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The Soufflé of Fortune

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Clearly I don’t know as much I ought to about the Borgia’s, because Michael Ennis’s Malice of Fortune just blew my mind. The real history of a mysterious death is entwined with a rash of horrific murders of women.

Naturally, the only people who can solve crimes of this magnitude are Machiavelli and Da Vinci, accompanied by a blackmailed courtesan. That makes this sound a little silly, but Ennis pulls it off. Damiana, the courtesan, was sleeping with the Duke of Gandia, the Pope’s favorite son. She is suspected of the murder, and hopes to clear her name with the help of Machiavelli, who is acting as the Florentine ambassador to Rome.

Still with me? Da Vinci in this case acts as a forensic scientist of sorts. In the mix there is also plenty of witchcraft and statecraft, war and rape and pillage. In short, it’s everything you’d want in historical fiction.

There wasn’t quite as much lavish papal feasting as I’d hoped, but Italian food is as sexy during the Renaissance as it is now. There’s an excellent scene involving Damiata sensually eating Parmesan and salami. If I’d recommended a deli plate to go with this book, though, I’d lose every follower but my husband. So even though no one in Pope Alexander VI’s Rome was eating soufflés, enjoy! Damiata describes the candied pine nuts early on in the book. They provide a crunchy-sweet counterpoint to the rich egg-and-cheese mixture.

The Soufflé of Fortune

1/4 c pine nuts
1 Tb sugar (white, not brown)

2 Tb butter (more for ramekins)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tb flour
1 1/3 c milk
3/4 c Parmesan, grated
4 eggs, separated

In a small skillet, heat the nuts and sugar together until a caramel forms. Watch it carefully, those damn nuts are too expensive to burn! Remove to a small plate to cool.

Heat the oven to 400, and butter 4 small ramekins. In a small saucepan, melt the butter and add the garlic. When the butter is sizzley, add the flour and whisk like crazy. After about 1 minute, add the milk and turn up the heat. Whisk, still crazily, until the milk boils and everything thickens. Take the pan off the heat, whisk in the Parmesan, and transfer to a large bowl to cool down.

While that’s cooling, beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. When the bechamel is cool-ish, whisk in the egg YOLKS. Then use a spatula to fold in 1/3 of the whites. Once that’s done, it should be pretty easy to fold the rest in while keeping things fluffy.

Divide the mixture between the ramekins. Put the ramekins on a cookie sheet, they will pouf like crazy and some might overflow. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until they are golden.

Divide pine nuts between soufflés. Serve 4 with salami, olives, and plenty of Sangiovese.

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Posted by on October 19, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Gone Crepes

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I literally don’t know what to say about Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. Not because it wasn’t totally amazing and tightly paced and twisty-turny wtf-y- because I don’t want to give away a single thing.

Here’s what I can safely tell you- Nick and Amy’s marriage has begun to deteriorate. She disappears, under very mysterious circumstances. Despite most of the novel being told in first-person, from Nick’s POV, you seriously cannot tell if he was the one who killed her. It’s a marvelous trick for Flynn to have pulled off.

The other POV is from Amy’s diary. The more you get to know her, the harder it gets to know she’s (haha) gone. That is really all I can say, except that when you finish, WE CAN FINALLY SPEAK FREELY.

That and, the meal Amy was making for Nick the morning of her disappearance was crepes. I top mine with strawberries, which comes up late in the narrative. And if you are, like I was, super intimidated by the idea of crepes- guys. They are sooo easy. Enjoy!

Gone Crepes

1 c flour
2 c milk
1 Tb sugar
1 tsp salt
3 eggs
3 Tb melted butter

Ricotta

Strawberry preserves

Combine first six ingredients in a blender while you heat a large non-stick skillet over medium-high. Just blend for 30 seconds-ish, actually, you don’t really want the eggs to get airy. Once the pan is heated, pour a small amount in and swirl til it covers the bottom. All the butter in the batter keeps it from sticking. Just experiment a tad with the amount you pour- I found I preferred thinner, but my daughter liked them thick. When the edges start to brown, flip it. When both sides are golden, remove to a plate, spread ricotta on half, fold into quarters, and top with preserves. Sprinkle with powdered sugar if you’d like.

