These muffins, from the "Baked: New Frontiers in Baking" book are a great example of a minimal effort, maximum reward recipe. You can throw them together in 20 minutes and they take another 20 minutes or so to bake, and yet they are definitely something a little special. What clearly makes them unique and more sophisticated than the average muffin is the addition of the instant espresso powder. Pairing chocolate with coffee is obvious, but coffee and banana made me question this recipe briefly - but the coffee adds a nice depth to muffin, making it not too sweet. This recipe is from the original Baked book from Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, owner of the Brooklyn bakery of the same name. When it came out a few years ago it seemed like the perfect Brooklyn hipster cookbook - baked goods styled with little plastic dears and such. It is the real deal though, the recipes are both recipes you really want to make and recipes that work really well. The most famous recipe from the book is the "baked brownie", which I have made many times and it is my go to brownie recipe. The brownies turn out glossy, rich, with the right balance between fudge-like consistency and depth of chocolate flavor. There are other gems in here that you should give a try in addition to these amazing, easy muffins (maple walnut scones, chocolate pie, brewers blondies, classic sugar coookies) and many more I want to make (green tea cupcakes, malted milk cake, sweet and salty cake, icebox towers., pumpkin whoopie pies..)
I couldn't resist making a second recipe from The Beekman Heirloom cookbook and this one pairs particularly well with the Pumpkin Cheese Bread. Here is a simple, hearty beef chili with the fall addition of fresh pumpkin. Any squash will do. I usually wing it when I make chili, rarely following a recipe and I usually use ground meat. This version uses stew beef and cooks slowly in the oven. It came out really tender and with a nice balance of spices. This has virtually no heat, however, so if you are looking for some heat, I would suggest adding some cayenne or a jalapeno. Rather than Texas Chili, I would call this the perfect New England chili and a great recipe as the days finally get a little cooler. With such great experience with these two recipes, I definitely consider The Beekman cookbook a "keeper" and will try to come back to it on a regular basis.
As you may have noticed, my blogging has gotten pathetically sporadic for the last year or so. I am not sure what has caused the malaise, but there is no doubt I have been uninspired. I have been reading plenty, but just have not been as inspired to make recipes from the books - sometimes it feels forced, and often the things I make for a book are not inspired by the seasons, which is how I usually like to cook. So I have been thinking a lot lately about how to jump start my creative juices so that I am excited and inspired by the blog again. I don't want to give up on the original bookcooker idea of reviewing books and making recipes inspired by those books, but I am going to focus on something else for a little while - the cookbook problem. Well, more specifically, my cookbook problem. As people who know me can attest to, I am a bit of a shopaholic, mostly clothing and shoes (and OK, bags too) but also books and really the worst of it is the cookbooks. I see a new cookbook and just get so excited that this one will have the perfect recipe, the one that will change my life! I don't spend too much time flipping through at the bookstore (or the Amazon page nowadays), I just flip flip a couple of pages and zip zip my credit card. Now that most cookbooks have Kindle additions, the cookbook addiction has become serious, and my love of cookbooks have become a problem. I have SO MANY. And even worse, I NEVER COOK OUT OF THEM. That isn't true for all of them (I always cook out of Barefoot Contessa books and my Martha Stewart Baking Handbook has many batter splattered pages), but for the most part, I buy em, flip through, then up on the shelf (or onto the kindle) they go... and stay. So, reflecting on the overwhelming number of cookbooks I seem to have and never use, I decided to start by counting them. So I have 176 cookbooks. Is this a lot? It sure feels like a lot for someone who is not in the business of cooking for a living. Add to that that I don't really use these cookbooks that much (I get so many recipes from the web), I realized I had a problem. A consumption problem - the thrill of the purchase without any of the follow through needed to really enjoy and learn from all these beautiful cookbooks. So, for the next little while on this blog I am going to attempt to work my way through all of the cookbooks, making at least one recipe from each.
I know I am very late for a September recipe, but this was a complicated one that took me a while to find time to make. I made it for a family holiday dinner, so it also became somewhat hard to photograph well. This is the best shot I had, pretty bad compared to my usuals, but this shot certainly captures the drama of the dessert. It covers the September cover of Southern Living and one part of the cake that did not make it into this photo was the apple cider glaze. I poured this on at the end an it unfortunately was the straw that made the cake start to collapse a little, like the leaning tower of Pisa. While this cake is not simple, it did come together easier than I thought it would and was a really tasty and special way to celebrate fall apples. If you are need of a pit of a project and a bit of a dessert stunner, this one's for you.
