Monthly Archives

October 2017

book review, recipe

The Rules of Magic + Tipsy Chocolate Cake

Happy Halloween, readers! Before I kick off today’s typical post, I want to share a little story. A couple of months ago, I had an epiphany – I thought of the perfect Halloween costume, and almost immediately, I set about finding all of the necessary pieces. Normally, Halloween isn’t exactly my thing, but once I realized who I had to dress up as, that all changed. This year would be different. Readers, I decided to be Julia Child and my excitement could not be contained. I was lucky enough to find the perfect top, skirt and heels secondhand (thank you, thredUP!) as well as a wonderful replica of her L’Ecole des Trois Gourmandes badge from Etsy. Armed with her cookbook and some cooking utensils, all I needed to complete the look was a curly-haired wig and an apron. Here’s what I came up with – what do you think?

Now, onto the usual post, which I’m also excited to share with you. As you may recall, I recently picked up Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic in anticipation of its prequel The Rules of Magic, which came out earlier this month – just in time for Halloween reading! For fans of Practical Magic, Hoffman’s latest novel follows the lives of the beloved aunts you well-remember, Frances and Jet, as well as their brother Vincent as they negotiate being teenagers.

Thankfully, The Rules of Magic was exactly as good as I had hoped it would be. If I’m being honest, I liked it better than Practical Magic (the book), which I read and reviewed here just a few weeks ago. I loved finding out more about Sally and Gillian’s aunts, who make a big impression even though they only appear briefly in the movie. Growing up in New York City during the sixties, the sisters wrestle with the normal struggles of being teenagers alongside the unique consequences of the Owens family curse.

Though not a traditional pageturner, Hoffman’s writing and magical storytelling made this a really quick, enjoyable read. Previously, the story of the Owens family revolved around women – often sisters, so I was surprised to learn about Vincent. I have to say I loved the addition of an Owens brother; his story was unexpectedly beautiful.

As with Sally and Gillian’s story, Franny and Jet’s includes a beloved aunt as well. In the summer of Franny’s seventeenth year, family tradition takes all three siblings to the Massachusetts home of their Aunt Isabelle, where they eat cake for breakfast and stay up as late as they like. It is also there that they learn how to unlock their powers and about their family’s past. Isabelle’s tipsy chocolate cake, which she bakes with copious amounts of rum, makes an impression as well – for the sisters continue to make it even when they move back home to New York City. (Sometimes leaving out the rum, when children are invited.)

I found a recipe from The Crumby Kitchen for a chocolate bundt cake filled with rum, both baked in and covered in a rum-soaked glaze. It looked easy enough, and most of all, it sounded delicious. To start, I sprayed my bundt pan with cooking spray and dusted it with cocoa powder.

Then, I preheated my oven to 325 degrees F and combined the dry ingredients in a bowl – sifted flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In a large saucepan over medium heat, I mixed the butter, buttermilk, hot chocolate, rum, cocoa powder, and cinnamon, nutmeg and ground cloves. I stirred it together, and once the butter melted, I whisked in the brown and granulated sugars until they dissolved. I removed the pan from the heat and allowed it to cool for at least 5 minutes before transferring the mixture to a large bowl.

In a small bowl, I whisked together the eggs and vanilla. I added it to the cooled chocolate rum mixture in the larger bowl, stirring until combined. I added the dry ingredients to the large bowl of wet ingredients and stirred it until it was just combined. The batter was slightly lumpy as described. I poured it into the bundt pan.

The cake baked for about an hour. (Check after 50 minutes.) I let it cool while I started to make the glaze, for at least 20 minutes.

In a small saucepan, I dissolved brown sugar into heavy cream over medium-low heat before adding the rum. I let it come up to a simmer until the liquid reduced and the glaze thickened. The last step in the glaze was to add two tablespoons of butter, stirring until it melted.

Using a skewer, I poked a bunch of holes into the bottom and spooned the glaze over the cake. I let it sit for about 10 minutes so it would soak in, and I repeated this process twice more.

Finally, once the cake was cooled, I turned it out onto a plate. I covered the top of the bundt cake with the rest of the glaze.

Even Julia Child got in on the action – I brought it to work so the whole office could enjoy the tipsy chocolate cake for our Halloween festivities. Both the cake and the costume were a hit.

I hope you all have a safe and happy Halloween!

