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Tuesday, June 11, 2024

BOOK/A TABLE - Salmon Mousse


The Sinclairs in E. Lockhart’s remarkable young-adult novel We Were Liars are good at two things: lying (as you might have guessed) and partying at the Sinclair family manse, christened Clairmont. Without giving away too much of this beautiful, harrowing story, below is a peek into how the Sinclairs get the party started with a recipe for salmon mousse. You’ll love We Were Liars and this mousse—honest.

“Clairmont cocktail hour...began...when people wandered up the hill to the big house. The cook was fixing supper and had set out salmon mousse with little floury crackers.”

I have long relied on The Silver Palate Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins for many dishes and once again it provided a great (and fairly simple) recipe, this time for a salmon mousse. I pulled out an antique copper, tin-lined mold fashioned into the shape of a salmon I’d found on eBay and set to work.

Behold the mold! I plated my mousse with slightly salty orbs of salmon mousse roe, mache rosettes for the greenery, and half-moons of Kirby cucumber slices around the periphery of the mold (you could use these for scales as well). A pimiento-stuffed olive slice served as the observant eye.

As the recipe suggests, refrigerate the mousse for at least four hours. If you use a decorative mold, as I did, invert it afterward onto your serving plate and let it rest at room temperature, about 15 minutes. When you see it start to ease out of the mold all by itself, carefully lift the mold off and adorn as you will. Serve with toasty bagels for a late breakfast or perhaps as a starter course for dinner. When serving at a cocktail party, try some kettle crisps for dipping—and party on!

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

BOOK/A TABLE - Vodka Blush



Usually the hubs and I wait until Halloween to watch Rosemary’s Baby, along with Ghost Story and Die! Die! My Darling! (starring Tallulah Bankhead) as well as the original versions of 80s horror classics, and of course, Halloween.

Sometimes we can’t wait that long. We tuned into Rosemary’s Baby the other night and I realized I had forgotten all about the Vodka Blush that Roman Castevet serves to Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse. The cocktail is in the book too, but seeing the vaguely crimson concoction on the big screen, one has to wonder what gives it that oddly suspicious, faintly ominous hue...? 

“Mr. Castevet came in, holding in both hands a small tray on which four cocktail glasses ran over with clear pink liquid. ‘Mr. Woodhouse? A Vodka Blush. Have you ever tasted one?’”

And although the once popular drink fell out of favor back in the 70s, surely it’s time to reconsider the Vodka Blush, a delightful refresher anytime. Call it a predecessor to the Cosmo, if you will! 

Satanic ritual garnish not required. 

Vodka Blush
Adapted from ForkYourConsideration

Ingredients
2.5 ounces of your preferred vodka
3/4 ounce Fresh Squeezed Lime
A dash of Grenadine for taste and color

Method
Mix in a cocktail shaker with ice.
Pour into a drinking vessel of your liking, or add a straw and sip straight from the shaker.

And go ahead, stick in a sprig of rosemary should the spirit of cocktailing compel you!

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Mad Libs Cake




I knew you were ­_____, so I baked a _____.

A friend was coming over sort of last minute, so I thought I might make a cake. Thinking of the half-gallon of orange juice just sitting in my refrigerator, I took to the internet. I found this Orange Cake, but besides the orange juice, I didn’t quite have all the other ingredients the recipe required.

Kind of like a game of Mad Libs, I filled in the blanks with suitable substitutions I had on hand. I ended up using a box of Dolly Parton’s Banana Cake, vanilla pudding mix, and Fiori di Sicilia flavoring (a combination of citrus and vanilla) from King Arthur to step in for lemon extract.

What do you know? I baked a pretty tasty Mad Libs Cake!

Here’s the original recipeplay with it as you will.


Orange Cake
Adapted from AllRecipes.com

Ingredients
Cake:
1 (15.25 ounce) package yellow cake mix
1 (3 ounce) package instant lemon pudding mix
¾ cup orange juice
½ cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon lemon extract

Glaze:
2/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup orange juice
1/4 cup unsalted butter

Method
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Grease a 10-inch Bundt pan.
Make the cake: Stir cake mix and pudding mix together in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in orange juice, oil, eggs, and lemon extract. Beat on low speed with an electric mixer until blended. Scrape the sides of the bowl, then beat on medium speed for 4 minutes. Pour batter into the prepared pan.
Bake in the preheated oven for 50 to 60 minutes. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely, about 20 more minutes.
When the cake has cooled, make the glaze: Cook sugar, orange juice, and butter in a saucepan over medium heat for 2 minutes.
Transfer cake to a serving platter and drizzle glaze over top.

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

BOOK/A TABLE - Dandelion Wine



Did you ever have to read Dandelion Wine in school? We were supposed to, but I don’t think I ever did until 2021. Just as if I’d been waiting for a fine vintage to mature! And much like the summer in Bradbury’s deliciously creepy novel, when 12-year-old Douglas Spaulding discovers he is “really alive!it may have been a long time coming, but was well worth the wait. 

