Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Lunch with the Barefoot Contessa

I took a number of cooking classes at Sur la Table when a friend of mine, trained as a pastry chef, was in charge of the program at the Farmer's Market in Los Angeles. Vanessa and I were talking about cookbooks at one of them, possibly because I was complaining about incomplete recipes in some books. She told me that Ina Garten's recipes always work, and that has certainly been my experience in the years since I started cooking from her books.

We voted to use Cooking for Jeffrey as our book for this month's Cook Book Book Club. As someone cleverly pointed out on Facebook, "let's face it, all of her books are about cooking for Jeffrey." It was the first experience some of our members have had using Ina's books, but it was wildly successful. Even people who borrowed the book from the library, expressed their intentions to purchase it after having a chance to taste all the food.

The Menu:

Smoked Salmon Pizzas, p. 28
Butternut Squash & Ricotta Bruschetta, p. 57
Butternut Squash Hummus, p. 36
Asparagus & Fennel Soup, p.66
Roasted Italian Meatballs, p. 110
Kielbasa and Lentils, p. 64
Cider-Roasted Pork Tenderloins , p. 106
Brisket with Onions & Leeks, p. 96-97
Tuscan Roasted Potatoes & Lemon, p.143
Roasted Parmesan Zucchini, p. 134
Spaghetti Squash with Garlic & Parmesan, p. 158
Vanilla Cream Cheese Pound Cake, p. 208
Bourbon Honey Cake, p. 210
Frozen Hot Chocolate, p.240

The table was set with Aynsley's Cottage Garden china and Gorham's Etruscan flatware. Table cloth and napkins were from Lenox. The cobalt glassware is from Libbey. It does not pay to have expensive glassware in earthquake country.

Smoked Salmon Pizza
We had three lovely appetizers, starting with Smoked Salmon Pizzas made by Nan Cohen, who came in second at the Jeopardy! Teachers' Tournament last week. She arrived at the house with the raised dough ready to be shaped and cooked in my oven and timed to come out when most people arrived at 1 o'clock. Wonderful.

Butternut Squash and Ricotta Bruschetta
Another dish assembled in my kitchen was the Butternut Squash and Ricotta Bruschetta made by Michelle Resnick.

Then Sharon Baker showed up with the Butternut Squash Hummus and pita chips. Like my friend Gillian Horvath, Sharon likes making hummus with different ingredients. Someone pointed out the recurring ingredients in the book by mentioning the butternut squash. Truly, who could object to a new selection of recipes for butternut squash. 

Asparagus & Fennel Soup
The next course was our soup course. I made the Asparagus and Fennel soup, which started by making Ina's Chicken Stock the day before. I also used the chicken stock recipe as the basis for a vegetable stock, so I could make another batch of the asparagus and fennel without meat. Instead of chicken, I threw the stalks from the fennel bulbs I would be using in the final soup, to give some more flavor to the vegetable stock. Both versions were well received. 

Soup Course
I confess, I love making soup just to be able to use my double-handled cream soup bowls, soup tureen, and soup ladle. Everything looks so pretty.

Roasted Italian Meatballs with Spaghetti
The pasta course featured Ina's Roasted Italian Meatballs made by Karen Bailey. Inspired by the photograph of Rao's marinara sauce in the book, Karen went to the Los Angeles location of Rao's Restaurant to buy sauce to use. I do not eat beef, but everyone who does pronounced these meatballs which combine beef, pork, and veal as light and excellent. (My mother's recipe uses a combination of meats including venison, when available.) Everyone was also impressed by the flavor layer added by the Chianti in the wet ingredients for the meat balls. Karen had originally planned to make the Creamy Parmesan Polenta, but her experimentation made her decide spaghetti was the better choice in terms of flavor and textures. I was thrilled that Karen was finally in town and able to join us for a meeting and I look forward to seeing her at our next one.

My mother fries her meatballs, as many people do. I turned to oven-roasting mine years ago, mostly because it is tidier and less time-consuming than frying is. There's no better way for making meatballs for a crowd (or freezing) than the oven-roasted method.

