Monday, February 27, 2017

The Oscars and Mardi Gras

I went on a date with John Besh over the weekend. I found him quite charming when he was in competition for a position on Iron Chef, so when I needed some guidance on preparing dinner for the Oscar-watch party two days before Mardi Gras, Besh Big Easy was readily available to me.

I love the philosophy behind this book, which is to get more people cooking at home. I love the stories he tells to go along with the recipes. This is not to say the cook book was as reliable as Ina Garten's tend to be. I've got quibbles with both of the recipes I wound up actually using from the book, which I will explain below. Fortunately, I have a friend who lives in New Orleans and got to me via email and Facebook to give me some tips and point me in the right direction. She's also sending me River Road Recipes "the only cook book that Southern women used" which has never been out of print and which professional chefs have been noodling with ever since. Should be interesting.

I expected we would have about 10 people come by to watch the Oscars with us. Then I discovered we would have closer to 20. Part of the plan for the evening was it would be a pot luck, so I did throw out the New Orleans theme pretty early, and almost everyone contributed at least Southern food. There was plenty of food.
Oscar Night Mardi Gras Buffet
 I looked at making four recipes from Besh Big Easy. I wound up making two, since someone else brought a soup, and several people brought desserts (in addition to the King Cake I made.)
Chicken Liver Pate on Toast
I love chopped chicken liver, so Chef Chris' Chicken Liver Pate (page 23) looked like a good bet for an appetizer. The ingredients (chicken livers, eggs, salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, celery salt and melted butter are combined in the blender and then baked in a water bath. I liked the idea that it skips hard-boiled eggs and sauteing onions and results in something that looks much more like foie gras. The downside: you can't taste a mixture with raw chicken liver. The problem: the recipe called for 1 tablespoon of salt, on top of the half tablespoon of celery salt. The result: too salty for my taste. When I make it again, and I will definitely make it again, I intend to cut the salt back to a teaspoon.
Duck, Anduille and Oyster Gumbo
 I love duck. I love oysters. Mr. Paul's Duck, Andouille & Oyster Gumbo, page 74, had all the right elements to make me happy. Plus, it called for four quarts of stock, so I figured it would feed a good portion of the crowd (excepting those who won't eat duck or oysters, like my husband.)

The recipe called for a quartered duck which would be browned in the roux. I read that a number of times and thought about all of the fat that would be rendered into the pot and couldn't be saved for later use. It did not make sense.

My friend Lynn Latham, she of residence in New Orleans, found a copy of a similar recipe from Besh on-line and sent it to me. She also said that chicken gumbo sometimes has skin and sometimes doesn't, but she doesn't like the skin floating in gumbo. The recipe dealt with the duck by roasting it first and then adding the meat to the gumbo. So I spatchcocked the duck, seasoned it with salt, pepper, and herbs de provence, and put it into the convection oven. The fat rendered, so I could add it to the duck fat I had in the fridge from our Julia Child cook book club lunch to make the roux and save the rest. My sister and I enjoyed the crisp skin along with the duck wings while we cooked.  I saw no reason to add the cracklings to a stew.

There were other differences between the two recipes, most notably the use of vegetable oil for making the roux and the lack of okra in the cook book version. I think perhaps the chef was trying to adjust the recipe so that people in places where ingredients weren't so readily available would still be able to try it. I did not have wild ducks, of course, but frozen ducks are available at my grocery. (I want to share this recipe with my brother, whose freezer is always well stocked with fish and game he's shot or caught.) The oysters were a little less easy to procure, but I did find them shucked.
Duck, Andouille and Oyster Gumbo over Rice
Even with my issues, the gumbo was delicious served over rice.
I baked bread, but Darla Kershner also brought a huge pan of cornbread to accompany the other food we had, including red beans and rice and collard greens from Liz Mortensen and Ed Green and carrot soup and beet hummus from Gillian Horvath. I also made a roasted pork shoulder (cooked overnight in a very slow oven), Lisa Klink made cheesy grits, Maria Alexander brought turkey chili, and Maria Rodriguez brought a shrimp quiche.
Slow-cooked Pork Shoulder
For dessert, I made a King Cake. Donna Lettow, visiting from Baltimore, found the baby, so she'll just have to come out from Maryland next year to provide the cake. Darla Kershner made banana pudding with 'Nilla Wafers (which I think of as truly Southern.) And Dani and Jeff Yaroslow made wonderful beignets while the rest of us were watching the Oscars.
King Cake
We were well fed and well entertained by the Oscar ceremony. But there was that shocking ending. I feel so sorry for the schlub who gave Warren Beatty the wrong envelope and happy that Moonlight beat the light-weight La La Land, even though I was rooting for Hidden Figures to win.

