Cook The Books: Heartburn-4 Minute Eggs~

18 11 2012

Cook the Books has dedicated the past 2 months to reading Nora Ephron’s Heartburn.   While Ms. Ephron had a number of immensely successful book-movie deals, Heartburndoesn’t strike me as a book which will make that leap.  Although, it might make a campy heartbreak romantic comedy… Nah.  It’s amusing, in a dismal sort of way…heavily dramatic.  The best part of the book for me were the recipes…although I didn’t have the greatest of luck with the 3 minute-4 minute egg.  I kept getting a 5 minute egg.  *Ü* Without regard to that…here’s my journey…

We have chickens.  This was today’s harvest and they don’t come much fresher than this.  I actually had to move one hen to get to the eggs.  She’s pretty tame, but didn’t much care for my raiding her nest.   I’m not letting anyone else get the idea they can sit on a nest…as it is we have one baby chick out there with its Mama!  I selected 4 large (actually X-Large is more the correct size.  These strain the top of a Large egg carton.

The next step is to put the eggs into a pan of cold water…check…and bring to a boil.  Cover, turn off the heat, and wait 3 minutes.  After 3 minutes, remove from the hot water, open and serve.

I recommend working with tongs AND a folded towel to open and scoop your eggs.  Some day I’m going to own an egg opener.   I often wonder how we did this when I was a kid?  I don’t remember the cute egg cups…but I do remember eating soft cooked eggs.  Oh well.  I’ll keep at this until I get it right.  This is one of my hubby’s favorite “comfort” foods.

The next book on our reading schedule is The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  We’ll also be teaming up with Food ‘n Flix and doing a two-for-one by also watching The Hunger Games.   Don’t be shy…put on your apron and join in the fun!

Cook the Books and Food ‘n’ Flix: Home Cooking either way~

25 08 2012

Cook the Books meets Food ‘n’ Flix in the arena of “Home Cooking” here at Can’t Believe We Ate…  The character Minny, from the movie The Help, our movie selection of the month, has quite the reputation in town as a cook.  One of her specialties is fried chicken.  Interestingly enough, Laurie Colwin gives us her recipe and method for frying chicken in her book, our current Cook the Books selection, Home Cooking.  We’ll end up having a little comparison here before we’re finished.  Aside from cooking, this book and movie couldn’t be farther apart!

Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking is a collection of short food essays full of reminiscences.  Ms. Colwin delights her readers with her real-life recollections of various foods along with recipes or techniques.  I was actually inspired to make roast beef when I first read the book in March, yet fried chicken called out to me when I re-read the book in August.   My family is particularly fond of my fried chicken, however, I’m usually willing to try a new technique.  I didn’t think there would be all that much difference.

I’m sorry that Minny didn’t share any of her recipes with us.  We do get some left-handed cooking lessons from her as she “teaches” her mistress, Celia Foote, how to cook.  Personally, I’d love to have the recipe for Minny’s Caramel Cake.  That has me puzzled and intrigued…there are so many ways one could go about creating such a decadence.  But we’re frying chicken…so let’s get back to it.

Ms. Colwin and I agree that chicken benefits from a buttermilk bath.  She recommends soaking the chicken in plain buttermilk, and that’s where we start to differ.  I almost always brine my chicken because most chicken has no flavor.  Add some salt, garlic and onion powder to the buttermilk and soak away.  Soak or marinate the chicken for at least 45 minutes.  If you created a buttermilk “brine” 45 minutes will probably be enough.  However, gently salting the buttermilk and seasonings will make a great overnight bath for the chicken.

