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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.

 



Tuesday, April 30, 2024

BOOK/A TABLE - Mint Juleps for Derby Day



How I love May! When jackets go unbuttoned, lilacs are in bloom and the Kentucky Derby is at hand. And what Derby party would be complete without a Mint Julep in hand? Oooh yes, the Mint Julep—that wicked mistress of the South. She’ll coddle you through an afternoon and then beat you into submission by nightfall.

In New Hampshire, my neighbor Trudy’s annual Kentucky Derby parties were legendary and her juleps were the best I’ve ever tasted. Word is, she was given the somewhat unorthodox recipe from a Kentucky gentleman back in her salad days as a waitress. Somehow, my juleps are never as good as when Trudy made them (the rum, although surprising, is key), but it’s sure fun trying. Apart from any legerdemain, this is what she used to do:

Make simple syrup by boiling one part sugar to two parts water; let cool. Fill a tall Collins glass with crushed ice. Alternate Maker’s Mark (or your favorite Kentucky bourbon) and simple syrup in 1 oz portions, totaling 2 oz bourbon and 3 oz simple syrup. Top with a 1/2 oz floater of Myer's dark rum. Add a mint sprig and insert a straw to sip up the boozy goodness.

Now, you don’t have to wait for Derby Day to enjoy a julep. Just take a cue from F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby. I think this is fabulous: “The notion originated with Daisy’s suggestion that we hire five bathrooms and take cold baths, and then assumed more tangible form as ‘a place to have a mint julep’.”

The Kentucky Derby is always the first Saturday in May—and it falls on the 4th this year. Do enjoy and please ride responsibly!

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

BOOK/A TABLE - Shepherd's Pie



From page to plate...

My love of Barbara Pym is no secret. Mention of the British authoress has appeared here before, when I extolled her literary virtues and included a recipe for Venetian Pancakes from her cookbook.

I’ve made many other wonderful dishes as well from said cookbook, but I think the Shepherd’s Pie is my favorite. I’d always thought of Shepherd’s Pie as a heavy, wintry meal, but this wonderfully fragrant crowd-pleaser is so scrumptious, I would easily slip it into my picnic basket and take to any barbecue. Although the recipe calls for minced lamb, try ground beef instead!

Surely you will have better luck with your Shepherd’s Pie than Edwin does (or his wife!) in Pym’s touching novel, Quartet in Autumn: “Edwin had come home one evening some years ago to find his wife Phyllis unconscious in the kitchen, about to put a shepherd’s pie in the oven.”

Shepherd’s Pie
Adapted from the recipe by Ms. Pym
(My comments in italics)

Ingredients:
2 onions, chopped
Oil or drippings
1 LB minced lamb (or beef!)
1 carrot, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Mixed herbs to taste (1 tsp Herbs de Provence is good)
Pinch of cinnamon
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup lamb stock
1 TB tomato puree (or paste)
Mashed potato (4 servings, if using instant)

Method:
Fry onions in drippings until soft. Add minced lamb and carrot and cook about 10 minutes. Add seasonings, herbs, and cinnamon, then stir in flour and cook 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in stock and tomato puree and simmer gently for about 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 400°F. Transfer mixture to a shallow ovenproof dish, spread the mashed potato on top, roughing with a fork, and bake 25 minutes, or until heated through and lightly browned.


Tuesday, April 16, 2024

BOOK/A TABLE - The Classic Negroni


I happened to be reading Patricia Highsmith's nail-biter The Talented Mr. Ripley when I saw Netflix had adapted it into an eight-part series entitled Ripley. Starring the extraordinary Andrew Scott, this new version is a glorious, moody vision of Italy shot in stark black and white. 

There's a lot of mystery surrounding our psychopathic, murderous protagonist Tom Ripley, but the real mystery to me is why, as the characters traipse across Italy drinking gin martinis, there is nary a mention of the classic Italian Negroni! Lord knows I drank little else when I was running around Italy myself.

Originally served to Count Camillo Negroni in 1919, the bitter cocktail composed of pure liquor is a ripping refresher that some prefer in the cooler months, but I remember escaping the heat of June with a number of Negronis while lingering in the various osterie of Florence, Venice, Rome... 

Classic Negroni
Adapted from Saveur magazine
Ingredients
1 oz. Campari
1 oz. gin
1 oz. sweet vermouth
Orange slice, for garnish

Method
In a tumbler filled with ice, stir together the Campari, gin, and vermouth. Garnish with the orange slice.


