The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

One of the books I’d want to have with me if stranded on a desert island, this noir-style novel has everything you could want in an adventure story. The Shadow of the Wind is set in post-WWII Barcelona, and has tongue-in-cheek melodrama, mystery, forbidden love, a spooky mansion, hints of the supernatural, a strange, scarred stalker in black who haunts the steps of the main character and narrator Daniel, and best of all, a huge Cemetery of Forgotten Books.

2017-07-03 04.04.07_resized

As much a love story about books as it is anything else – with lines such as “Few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart,” this book will sing to anyone who adores reading and escapes into literary worlds on a regular basis.

cemetery-of-forgotten-books

The book’s premise is simple, but it blossoms like a gorgeous black flower into an epic tale. Daniel, who grows up as the book progresses, has lost his mother during the Spanish Civil War. His father, attempting to comfort him one morning, takes him to an old castle, inside which is a huge, twisting, high-ceilinged labyrinth of a library, along the vast, amazing lines of Jorge Luis Borges and Umberto Eco.

2017-07-03 04.18.30_resized

Here, the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, watched over by the gargoyle-ish Isaac,  holds books that have been loved, lost, sometimes damaged, occasionally destroyed, but always housed to maintain their spirit. Daniel finds a book called The Shadow of the Wind by the elusive Julián Caráx, and falls in love with it. He begins to search for more books by the author, and instead, finds himself at the heart of a mystery that started 20 years before.

2017-07-03 04.12.05_resized

Daniel is joined in unraveling the mystery of Julián by his unexpected friendship with Fermín Romero de Torres, a formerly homeless jester of a man who becomes Daniel’s best friend and co-conspirator, all while chatting up every woman in Barcelona and eating everything he can get his skinny hands on, along the way. He is hilarious, and the comic relief in what can be a very somber and dark, though enchantingly beautiful, tale.

2017-07-03 04.07.56_resized

Fermín breathed deeply, with relief, and I knew I wasn’t the only one to be rejoicing at having left that place behind…………”Listen, Daniel. What would you say to some ham croquettes and a couple of glasses of sparkling wine here in the Xampañet, just to take away the bad taste left in our mouths?”

2017-07-03 04.05.53_resized

I remember having croquetas de jamón – ham croquettes – when I lived in Spain. They were always delicious with a glass of wine after class, and were among my favorite of all the tapas that I got to eat while there. Of course, anything eaten in a bar with a glass of wine at hand is always good, particularly when you’re actually ditching class to enjoy said treats. I digress, but goodness, those ham croquettes, sometimes made with Manchego cheese, sometimes with caperberries on the side, were just so delicious! I’m salivating in memory as I type.

2017-07-02 20.22.29_resized

This is the method that worked for me, based on what I remember of how croquetas were made when in Spain, and a few tricks from the great Martha Stewart herself (no ankle monitor jokes, please). I paired this with a roasted asparagus and red pepper salad, which made a delicious Sunday afternoon lunch. The croquettes are delicious, made with Manchego cheese and Serrano ham – quintessentially Spanish foods – and the entire meal brought back memories of the sunshine on a Barcelona afternoon.

2017-07-03 04.16.47_resized.jpg

INGREDIENTS
3 medium potatoes, peeled
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter
2 egg yolks, room temperature
1/2 cup grated Manchego cheese
3/4 cup finely diced Serrano ham
2 whole eggs
2 tablespoons milk
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/2 cup flour
Minced fresh parsley and oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil for frying

METHOD
Cook the potatoes in boiling, salted water for up to 30 minutes. Drain and cool.

2017-07-03 04.53.39_resized

Push through a ricer, then mash together with the cream, butter, egg yolks, and Manchego cheese. Season with salt and pepper, and let chill for up to two hours.

2017-07-03 04.57.07_resized

Heat the olive oil in a cast iron skillet until smoking. Take the potato mixture from the fridge, and shape it into little croquettes, placing pieces of ham inside and folded over to enclose the ham.

2017-07-03 04.13.12_resized

Repeat until you have several croquetas.

2017-07-03 04.09.23_resized

Whisk together the two remaining eggs with the milk and some salt. Mix together in another bowl the flour, breadcrumbs, parsley and oregano.

2017-07-03 04.13.59_resized.jpg

Dip the croquetas first into the milk, then roll in the breadcrumbs.

2017-07-03 04.11.18_resized

Fry for about 3 minutes per side, until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.

2017-07-02 20.25.36_resized

Delicious! Beautiful! And quintessential comida Española!

2017-07-03 04.03.11_resized

The Oracle Glass by Judith Merkle Riley

Having just finished binge-watching Versailles on Netflix, I can say, hand over heart, that I would have made a DAMN fine royal mistress to Louis XIV. I could totally pull off silk gowns, elaborate jewels, illicit love affairs, intrigue……….sounds like my dream life! If anyone knows a king out there who’d appreciate my cooking, do send him my way.