Dave Eggers' The Circle was probably my favorite book of the summer. The novel is set some time in the future - but not too far in the future, maybe a couple of years - where an internet company called the Circle is getting up to some pretty scary shenanigans. We learn about what the Circle is up to through Mae Holland, a somewhat directionless 20-something who gets an entry level job at the company through her much more successful friend Annie, who is a rising star at the Circle which is based in Northern California. The company as Eggers portrays it is like a lot of the companies that are part of our every day lives - Google, Facebook, Apple. It has a beautiful and playful campus in Northern California, lots of employee perks (unlimited food! visits by Bono!), a mythical creation story, an eccentric founder who wears hoodies and a ever increasing lack of respect for its customers personal privacy. We go along for the ride as Mae starts out awkwardly at the company, with a critical eye to some of its more cult like practices, and then rises in the ranks and becomes a true believer, enabling the company in fact to take more and more steps in the wrong direction. I found the novel addictive and a totally realistic prediction of how things could turn out for us if we keep going the way we are going. This veggie burrito was inspired by one of the healthy offerings in one of the many Circle cafeterias. I apologize for the lack of folding, but a picture of a rolled burrito is not very interesting is? More about the book and these simple burritos below.
While I enjoyed it, Sisterland is my least favorite of Curtis Sittenfeld's books. Her first book "Prep" was an engrossing memoir-like novel about the adolescent experience and "American Wife" was the witty, bold novelization of Laura Bush's story. With Sisterland, Sittenfeld brings us Daisy and Violent Tucker - adolescent twins of distant parents in a St. Louis suburb. Daisy (who later changes her name to Kate) is the steady boring twin while Vi is irreverent, overweight, and slightly out of control. The novel is told from Kate's perspective as a young adult, married with two young children, with plenty of time revisiting the girls youth and adolescence which fundamentally shaped their adult identities. The problem I had with the novel is that Sittenfeld chose to focus on the more sedate, less interesting sister. This resulted in book with some real lulls, especially in the middle. That said, Sittenfeld certainly brought the drama at the end, bringing some life and oomph to the book in the final pages. This simple veggie a lo mein, while seemingly boring like Kate, is a great weeknight staple with a lot of flavor, and it is a dish Kate eats on the night she decides to let herself lose a little control.
I am little bit late for the July Cover Recipe post, but better late then never! I clearly have a thing for berries an ice cream, because this month I again turned to these fabulous summer ingredients to make chocolate raspberry ice cream sandwiches from the July issue of Food Network Magazine. Not my favorite food magazine - I'll admit it, I am a snob about the Food Network. In spite of this, the ice cream sandwiches are perfect for July and I fancied them a little bit by making my own ganache. The magazine recipe doesn't specifiy ingredients for these and the only homemade piece is the cookies. But that is what is great about these - make these cookies and a million different variations are at your finger tips. Want to make your own ice cream, go for it! Want to make homemade toppings, go for it! Want to combine weird flavors like mint chocolate chip and strawberries - the world is your oyster, do what makes you happy! I went with the cover recipe of the chocolate cookie, fudge sauce, berry ice cream and fresh raspberries. An elegant seasonal choice for July. These cookies are really keepers - they came together easily, taste delicious and froze beautifully. Summer is still here, have fun!
Kate Atkinson's Life After Life was made for this blog. Never before have I been so spoiled for choices for what to make for bookcooker. The novel is set in England, from about 1910 to after WWII and includes countless references to very British sounding dishes - roly poly, rose madder, windsor brown, lump cookies, milk fadge, cabinet pudding, picallili, bakewell tart, iced fancy. The list could go on. In addition, there is a brief detour in Germany - Pfannkuchen, Schokolade, Palatschniken, Schawrtzwalder kirschtorte. How could I possibly decide what to make? I landed on Egyptian pudding, which I think was the first reference in the book to a fabulous English dessert. It was Mrs. Glover, the housekeeper to the Todd family makes after the birth of the book's protagonist - Ursula Todd. The shear volume of interesting British dishes is a result of the novel's unique narrative device - throughout the book Ursula Todd is born, dies and then born again - each time making it a little farther into her life. Atkinson starts over and over again, starting the story from the same place - Ursula's birth, and each time some disaester befalls her. I thought this might bore me (the same stuff over and over again), but it really is a fascinating story every time - a little different every time. The effect of this unique narrative device was truly dazzling, and the Egyptian Pudding rocked too.
