The Godfather by Mario Puzo

No time for a full-on cooking or blog this week, darlings. I’m off to Phoenix for a conference. But I did whip up a little deliciousness for you, based on rereading Mario Puzo’s classic The Godfather. This recipe is not found anywhere in the book or sequel, yet it seems so classic, basic, yet so deliciously part of that world. I can see Michael eating this rustic dish with Apollonia at her father’s bar in Sicily, feeding it to each other and laughing. Being in Sicily, this dish would have likely featured tomatoes, almonds, olives and perhaps raisins. But, again, since this recipe is nowhere to be found in any “Godfather” novels and is my own creation, I am envisioning it here.  Ritorna a Sicilia!

Capturar

Hey! It’s my blog and I can envision anything anywhere with anyone. I can have Mr. Spock drinking butterbeer with Hermione Grainger,  put Jay Gatsby eating tortillas with Antonio Marez and the Vampire Lestat, and have Michael Corleone and Apollonia Vitelli consume ground beef with peas, and damn it, it’s my world and that’s what they’ll do.

So there.

Anyway, I digress.

I had a packet of thawed ground beef, a small packet of frozen peas, a half of a white onion, a need to clean out my fridge before a trip, and some creativity. This is the method that worked for me.

Ingredients

1/2 pound ground beef, about 85% fat free. You want some fat for flavor.
1/2 finely diced white onion
1/2 teaspoon each of dried thyme, dried basil, dried oregano and garlic powder
1 cup sliced button mushrooms or any mushroom of your choice
Olive oil
Butter
2 cups frozen peas
Salt and pepper
Crushed red chili flakes
Grated Parmesan

Method
Melt butter and olive oil together. Add dried herbs, stir together for about 1 minute, then add the diced onion, salt and pepper. Stir again slowly for 5-7 minutes, until the herbs start giving off their delicious scent. Add the ground beef, break up with a wooden spoon, season lightly with a bit more salt and pepper, and then add the red chile flakes and sliced mushrooms. Combine with your wooden spoon, breaking up the meat so it is in small ground bits and ensuring the spices and oil are evenly distributed. When the meat is still pink but not fully cooked, add in your frozen peas and a small bit of hot water. Stir together again for about 3-5 minutes. You want to make sure the peas are cooked through and there is no trace of pink in the meat. 20160130_180840_resized

When you are certain your meat and peas are cooked to the thorough point of perfectness, turn off the heat and sprinkle over a generous amount of grated Parmesan. Stir again, cover with a lid and leave for about 5-10 minutes. Then serve and eat with utter happiness in your soul.

You could, I suppose, add a starch in the line of mashed potatoes, rice, egg noodles or some other silliness. I find, however, that the sheer perfection of onions, peas, mushrooms and ground beef is all I need. You’ll sleep better, too, without all those nightmare-inducing carbs sending you off to a disturbed rest. With this, you’ll dream of Michael in Sicily.

maxresdefault

O dio mio.

Strange Pilgrims by Gabriel García Márquez

5152QdYs-aLI’ve had a long-time passionate love for Gabriel García Márquez for years now, originally fueled by Love in the Time of Cholera and Of Love and Other Demons, and most especially, Strange Pilgrims. This book, a compilation of twelve surreal and dreamlike tales, tells of a woman who sells her dreams – speaking of which – to the wealthy citizens of Vienna, two young brothers who endure the torture of an English governess one Greek summer, a family vacationing overnight in a haunted castle in Italy who wake to find themselves covered in blood, and a saintly man who carries the uncorrupted body of his dead daughter to and from the Vatican each day hoping to have her canonized, among others. Chief among my favorite of these stories, is Maria Dos Prazeres. Perhaps because I fear dying old and alone, perhaps because I, too, spent many years in the thrall of loving someone terrible for me, and perhaps because I also have a little dog that I cherish, could I relate so strongly to this story of an aging prostitute who fears no one will weep at her funeral and so trains her little dog, Noi, to weep over her grave.

IMG_0371

Maria Dos Prazeres has a long-time client, an elderly count who comes to her house once a fortnight with a bottle of champagne and the paper, and sits to read while she prepares them both a meal, in a very odd parody of a marriage. They then retire to the bedroom. But the meal she cooks him sounded unusual and quite delicious.