DSC_0011.JPG

Watching the exploits of the young French king and his mistress The Marquise de Montespan made me remember this fine gem of a novel, The Oracle Glass, set during the years of the King and La Montespan’s notorious affair. The book is so finely drawn that you almost feel yourself in the King’s morning levee, watching his most intimate bodily functions as though they were performed by God himself. Which, I suppose, was the idea.

DSC_0027.JPG

The book’s heroine, young Genevieve Pasquier, is booted from her once-grand family home into the streets of Paris where she is found and apprenticed by Catherine Montvoisin, known for helping other “down and out” women.” However, La Voisin, as she was called, is not just any altruistic soul. She’s a witch, a practitioner of Dark Arts, an abortionist, and a poisoner of the highest order. Genevieve is taken in because she has a psychic ability to read the oracle glass, a large crystal bowl filled with water, in which she can see the future, and La Voisin takes advantage of this talent for her own nefarious purposes. La Voisin gets Genevieve accepted in court circles by having her pretend to be a 200-year old widow whose life is preserved through a pact with the Devil, and so she becomes involved with court politics when she is asked to become the Marquise de Montespan’s glass reader.

DSC_0053.JPG

The actual “Affaire des Poisons” – go ahead, Google it – is a major piece of French history during the reign of the Sun King, and the Marquise de Montespan figures very prominently, as well as numerous other members of French royalty and nobility. But it’s the entertaining fictional character of Genevieve who was my favorite. I could relate to her because she and I have much in common – we are voracious readers, analytical overthinkers, armchair philosophers; and we love the finer things in life such as beautiful surroundings, elegant clothes, and handsome men who are highly intelligent. In one area, though, we differ. Genevieve’s sweet tooth nearly gets her poisoned when she crosses La Voisin, who slips her some tainted marzipan.

DSC_0036 (2)

Marzipan – almond paste – is Genevieve’s weakness, but not having much of a sweet tooth myself, I still thought it would be a fun challenge to make marzipan from scratch and then use it to make a decadent marzipan cake frosted with chocolate ganache and cherries. So I did, having my own bit of kitchen witchcraft today. NOTE: the marzipan should be made a day in advance so it can chill overnight.

2017-06-25 18.53.08_resized.jpg

INGREDIENTS
For the marzipan:
1 and 1/2 cups finely ground almond flour
1 cup powdered sugar
2 teaspoons almond extract
1 teaspoon rosewater
1 egg white, room temperature

2017-06-25 18.56.26_resized.jpg

For the cake:
1 and 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened and at room temperature
Butter spray and a dusting of flour
1 cup marzipan, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
4 eggs, room temperature
1 egg yolk, room temperature
1 tablespoon almond extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

For the ganache icing and cake topping:
3/4 cup dark chocolate pieces, 70% cocoa solids
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon almond extract
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup pitted cherries or half a can of cherry pie filling

METHOD:
Add flour and powdered sugar into a food processor and pulse until combined.

2017-06-25 18.53.44_resized.jpg

Add the almond extract and rose water and pulse again, then add the egg white and process until you have a thick doughlike paste.

2017-06-25 18.55.14_resized.jpg

Turn out the almond dough onto some plastic wrap, seal it and form it into a cylinder. Refrigerate overnight. When ready to use, leave out of the fridge an hour so it’s at room temperature. Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Spray a 9-inch round cake pan with butter spray and lightly flour it.

DSC_0135.JPG

Mix the almond paste and sugar on low in your most awesome Kitchen Aid, using the paddle attachment.

DSC_0016.JPG

Add the butter, then incorporate the eggs and yolk, one at a time.

DSC_0036

Add the almond extract.

DSC_0187.JPG

Whisk together the flour and the baking powder in a small bowl, and gradually add to the wet ingredients. Pour the mixture into the buttered, floured cake pan.

DSC_0112.JPG

Bake for 30-35 minutes, checking occasionally. Let it cool completely before icing it.

DSC_0161.JPG

Place the cream in a small saucepan over very low heat, until small bubbles just form around the edge. Add the chocolate pieces and the almond extract, whisk in, turn off the heat, and leave covered for up to 15 minutes. Then, whisk together until the ganache thickens and forms a gorgeous chocolate frosting.

2017-04-16 09.46.15_resized

 

Frost the top of the cake, sprinkle the edges with slivered almonds, and decorate the center with the cherries. Vive la France! Louis XIV would add me to his list of mistresses once having eaten this tasty dessert, I do believe.

DSC_0002

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

Thanks to ET for the photography.

Anymore, reading about the experiences of immigrants who come to this country seems to be the norm. It makes sense, after all. We are a country built almost entirely upon waves of immigrants from around the globe. My own family were immigrants from Spain and the Netherlands via Mexico over 500 years ago, and we are proud of both our heritage and our American history. It baffles me that, in this day and age, the amount of disdain and even hatred for people who come to this country to find a better life. Didn’t all of our ancestors do just that?

