Cook the Books: Eating for England~

16 05 2010

Our latest read at Cook the Books was Eating for England by Nigel Slater.  Eating for England was an amusing listing of British food items, the memories they evoked in Mr. Slater, and the history they might have.  While thoroughly interesting, it ran a bit dull if one truly has no association with said items.  I found I enjoyed most reading about the items I’d run across in other books…jam roly poly for instance…treacle tart.  It’s a really good book to read if you know you’re going to be interrupted a great deal. The recitation is quite broken up, sometimes an entry is no more than a paragraph.

Next…what to cook?  Fish & chips?  A syllabub?  Should I trifle with a trifle?  Roast a joint of beef and make Yorkshire pudding?  Steam a pud?  Attempt to create a Spotted Dick?  Bangers and mash?

After careful consideration I knew it came down to something like a syllabub.  I recall discovering a reference to syllabubs in a book I read as a child.  However “fools” are very similar to syllabubs, with no alcohol.  So a food it should be!  No comments please… *Ü*

I hunted for British ingredients, and I hunted for British recipes, eventually discovering The Great British Kitchen site.  What a great site this is to accompany our book!  I selected a recipe from their collection and adapted it for 2. While there, I found a lot of recipes I’d really like to try, and took note of those.

Mango Fool

Serves: 4

1 Large Mango, peeled
1 Tablespoon Lemon juice
1 Egg white, whisked
150 ml Whipping cream, whipped (5 fl oz)
Remove the flesh from the mango and purée three quarters of it. Chop the remainder and stir in the lemon juice. Fold together the egg white, cream and mango purée.

Put the chopped mango into the bottom of 4 glasses and spoon over the fool. Serve chilled.
This recipe works very well with canned mango pieces as well.

Tasting Notes~
Oh my…my…my!  This is light and airy, and just barely sweet.  It takes it’s sweetness from the mango purée.  The egg white and the whipped cream folded together make such a light and delicate combination when they’re put together.  The addition of the fruit softens the weight from the fat, making this a real food miracle.  This feels like it will be a wonderful summer dessert.  You can bet we’ll be having this again real soon!

Cook the Books Club~Like Water for Chocolate

31 03 2010

Not being terribly into soap operas, but really loving Mexican food, I stuck with this one.   It made for interesting reading on Sunday Spa Nights…even though I got very frustrated with the long-suffering characters.  It took me awhile to catch on that every time our protagonist was emotional while she was cooking the emotion was shared in the food she prepared for others…that got a little scary now and then.

I read through the recipes that were offered, and gave them consideration.  The closing recipe, poblanos stuffed and served with walnut sauce was the most intricate.  I found myself wondering just how do you remove the skin from a walnut?

As this was a quick read, I wondered and pondered throughout the month about what to cook.  In the end, there was a perfect opportunity to cook a meal for someone other than ourselves, and I spent a couple days in the kitchen working on the various meats that would go into the different items and that’s what I’m presenting for the group.

I had a piece of beef chuck I knew I wanted to cook down for shredded beef…and I had a pork butt I was going to cook for pulled pork.  The pulled pork cooks in a slow, slow oven over several hours…why not the beef as well?  I seared it on both sides and popped it into a cast iron cooker with a bit of onion, celery, carrot and water…just about 1/2 cup…enough to keep things moist.  While I was getting all of that ready, I remembered that I had a batch of little top sirloin steaks that needed to be cooked, so I put them in another casserole with a bit of adobo sauce and a chipotle pepper, cumin, carrot, celery and onion.  A slightly different flavor…one that could stand alone easier.  4 hours later, my house smelled phenomenal!!

On cooking day, I put together my sopa seca de fideo, refried beans, a sope filled with beans and shredded beef topped with shredded cheese, floutas and mini tacos.  It didn’t look like that much food until I sat down to eat it!  There’s a light dusting of parmesan cheese over the entire plate, and there’s shredded lettuce with tomato and avocado slices for a working garnish.  Hot pico de gallo was served at the table.  Oh my.  We each had to taste a bit of everything…and both of us decided the flautas and mini tacos will reheat!

Like Water for Chocolate was a fun read.  It wasn’t a book I’ll keep, in fact mine is already at it’s new home courtesy of Goodreads!  I’ve begun our next book, Eating for England.  Thanks for checking out my dish, and thank you to our organizers!!  You keep finding ’em, I’ll keep reading and cooking ’em!

Happy New Year~Roast Duck & Green Papaya Salad

3 01 2010

My New Year cooking got pushed off a few days due to a freezer shut down and needing to cook about 9 pounds of pork.  After making tamales, needing to roast pork for pulled pork or anything else wasn’t high on my list, but there it was nonetheless.   3# of pork went to pulled pork for sandwiches, another 3# went to Pork Bolognese (came out beautifully!), and there’s 3# of ribs I’m not sure are worth the effort due to freezer burn and age.  I’m thinking dog treats.  But…I”m really tired of pork right now!!  So, that I had planned roast duck for New Years was still a welcome idea.  I followed a recipe I ran across on line for 5 Hour Duck.  The sauce is incredible.  The duck was a little dry…I think I’d cook it at a slightly lower temp…more like 250°-275° next time.  But the skin was incredibly crispy and lacquered and ever so good.  What goes with duck?  Mandarin pancakes…or sticky rice.  Oh, but I love sticky rice.  It’s time to learn!  Something else is needed to balance things out…mmmm…green papaya salad! Som Tum!!  That’s good…all fingerish food, and all things that will go well together.   And you have to love a recipe that cooks with virtually no attention, except for the occasional turn for 4 hours!  Yes, it cooks for 5, but the 5th hour is a little more busy!

