Looking for a festive and slightly special cocktail to ring in the new year? How about this incredibly easy and refreshing kumquat cocktail? I picked this cocktail because kumquats are so pretty and cute and in dreary December I am always in the mood for bright citrus flavors. Little did I know that the kumquat does hold special meaning for the new year - Chinese New Year that is. Kumquat represents prosperity and according to tradition (so says the internet), anyone who eats kumquat at the new year will be insured good fortune, prosperity and happiness. With that in mind, this is the perfect cocktail to ring in 2014! Happy New Year and I wish you good fortune, prosperity and happiness!
Ian McKewan's Sweet Tooth has one of those standout food moments that bookcooker is all about. The novel, which I must admit I thought would be a little sexier 007 than it was, is about Serena Frome, a smart, pretty, wispy Cambridge girl who finds her herself working for MI5 in early 1970's London. This is not a path Serena would have found on her own - she is the daughter of a bishop and a maths major with a suppressed passion for literature and bad taste in men. It is through an affair with a much older and worldly professor that she finds herself working in the British domestic spy agency during the gloomy days of the cold war, British economic depression and the threat of the IRA. It is the older professor that also introduces her to this earthy, sexy dish - forest mushrooms with creamy polenta. Serena and Tony Canning, a professor at Cambridge were Serena is a student, spend secret weekends together at a cottage in the country. Tony teaches Serena about world affairs and they drink wine and good food that Tony cooks. This dish was particularly intriguing to me (I love polenta!) and for Serena it was a symbol of the kind of sophisticated world she thought Tony was opening up for her. Of course, since this is a spy novel, Tony was not what he seemed, he cruelly dumped Serena but she went to work for MI5 in London anyway. Rather than the exciting and sexy experience you would expect, Serena's work and life was dreary and demeaning - until she was recruited into the "Sweet Tooth" project...
While frozen hot chocolate does not sound like the right kind of thing for December, it is a great nostalgic and refreshing treat even in winter. This version is inspired by that classic New York City institution Serendipity who is famous for one thing - its decadent frozen hot chocolate that little tourists and NY princesses have been enjoying for decades. The restaurant (and frozen hot chocolate) make a brief cameo in Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rivka Brunt which was a real sleeper hit for me. I had not heard anything about the book before I picked it up and about 10 pages in I was deeply in love with the book. It is an emotional coming of age story of an awkward girl - June Elbus - living in suburban New York in the eighties. I immediately connected with the character. June, at 14, is a little weird, a little overweight, she likes to wear lace up boots and medieval style dresses and hang out alone in the local woods and pretend she lives in medieval times. June is lonely and isolated and the only person in her life that gets her is her gay uncle Finn, who is a painter that lives in New York and is dying of AIDS. This is the eighties so the disease is new and something to be kept under wraps. In stark contrast with June's positive relationship with her uncle is the fractured relationship she has with her older sister Greta - the two of them used to be thick as thieves and then Greta became mean and is cruel and mocking to her younger sister. The book is about these two relationships and June's rough passage into young adulthood.
B.A. Shapiro's The Art Forger is a fun thriller about a piece of art that was stolen as part of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum art heist. For those of you that don't know the story, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is a gem of a museum in Boston located in a charming old mansion. The works that populate the Museum are the collection of a rich eccentric and ardent art collector, Isabella Stewart Gardner, who established the museum in 1903. In 1990 thieves dressed as Boston police officers entered the Museum and stole 13 art works (including works by Rembrandt, Manet, Degas, Vermeer). For decades the robbery went unsolved - just this year the FBI announced they knew who the thieves were, but the location of the stolen art remain undiscovered. Here in Boston this theft has been the stuff of urban legend - with rumors swirling that Whitey Bulger was behind the theft. With this backdrop, B.A. Shapiro creates a fictional account of one woman's connection to a work allegedly stolen as part of that heist (a fictional painting by Degas entitled "After the Bath). The novel's heroine, Claire Roth, is a struggling artist who has been blackballed by the art world because of a scandal in her past. To make ends meet she does copies of Degas paintings for a website called "reproductions.com". One day a sexy and successful art dealer, Aiden Markel, asks her to make a reproduction of one of the Degas' stolen in the Gardner heist - in return she will get a lot of money and more importantly a one woman show at his gallery. From here Shapiro quickly sweeps the reader into a suspenseful and interesting mystery. An explanation of the pad thai, pictured above, after the jump and below.
