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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Novel Review and Menu: Jesse Browner

Over the years I have become an afficianado of Jesse Browner's work.

One of the most mesmerizing works to combine culinary and fiction in his novel, The Uncertain Hour, Mr. Browner brings us to visit and partake in the intense last hours and Roman feast of Titus Petronius. The tense narrative moves through saffron fields, Lucanian sausages, and an Umbrian boar with a stuffed belly of Chian figs and moist chestnuts. Delicious, no? (Think I am putting this on my bed table again!) But be warned the story is not all sweetness and light. Petronius is, little by little, ending his life as the feast and his lovers and friends swirl around him.

His most recent release Everything Happens Today gives us Wes, a poetic and distraught 17 year old who has had quite the day but is thus preparing a dinner he hopes will heal his disparate family. We watch while he presses and preps an elegant old world specialty- Ris de Veau, or Sweetbreads, or otherwise known as veal thymus glands.

Perhaps due to a European upbringing Mr. Browner creates worlds of culinary forays, intricate preparations in all their social and cultural realms. Mr. Browner entices a very intoxicating sensuality; and isn't this connection wrought with the most sublime and fragile emotions; yes, food! warm and flowing sauces brings us all to the door; opening to the kitchen or a banquet of words, I am there!

Accras de Morue, Fritters of Salt Cod from the Arles market
and from the C’est si Bon! kitchen

These fritters of spices and salt cod are so delicious you’ll be transported to the ancient streets of your choice. my inspiration are the hot little amuse bouche that call, their scent pulling me through the very raucous and Romanesque market in Arles.

1/2 pound skinless boneless salt cod, cut into 2-inch pieces and rinsed
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup milk
1 large egg
3/4 teaspoon double-acting baking powder
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ tsp. each cumin and coriander seed, toasted and ground
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
a 4-inch-long fresh hot red or green chili, seeded and minced (wear rubber gloves)
3 scallions, chopped fine
vegetable oil for deep-frying

in a large bowl let the salt cod soak in enough cold water to cover it by 3 inches, changing the water several times, for at least 8 hours or overnight. 

drain the salt cod well in a sieve and in a food processor purée it. add the flour, the milk, the egg, the baking powder, the ground cumin, coriander, thyme, and the garlic and blend the mixture well. 

transfer the mixture to a bowl and stir in the chili and the scallions. 

in a deep fryer or large deep skillet heat 1 1/2 inches of the oil to 360°f. on a deep-fat thermometer and in it fry teaspoons of the mixture in batches, stirring and turning them occasionally, for 1 to 2 minutes, or until they are golden and cooked through. 

transfer the fritters as they are fried with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. 

they are best served immediately and warm. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Cook With Me: Friends For Dinner is Like Las Vegas, Part Deaux

Read Part One: Having Friends For Dinner is Like Las Vegas

(As we left the previous episode I was listening to "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas's" Raoul Duke's immortal suggestions, while mid-way into preparations and contemplating a nap before our friends come for dinner.)

Eureka! Putting away the leftover lentils I had for lunch, I spy a bowl of fresh beets in the fridge, cooked, and ready! These are Gold. Not golden beets, but gold in terms of having something delicious to turn into another small plate. Or, is this, could this be the unknown appetizer?

Rule # 6 Don't Let Things Go Till the Last Minute

The beet red juice overflows when I add vinegar and honey, staining the wood floor and my toes. Great, now I have beet feet.

"It's okay, I don't mind, " I tell my husband, Rich. "And, alright if I use some of your hard-boiled eggs?"  He keeps a stash of our hens eggs, hard-boiled in the fridge for lunch.

"Some?" He gives me "the look" as he wipes up the red juice with a white side towel. "How many is some?"

I quickly peel and add half a dozen these into the bowl of beets and tart/sweet liquid.

"You love pickled eggs!" I swing over at him, hoping to dissolve "the look," that's getting more and more

Rule #7: Remember Not Everyone in the House Shares Your State of Culinary Dogma*

*Culinary Dogma is a state of everything funneling towards one existence. Dinner. Or in some cases, Casse Croute- Snacks.

I peek in. The eggplants in the oven have not yet collapsed and neither have I, though I should. In order to set the table I dig into the tangle of just washed napkins, aprons, chef jackets, tablecloths and side towels from the recent Team Building on the Dining Room Table. Then.... I lay out the placemats, dishes, glasses and silverware so its all ready for the guests to set the table.

Rule # 8 Ask Your Guests to Help! No, Really. They Want To.