Breading the chicken is next.  So far, Ms. Colwin and I are right on track… Season your flour the way you want your chicken to taste when it’s done.  Taste the flour to get it right.  It will taste a little, well…floury, but it’s the balance of salt and other flavorings that you want to work on.  I use salt, garlic powder-granules, onion powder, and freshly ground pepper for my base.  It’s kind of my universal seasoning.  Sometimes, especially for chicken, I add paprika…or smoked paprika…Yummmm!   When the flour is the way you think you’ll like it, put it either in a bag (for shaking) or a shallow dish.  Ms. Colwin and I will depart a bit here… Ms. Colwin breads her chicken straight from the buttermilk.  Shaking off the excess milk, she drops the wet chicken pieces into a bag and flours them generously.  Knock off the excess flour, and set aside for a moment until you have enough prepared pieces to fill your pan without crowding it.  What kind of pan?  A chicken fryer…  There really is such a beastie.  It’s a good sized (12 inch or so) straight sided frying pan with a lid.  The best pan, bar none, and Ms. Colwin and I are in lock-step on this one, is a cast iron chicken fryer with a heavy lid.  I inherited mine from my mother, who prepared chicken precisely by Ms. Colwin’s method, religiously…until I brought boys home from church for Sunday dinner.  Out of nowhere, she served up a platter of the crispiest, crunchiest lightly crusted chicken I’d ever seen.  I was amazed and delighted!!  She never fixed chicken that way just for us…I brought the guys home for dinner a lot after that!

I do things a little differently…  I dry my chicken pieces a bit so they aren’t wet and sprinkle them with a light dusting of the flour mixture, just enough to make my take the breading I’m about to add…it’s kind of a double breading.  I dip the lightly floured chicken in a fresh buttermilk bath, and flour it in the same manner as above.  The difference is that the chicken actually gets a really decent crust going.  It still can’t sit around long before frying…it will get soggy and that doesn’t crisp up quite right.  I can drop my pieces right into the hot oil, because I don’t cover my fryer.  I keep the heat just a little lower, still “deep frying” but on the lower end of the temperature range.  More like 350° rather than closer to 375°.  I liked Ms. Colwin’s tip about cutting the breast halves down even farther, so they cook more quickly.  What a concept!!  Why didn’t I think of that?? *Ü*

Ms. Colwin prefers a steam-frying method for cooking her chicken…she has you place a tight lid on the chicken and turn the chicken twice before removing the lid to finish the cooking.  I followed the technique, but found I over-cooked my chicken that way.  From the first pan on, I open-fried the chicken, as in the picture below.

I think this was the last pan full of chicken I cooked…using the single breading method.  I had a rather large package of boneless, skinless chicken half-breasts that needed to be cooked.  Having a plate of fried chicken got me past a lot of obstacles this week, and I was glad for it!

One distinct difference I noticed between Ms. Colwin’s method and mine, is that she’s right…the crust on her chicken gets soft once it’s refrigerated.  Mine, however, doesn’t.  We still have crunchy chicken the following day, and if I let it cool really well before packing it into the fridge, it’s crunchy for a couple of days.  We enjoyed this batch of fried chicken with potato salad.   I’m not saying mine is better than hers…I’m saying it’s two different methods with two different outcomes, and one should expect two different results.

So far, I’ve mainly chattered on about Ms. Colwin’s chicken, so now it’s time to give The Help a chance in the spotlight!  I’m the hostess at Food ‘n’ Flix this month, and I chose this movie.  Next month we’ll be watching a different movie…check my sidebar for “Coming in September” to see what’s next.

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, with all it’s side stories and surreptitious meetings, spilling the secrets of the society ladies…  It’s hard for today’s youth to imagine the segregation and disparate treatment of anyone with a non-white skin.  Prejudice wasn’t known as such…it was more an accepted way of life…then.   While the storyline pretty much sticks to the lighter side of life around the southern plantations of the Sixties, it touches reality deeply in places.   I love Skeeter’s independence and verve.  I loved the depth of caring and empathy exhibited by Abileen…and I couldn’t possibly dislike Miss Hilly any more!  Southern cooking screams fried chicken to me…well, and a few dozen other things too, but chicken gets there first.  What I’d give to have a cook like Minny around!  Not to work for me!! Heavens no!  I’d want to learn about her magical kitchen tricks!