Tipsy Chocolate Cake

  • Servings: 10-12
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 sticks unsalted butter
  • 1½ cups buttermilk
  • 1 cup hot chocolate
  • ½ cup dark rum
  • 1½ cups plus 3 Tablespoons cocoa powder, divided
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1¾ cups brown sugar
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 3 eggs, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • For the Rum Glaze:

  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • ½ cup rum
  • 2 Tablespoons butter

Directions

    To make the cake:
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Spray a 15-cup bundt pan with baking spray, then dust with 3 Tablespoons cocoa powder; set aside.
  2. Whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt together in a medium bowl; set aside.
  3. In a large saucepan set over medium heat, combine butter, buttermilk, hot chocolate, rum, cocoa powder, and spices. Heat until butter melts and all ingredients come together, then whisk in sugars, stirring until dissolved. Cool mixture for 5 minutes, then transfer to a large mixing bowl.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk together eggs and vanilla extract, and add to cooled chocolate rum mixture, stirring until combined.
  5. Add flour mixture and stir until just combined – batter will be rather thin but slightly lumpy/bubbly.
  6. Pour batter into prepared bundt pan. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a skewer inserted to the bottom comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 20-30 minutes while you prepare the glaze.
  7. To make the glaze:

  8. In a small saucepan, dissolve brown sugar into cream over medium-low heat. When combined, add rum and set heat to low. Allow to simmer until liquid is reduced and thickens. Add butter and stir to melt, then remove from heat.
  9. Using a skewer, poke multiple holes across the bottom of the cake. Spoon or brush buttered rum glaze on the cake, and allow to soak 5-10 minutes, then repeat with more glaze two more times. Let cake soak & cool 20-30 minutes.
  10. When cake is cooled, turn it out onto a cake plate. Brush top and sides of cake with remaining glaze, making multiple passes over it until it’s all used up.
  11. Top with whipped cream or ice cream if desired before serving. Enjoy!

Adapted from: The Crumby Kitchen

This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.

book review, recipe

Behind Her Eyes + Spaghetti Carbonara

Every November, my Good Reads & Good Eats book club reads a spooky book. Since we meet on the first Tuesday of each month, this allows us to read it during October and our meeting usually ends up being right around Halloween. This year’s selection was Sarah Pinborough’s novel Behind Her Eyes. The thriller was released in January but it made for an excellent read this month, just creepy enough throughout with a twist at the end I didn’t see coming.

Thanks to the success of Gone Girl, the oft-called domestic thriller has become more and more popular, and generally, I try to avoid them. Gone Girl was so well-written and its twist both genuinely surprising and believable (which is harder to achieve than it may seem) that I’m usually disappointed in those that follow.

That being said, Behind Her Eyes was an intriguing read. I did get caught up in the story and it kept me wondering what exactly was going on and who to be skeptical of, but the devices it used (particularly toward the end) seemed over-the-top and unbelievable. Overall, Sarah Dickinson does a great job summing up how I feel on her blog, but beware of spoilers if you haven’t read the book and still want to.

Pinborough’s novel begins in the middle of David and Adele’s troubled marriage. After a recent move to London, David almost immediately begins an affair with Louise, who turns out to be his new receptionist. It’s not clear how Adele discovers his transgression, but she makes it a point to befriend Louise and tension begins to build. As more about Adele’s backstory is revealed, more questions arise. In the present day narrative, we’re left wondering who we can trust. I’ll stop here to avoid spoilers, but I think it achieved what it needed to for our book club in that it was mostly riveting and twisty and will certainly make for interesting discussion. I’m looking forward to hearing what everyone has to say about it.

In an attempt to create some domestic bliss (or at least throw David off her scent), Adele continues to make impressive home-cooked meals almost every evening. On one such evening, she whips up the deceptively easy Spaghetti Carbonara and serves it with a simple arugula salad. I grabbed a recipe from one of my favorite blogs, Damn Delicious, for the pasta and found one for the salad from Everyday Maven. The whole meal took about twenty minutes and only requires a minimum number of ingredients for one so impressive; it makes a perfect weeknight meal.

First, I set a large pot of water to bowl and then prepped the salad. I chopped a half cup of cherry tomatoes in half and tossed them in a large bowl with arugula and the lemon zest. I love Trader Joe’s arugula because it’s the perfect amount for a dinner salad and it’s already pre-washed. In a separate small bowl, I combined the ingredients for the dressing – olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper. With the salad mostly set, I turned to the pasta.