Unload and reload the dishwasher. Wash pots and pans. How did all that take an hour? I was having fun though. 

During theses times of folding, loading, and washing - my mind conjures and rearranges bits and pieces of the menu. The scent of sauteed garlic and onions, bay leaves, and crushed tomatoes simmers on the stove. So far I am one step ahead of time. Sweet. Maybe I can take that nap after all.

The eggplants come out of the oven. Rich turned off the vacum, but left it in the middle of the Great Room. Looking Not So Very, you guessed it, Great. Fish, he muttered. I think. Then the kitchen door closed behind him and he backed out of the driveway to scuttle on down to Carrboro's Fishmonger. Should I text him what kind, exactly? No, I was a Professional. I can handle whatever he decides. Gulp.

Rich texted me to chill bottles of Sancerre, Chablis, and Rose.

I chewed a dried fig carefully and thought over the years. Then another fig. And another.

Rule # 9 - During Pre-Event Hours Don't Eat Anything That Will Be a  Digestive Disaster, Later!

My style of entertaining had changed completely; from doing it all and being everything. As if I even could. I gave up the notion clutched in my hot little paws that because I was a professional chef I didn't have to be human. In the early days of inviting people I thought it was a given that I must put on a show.  They were coming to see cooking, real cooking with flames and drips and butter and witty repartee at the same time! When I shut the door amidst a flurry of good-byes I was exhausted and not that happy, not happy at all. Were my guests? Maybe, but the key is if I was not relaxed maybe they were not either.

Rule # 10 - Relax. Your Guests Take Their Cue From You.

Then, my style morphed into the Mom mode. I would be everyone's Mom at the table. More water, yes. Another plate of pasta? I'll toss it for you! Of course. I nurtured everyone into a stupefying trance.

But I was circling the conversation, not joining in. Hovering. And I found out I didn't want to be everyone's Mom, (I had two lovely young boys with friends of their own, who kept me quite busy!) I had other things to contribute.

These days I keep any last minute show to sauteing shrimp, pulling a pan of focaccia from the oven, going to the garden with my friends for fresh herbs, or whipping cream for the dense chocolate cake. I give them a job too; snipping chives over the salad.

Rich pushes open the door. He has tuna.
"Tuna?What kind?" I had been focusing, a sort of distant mind-willing for him to buy shrimp with the heads on.

"I know you. But this is the Not-Shrimp kind of Tuna."

He had made a bold move.

As our calico cat, Gabby, stretches out her paws from the nearby sofa, I am reminded of a Tigress, and a lazing in the sun feline ambiance creeps over me.

After my nap there will be time to empty vases at the kitchen window of their spent flowers and replace them with....I don't know yet, something. What, Dorette, think! Maybe from the garden. Tarragon's yellow flowers.

Rich tucks the tuna in the fridge and I stretch my hands towards the sofa. Just for a little.
The tiniest smidgen of a nap. Two hours to go.

And as I dreamt of Raoul Duke in Las Vegas. I heard him say You Must Remember This:

"The possibility of physical and mental collapse is now very real. No sympathy for the Devil, keep that in mind. Buy the ticket, take the ride." 

Rule #11: Take a Little Breather. Stop and Smell the Tarragon of Life.

I'd like to say dinner turned out fine. Just fine. And it did. The tuna steaks got pounded and stuffed. Sent off to the Grill. They are great cold, as are the bottles of Sancerre, Chablis and Rose. But none of it matters around the table. By the time you get there, everything else falls away. But the Eleven Rules of Entertaining are worth posting. What are your rules for entertaining?

Eleven Rules of Entertaining

Rule #1 - Be Organized
Rule #2 - Shop in Advance
Rule # 3 - Know Your Limits
Rule #4 - Ask if Your Guests have Special Diets
Rule # 5 - Be Flexible and Roll With It

Rule # 6 - Don't Let Things Go Till the Last Minute
Rule #7 - Remember Not Everyone in the House Shares Your State of Culinary Dogma*

*Culinary Dogma is a state of everything funneling towards one existence. Dinner. Or in some cases, Casse Croute- Snacks.

Rule # 8 - Ask Your Guests to Help! No, Really. They Want To.
Rule # 9 - During Pre-Event Hours Don't Eat Anything That Will Be a  Digestive Disaster, Later!
Rule # 10 - Relax. Your Guests Take Their Cue From You.
Rule #11 - Take a Little Breather. Stop and Smell the Tarragon of Life.

I hung up my apron, sat down and joined our friends.

