Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Cook Book Book Club Meeting #4

We met in the heat of August to share recipes from an old favorite of mine: Cucina Fresca by Viana La Place and Evan Kleiman.

I bought the original edition of this book years ago when I still lived in the Washington, D.C. area and found it to be an excellent choice for food to take to a picnic at Wolf Trap in the summer. Out here, it is a great go-to for the Hollywood Bowl. Evan Kleiman used to have a wonderful restaurant on Melrose Avenue called Angeli Cafe.* It closed a few years ago and it is much missed, but Evan is still around Los Angeles, where she's done a radio show on KCRW since 1997 and teaches private cooking classes.

The menu:
Fresh Ricotta--P. 92
Ricotta & Basil Tart--P. 124
Mushroom Tart--P. 122
Potato-Tomato Soup with Sage--P. 31
Parsley Frittata with Bread Crumbs--P. 108
Grilled Tuna with Tomato Garnish--P. 190
Summer Squash Stuffed with Veal Risotto--P. 166
Spinach Croquettes--P. 166
Marscapone with Raspberry Puree--P. 254
Caramelized Figs--P. 242

Table was set with dishes from 222 Fifth called Coastal Breeze. I had been looking for something that looked like a day at the beach to coordinate with my back yard (known as Maui in L.A. by those who have been to Maui; I have not) and this stoneware set fit the bill. I haunted Home Goods from here to Tucson to find 16 place-settings, and finally had to finish up by purchasing some of the soup bowls through Replacements, Ltd. Fortunately, Replacements had the same good prices as Home Goods, not the outrageous prices I saw on eBay. Flatware is my everyday Act I by Oneida. Glassware is Libbey cobalt water/iced tea and Longchamps champagne flutes. (We live in earthquake country, and after I lost my few pieces of Waterford in the 1994 earthquake, I decided I shouldn't spend more than a few dollars on my stemware.) My intention is to eventually use these dishes with an antique silver plate pattern I collect from Rogers Bros. called Columbia, which also is water-themed.

The contingent was a bit smaller than usual because my sister was back east for the summer and several people were traveling or had other conflicts. The food was, as usual, wonderful.

Fresh Ricotta with Green Olives and Herbs
We started by sampling Laurie Perry's homemade ricotta served with olives and a squeeze of lemon. It is a relatively simple process to turn milk into the soft, warm curds of cheese. Definitely worth the effort, even if it does take a lot of milk for not so much cheese. I took a class in cheese-making at Sur la Table several years ago where we made ricotta, mozzarella, and burrata. I've got the acids for doing it at home in the refrigerator (if you have a place that sells product for making beer at home, they probably also sell product for making cheese), but I haven't given it a try.

Ricotta and Basil Tart
Mushroom Tart
We were treated to two different savory tarts, a ricotta and basil tart made by Susan Avallone and the mushroom tart that Maria Alexander brought. I recall Maria saying she was running late because she had to send her husband off to buy an appropriately-sized tart pan which delayed getting the tart in the oven.

Potato-Tomato Soup with Sage
Sharon Baker brought a great potato-tomato soup with sage.The ten cloves of garlic in it were subtle, not overwhelming. It uses a little bit of cream to smooth out the texture when the soup is pureed, and it is light and refreshing.

Parsley Frittata with Bread Crumbs
Liz added an herb frittata, which has become one of her favorite things to make for a pot luck at our house.

Grilled Tuna with Tomato Garnish
I grilled tuna garnished with tomatoes and arugula. It became one of my favorite recipes from the book and I've made it several times since. The recipe calls for three pounds of tun cut into slices no thicker than half an inch, which is brushed with olive oil and grilled. It is then set aside to cool while the garnish is made with diced tomatoes, large capers, and olive oil. The arugula is set on a platter and the tuna is laid over it. Cover the tuna with the tomato mixture and then sprinkled with pepper and drizzled with a good, aged Balsamic vinegar. Simple and delicious. It's perfect for a picnic or dinner on the veranda in the summer.
Spinach Croquettes
Amie Brockway-Metcalf brought the spinach croquettes, garnished with lemons. She needed something she could put together when she got back from a trip to New York, and this worked out quite well.

Summer Squash Stuffed with Veal Risotto
Julia Roberts brought a selection of patty pan squash stuffed with veal risotto. The presentation was very pretty and delicious.