Once the water was boiling, I salted it and added the spaghetti to the pot. In a small bowl, I whisked together the eggs and Parmesan and set it aside. I added my diced pancetta (or bacon, if that’s what you’re using) to a heated skillet and allowed it to crisp up for several minutes, before adding my minced garlic.

You’re going to want to make sure your pasta is cooked and drained before you add the garlic. Here is where you need to begin working quickly. Even though this recipe is easy, the eggs leave some room for error. You don’t want them to scramble; they should become a part of the creamy sauce, indistinguishable from the pasta itself. 

To my pancetta and garlic, I added my pasta and the egg-Parmesan mixture, using a pair of tongs to toss and combine everything. I seasoned with salt and pepper, before adding a bit of pasta water, tossing and checking the consistency.

With that all set, I re-whisked my dressing, poured it on the arugula and tossed my salad. Best dishes are both served immediately.

Spaghetti Carbonara

  • Servings: 4
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces spaghetti
  • 2 large eggs
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 4 slices bacon, diced [or diced pancetta, about 4 ounces]
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves (optional)

Directions

  1. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta according to package instructions; reserve 1/2 cup water and drain well.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together eggs and Parmesan; set aside.
  3. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add bacon and cook until brown and crispy, about 6-8 minutes; reserve excess fat.
  4. Stir in garlic until fragrant, about 1 minute. Reduce heat to low.
  5. Working quickly, stir in pasta and egg mixture, and gently toss to combine; season with salt and pepper, to taste. Add reserved pasta water, one tablespoon at a time, until desired consistency is reached.
  6. Serve immediately, garnished with parsley, if desired.


From: Damn Delicious

Arugula Salad with Lemon Balsamic Dressing

  • Servings: 4
  • Print

Ingredients

  • ½ pound arugula
  • ½ cup grape or cherry tomatoes, washed and halved
  • zest of a whole medium lemon
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 5 to 6 turns freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1. In a large salad or mixing bowl, combine arugula, halved grape tomatoes and the zest of an entire medium lemon.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper together until well mixed.
  3. When ready to serve, pour dressing over salad, toss until well coated. Serve and Enjoy!


of interest

Guest Post: Seven Book + Drink Pairings to Cozy Up With

Happy Fall! I’m Grace from A Literary Feast, here at The Hungry Bookworm as a happy guest writer. Megan and I discovered each other’s blogs a few weeks ago and felt an instant kinship. Food in literature isn’t the most prevalent topic on the Internet, but we both love writing about it! I’m so honored that she wanted to introduce my work to you, her readers. I hope you enjoy this post with these fall-perfect book and drink recommendations.

Any time of the year is a good time for reading. There’s just something about fall, though. Cooler evenings, rainy days, falling leaves… doesn’t it make you want to curl up by the fireside with a warm drink and a cozy read? Me too. That’s why I’m giving you a list of the coziest books and drink pairings to carry you well into the winter.

1 The Story Girl by L.M. Montgomery

As much as I adore the Anne of Green Gables series, I prefer to read it in the spring. (Don’t ask me why – maybe it goes back to my Spring Break binge-reads. We bookworms know how to party.) As a whole, though, I think that L.M. Montgomery’s books are so perfect for cozy fireside reading. If you haven’t read beyond Anne, you have so much to look forward to! I love The Story Girl for, yes, the stories, but also for the coming-of-age and turn-of-the-season themes. I haven’t met one her books that I don’t like, so here are a few more suggestions while we’re at it: Pat of Silver Bush, Emily of New Moon, Kilmeny of the Orchard, and Among the Shadows: Tales from the Darker Side.

It’s been a few years since I read The Story Girl, but I remember two things that influenced my drink pairing: Felicity loved to cook and there was an orchard on their property. I’m sure she would enjoy a fancy fireside drink. To pair with The Story Girl, try this Slow Cooker Caramel Apple Cider from Tastes Better From Scratch. Can you just imagine how amazing your house will smell?

 

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

“I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” Although I can’t give you specific details because so much water has passed under the bridge since I read this book, I consider it one of the coziest books I have ever read. Everyone I know who has read it has felt that the book’s homing instinct is spot on. Written in letter form and celebrating the love of all things literary, this book will warm your heart on a chilly fall night.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society is set in England on a small island. Islands are known for their fog, and England is known for its tea. I can’t think of a better drink to pair with this book than a warm London Fog. Although the directions aren’t proprietary, I chose this London Fog recipe by Yours Truly, G because of her custom infographic drawing. Super cute!