I am hoping to start a new feature here on bookcooker, partly as an attempt to get out of my blogging rut! Every month I will make a cover recipe from some food magazine - first up the cover of Martha Stewart Livings June issue - a very simple berry float. It feels a bit like cheating to make this, it is nothing much more than berries, vanilla ice cream and soda thrown together - but it has been impact, both visually and in taste. It is a great easy treat to throw together when you are in the mood for something special and the color scheme obviously works perfect for July 4th or for chearing on Team USA in the World Cup! Yum!
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is an amazing book that is many different things in one package - a coming of age story, an immigrant story, a commentary on race and at its vibrant, beating heart - a love story. As you may be able to tell from my description, I absolutely loved it. It was both thought provoking and emotionally satisfying on multiple levels. The book tells the story of Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman who moves to the United States and then decides to return home to Nigeria. The story starts in Princeton, where Ifemelu is doing a fellowship. When we first meet her she has already decided that she is going to move back to Lagos, leaving her American boyfriend behind. Before she leaves she needs to get her hair braided, and the only place for her to do that is an African hair salon in Newark - as she sits in the salon chair (with an uneasy relationship with the woman braiding her hair) for the long braiding process, Ifemelu thinks back on everything that has led up to this moment. Adichie moves back and forth in time for most of the novel, moving back in time and returning every so often to this salon chair. The hair braiding process and Ifemelu's choice of what to do with her hair (chemically straighten in, chop it all off, braid it) serves throughout as a touch point for her identify both in Nigeria and as an African woman in America. Ifemelu (and Adichie) is a sharp, keen eyed observer of the world around her, particularly as an "outsider" in America. Her experiences and commentary are both funny and painfully on point. I could have read 300 more pages of her story.
Any book that gives you an excuse to make frozen custard, must be good, right? Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures is mostly set in glamorous (and not so glamorous) Hollywood, but at its heart and start it is a story about a girl from Door County, Wisconsin - where frozen custard is a summertime staple. The novel tells the story of the improbable rise to stardom of Elsa Emerson, a young girl from Wisconsin. Elsa has the theater in her blood - her parents run a summer theater in rural Wisconsin. But it is a family tragedy that propels her determination to escape Wisconsin and make it in Hollywood - her drive to succeed is not just for herself, but for her family. Elsa spends her first years in Hollywood as a young wife and mother, never really making it in the Hollywood studio system. She finally makes it when she meets a man who convinces her to shed "Elsa" and transform into Laura, the glamorous Hollywood starlet. The book spans 40+ years of Elsa/Laura's life and career, and the ups and down that come with it.
Until this one, I have never had a mint julep I enjoyed. That doesn't make sense, since I really love bourbon, but I have not had a tasty mint julep. As often happens with cocktails, a bad experience once can sometimes put you off a certain drink or type of liquor forever (or at least for a while). I recall a very bad mint julep my senior year in college, made by a friend from Kentucky (no offense, P!) - a medicine tasting drink that made me shiver a bit after I took a sip. To some extent, that was all it took for me to pretty much swear off juleps for a while. I have partaken a bit in recent years, since bourbon has been so in vogue, juleps turn up on a lot of menus. What I have found is that the crushed ice that is part of the drink is overdone a bit, and so I feel like I am drinking a bourbon snow cone. A purist will not like this blackberry mint julep, but it is far and away the best julep I have ever had. I really like the technique too - pureeing the fruit and mint together then straining to a syrup. This is something I will play with with other fruit and herb combinations - as summer approaches the possibilities are endless. While I am a late for an derby day party you may have thrown, this drink is a keeper for the spring no matter what the occasion.
I recently read Anna Quindlen's "Still Life with Breadcrumbs" as part of a new book club organized by one of my old camp friends. This is not a book that was on my list or that I was even aware of, but I really liked it a lot. It is rare these days that a book (or a movie or tv show...) is about a woman over 50, Still Life with Breadcrumbs is a nice break from the norm. The book is about Rebecca Winter a famous photographer who has fallen on hard times, is struggling to make ends meet, and hasn't taken many photographs lately. In an effort to save some money (and perhaps find some inspiration) she escapes her Manhattan apartment to a modest cottage in upstate New York. It is in this small town (after a few days alone in the cottage with a raccoon, questioning her sanity and her decisions) that she walks into Tea for Two cafe and orders the first of many scones from the proprietor, the chatty Sarah. While she spends a year in the small town, she consumes many of these scones, finds her artistic voice again and finds love. Along the way it is an insightful, funny and moving read.