Speaking of tricks…there is one tiny detail I left out…when I mix up flour for chicken…I add a teaspoon of baking powder to it. It reacts with the buttermilk (actually, any liquid) and leavens the coating just a little bit…and that may have something to do with the lighter crispness of my chicken…but now you’re sworn to secrecy!

Cook the Books: Death by Darjeeling~

21 07 2012

I truly enjoyed this book!  I found myself engrossed in the information about teas…the different types, different methods for steeping, which flavors combine with which…and the story was okay too!  LOL!  I was so caught up in my curiosity that I ordered several sample size containers to play with and see how the flavors differ.

I’m familiar with green tea and black tea, orange pekoe (aka black) tea, Earl Grey and English Breakfast tea.  The concept of different temperatures and different brewing times…as a naive tea drinker, you find yourself wondering if it really, truly matters.  It does.

This is Jasmine Pearl green tea.  The little tiny balls are hard and dry, maybe 1/4 inch in diameter, and are very fragrant with the scent of jasmine flowers.  Very, very fragrant.  Jasmine Pearl tea should be brewed for 2-4 minutes in hot (180°F), but not boiling, water.  These tiny little balls are actually tea leaf clusters…

This is part of what I took out of the teapot after tea.  I was amazed how the leaves swelled…  The tea we drank when the proper steeping time was complete was fragrant and gently flavored.  I misjudged my time frame, so the tea steeped a rather long time…got bitter and nasty.  The upshot, pay attention.  I  ended up buying a book on tea (Harney and Sons Guide to Tea), that I find very helpful!

The dish I prepared for this book is an Earl Grey Smoked Salmon…

The salmon (wild caught coho) was rubbed with a dry rub (enough for up to 1-1/2 pounds of salmon):

1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 teaspoons sugar

Wrap the fish in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Prepare a stove top smoker pan for smoking using the contents of 2 Earl Grey tea bags instead of smoking chips.  Smoke at a low temperature for 20 minutes and finish salmon under the broiler if needed.

We had this served with half a mango one time,  and the next time with a rice pilaf and sauteed zucchini.  I fixed salmon this way twice to make sure it was really as good the 2nd time as the first!

I wanted to make sweet little tea cakes and cookies…but it’s been in the 100’s almost everywhere in the US, so baking isn’t really happening right now…  I’ve got enough tea to last me awhile…I’ll have time to do that when the weather is a bit cooler…  In the meanwhile, now that I’ve smelled Lapsang Souchong…I’m wondering what should one even think of having with this incredibly smoky tea…??  I’m so enchanted! LOL!

Two for One…Basil Accented Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

26 05 2012


I wasn’t planning a 2 for 1 post, but it worked out that way… This session the group Cook the Books is reading The United States of Arugula, and I selected Alice Waters of Chez Panisse as the chef I wanted to cook after…and at Food -n- Flix, we watched the movie Sideways, which explores the wine country of California up to Napa Valley, which is a California stone’s throw from Berkley, so they really do go together, especially since I’m in California as well.  Okay, it’s a bit of a convoluted connection, but it works, and so does basil with strawberries!

Cook the Books has been reading The United States of Arugula by David Kamp the past 2 months.  Mr. Kamp takes us on an culinary “Alice Through the Looking Glass” trip through the history of epicurean development in America.  Wow.  Having been alive through a majority of the stories related in US of Arugula, it really took me back to my own culinary roots.  Being a young wife in 1972, I was glued to Graham Kerr of the Galloping Gourmet, but somehow missed out on Julia Child.  Nonetheless, she was the chef I learned to cook with when I finally kicked out the mental walls of my kitchen and spread my wings…Coquilles St. Jacques was my first “Julia” recipe!