The Language of Flowers is a book with a heroine that loves to eat, so there were many many options presented for bookcooker. Perhaps if it was another season I would have selected another type of food that Victoria voraciously ate (roast chicken, homemade ice cream, peanut butter muffin), but since I read the book as autumn sets in, I knew immediately as I read the words that I had to make maple doughnuts Who can resist maple donuts? While these donuts are fluffy and sweet, The Language of Flowers is a book about serious issues - foster care, homelessness, trust issues. While these serious issues are the focus of the book, I must admit, in some ways the book reads a bit fluffy - there is a lightness to it that makes it feel a bit like one of those 80's after school specials - tough stuff turned into soap opera. Despite that criticism, I really enjoyed the book but maybe felt a little guilty reading it. Just like how I felt after eating one of those doughnuts.
Hello old friends! After a bit of a hiatus (a little bit of a writing rut, reading rut, cooking rut and enjoying life outside the blog) I am returning to bookcooker. I hope you will bear with me as slowly get back on the horse! I made these pretty little muffins a while ago, when the recipe appeared in the New York Times. It was perfect timing, because I had recently read two (very different) books that this recipe was perfect for - Where'd You Go Bernadette and Bringing Up the Bodies. Where'd You Go, by Maria Semple is a unique novel where much of the story is told through letters, emails and various other documents, like memos. It is the very funny story of a daughter's search for her brilliant but more than slightly off mother (Bernadette) set in the milieu of affluent and politically correct Seattle. A disastrous chain of events is set off when Bernadette gets into a dispute with her obnoxious neighbor concerning some unruly blackberry bushes on her property (inspiration for the blackberry part of the muffin.) Bringing Up the Bodies is Hilary Mantel's riveting second book in her series of books about Henry VIII's right hand man - Thomas Cromwell. This book follows the downfall of Anne Boleyn - and while this tale has been told many times before, unsurprisingly Mantel brings new wit and intelligence to the story. While Anne is certainly a compelling distraction, the story is really about Thomas Cromwell - his relationship to the mercurial king and how he manages to survive yet another upheaval in the house of Tudor. Those around Cromwell give him the nickname "Crumb", hence the crumb part of the muffin. A two for one recipe was the perfect impetus to get me off my bum and back to blogging. Here we go.
I must admit, there is no pesto mentioned in Jess Walter's wonderful novel Beautiful Ruins. The novel takes place both on Ligurian coast in the 1960's and in modern day Los Angeles. Obviously, there is not much food in the Los Angeles part, but more disappointingly (only for purposes of this blog), there also is not much food in the Italy portions of the book. The only mention of food that really stuck with me was the description of an unappetizing fish head soup. Don't get me wrong, I love dishes made with "trash" ingredients, and I love a good culinary challenge, but fish head soup was not doing it for me. So I googled around a bit, and it seemed like, in the middle of summer, a classic Ligurian pesto was in order. More about the simple pesto and the book after the jump.
Nothing screams summer like watermelon. Watermelon has never been a real love of mine, I tolerate it, but the big cutting job and the dripping miss never did it for me. This year, for some reason, I keep finding myself adding watermelon to my grocery cart. Something just clicked, and I want to eat it all the time now. Maybe its because the genetic modifying farmers have really found the right formula to make sweet, juicy seedless watermelons? Who knows. As we head into July, watermelon serves as the perfect starting ingredient for summer cocktails. I could have gone a lot of ways mixing this into drinks - margarita, daiquiri, sangria, but decided to go with the mojito, with a healthy dose of mint adding an herbaceous balance to the sweetness of the watermelon and rum. While this isn't red, white and blue, it will still be a great addition to any Fourth of July soiree, and pink and green is cuter anyway, right?