Liz Mortensen working on potatoes.
We had neither fish nor poultry courses this time, but we had two additional meat entrees, along with some tasty side dishes.
Lentil & Kielbasa Salad

Julia Roberts made the Lentil and Kielbasa Salad, which had a nice, fresh taste and went well with the meat dishes. I don't usually think of lentils as a salad ingredient.

Parmesan Roasted Zucchini
We were treated to yellow squash and cherry tomatoes from Laurie Perry's garden, in addition to  zucchini from the morning's farmer's market, in Laurie's rendition of Parmesan Roasted Zucchini garnished with cherry tomatoes.

Spaghetti Squash with Garlic & Paremean
My sister, T Valada-Viars, made Spaghetti Squash with Garlic and Parmesan as another side dish. She roasted the squash earlier in the day at the home for which she is house sitting, and then brought the shredded spaghetti squash to be finished on top of the stove in my kitchen just before lunch started.  

Tuscan Roasted Potatoes & Lemon
The Tuscan Roasted Potatoes and Lemon that Liz Mortensen made were a good accompaniment to the meat dishes. We definitely tasted the lemon, and rosemary, garlic, and olive oil are a great way to season potatoes. I do wonder how these would taste if preserved lemons were used instead of fresh.

Cider-Roasted Pork Tenderloin
Ina's recipe for Cider-Roasted Pork Tenderloins is served with a roasted plum chutney. Unfortunately, it isn't plum season and Catherine Fleming had to replace the chutney with a plum butter. It worked quite well. This recipe is amazing, and fast--it cooks in less than half an hour in a hot oven--so long as you remember to put the pork in the marinade 8-24 hours ahead of time. I made the recipe several weeks ago and t is what I consider to be one of the real keepers from this cook book. Eventually, plums will be available, and one of us will make the plum chutney recipe.

Kim Gottlieb-Walker and Brisket with Onions & Leeks
Kim Gottlieb-Walker arrived with enough Brisket with Onions & Leeks to feed all fourteen of us and her family later that night. It smelled wonderful, but I have to rely on other people to tell me how good it tasted, since I don't eat beef, but everyone was happy. Kim said she would probably serve it with mashed potatoes at home. I suspect it with show up at several Jewish holiday dinners in the coming year. 
Vanilla Cream Cheese Pound Cake
 We had three desserts to sample. Susan Avallone, our happy baker, made the Vanilla Cream Cheese Pound Cake. She claimed it almost as soon as we chose the book, beating Sharon Baker to the recipe.

Bourbon Honey Cake
Sharon, however, decided to make the Bourbon Honey Cake as a last-minute submission in addition to her hummus. Sharon makes an excellent Eggnog with bourbon, so she couldn't resist this recipe, in spite of the almonds which decorate it (and which she can't eat.) It has a number of spices in it, and is a good recipe to keep in mind for the Jewish High Holidays in the fall.

Frozen Hot Chocolate
The final dessert offering was the Frozen Hot Chocolate inspired by the restaurant Serendipity 3 in New York, because like Ina and Jeffrey, Laura Brennan and her then beau (now husband) had the dessert at that restaurant when she was in college (at Yale, where Ina's husband Jeffrey taught for many years.) Over lunch, Laura talked about how she had accepted the invitation to the cook book book club because she felt she really didn't know much about cooking. She's not only improved her skills, but her son is learning his way around the kitchen and now is responsible for one meal a week for the family. That's a very good result, I think.

Three Desserts
Dessert was so popular that it was proposed we do a Dessert First meeting sometime down the line. My sister insists we wait until after she gets back from her summer job in New York.