Marscapone with Raspberry Puree and Caramelized Fig with Whipped Cream
Susan Avallone was very disappointed there weren't really any dessert options that she considered "dessert," but decided to take a stab at the marscapone with raspberry puree. It was a huge hit, and she liked it well enough to make it again to serve at her cookie exchange before Christmas. 

I can't find it in my notes, but I think that Catherine Fleming must have made the caramelized figs with whipped cream. It was a light touch to end the meal.

As I write this, A Room with a View is on the television. The food from this book is largely based on the kinds of food one eats in Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna where I spent three weeks in Italy during the summer of 1985, two of which were at a food photography workshop in a little place called Vernasca. The film was released in 1986, indicating it was probably shot close to the same time I was there. I'm enjoying the scenes from places I've been in Florence, and thinking about the wonderful meals I had there. It is virtually impossible to have a bad meal in Italy.

*My favorite memory of Angeli Cafe was the night my friend Karen Bodner and I attended a family-style feast of seven fishes dinner that Evan did just before Christmas one of the last years the restaurant was opened. We were seated with several couples. One of the women was talking about a writing project she was working on about the military mule remounts that were training to be used in Afghanistan. And I'm pretty sure she talked about a book on Rin Tin Tin she had just finished. It turned out to be Susan Orlean. I gave autographed copies of the Rin Tin Tin book to Karen and my husband the next Christmas.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Cook Book Book Club Meeting #2

The Cook Book Book Club met for the second time in March 2016 and prepared recipes from Mediterranean: Food of the Sun by Jacqueline Clark and Joanna Farrow.
It is not a new book, but it has amazing recipes and good photographs. It covers the entire range of the countries rimming the Mediterranean sea, focusing on fresh ingredients with which it is a pleasure to work.

The menu: 
Hummus Bi Tahina
Sweet and Sour Onion Salad
Couscous Salad
Turkish Salad
Vegan Moroccan Curry with Couscous
Grilled Sea Bass with Fennel
Egyptian Rice and Lentils
Chicken Thighs with Lemon and Garlic
Risotto with Spring Vegetables
Walnut and Ricotta Cake
Honey and Pinenut Tart

Because of the time-lapse between our meeting and getting this written up, I'm not sure about some of the dishes, and I am pretty sure I don't have all of them actually in photographs. 
Clockwise from lower right: Hummus Bi Tahina, Egyptian Rice and Lentils, Turkish Salad and Sweet and Sour Onion Salad
 Front to back: Sweet and Sour Onion Salad and Turkish Salad
Grilled Sea Bass with Fennel
 I made the grilled sea bass, and probably came close to burning down the house with it. The whole bass is gutted and cleaned, rubbed all over with olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper, and then covered inside and out with fennel seeds. It is placed on a hot grill until cooked through, so we fired up the outside gas grill to cook it. The fish was a seven-pounder, which is about twice the size called for in the recipe. I had no luck finding sea bass at any of my grocers, so Laurie Perry recommended I try a wholesaler of which she knew in the Valley. Eureka, but not much choice as to size. The bass is finished by dousing it in heated Pernod, a French licorice flavored liquor. That's where I nearly burned down the house: I forgot I had it on the stove to warm and went to my down-stairs refrigerator. Before I came back, the fumes had caught fire. Good thing we have a metal awning over the stove! The fish was amazing.

Vegan Moroccan Curry with Couscous (center) and Risotto with Spring Vegetables (back)
We have vegetarians and pescatarians in our club and allergies to eggs and nuts and a few other things, so a wide range of recipes each meeting means everyone can find something to eat even if they can't try everything. Going away hungry is not likely.

It is generally the intention that everyone makes one dish as laid out in the cook book we've chosen. Kim Gottlieb-Walker decided that she likes her own take on moussaka better than the one in the book, so she brought both versions along for people to try. Eggplant is a big favorite, so she was accommodated. 

Two versions of Moussaka (front) and Chicken Thighs with Lemon and Garlic

Honey and Pinenut Tart
Walnut and Ricotta Cake

11 members of the club; front: Kim Gottlieb-Walker, Mary DeLongis, Lisa Klink; standing/rear: T. Valada-Viars, Michelle Resnick, Maria Alexander, Jess Cail, Laura Brennan, Kerry Glover, Liz Mortensen, Sharon Baker
Two desserts were shared by twelve attendees that day, and the makers had some to take home with them.

