Welcome to this Special Recipes Edition of An Infrequent Offering.
In the middle of July, I received an email letting me know that Library Journal would feature a starred review for Delicious: The reviewer loved it; she was only sorry that there were no recipes.
That got me thinking. Food plays such a central role in Delicious, perhaps I really should have included a recipe or two. Since it is too late now to make changes to the book itself--Delicious already arrived on the shelves last week, July 29, 2008 to be exact--I thought it'd be fun to celebrate its recent release with recipes for several delicacies central to the development of the story.
I will be chatting at the the PHADE on Sept 4 at 8pm eastern time.
Live in Michigan? I am taking part in the Levy/Meijer Bus Tour, signing books at nine Meijer stores across Michigan (Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, Lansing, Ann Arbor, and Detroit) with more than 20 other romance authors September 19-21, 2008. Below is a tentative schedule:
Friday, September 19Please check here for updates and the list of authors.
10:30am Kalamazoo/5800 Gull Rd.
3:00pm Grand Rapids/Cascade
5:00pm Grand Rapids/Knapp's Corner
Saturday, September 20
10:30am Lansing/2055 W. Grand River Rd.
3:00pm Ann Arbor/5645 Jackson Rd.
5:00pm Canton/45001 Ford Rd.
Sunday, September 21
10:30am Rochester Hills/3175 Rochester Rd.
12:00pm Royal Oak/5150 Coolidge Hwy
4:00pm Monroe/1700 Telegraph Rd.
Suddenly the library, which had smelled mainly of old books and old cigar smoke, was redolent of summer, of crisp cucumbers ripening overnight on the vine. Stuart lowered his paper a moment to see what had produced such a potently pleasant odor. Prior laid a bowl of pale, thick potage in front of him.
Stuart took a sip. The sip turned into an explosion of flavors on his tongue, rich, deep, pure, like eating the sunshine and verdure of a fine June afternoon. Startled, he did something he almost never did—putting down his newspaper when he dined alone--and stared into the soup.
Slowly, he lifted another spoonful to his mouth. No, the first sip had not been a deviation. The soup was indeed that good. He tried to taste each individual ingredient: cucumbers, onion, a hint of garlic, butter, broth, and cream. Nothing unusual, fancy, or particularly noble. Yet it was…it was sublime.
When my sister-in-law married her wonderful vegetarian husband, I looked around for vegetarian recipes. One of the recipes I
tried was a cucumber soup from 365 Vegetarian Soups that was printed in my local newspaper. Since I normally depend heavily on chicken and beef
broth for flavor in my soups, I was very surprised by how wonderful the cucumber soup tasted.
So when I needed a soup that would startle--jolt, even--a man who doesn't normally care for food, my mind turned immediately to this cucumber soup of which I always think with wistful longing, because it was so yummy, and because I don't dare make it very often, since the recipe calls for a whole cup of cream!
1 tablespoon butter
1 shallot, finely diced
1 celery stalks, diced
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup vegetable stock
1 cup heavy cream
1 to 2 cucumbers, depending on size, coarsely grated
Salt and pepper to taste
Set stove on medium. Heat butter. Saute shallot and celery in butter until soft. Add white wine (I use dry vermouth), vegetable stock (or chicken broth if you prefer) and potatoes. Boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Remove from stove and let cool slightly. In a blender purée the mixture until smooth. Return to the pot and bring to a boil, then add cream and grated cucumber. Heat, but do not allow to boil. Turn off the heat and add salt and pepper to taste.
I prefer the soup hot but you can serve it chilled
The chocolate custard sat on small table, glossy, serene, entirely indifferent to his laughable internal struggle. He dug in the tip of a spoon, destroying its smooth surface— and released a coil of rich, dusky odor.
Chocolate. He’d never had chocolate before he came to live at Fairleigh Park, but when he was seven someone had given him a shred of paper that had once been wrapped around a piece of imported chocolate. He’d pressed the wrapper to his nose and inhaled as deeply as his lungs allowed, dreaming of chocolate enough to bury him.
Her custard smelled like that, a good smell made mythical by fervid imagination and true hunger. Suddenly he was famished again. He wolfed down the whole content of the ramekin in seconds, barely tasting anything as he ate.
Only as he slumped back into his chair did the residual flavors ambush his senses. For a moment the inside of his mouth tingled and luxuriated, a burst of glory. But the sensation faded just as quickly, leaving in its wake only the same obstinate, inexplicable craving.