2017-06-19 09.32.58_resized

Anyway, The Namesake describes the experience of Ashoke and Asima Ganguli and their “assimilation” into life as American citizens. Within their Indian culture, the concept of names is extremely important. The name is what gives the person his or her identity – symbolism and semiotics brought to life. Their firstborn, Gogol, is named for Russian philosopher who saved his father’s life, is the wreaker of havoc. His real name, Nikhil, is meant to represent the respectable, outward man and his pet name of Gogol within his family is his softer, shadow side. It is this duality of nature epitomized in his two names that affects the entire life of Gogol, and in a way, is the personification of the dual nature of immigrants, and of humanity itself.

2017-06-19 09.20.44_resized

That desire to hold onto the culture, beliefs, food and history that created you and your country of origin doing battle with the desire to fit in, assimilate, become American so that you’re not teased, or even worse, tormented and tortured……..it’s the human struggle. We want to hold on to what makes us unique, different, ourselves in our deepest soul; yet we also want to be accepted and thought of as part of a large community and sadly, when we don’t conform and fit into what is expected, we can be treated horribly.

2017-06-19 09.18.05_resized

Cardamom is, for me, the quintessential Indian spice, in addition to cilantro. It’s light and floral, but doesn’t add a strong note to food. It just gives a hint of perfume and spice on the tongue and in the nose. It’s a wonderful spice, coming in pods and you can either toss the pods into sauces or soups, or crush the pods with the flat of a knife blade and this releases their scent and flavor even more.

2017-06-19 09.18.40_resized

There were actually two food references in this book that inspired today’s recipe: the first being when Gogol and Maxine are having dinner together on the first night that they will make love, and she is preparing coq au vin; and the second is the heartwrenching aftermath of his father’s death in which he and his mother prepare the funeral feast of fish, meats, potatoes spiced with coriander which were his father’s favorite, and other things.

2017-06-19 09.16.58_resized

They prepare an elaborate meal, fish and meat bought one bitterly cold morning at Chinatown and Haymarket, cooked as his father liked them best, with extra potatoes and fresh coriander leaves. When they shut their eyes, it’s as if it is just another party, the house smelling of food.

2017-06-19 09.21.22_resized

For me, chicken is one of those universal dishes that every country and nationality has a variation on, and being that I so closely associate cardamom with chicken, I found this recipe for buttermilk-cardamom marinated chicken at the Cooking on Weekends website, and my fellow food blogger The Dutch Baker posted a heavenly-sounding recipe for potatoes roasted with garlic and coriander. So these were the dishes I made today and the methods that worked for me, my own homage to Indian cuisine and in honor of this beautiful, heartbreaking and honest book.

2017-06-19 09.35.58_resized

INGREDIENTS
For the chicken:
2 and 1/2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
10 cardamom pods
7 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon maple syrup
10 chicken thighs, boneless and skinless
1 tablespoon sea salt
Fresh ground black pepper

For the potatoes:
1 lb baby potatoes
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
Large bunch of fresh cilantro
Sea salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1-2 lemons

METHOD:
Put the chicken thighs into a large plastic freezer bag, and add in the buttermilk, oil, cinnamon, crushed cardamom pods, garlic and maple syrup. Squish everything around to ensure the marinade covers every piece of chicken. Refrigerate overnight if possible, and if not, at least 7 hours.

2017-06-19 09.16.58_resized

When ready to bake, take the meat out of the fridge at least 3 hours, so the meat is room temperature. Preheat the oven to 400F. Take the chicken out of the bag and place on a foil-lined baking tray. Don’t shake off the excess marinade. Bake for 40 minutes, until the chicken is a nice bronze-gold.

2017-06-19 09.31.47_resized

Allow to cool and sprinkle with salt and pepper while you prepare the potatoes. Heat the olive oil in a cast-iron skillet, then slice the potatoes and add them to the pan.

2017-06-19 09.23.11_resized

Sprinkle over the salt, pepper and fenugreek seeds. Cook on medium low, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes dry out and the skins are golden-brown. This will take approximately 30 minutes, so keep your glass of wine handy.

2017-06-19 09.23.39_resized

After about 15 minutes, add the slivered garlic, the chopped cilantro, and the sliced red onion to the frying potatoes. The smell is out of this world! Cook another 20 minutes, stirring to keep the potatoes from burning on the bottom. Taste for seasoning, then squeeze over the juice of one lemon. Add more salt and pepper if necessary.

2017-06-19 09.33.43_resized.jpg

Serve the chicken together with the potatoes. The flavors are incredibly intense and so delicious!

2017-06-19 09.35.25_resized

Food in Books Nominated for The Entertainer Blogger Award!

Very pleasantly surprised to learn Food In Books has been nominated by our sister blogger Mischenko at the most awesome site ReadRantRock&Roll, a page I highly recommend you visit. Thank you! I’m honored to have been nominated for this award.

The rules for this award are listed below:

The Rules:

  • Thank the person who nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
  • Add these rules to your post.
  • Answer all the questions below.
  • Display the award picture in your post.
  • Nominate 12 other bloggers who are funny, inspiring and most important of all ENTERTAINING!

Why did you start a blog in the first place?