Now that April has rolled around, it is time for green things, light things, spring things. Never mind that where I am, it is not exactly warm yet... but it is getting there. For Bostonians like me, even if it is 30 degrees out, spring starts when the Red Sox start to play. Today, I am going to my first game of the season, so spring is here! When spring starts I am drawn to pretty green things at the market - peas, asparagus, spring onions, artichokes. I can't get enough green. I saw this dish in Saveur Magazine and it just seemed like spring on a plate. For now I used frozen peas, but pretty soon I will make this again with some fresh ones. This is a great dish to welcome spring and other than a little bit of cream, it is good for you too.
For the first book in Ken Follett's Century trilogy I made the original WWI "doughboy" doughnuts. When it came time to pick a dish for the second book in the series - Winter of the World - I was a bit stumped. The novel picks up a few years after the first book left off and focuses on World War II. Kinda hard to pick an appropriate dish when the novel contains so much suffering told from the perspective of Russians, Germans, English and Americans fighting in the war or victimized by it. The only choice that seemed right to me was doughnuts in coffee - when the American, Woody Dewar, is set to storm Normandy the next day the only thing he can manage to eat is a doughnut and coffee. The only other food in the book that seemed somewhat appropriate were the dried figs that Lloyd Williams, a British intelligence officer, was able to eat as he helped people escape Nazi occupied Western Europe during the height of the war. So I combined the two and made fig speckled buttermilk donuts with coffee glaze. As for the book, it was an engaging follow up by Follett that would especially attract 20th century history buffs. It continues my trend of late to read really hefty books - it weighs in at over 900 pages.
Here is this year's cocktail in honor of St. Patrick's day. It is called the Irish Cure, and it is almost like an Irish version of Long Island Iced Tea because there it is a lot of booze in this drink (whiskey, rum and apple brandy)! The good news is that despite all the booze, the drink is very smooth and drinkable and definitely will cure whatever ails you! This is just what I need this St. Patrick's day weekend, which also happens to be my birthday weekend. I may be celebrating a bit of a milestone bday this year (yes, I am turning 30... I wish ; ) I am vacillating between having a bit of the birthday blues and feeling surprisingly OK/excited about it. This killer cocktail will help me get through it! Happy St. Patrick's Day and Happy Birthday to Me!
For those of you unfamiliar with them, hamentashen are cookies that are made every year to celebrate the Jewish holiday Purim, which is next week. Purim is a holiday that usually falls in March and celebrates the Jews survival against a plot to destroy them in ancient Persia. What I have always loved about Purim is that the hero of the Purim story is Esther - a woman. The villain of the story is a man named Haman, who was an adviser to the king of Persia who planned to kill all the Jews is Persia (as described in the book of Esther in the Old Testament). As I remember the story, Haman wore a pointed hat and the triangle shaped cookie - hamentashen - was named after him. Purim is a fun holiday which is often celebrated by costume parties and pageants with the story of Esther. For many years now I have yearned for the hamentashen I ate as a kid - doughy with rich fillings of apricot, poppy seed and prune. I have not been able to find cookies like that anymore as the number of Jewish bakeries in Boston has dwindled to 1or 2. I never made them as a kid so the past few years I have been meaning to try, then March comes and goes and I don't get it. Finally this year I found the time. These are pretty easy cookies, and the ones I made were delicious, but did not quite replicate the ideal hamentashen of my youth (these are more shortbread consistency rather than doughy). Isn't that always the way, I will just have to try again next year!
For cocktail hour this week I had the choice to go with Mardi Gras theme or Oscars. Since I could not find passionate fruit syrup for hurricanes (I have already covered Sazeracs and Gin Fizz here...), the Oscars it was! You can call this some cute name - red carpet or something like that - for me it is just Spicy Pom Bourbon cocktail. It follows the trend from last week of spicy paired with fruity. But a new element is added - smokiness from bourbon. I love bourbon and know I should drink it neat, but it is a refreshing change to have it in a fruity drink, where tequila or rum would usually live. This is great for the Oscars (I am sorry for posting too late for you to make this for the show, unless you have jalapeno and pomegranate juice around?) but also great for just a regular night.