Looking back over the past year, this was definitely one of our favorite cookbooks, and I think everyone left the lunch with the intention of revisiting it. I have made the bass again, using smaller fish.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Cook Book Book Club, Meeting #3

The Cook Book Book Club got together today to prepare recipes from the James Beard Award winning Every Grain of Rice by Fuchsia Dunlop.
The focus of the book is Chinese home-style cooking, which turned out to be relatively easy to execute once we were able to get our hands on the proper ingredients. Fortunately, we live in a city where exotic ingredients are relatively easy to acquire. I have rapidly become familiar with the layout of the 99 Ranch market in Van Nuys.

We had thirteen women at the table today, which added up to fifteen dishes, plus rice and tea. The daughter of one of our members recently returned from China, of which she said, people basically eat rice with small bits of dishes to flavor it, and when we started going through the cookbook, we realized the portions were too small for everyone to get a taste. We suspended one of our rules for this session and everyone doubled recipes to make sure there would be enough to go around. 

The menu:
 Hot & Sour Soup,(vegetarian), P. 242
Northern Style Boiled Dumplings w/Ginger Pork Filling in Schuanese Chili Oil Sauce, P. 298
Xian Pot-Sticker Dumplings (non-vegetarian), P. 308
Tuzi's Slow-Cooked Ribs w/Red Fermented Tofu, P. 102
Slippery Wood Ear Salad w/Cilantro, P. 60
Stir-Fried Garlic Stems w/Bacon & also vegetarian version w/Mushrooms, P. 206
Schuanese Dry-Fried Green Beans (vegetarian), P. 150
Smoky Eggplant w/Garlic
Pock-Marked Old Woman's Tofu, P. 76
Spinach in Ginger Sauce, P. 64
Chinese Broccoli in Ginger Sauce, P. 182
Cold Chicken w/Spicy Sichuanese Sauce, P. 48
Mussels with Black Bean Sauce, P. 146
Bear's Paw Tofu, P. 80

I was able to use my new "summer" dishes, Coastal Breeze Blue from 222 Fifth. I found the dishes a few months ago at HomeGoods, but my initial decision to purchase only eight place-settings was a mistake because we usually have at least 10 people over for dinner on Sundays. With the help of Replacements, Ltd., I got the balance of dishes to make sixteen place-settings.
The pattern has shells and sea horses, and will look very nice with my Rogers Bros. antique flatware pattern called Columbia.

The menu for lunch:
Hot & Sour Soup (vegetarian version) made by Laura Brennan
When I first invited Laura to join the cook book group, she indicated that she didn't do much cooking. She said the Hot & Sour Soup was definitely outside her comfort zone, but she did a great job with it and her son enjoyed it as well.
Slippery Wood Ear Salad with Cilantro made by Nan Cohen
 I'm familiar with Slippery Wood Ear Fungus as ingredient in Hot & Sour Soup, but this salad, with its very spicy chile, did awaken the mouth for the rest of the meal.
Northern Stye Boiled Dumplings with Ginger Pork Filling in Schuanese Chili Oil sauce made by Catherine Fleming
Poor Catherine had a spill on her way to the house, and I can only imagine how her car must smell with the sauce sloshing out of the dish, but the dumplings were delicious.
Xian Pot-Sticker Dumplings made by Lisa Klink
Tuzi's Slow-Cooked Ribs with Red Fermented Tofu made by Christine Valada
On a day when there was a lot of last-minute finishing going on in my kitchen, the Slow-Cooked Ribs were finishing up in the oven and only needed to be put on a platter at the last minute.
Stir-Fried Garlic Stems with Bacon made by Mary De Longis
Mary was kind enough to do both the bacon version and the vegan mushroom version of the Stir-Fried Garlic Stems. Most of us enjoyed both versions, but it was especially nice for our resident vegetarian to have a version she could eat. The garlic stems look a lot like string beans.
Stir-Fried Garlic Stems with Mushrooms by Mary De Longis
Schuanese Dry-Fried Green Beans (vegetarian version) made by T Valada-Viars
Smoky Eggplant with Garlic made by Michelle Heinig Resnick
Pock-Marked Old Woman's Tofu made by Liz Mortensen
Bear's Paw Tofu made by Julia Roberts
Chinese Broccoli in Ginger Sauce made by Sharon Baker
Spinach in Ginger Sauce made by Liz Mortensen (foreground)
Cold Chicken with Spicy Schuanese Sauce made by Laurie Perry
Mussels with Black Bean Sauce made by Amie Brockway-Metcalf
Laurie Perry was so happy with the Cold Chicken with spicy Schuanese Sauce, she's planning to make it a staple for picnics at the Hollywood Bowl. It was very refreshing and is a good choice for a summer meal.