Back: Liz, Laurie, Nan, Christine (hosting), Laura, Michelle, Susan, T; Front: Karen, Julia, Catherine, Sharon; Photograph by Kim Gottlieb-Walker

We are now considering books and dates for our next meeting. Besides the dessert themed meeting, Appetizers Only was suggested as another theme (because how can there be too many appetiers), and books on the list include Alton Brown's latest book, The Joy of Cooking, and a Korean comic book with recipes. We expect to have another fine time.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Visit to Jerusalem

 I purchased the book Plenty several years ago when a number of friends had it on their Christmas lists and it was well-reviewed all over the place. I particularly liked the photograph of the eggplant with the pomegranate seeds, even though my husband and son won't eat eggplant. The critical attention paid to Jerusalem: A Cookbook was not to be ignored, so when Laurie Perry suggested it as a pre-Passover/Easter selection for the Cook Book Book Club, a majority of our members agreed. We met on March 26 for a wonderful feast and several of the recipes (and one new one) went on to a Passover seder not long after.


Jerusalem was written by chefs Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, who were raised in different parts of Jerusalem but met in London where they are now business partners. Yotam's father was an Italian Jew whose family relocated to Jerusalem, and Sami's family is from the Muslim area of eastern Jerusalem. The book gives a strong sense of the culinary traditions of both cultures, and how Jerusalem has changed over the years. It's a fascinating read, and there are photographs for every recipe given.


Ka'ach Bilmalch with Parsley-Garlic-Yogurt Sauce
Raw Artichoke and Herb Salad
Baby Spinach Salad with Dates and Almonds
Pistachio Soup
Herb Pie 
Lemony Leek Meatballs
Fish and Caper Kebobs with Burnt Eggplant and Lemon Pickle
Chicken with Clementines and Arak
Stuffed Eggplant with Lamb and Pinenuts
Poached Pears in White Wine and Cardamom
Clementine and Almond Syrup Cake

Ka'ach Bilmalch with Parsley-Garlic-Yogurt Sauce
My favorite over-achiever Susan Avallone, who loves to bake and also brought dessert, made Ka'ach Bilmalch (which sounds like a Klingon threat) with a Parsley-Garlic-Yogurt Sauce, on which we nibbled as everyone else arrived and dishes made it to the table. They are almost like teething bagels, or perhaps the savory version of the Italian biscuit tarella, but we did enjoy them, with or without the sauce.
Raw Artichoke and Herb Salad
We began the sit-down lunch with a pair of salads. Crystal Armstrong made the Raw Artichoke and Herb Salad, while my sister T Valada-Viars made the Baby Spinach Salad with Dates and Almonds. Following the rule that we should try to follow the recipe and not increase proportions, because we're just looking for a taste, poor Crystal did not get a serving of her own, wonderful, salad. Kudos to Crystal for cleaning those fresh artichokes to shave into the salad.

Baby Spinach Salad with Dates and Almonds
T's salad was equally appreciated, and she modified it to take it to a seder on the first night of Passover by substituting matzoh for the pita "croutons."
Pistachio Soup
Michelle Resnick had a go at the Pistachio Soup recipe. By using vegetable stock instead of chicken stock, she was able to make a soup our vegetarian would have eaten (she had to cancel at the last minute) and one she could (and did) serve at her seder to the vegans who attended. 
Herb Pie
The Herb Pie, a variation on the feta pies found all over the middle east, was made by Sharon Baker. When she explained some of the issues she had in putting the pie together because of the fragility of filo, Laurie recommended that next time she take two sheets at a time. Sharon reported back that the trick worked well when she made the pie again.
Quick Pickled Lemon
My contribution to the meal consisted of Fish and Caper Kabobs with Burnt Eggplant and Lemon Pickle. The first step in this entree involved making a batch of the Quick Pickled Lemons because there was not enough time to make Preserved Lemons. The pickled lemons require about two days of advanced planning, but the preserved lemons need at least a month (I now have a jar of them in the cabinet, too.) The lemon is really a garnish for the eggplant.

