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Pesto Perfect

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Have any of you been following this New Adult controversy in publishing? Basically, some self-published authors developed this new category of books dealing with main characters aged 18-25-ish. They aren’t teenagers, but they aren’t totally grownups either. Instead of first kisses, they’re navigating first real jobs, student loans, “real” relationships. The publishing industry poo-poo-d for several weeks that it wasn’t a real thing, that it was romance lite, or YA with sex, etc. Then those self-published authors became best-sellers and agents and editors started scrambling to sign New Adult writers. Ha HA!

This is a really elaborate lead-up explaining why I wasn’t particularly expecting to love this book. I was initially as skeptical as anyone. But I so, so did love it. Picture Perfect, by Alessandra Thomas, is the epitome of what New Adult should be. It’s sweet, sexy, and most of all, completely real.

It’s the story of Cat, a fashion design major and model who gains 60 pounds recovering from a nasty accident. Suddenly, people look at her differently. Her boyfriend blows her off, most of her friends have moved on while she was recuperating, and her beloved clothes don’t fit anymore. I doubt there is a girl alive who can’t identify with Cat’s self-consciousness; her constant fear that she isn’t good or pretty enough. She wants those cheese sticks, but are people judging her? Diet Coke instead, please.

Then she meets Nate, who turns out to be dealing with issues of his own. Before that gets thorny, though, they have a marvelous honeymoon period. One of the things they most love to do is try new foods together. Nat’s biggest claim to fame in the kitchen is a masterful pesto sauce. This one would make him proud.

The really nice thing about a good pesto recipe is that it’s totally customizable. Not enough basil? Sub spinach. Too broke for pine nuts? Walnuts. Vegan? Trade the parm for nutritional yeast and the cream for coconut milk. This is the kind of recipe every college student should have in their repertoire.

Pesto Perfect

2 (packed) cups basil
3 cloves garlic
1/4 c toasted pine nuts
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
1/4 c grated Parmesan
1/4 c EVOO
1/2 c cream

8 oz pasta (I like a fusilli, so the pesto really sticks in the ridges.)

This recipe is so preposterously simple, it barely has directions.

Boil pasta according to package directions. Put pesto ingredients in food processor. Add salt and pepper to taste. Combine pesto and pasta. Say “picture perfect pesto pasta” five times fast. There, now you’ve earned some wine to go along with it!

Serves 2-4, depending how hungry you are.

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Salad of the Gods

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So when a book takes place in Greece, you just know the food will be good, don’t you? Children of the Gods, by the (gorgeous and talented) Tristina Wright does not disappoint. There’s cheese and olives and fruit and grape rolls… Oh! There’s also a plot. I get carried away sometimes.

In a semi-steampunk alternate universe where the descendants of Titans and Olympians obey strict racial segregation, a young couple from opposite sides fall in love. Lucas and Pandora will do anything for each other- and according to the prophecy of the Gorgons, that will be tested.

Lucas’s mother works to abolish segregation, his best friend and Pandora’s father are both avowed racial purists. Drama! Kissing! Fighting! But then- olive salad, and wine-soaked fruit. I used strawberries (frozen, obvi) because Lucas thinks Pandora smells of them.

Salad of the Gods

1 orange
1 lemon
1/3 c nice olive oil
1 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
2 Tb crumbled feta
1 lb assorted olives, capers, pepperoncinis

2 Tb honey
2 Tb white wine
1 lb fruit of your choice

Peel strips of rind off the lemon and orange and place in a bowl with the olive oil, oregano, and pepper. Let it infuse for 2 hours.

Prepare thy fruit bath- mix the honey and wine with the juice of the orange, and the juice of HALF the lemon. Squeeze the other half into your olive marinade. Toss the fruit on in and let it macerate overnight in the fridge.

Pull the strips of peel out of the oil and discard. Add the olives and feta, stir, and let marinate overnight at room temperature.

Serve with crusty bread, to dip in the leftover oil, and wine.

Tristina’s lovely book has not been published yet, so don’t head to the bookstore looking for it right away!

On that note, I can also tell you that “Heat Rising” by Elizabeth Otto, which we made pizza for last year, has been renamed “The Blood of Isis” and will be released in June! Hooray!

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Betsy-Tacy-Onion

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I have always been a reader, so naturally I grew up with Anne of Green Gables. About a year ago I re-read the first book. You know? Anne Shirley was kind of annoying. Actually, really annoying. It was kind of crushing, to lose that bit of childhood joy.

Then my beloved Aunt Kathie came to my rescue- the entire Betsy-Tacy series. There are ten of them, not nearly enough! You guys, Betsy Ray is the most delightful heroine… I can’t really say “since” anyone, she predates most of them. Why, oh why didn’t I own these as a kid? (Really, mom. Why?)

I won’t attempt to summarize all ten books, since they span a good twenty years. The series follows Betsy, her best friend Tacy, and their third musketeer Tib from age five through marriage. “Lots of things will happen,” says Betsy when they meet. And they do.