“The visit had turned into a ritual. The punctual Count would arrive between seven and nine at night with a bottle of local champagne, wrapped in the afternoon paper to make it less noticeable, and a box of filled truffles. Maria dos Prazeres prepared cannelloni au gratin and a young chicken au jus – the favorite dishes from the halcyon days of fine old Catalonian families – and a bowl filled with fruits of the season.”

This recipe works on the premise that you already have some tomato sauce already made, and which I tend to always have on hand because it’s so calming to make. Anyway, if you don’t have some made, you can use a can of Italian-style diced tomatoes but I can’t promise they will taste as good. Anyway, onward!

IMG_0407

This is the method that worked for me.

INGREDIENTS

8-10 cannelloni or manicotti pasta shells
6 chicken thighs, boneless and skinless, and poached and shredded. (I usually do this day before.)

shredded-chicken
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 shallots, finely diced
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely minced
1 bag of spinach
1 carton of raw mushrooms, sliced
2 cups of fontina cheese
3 tablespoons of flour
3 tablespoons of butter
1 1/2 cup of hot milk
Bunch of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 cup of Italian-style breadcrumbs
2 cups of already-made tomato ragú sauce

METHOD

In a large pot, bring about 8-10 cups of salted water to a boil. When boiling, cook the cannelloni shells for 10 minutes, checking for doneness. They should be al dente, chewy but with a hint of firmness. Drain the noodles, but don’t rinse, and leave to cool while you make your cannelloni filling. Save about a cup of the starchy pasta cooking water and set aside.

IMG_0374

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and add the diced shallots and garlic. Slice about half the mushrooms and add them in, so they saute as well. Cook for about 10-12 minutes, then add the spinach and wilt it down in the onion, garlic and mushrooms, so that all the flavors mingle. Remove from heat, add the cooked chicken and some of the saved pasta cooking water, stir together to mix well, and set aside to cool while you make the bechamel sauce.

IMG_0385

In yet another pot (did I mention you’ll have a hella big amount of dishes to wash after this?), melt the butter over medium heat and when melted, slowly add in the flour. Stir vigorously with a whisk, so that the flour incorporates. Gradually pour in the hot milk, continuing and whisk until everything is amalgamated. Lower the heat to medium low, and stir stir stir, until the sauce thickens. This will take about 10 minutes, and don’t leave it because the milk could curdle or burn and that would just totally suck, wouldn’t it?

IMG_20160124_150950_resized

When nice and hot and thick, add in the chopped parsley and some salt, lower the heat again, and stir some more so the parsley flavor infuses everything. This is the point where you want to add in a good cupful of your tomato ragú sauce, which will make the bechamel a gorgeous, deep pinky-red color. Remove from the heat and allow to cool while you assemble the cannelloni shells.

IMG_0378

In a buttered glass or metal pan, add a good spoonful or two of your premade tomato ragú sauce to the bottom. Grate the Havarti cheese into the chicken-spinach-mushroom mixture and mix together well, preferably with your very clean hands.

IMG_0394

Stuff each cannelloni shell with some of the divine-smelling mixture. Once all the shells are filled, lay them in a row in the glass pan, add some chopped raw mushrooms, pour over the reddish-hued, luscious cream sauce, top with the Italian breadcrumbs, and bake for 35 minutes, or until the top is golden. The smell from the oven – what divine and sweet torture it is!

IMG_0444

Remove from the oven and admire the golden, gooey beauty that this dish is. Then, of course, apply it to your face. Yum!

Talking To The Dead by Helen Dunmore

Nina, a London photographer, comes to stay with her sister, Isabel, who has just given birth to her first child. Nina’s brother-in-law Richard soon starts playing a major role in her life as she cooks for her sister and begins remembering the mysterious death of her and Isabel’s infant brother. The descriptions of a long, hot, drought-ridden summer in England resonate with burning sunshine, apple trees dropping their fruit-laden branches, scalding rivers, and lush descriptions of food. Chicken risotto, rustic bread smeared with unsalted butter and homemade apricot preserves, cream-filled doughnuts, and an ultimately doomed celebratory feast featuring figs, couscous with goat cheese and roasted vegetables, and……..the soup. Keep reading. It gets better.