Isn't that little strawberry on top of this shortcake just the cutest thing you have ever seen? Every May and June, loads of big juicy California strawberries flood the market at lower than normal prices. I usually stock up on these. And then in late June, in New England, the local strawberries debut. They are small, cute, fragrant, photogenic and really really expensive. I always get sticker shock and resist for a bit, then I just break down and buy the 7 dollar little basket. I shake my head at the receipt, consider myself a sucker, and then I bite into one, and all my negative feelings about the price slip away. The local strawberries are worth every penny, not only are they picture perfect, they taste so much better than the gargantuan ones shipped in - juicy, sweet and pure strawberry flavor. You have to eat them quickly though, they get mushy quickly. The perfect thing to do with strawberries that are a tad past their prime (besides making jam), is strawberry shortcake. I like to go the biscuit route with my shortcake, and these were so tender that they would have fallen apart if I tried to cut them in half. So instead I made a little strawberry and cherry compote, by sauteing the fruit for just a few minutes with a little sugar and a little orange liqueur, and plopped the biscuit right on top. The perfect way to enjoy June fruit.
Even though the temperature hovered in the 90s last weekend here in Boston, it is officially still spring, and therefore I am not woefully late with this tasty spring dish, that I made months ago and in my blogging rut, failed to post. While fall is my favorite season, spring is the time I get most excited about new produce - asparagus, peas, spring onions, and then strawberries, rhubarb. While the bounty of summer is the star, spring produce is more exciting because we (at least here in New England) have been suffering through a long drab colored winter. The brilliant green of spring produce is rejuvenating! So this asparagus and salmon bruschetta was definitely rejuvenating back in April when I made it, and now that I see it in June, it seems perfect to suit summer as well. This is from the original Ottolenghi cookbook, which has the most beautiful photography. I must admit I have flipped through it more times than I have cooked from it, but with the success of this dish, I will dive in more. The salmon is poached in the oven with wine and spices and comes out moist and flavorful. This is a different and special brunch dish that is also very easy to make.
April got away from me, and then May has too. Blogging has taken a back seat to other things, and I hope that soon my blogging focus will be reignited. I am not sure of this exact cause of lagging blogging, but work has certainly been a big part of it. I have working on one of those cases that is running on a fast track, so it has been intense so by the end of the day it takes a lot out of me. I have also been in a bit of a reading rut, I have been working on Richard Ford's Canada for about a month now, and have refused to give up on it even though it hasn't really caught my attention, I am taking it on the plane with me today on a quick trip to New Orleans, and if I am not engrossed after the flight, I may just throw in the towel. [Note: that was several weeks ago, I did end up abandoning the book but hope to pick it up and try again] A book which did catch my attention however was Nell Freudenberger's The Newleyweds. The novel tells the story of a marriage born of the internet age - a young Bangladeshi woman, Amina, and almost middle aged IT guy from Rochester, George. The two meet over the internet - through a website called AsianEuro.com. Not a romantic start, and this is not a romantic novel. The Newlyweds is an affecting portrait of a woman struggling between two cultures and trying to define her life's path for herself. More after the jump.
I have totally abandoned cocktails lately, and now that I finally have a
quieter weekend, settling in with a classic brunch cocktail seemed like
a good way to spend some downtime. I love a good Bloody Mary and often
order virgin versions of them at brunch. Why virgin you ask? Day
drinking is definitely not my strong suit, and a shot of vodka at 11AM
will likely knock me out for the rest of the day. To me, the best part of a Bloody Mary is the horseradish that is used to spice the drink up. Horseradish is one of my favorite condiments and there are not a lot of
opportunities to eat copious amounts of it -
pretty much only with oysters, or if you are Jewish like me, as a condiment
to the once a year gefilte fish at Passover. The version I put together above is pretty much classic - no wackiness here with pickled beets or tomatillos - just a simple tomato juice, celery salt, and horseradish concoction.