I had a vision one day about recreating a meal from a book and it went from there. I’ve been an avid reader since I was a kid, and learned to cook (and love it) in my early 30s, so it was a natural progression for me. It’s also nice to connect with people who are fellow bookworms or foodies like me, because oftentimes they haven’t made that connection and so when they see how I’ve made the connection – recreating a literary meal or creating a meal inspired by a certain book – they seem to really enjoy it. And I get lots of book recommendations and food ideas from readers and other bloggers, too.

What is your favorite book?

Of all time, The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. From this past year, The Mirror Thief. Both are wonderful literary puzzles and mysteries to get lost within.

What do you dislike the most?

People who hurt children and animals. Really loathe people who do that.

What is your favorite food at the mall?

I haven’t entered a mall in years – hello, Amazon Prime 2-day shipping! – but when I was there last time, we had Dippin’ Dots. Those were pretty good.

What is your favorite pastime?

Besides the obvious ones of cooking and reading, I love taking photographs, writing, traveling, dancing the tango (though not well) and entertaining.

My nominees are:

Thank you for all the support over the past year and a half! Looking forward to much more food in books!     ~Vanessa

 

The Secret Supper by Javier Sierra

Thanks to Dr. H for the photography!

The Last Supper by the immortal Leonardo da Vinci always fascinated me, even as a child. Just looking at it takes you into that world, sitting beside Jesus, watching the disciples react to the news he would soon die, and noticing the amazing details of the work itself.

Last-Supper-58f101f35f9b582c4db191e1

Reading The Secret Supper took me back to my days of persistently asking questions about the nature of religion and God, because this book raises almost as many questions as it answers. Being raised Catholic, of course I’d heard the story of Jesus asking his disciples to take this bread and eat it, and take this wine and drink it, and the mystery of transmogrification, so seeing this painting as a child made me start to question what I had been taught. Of course, when you’re young and asking questions about religion, it tends to not go over well. In this book, when the main character, Father Agostino Leyre, begins asking questions about the nature of faith, God, and Leonardo’s masterpiece, it’s no different for him.

2017-06-11 09.36.55_resized_1

One of the reasons I enjoyed this book so much is its similarity to The Name of the Rose, my all-time favorite book in the world. The monks, the literary mystery, one man trying to answer questions………although this one is less weighty on philosophy. Still a marvelous read, if you’re into the Italian Renaissance and symbolism in paintings and Da Vinci himself. Or if you’re into references about Italian cuisine, you’ll enjoy this book, too.

2017-06-12 04.00.42_resized

My stomach was making noises under my habit. With solicitude, the librarian led me to the kitchen and managed to rustle up a few scraps from suppertime………”It’s panzanella, Father,” he explained, helping me to a still-warm bowl that heated my freezing hands. “Panzanella?” “Eat. It’s a bread soup, made with cucumber and onion. It will please you.”

2017-06-12 04.05.03_resized

Panzanella is essentially a bread salad, rustic peasant food that used stale bread. Most likely, the very poor had only bread and onions as their panzanella base. It’s become traditional to include mozzarella, tomatoes and occasionally cucumbers, and an herb-based dressing with olive oil and vinegar, and being that I like to roast vegetables, I had the idea of roasting asparagus and garlic alongside the bread croutons, replacing the more usual cucumber which can get soggy. And being that it’s summertime and way too hot for soup, I opted for a traditional panzanella salad.

2017-06-12 03.54.11_resized

This is the method that worked for me, based on the New York Times version by the great Melissa Clark, with requisite changes by yours truly. As always.

2017-06-12 03.57.08_resized

INGREDIENTS
1 lb. asparagus, rinsed and trimmed
1 large head of garlic
1 stale baguette, cubed
3 tablespoons regular olive oil
3 tablespoons grated Parmeggiano Reggiano cheese
2 large, ripe tomatoes at room temperature
6 oz. fresh mozzarella, cubed
1 large red onion
3 garlic cloves, peeled
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons Meyer lemon olive oil
1 bunch of fresh basil
1 bunch of fresh oregano
3 tablespoons capers
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper

METHOD
Heat the oven to 400F. Spread out the asparagus on a parchment-sheet lined baking tray. Sprinkle with olive oil, salt, pepper, and Parmeggiano-Reggiano cheese.

2017-06-12 03.58.18_resized

Slice the top off the head of garlic, drizzle with more olive oil and some salt and pepper, and put into a well-soaked terracotta garlic roaster.

2017-06-12 03.59.46_resized

Lay the cubed bread pieces on another baking sheet, and toss with olive oil, salt, pepper and Parmeggiano-Reggiano cheese.

2017-06-12 04.04.02_resized

Place all three items in the hot oven and bake for up to 20 minutes apiece, checking frequently. The bread will cook fastest so don’t let it burn and remove when it is golden-brown. The asparagus will take a few more minutes, and the garlic will take longest, so plan to cook it for up to 45 minutes.

2017-06-12 04.03.12_resized

Cut up the tomatoes, and place them in a bowl with the mozzarella.

2017-01-08-18-52-58_resized

Finely mince the onion, add a tablespoonful of garlic paste, and add to the tomatoes and mozzarella. Stir to mix everything.

2017-06-12 09.14.24_resized

Finely dice the basil and oregano.