I selected Alice Waters as the culinary philosophy I wanted to cook.  I don’t like commercial food.  It worries me.  I’d rather garden in my backyard (to the delight of my mare, Shasta, and the dismay of her human, my beloved hubster).  She’s certainly a challenge, but we’ll get it!!  I am loathe to buy out of season fruits and veggies.  I’ve been known to make “salsa fresca” from home-grown and canned tomatoes…it tastes better than what’s made from the “fresh” tomatoes in the stores…  The concept that one can make gourmet food from garden to kitchen is pretty much a rule of thumb here.  It often happens during gardening season that I’ll decide what dinner will be based on what should be picked from the garden.  I love that.  I really do.

My dish is a Spring standard…a strawberry-rhubarb crisp, with the exception that mine is kissed with fresh basil.  I live where strawberries grow abundantly and immensely flavorful when the season is high.  May is high strawberry season.  I picked up a half-flat (6 bountiful baskets) of day old strawberries for $5…slightly below half price.  They had just-picked berries as well, but I can’t resist a bargain like that if I can make it work!  When I got home that night, I went out and cut several rhubarb stalks from my garden.  Rhubarb is perennial here, which is really nice!  As I walked across the porch from cutting the rhubarb, a basil plant hanging from the eaves called out to me…you need me!  Thought process…okay, basil is of the mint family…strawberries go well with balsamic and so does basil…why not?   Make your favorite strawberry-rhubarb crisp, and add 2 tsp. freshly minced basil leaves to the fruit and sugar when you mix it.  It wasn’t “noticeable” but there was a slightly unique flavor that enhanced the fruit really nicely with a little light minty flavor.  Yum.

Life in the Slow Lane at Squirrel Manor is our hostess this month as Food -n- Flix watches Sideways this month. gives Sideways a score of 7.7 and this review “Two men reaching middle age with not much to show but disappointment, embark on a week long road trip through California’s wine country, just as one is about to take a trip down the aisle. ”   I found myself trying to place the various vineyard regions as they drove north, and was disappointed that there weren’t more regions represented.  I felt like their mother, being a voyeur on their trip.   That wasn’t so much fun…when did I become MY mother??  LOL!  Oh well…I guess you can’t love them all!  On to The Mistress of Spices!

Cook the Books: Garden Spells~

24 07 2011

Our latest reading at Cook the Books was Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen.  A lovely and literally enchanting novel with echoes of the movie “Practical Magic” (setting, characters…and only the light aspects of the plot), this was a quick read that inspired the gardener in me to make sure we had plenty of herbs and other tasties growing in our garden this year.  Great timing for this one, Girlichef-Heather!

I was completely enchanted with the magical concepts Ms. Allen created…different herbs, fruits and veggies enhance different emotions…  As far as making magic in the kitchen after the food is in for prep…that was nicely portrayed as well, but I was most fascinated by the combinations of ingredients to create a desired emotional result!

My sharing for this read is a Zucchini Carpaccio, inspired by Tyler Florence’s recipe.

When I was out in the garden collecting mint for this dish, I realized we had mint in bloom…and it reminded me of  “fennel pollen,” so I had to see!  Sure enough, when I nibbled on a mint flower…looks rather like lavender with tiny lavender colored blossoms on a long stalk…

so I harvested a bunch of the little tiny minty flowers to use as part of my garnish…mint was an ingredient after all!  I chopped the mint leaves nice and fine, then mixed the tiny flowers with the mint leaves…  It’s even starting to feel magical!

The blank canvas awaits...

Zucchini Carpaccio

Recipe adapted from Tyler Florence’s recipe

Serves 4


  • 2 medium zucchini (or seedless portions of larger specimens)
  • Kosher or freshly ground salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin lemon olive oil
  • 1/2 lemon, quartered lengthwise
  • 1 shallot, sliced thinly and separated into rings
  • 2-4 ounce piece of Parmesan (Romano works equally well)
  • Fresh mint leaves and flowers, for garnish


Using a mandolin or a very sharp knife, slice zucchini into very thin rounds. Overlap zucchini disks in 1 layer on a plate; scatter with shallots, season with salt and pepper. Drizzle the lemon olive oil and squeeze the lemon juice  over the salad. Shave very thin slices of Parmesan or Romano over the salad. Garnish with mint leaves. Serve immediately.

