Thursday, January 31, 2013

Random Cookbook of the Week - More With Less

This week's random cookbook was More With Less, a Mennonite cookbook that was the go-to frugalista recipe source among my Presbyterian church community immediately post-college. I don't cook with it so much anymore. I still love its message, but the flavors NSM. I like my food a bit brighter and spicier, and if I'm going for comfort food, I'm more likely to delve into my own heritage and get Southern. Mm, barbecue...fried chicken...buttermilk biscuits...sweet tea...

(I do have one best-beloved recipe from More With Less, a mild curry called Pakistani Kima. But I rarely make it because Mr. Fraser hates curry. Whenever he goes to a tech conference, the first night he's away I cook kima and then have the leftovers for lunch all week. When I'm at a writers' conference, he does the same thing, but with tuna casserole. The first night part is key, since it gives plenty of time for the curry/canned fish smell to dissipate by the time the curry/canned fish hater gets home.)

But this week Mr. Fraser is at home, and anyway the point is to try new-to-me recipes, so I made:

Hearty Lentil-Sausage Soup

1 lb. pork sausage, broken into chunks
2 med. onions, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
4 med. parsnips, cut into chunks (optional) - I used two, because I kinda suspect that our grocery store's parsnips run bigger. Four would've overwhelmed the recipe.
2 c. lentils
1 T. salt
1/2 t. marjoram
2 c. cooked tomatoes or juice
2 qt water

Brown sausage in large kettle. Remove meat and pour off most of the drippings. (The recipe calls for pouring off all but 1/4 c. of drippings, but I don't think Jimmy Dean makes sausage that fatty anymore.)

Add onions, garlic, and parsnips. Cook 5 minutes or until onions and garlic are tender.

Add remaining ingredients, including browned sausage. Simmer 30 minutes or until tender. Serve with bread. (The recipe suggests placing a bread slice in each bowl and pouring soup over bread, but I decided I'd rather have it on the side.)

Here it is:

It's...pretty good. Not a "wow" kind of recipe, but hearty and wintry and filling.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Random Cookbook of the Week: In My Kitchen

This year for Christmas I got two Ted Allen cookbooks, In My Kitchen and The Food You Want to Eat. When I drew the former as my random cookbook last week, I liked so many of the recipes I couldn't limit myself to just one. So on Saturday I made...

Herbed Edamame Canapes

1 1/2 t. kosher salt
1/2 lb. frozen, shelled edamame, thawed
1 t. unsalted butter
2 large shallots, halved and sliced into thin half moons
1/4 t. freshly ground black pepper
1 small garlic clove, smashed and peeled
3 T. fresh ricotta
2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 t. grated lemon zest
1 T. fresh lemon juice
1 T. chopped tarragon leaves
Endive leaves, cucumber or jicama slices, or toasted baguette slices

1. Put a medium saucepan half full of water over high heat and bring to a boil. Add 1 t. of the salt and the edamame, bring the water back to a boil, and cook for one minute. Drain and transfer to a bowl filled with ice water to stop cooking. Once cool, drain well.

2. Melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 7 minutes. Season with the remaining 1/2 t. of salt and the pepper.

3. Combine the edamame, shallots, garlic, ricotta, olive oil, lemon zest, and juice in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to make a thick, slightly chunky puree. Season with salt and pepper. Scrape the mixture into a bowl and mix in the tarragon. Spoon onto endive leaves, cucumber slices, toasts, or what-have-you, and serve.

It came out looking like this:

I added a sprinkling of parmesan because I felt like it needed it, then realized as I was cleaning up the kitchen that night that I'd left out the tarragon. Oops. Anyway, this had a nice fresh, bright taste, and I can see myself making it again, maybe for a party appetizer.

Then Sunday was soup time:

Bourbon Squash Soup with Parmesan Frico

2 T. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
1 acorn or butternut squash, halved and seeded
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 med. yellow onion, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
2 med. carrots, chopped
1/2 hot red chile, seeded and chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 t. fresh thyme or 1 t. dried
1/4 c. bourbon whiskey
4 c. chicken stock, preferably homemade, or low-sodium store-bought

1 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 t. all-purpose flour
2 T pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds) - I couldn't find these and therefore left them out.
1 t. finely chopped rosemary or thyme leaves (optional) - I left out
A grind of black pepper (optional) - included
1/4 t. cayenne (optional) - included

1. Make the soup: Preheat the oven to 375.

2. Brush olive oil on the cut sides of the squash and season with salt. Put the squash cut side down on a baking sheet, cover with foil, and roast for one hour, until tender. Remove from oven, turn the squash over, and let cool. Scoop the squash out of the rind and set aside the flesh.