This is a meal that starts a day in advance though.  The duck needs to sit out in the fridge so the skin can dry overnight, and the rice needs to soak at least several hours, better overnight.  As soon as we got home with the papaya, rice and steamer, I put the rice on to soak.  Secretly I’m very excited. I love sticky rice.  I purchased a medium sized sticky rice steamer basket from a local Hmong market, along with 5# of sweet rice, and a green papaya.  They always ask if I have a recipe for Som Tum.  *Ü*

I should have gotten the steamer urn as well.  It’s oddly shaped, but it’s shaped that way for a reason I guess.  It looks like a spittoon.   But, the shape funnels the steam directly toward the rice in the basket.  I used a big kettle, and after 15 minutes, I concocted a collar to keep the steam focused on the steamer basket.  After an hour, the rice still wasn’t fully cooked, so then I covered the pot for the next 15 minutes, and that did the trick.   So the tricks seem to be: make sure the steam is directed toward the basket, a foil collar will work, and cover the rice for at least part of the cooking time.  I finally achieved singular, glossy, translucent grains that were chewy in texture and rolled nicely in the hand.  Yes! But that was during the final hour and resting period of cooking the duck!

The duck went in filled with aromatics…ginger, garlic, salt, pepper, and some lemongrass because I had it handy.  It roasts at a low temp, 300° in her recipe, for 5 hours, being turned each hour.  The basting sauce goes on during hour 5 only.  What could be easier?

It was so easy, I managed a good hour long soaky bath while my duck roasted.   Sunday is my “spa bath” day/night, and I spend about an hour reading and whatever else I need to do aside from scrubbing my bodkin.  This week I finally picked up our Cook The Books read…A Taste For Adventure by Anik See.  Oh my gosh…how funny is this!  I’m reading about Som Tum and Anik See in Thailand, and I’ve got a papaya salad going in the kitchen!  This must be my dish! LOL!

I love green papaya salad.  There are so many little things that go into it!  It’s hard to imagine each of those things making such a difference, but they do.  I followed Anik’s recipe somewhat, as I actually had frozen dried shrimp, and thought that would add a slightly different twist on the salty aspect.  I also couldn’t get fresh Thai chiles so I used red pepper flakes to taste.   We have added palm sugar to our pantry now, and we had fish sauce and lime handy.  I had a bit of trouble getting the tangy balance right, and finally decided it was because the limes were too sweet.  I added a little more fish sauce and some rice wine vinegar for the sour, and that finally solved the imbalance.  I didn’t have fresh tomatoes, but I did have frozen dried tomatoes, so I added those to the salad, and they pounded up just fine, maybe better than raw tomatoes would.

Here’s the duck in all it’s glory~

I carved each of the breast halves off the frame along with their crispy skin, and served that with the sticky rice and the papaya salad.  The rice was in single serving plastic bags to keep it warm and moist until we needed it.  As I mentioned, the breast was a bit dry, but a little additional sauce solved that.  I have to admit that a piece of crispy skin wrapped around a little ball of sticky rice with a morsel of duck meat was pretty yummy.   The sweet-salty-hot-sour papaya salad was a great foil for the rich duck.  This was not at all a bad way to welcome in the new year…even if it was a few days late.

Whisking Mignons de Porc Arlonaise~

3 08 2009

Sometimes you can’t quite imagine the complexity of a dish by reading the recipe…even when you work at it.  This was one of those.  I admit, the oven temp of 425º really put me off while it was over 105º outside, but it wasn’t on very long…45 minutes tops, including pre-heating.  And it was so very worth it.  This dish just kept bringing surprises to the tastebuds and to the tongue in the way of textures.


This is basically a very uncomplicated dish with lots of little bits and pieces to do.  I think it’s time to either shake this house until I find my scale (originally gotten to weigh my pet corns***e, instead used to weigh baby chinchillas-NOT sn*** food!!).  This recipe called for ounces of things.  I know Alton Brown says the only way to bake properly is by weight…and I’ll bet I know why…  Either way, I needed to weigh the carrots, leeks, celery, turnips (withheld due to convenient memory loss), and mushrooms (substituted due to inconvenient memory loss).  I also neglected to buy small waxy potatoes. All I had in the house were large russets, which I cut into chunks and “tournéd” dutifully, albeit not 100% successfully.  I did end up with some relatively same sized little barrels, some of which actually did have 7 (woo-hoo!!) sides.  I know I spent a lot more time on mise en place, than I did on actual cooking.  For my dark beer, I selected an Oatmeal Stout from an in-state micro-brewery.  California has lots of little micro-brew pubs that are fabulous.  I have to recommend doing all the mise en place with this recipe.  Once you get started with the pork, it all goes very quickly, maybe 30 minutes cooking time tops.  Please note, I halved the recipe as much as I possibly could, and it worked pretty well!!

