Finkler Question, but about 100 pages in, I became hooked, and thoroughly enjoyed Jacobson’s funny, cringe-worthy and slightly ridiculous book. I think the book provides insight and humor as to Jewish identity generally, but there are certain aspects of it that are particular to the UK (e.g., there appears to be a much larger and more vocal anti-Zionist community in London than there is in the US). The book is primarily told from the perspective of Julian Treslove, a non-Jew whose two closest friends, Libor and Sam Finkler, are Jewish. Julian is obsessed with Jews and the experience of being Jewish, and for much of the book he actually tries to become Jewish by claiming he was the victim of an anti-Jew hate crime and dating a Jewish woman. Treslove is a real cad - he has two children who he barely sees, sleeps with his friend’s wife, and is generally morose, self-obsessed and unreliable. Treslove, in his head, decides that he will call all Jews "Finklers" since his friend Sam Finkler, whom he has known since childhood, thoroughly represented to Treslove the embodiment of Jews .Thus, the book’s title is a play off of the phrase "The Jewish Question," coined in Western Europe to describe the issue of Jews in Europe (e.g., Nazi propaganda touted its concentration camps as the "the solution to the Jewish Question.").More about the book after the jump. I would not necessarily recommend the book to everyone since I think there are some inside jokes that some folks will not get. But anyone with particular interest in this issue would find it funny and thought provoking (Jew or non-Jew). For the recipe, I wanted to make something stereotypically Jewish, so I went with bagels, which I have never made at home before. This recipe is from Peter Reinhart, and while it was actually quite simple, it does require some non-typical ingredients.
Happy New Year! If you are looking for resolution recipes for those no fat Kale Chips or some sort of detox smoothie, you have come to the wrong place! Bookcooker is starting off 2011 with decadence - swan cream puffs with vanilla pastry cream on a chocolate pond! I was so excited when Elizabeth Kostova's the Swan Thieves came out, since I thoroughly enjoyed her first book, The Historian. The Swan Thieves was a little less thrilling and mysterious, but enjoyable, especially towards the end of the book. The book revolves around a fictional nineteenth century French painting depicting Leda and the Swan from Greek mythology. In that myth, Zeus takes an interest in Leda, the beautiful daughter of a Greek king. Zeus takes the form a swan and seduces Leda. On the same night, Leda sleeps with her husband. She bears children, Helen (of Troy) and Clytemnestra and Castor and Pollux, who are half human and half immortal. Leda and the Swan is a popular theme for artists over the centuries. The Swan Thieves is at its heart about the obsession that comes with being a great artist (also the theme of the film the Black Swan, which I saw this past week). I learned how to make cream puffs and eclairs in a baking class, but this is the first time I tried the classic swan form of cream puff. They are a bit old fashioned and fussy, but fun, yummy and easy!