I guess it does not make sense to make such a cute little dish for a book with Death in the title, but as spring tries to break through my New England April, I felt compelled to make something pretty and light. Luckily, a dainty little tart is exactly the kind of thing that would be enjoyed at the fictionally famous great house, Pemberley. P.D. James' Death Comes to Pemberley borrows the characters from Jane Austen's classic Pride and Prejudice and uses them in a murder mystery. The novel is set several years after Pride and Prejudice ends, with Elizabeth (formerly) Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy happily married, with children and living at Pemberley, the Darcy family seat. On the eve of the Lady Anne's ball, an annual grand ball that the Darcy family hosts, a man is found dead in the woods on the Pemberley estate. Of course, if there is trouble, Elizabeth's sister Lydia and her scoundrel husband Wickham are bound to be involved, and Wickham is charged with the murder of his friend Captain Denny. I have not read any of James' 20 or so previous books - she is a well known and lauded crime writer, who also happens to be in her 90's. Austen done by a mystery writer? You would expect the book to be clunky and a poor imitation of Austen's wit and style. The opposite is true, James falls effortlessly into Austen's world, and writes with her wit, but with a simpler more modern writing style. I found the book charming and engrossing, and I was so happy to have a chance to see what happened to these beloved characters after Austen's story came to a close. I was, however, a bit stumped as to my dish. Originally, I was going to make a regency "white soup" that is mentioned in many Austen novels and was mentioned in Death as well - it is a weird soup made with almonds, stale bread, beef stock and sometimes eggs. I bought white bread twice for this, and never got to the soup before it went moldy. So when I saw a picture of a cheerful lemon tart on Serious Eats, I decided that would be my dish for Death Comes to Pemberley, since it is the type of tart the Darcy's would have served at their ball or at tea. With this much sunshine on a plate, hopefully the Boston weather will turn towards spring soon too.
I zoomed through Christina Alger's The Darlings. The book felt like the perfect combination of the New York Times coverage of the financial crisis and a "Gossip Girl" like CW drama. The book was inspired by the Madoff scandal and is an imagining of what goes on behind the scenes when a family is brought down by secrets and lies. The Darlings, the stars of the novel, are a long established New York family with a patriarch, Carter, who runs a successful hedge fund - Delphic Carter is married to a beautiful but difficult Brazilian, Ines, and they have two grown daughters. Much of the novel is told from the perspective of Paul, who is both an insider and outsider to the family - he is married to Carter's daughter Merrill - and also works for the family's hedge fund in the always dangerous role of general counsel. Alger creates both a real financial thriller (who did what, who knew what) and a classic melodrama (will Paul's marriage survive the crisis, what will happen to Carter's mistress, an SEC official charged with investigating him). I read this on a plane, it was absolutely perfect for that purpose. These little black and white cookies are a tribute to another main character in the book - New York, and are mentioned as a favorite of Merrill Darling, who is thrown hard by the scandal. These little cookies are different than the black and white cookies in my neck of the woods - the Boston area. Here they are called half moons and are bigger, more cakey and covered in a thick buttercream frosting rather than a thin glaze. I am most definitely partial to the New England version, but these have there charms too.
Here is part two of my The Paris Wife post, much better for you than a Death in the Afternoon cocktail - trout stuffed with ham and onions. While the Paris Wife is set mainly in Paris, as with anything having to do with Hemingway, the real heart of the story involves Spain. It was on a trip to Spain, to watch bullfighting, that Hadley and Hem's marriage really started to go wrong. Hemingway, tempted by what was new and by someone who would fawn over him anew, flirted dangerously with a beautiful British aristocrat. This woman became the inspiration for the character Brett in The Sun Also Rises. Following this trip, Hem came home to write that book, and everyone on the trip with Hem and Hadley ended up as characters in the book - everyone except Hadley. While on this trip, in Pamplona, while Hadley naps in the hotel, Hemingway ventures around the city and comes back raving about an amazing trout dish he had just had - the best fish he has ever eaten - river trout stuffed with ham and onions. This seemed like the perfect dish to make for the book - representing some good parts of the Hadley/Hem relationship - their love for the outdoors, they joy in sharing the things they love with each other. This was a snap to make but certainly packs some special occasion punch.