The White Negroni has making an appearance in restaurant bars around town recently too, should you wish to try at home! 

White Negroni
Adapted from liquor.com

Ingredients
1 1/2 ounces gin
1 ounce Lillet blanc
1/2 ounce Suze gentian liqueur
Garnish: lemon twist

Method
Add the gin, Lillet blanc and Suze into a mixing glass with ice and stir for 15 to 20 seconds until well-chilled. Strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice.


Ritual Non-Alcoholic Spirits (a leader in the N/A market) has also come up with what I feel is a highly commendable version of the Negroni, as well as other fantastic booze-free concoctions found here

Ritual Non-Alcoholic Negroni
Ingredients
1 1/2 oz. Ritual Gin Alternative
1 1/2 oz. Ritual Aperitif Alternative
Garnish: orange

Method
Fill a mixing glass with ice. Add 1.5oz of Ritual Gin and Aperitif Alternative. Stir the ingredients in the mixing glass for 20-30 seconds until well combined. Strain the mixture into a rocks glass filled with ice. Garnish with an orange peel.


"Tom showered and then Dickie showered, and came out and poured himself a drink, just like the first time, but the atmosphere now was totally changed."
The Talented Mr. Ripley, Patricia Highsmith
 


Tuesday, April 9, 2024

BOOK/A TABLE - Ravigote Sauce



The original plan was that I would make a summery dinner for my cousin at her house in New Hampshire. She fired up the backyard grill for vegetable and mozzarella “Napoleon” stacks, we tossed a pasta salad together and I don’t remember what else...but then some friends called, a few more showed up at the door, and then they invited their friends. Soon we had a houseful of guests and I just kept cooking. More Napoleons were served, I improvised a few pasta dishes, found greens for salad, whisked together a dressing, and quick-thawed some chicken breasts, which also went on the grill, slathered in barbecue sauce.

In my writer’s imagination, as we made a game of muscial chairs around the dining table, I thought of the epic scene from Nana by Emile Zola, where the reckless, scheming courtesan threw a sprawling, gorgeous dinner party with makeshift tables filling all the rooms of her apartment in order to cram in everybody who rang the doorbell, both invited guests and crashers alike.

The menu at at this fictional bacchanal included an asparagus puree and consommé for starters, truffled rabbit and parmesan gnocchi mid-course, and mains such as chicken à la maréchale, foie gras, and filet of sole with—ravigote sauce!

Ultimately, the party that Zola so delicious detailed didn’t go entirely well (the guests were suffocating because of the heat rising from the all the candelabra and each other; the wine uninspiring, you know), but it still lasted until dawn. I’ve never forgotten it.

Someday I might like to have a huge party and recreate the entire menu from Nana, but in the meantime I’ve taken great satisfaction in just making the ravigote sauce and serving it over steak.

Recipes for ravigote vary, but usually revolve around Dijon mustard, shallots, tarragon, and red or white wine vinegar and I’ll wager Daniel Boulud’s version is the best. Try the sauce hot or cold, with sole or steak, as I mentioned—or how about on top of a burger!

Ravigote Sauce
Adapted from Daniel Boulud

Ingredients:

1⁄4 cup aged red wine vinegar
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1⁄2 cup cooking stock from Tête de Veau or beef stock
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne
1 cup sunflower oil
1 cup minced chives
3⁄4 cup finely chopped parsley
1⁄2 cup minced chervil
1⁄2 cup minced tarragon
1⁄4 cup capers, rinsed and minced
2 small shallots, minced
1 hard boiled egg, finely chopped
1 garlic clove

Method:

In a small saucepan, reduce the cooking liquid or stock by half over high heat, about 5 minutes. Cool, then transfer to a blender along with the vinegar, mustard, salt, pepper, and cayenne. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the oil until emulsified. Transfer to a bowl along with the chives, parsley, chervil, tarragon, capers, shallots, and egg. Using a microplane, grate the garlic into the bowl, then stir everything to combine.


“Nana could not have produced a dozen napkins out of all her cupboards...and scorning to go to a restaurant, she had decided to make a restaurant come to her. This struck her as being more chic.”
Nana, Emile Zola

Thanks to Saveur magazine for the photo! 