I took advantage of my kitchen grill and prepared the eggplant that way, charring the skin all over on the flames and then letting the flesh drain and cool well before chopping it up and adding the other ingredients. The book discusses whether this eggplant rises to being called baba ganoush or if it is just an eggplant salad (tahini appears to be the decisive factor, and this recipe doesn't have it.) I personally don't care, because I will eat any eggplant dish that is put before me.
A plate with a bit of everything, with the Burnt Eggplant and Lemon Pickle at the bottom, and the Fish and Caper Kabob above them to the left.
The fish "kabobs" were more like oval-shaped patties, and weren't on any kind of a skewer. They were rather fragile, and I think they needed more oil for frying than I prepared. I was rather disappointed, but everyone else pronounced them good. I would probably try making them again sometime.
Yogurt with Cucumber
Because I will take any excuse to make tatziki, or whatever the equivalent dish is in the many countries surrounding the Mediterranean, I prepared the Yogurt with Cucumber from Jerusalem. The combination of fresh and dried mint may have been what I was missing when I tried to replicate the version from my favorite local Lebanese restaurant. I could eat it for lunch any day. 
Lemony Leek Meatballs

The cucumber and yogurt was also a good accompaniment to the fish and the beef Lemony Leek Meatballs which Amie Brockway-Metcalf made. She had arrived home from a family vacation the day before and thought it was a recipe she could pull together with limited time. She was correct (and they looked so much nicer than my fish.)
Chicken with Clementines and Arak

Just as I tend to look for fish recipes to prepare, Laurie Perry seems to make a number of the chicken dishes we've eaten. This time, her submission was Chicken with Clementines and Arak. So moist, so delicious, and, apparently, so easy. She planned to make it for Passover. I'm impressed by how good chicken thighs can be when chicken breasts tend to become very, very dry. I can't make this for my family, since my son is allergic to oranges and their variations, but I would consider making this dish if I were making dishes for a large dinner and there would be something else for him to eat.  
Stuffed Eggplant with Lamb and Pinenuts
As I have said repeatedly, I will eat eggplant in pretty much any form it comes in. Kim Gottlieb-Walker made the Stuffed Eggplant with Lamb and Pinenuts. This is another dish which would be ideal for making for a large dinner party, and Kim brought a huge pan of it to the lunch. Each half of the eggplants above could easily serve two people. Add some bread and an salad and it would be a perfect lunch on its own.
Conchiglie with Yogurt, Peas & Chile
Although it was removed from the menu when Liz Mortensen said she couldn't attend the lunch, I decided we needed a starch and Laurie and I made the Conchiglie with Yogurt, Peas, and Chile Liz  was going to do for us. It turned out to be easy, and made a huge amount of pasta, easily a meal on its own on another day. It was also very pretty. I think it would probably be better while still hot, before the yogurt was soaked up by the pasta.
Poached Pears in White Wine and Cardamom
We had two wonderful desserts. Catherine Fleming made Poached Pears in White Wine and Cardamom and Susan made another fabulous cake, this time Clementine and Almond Syrup Cake. 
The pears were served with a spoonful of creme fraiche, and also had some saffron coloring the wine syrup. A dessert like this is perfect note for ending a meal.
Clementine and Almond Syrup Cake
Susan's cake used finely ground almonds, which she took the time to do herself, but pre-ground almond flour from someplace like Bob's Red Mill would probably make it easier. The dark chocolate ganache is a perfect finish to the moist cake underneath, which was soaked in the clementine syrup. I saved another piece for a later snack. So did my sister.
A piece of cake for later.
I expect that recipes from this book will have a regular rotation in my kitchen. I look forward to June, when it will be the Food52 Cookbook Club selection and I will have 30 days of excuses to cook from Jerusalem.

Pickled Lemons for next time.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Julia Child and All of Us: Our First Anniversary & Seventh Meeting

The Lovely Ladies who braved Mastering the Art of French Cooking in February, from left clockwise: Liz Mortensen, Crystal Armstrong, Catherine Fleming, Sharon Baker, Christine Valada, Laura Brennan, Julia Roberts, Susan Avallone, Michelle Resnick, T Valada-Viars, and Lisa Klink (photo by Kerry Glover.)
Being brave souls and encouraged by the fact that we made it through a year of meetings, the Cook Book Book Club celebrated its first anniversary by turning to the feared Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child on February 4, 2017.