 

3 My Cousin Rachel by Daphne Du Maurier.

This is a book that I just reviewed on A Literary Feast, and it fits into this list perfectly. It’s not a thriller nor is it scary, but it is a delicious Gothic mystery that should be read by flickering light. Set primarily in an old manor in Cornwall, England, this story is narrated by 24-year-old Philip who is green, arrogant and stodgy beyond his years but also utterly confounded and besotted by the first female to reside there in decades. A female who, incidentally, may (or may not?) be the cause of his beloved guardian’s death. You’ll change your mind more than once!

The food in My Cousin Rachel is traditional Cornish fare. Apples are prevalent, and their cider is prized. Pair this charming book with a mug of perfect wassail. Here’s a Mulled Wine Wassail recipe with a light buzz from A Spicy Perspective (non-alcoholic version also available).

 

4 The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen

To be honest, this is the first book that came to mind when I was thinking of “cozy books.” It’s also the first book I read by this author, although I have since devoured them all. Sugary sweet without being saccharine, Allen’s stories transport you into a world with a sprinkling of magic, where food goes beyond symbolic. Need I say more? You’ll leave this book wearing glasses a shade or two pinker in hue.

You can’t curl up by the fireside with a book called The Sugar Queen without adding some calories to your drink. With the picture of peppermints on the book cover, this book begs to be paired with a Peppermint White Hot Chocolate (this recipe from Creme de la Crumb).

 

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (Call me names, but yes, I do insist on calling it by the original title.)

If I read Anne of Green Gables in the spring, fall is when the world of Harry Potter beckons. Fall heralds back-to-school, and what school is more exciting than Hogwarts? Harry Potter needs no introduction, but I am excited to say that this link leads to a new version of the first book. Or should I say “versions,” because there is one for each Hogwarts House, with different covers and illustrations and extra content specific to each! (I may have a problem. I already own one boxed set as well as a set on my Kindle and already have plans to buy the new fully illustrated ones. Have you seen them? Look here! They’re gorgeous.)

You must know where I’m going with this one: let’s drink some butterbeer! I’ve tried making it cold before, and it turned out to be really good! We’ll try a hot version this time. Creamy and butterscotchy – my mouth is watering already. Here’s a Hot Butterbeer recipe courtesy of Feast of Starlight.

 

6 The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

A magical circus spun into existence by two dueling magicians. This book transports you into worlds of fancy among the highest stakes imaginable. You’ll have to think existentially at times, but never fear – the author weaves the plot seamlessly, and you’ll be as captivated as the members of the circus audience. If you love books that paint pictures in your mind, you will love the images that The Night Circus creates. This is the stuff that dreams are made of.

What to drink with such a magical book? I know what you’re thinking, and I’m not going to do it. Whatever that crazy Unicorn Frappuccino thing was, that you can now find copycats for all over Pinterest, has to go AWAY. I get a sugar coma just looking at pictures. Such overkill. Blech. I have something else in mind. Here’s a hot drink that (hopefully) isn’t quite as sickeningly sweet, and looks like something that would be served at a fairytale night circus. I think Savor and Savvy has nailed it with this recipe for Pink Velvet Hot Chocolate.

 

7 Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast by Robin McKinley

I saved my favorite for last. If you were to ask me what my favorite Disney movie, fairytale, or Broadway show was, I will mostly likely tell you that it’s Beauty and the Beast. Belle is the perfect heroine: bookish, brainy, and adventurous. And this book by Robin McKinley is my favorite version of the story. Before I had kids and my reading time shrank down to the size of a “poor, provincial town,” I reread this book every year without fail. Until I can resume that lovely tradition, I am passing it on to you! Be my guest.

For such a special book, let’s take the time to make a special drink. Give a nod to the book’s most familiar symbol with this Spiced Rose Latte from Brit and Co. You may have to plan ahead to have these ingredients on hand, but I think that the results will be well worth it! (Invite me over, too, because I would travel far for an evening of reading Beauty by the fireplace with a Spiced Rose Latte!)

 

Hopefully this list has offered a few ideas for a blissful evening in. If you liked this post, I’d love to invite you back to my blog, A Literary Feast, for more food-and-book combinations you may enjoy! And, please add your own favorite fireside reads (or beverages) to the comments below.