* Once the zucchini is sliced and arranged on the plate, it can wait while any other cooking goes on. Dress and garnish just before serving.

Tasting Notes~
Instant keeper!   One…when you’re looking for any different way to serve an abundance of zucchini…it helps to find something different, but two, when you run across a recipe that excites the tastebuds the way this one does…WOW!!  Zucchini is rather neutral on its own.  Pairing with lemon and olive oil as Tyler did, was ingenious.  Take that just a little higher on the ladder with local lemon olive oil, freshly picked mint leaves, shallot ( a little more bite, provided a really great contrast) and a squeeze of lemon juice…and you have a delightfully bright Summer salad.  It’s also quick to go together.  I have a mandoline, so it made the slicing quite easy, so I know we’re going to be having this salad again soon!

Great choice of reads for the Summer ladies!!  I’m looking forward to getting into A Homemade Life!

Cook the Books: An Embarrassment of Mangoes~

20 03 2011

February and March found us taking an imaginary trip to the tropics…to the Caribbean!  We followed Ann Vanderhoof and her husband, Steve, as they ventured out from their home port of Toronto, CAN and headed south…south…south…to An Embarrassment of Mangoes!  Dining options and weather change along the way.  We follow the couple from one harbor to the next as they explore their ports, meet the locals and learn about the local foods.  Ann tells it like it is…there’s no sugar coating her trepidations, or rain on her delights.  I hadn’t gotten far into the book at all when I started craving conch.  Now, how I’m going to satisfy THAT yen, I have no idea!  LOL!

Together the couple weather a few storms, including coming very close to a hurricane.  We get to see inside the cockpit and learn the pitfalls and joys of sailing and cooking the Caribbean.  There are a number of recipes in the book…many appealed to me greatly, but…acquiring unique items where I live is a little difficult, so I searched the internet for recipes from the areas visited that appealed to me.

That’s how we ended up in Jamaica.  I love the combinations of spice and savory in Jamaican cooking.  I’m just a bit timid about stepping out on my own with those seasonings.  I’d also gotten the notion that all Jamaican food was searingly hot as well.  Not necessarily so!  The recipes I found at Caribbean Choice weren’t all hot and spicy.  There were so many variations!  I settled on ~

Five Spice Roasted Chicken

Paired with…

Coconut Rice


Tangy Pineapple Cabbage

Everything came together very nicely.  I marinated the chicken for about 45 minutes to allow the flavor to get into the meat some.  The cabbage dish was interesting.  I selected it at first thinking it was a salad with a cooked dressing…I may reconstruct it as one.  The cabbage dish was ok, but not something I’d enjoy a lot of.  It did go quite well with the chicken and the rice though.  The rice is so mildly seasoned!  A bit of onion, curry, and the unctuous smooth taste of coconut milk.  This was a perfect backdrop for the spiced chicken.  The glaze for the chicken was just about good enough to lick the plate over, and the rice helped soak up every drop.

Last, but not least, we have dessert…A Lime and Coconut Pie.  Ok…this one isn’t exactly Caribbean for certain, but it sure topped off our dinner nicely.  The recipe calls for 2 eggs and 2 egg yolks…which made me think of topping the pie with meringue.  It really made a great little pie out of a simple buttermilk pie.  Ok, a coconut milk laced buttermilk pie.  This was my first experience with a pie made with buttermilk…it came out much like a custard, but yet a bit like a pudding as well.  The lime and the coconut go very well together, although I could handle more of the lime flavor.  Darn…we may have to try this pie again…

I really enjoyed An Embarrassment of Mangoes.  It was a gentle read that opened my eyes to another cuisine!  I love the recipes from this area, and am anxious to try others!  Thank you Jamaica!  And thank you to Deb from Kahakai Kitchen for hosting and Ann Vanderhoof for a great book!

And the Winner is….