2016-05-07 09.47.54_resized

This novel is one of those rare birds that feature wonderful writing, sensually lavish descriptions of food, and characters that are both unlikable and yet addicting in their dysfunction. Toward the end, a celebration dinner is planned and each character must cook a dish. Edward comes up with what sounded like garlicky, stinky heaven…….a shrimp and garlic soup, with coriander (cilantro to us desert flowers.) Nom nom nom! Garlic! Shrimp! Cilantro! A culinary holy trinity, as far as I’m concerned, and a smelling-to-high-heaven broth of deliciousness that you could feed to an angel. But don’t. Keep it for yourself and spoon it down with glee.

I’ll make a fish soup,” Edward says. “If we’re going into Brighton, I know a good fishmonger there. ‘Shrimp and garlic soup with coriander. It’s the fish soup that takes the time.”

20160117_142924_resized

What a crock…….of soup!  This soup took no time at all, and the freshness of the ingredients, mixed with the strong saline flavor of shrimp, the heat of the garlic, and the pungent coriander, made this a true pleasure both to cook and to greedily eat.

This is the cooking method that worked for me.

INGREDIENTS:
6 ounces of butter, preferably unsalted
6 ounces of flour
12-15 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 teaspoons of cayenne pepper

cayenne
6 cups of chicken stock or or seafood stock if you can find it.
1 cup good white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
1 chicken bouillon cube
1 tomato bouillon cube
2 bags raw shrimp, tails on
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
Bunch of cilantro

METHOD

Melt the butter slowly over low heat using a heavy-bottomed metal or cast-iron pot.

20160117_131755_resized

Gradually incorporate the flour one spoonful at a time, whisking like crazy. You don’t want to add all the flour at once, because it will turn into one big, floury-tasting lump. And who wants to eat a ball of flour? Not I. I found the best method for amalgamating the flour into the butter was to whisk when each spoonful of flour went in, then stir with a wooden spoon. Add the cayenne pepper, and the two cubes of bouillon cubes, and stir to mix, so their flavors can mix and add to the roux.

20160117_133635_resized

Slice the garlic into thin shards, saute them in a separate skillet to brown and bring out their flavors. Then add them to the roux.

20160117_141440_resized

Increase heat to medium and slowly add the stock, continuing to whisk so that it mixes with the roux. Again, do this gradually and stir and whisk as you incorporate the liquid. Your soup will thank you.

20160117_141718_resized

Simmer on low for about an hour so the flavors can mingle and mix, and you can enjoy the heady perfume of garlic, butter and roux. Add the white wine after about 30 minutes, so that it too, can flavor the broth. After the hour of cooking time, add the chopped cilantro and the lemon juice, and which will add even more scent to the broth. Allow to simmer another 10 minutes, then add the shrimp. These will not need long to cook, just until they turn pink.

20160117_160620_resized

Garnish with a bit more fresh cilantro and eat with joy in your heart. This soup is soooooooo good, and perfect served with good, crusty bread and a glass of deep red wine. Enjoy!

La Cucina by Lily Prior

20160110_150728_resized(NOTE: Please do not repost this content, recipe or associated photos without my permission.)

I’m not much for bodice rippers. I find them overly dramatic, unrealistic, and the writing is often just bad. But enough about 50 Shades of Grey.

That being said, I just finished Lily Prior’s La Cucina – A Novel Of Rapture, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Essentially, it’s a book about food and sex. There is some murder thrown in for good measure, a dramatic Sicilian mother, conjoined twins, a villa by the sea, a parrot, a little black pug(!), and of course, food. And sex. And a library.

You read that right. Books. Food. Sex. The (Un)Holy Trinity, at least in my world.

It’s interesting, the connections between sex and food that are found in literature, and indeed, in life. After all, food nourishes us, and sex…….well, none of us would be here without it. Both are ways in which we often feel most connected to the physical – eating a wonderful meal or being with a wonderful lover. Both have the potential to be so comforting in the face of strife and trouble, as well as being marvelous celebrations of simply being alive.

This novel takes that connection between food and sex and runs with it in such a delightful way. The main character, Rosa, finds solace as a librarian after a tragedy and ends up finding love again, but her main passion, her vocation, her reason for being, is cooking.

See that there link between books and food? Ring a bell?  Anyway, I digress.