 

book review, recipe

Kitchens of the Great Midwest + Peanut Butter Bars

Based on the title alone, Kitchens of the Great Midwest seemed like a book I, lover of food, resident of the Midwest, would thoroughly enjoy. The Goodreads description also seemed promising: “When Lars Thorvald’s wife, Cynthia, falls in love with wine–and a dashing sommelier–he’s left to raise their baby, Eva, on his own. He’s determined to pass on his love of food to his daughter–starting with puréed pork shoulder. As Eva grows, she finds her solace and salvation in the flavors of her native Minnesota…Each chapter in J. Ryan Stradal’s startlingly original debut tells the story of a single dish and character, at once capturing the zeitgeist of the Midwest, the rise of foodie culture, and delving into the ways food creates community and a sense of identity. By turns quirky, hilarious, and vividly sensory, Kitchens of the Great Midwest is an unexpected mother-daughter story about the bittersweet nature of life–its missed opportunities and its joyful surprises.” I tracked it down, dug right in and…

If you don’t already know where I’m going with this, I’m sorry to say, I didn’t thoroughly enjoy it, or really like it all. I think it’s one thing if a story doesn’t live up to the hype – in this case, I’d heard good things and it had almost a 4.0 on Goodreads – but it’s another thing entirely if the blurb is completely mismatched with the story that’s actually told.

In the end, one of the chapters I enjoyed the most was the one featuring Pat Prager, a very Midwestern mom who enjoys cooking for a crowd and does so from the heart. I also thought this chapter provided a stark contrast between the world Eva now cooked in and the world of everyday Midwestern food. In Kitchens, Pat is locally famous for her wonderful, award-winning peanut butter bars that sounded amazing even on the page. I knew I had to make them too.

Though they were very central to the story, no recipe was included, so I found a 5-ingredient recipe from Chef Savvy that was no fuss and no bake – perfect for the warm weather we’re somehow still having in October. True to Pat’s tendencies, I also made them for a crowd; I brought them to work for a coworkers birthday. (And, yes, they were a hit!)

I started by melting the 2 sticks of butter the recipe requires in a large bowl.

While that melted in the microwave, I got some aggression out by crumbling up 2 cups worth of graham crackers (this was about 12 crackers, or half a box). You can do this however you prefer – a food processor will provide the most consistently-sized and likely finest chunks – but I opted to toss them in a plastic Ziploc bag and crush them with my hands. (You could also use a rolling pin.) My chunks weren’t consistent, but I liked the way it added texture to the finished product.

To the same bowl where I’d melted the butter, I added the crushed graham crackers, a cup of peanut butter and 1½ cups of powdered sugar.

I combined them all well with a large spatula and spread the mixture into my prepared 9×13 pin. Then, in a smaller bowl, I added the other half cup of peanut butter and 1½ cups of semi-sweet chocolate chips. These too went in the microwave to melt.

Once the chocolate was melted and combined with the peanut butter, I poured that mixture over the peanut butter mixture already spread in the pan. I smoothed it with a spatula and set it in the fridge to set.

After a few hours, I took the peanut butter bars out of the fridge to taste-test before bringing them to work the next day. (You can’t bring a birthday dessert to work without first knowing that it’s worth bringing.) This was a bit hard to slice right out of the fridge – you’ll want to use a sharp knife, and make sure you have a good grip on the pan.

As I said before, these were an absolute hit at work, and luckily they were easy enough that I could bring them again! Keep this recipe in your back pocket – it’s great for family get-togethers, potlucks or book clubs.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Bars

  • Servings: 12-18
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 2 sticks butter (1 cup), melted
  • 1½ cups powdered sugar
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 2 cups graham crackers, crushed
  • ½ cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1½ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions

  1. Spray a 9 x 13 pan with cooking spray. Set aside.
  2. Add butter, powdered sugar, 1 cup of peanut butter and crushed graham crackers in a large bowl. Mix to combine and layer into the prepared pan.
  3. Put the ½ cup of peanut butter and chocolate chips into a small bowl. Microwave in 15 second intervals until fully melted, stirring to combine as you go.
  4. Pour the chocolate peanut butter mixture on top of the layer in the pan and smooth with a rubber spatula.
  5. Place in the refrigerator to firm up for an hour.
  6. When ready to serve, cut into squares and enjoy!


of interest

Top Ten Tuesday – Yummy Food Mentioned in Books

Hi everyone! It’s Tuesday, which means it’s time again for my monthly Top 10 Tuesday list. This is an original weekly blog meme that was created at The Broke and the Bookish. I participate about once a month, but each week there is a new, fun bookish topic for bloggers to create literary lists about. If you’d like to know more about it, check it out here.