Thin Sliced Tuna rolled and stuffed with Broccoli Rabe and Garlic 
(Braciola ‘I Pisci Spata)

When I see braciola in a recipe title I automatically think “beef” but in this case the beef is Sicily’s beef, from the sea. Most of the recipes I’ve seen for this rolled and stuffed fish dish, call for swordfish.  I made the switch primarily because my husband, Rich, loves tuna. This recipe actually makes enough stuffing for 8 slices or if you prefer to have extra stuffing on your plate or to save for another dish, such as stuffed chicken breasts.

makes 4 stuffed rolls with extra stuffing  or enough for 8 stuffed rolls

4 thin slices tuna, sliced less than 1/4 “ thick
1/4 cup olive oil
1 small red onion, finely chopped
3 cloves spring garlic, minced
4 anchovies rolled with capers, minced
1 bunch broccoli rabe, finely chopped
1/4 cup marsala
4 tablespoons fresh bread crumbs
1/4 pound mild provolone, shredded
bamboo skewers or toothpicks soaked in water for 10 minutes

Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat and when it’s hot add the onion.  Saute until the onion begins to brown, about 3 minutes.  Add the garlic, minced anchovies, and the broccoli rabe and continue sauteeing until the rabe is bright green, add the marsala immediately and cook another minute or two. Remove from the heat and add the fresh bread crumbs, stir well, and then add the shredded cheese.  Allow to cool before rolling and stuffing the tuna.

Lay the slices on a flat surface.  Place 1/3 cup stuffing on each of the four slices. Roll up the slices so the edges meet.  Secure your fish with bamboo skewers or tooth picks or tie with cotton butchers twine. Brush or massage olive oil onto each one.  These are perfect outdoors on the grill. Try these, and let me know how you like them.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Write With Me: City of Ladies, Wins Anderbo Prize!

In 2011, when I was looking for a nice and beautiful sunlit maison for my novel, then entitled City of Ladies, it won first prize in the Anderbo Novel Contest!

I did not take this lightly and am still quite honored to remember the day.

Many Merci's to Rick Rofihe and all of the Anderbo staff for this distinctive honor and unique contest that brings forth many talented writers. Just take a gander on the following writers...

Contest Finalists (Whole Novel-Manuscript) were:

"ADRIFT IN THE SOUND" by Kate Campbell, Sacramento, California
"HALLELUJAH" by Liz Shine, Olympia, Washington
"PROSPECTS OF JOY" by Charles Holdefer, Brussels, Belgium
"THE HOLLOWING MOON" by Aida Zilelian, New York City
"HERE IS A GAME WE COULD PLAY" by Jenny BitnerSan Francisco, California

Stay tuned for more tales of France, as I revise.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Cook With Me: Friends For Dinner is Like Las Vegas

It's the Holidays, and you might well be scurrying about: Friends are coming to Dinner!

Or is Social Updating limited to Twitter and Facebook. Do you invite people over? Do you get nervous and then mad? Wish you'd never invited them? Throughout my years of teaching I have listened to many stories from friends and my students. Fear. Loathing. More Fear.

You'd think entertaining was like Las Vegas with Johnny Depp. And in the immortal words of Raoul Duke-

"There was madness in any direction, any hour. You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning."

Okay, this is before you get started, right? The evening beckons and promises to be beautiful from afar, elegant, mysterious, and powerful. But just turn your back for one minute.....

So, I've come up with a set of rules that I follow.

I recently too extended an invitation and immediately my mind luxuriated in the ambiance of the whole scene. No, I don't do psychedelic drugs like Raoul, but there was a flurry of sparks and a universal glow in the sky! I closed my eyes to the aroma of sauces reducing. Even the pile of dirty pots and pans, could not dissuade me. I love them all! (Truly, I do love washing dishes.) And I pictured in a moment of triumph the last moment, as I hang up my apron by the refrigerator and sat with my friends at the table, tucking my leg under me. Candles flickering, wine is sipped. Spoons lift soup from bowls.

"Let's keep it simple this time," I said to my husband, Rich, as I sat down to make a list.

Eleven Rules of Cooking For Guests

Rule #1 - Be organized

He rolled his eyes at me, if you can imagine.

Glancing at the clock showed there was still six hours till our friends arrive. PLENTY of time. Oodles in fact.
"I know what you're thinking. Have you no faith that I can change?"

He unpacked the bags from the farmer's market.

Rule #2 - Shop in advance

"Ok, just what is up with your eyes?" I ask.