The book is filled with so many wonderful food dishes and references that I almost can’t choose which is my favorite. One of the best is when Rosa meets the man who will ultimately become her lover and cannot sleep for thinking about him. I mean, who hasn’t tossed and turned thinking about someone we have desired or loved who turned our heads and hearts inside out…….not to mention our stomachs? In her insomnia, she prepares something delectable-sounding called formaggio all’ Argentiera, which is caciocavallo cheese cooked slowly to melt and mixed with red wine vinegar, garlic and oregano, then piled onto rustic bread and eaten with great delight. Doesn’t that sound absolutely heavenly? I couldn’t find caciocavallo locally, but I may return to this recipe and book if ever I do. Be warned.

20160110_131750_resized
Cooking up some Italian!

By far, my favorite scene in the book is when her lover invites her to his (of course!) villa overlooking the sea and cooks her the most sensual and amazing meal, and then proceeds to eat it off her body. Holy Mother of God! He starts with oysters, placing them at strategic areas on her body and eating them off. He tilts her wineglass so that wine pours into her mouth and throat, then kisses her.

Did I mention this book verges on pornographic? But in a good way.

He finishes by putting spaghetti and his own homemade tomato ragú sauce over her and eating it off, strand by luscious strand.  “He had produced a marvelous ragú with meat, tomatoes, and lots of garlic. As I watched, he mixed in the sauce with the spaghetti. After making sure it wasn’t too hot, he ladled it onto my body……..With his hands, he fed the spaghetti to me, trailing its tendrils between my parted lips. It was divine. Mmmmmmm. A truly wonderful sauce: lots of garlic, tender chunks of meat.” (pp. 173-174).

I defy you to not be enticed by that description, both of passion and of food. As such, I was inspired to try and recreate a tomato ragú that would entice a lover to pour it all over me and eat it off. I’ll report back.

This is the cooking method that worked for me.
Continue reading “La Cucina by Lily Prior”

Heartburn by Nora Ephron

The quintessential book about love, food……and revenge. I’ve never been able to decide which delectable description in Heartburn is my favorite. Nora Ephron describes such ordinary food as mashed potatoes in a rhapsodical manner that makes you salivate and head immediately for the kitchen to make a bowlful of buttery spuds to take back upstairs and eat in bed.

Mashed potatoes notwithstanding, the other food description I loved in this book was when she makes the key lime pie. What she does with it is classic literature (and film, in the movie starring Meryl Street and Jack Nicholson), and all I have to say is, damn he deserved it.  But, oh the pie!

Anyway, this is what worked for me, adapted from The Pioneer Woman’s version. http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/key-lime-pie-sorta/
I like chocolate and lime together, and there were chocolate graham crackers on sale at the store that day, but you can do this as easily with regular graham crackers. Et voila! (NOTE: Please do not repost this recipe or associated photos without my permission.)

Ingredients:

PIE CRUST
20 chocolate graham crackers
1/2 cup butter, melted

PIE FILLING
10 key limes, juiced to make 3/4 cup (you can use regular limes if you can’t find key limes) and zested to make about a tablespoon of lime zest
3 egg yolks, beaten
1 can of sweetened condensed milk
1 carton heavy cream
2-3 tablespoons of sugar

Method:
Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees F. Crush graham crackers either in a food processor or by putting them into a large plastic bag and smashing the hell out of them with your hands. Great stress relief this way! Pour into a bowl and add the melted butter, mixing with a fork until you get a nubbly texture. Put into a pie pan and press around the edges. I used a boring old disposable tin pan but you can use a glass or metal one if you love doing extra dishes.

Cook your pie crust for about 5-7 minutes until it’s a bit crisp and you can smell the chocolate. Take out of the oven and leave to cool while you prepare the filling.

Combine the lime juice, lime zest, beaten eggs, and the can of sweetened condensed milk, using a hand mixer or a fancy Kitchen Aid mixer, until you have a nice, thick, creamy, smoothly textured pile of goop.

There should be pretty green flecks of zest in your mixture when you pour it into your cooled chocolate pie shell. Put back into the oven and bake for approximately 15-20 minutes, checking at the 12 minute mark to ensure nothing is burning. Give it a little shake and if it’s still wobbly, bake another few minutes. Once done, remove from the oven and cool for about an hour. Stick it into the refrigerator and chill it for another 3-4 hours.

For the final flourish, whip your heavy cream and sugar together until you get stiff peaks, pour over the pie, and garnish with more lime zest and sliced lime slices. Chill another 30 minutes before serving……….or smashing into the face of someone richly deserving.