Usually the topics each week are very book-focused, but today’s is right up my alley! Combining food and books, we have Top Ten Yummy Foods Mentioned in Books – yay! It actually took me a little while to compose the list because I wanted to try to pick foods that are more integral to the story or iconic because of their inclusion within the book, rather than just something mentioned in passing (as is often the case with my typical posts). I think I did a pretty good job coming up with this list, but what do you think? Anything you would’ve added?

1. Raspberry Cordial from Anne of Green Gables: This is my second Top Ten Tuesday mention of Anne in a row (I told you she made an impression), but I think it’s apt. The scene in the book where Anne mistakenly gets her BFF Diana drunk off not-raspberry-cordial is one of the more memorable in the book, and I remember the scene very vividly from watching the mini-series when I was a kid too. Though the actual drink never gets drunk within the story, Marilla’s raspberry cordial is famous in Avonlea and apparently quite delicious. I’ve always wanted to try it.

2. Fizzy Lifting Drinks from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: This is the only food (or drink) I’m including where I can’t remember if I’ve actually read the book rather than seen the movie, but either way this scene is so iconic. As a kid, thinking that there might be a drink out there that lets you fly was the most amazing thing I could think of. It’s such a fun concept, definitely the most imaginative food on the list.

3. Pumpkin Pasties from the Harry Potter series: You show me something made with pumpkin, and I can guarantee it’ll be gone before you know it. Ever since I started reading this series (which somehow makes it onto almost all of my lists…), I have been itching to try a pumpkin pasty. If I could only take a ride on the Hogwarts Express, my dreams could come true. Writing this little blurb prompted me to see how doable it was to make them myself, so I found this wonderful post with recipes for them (two ways!) – excuse me, while I run to the kitchen.

4. Cinnamon Bread from Once Upon a River: This recipe for cinnamon bread was one of the first ones I made for the blog, after reading Bonnie Jo Campbell’s Michigan-based story for one of my book clubs. I remember the description of this bread being so vivid it made me hungry. It was a much-loved recipe, perfect for this time of year, so I should probably revisit it.

5. Boeuf Bourguignon from My Life in France: Picking just one food from Julia Child’s memoir wasn’t exactly easy, but this dish is so indicative of French cooking and whenever I hear or read about it, I instantly think of Julia. I knew it had to be the one. It’s also a dish I have yet to tackle, though every winter I think to myself I should give it a try. It’s not hard, just time-consuming. Maybe this will be the year that I break out my Mastering the Art of French Cooking and finally make it… maybe.

6. The Fat Burger from 11/22/63: This historical fiction/time travel story is one of my favorites, and it all starts with a questionably cheap burger in a diner. The secret to it’s price lies in a closet that leads back in time – to September 9, 1958, to be exact. It’s there that Jake starts his journey to rescue JFK from his impending November assassination. Though this book is really long, I was riveted when I read it forever ago and it went by much more quickly than I expected. The burgers sound really delicious, and wasn’t food better in the good ol’ days anyway?

7. Dumplings from The Joy Luck Club: When I got the opportunity to make dumplings because of this novel early on in my blogging career, I was super excited. They may not have turned out as well as I hoped, but that doesn’t mean the ones Amy Tan is referring to in The Joy Luck Club aren’t absolutely delicious. After all, they’re made by experts for their weekly Mahjong game.

8. Minny’s Fried Chicken from The Help: While Minny’s “special” chocolate cake is probably more entertaining and memorable, I opted for an actually edible option instead – the scene where Minny teaches Miss Celia to make fried chicken for her husband is touching and makes me hungry every time.

9. Potatoes from The Martian: Truly, the potatoes in The Martian are a matter of life-or-death, and while they may not be served in the most appetizing manner, due to the culinary limitations on Mars, they are so clearly an important part of this novel. Cook yourself some yummier potatoes – mashed with butter, baked with all the fixings, or cut into delightfully crisp and salty french fries – and thank your lucky stars you’re here on Earth instead.