I love this passage, this toast to summer:

“And there, row upon row, with the soft gleam of flowers opened at morning, with the light of this June sun glowing through a faint skin of dust, would stand the dandelion wine...hold summer in your hand, pour summer in a glass, a tiny glass of course, the smallest tingling sip for children; change the season in your veins by raising glass to lip and tilting summer in.

Considered to be science-fiction, the novel is wicked and dreamlike...so is dandelion wine even a real thing? Yes! I’ve included a simple recipe below and here is a link for a rather more involved version. Whichever recipe you use, make certain your dandelions have been sprayed and are free of pesticides and all other contaminants.

Dandelion Wine
Adapted from AllRecipes.com
Prep Time: 1 hr
Additional Time: 17 days 15 mins
Total Time: 17 days 1 hr 15 mins
Servings: 32
Yield: 4 quarts

Ingredients
1 quart yellow dandelion blossoms, well rinsed
1 gallon boiling water
8 cups white sugar
1 orange, sliced
1 lemon slice
1 (.18 ounce) package wine yeast

Method
Place dandelion blossoms into boiling water and let sit for 4 minutes. Remove and discard blossoms. Let water cool to 90 degrees F (32 degrees C), about 10 minutes.
Stir in sugar, orange, lemon, and yeast; pour into a plastic fermentor and attach a fermentation lock. Let the wine ferment in a cool area until the bubbles stop, 10 to 14 days.
Siphon the wine off of the lees (sediment) and strain liquid through cheesecloth before bottling in four sterilized 1-quart canning jars.

Age the wine at least one week for best flavor—to really come alive—and then sip up summer!

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

BOOK/A TABLE - Vichyssoise


Somewhere during that wicked half-world I’m choosing to call high school, I discovered Tallulah Bankhead. 

I happened to catch All About Eve on The Great Entertainment, a classic film series hosted by the genial Frank Avruch back in the 80’s, when ferns covered the earth. Mr. Avruch informed us in his opening commentary that Hollywood lore suggests Bette Davis may have patterned her role as the glamorous Margo Channing in All About Eve after the magnificent, legendary Tallulah Bankhead. Who? 

Mr. Avruch sang the praises of this beautiful, throaty-voiced actress who starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat. Loved Hitch, but had never seen that. And as much as I followed legendary actresses around, I had never heard of Tallulah Bankhead—and keep in mind any research I did from thereon out preceded googling by about thirty years.

Of course, I was intrigued by Tallulah. I loved Bette Davis “playing her” in All About Eve so why wouldn’t I love the original model? I then scoured the TV Guide every week to find when Lifeboat was going to appear on television so I could record it on my parents’—you ready—VCR. I didn’t have to wait for too long, as I recall, and finally got to see Miss Bankhead in action. She swiftly became my heroine, a woman after my own heart. See her for yourself: stranded in a lifeboat, clad in a devastating fur (and soon stripped of it), fighting off the Germans, and at least one crudely tattooed love interest. With a screenplay by John Steinbeck, plus Hitchcock, plus Tallulah to infinity, the math is easy. 

Fate stepped in further when I found a hard-bound first edition copy of Tallulah, My Autobiography, handsomely displayed on a sales rack in an antique store and still in its pristine dust jacket from 1952. I bought it and devoured it in one sitting, having never read such a testament to life (and living!) before.

There’s a chapter in Tallulah about her house (“Windows”) in Pound Ridge, NY. Tending to a simple garden like the one she had has always been a dreamy secret of mine. She wrote: “My vegetable garden? Nothing to brag about. Just enough ground to raise chives for the vichyssoise, mint for the juleps.” 

Now, since I posted here about mint juleps recently, I figured I’d finish the thought with a recipe for a cool vichyssoise to ease you into summer.

P.S. I still have my copy of Tallulah and I cling to it like a bible: I’m still fascinated.

Vichyssoise
From Saveur magazine
Serves 8

Ingredients  
4 Tbsp. (2 oz.) unsalted butter
4 leeks, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
5 medium potatoes (about 2¼ lbs.), peeled and thinly sliced
Kosher salt
2 cups whole milk
2 cups light cream 
1 cup heavy cream
2 Tbsp. finely chopped chives

Method
STEP 1
In a large pot over medium-low heat, melt the butter. Add the leeks and onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft but not browned, about 20 minutes. Add the potatoes, 4 cups water, and salt to taste, and turn up the heat to high to bring it to a boil. Turn down the heat to medium-low, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are soft, 50–60 minutes.
STEP 2
Set a fine sieve over a medium bowl and strain the soup, pressing and scraping the solids with a spoon. Wipe the pot clean and return the strained soup to it. Whisk in the milk and light cream, bring the soup to a boil over high heat, then remove from heat and let cool.
STEP 3
Set the sieve over a medium bowl and strain the soup again, pressing and scraping with the spoon. Discard any solids that remain in the sieve. Stir the heavy cream into soup, then cover and refrigerate until chilled, for at least 2 and up to 24 hours. Season soup with salt to taste just before serving.
STEP 4
To serve, divide the vichyssoise among soup bowls and garnish with chives.