Tuesday, April 2, 2024

BOOK/A TABLE - The Black Tie Martini


I don’t mind telling you I’ve made a meal out of martinis on more than one occasion, a la Nick Charles, the glamorous martini-swilling detective in The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett. Garnished with a skewer of blue cheese-stuffed Castelvetrano olives or black olives filled with smoked salmon, a martini can ably serve as both dinner and drinks.

Somewhere in the mid-90’s I discovered The Black Tie Martini at the old Astor hotel in Miami and it was probably the best version of the stiff standby I’d ever had. It’s simple and although a twist is what they used at the bar, it’s not a crime to try the olive garnishes I mentioned, in case you require something a little more substantial.

The Black Tie Martini

Ingredients:
A solid pour of your favorite vodka, such as Belvedere
Equal breaths of Crown Royal and Campari
Lemon twist

Method:
Pour the vodka into an ice-filled shaker. Dip a cocktail stirrer straw into your Crown Royal, seal with your fingertip and release the contents into the shaker. Ditto with the Campari.

Put the lid on the shaker and take this hint from Mr. Charles: “Always have rhythm in your shaking. Now a Manhattan you shake to foxtrot time, a Bronx to two-step time, but a dry martini you always shake to waltz time.”* Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with lemon twist.

So, what are you waiting for? Get out your Strauss records and do enjoy!





*Quote is actually from the movie version The Thin Man.

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

BOOK/A TABLE - Cassoulet



One evening, a number of years ago, after we’d knocked back practically a barrel of bourbon, my friend took it upon himself to read Ernest Hemingway’s The Short and Happy Life of Francis Macomber to us. Despite the title, there was nothing short about it; he read for what felt like hours. (Just imagine: a massive breath or a pause for another sip of Maker’s Mark to add dramatic effect as he turned each weighted page with a licked index finger.)

Frankly, I hadn’t much cared for Hemingway at that point, and this soliloquy damned near put an end to my interest in him entirely until I read A Moveable Feast—here was the extraordinary life of Hemingway himself, part of the Lost Generation in 20’s Paris! And eating his way through all of it!

Among the oysters and white wine (and Zelda and Gertrude Stein, of course), there was also cassoulet, the hearty dish of white beans, duck, and sausage. While the creation of cassoulet is attributed to Carcassonne in the region of Languedoc, Hemingway spotted it on a bistro menu in Montparnasse.

Cassoulet is a slow process of braising meat and aromatics (taking nearly as long to make as it takes to have The Short and Happy Life of Francis Macomber read to you), but well worth it. I also think it’s essential to then let your cassoulet sit overnight before heating it up again in the oven to serve.

Rest assured, when I laid this sumptous pot on the dinner table for some friends recently, I had everyone’s attention.

My favorite version is here, but you might like Julia Child’s epic foray, Jacques Pepin's “quick version” or a simpler chicken variation here, which is more like a fricassee.

As Hemingway wrote to a friend in 1950, “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”

Do enjoy!




Wednesday, March 20, 2024

BOOK/A TABLE - A Spring Picnic


Spring is around the corner...can't you can feel it tickling your nose? 

Naturally, I returned to Kenneth Grahame's classic novel, The Wind in the Willows, concerning a collection of rather well-to-do animals at times skittering about, languidly discussing ideas, or extolling the virtues of nature. Such wonder! There's a grandiose, preposterous (while still quite amiable in his delusions) toad on the wrong side of the law, a couple of critters who nearly succumb to the sea in response to the siren song of the Sea Rat and his wayfaring ways. And also, lovingly wrapped in the pages--a pausing meditation on dawn.

And boy, do the little fellows love to eat! They rarely ever stop--if not eating, they're talking about eating, or talking about food while eating! I was enamored of the fat, wicker luncheon basket that the Water Rat and Mole share, its contents including, "cold tongue cold ham cold beef pickled gherkins salad french rolls cress sandwidges potted meat ginger beer lemonade soda water..."

We had a few friends over and I served such things as these one entirely civilized afternoon. Perhaps I skipped the tongue and potted meat and watercress but the package of DAK boiled ham, Pillsbury crescent rolls, thinly sliced cucumbers on buttered white bread, bread and butter pickle coins and figgy orange jam stepped in nimbly and rose most admirably! Pink fizzy lemonade, fruity seltzer water and a chilled Chardonnay-Viognier was fine indeed for our gathering.