10. Swedish Dream Cookies from My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry: These cookies are mentioned often in this wonderful Fredrik Backman novel, usually referred to as just “dreams.” Until I did the research, I wasn’t sure they were an actual thing, but it turns out they’re quite common in Sweden. I made them for a blog last year, and as it turns out, they’re as easy to make as they are delicious!

This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.

book review, recipe

Practical Magic + Apple Tart with Black Pepper

Maybe I watched Practical Magic a little on the young side (it came out when I was 12), but ever since then I’ve loved it. Even though it’s not exactly a traditional Halloween movie, I make it a point to watch every fall season. Next week, in fact, I have a movie date with Deanna to watch it together because she’s never seen it and she needs to. This post isn’t about the movie, though, it’s about the book, which I didn’t even realize was a thing until I heard about the prequel The Rules of Magic coming out a couple of months ago.

Excited about the prequel, I hunted down Alice Hoffman’s book Practical Magic, sure I would love it as much as I did the movie. I definitely enjoyed it, but it’s different than I was expecting. The movie’s plot is so ingrained in me at this point, that it didn’t occur to me that the book wouldn’t follow it as well. Obviously, movies change book plots all the time, often to the disappointment of the reader – it’s just that usually I don’t watch the movie (over and over and over) before reading the book. So I was a bit blind-sided, and the irony is not lost on me.  

All that being said, the book is worth picking up. (This NPR review of the prequel describes the differences in Practical Magic book vs. movie wonderfully, the journalist in a similar situation to me.) Hoffman’s writing style is lovely. She crafts a beautiful story of sisterhood and magic that’s perfect for cozy fall reading. I haven’t read anything else she’s written, but I’m looking forward to trying some of her other novels – I’ve heard good things. And, of course, I’m still excited to read The Rules of Magic too. 

Have any of you read or seen Practical Magic? I’d be interested to hear from those of you who read the book before the movie which you prefer. Any other Hoffman novels you’d recommend?  

At one point in the novel, one of the sisters, Sally, makes an apple tart with her secret ingredient, black pepper. And though it’s midsummer in the story, this recipe seemed perfect to make at this time of year. Local apple orchards are bursting at the seams, and I was itching to make an apple dessert anyway. Black pepper as an addition intrigued me. I found a recipe online that included it in an apple galette and used it as a basis for my own version, mostly so I would be able to better estimate how much black pepper to include.

To keep it simple, I used store bought pie crust. Feel free to make your own, if you’re so inclined. First, I prepped my apples, which Scott and I had picked up at a local cider mill the weekend before. I used Gala because I like those and we had also bought them for snacking, but any baking apple would work just as well.

I don’t have an apple peeler contraption and my vegetable peeler wasn’t getting the job done, so I opted to make my tart a bit more “rustic” and left the apples unpeeled. I sliced them pretty thinly and tossed them with lemon juice, some sugar and a bit of freshly ground black pepper (more on the coarse side).

I laid the pie crust on a parchment lined baking sheet, piled the apples on the middle of it, and folded the crust over around the edges. To help it become a more rich golden brown, I brushed the crust with an egg wash before baking.

I covered the tart loosely with a tented piece of aluminum foil and put the tart in a 375-degree oven to bake for about an hour. I set my timer for 45 minutes and checked it every 20 minutes or so. Once it seemed close to being done, I removed the foil and allowed it to bake for another 10 or 15 minutes without, so the crust would get some good color.

It smelled amazing, but I patiently allowed it to cool completely before serving. I cut into 6 slices (though it could certainly be cut into smaller or larger pieces, depending on the size of your family/party). We enjoyed it without any additions, but it would absolutely be delicious with a scoop of vanilla or cinnamon ice cream while it’s still a bit warm from the oven.

What’s your favorite apple recipe in the fall?

Apple Tart with Black Pepper

  • Servings: 6
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 pie crust (use your own recipe, or use refrigerated store bought)
  • 3 – 4 medium apples, cored and sliced (¼” – ½” thick)
  • 2 TBS granulated sugar
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 TBS lemon juice
  • 1 egg, mixed with a little bit of water

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Prepare the apples and toss them with the sugar, black pepper, and lemon juice.
  3. Place dough on parchment paper or a silicone mat on a baking sheet. Arrange the apples in the center of the dough, leaving about an inch border. Fold the extra dough over the sides of the tart.
  4. Brush the crust lightly with an egg wash.
  5. Cover the tart loosely with aluminum foil and bake for about 45 minutes to an hour. After when there are about 15 minutes left (apples should be soft, dough should be mostly cooked), remove the foil to allow the dough to become golden.
  6. Let cool completely before serving. Best served at room temperature. Enjoy!