2017-06-12 04.01.43_resized

Combine the vinegar, Dijon mustard, lemon juice, and the cut-up herbs in a large measuring cup, then slowly add in 3 tablespoons of Meyer lemon olive oil, whisking together to form a vinaigrette. Taste for seasoning.

2017-06-12 04.09.36_resized

Add the cooled bread cubes to the tomatoes and cheese, then cut up the asparagus into smaller pieces and mix with the tomatoes and bread.

2017-06-12 04.10.28_resized

Squeeze the roasted garlic cloves out of the garlic head, and add to the tomato mixture. Toss in the capers and stir together.

2017-06-12 03.55.40_resized

Pour over the vinaigrette, and stir to mix well. Allow to sit for about 30 minutes, to let the bread soak up the delicious juices, which is the whole point of this dish.

2017-06-12 04.08.09_resized

Enjoy with some grilled chicken or on its own as a light summer lunch. Delicious on a hot afternoon with some cool rosé wine.

2017-06-12 04.05.55_resized

 

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith

Special thanks to RP for the photography and kitchen assistance.

Having minored in art history in college, I always fall in love with books that tell stories about painters and their inspiration for famous works. I previously blogged about Girl with a Pearl Earring, which tells the story of Vermeer’s masterpiece. In The Last Painting of Sara de Vos, the painter herself is the enigma. Is the titular painting autobiographical? What is it supposed to mean? Most importantly, and a key element of this book, which of the two titular works is real? And if both of them exist and tell the same story and share the same heart, does it matter?

2017-06-04 19.57.32_resized

Told in three different timelines, it is the story of the painter Sara de Vos, and her “most famous” painting in 17th century Amsterdam during the famous tulip mania that gripped that country in the 1600s; Ellie the young forger who recreates it for reasons of her own in 1950s New York City; and Marty, the owner of the painting in modern-day New York City with his own complicated past.

2017-06-04 19.52.50_resized

Grief is the persistent thread running throughout this book. Sara de Vos mourns the loss of her young daughter and the abandonment by her husband; Ellie mourning lost opportunities and her own complicity in forgery; Marty mourning a lost wife, a life that never was, and punishment of the young Ellie’s transgression into his life and art. Sara’s grief is particularly poignant, though she is later hired in the household of Cornelis Groen and slowly begins to reclaim her life, her heart, and most importantly, her art, with the quiet courtship of Tomas, Cornelis’ manservant.

2017-06-04 19.54.43_resized.jpg

They head out of the grounds toward the back country in an open wagon, Tomas on the box seat and Cornelis and Sara in the rear………..also bundled along in the wicker baskets Mrs. Streek has prepared. Bread rolls, Leiden cheese studded with cumin seeds, strawberries with sour cream, marzipan, and wine spiced with cinnamon and cloves.

2017-06-04 19.50.48_resized

Strawberries and cheese have to be two of my most favorite foods in all the world. I’d never tried Leyden cheese but it sounded unusual, so found some on Amazon.com. Hurray Amazon Prime 2-day shipping! The idea of making a Dutch-style grilled cheese sandwich occurred to me, and pairing the cumin-seeded Leyden cheese with caramelized onions and tomato was a creative twist. And of course, strawberries in sour cream, with a touch of brown sugar, has to be one of the most heavenly things to eat on earth.

2017-06-04 19.52.07_resized.jpg

These are the methods that worked for me, based on childhood memories of strawberries and cream and sugar, and a lifelong love of grilled cheese.

2017-06-04 20.26.58_resized.jpg

INGREDIENTS
1 dozen ripe strawberries
1 small container of sour cream
Zest and juice of one clementine
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 tablespoon almond extract
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon of butter
1 large bread roll, cut in half
6-7 thick slices of Leyden cheese
1 spoonful of caramelized onions (see my method for caramelized onions here)
1 tomato, thinly sliced

METHOD
Wash and let dry the strawberries, leaving their stems intact.

2017-06-04 19.49.37_resized

In a small bowl, mix the sour cream, the zest and juice of the clementine, the vanilla, and the almond extract. Taste for additional flavoring. In another small bowl, put the brown sugar and the cinnamon.

2017-06-04 19.53.49_resized

Dip the strawberries first in the sour cream mixture, then roll in the brown sugar and cinnamon.

2017-06-04 19.56.15_resized.jpg

Slice the cumin-studded Leyden cheese into thick slices. It was nice to have a strong pair of hands do this for me, as this cheese is quite thick and firm.

2017-06-04 19.47.31_resized

Add more butter to the skillet and melt it. Lay two bread halves in the hot, melted butter and layer the cheese slices generously on each piece of bread, to begin melting.

2017-06-04 19.55.28_resized.jpg

Lay the tomato slices and onion mixture generously on the other bread halves.

2017-06-04 20.25.38_resized.jpg

Lay the onion-tomato laden bread on top of the cheese-covered bread in the skillet. Cook over medium-low heat for about 10-12 minutes, flipping the sandwich occasionally so both sides cook evenly and don’t burn.