While there is a little bit of mint in this shamrock shake, this is definitely not some healthy "green" version of the traditional, likely toxic, McDonald's version. No, I updated the shamrock shake of m youth by adding some booze - bright green creme de menthe for the color, and Baileys for some richness. I blended these with that touch of mint, some milk and some vanilla frozen yogurt. Yum. The perfect way to celebrate St. Patrick's day.
For Paula McLain's The Paris Wife, I went back and forth between whether I wanted to make a cocktail or some food - alcohol is a big part of the book and of course a big part of the Hemingway story. But, then again, with a book set in Paris, Spain, and the Alps, how could I ignore the food? Food seems to be a big part of the Hemingway story as well. In classic Hemingway form of indulging in everything life has to offer to the fullest, I am doing two posts for The Paris Wife - this deadly (pun intended) cocktail of absinthe and champagne as well as a trout stuffed with ham and onions. This cocktail represents the bad side of the relationship of Hadley Richardson and Ernest Hemingway that is depicted in The Paris Wife. It is the type of thing they would drink when they were fighting, when they were bored, when they wanted to get obliterated and ignore the obvious problems in their relationship. The trout represents the good side of their relationship - their healthy love of the outdoors, love of each other and the incredible "down to earth"ness of their relationship. First, a recap of the book and the story of this cocktail, then in the next post a trip to Spain for some trout.
It turns out that this beef pie with stout and stilton that I made for my entry on the first two books of the Song of Ice and Fire series (A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings) is not only perfect for the book, but now that we are in March, a perfect St. Patrick's Day kind of dish since it has Guinness and seems like something you would it in a pub in Ireland. There has been a lot of space in the blogosphere devoted to the food of George R. Martin's brilliant fantasy series - A Song of Ice and Fire, and my little addition here is likely much less imaginative or true to the novels than others, but it is damn tasty. Contrary to my usual practice, I saw the TV version of Game of Thrones before I read the book - so for both the first and second book in the series (there are currently five books). This meant I knew the major plot points (and there is a real doozy at the end of the first book), but it really didn't lessen my enjoyment of the books. These are big, hefty complicated books - the kind of books that have maps and an index of the characters in them. They are the kind of books you also can get lost in - and I mean lost in a good way - after reading for a half hour you look up and are not quite sure where or when you are? When a book is over 600 pages, it is also nice when it is divided in digestible chunks, and Martin's chapters are each told from the perspective of a different character - each has their own story to tell and two narrators may be in the same room or may be on different continents - so each chapter is its own little novel. I have just started the third book, just as the third season of the HBO season is going to premiere. I haven't decided yet whether I will plow through and wait on the series or put the book aside and just watch the series first. The problem is I am dying to know what happens next, and the TV will tell me sooner....
I have been in a major yogurt rut lately. I eat yogurt for breakfast practically every weekday - it is healthy, easy and genuinely yummy. But every day, ugh, I am sick of it. While I eat yogurt every day, what I really want to be eating every morning for breakfast is a delicious warm muffin or scone. I am a major carb addict, I am never successful for more than 24 hours trying to eliminate all carbs from my diet. I just can't do it. Well, I probably can do it, but I really don't want to. Of course, as much as I want to, I can't eat a muffin every day, so yogurt it is. That is, until I found this recipe for Coconut-Carrot Morning Glory muffins that has very little fat, no refined sugar and is made with whole wheat flour. I am late to the coconut oil bandwagon, but I believe that is the reason these muffins taste so rich and are also somewhat healthy. While I still shouldn't eat them every day, I did the week that I made them. Sue me.