I also happened to find an absolutely charming copy of The Wind in the Willows Country Cookbook (pub. 1983) on ebay, with recipes by Arabella Boxer and fine illustrations by Ernest H. Shepard. Contents reveal FOOD FOR varying occasions such as "...staying at home...excursions...the storage cupboard..." I found a recipe for Refrigerator Cookies from the latter section while perusing other things such as Snowfalls in Dark Woods, Leafy Summer Lettuce Snacks and Very Easy Flapjacks.

A guideline for Refrigerator Cookies may be found at allrecipes.com by clicking here. The recipe is a little different in The Wind in the Willows Country Cookbook, which is made instead with 6 TB butter, 1/2 cup superfine sugar, 1 egg, 1 1/2 cups self-rising flower and a pinch of salt (dispensing with the cinnamon, walnuts, baking soda and cream of tartar called for on allrecipes.com).



"Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing--absolutely nothing--half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats..." And eating, apparently! Do enjoy!






Monday, March 18, 2024

Guinness Beef Stew with Horseradish Cream

 

We thought we'd like to make something special for St. Patrick's Day--and after just one bite of this beef stew from the New York Times Cooking app, we knew this is THE stew to do, for always! 

Flavored with Guinness stout, espresso and cocoa powder, the end result is not only delicious, but immensely satisfying. There are a lot of ingredients for sure, but they are all basically tossed into a large pot. The slow oven-braising does all the work to make a truly celebratory dish. 

And hello--Horseradish Cream? 

We also made Jim Lahey's fantatstic No-Knead Bread (recipe here) for dipping, substituting more Guinness stout for the water. It proved to be a great, wildly flavorful bread.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Oven-Braised Guinness Beef Stew with Horseradish Cream
Adapted from Sarah DiGregorio's recipe in the New York Times

Total Time - 3 hours
Yield: 6 servings

INGREDIENTS
3 pounds beef chuck, fat trimmed and meat cut into 2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons plus ⅓ cup all-purpose flour
Kosher salt and black pepper
4 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more as needed
3 large garlic cloves, chopped
2 dried shiitake mushrooms, halved (optional)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons packed brown sugar
1teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon caraway seeds
½ teaspoon instant espresso powder
2½ cups Guinness or other stout beer
2½ cups beef stock or broth
2 fresh thyme sprigs
1pound red or Yukon gold potatoes, cut into 1- to 2-inch pieces
1 to 1½ pounds root vegetables, such as carrots, turnips, rutabaga, celery root and parsnips, peeled and cut into 1- to 2-inch pieces
1tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1teaspoon lemon juice, plus more to taste
¾ cup sour cream
3 tablespoons jarred horseradish
¼ cup minced scallions or chives

METHOD
Step 1
Heat oven to 325 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the beef and 2 tablespoons flour. Season generously with salt and pepper and toss to coat. In a Dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil over medium-high. Working in batches, add the beef and let it brown on two sides, about 2 minutes per side. Add a bit more oil if the meat sticks. (You can brown it on more than two sides if you have time, but browning it on two sides is enough to build flavor and texture.) Transfer the browned beef to a bowl or plate.

Step 2
Make the gravy: Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Add the garlic, dried shiitakes (if using), tomato paste, brown sugar, cocoa, onion powder, caraway seeds and espresso powder. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is fragrant and evenly combined, 1 to 2 minutes. (Reduce the heat to low or remove from the heat temporarily if the bottom of the pan threatens to burn.) Add the remaining ⅓ cup flour and cook, stirring and scraping constantly, until the mixture forms a thick, dry paste, about 1 minute. Add the beer and stock. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil, whisking constantly to scrape any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Let it boil until smooth and thickened, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper and remove from the heat.

Step 3
Add the beef and any juices, thyme, potatoes and root vegetables. Cover and transfer to the oven. Cook until the beef and vegetables are tender, 2 to 2½ hours.

Step 4
Add the vinegar, Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice. Taste, and season with more salt, pepper and lemon juice if necessary. (If the stew tastes flat, add more lemon juice first, then more salt and pepper; acid is key to making it taste lively. It may need a surprising amount of salt, especially if you have used unsalted or low-salt stock.) Discard the thyme.

Step 5
Make the horseradish cream: Stir together the sour cream, horseradish and scallions in a small bowl. Season with salt. Serve stew in bowls with a spoonful of the horseradish cream on top.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

BOOK/A TABLE - Gorgonzola Bread


Perhaps one of the most arduous treks in literature, Leopold Bloom’s journey in Ulysses by James Joyce, which roughly follows The Odyssey, takes place only in a single day.