I was delighted that Amie decided to make the Mussels with Black Bean Sauce. I love mussels, but the cleaning takes such a long time. She told us that her vendor provides them already scrubbed. They were terrific and I would have been happy to make a whole meal of them.

We had two tofu dishes, plus fermented tofu was used to flavor the ribs. The Pock-Marked Old Woman's Tofu contained fermented black beans while the Bear's Paw Tofu was fried. The Pock-Marked Tofu got better and better as we sampled leftovers after lunch was over. Lunch was actually heavy on vegetarian dishes with the string beans, broccoli, spinach, and eggplant.

All of us agreed that it was a particularly good cookbook. I am likely to try more of the recipes because it makes Chinese cooking very accessible and the portions are good for the three or four of us on a weeknight.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Cook Book Book Club, Meeting #1

A few months ago, I saw an article that inspired me to suggest to a group of my friends that we try a different kind of book club, on that involved cook books and cooking. Yesterday, a dozen of us gathered for our first meeting.
Several suggestions were made for the first cook book, and we wound up going with Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. I made an executive decision that people who had either The Classic Italian Cook Book or More Classic Italian Cooking could use those as well, since the more recent Essentials has all the recipes from the first two and another 50 new recipes.

I set up a group on Facebook to chose a date for our meeting and to keep track of who was making what, so no two people made the same dish. We met at my home because I offered it and I've got a dining table that can sit 18 or 20, if we get cozy, and a large kitchen that would allow people to finish dishes or reheat if necessary. (I was teasingly told that my 4 burner Viking range is not big enough, because we needed 6 burners at one point.)

There were a few guidelines: make the dish exactly as written and only for the number of people indicated. In other words, don't adjust the recipe based on the number of people coming for lunch and don't change the ingredients. (Confession: keeping to Marcella's low garlic quota was difficult for those of us who love garlic.) Keeping the volume of the dish to that in the book (most are for 4-6 people) seemed a little counter-intuitive, but everyone left the table feeling more than satisfied. Even a taste of each dish adds up quickly, and there were a total of 14 recipes made by 12 people. There were even some leftovers because there was so much food.

It is fortunate that so many Italian dishes do not have to be piping hot when eaten, because it is impossible to get that many people to arrive at the same time and get finishing touches on everything. We will have to keep that in mind for future meetings.

I initially thought about setting up the food as a buffet, but I think it worked better for us to sit down and pass a few dishes at a time. The cook was then asked to talk about making the dish and give any suggestions they might have about adjustments. The discussion led us to realize how many of the dishes used sage, which some folks only associate with making turkey. Another ingredient which surprised many people was butter (much more common in the north of Italy where Marcella was from than in the south) and a lot of it was used, but most of us agreed that it could easily be replaced with olive oil to make a vegan dish.

Bread: Focaccia with Fresh Rosemary and Salt (page 618-620) made by yours truly.
I fell in love with focaccia when I visited Italy in 1985. The small town I was in had a bakery which only made focaccia two days a week. It was worth the wait. No one in the States had heard of focaccia (now they don't pronounce it correctly most of the time) and it rarely has the taste or texture of the bread I got in Vernasca. Everyone enjoyed Marcella's recipe, but I think the one I had from the Frugal Gourmet was better.

Soup Course: Minestrone alla Romagnola (page 84) made by Lisa Klink.
Starting the meal off with soup was a great choice on a day threatening rain. It was delicious and filling, even in small portions. The recipe called for beef broth, but I would probably opt for chicken or vegetable broth if I make it because of the number of people I know--myself included--who do not eat beef.

Pasta Course: Spinach and Ricotta Gnocchi (page 262) with Butter and Sage Sauce (page 192) made by Catherine Fleming
and Cavatelli (fresh pasta recipe on page 128) with Spinach Sauteed with Olive Oil and Garlic (page 526) used as a sauce made by T Valada-Viars.

Catherine's Gnocchi were pretty much perfect: light and uniformly shaped. The butter sage sauce was wonderful. It is my favorite sauce for butternut squash ravioli. The recipe called for prosciutto, which I knew Catherine used, but the flavor was so mild, it could probably be left out so a vegetarian could eat it.