A deluge of rain began outside. And my eyes were already closing, so melodic is the pitter patter of drops.
So I plan my strategy over an early lunch at my computer; a bowl of warmed leftover chicken piccata and lentils, I assembled my list to assess just how expertly matched were my ambitions and my time.


Rule # 3 - Know your Limits

Appetizers - Unknown (something will surely show itself)
Roasted Broccoli Salad
Another Veg
Home-Baked Focaccia
Fish - Whatever Rich "Catches"
Flourless Chocolate Cake - Already Baked, Yay!

What could be simpler, I asked? As I stepped up from the office, piercing and tumbling two eggplant on another pan and opening the oven to the scent of roasting garlic and a nicely crisp broccoli, I pondered. The sublime image of going to the garden with our guests to pick some herbs and lettuces. Ouch. Now my hand was burnt. With ice on my hand, dripping on my list. Whatever came after "Another Veg" gets blurry. Okay, now I remember. Done. I cross off Focaccia. My guests  voices boomed in my head: Let there be No Carbs. Okay! Okay!

Rule #4 - Ask if Your Guests have Special Diets

Rain poured - it shooted in fact, out of the downspout. Rich had not yet cleaned the leaves out of the gutters.

But before I could snap into a nap I set down to wait for the two eggplants. After they cool, a simple chopping with capers and they'll climb in with the burbling sauce of tomatoes, garlic, celery, onions, and peppers on the stove. I'll stir in some broken shards of 85 % chocolate. This version of Sicilian Caponata is a favorite and hails form Papa Andrea's Sicilian Table. Spicy, sweet, and salty from capers and aromatic from our fresh bay leaves.

Turning the heat to low, the computer dings in the office, and demands that I answer a few - just a few- more emails. Good thing as there was an email from the folks coming.

She begins, "Did I mention he's allergic to garlic and onions? But he can "eat around" anything you make. He'll be fine," she concludes.

What? I say to myself? Everything has garlic and onions.

Rule # 5 Be Flexible and Roll With It

Oh, well. I won't put any more garlic and onions in anything -- its fine.

And surely while I am in this chair its efficient to update Twitter and Facebook, too. Then I can really relax and enjoy the afternoon and evening!

With Social Updating complete, I push away from the desk. But it nags at me, a little, isn't that what dinners are? Social Updating? Or were, I say, before we all got so social that we never see each other anymore.

Come back for the conclusion of this story, and feel free to leave a comment.

Do you do Social Updating by have friends over for dinner? And how do you manage it? What happens in your kitchen?

Sicily’s Caponata
from the C’est si Bon! kitchen revised from Papa Andrea’s Sicilian Table written by Vincent Schiavelli (who you might remember as the Subway Phantom in the film, Ghost.)

Believe me, there is enough written about this Sicilian dish to keep you entertained for weeks, and as many recipes to try. This dish epitomizes the Sicilian propensity to mix all the culinary influences pushing at its shores. North African influences add the sultanas, (raisins) almonds, and bitter chocolate.

2 large eggplants, roasted til they collapse, then chopped in ½” pieces

Tomato Sauce
6 cloves garlic, salted and minced
3 ribs celery, thinly sliced
1 cup large green olives with pits, if possible
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup red wine, more if needed
1 32 ounce can italian plum tomatoes, crushed
1/2 cup sultanas or raisins
2 teaspoons honey
1 bunch fresh basil, chopped
½ tsp each cracked black pepper and smoked paprika

Add Later:
3 ounces of dark (85% cocoa) chocolate, broken
balsamic vinegar

Remove the pits from the green olives by smashing them between rocks from your Sicilian estate. If that’s not possible, just use your wooden cutting board and smash them as you would garlic, with your chef knife.

Pierce and roast the eggplants at 350 for about 45 minutes or til they collapse. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. Chop as directed.

Mince garlic. Slice celery as directed.

Assemble remaining ingredients for the tomato sauce.
Heat olive oil over medium heat in a pan deep and large enough to stir the tomato sauce.

When the oil is hot begin by sautéing the celery - about 5 minutes. then, add the garlic and olives. Keep stirring and tossing til golden deglaze with the wine and reduce the heat to medium low and add the tomatoes, sultanas, basil, sugar or honey, paprika and pepper. simmer for 30 minutes. taste for seasoning. adjust.

While this is cooking, chop your cooled eggplants.
To the tomato sauce add chocolate, stir til melted.
Remove from heat and add eggplant. mix well together, gently.
and taste. It should have a sweet sour salty taste.
Adjust with balsamic vinegar.

Great served cold or hot. With bread and friends!
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