Pan Francais
Aigo Bouido (Garlic Soup), v.1, p. 47
Quiche aux Fruits de Mer, v. 1, p. 149
Camembert Quiche, v. 1, p. 148
Coquilles St. Jacque a la Parisienne, v. 1, pp. 216-218
Filets de Poisson a la Bretonne, v. 1, p. 211 
 Pommes de Terre au Basilic, v. 2, p. 388
Poached Chicken in White Wine w/Provencal, v.1, p. 261 
 Duck with Cherries, v. 1
Vegetables a la Grecque, v. 1, p. 537
Reine de Saba (Chocolate & Almond Cake), v.1, p. 677
Clafouti aux Poires (Pear Flan), v. 1, p. 656 

I find this book somewhat intimidating, not because the instructions are complicated, but more because they are laid out in such an exacting manner that something that should only take a page runs to six, or a recipe that could be done in a matter of hours takes days. We've come to the conclusion that this may be because when the book came out, there were not chefs all over television doing demonstrations, making home cooks far more sophisticated in their cooking skills and much less likely to need such elaborate instruction.

But take the French Bread for example. It is less complicated than Nancy Silverton's bread recipes which begin with creating your own starter from the grapes you have growing on the trellis outside your kitchen in your potager. No kidding. I did this, since how else could I know that my grapes were untreated by pesticides. And I will also add that it is the only time my attempt at making a sourdough starter actually worked the way it was supposed to. What I did not know was how much flour would give up its life to keep the starter alive over the course of about 18 months, because there's no way three people could eat as much bread as would be required to use all of it. The dogs were very happy with the resulting dog biscuits which became the go-to when overwhelmed by the Blob That Grew in My Kitchen and I did pretty much work my way through the entire Breads from the La Brea Bakery cook book. But I digress.

The recipe for bread spans pages and pages. It suggests a time-table of around 18 hours. I started the night before, and I let one rise take place outside on a cold night--I had no room in my refrigerator for that particular proofing of the dough. I decided not to do baguettes because I did not have the cloche or a metal pan to hold the narrow loaves in the manner described. I did, however, have a pair of bannetons, left over from the above mentioned affair with Nancy, that I may never have used. Julia gave me the instructions I needed to be able to use them without the dough sticking to the baskets: a spray of Pam and rice flour. Worked like a charm. 
Shaped loaf before putting it in a banneton.
Finishing the baking.
I did the final rise in my oven at the "proof" setting, which was a setting I knew I wanted once I heard about it. I can use it while the other oven (I have a double electric wall oven) is preheating my baking stone to 550 degrees. (The new oven, which was installed days before Thanksgiving, makes it easier to add a pan of water to produce steam for the desired crisp crust on French bread.)
After the final rise, the dough was carefully rolled out of the banneton onto parchment paper, scored, and slid into the oven onto the baking stone. I added cold water and ice to the heated metal pan on the bottom of the oven to create steam. The bread had plenty of oven spring and it was soft on the inside while crunchy on the outside. I served it with unsalted Kerry Gold butter (because I couldn't find any French cultured butter) and we also ate it with Julia Robert's pate. Needless to say, everyone loved the final product and I fully intend to make it again (although I am now working on wet-batter Pullman loaves for sandwiches since I finally broke down and bought a Pullman pan.)
Chicken liver pate.
Liz Mortensen made Aido Bouido, or garlic soup. It was actually light and not overly garlicy (not that that would have been a problem with our group.) I think that one of the pleasures of these meals is that someone almost always makes soup and we get to serve it in the cute cream soup bowls that go with the Aynsley Cottage Garden soup tureen. (I also just acquired the most wonderful replacement for the plastic ladles we've been using. I can't wait to show it to everyone next month.)
Aido Bouido
We then moved on to two different quiches. Michelle Resnick made Quiche aux Fruits de Mer while Catherine Fleming made the Camembert Quiche.
Quiche aux Fruits de Mer
Camembert Quiche
I know that Michelle had done a dry run on her quiche a week or two before our lunch because she sent me a text mentioning she had a date with Julia that night. Catherine's choice reminded me of the time my husband and I were watching Food Network one Saturday night and there was a show on all about camembert. When it finished, we looked at each other and proclaimed "must have cheese!" We raced out into the San Fernando Valley darkness at 8:30 on a weekend night, looking for any place that might be open and would have the cheese and bread we sought. Trader Joe's let us down, but we were able to get to Whole Foods where the large cheese display did, in fact, have camembert and some other excellent French cheeses that we consumed for our supper. Both quiches would make an excellent meal with a side salad. I always forget how relatively easy quiche is to make and that it is a good way to incorporate leftovers into a different dish.
We were treated to two different fish preparations for our next course, Coquilles St. Jacques a la Parisienne made by Kerry Glover and Filets de Poisson a la Bretonne made by Lisa Klink. 
Coquilles St. Jacques a la Parisienne
Kerry decided to make the scallops in a casserole, rather than in individual dishes, because it would be easier to transport. I let her know that if she wanted to make them in individual ramekins next time, I had more than enough for everyone. Somehow, I became obsessed with the Cottage Garden ramekins and I now own more than two dozen of them. Unfortunately, I only have half-a-dozen ramekin forks. (First World problem, indeed.)