I’m sure you know that sometimes during a long trip, a fella’s gotta eat. In the midst of Bloom’s meanderings through Dublin, loose under the heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit,’ he stops in for a quick bite at a pub. 

“A cheese sandwich, then. Gorgonzola, have you?” Bloom asks, humorously paralleling Odysseus’ battle with the Gorgons in The Odyssey.

If only he’d hastened to Hoexters for something more substantial, such as their Gorgonzola Bread, dripping with an absolutely luscious garlic gorgonzola cream bechamel!

Should you not be able to make your own journey to visit Hoexter’s on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, I’ve included a recipe below to try at home. Or follow the recipe here for a simple bechamel and spruce it up with garlic and the pungent cheese that Leopold Bloom craved.


Gorgonzola Garlic Bread

Adapted from life-in-the-lofthouse.com

Ingredients:

1 loaf French bread

1/3 cup salted butter softened

1/2 cup Gorgonzola cheese

2 cloves garlic minced

1/2 Tablespoon freshly chopped parsley or 2 teaspoons dried parsley

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

 

Method:

Slice French bread into 8 slices. Lay each slice on a baking sheet. Set aside.

Cream butter and Gorgonzola cheese together in a medium bowl.

Stir in minced garlic and chopped parsley to cheese mixture.

Spread mixture evenly over each French bread slice.

Sprinkle tops with a little Parmesan cheese.

Place under broiler until cheese is melted and bubbly. (*Stay and watch the entire time to prevent burning!)


Thanks to Hoexter's for the photo!


Wednesday, March 6, 2024

BOOK/A TABLE - Gingerbread



From page...to plate.

The one scene I actually remember from reading The Little House on the Prairie books occurs I think in the first of the series, Little House in the Big Woods: Laura was sitting in front of a super hot potbelly stove—transfixed by the fiery coals glowing so brilliantly, irresistibly orange that she just had to stick her hand in and grab one. Of course, the girl nearly reduced herself to cinders and reeled back in terrific pain. 

But lesson learned. To this day, I still think about her moment of impetuousness before handling hot pans or oven racks in my own kitchen!

I was reminded of it again when my friend mentioned the gingerbread he’d found in The Little House Cookbook: Frontier Foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder's Classic Stories by Barbara M. Walker. This particular recipe was inspired by a competition at the Redwood County Fair where Laura and Harriett Oleson vied for Best Gingerbread, with the pastor of Walnut Grove residing as judge.

Don’t look for spoilers here: you’ll have to read Wilder’s books for yourself to discover how the actual contest went. However, the authentic recipe for her scrumptious gingerbread is right at hand below, but please heed the lesson from our precocious pioneer and work gingerly.

Gingerbread

Adapted from The Little House Cookbook

Ingredients:

1 cup packed brown sugar cup

One half-cup shortening

1 cup molasses

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 cup boiling water

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon each ground ginger, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and cloves

One half-teaspoon salt

4-quart bowl; 2-quart bowl; 9 by 9-inch baking pan

Method:

Preheat the oven to 350-degrees. Grease the baking pan. Blend the sugar and the shortening in the 1-quart bowl and mix in the molasses. Add the baking soda to the boiling water and mix well. Combine the flour and the spices and sift into the 2-quart bowl. Combine the sugar-molasses mixture with the flour mixture and the baking soda-water liquid. Mix the ingredients well and pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake for 45 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center of the gingerbread comes out clean.

 

Thanks Andrew Rozycki for the photo! 




Wednesday, February 28, 2024

BOOK/A TABLE - Twisted Candles Peach Crisp for a Nancy Drew Dinner Party!


I might have stolen it, but I honestly don't think I did. And yet there it is in my possession, has been for many years, The Nancy Drew Cookbook: Clues to Good Cooking by Carolyn Keene, first published in 1973. Inside the front cover, there's a stamp from the Dover Public Library Children's Room in New Hampshire. Hm. I'm pretty sure that there was a yard sale of some kind and I was the first to snatch up the volume, as slim and elegant as the Titian-haired Ms. Drew herself. I'm going to go with that.

Tell us, Nancy--what is the clue in the cookbook?