Every once in a while (and lately, more often) a book labelled for "young adults" breaks through to the "adult" reading world and becomes a must read. Perhaps this started with Harry Potter, continued with Twilight, Hunger Games, Divergent. For the most part the YA books I always here about are series, are fantasy of some way. The Fault in Our Stars is a YA book that has broken through but is different - it is just one time thing, and rather than taking place is some futuristic world or have teenagers changing into werewolves, it is firmly grounded in reality - the sad reality of kids with cancer. While it may seem callous, if you haven't read the book, to make some sort of food associated with a book about kids with cancer, John Green treats the subject with the seriousness it deserves, but also with wit, whimsy, romance and humor. The book is a tearjerker, no doubt, but it is also an eye opener that shows tragedy is not one dimensional.
The internets have told me that this week is National Margarita Week! The perfect inspiration for me to get back to cocktails on bookcooker. This little hot ticket is a chili grapefruit margarita. The perfect drink as the dreary winter drags on. If you are like me and did not plan a tropical vacation to help get you through it (or maybe you live in Southern California or Florida - damn you!), this drink can help dull the pain... for one night at least!
If I could make a dish with vodka, Oxycontin and tragedy that would be
perfect for Donna Tartt's engrossing and heartbreaking The Goldfinch.
Tartt is one of my favorite authors - but she is rare among
contemporary novelists in that she takes about 10 years per book.
Undoubtedly the anticipation adds to the enjoyment of her books, and it
is the anticipation that powers the reader through her hefty tomes.
The Goldfinch is like those before it is long - but it is worth the effort and I different in some ways from Tartt's previous works. What I loved about
The Secret History and The Little Friend was the hidden mystery and
subtle but constant sinister atmosphere underlying the story. With The Goldfinch Tartt adds something else to the mix - a character that the reader really emotionally connects to - Theo Decker. Many reviewers have dubbed The Goldfinch "Dickensian" and there certainly is that spirit in this book - it spans many years, has a wide array of eccentric and interesting characters and most importantly tells the coming of age story of an orphan. Theo is a young pre-teen who lives in New York with his beautiful and engaging single mother. On their way to a parent teacher conference at Theo's school the mother-son pair stop at the Metropolitan Museum to peruse a collection of Dutch artwork Theo's mother was interested in. A huge bomb explodes during their visit - Theo's mother is killed but Theo miraculously survives. But with his mother's death (and the unreliability and absence of his father) he becomes like an orphan if not literally one. The book traces Theo's coming of age and entrance into adulthood - documenting how the trauma of the bombing and the loss of his mother scars his every moment thereafter. This welsh rarebit pictured above represents one of the rare good and comforting things in Theo's life - his friendship and eventual home with a quiet quirky antique dealer known as Hobie. More about the book and the dish after the jump.
I am a big Michael Chabon fan. The Adventures of Cavalier and Clay is one of my top 10 favorite books. I was excited about when Telegraph Avenue came out - Chabon always creates characters that are quirky and unique but who I emotionally connect to (even though they are almost always male). Alas, Telegraph Avenue didn't do it for me in the way Chabon's previous work has. It took me over a month to get through it, which is a departure for someone who usually reads books in a week or two. In the end I made it through and am glad that I did, but I am not sure I would recommend the book to others. Telegraph Avenue is a street in Oakland that is traditionally African
American but runs from Oakland into Berkley so serves as a symbol in the
book of the particular Northern Californian mix - hippie, African
American, affluent liberal whites. The novel is about race, gentrification, growing up, love, marriage, family, fatherhood, sexual identity and friendship. To me the book felt overstuffed - with ideas, with themes, with obscure movie and music references, and with long descriptive sentences. It was hard for me to connect with the characters because of all of this other stuff. While I didn't love the book, it did present good food inspiration. As soon as I read the words "yeasted biscuits" I was intrigued. I have made regular buttermilk biscuits often and lamented that they did not rise as high as the ones I would get in hipster Southern restaurants. I hoped yeast would get that sky high look I had yearned for. In the book, one of the main characters, Nat, makes these biscuits, along with greens and fried chicken, in an attempt to win over some people in his neighborhood to support the used record store he owns with his best friend Archie in an epic battle with a hip hop superstore looking to move into the neighborhood. I decided to focus on the greens and biscuits - together a great warming winter supper.