Serves 4-6, just add coffee and psychopathy.

 
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Posted by on October 8, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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The Dovekeepers Stew

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There is no surprise to the ending of Alice Hoffman’s The Dovekeepers. For one thing, it’s a fictional portrayal of the all-too-true events at Masada. Even if you, like me, were unfamiliar with the setting, the first line of the jacket copy gives fair warning- juuuuust about everybody dies at the end.

The story is told in four parts, each from the point of view of a different woman as she makes her way towards the Jewish stronghold of Masada in hopes of escaping the Romans. Yael is a lioness, the despised daughter of a famed Sicarii assassin. Revka was a baker’s wife, before she discovered what she was capable of alone. Aziza is a warrior princess, and Shirah, her mother, is a renowned sorceress.

Each of their stories intertwine, as the women all end up working together to care for the doves of Masada. The fates that have been written in the Book of Life unfold in Hoffman’s beautiful prose. You would think, with the foreshadowing- can you even call it foreshadowing? It’s more like… Well, I haven’t invented a word yet. Anyways, despite the grim subject matter, the book somehow manages not to be sad.

Rather, this is an extraordinary story of female strength in a time we don’t tend to think of encouraging that. There is also a lot of really neat stuff about magic in ancient Judaism. But best of all- oh my Lord, the food. Almonds and lentils, wild onions and asparagus, olives and honey. If it weren’t for all the goat milk, I could have been such a happy ancient Isrealite.

This dish is based on one of the first described in the book. It manages the difficult feat of being both light and hearty at once. Leave out the game hen for a vegan meal- no one will miss the meat. And whatever you do, use good olives!

The Dovekeeper’s Stew

1 Cornish game hen
1 tsp sage

1/2 c olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
1 c chopped olives
5 dried figs, chopped
1 Tb mint
2 bay leaves
2 c lentils
1/4 c barley
2 quarts water

An hour before you start the stew, sprinkle the game hen with the sage, salt, and pepper. Roast it at 375 for an hour. Let it cool while you start the onions.

Combine the onions, olives, and olive oil in a heavy soup pot, and let them slowly cook down over medium heat for 30 minutes. Pull the meat of the game hen, and set aside. Add the bones to the pot. Add the rest of the the ingredients and simmer for 30 minutes. Add reserved meat and simmer for another 15 minutes. Season liberally.

Serve with sliced cold cucumber and feta cheese. Serves a stronghold.

 
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Posted by on September 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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The Cakeshaker

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Ok, so I write YA. But I get so frustrated with tons of YA! Why is it predictable? Kids are just as perceptive as adults, maybe more so. That’s the thing that got me so excited about The Boneshaker by Kate Milford. Even when you see what’s coming, the writing, and the manner that things occur is just- delightful.

So first, it happens in Missouri, which is kind of close to my little ex-pat heart. Also, it happens in 1913, and I loves me some historical fiction. And suddenly, there was steampunk! And medicine show carnivals! And possibly sentient machines! Also- bicycles. You guys. You can look up the book-jacket synopsis, but really, what else do you need to know?

I was so charmed by the plucky MC, Natalie, and the offbeat town of Arcane. The supporting characters were even more compelling. And then… Cake. And it was chocolate. And it was topped with hazelnuts. Cake is my weakness. Well, one of them. And chocolate-hazelnut is another (dear Nutella I love you forever but we had to break up because you are no good for me love KT).