11 02 2011

I’m honored and tickled pink to announce that I was selected winner of the most recent Cook the Books round-up!  We read Untangling My Chopsticks, and I cooked an attempt at a Japanese Kaiseki meal.  The post is here.  I’m especially honored because the author of the book is the one who selected me!

Excerpt from Cook the Books ~

Here’s what our fabulous featured author, Victoria Abbott Riccardi has to say about our last Cook the Books roundup.

“First, I am honored and delighted that you chose my book for your group. I was so glad to read from your various members that Untangling My Chopsticks either brought back fond memories of their time in Japan or sparked the desire to go there. Japan is, indeed, a magical (and very tasty!) place.

Choosing a Cook the Book winner was very hard! Everyone had a fascinating story to accompany the recipe they made and it was obvious that people put significant time and energy into creating something pretty and tasty. I know that it’s not always easy to find Japanese ingredients, so substitutions are often necessary.

Since you left the criteria up to me, I decided I would choose a winner based on who best managed to get into the spirit Japanese cooking, both in terms of the recipe they submitted and their story. As I said, this wasn’t easy. In the end, however, I chose Glennis of Can’t Believe We Ate. Glennis ran the culinary marathon, so to speak, by preparing her four-course feast. She really seemed eager to create an authentic Japanese meal, beginning with her dashi soup and ending with the very impressive shabu-shabu! I also loved her genuine enthusiasm as she described the various dishes she made.

For example, for her miso soup, she writes, “I was so tickled to actually find light miso paste!  I’ve looked before, and not been able to find anything but red, so this was delightful!”

Then, she writes, “Next up was Chicken Yakitori. Oh my!  Simply oh my!”

Finally, in talking about enjoying the rich broth left over from cooking all the veggies and meat for the shabu-shaby she writes, “At the end of the meal, the noodles would be added to the pot, and finished in the steaming soup.  This was fascinating and warrants trying again!”

Congratulations, Glennis. I am so glad you enjoyed my book and preparing your various dishes. What a lovely way to ring in the New Year, which, for all of you I hope brings many memorable moments around the table.

All best,

My goodness!  I really did enjoy this book, and I love the culture behind the Japanese cuisine…  I guess it really shows!  Thank you Victoria!  It’s purely my honor to be named winner of this round up!

Cook the Books: Untangling my Chopsticks~

2 01 2011

Cook the Books has us reading “Untangling my Chopsticks: A Culinary Sojourn in Kyoto”  by Victoria Abbott Riccardi this time around.  I think I was hooked within the first paragraph of the dust cover.  I’ve been fascinated by Japanese culture since I first saw Shogun in the late 70’s…early 80’s.  I actually read all of Shogun after seeing the mini-series.  This, was a really quick read for me, because I could hardly put it down, and I had a bit of time off.  I do a lot of reading on Sunday Night, Spa Night…so a little jasmine in the air, and away to Kyoto we went…

I don’t live where I can acquire quite all the ingredients for a Kyoto style Kaiseki-ryori, but we did have a lovely multiple course dinner for New Year’s Eve, nonetheless.  We started with miso soup.  I was so tickled to actually find light miso paste!  I’ve looked before, and not been able to find anything but red, so this was delightful!  Although I couldn’t get kombu to make my own kombu dashi, I was able to acquire dashi no moto, so we were able to get close enough for the soup to taste like it should.  When we got to the bottom of the bowl, there was a treasure of 3 cubes of tofu waiting for us.

Next up was a raw fish course…kind of a sushi dish…where the rice is pressed onto a plate, then the fish is scattered onto the rice with condiments.  In our case, avocado and black sesame seeds.  The chopped tuna was dressed with a spicy mayo (sriracha and mayo with a few drops of sesame oil).  We scooped a whole quarter up into the martini glass to eat with chopsticks…

The next course was our grilled or broiled course…we didn’t have a fried course or a steamed course.  I had my eye on a steamed savory custard too.  Maybe another time.  I had also planned on tempura for the fried course, but over estimated my energy! LOL!