Below: I had the opportunity to visit the Bankhead manse in Pound Ridge for an article I wrote. The garden’s over my left shoulder.






Tuesday, May 14, 2024

BOOK/A TABLE - Seed Cake

                                                 

I know what you’re probably thinking: what on earth is seed cake? I had wondered that myself, having only ever read about it in Agatha Christie novels, usually as a gateway to afternoon tea, shared by a few British ladies of a certain age. 

For example, Karen Pierce, author of the delightful Recipes for Murder (66 Dishes that Celebrate the Mysteries of Agatha Christie), which I have written about here, features a wonderful bundt version of Old Fashioned Seed Cake, pulled from the pages of At Bertram's Hotel.

But then I came across another mention of seed cake while reading about Lucy Snowe, the heroine in Charlotte Brontë’s Gothic romance Villette, who, speaking of her former place of employ, recalls her fondness for the British staple: “I knew the very seed-cake of peculiar form, baked in a peculiar mould, which always had a place on the tea-table at Bretton.”

So, what is seed cake? Well, it’s much like a pound cake made with caraway seeds. Yes, like the caraway seeds in rye bread. So, how does that work in terms of a cake? Quite deliciously, I found! The bitterness of the caraway is softened in the baking, making it a tasty flavored treat.

Sure, seed cake is great with tea, but why not kick the kettle around? Serve it at lunch, eat it for breakfast! Bring it to a pot-luck! Your guests may find it unexpected—and you might find it all gone, rather quickly.

Here’s a traditional recipe from The English Kitchen:

Seed Cake
Makes one 2 pound loaf

INGREDIENTS
175g butter, softened (3/4 cup)
175g caster sugar (very scant cup (less about 2 TBS)
3 large free range eggs, beaten
3 tsp caraway seeds
225g of plain flour, sifted (1 1/2 cups plus 1 TBS)
1 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
1 TBS ground almonds
1 TBS milk

METHOD
Preheat the oven to 180*C/350*F/ gas mark 4. Butter and line a 2 pound loaf tin with baking paper. Set aside.
Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Sift together the flour and baking powder. Stir this in along with the salt, almonds, seeds and milk. Mix well to combine evenly. Scrape into the prepared baking tin.
Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until well risen, golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.
Allow to cool completely in the tin. Store in an airtight container. Cut into slices to serve.


Lucy Snowe is seen below probably scoping out seed cake, as depicted by Edmund Dulac from his illustrations in Villette.


                                                            




Tuesday, May 7, 2024

BOOK/A TABLE - Fresh Strawberry Pie


If only the wicked Alec DUrberville hadnt tempted Tess with the strawberries that led her down the path to ruin! But alas, he did. 

“He stood up and held it by the stem to her mouth...in a slight distress she parted her lips and took it in...”

Tess of the D’Urbervilles by the marvelous Thomas Hardy is my favorite book. I’ve read it several times and always hope that things will turn out differently for her in the end. Tess’s cries to Angel Clare (the man who nearly saved her from Alec, had cruel fate not stepped in) still fiddle with my nerve endings to this day: “Too late! Too late!”

The story is never too far from my mind, and I was reminded of it again when I pulled up this New York Times recipe for Strawberry Pie. Its not too late for you, gentle readerto partake of the luscious splendor. Soon, in June (just a month away) youll have your pick of the best, freshest strawberries of the year. Can I tempt you...?

Fresh Strawberry Pie
Adapted from a recipe by Samantha Seneviratne 

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

INGREDIENTS
FOR THE CRUST
10 ⅔ ounces shortbread cookies (two 5⅓-ounce packages)
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup unsalted butter, melted

FOR THE FILLING
2½ pounds strawberries (about 8 to 10 cups), hulled
⅓ cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons strawberry preserves
¼ cup cornstarch
Pinch of kosher salt
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

FOR THE TOPPING
1 cup cold heavy cream
1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract (optional)

METHOD

Step 1
Prepare crust: Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor, combine shortbread cookies, sugar, flour and salt and blend until you have fine crumbs. Transfer crumbs to a medium mixing bowl. Add butter and mix with a fork until crumbs are evenly moistened. Tip crumbs into a standard 9-inch pie plate and press them in an even layer on the bottom and up the sides of the plate. Bake until golden brown and set, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Step 2
Prepare filling: Cut each of the strawberries in quarters or eighths, if they are large. Transfer 2 cups berries to a small saucepan and crush completely with a potato masher. Set aside the remaining berries in a large bowl. Add the sugar, preserves, cornstarch, 1 tablespoon water and salt to the saucepan.

Step 3
Bring strawberry mixture to a boil over medium heat and then cook it an additional 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add strawberry mixture and lemon juice to the strawberries in the bowl and stir to combine. Transfer to the prepared crust and gently tap it down into an even layer. Transfer to the fridge to set for at least 4 hours.

Step 4
Just before serving, whip cream, confectioners’ sugar and vanilla, if using, to soft peaks. Top pie with whipped cream.