My sister T's cavatelli were an attempt to recreate a dish we remember our grandmother making on the kitchen table. I always think of my grandmother when I smell flour and eggs. She had a large family (six children, plus a mother-in-law in residence) and there were usually spouses, grandchildren, sisters, brothers, and cousins running in and out of the house on holidays and in the summer. She always seemed to be in the kitchen. T remembered the cavatelli being shaped with the thumb, but I remember three fingers being used to thin and shape the dough. That seemed to work better. While I was sure that the book had a recipe for cavatelli, it did not. Using the basic pasta recipe made for a somewhat heavy dough. I just found a recipe for cavatelli that might make a lighter product.

We questioned the wisdom of steaming the fresh spinach before adding it to the oil and garlic, because it is less time and dish consuming to simply allow the spinach to steam once it is in the oil and garlic. It was a really nice, homey dish.

Fish Course: Baked Fillet of Sole with Tomato, Oregano, and Hot Pepper (page 309) made by me
served with Gratin of Artichokes, Potatoes, and Onions (page 458) made by Mary De Longis
and Gratineed Cauliflower with Bechamel Sauce made by Kerry Glover.
The sole was fairly easy to acquire at the local Costco. The tomato sauce is made first, using onions, garlic, canned plum tomatoes, capers, and fresh oregano. I was afraid that our cold weather had done in my fresh oregano, but I managed to find some in one of my pots. After the sauce is made, the sole is dipped in the sauce and arranged in a baking dish. It was a little difficult to understand the instructions for arranging the sole, so I wound up folding the pieces in half. Then the sauce is poured over all and the dish goes into a very hot oven. The instructions said it was 5 minutes at 450 degrees. It took almost 15 minutes before it was actually cooked. Although it sat on the table under foil for a while, when it came time to serve it, the fish was not overcooked at all.

Mary's artichoke and potato dish was good, but she said that she did not know how to properly trim the artichokes. Everyone agreed that she should just try using the frozen artichokes from Trader Joe's the next time. It was, none-the-less, a really good side dish.

The Poultry Course: Oven-Roasted Chicken with Garlic and Rosemary (page 328) made by Sharon Baker
and Chicken Fricassee with Red Cabbage (page 333) made by Laurie Perry
and Sauteed Chicken Livers with Sage and White Wine (page 441) made by Mary De Longis.
We served the chicken dishes with Pan-Roasted Potatoes with Anchovies, Genoa Style (page 524) made by Liz Mortensen and Breaded Eggplant Cutlets (page 496) with Piquant Green Sauce (page 42) made by Maria Elena Rodriquez. Sadly, I do not have photographs of either dish, since the arrived at table after we sat down. Fortunately, Liz did photograph her potatoes (below.)
The roast chicken was melt in your mouth delicious. Sharon said she used the required vegetable oil, even though we all agreed that olive oil would be just fine. She also basted the chicken every 15 minutes throughout the cooking. That's probably something she would not do under most circumstances. The fricassee was delicious and did not smell of cabbage at all. Laurie was really pleased with the flavor available from five ingredients and the ease at which the dish came together.

Mary's chicken livers were so delicious. I might consider making them and throwing them into the food processor to make a spreadable chopped liver. They would probably make a good appetizer that way, spread on bread or toast.

I am a huge eggplant fan, so Maria's eggplant was a big hit with me. She produced a beautiful platter of Milanese-style cutlets and the salsa verde was a lovely touch. I kept a few leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

Salad Course: Orange and Cucumber Salad (page 552) made by Laura Brennan.
I invited Laura to join us after we had brunch together a few weeks ago. She was dubious of her cooking skills, but she was game to give it a try with a simple recipe. Her dish was made special by the oranges which came from her own trees (as was the lemon juice used in the dressing for the salad.) Putting the salad course at the end of the main meal before dessert as a palate cleanser is common in Europe and worked very well for us. Laura felt inspired by the whole experience and now feels more confident to try other recipes in the book. Yay, Laura.

Dessert Course: Diplomatico (page 577) made by Nan Cohen.
The dish starts with pre-made pound cake and has a lovely mousse filling. It does require a bit of advance work, since the cake is dipped in rum and coffee and needs to ripen. The recipe is a great do-ahead because it can be made up to a week in advance and kept in the refrigerator.

Liz just reminded me of another rule: chose a recipe without regard to allergies or preferences of other people attending. There will always be food that most people can or will eat and no one has to eat every offering to feel ful. My sister adds that it is important to identify any potential allergens when serving the food (for example peanuts and shellfish) so those with allergies can avoid them. We did try to have signs identifying the recipe for each dish (which is vital in a buffet, less important when dishes are passed at the table but still helpful.)

We are now in the process of choosing our next book, because we were a dozen happy women at the end of the meal.