Though I may have forgotten to process the photos, I don't seem to have any pictures of Lisa's dish, or the Pommes de Terre au Basilic that Sharon Baker made, which we ate with the fish dishes. If I find the photos, or if anyone else has them, I will add them to this post later.

We moved on to a poultry course with Poached Chicken in White Wine with Provencal, made by Crystal Armstrong, and Duck with Cherries, which I made.
Poached Chicken in White Wine with Provencal
Duck with Cherries
Crystal's chicken looks like a good choice for a large group of people and tasted very good in its tomato-based sauce. While there was enough duck to go around for a tasting meal, as this obviously was, I think that there's really never enough duck which really is a stretch if there's more than 3 people eating. I would definitely consider two ducks to be the minimum for six people if it is the main course. The cherry accompaniment is made separately and spooned over the duck portion when it is carved and plated. I would definitely consider spatchcocking the duck to help it render the fat and cook a little faster.

We ate Laura Brennan's Vegetables a la Grecque with the poultry course and they could almost serve as a European salad course prior to dessert. She made one version with eggplant and a second with mushrooms. Both were finished with an oil and lemon juice dressing, which was good for cutting the fat from the bird dishes.
Vegetables a la Grecque (Eggplant).
Vegetables a la Grecque (Mushrooms).
Also missing from the photographs is the braised red cabbage with chestnuts I made, which was the book's suggested side for the duck. It was very popular with everyone, but it is another of those dishes which take a lot longer to make than even the cook book indicates. It is definitely a winter dish.

There were two desserts, a pear clafouti and Reine de Saba. My sister T Valada-Viars made the Clafouti aux Poires, which the cook book translated as "pear flan." It was a very light dough, but not so creamy as a flan which is more like a pudding.
Clafouti aux Poires on the range.
Clafouti aux Poires after it finished baking in the oven.
The Claflouti started on the stove-top but finished in the oven. She cooked it in a 10" Le Creuset braising pan.

Susan Avallone, who always looks for something to bake, took on the Reine de Saba, one of Julia Child's favorite recipes. It is a very rich, chocolate and almond torte with a chocolate glaze. Susan tried it two different ways, with different textured almond meal or flour.
Two versions of Reine de Saba.
Either way, it was delicious.

I might very well suggest we revisit Julia sometime in the future. There are so many more recipes to try and we did such a good job with it the first time around, it will be far less intimidating when we go back to it again. However, so many cook books, so little time. Bon appetito!