So. I give you a cake Natalie would adore- dense, chocolatey, intrinsically moist, and topped with a thin layer of ganache. Note: I realize I am calling for a lot of coconut products here. It’s cause I love them- coconut oil is super healthy and coconut sugar tastes just like powdered caramel. Plus, low GI! That practically means its good for you, right? (be quiet, realists.) You can absolutely sub in olive oil and brown sugar. So without further ado:

The Cakeshaker

1/2 c AP flour
1/2 c almond meal
1/2 c cocoa
2 Tb baking powder (I know. Just do it.)
1 tsp salt
1/2 c plain full-fat yogurt
1 c coconut sugar
3 eggs
1/2 c coconut oil (melted)

1 bar chocolate (your favorite strength, I used 72%
2 Tb cream

1/3 c chopped hazelnuts

Stir the first nine ingredients together as your oven preheats to 350. Spray a 9″ cake pan (or springform) with cooking spray while you wait. Pour the batter in and bake for 30-40 minutes, watching carefully to prevent burning.

Let the cake cool! All the way! And then, heat your cream in a small saucepan. (you can do this in the microwave if you are nervous about burning it.) Turn off the heat once it begins bubbling, and stir in the chocolate. Once it’s smooth, spread it over the cake. Sprinkle the chopped hazelnuts over the cake. Be sure to do some bicycling post-cake.

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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One Amazing Pie

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Chitra Divakaruni is probably best known for the fluffy story Mistress of Spices, made into a movie starring Ashwarya Rai. This book, One Amazing Thing, is not fluff. When an earthquake hits, nine people are trapped in an Indian visa office. The situation quickly becomes dire- parts of the building keep collapsing, water is coming in, there is almost no food. (Yeah, I know. I’ll get to that.)

The book begins with Uma, a grad student in Literature, ignoring her Chaucer to make up stories about the people in the waiting room. After the quake, when people are beginning to understand the very real possibility that they will die here together, Uma makes a suggestion. Each person will tell a story from their life, about one amazing thing, Canterbury Tales-style.

Each person’s amazing thing is somehow linked to sadness. Each story explains what brought them to the office, to the dream of India. One woman, Mrs. Pritchett, recalls the beginning of her story several times. It starts with a peach pie, flaky and sweet.

This pie is as good as any memory. Perfectly sweet, with a hint of Indian spices, you won’t want to stop eating.

One Amazing Pie

2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 Tb sugar
2 sticks of butter, cold and cubed
1/2 cup cold water

7 large peaches
1/2 cup sugar
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3 Tb cornstarch

Cinnamon-sugar

First, the crust! Put the flour, sugar, and salt in the food processor and whaz it. Add the butter cubes and pulse them in. Finally, add the water and watch the dough form a ball. You know, most pastry chefs will tell you that you should grate in frozen butter and use ice water. I totally don’t do that. Its a hassle. Your dough will be fine. Wrap it up in Saran wrap and stick it in the fridge. Let it chill for at least 15 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 350. While that’s heating up, peel your peaches. Again, you could blanch them to slip off the skins, but I didn’t feel like it. A vegetable peeler works fine. Halve the peaches, take out the pits, and thinly slice them. Combine them in a bowl with the other filling ingredients.

Divide the dough in half. I chose to roll mine thin and just use a single crust folded over like a galette. You could use your second half to make a normal top crust, or even a lattice. Or, freeze it and make another pie later like I am. Whatever you decide, get a crust in a pie pan! Dump the filling into your crust. Brush the top crust with water and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Bake for an hour, or until golden and bubbly.

 
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Posted by on September 3, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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In Noodlesville

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I’m not going to write out the first paragraph of Jo Ann Beard’s In Zanesville for you, but it might be my new favorite intro. I re-read it at least four times before moving on, just giggling to myself. In Zanesville accomplishes the rare feat of being told from the point of view of a 14 year old girl while still being an entirely adult book. In fact, I’m not sure most young adults would be as amused as I was. It rings almost TOO true.