I read Dana Spiotta's Stone Arabia right after The American Heiress, and it was a tough transition. I can be schizophrenic with my reading preferences - I want something dark and challenging one day and something frothy and light the next. Stone Arabia was a challenge after the easy breezy American Heiress and I must say I almost threw in the towel, even though the book is short - around 250 pages. The book is about a middle aged brother and sister - Denise and Nik. Neither is successful or happy in their lives. They used to be LA rocker kids in the late 70s and early 80s- Nik in a band and Denise a sunset strip teenage groupie. Those were their glory days and they are long gone. There is not much of a story so to speak but more of an introverted look at Denise and Nik and their lives now, in their late forties, and when they were kids. I guess what I think the book is really about is how much it sucks to get older.
Daisy Goodwin's American Heiress is the perfect frothy little read to help you get over the end of the third season of Downton Abbey. Pick it up next Sunday when you feel an emptiness around 9PM without the Crawleys, manor houses, upstairs-downstairs dramas and dinners in tuxedos. The novel is about a beautiful rich American heiress - cheekily named Cora Cash - at the turn of the century, who finds herself marrying above her non-noble American routes and becoming a British Duchess. At first Cora naively falls in love with both her husband, the Duke and the glamorous world he comes from, but soon she realizes, as of course she must, that neither her husband nor the world he comes with are so shiny and wonderful. The novel is filled with delicious melodrama and is great escapist fiction for when you don't want to think too much, but want to be transported to a world seemingly more glamorous and interesting than your own.
Ugh, I know I have pretty much abandoned Bookcooker in 2013, and I apologize. January just ran away from me - work, skiing on the weekends, perhaps a little lack of inspiration. And then, I was out of town, and out of the country for a trial for work. The trial went on longer than expected, in fact, after three weeks it still isn't finished (hopefully we will put it to bed this week!) I thought that when left alone in a strange, cold, snowy Canadian town I would have plenty of time to focus on blogging at night, but alas, the trial was pretty much all consuming mentally. So I hope with this post I will start to put things back on track, and promise in March to be up and running on a more regular basis. What we have here is a warm and toasty hot cocoa made with almond milk. A feature in the January Martha Stewart Living on almond milk inspired me and now I am fairly obsessed with this ingredient, in addition to using it oatmeal and cereal, I also made a yummy, healthier creamed spinach. While almond milk is rich, it doesn't leave you with that heavy, bloated feeling that real dairy sometimes does. This is especially true for this hot cocoa, which was wonderful and rich but did not deliver a knock out punch that left me lethargic on the couch! It is still very snowy and cold in New England, so this drink could be that special treat that gets you through the final dregs of winter. Enjoy.
Eowyn Ivey's wintery The Snow Child is a perfect book for the middle of January. Set in the Alaskan wilderness in the 1920's, the book tells the story of a late middle aged couple, Jack and Mabel, who are childless and have moved to Alaska late in life to try to build a farm and a life away from everything and everyone they know. What drives Jack and Mabel to Alaska is their grief over losing a child in infancy and never having a child after that. The couple is ill equipped for the Alaska wilderness - Jack is in his 50's and has only farmed on fertile, temperate land in Pennsylvania. Mabel is a tightly wound upper middle class woman who knows a lot about books, but not much about how work outside or how to make a home far away from civilization. When we meet Jack and Mabel they distant from each other, just doing what they can to get by, and they are about to head into their first Alaskan winter without enough food or money to get them through. At the first snow, Jack and Mabel make a child out of the snow and shortly thereafter they spot a little blond girl running around the forest outside their home. It is this that changes everything, and sets the story in motion. As with the book, this Maple Walnut Pie is also perfect for the middle of January. It is the type of humble pie that you make when you don't have fancy or freshly picked ingredients around. It was inspired by the walnut pies that Mabel would make to sell in town, in an effort to make some money until the farm was up and running. I added the maple to make it a little more interesting.