For me, I just set out to make a meal for some good old friends one evening. I didn't clue them in as to what exactly I would be serving from the cookbook, stolen from Chapter Four (the menu listing of Picnic and Patio Get-Togethers). I suppose I could have done something somewhat more refined like the Souffle Gruen and Lilac Inn Consomme as a starter, but I love anything on a patio and chose items from that instead. There are some hair-raising cliffhangers too, like what would happen if we ate the Leaning Chimney Cones, baloney stuffed with cream cheese and chopped pimentos? The Diary Chicken Salad with mayonnaise, Mandarin oranges, white grapes, pineapple rings and a banana?

Throughout the whole meal, I made some concessions, some modern updates (I never used any margarine for example, only butter). 

During the cocktail hour on the sundeck, I served Miss Hanson's Deviled Eggs (positioned on plum tomato slices to anchor them and topped with a slice of olive) as an appetizer when our guests arrived. I added a little Penzey's Shallot Pepper to the yolk mixture for a satisfying bite. We drank a few adult versions of the Scarlet Slipper Raspberry Punch, laced with vodka. Here, we kept the raspberry gelatin, but omitted the "raspberry drink powder mix" and "frozen lemonade concentrate" and a whole cup of sugar on top of that! Instead we used cranberry raspberry juice, light lemonade, and a little lemon zest.

Crossword Cipher Chicken (a whole chicken cut into eight parts) with crushed Ritz crackers (which subbed for "unsweetened cracker crumbs") was baked for an hour. I used only about half a stick of butter to dip the chicken before breading it with the crackers, onion powder, parsley flakes and grated Parmesan, as opposed to two sticks of butter that the recipe suggested.

Same went for Shadow Ranch Barbequed Beans that I made the night before: the recipe also called for two sticks of butter. Don't you miss the 70's? I didn't add any sugar, except for half the amount of dark brown sugar and lightened it up with a can of vegetarian beans and pork and beans, instead of two cans of the latter. I did throw a piece of bacon in though.

Emerson Cookout Potatoes with bacon, a blend of cubed cheeses and onions baked in the oven while the chicken cooked too and was then served alongside. It was a lot of food but, perhaps not so mysteriously, everything disappeared! If you do happen to have any of the potatoes left over, they'd be great heated up the next day with some scrambledeggs.

We finished the dinner with this recipe for a delicious Twisted Candles Peach Crisp. What a ball--it's no mystery why we love our old friends!

Twisted Candles Peach Crisp

Ingredients:

1 stick(4 ounces) butter
2 16-ounce cans sliced peaches
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

Method:

Heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Let butter soften outside the refrigerator. Drain peaches and dry them on paper towels.

Mix sugar, flour, and cinnamon in a bowl. Put the softened butter into this mixture. Combine ingredients with a fork until well mixed into a dough.

Place peaches in the bottom of the baking dish. Spread the dough over them. Bake on the bottom shelf of the oven for 50 minutes.
Makes 6 servings

Detective Dynamite:

“For an extra delicious taste, add a scoop of ice cream to each serving. This recipe can even be used as a birthday cake. Insert a tiny candle in each portion and light before serving.”

Thanks to NancyDrewSleuth.com for posting this recipe and others from The Nancy Drew Cookbook! 


Wednesday, February 21, 2024

BOOK/A TABLE - Boeuf en Daube


I was so enamored with Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse I decided to make the Boeuf en Daube featured in it. Fantastic! Funny thing is, the protagonist Mrs. Ramsey is rather concerned her dinner will fall to ruin because the children are late to the table—but the dish is really best when refrigerated overnight, re-heated over a low flame and served at leisure. Similar to Boeuf alla Bourguignon (from Burgundy, 'natch), this preparation of beef is from the Provence/Languedoc region in the South of France.

“Mrs. Ramsay...peered into the dish, with its shiny walls and its confusion of savoury brown and yellow meats, and its bay leaves and its wine, and thought, This will celebrate the occasion...” 

Or any occasion you like!


Boeuf en Daube 

Adapted from goodfoodstories.com

Ingredients:

2 1/2 pounds beef chuck, cut into 2-inch cubes
3 tablespoons olive oil
10 cloves garlic, minced and divided
4 slices bacon, chopped into lardons
1 small red onion, peeled and diced
2 medium carrots, peeled and thinly sliced into rounds
3 ounces (85 grams) shiitake mushrooms, roughly chopped
2 ounces (57 grams) roughly chopped pitted olives of your choice
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed
1 14.5-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 cup red wine + additional wine as needed
1/2 cup beef broth or water
1/4 cup brandy
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 dried bay leaves
10 sprigs parsley
1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
1 teaspoon cornstarch (optional)
cooked egg noodles and/or crusty bread and butter for serving (optional)

Method:

Place the beef, olive oil, and half the minced garlic in a sealable gallon-size plastic bag. Marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes to an hour (or overnight in the refrigerator). 