One of the more charming Ray Family Traditions is called Sunday Night Lunch. Basically, Mrs. Ray gets the evening off from cooking and Mr. Ray makes sandwiches. What a glorious idea, I thought, and read on (these books are as long on descriptive food scenes as any Little House book) through cold roast chicken, pot roast… Onions. Onion sandwiches. The most popular offering of all, apparently.

I was as disgusted as you are. I couldn’t stop thinking about how gross that was. All that thinking inevitably led to curiosity, and here we are! I made onion sandwiches. I still think I would prefer the beef, but I have to say, they aren’t bad at all! Munch on one of these while enjoying Betsy-Tacy, and I guarantee you’ll forget all about that little twit Anne.

Betsy-Tacy-Onion

4 Challah, or brioche rolls
1/2 sweet onion
1/2 c white vinegar
Butter
Salt and pepper

Slice the onion into 1/4″ rings, and marinate in the vinegar at least a few hours, or overnight. Butter the rolls, and add the onion. Season every inch carefully- Betsy swears that is her father’s secret to the perfect sandwich.

I had seconds the next day with the addition of a tomato slice, and liked it even better. I suspect trading out the butter for mayonnaise could be even more delicious, but the Ray’s would not approve.

Serve with pickles, olives, coffee, and fudge.

 
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Posted by on October 25, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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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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Restaurant Beancakes

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In my dreams, I totally have a restaurant. It features loads of brick walls, chalkboards, and the perfect shade of turmeric-stained yellow. There are reading lamps at every table. People take books and leave them on the shelves in the back. It’s a place to read, or write, while you eat amazing food and enjoy craft beer.

Joe Bastianich is happy to burst that bubble. In Restaurant Man, he does for restaurant ownership what Anthony Bourdain has done for restaurant employment. Common sense and f-bombs abound. It’s great.

The narrative traces his foundation in the family business, to his current mega-successes in New York and Vegas. Along the way, there’s wine tutorials, anecdotes about famous people, and of course, said bubble bursting about what it really takes to run a restaurant.

Here’s the thing, though. One simply cannot read a book about the food business, written by an acclaimed wine guy, without a bottle of rosé and some Italian-style eats. I am not going to attempt a veal or duck dish like Joe’s partner (Mario Batali) or mother (Lidia Bastianich) might make. Besides, when you drink the whole bottle a glass or two of wine, you want something hearty enough to offset the alcohol, while light enough to offset the extra calories. You can easily make this dish vegan by replacing the cheese with nutritional yeast.

Restaurant Beancakes

2 cups cooked white beans, drained
2 Tb balsamic vinegar
1/4 c Parmesan or Grana Padano
2 shallots (1/2 a red onion is fine too)
2 cloves garlic, cut in half
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 bunch basil (1 cup, packed)
1/2 c panko breadcrumbs
3 Tb flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

3 Tb olive oil

Give everything but the oil a good whoozh in a food processor. You want it fairly smooth. Heat the oil in a heavy skillet over medium-medium-high heat. Using your hands, shape the bean mixture into 4 large hockey pucks. Cook for 4-5 minutes each side. They’ll turn nice and brown. Splash with extra balsamic.

Serve with roasted tomatoes, crusty bread, and copious amounts of wine.

 
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Posted by on August 7, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Caleb’s Pudding

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Geraldine Brooks is a Pulitzer Prize winner living on Martha’s Vineyard. In her latest offering, “Caleb’s Crossing”, you can tell. Her research into the history of her adopted hometown uncovered a fascinating, though sparse, account of an Indian boy who graduated from Harvard in the year 1665. Although his first name, Caleb, was Anglicized, he retained his native last name. Inspired by the myriad questions this account raised, Brooks writes an account of his life as told by the spunky daughter of a Puritan preacher on the island. Bethia and Caleb grow up together, influencing each other’s lives in untold ways. She faithfully records the details, both historically earth-shattering and completely mundane. Bethia, though a rarity as a literate female, is also a very typical Puritan girl. She cooks, she cleans, she sews, she raises her sister, she is a faithful Christian. She also loves her native island-mates in a time where it is very unpopular. Caleb and Bethia share many meals together, one of which is “Indian Pudding”, or “Hasty Pudding”. As he taught her to find nuts and berries all over the island, it is only fitting to top your dish with both.

Caleb’s Pudding

4 cups whole milk
1/2 c cornmeal
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp baking powder
1 Tb butter
1 Tb cinnamon
1/2 c brown sugar
1/3 c molasses
2 eggs
Slivered almonds
Any fruit or berry in season- I used dark, sweet, Colorado cherries.

Preheat oven to 325. Bring milk to a simmer over medium heat in a medium saucepan. Add cornmeal, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, sugar, and molasses. Whisk constantly until thickened. In a small bowl, beat the eggs and temper them: while beating vigorously, add a big spoonful of the hot mixture. Then add another. Keep beating! Now you can add the eggs to your hot cornmeal without scrambling them. Pour the whole mess into a sprayed or buttered casserole dish (mine was 1 quart) and bake for 1 1/2 hours. Scoop and top with nuts and berries. I served mine with fried eggs and bacon.

 
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Posted by on July 9, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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