2017-06-04 20.25.01_resized.jpg

Serve on a platter with the strawberries, and admire your Dutch still life food work of art before devouring.

2017-06-04 20.26.28_resized.jpg

 

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Photography by me.

It’s a simple premise. Imagine that all the gods of ancient mythology and all the characters of folklore – we’re talking Anubis, Odin, Kali, Johnny Appleseed, John Bunyan, the Easter Bunny……well, maybe not quite a rabbit  -from every background and corner of the globe, actually existed and are still alive today, waging war with the new modern gods of the Information Age. Media, Celebrity, Technology, Drugs, etc. These gods, both ancient and modern, exist because people believe in them, worship them, pay homage to them. This, folks, is American Gods.

2017-05-22 08.48.27_resized

We do worship our gods, if you think about it. Everyone believes in something. Whether it’s Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, technology, fame, cooking, gambling, youth, beauty, sex, drugs, music, David Bowie, Harry Potter, the Dallas Cowboys, the music of Soundgarden……….we all worship at the altar of something. We may not realize we do it.

2017-05-22 12.04.22_resized

But we all have our religions and gods that we worship, don’t we?

2017-05-22 11.58.56_resized

Shadow Moon is the erstwhile main character, a somewhat hardened man who just got out of prison and who is hired by the mysterious Mr. Wednesday. Shadow’s wife, Laura, has just died……….and yet, the beauty of this book is that things are never quite what they seem. People don’t stay dead. Sleight of hand, both literal and figurative, keeps everything off kilter. Gods and goddesses once worshipped now work as bartenders, morticians, and prostitutes. And yet, the themes of life, death and rebirth are as strong in the modern age as they ever were.

2017-05-22 08.50.34_resized

When Shadow is on his way home to Laura’s funeral and is waylaid by Mr. Wednesday’s questionable charms, he stops to have a bite at a roadside diner. In his terrible grief, he  remembers Laura’s unique method for making chili. Having never made true Tex-Mex chili – spelled with an “i” at the end as opposed to the New Mexico “chile” with an “e,” I was pretty psyched, actually, to give this one a try.

2017-05-22 12.05.50_resized

Laura made a great chili. She used lean meat, dark kidney beans, carrots cut small, a bottle or so of dark beer, and freshly sliced hot peppers. She would let the chili cook awhile, then add red wine, lemon juice and a pinch of fresh dill, and finally, measure out and add her chili powders. On more than one occasion, Shadow had tried to get her to show him how she made it: he would watch everything she did…………….

2017-05-22 11.58.30_resized

There’s nothing as quintessentially American as chili concarne, except maybe apple pie, so the tie-in with these American gods seemed particularly appropriate. This is the method that worked for me, based on the self-titled “Best Damn Chili Recipe” on the Allrecipes.com website. With a name like that, I had to taste it for myself, ’cause that’s quite a claim. Requisite flavor edits by yours truly, of course.

2017-05-22 18.18.18_resized

INGREDIENTS
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large Vidalia onion
5 cloves garlic
2 jalapeño peppers
1 Anaheim pepper
1 lb. organic ground beef
1 lb. organic ground bison
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
2 large tablespoons Worchestershire sauce
1 bottle dark Mexican beer, like Negra Modelo.
1 28-oz. can of San Marzano tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons red chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon cayenne
2 16-oz. can of red kidney beans, drained
1 16-oz. can of pinto beans, in its juice
1 tablespoon sea salt

METHOD
Finely chop onion and garlic in a food chopper. Put in a large metal pan with the olive oil and a good scattering of sea salt. Cook until soft, about 10 minutes on medium.

2017-05-22 12.05.14_resized_1

Chop the jalapeños and Anaheim pepper and add to the onions for another 5 minutes. Remove to a separate bowl.

2017-05-22 12.00.58_resized

Add the two meats to the hot pot. Break down the meat with a wooden spoon, add the Worchestershire sauce, the beer and the smoked paprika. Cook for 5-7 minutes.

2017-05-22 12.02.04_resized

Put the vegetables back in the pot, and stir to mix with the meat.

2017-05-22 12.00.27_resized

Pour in the San Marzano tomatoes, and add in the tomato paste. Stir to mix, then toss in the red wine and the apple cider vinegar.

2017-05-22 11.59.58_resized

Here is where you add in the chili powder, cumin, oregano, brown sugar, and cayenne. Go cautiously with the cayenne if you’re cooking for wimpy types; and if you’re cooking for someone you dislike, don’t worry about it.

2017-05-22 11.56.55_resized

Cover, cook on low for two hours, and after the first hour, add in the beans and leave to cook another hour. Stir occasionally if you’re bored.

2017-05-22 11.56.28_resized

Ideally, chili should sit overnight so that the flavors commingle and make a delicious dish. However, if you need to serve it immediately, let it simmer while you make the cilantro-sour cream garnish, which is terribly difficult and time consuming. Take a bunch of cilantro, stems cut off, mix together in a blender with a container of sour cream, and a tablespoon of salt, and serve with the cheddar-topped chili and some Fritos, wiping the imaginary – and Godlike, I daresay –  sweat off your brow as you do so.