This would have been a good spot for a shot of the pork, nicely browned, just before it went to the oven.  I used a cast iron skillet, since it would hold heat nicely, disperse it evenly, and go in and out of the oven with ease.  The pork browned off nicely while my potatoes were simmering on the back burner.  The pork would be 15 minutes roasting, and the potatoes need to simmer 10 minutes then set until needed.  My first glitch hit when I realized my hubby had set the oven for 200º when he lit it for me (yeah, I know, they make ranges that will light themselves, which this was once upon a time…it WAS on the priority list until I HAD to buy a new fridge).  Oh well…heat down on the stove top, heat up in the oven, brown a little bit more, and it will balance out.  The cast iron holds heat long enough for the oven to catch up.  We need the roasting pan for finishing the dish, but we can start the sauce now.

Combine the vinegar and the sugar…what a fragrant start this is!  At this point, the sauce doesn’t belie what cuisine we’re cooking…it could be Asian…German…French…Californian…  I was afraid I’d over-cooked this phase.   The sugar reached an amber color just as the vinegar evaporated leaving me with a pot with an amber sugar sculpture in the bottom!  Bring on the beer!  It didn’t sputter as much as I anticipated, but it sure did foam!  The next steps involved reducing the sauce ingredients as they were added, taking the pork from the oven to rest briefly before reintroducing it to the cooking pan, now filled with a julienne of carrots, leeks and celery (and well washed and drained canned mushrooms).  If nothing else, this dish fills the air with aromas that will have your audience filled with anticipation.


Voila! Mignons de Porc Arlonaise!  The pork is so tender and full of flavor that this could easily be a special occasion dish, and yet it’s pretty straight forward and forthright.  There’s a little prep, but no baby sitting. It’s kind of all right there.  The sauce makes this dish.  This was our photo plate, and the sauce doesn’t show up well (and wouldn’t have on any plate I looked at save one and that one washed out the appearance of the pork), so I served up some sauce on the side as well.


This shot pretty much says it all.  All gone. Every bit of it.  I cut it back to 3 servings, and every morsel went away.  Yes, Jasmine (sheltie cross) got her share.  No veggies (leeks included), but she enjoyed her nibble of the pork medallions.   This is a serious “keeper” recipe.  Kayte mentioned perhaps a holiday meal…I’d agree.  Another success from Le Cordon Bleu at Home!

*Editor’s note….Yes, that’s a can of Little Friskies cat food on the back of the island; no, it was not included in the dish we prepared. I don’t know why it was still there.  It simply was, and I’m not photographer enough to see “everything” in my shot.  I’m a Foodie, what can I say…!

CTB ~ Last Chinese Chef

20 07 2009

CTB_7-8_cbwaTwice Dressed Beef Under Snow

What an interesting concept…an edible book report!  I love it!  LOL!  That’s what we do with Cook the Books, we create a dish inspired by the book we’ve read.  This one really worked for me.  A few pages in I found myself lost in a fog of imagined aromas (chicken and five spice for the most part, but with ginger and garlic wafting through on a magic carpet of braising pork).  I love good Chinese.  I found myself immediately giggling over the poached chicken…the method is one I’ve been using for years.  I had never considered (the “aha!” moment!) adding layers of flavor to the poaching liquid. Talk about DUH!

So I was inspired to think about layers of flavors…perfect little bites…each bite tasting exactly the way I want it to.  Lying atop a bed of shredded iceberg & hearts of romaine lettuce lightly dressed with a teriyaki-inspired dressing are marinated and grilled broccoli, carrots and cauliflower along with bites of very rare seared beef.  The salad greens were shredded and hand-tossed in a bowl with the dressing, then plated.  The veggies went straight from the resting plate to the salads.  A few fresh-from-the-garden cherry tomatoes were added because tomatoes go well in salads!  The meat was grilled, rested, carved, cut into bite sized pieces, dressed again and plated.  Snow, in the form of fried bean threads was added to the plates for contrast and crunch at the last moment.

The salad worked well…there were layers of texture and flavor.  The book had layers of texture and interest.  I really enjoyed it. I was a little saddened that I could script parts of it, but I’m a voracious reader, and that’s a side effect. Still, Ms. Mones captivated me with her descriptions of the food items and the layers of flavor execution.  I came up for air drooling on more than one occasion.

This is my favorite read with the group Cook The Books so far. I’ve truly enjoyed this one. I’d consider checking out some of her other works just to see if her writing style stays steady.  I’m sure she’ll come back around somewhere along the line if it does.  In the meanwhile, we have another book on the horizon, and others will surely be selected as we head into the Fall and Winter.  On my own, I’m currently reading Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl, and have the Julie Powell (Julie & Julia) book on order.