While the beef is marinating, you can prep your veg.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot such as a Dutch oven, cook the bacon over medium heat until crispy. 

Spoon out the bacon and reserve, but leave the fat in the pan.

In batches, add the marinated beef to the pan and cook for about five minutes, turning the meat so all sides are browned but not burning your garlic. 

Transfer the cooked beef and garlic to a bowl.

Add the onion, carrots, mushrooms, olives, capers, and remaining garlic to the Dutch oven. Cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are soft.

Add the tomatoes, wine, broth, and brandy to the Dutch oven and bring to a simmer, scraping up all the yummy browned bits. 

Return the beef and bacon to the Dutch oven.

Add the thyme, bay, parsley, and peppercorns to the Dutch oven. If you don’t like them floating around in there, you can make a bouquet garni by wrapping them in cheesecloth (or a coffee filter or empty tea bag), tying it closed with butcher’s twine.

Cook in the oven for 3 hours, until the beef is so tender you can pull it apart into shreds with a fork.

If you find your stew doesn’t have enough liquid once it’s done, add a bit more wine; if you have too much liquid, thicken it with a teaspoon of cornstarch that’s been whisked with a little water to make a slurry.

Do enjoy!



Wednesday, February 14, 2024

BOOK/A TABLE - Oysters Rockefeller


Happy Valentine’s Day!

I was in 5th grade when I first read Agatha Christie’s Sleeping Murder and I remember feeling like I'd woken up in a whole new world. My mother and her friends all read Christie’s exciting books and Sleeping Murder had just come out in paperback. Entering a copy seemed a portal, or at least a glimpse, into adulthood. I was so intrigued—and also a little terrified—by the story of a young woman brought to live in a new home that seems more than a little familiar to her. I have never looked at Playtex rubber gloves the same way again.

In Christie’s books, so often the air is rich with cyanide, pistol smoke, and the perverse, ringing shock of discovering a dead body at a reserved English country house. Among the self-satisfied men in pressed flannel and women dressed in sphinxlike smiles, at least one of them has murder lurking in their desperate hearts when committing le crime passionnel—the crime of passion.

So what else to serve on Valentine’s Day but the impassioned oyster, long considered to be an aphrodisiac? Do these Oysters Rockefeller right and your beloved might be so enamored, they might let you...get away with murder! At least enjoy them as Hercule Poirot perhaps did in Christie’s fiendishly clever Murder on the Orient Express. In Karen Pierce's fabulous book, Recipes for Murder, she reveals Poirot does confess on the famous train that “the food was unusually good...”

 
 

Check out Karen Pierce’s Recipesfor Murder—66 Dishes that Celebrate the Mysteries of Agatha Christie for an Oysters Rockefeller recipe...or shucks, consider the one I’ve included below.

Oysters Rockefeller 

Adapted from Gourmet

“The original recipe for oysters Rockefeller, created at the New Orleans restaurant Antoine's in 1899, remains a secret to this day.” 

Makes 8 first-course servings

1 garlic clove

2 cups loosely packed fresh spinach

1 bunch watercress, stems trimmed

1/2 cup chopped green onions

3/4 cup (11/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

1/2 cup dry breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons Pernod or other anise-flavored liqueur

1 teaspoon fennel seeds, ground

1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce

1 pound (about) rock salt

24 fresh oysters, shucked, shells reserved

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Step 1. Position rack in top third of oven and preheat to 450°F. Finely chop garlic in processor. Add spinach, watercress and green onions to garlic. Process, using on/off turns, until mixture is finely chopped. Transfer mixture to medium bowl.

Step 2. Combine butter, breadcrumbs, Pernod, fennel and hot sauce in processor. Process until well blended. Return spinach mixture to processor. Process, using on/off turns, just until mixtures are blended. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be made 8 hours ahead. Cover; chill.)

Step 3. Sprinkle rock salt over large baking sheet to depth of 1/2 inch. Arrange oysters in half shells atop rock salt. Top each oyster with 1 tablespoon spinach mixture. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake until spinach mixture browns on top, about 8 minutes.

Do enjoy!