2017-05-22 18.17.23_resized

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

Thanks to Dr. H for the photography.

Oh, that damn Monday fish. Anthony Bourdain, to whom I refer affectionately as “my future ex-husband,” is never going to live that down. I didn’t eat a Monday fish special at a restaurant for  five years after reading Kitchen Confidential. Of course, in his updated version of that classic foodie memoir, he recants in his inimitable style by saying “eat the fucking fish on Monday, already!”

2017-05-15 21.18.01_resized.jpg

Bourdain is as snarky and smart-assy as they come. God, I love him. His attitude of irreverence, particularly within an industry that traditionally holds male chefs on very high pedestals, is refreshing. Though he is somewhat of a hypocrite in how he has previously mocked celebrity chefs like Emeril Lagasse and Rachael Ray whilst simultaneously pursuing his own brand of foul-mouthed celebrity, I can’t help but like the guy. He’s funnier than hell, can cook like an angel, curse like a devil, drink like a sailor, and is one of those men that just get more handsome and sexy with age. He’s welcome to eat crackers in bed with me anytime.

2017-05-15 21.11.12_resized.jpg

What sets him apart is that he doesn’t take himself seriously, either in his writing or his cooking. He’s a good chef and he knows it, but he regularly mocks himself, and I like that in a person. We none of us should take ourselves so seriously in life, because we are all going to screw up eventually. I also like that he doesn’t have any arrogance toward his staff and he gives credit where credit is due – to the hardworking cooks, sous-chefs, servers, bakers, prep cooks, dishwashers and all the unseen migrant men and women behind the scenes who make the food.

2017-05-15 21.11.58_resized.jpg

Without these workers, restaurants would shut down. They are the true backbone of the service industry, and I say this having worked for several years in the restaurant business myself; as a table busser, a hostess, a waitress, and a cashier at a well-known Mexican restaurant; and as a cocktail waitress at a couple of dive bars while in college.

2017-05-15 21.13.51_resized.jpg

It was fun, but physically demanding and mentally exhausting. I got yelled at by customers and dropped numerous glasses of water working in the restaurant business; I got my butt pinched so often as a cocktail waitress that I think it’s permanently bruised; and for years after I left the Mexican restaurant I could not look at a bowl of salsa and basket of tortilla chips without gagging. I respect the hell out of people in the service industry, and Bourdain respects them, too.

2017-05-15 21.25.50_resized(1).jpg

Well, my dear future ex-husband, I am going off the rails a little bit and making this dish in your honor ON A MONDAY! I’m taking you on, baby, and making that yellowfin tuna in a braised fennel, confit tomato, and saffron sauce. Except, with my usual recipe edits. This is the method that worked for me, based on this New York Times tasty recipe.

2017-05-15 21.59.14_resized.jpg

INGREDIENTS
For the tomato confit:
1 pint cherry tomatoes
8 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
3 tablespoons fresh thyme and parsley
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper

38341_306

For the tuna:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot, cut in thin slices
3 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
3 small tuna steaks, 5 oz. each
Zest and juice of half a lemon
1/2 cup of seafood stock
1/ 2 teaspoon saffron threads

METHOD
Heat the oven to 350F.

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Cut a small slit across the bottom of each cherry tomato. Put the tomatoes and unpeeled garlic cloves in the boiling water for 30 seconds.

2017-05-15 21.39.33_resized

Drain in ice-cold water to blanch, then remove the peels from each tomato. This will probably take a good 20 minutes.

2017-05-15 21.40.15_resized.jpg

Put the tomatoes and garlic in a baking pan, submerge in olive oil, add the dried and fresh herbs, sea salt, and pepper. Cover in foil and bake for 30 minutes. Allow to cool thoroughly, peel the garlic cloves and mash, mix with the tomatoes, then store in a jar.

2017-05-15 21.23.48_resized.jpgHeat the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil in a nonstick skillet, over medium heat. Add the shallot, garlic, and fennel, and cook about 5-7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, and let cook while you prepare the tuna.

2017-05-15 21.21.46_resized(1).jpg

In a small pan, heat the seafood stock to just boiling. Add the saffron threads, squeeze in the lemon juice, stir together, and let simmer.

2017-05-15 21.20.26_resized

Heat a cast-iron stovetop grill to high. Salt and pepper the tuna steaks, oil them lightly on both sides, and sear them each for 30 seconds per side.

2017-05-15 21.23.09_resized.jpg

Place the tuna steaks on top of the shallot, garlic and fennel. Grate over the lemon zest.

2017-05-15 21.19.43_resized.jpg

Pour over the seafood stock, check for taste and seasoning, cover and cook on low for another 5-7 minutes, until the fish is cooked through. Don’t let it overcook!

2017-05-15 21.18.38_resized

Plate and garnish with the gorgeously red tomato confit, and maybe some black rice. It makes a stunning presentation on a plate, and better  yet, tastes delicious. Anthony, I think I did you proud!

2017-05-15 21.15.04_resized

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

Thanks to TB for the photography.