In the book, the main character (whose name you can figure out by paying close attention!) and her best friend Felicia navigate the sticky world of freshman year in 1970- something. There is babysitting, boys, obnoxious siblings, and popularity to be dealt with. This is difficult enough, but both our heroine and her best friend have a few home issues as well. Being as entirely self-centered as most teenagers are, they are typically more concerned with the food situation than anything else.

Felicia’s mom always makes junk food from packages, and this is seriously irritating to the main character. She wants that. Instead, HER mom makes homemade noodles and yells when they aren’t properly appreciated. There is also a scene involving a butcher relative presenting the family with an unconventional dinner that our recipe harks back to.

A couple notes on the recipe: I used a pasta roller, but a rolling pin and a pizza cutter work just fine. I also chose to use pork jowl in this recipe because a., the reason above, and b., it is just as tasty as pork belly at a fraction of the cost. My Farmer’s Market meat guy actually just gives them to me. I am positive any day now he will discover what I am getting away with.

In Noodlesville

2 cups flour
3 eggs

1 pork jowl (can sub shoulder)
1 onion, sliced
1 apple, diced
1 sprig rosemary
1 Tb fennel
2 Tb salt
1 beer (lager)
1 tomato, diced

Start with the pork. I used a slow cooker, but you can use a Dutch oven. Lay the onions along the bottom of your cooking vessel, and place the pork on top. Add the apple, salt, and herbs. Pour the beer in. Fill the bottle up with water. Pour that in too. Simmer for 6 hours.

Remove the lid, but don’t turn down the heat. Grab a potato masher. Smush the pork. It will fall apart and become pulled pork with zero effort on your part. Add the tomato. Let the liquid reduce, stirring occasionally, for about an hour. When it starts to thicken, turn the heat to low.

The pasta is outrageously easy. Stick the flour and eggs in a food processor. Process until a clump forms. Wrap it in Saran wrap for 15 minutes to rest. Roll it out and cut it into any shape your heart desires. Boil for 2 minutes, drain, and toss with the pork.

Serves 4-6. Make Jello for dessert, and enjoy a beer.

 
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Posted by on August 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Annabel Confit

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In a small town, it’s awfully hard to keep a secret. Of course, some do, and get away with it. A stolen item here, an affair there… But in Kathleen Winter’s Annabel, the secret being kept is that young Wayne Blake was born equally female and male. The secret is even kept from him. Wayne has never known why his father is so disappointed Wayne isn’t interested in his traditional Labradorian lifestyle. He has never understood why his mother secretly allows him to buy a girl’s swimsuit.

There is an air, right from the beginning, of something surreal about the small town of Croyden Harbour and its inhabitants. Each character is both there and not there. For Wayne, it’s his conflicting identities. For his father, it’s the irresistible call of the Canadian wilderness. For his mother, it’s the wistful dreams of her young adulthood in St. John.

She prepares duck her husband brings home, with vegetables and berries from their garden, while dreaming of all she left behind. After eating this dish, though, you’ll only dream of the next time you cook it.

Annabel Confit

2 duck legs
3 Tb olive oil
1 Tb tarragon
Smoked salt

1/2 head red cabbage, chopped
1 cup blueberries
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup red wine
2 Tb red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper

Rinse and dry the duck legs. Using a small knife, prick the skin all over. Do it carefully- you don’t want to poke holes into the meat itself- work at an angle. Sprinkle the salt liberally all over the duck, followed by the tarragon. Now let them dry-brine for at least half an hour on the counter.

Next, find a small casserole dish- you want the legs to be nestled against the sides. Pour the olive oil in the bottom, and snuggle the legs in. Put the dish in the oven before turning it on to 300 degrees. Begin checking the progress towards crispy-skin after two hours. When it looks like it’s just about there, turn the heat up to 375 for about twenty minutes.

Now put all the cabbage ingredients into a skillet and begin the braise. Start with medium heat, and stir occasionally.

After removing the duck from the oven, let it rest while you boil some potatoes. Mash them with the fat from the bottom of your casserole dish, a splash of milk or cream, and salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 2, generously.

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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