Next up was Chicken Yakitori…oh my!  Simply oh my!  I used only chicken thigh meat, but I could consider giving chicken liver a thought, mind you just a thoughtful taste, done this way.  The yakitori sauce is easy beyond easy, the meat marinates quickly, cooks quickly, and literally cooked while we were eating the sushi course (my favorite, but this one made a close 2nd!).  Don’t skip the green onion or leek.  It really adds something.  We had this with plain steamed rice and extra yakitori sauce. Mmmmm…..

Finally, we have the Shabu-shabu…on the platter from 12 o’clock around we have blanched swiss chard leaves, 1-2 is noodles, 3 is blanched leek leaves, 4-5 and 7-8 gourmet mushrooms, 6 o’clock is blanched carrot slices,  9 is blanched onion, 10-11 is noodles, at 12 o’clock below the swiss chard leaves are tofu cubes and in the center is thinly sliced beef tenderloin.  The sauce that accompanies this dish is a ponzu sauce, which is a lemony soy sauce.

The veggies were blanched or parboiled according to their density and cooking time.  The idea was to leave some cooking time, but not a whole lot.  The cooking broth would take on the flavors from the various bits and pieces of food cooked in the communal pot.  At the end of the meal, the noodles would be added to the pot, and finished in the steaming soup.  This was fascinating and warrants trying again!

All in all it was a quite pleasant way to dine, and a pleasant way to kill an evening!  To do a full scale Kaiseki meal would require a lot of forethought, planning and help to get it all to come together in the right time frame! LOL!  It just made me appreciate the concept that much more!

In the meanwhile, if you need a little trip to Kyoto, it’s much easier to pick up Victoria Abbott Riccardi’s book “Untangling my Chopsticks: A Culinary Sojourn in Kyoto” and take a fantasy trip there…  She’s thoughtfully provided a few easy recipes as well!

Thank you, Rachel, for hostessing this event!  This was a great book for me!  One I won’t be parting with!  I’m snagged, hook, line and sinker, and looking for more Japanese recipes to stretch out a meal with.  I’m thinking this makes a lot of sense…little bits of different things…spread over different food groups!  I rather like that!

Cook the Books: Heat~

2 12 2010

This time around at Cook the Books we read Heat by Bill Buford.  I was kind of tickled by this selection as this was one of the first “foodie” books I picked up to read on my own.  I thoroughly devoured it the first time, so this time I was able to savor it a little more in a different way.  While Bill ricochets from one culinary adventure to another in search of his own culinary niche, studying, soaking up knowledge like pasta takes up sauce, I kept getting pulled back to one thing…”The egg is very important.”

If you study the 3 eggs in the first photo you might wonder if the difference is a trick of your eyes, due to placement of the eggs, or the lighting, perhaps.  No…one is actually elongated.  These aren’t McGrocery Eggs… They’re eggs from my happy hens.  I have Silver Cuckoo Marans and I can’t recommend them highly enough.  They’re grand girls!  Now the picture just above this paragraph shows a McGrocery Egg on the left (once in awhile, even I have to buy eggs if I need several all at one time) and a Happy Hen egg on the right.  The egg on the right is extremely fresh…it might be a day old already.  And look at that yolk…it’s almost orange!  I’ll tell you…that makes the prettiest Lemon Meringue pie!  But…back to eggs…and pasta….

This is my standard egg pasta from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking.  Her recipe makes about 3/4 pound of fresh pasta.  This time we’re making ravioli.  I use the regular pasta recipe, because I love the light texture of it.

My ravioli filling is an adaptation of Marcella’s filling for Cappellacci.  I had purchased and baked yams at Thanksgiving…except they were Asian yams and were very pale in color, but much drier and more sweet.   I thought at the time they would make excellent ravioli.  The flesh of the Asian yams was actually so dry that after adding parmesan and romano cheeses, and a bit of Italian parsley for color and a bit of complementary flavor, I needed to add both butter and cream to moisten the yams.  This is one ingredient that didn’t need any binder to take up moisture!