3. Lower the oven temperature to 350.

4. In a large Dutch oven or stockpot over medium heat, warm the olive oil, then add the onion, celery, and carrots, and cook until soft, 8 minutes. Add the chile, garlic, and thyme, and cook until fragrant, 1 minute. Then, add the squash, whiskey, stock, 1 t. salt, and 1/2 t. pepper, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until slightly thickened, 20 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, make the frico: Mix together in a small bowl the Parmesan, flour, pepitas, and any of the optional add-ins. On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, make 1-tablespoon piles of the mixture with a couple inches between each, and spread them out into ovals about 4 inches long and 2 wide. Bake in the oven until golden brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Let them cool on the baking sheet.

6. If you have time, first allow the soup to cool, and then puree in batches or with an immersion blender; reheat before serving. If not, be aware that hot liquids can explode out of food processors and blenders; hold on to the lid with a kitchen towel and proceed carefully. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

7. Tuck a frico into each bowl of hot soup, and serve.


I know, it's very orange. And my fricos look kinda sloppy. But they tasted AMAZING. I'm already trying to think what else that I cook could be made all the better with a nice parm cracker or two on the side. The soup was delicious too--the small amount of chile and Bourbon came through powerfully and made for a spicy, rich, boozey dinner for a cold Sunday night.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

2013 Reading - Books 7-9

Three more books--two YA and the beginning of my Rita judging:

7) Julie's Wolf Pack

Third in Jean Craighead George's beautiful YA series about a young Inuit girl who finds refuge among a wolf pack and keeps ties with them even after being reunited with her family, this one is almost all from the POV of the wolves themselves, and it works surprisingly well. She doesn't quite anthropomorphize them but still makes them extremely relatable, somehow.

8) Team Human, by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan.

I was a huge fan of Buffy and Angel back in the day, but all the vampire stories from the last ten years or so haven't appealed so much. But I'm glad I read this book--it's a smart, suspenseful, and fun YA, and a little bit thought-provoking, too.

9) Book Which Shall Not Be Named, #1.

Again this year I'm judging Romance Writers of America's Rita contest. Over the next month or so, I will be reading four books whose details I'm not allowed to discuss because judging must be kept confidential. So all I'll say about this one was I found it a bit of a slog, and I hope the next three will prove more enjoyable.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

2013 TBR Challenge - Monsoon Wedding Fever

This year I decided to take on a TBR challenge in an effort to actually READ some of the books I pick up for my Kindle thinking they sound interesting and then never get to because they keep getting buried beneath the next pile of purchases. Since the whole point is to whittle down my to-be-read pile, I'm limiting myself to books I owned as of 12/31/12.

The theme for January is We Love Short Shorts - short stories, novellas, and category romance. I selected a 2012 category romance from the Harlequin Romance line, Monsoon Wedding Fever, by Shoma Narayanan.

I bought this book because I was happy to see Harlequin bring out a book about Indian characters by an Indian author. What interested me most as I read was seeing how the conventions of a category contemporary romance played out within a different cultural milieu, one that's mostly unfamiliar to me. For example, the heroine is much more concerned about her reputation and keeping up appearances than a contemporary American or British heroine would be--though as a writer and reader primarily of historicals, I didn't have any trouble relating to her concerns. 

This is a reunion story. The hero and heroine, Dhruv and Riya, first met in college, when she was 17 and he was 20, but he broke up with her abruptly and rather coldly--which I found forgivable given his youth and the fact his own parents' marriage was in crisis. They meet again some eleven years later, when it turns out he's a cousin to her roommate who's about to get married. In the run-up to that wedding, they can't avoid each other, and they reconnect.

But their romance doesn't run smoothly. Dhruv is the richer of the pair, and Riya is super-sensitive about her independence and proving she can provide for herself. Also, she learns from family gossip that he's been seeking an arranged marriage, meeting women more suitable in the eyes of his family than she could ever be, so she's understandably concerned he sees her as nothing but a temporary fling. I got a little impatient waiting for them to actually communicate, but overall this was a satisfying romance and an interesting glimpse at another part of the world.

Monday, January 14, 2013

2013 reading, books 4-6

4) The Natchez Trace Historic Trail in American History, by William R. Sanford.

I'm working on a not-yet-contracted book where, among other adventures, my hero and heroine will travel up the Natchez Trace in 1815. I just figured out this part of their journey last week, so I promptly reserved all the books on the Trace I could find from the Seattle Public Library. Since this one is a short, basic introduction that looks to have been designed for middle or high school students doing research papers, it's where I started. It's a simple history, but it did give me enough of a sense of what challenges my characters might encounter on that part of their journey to flesh out my synopsis. I trust the other two more detailed books I brought home today will flesh out the actual book. :-)

5) The Crowded Grave, by Martin Walker.