I think I'm going to give John Besh's recipe for bread pudding a go when I next have a crowd for dinner. There's cubed pannettone in the freezer waiting to be used.

Cook Book Book Club Meeting #5

In October, the Cook Book Book Club met to take on Classic Indian Cooking by Julie Sahni. I've own the book since it came out in 1980, but I am on my third copy. The first, I lost in our house fire in 2009. The replacement was eaten by my dog Ginger as we prepared for this event.

I used to cook a lot of Indian food. Unfortunately, my husband can't eat it, so I reserve it for dinner out with my sister or my friend Melinda Snodgrass. Choosing it for CBBC meant a real treat for me. (As it happened, the spousal unit was in the hospital when we did this meeting, so he didn't even have to smell the spices in the kitchen.)

The menu:
Hyderabad Lime Soup--p. 141
Spinach Bread--p. 410
Cucumber and Tomato Salad/Raita-p. 343
Smoked Aubergine (Eggplant) with Herbs--p. 305
Kabob Patties Laced with Ginger & Mint--p. 109 (sadly, no photos)
Fragrant Stuffed Tomatoes--p. 106
Cauliflower & Scallions w/ Black Mustard Seeds--p. 301
Green Peas and Indian Cheese in Fragrant tomato Sauce--p. 266
Chick-peas in Ginger Sauce--p. 274
Chicken Kabuli-- p. 219
Cashew Nut Fudge-- p. 478
Lassi--p. 488

The Table
The table setting was Aynsley Cottage Garden with Libbey cobalt glassware and Oneida Act 1 flatware. Aynsley is a discontinued English bone china pattern that has so many kinds of pieces that one rarely sees any more. I started my collection many years ago with a teapot, a sugar bowl, and a small serving dish. I then fell in love with the strawberry "basket" which has a small sugar and creamer. It has slowly grown into a full set of dishes to go with the vases and serving pieces. Most recently, I became obsessed with the double-handled cream soup bowls and now I have enough for our meetings.
Sweet Lassi
I am a big fan of sweet lassi drinks. Julie Sahni's book was the first one I found which actually had a recipe for the drink, which consists of yogurt, cream, sugar, ice, and rosewater put through a blender. It is the perfect accompaniment for spicy Indian food, since dairy cuts the fire from chiles. I made almost a gallon of it. It's a drink I love having available in the refrigerator, even if it needs a quick run through the Vitamix before serving.

Hyderabad Lime Soup
Lunch started with Hyderabad Lime Soup which I also made. It was a two-day process to make the soup, since I made the vegetable broth base first. It was mild despite a number of spices like cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, and turmeric. Coconut milk smoothed the puree of potato and onions that are cooked in the broth and kept it vegan. A final splash of of lime made it a very refreshing soup.

Palak Raratha and Kheere ka Raita
 Amie Brockway-Metcalf made spinach bread and raita. She said the bread, a variation on paratha, was very easy to make. The raita was a cucumber and yogurt salad with tomato. Raita is

Murgh Kabuli
Laura Brennan made the chicken kabuli, and is a great example of how far she's come as a self-described non-cook when she agreed to be part of the CBBC.  Unfortunately, the photograph does not do justice to how good the dish was. Almonds thicken the sauce, which is fragrant with cardamom, cumin, coriander, and fennel.

Safaid Channe
Michelle Resnick made the chickpeas in ginger sauce. The lunch had a number of dishes good for our vegetarian and pescatarians.

Eggplant is always a safe bet with the Cook Book Book Club (not so much with my husband and son, however), so I always look forward to checking out new ways to cook it. The smoked aubergine/bharta Mary DeLongis made had peas as well as eggplant.

Matar Paneer
Liz Mortensen went with the classic India combination of cheese and peas in a tomato-based sauce called Matar Paneer. Really good, and it reaheats pretty well.

Bahare Tamatar
The fragrant stuffed tomatoes that Catherine Fleming made were rather fragile, and did not transport as well as she would have liked. That didn't stop us from finishing them off.

Gobhi Kari
My sister made this cauliflower dish, which cooked up amazingly quickly. She was afraid she had burned the mustard seeds when she had  a momentary distraction, but it was really quite good. She also got the kari leaves for free from the nearby Indian grocery--I guess the two stems she needed was too little to worry about.

Once again, my friend Susan Avallone was without a real baking challenge for the lunch, so she decided to give the fudge a try instead. Like many Indian snacks, it was very sweet, but it did disappear.
Kajoo Barfi

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.