I have to agree that the egg is very important.  The very first time I made pasta, I used my own chickens’ eggs.  At the time, I had a pair of lovely Golden Seabrights, and their eggs were smaller, not Bantam small, but smaller than the large eggs I get today.  They were the absolute perfect size to go with Marcella’s recipe for pasta.  Her 1 cup flour to 2 eggs worked right on with those eggs, every time.  When I lost those hens, and these larger girls started laying, I was intimidated about pasta for awhile.  I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to make it work right with larger eggs.  I should know better though…it’s just like making bread.  You just keep working in more flour until you get that correct consistency, and then you stop.

The ravioli are served with a simple sage butter (2 Tbsp. unsalted butter heated until bubbling, drop in 10 torn sage leaves and cook a few moments; pour over cooked and drained ravioli) then sprinkled with kosher salt to taste.  All I can say is make sure you boil enough!  I didn’t and I was so sad!  I was also very glad that the rest were already in the freezer for another time.

Johanna…Great choice!  Thanks so much for hostessing us!  I had a great time with the read and with my dish!  Mr. Buford…Thank you for your insight into the back side of the culinary world.  It was a pleasure to learn at your apron strings…even when the apron was afire!  I thoroughly enjoyed reading your book!

Cook the Books: The School of Essential Ingredients~

19 07 2010

This session of Cook the Books had us reading The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister, which is the story of a chef/cooking teacher who is as gifted at blending personalities as she is ingredients in her kitchens.  Each member of the class has some emotional demon to overcome, including our intrepid chef, and each finds an elixir of recovery within the walls of the restaurant kitchen.  While not wholly masterfully written, it was a captivating and fun read!  It broke into pieces easily read in bits and pieces…excellent beach reading, and yet, emotionally touching!

As always, we’re to cook a dish we’re inspired to from the book.  I had to pass on my main inspiration…clams don’t do fresh from the ocean in the mid-north-mid-Sacramento Valley of California in July.  Not when it’s 103° outside.  No “R” in July.  While that part might be gotten around the 103° temps are too factual.  We’ll take Curtain #2 Bob!

I loved the idea of the white cake, but again…it’s 103° – baking is pretty much out of the question.   Then, there was the Thanksgiving feast…there are two of us…a bit much.  I finally settled on the bolognese sauce, because I love bolognese.  It will cook quietly without a great deal of fuss, just asking to be stirred occasionally while it absorbs the various layers of flavor, layer upon layer, upon layer.  Slowly.  Ever so slowly.  It may be cooking all day, but not a raging hot heat…it’s a mild simmer, a bare simmer…

My choice for a bolognese recipe comes from Marcella Hazan’s The Classic Italian Cookbook.  I’ve made the versions from both The Classic Italian Cookbook and The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, and we prefer the “Classic” version.  The “Essential” version has more carrot, celery and onion than the “Classic” and there’s a difference in the order of cooking the meat in the milk and the wine.  I’m not sure that there’s a problem with changing the order of those two cooking processes, as long as the tomatoes go in last.  I’d love to give the recipe, but it’s copyright protected.  I can tell you that if you “Google” “Marcella Hazan Bolognese sauce” you’ll find both recipes very easily!  Well…the original is harder to find…so here: Classic Bolognese Ragu.  The recipe in Essentials is really unusually sweet…a bit sweeter than I was prepared for.  Not that it isn’t good…it’s really not like anything I’d ever tasted before.  When someone complained about the sweetness and said they liked this recipe much better, I had to try it!  I understood why!

This is a sauce worth developing patience for.  It clings like sexy satin…It has depth that is utterly seductive.  It has the qualities of a siren’s song…calling you back for just one more bite…just one…more…

As for me…I’d love to take a cooking class here!  I can only imagine what fun we’d have and what deep dark secret would somehow be exorcised from my past through cooking!  What a fabulous way to leave troubles behind!