I'm now caught up on everything from this series that's been released in America, though I understand the UK is a book ahead of us. As usual, it made me wish myself in France RIGHT NOW, and because of these books I've added the Perigord to my tentative itinerary for the big European trip I'm planning for the spring/summer of 2015. (I mean to be at Waterloo for the 200th anniversary of the battle, and before and/or after to spend some time in France, Spain, and Portugal, and hopefully England, too. Oh, and I'd love to go to Italy, but I'll probably have to save that for a different trip.) Anyway, this book ended in a darker place than previous entries in the series, and I really wish I didn't have to wait for the next one.

6) Wyrd Sisters, by Terry Pratchett.

I decided to give Pratchett a try after enough of my friends expressed amazement that I hadn't already read and loved all his works. And I enjoyed it very much, but it was more a matter of liking, admiration, and extreme amusement than love. I read it with my head rather than my heart, basically. I expect I'll read more Pratchett, but I'm not feeling the same frantic hunger to read the whole series NOW that I got when I finally gave in and read the Vorkosigan books (to name another set of books my friends were always urging me to read, but I put off because surely no books could be THAT good).

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Random Cookbook of the Week - Mastering the Art of French Cooking

Of all the cookbooks I own, the only one that intimidates me more than Mastering the Art of French Cooking is The French Laundry Cookbook. I'm just an ordinary American, you see. I cannot master French arts. OK, I'm probably about 1/128th French, give or take a generation or two, on my father's mother's side. Some Huguenot refugee got mixed in with the standard Celt, Anglo-Saxon, and Creek and/or Cherokee blend you expect in a deep-rooted Alabama family. When all that "freedom fries" crap was going down a decade or so ago, I started taking outspoken pride in my fractionally French heritage, let me tell you. But I'm nowhere near French enough to give me, oh, chef genes.

But, hey, I do realize that Julia Child's whole point was that anyone can cook, so I took a deep breath and attempted the very first recipe in the book:

Potage Parmentier (Leek or Onion and Potato Soup)

3-4 cups or 1 lb. peeled potatoes, sliced or diced
3 cups or 1 lb thinly sliced leeks including the tender green, or yellow onions (I used leeks)
2 quarts water 
1 T salt
4-6 T whipping cream or 2-3 T softened butter (I used butter)
2-3 T minced parsley or chives (I used chives)

Simmer the vegetables, water, and salt together, partially covered, for 40-50 minutes until the vegetables are tender.

Mash the vegetables in the soup with a fork, or pass the soup through a food mill. (I used a potato masher.) Correct seasoning. Set aside uncovered until just before serving, then reheat to the simmer.

Off heat and just before serving, stir in the cream or butter by spoonfuls. Garnish with the herbs.

Nothing intimidating about that at all, as it turns out. One of the simpler recipes I've attempted lately, really. Which is not to say I'm ready to charge deeper into the book and make a souffle or her cassoulet recipe that she recommends spending three days on, and I can happily live my life without ever eating a brain. I've eaten haggis AND lamb fries, so I think I've proven my culinary courage sufficiently. Even if my in-laws didn't tell me what the lamb fries were until I'd already eaten two.

Anyway, the soup tasted like mashed potatoes in liquid form, pretty much, albeit with a strong overtone of leeks. Very pleasant, though if I make it again I'll try some of the suggestion variations or additions to give it a bit more oomph.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

2013 reading, books 1-3

I decided this year to post to my reading journal every time I've read three books, so here goes:

1) The Signal and the Noise, by Nate Silver.

I've been a fan of Nate Silver's since the early days of back in 2008, and I value his commitment to looking at what the data says rather than what he wants to spin it into saying. It's so refreshing in the world of political journalism, and you can't argue with his results.

That said, I expected to find this book mathy and daunting. But it wasn't at all. OK, my eyes may have glazed over a little during the stock market and poker sections, but Silver has a knack for including clarifying charts and analogies, and I found it fascinating to see how predictions succeed and fail across a variety of fields and how we can find commonalities between them.

2) Monsoon Wedding Fever, by Shoma Narayanan.

I chose this for my first book in Wendy the Superlibrarian's 2013 romance reading challenge, and I will post about it in more detail on the 16th.

3) The Fiddler on Pantico Run, by Joe Mozingo.

A memoir/family history about the LA Times journalist author's discovery that his supposedly Italian last name was actually African and had somehow survived all the way from the 17th century even after most of the original American Mozingo's descendants had passed into the white community. A rambling but intriguing journey through the author's family tree, with visits to his distant cousins and excursions to Jamestown, Cameroon, and Angola.