When I needed a food item to be seductive beyond words, it was pretty obvious chocolate had to be involved. Not only is chocolate marvelous on its own, but culturally we are conditioned to respond to the mere mention of it. Here's a recipe for chocolate custard from How to Cook Everything:
1 ounce chopped bittersweet chocolate (you can use up to 2 ounces for an even more intense flavor)Image by Roland
2 cups heavy cream, light cream, or milk, or a mixture
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs plus 2 yolks
1/2 cup sugar (more if you like things very sweet)
Heat the chopped bittersweet chocolate in a double boiler or in a very small saucepan over very low heat, stirring almost constantly, until it melts; cool slightly.
Place the cream in a small saucepan with the vanilla and turn the heat to medium. Cook just until it begins to steam.
Use a whisk or electric mixer to beat the eggs and yolks with the salt and sugar until pale yellow and fairly thick. Preheat the oven to 300°F and set a kettle of water to boil.
Stir the melted chocolate into the eggs. Add the cream gradually to the egg and chocolate mixture, stirring constantly. Pour the mixture into a large bowl or six 4- to 6- ounce custard cups. Place the bowl or cups in a baking pan and pour hot water the pan, to within about 1 inch of the top of the bowl or cups. Bake until the mixture is not quite set--it should wobble just a little in the middle--about 30 minuts for the cups, longer if you are baking in a bowl. Use your judgment; cream sets up faster than milk. Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold, within a day.
He inhaled deeply, trying to extract some hidden essence from the smell. It remained faint. Yet with every breath he took, the scent grew subtler and lovelier. And suddenly it was the sparkling odor of warm southern climes where lemon trees flourished under cobalt skies.
Stuart lowered the handkerchief, amazed almost as much by the intricacy of the scent as by his imaginative reaction. It was only pound cake, and he didn’t even care for pound cake. Yet as he put the fabric to his nose again and closed his eyes, he could very well believe himself in the gardens of a Mediterranean villa, surrounded by potted lemon trees laden with fruit the color of sunshine.
Had Bertie been still alive, he’d be able to tell Stuart why he’d kept the handkerchief, and what it had been that had left behind the alluring, evocative odor.
But Bertie was dead.
Stuart dropped the handkerchief back and closed the drawer.
Madeleines are probably the single most famous pastry in all of literary history, its flavor unlocking the narrator's memories in
Proust's Remembrance of Things Past. I was never able to read past the first 100 pages of Swann's Way, the first of seven volumes in
Remembrance of Things Past. But I did, when I was an exchange student in France, eat a lovely, lovely madeleine.
My funds were severely limited during my year in Provence. Good restaurants were out of the question and French cafeteria food was no better than cafeteria food elsewhere. One day, at dinner, we were given little plastic-wrapped madeleines for dessert. I saved the madeleine for breakfast. So the next morning, I peeled open the plastic, and expected something similar to a Little Debbie cake. But it wasn't. It was fantastic. I was bowled over.
The recipe offered at this particular blog isn't quite the same--because I'm no longer nineteen and constantly hungry and breathing the air of Aix-en-Provence--but it is excellent in its own right. Let me know how it works for you. :-)
For the Special Recipes Edition, we will be looking at book that deal with food. Of course. :-)
Much depends on dinner : the extraordinary history and mythology, allure and obsessions, perils and taboos, of an ordinary meal by Visser, Margaret. The author takes an very ordinary American meal--corn on the cob with butter and salt, roast chicken with rice, salad dressed in lemon juice and olive oil, and ice cream--and traces the history of each of these nine daily food items that we completely take for granted. The result is a most marvelously fun, informative, and fascinating book.
The New Best Recipe: All-New Edition with 1,000 Recipes by the editors of America's Test Kitchen. This is by far my favorite cookbook. The recipes are tested over and over again. Each recipe is accompanied by a detailed explanation of how the quantities of ingredients and the optimum cooking methods and times are arrived at. Everything I've tried is good. The pancake recipe, in particular, has become a favorite of my children.
The Art of Eating by M. F. K. Fisher. M. F. K. Fisher was one of the greatest food writers of the 20th century. The Art of Eating is an
omnibus collection of five of her best-known books, Serve it Forth, Consider the Oyster, How to Cook a Wolf, The Gastronomical Me, and
An Alphabet for Gourmets. The subjects are numerous and wide-ranging, from food anthropology, to cookery, to a heartbreaking memoir of the author's great love
affair with a man who died too soon.
When asked why she wrote about food, she said, "When I write about hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth, and the love of it... and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied." And that is, in a nutshell, everything I've tried to do with Delicious.
May your shelves always overflow with great books to read.