Do you know what it’s like to read a book and have it haunt you, like a whisper or the faint hint of perfume in an empty room? I’ve always been possessed by the gorgeous Gothic-ness of Rebecca, which has mystery, ghosts, passionate love and a big, haunted house. And then of course, the most intriguing opening line………”Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

2017-05-07 09.01.36_resized

Rebecca-Daphne-Du-Maurier.jpg

I admit, rather shamefacedly, to having reread this on Audible, listening as I  cooked. It’s hard sometimes to put everything down and read a book with pages, as pleasurable as that is. In fact, I recently had a conversation with a very dear friend called Richard, about what constitutes pleasure in life. We both agreed that food, sex, wine, and music are all true pleasures, but I added two more – turning the pages of a wonderful book, and coming to really fantastic part in a book. You can’t beat any of those, but as with everything in life, you have to find the time, or a way to combine them. Hence, cooking with Audible.

2017-05-07 09.04.04_resized.jpg

Anyway, the gist of this book is thus: a young woman meets the handsome, debonair and rather gloomy Max de Winter in the south of France, falls in love with him, and he whisks her off to a very quick marriage and honeymoon, before taking her home to his gothic mansion by the sea, called Manderley. Can you see why I fell in love with this book?

2017-05-07 09.09.31_resized.jpg

Anyway, his first wife, Rebecca, had drowned a few years earlier, and the house is ghostly with her presence. Her initials are on everything, her clothes are still in the house, her perfume hangs in the air, and perhaps worst of all, her spirit still seems to haunt the living, particularly Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper who adored Rebecca.

2017-05-07 09.11.49_resized.jpg

Anyway, I was fortunate enough to cook this week’s recipe at my wonderful friend Elizabeth’s house, when I was house- and dog-sitting for her.

2017-05-07 09.19.39_resized

Her kitchen is absolutely stunning, full of light and gorgeous appliances, and the perfect place to both cook a marvelous meal and to also sip wine and listen to the the ongoing adventures of our heroine, Max de Winter, the evil Mrs. Danvers, and imagine myself within the marble walls of Manderley.

2017-05-07 09.10.18_resized

The unnamed heroine – no, she is never named – meets Max when she is working as a companion to the hideous and vulgar Mrs. Van Hopper and they are staying at a fancy hotel in the south of France. The heroine loathes her employer, and this dislike comes through clearly in this passage, which inspired me.

2017-05-07 09.13.48_resized.jpg

…..compared to Mrs. Van Hopper, her fat, bejeweled fingers questing a plate heaped high with ravioli, her eyes darting suspiciously from her plate to mine for fear I should have made the better choice.

I love a good ravioli, stuffed with cheese or anything else. Though I don’t yet have the Kitchen Aid attachments for rolling and cutting homemade pasta, that’s on my list. In the meantime, I used premade ravioli from the marvelous Italian deli Tully’s, and my own tomato cream sauce with sausage and chicken. This is my own method, devised after too many pots of tomato sauce to mention.

2017-05-07 09.05.37_resized.jpg

INGREDIENTS
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 white onion
5 cloves of garlic
2 14-oz cans of San Marzano tomatoes
1 tablespoon fresh basil
1 tablespoon fresh oregano
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary
1 cup red wine
1 tablespoon chicken bouillon paste
Salt and pepper to taste
2 heaping tablespoons Parmesan cheese
1 cup half-and-half
2 bags of premade ravioli
4 cups spinach
8 oz Italian sausage
6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs

METHOD
Heat the olive oil and butter in a pot. Finely chop the onion and garlic. Add to the oil and butter and saute for about 10 minutes.

2017-05-07 09.13.08_resized

Mince the oregano, basil, and rosemary. Wonderful smells! Add to the onion and garlic, and stir together to cook, another 10 minutes.

2017-05-07 09.18.21_resized.jpg

Pour in the tomatoes and stir again. Crimson heaven!

2017-05-07 09.16.13_resized.jpg

Add the red wine and the chicken bouillon paste, stir to mix, then cover and simmer for an hour.

2017-05-07 09.16.52_resized.jpg

In another skillet, cook the sausage for about 5 minutes, then add to the tomato sauce. Cook another hour on a low simmer.

2017-05-07 09.21.24_resized.jpg

Cube and cook the chicken in a pan until it’s pink and cooked through. Add to the tomato sauce to finish cooking.

2017-05-07 09.06.55_resized.jpg

Finely blend the sauce in a blender. Pour back in the pan to stay hot.

2017-05-07 09.08.42_resized

Toss in the spinach to wilt in the hot sauce. Stir, cover, and let render down.

2017-05-07 20.25.07_resized.jpg

Add the half-and-half here, to make a lovely pinkish-red emulsion.

2017-05-07 20.38.18_resized.jpg

In another pot, boil the ravioli in salted water for 3 minutes, then finish cooking them in the hot tomato sauce.

2017-05-07 09.04.51_resized.jpg

Plate up by putting some of the luscious sauce onto a platter, topping with some ravioli, and dolloping another large spoonful on top. Then, simply enjoy with a sigh of pleasure.

2017-05-07 09.02.29_resized.jpg