Adapted from: Earth Powered Family

Notes: It’s not much more work to make 2 tarts at a time, especially if you’re using store bought crust. Plan to use 6 medium apples and double the sugar, pepper and lemon juice. Divide apples evenly between both crusts. Baking time shouldn’t change.

You can peel your apples if desired, but with thin slices, it doesn’t affect the texture much to leave them on. Plus, it makes it much quicker!


This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.

of interest

Show Us Your Books – October 2017

Happy Tuesday, everyone! It’s time for another edition of Show Us Your Books, where I briefly recap what I’ve read since last time and give you a sneak peak of what I might be reviewing on the blog next. Welcome! Let’s take a quick look at what I’ve read recently.

Linkup Guidelines:
This linkup happens the second Tuesday of every month. The next is Tuesday, November 14, 2017.
1. Please visit and comment with both of your hosts, Jana & Steph
2. Please display the button or link back to me and the linkup hosts on your blog post
3. Please visit a few other blogs who’ve linked up and get some book talk going!

Last Month’s Edition

 

Engrossing Reads

Sourdough – I didn’t hesitate to grab this book when it came out because a) it was from the author of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, and b) it was about the world of food. When Lois unexpectedly gets stuck with a sourdough starter, she discovers a skill she didn’t know she had, and as the starter takes on a life of its own, her life is transformed as well. It was absolutely an engrossing read, quick and fun. I’d recommend this to anyone looking for a bit of an escape, especially if you’re a foodie. 🙂

The Red Tent – This was recommended to me after I read Anita Diamant’s The Boston Girl, so I picked up a copy at the library book sale in the spring, and it’s been sitting on my shelf ever since. I finally picked it up, and I’m glad I did. I thought historical fiction taking place in biblical times – the main character, Dinah, and her family are literally in the Bible – would be hard to get through, but Diamant’s writing style is engaging from the start. The story she told was one of several very strong women, and I found myself enthralled.

Behind Her Eyes – As a thriller, this book almost automatically belongs in this category. It wasn’t my favorite, but it did keep me turning the page, and for the day and a half that I read it, I was engrossed. I stayed up late in an attempt to finish it Sunday, accidentally fell asleep and then woke up early to finish it on Monday morning. I did not see the ending coming; I thought it was set up well and cleverly done.

Passed the Time Just Fine

Exit West – This is at the top of the category this month because it was on the cusp for me, maybe a 3.5/4 star book. Almost a novella, Exit West by Mohsin Hamid is the story of a young couple trapped in a turbulent country and their journey to safety. It was nominated for numerous awards and is probably obviously really well-written and clever in its devices.

East of Eden – After hanging out in my “Currently Reading” for the past two months, I finally finished John Steinbeck’s novel! I felt like it was a touch too much like reading for school and because it was so long, I got a little cranky about needing to finish it before moving on to something else, which didn’t earn it any love. That being said, the characters were extremely well-developed and I can see why people love it. For me, though, it was just fine.    

Bread & Wine – A new co-worker brought me this essay collection one day after learning how much I enjoyed reading and eating. A super quick read, I gobbled it up last weekend. It was full of wonderful stories about friendship, community, and of course, food. Almost every chapter included a recipe, and all of them sounded delicious.

Mad Girl – I read this memoir for my office’s Diversity Book Club, chosen to spark conversation about mental health since the first week of October is Mental Health Awareness Week. The subject matter is so deeply personal to the author and her struggles come through the page. That being said, I didn’t think she crafted the most cohesive story and it was a bit of a chore to get through. I definitely appreciate it for telling a hard truth, but I’ve read other books on the subject that I’ve gotten more out of. Mad Girl falls somewhere between this category and Not Worth It.

The Kitchens of the Great Midwest – I didn’t hate this book, probably because of all the food references and occasional recipe, but I definitely didn’t love it. The blurb was extremely misleading (in my opinion), and so this book was not what I expected at all. I didn’t find it heartwarming, and I thought some of the connections between characters felt contrived and/or out of place, making some chapters weaker and less enjoyable than others. It should maybe be in the Not Worth It category, but the food-centric theme is keeping it up here.

 

Not Worth It & Did Not Finish

None this month!

 

Currently Reading

The Refrigerator Monologues – I haven’t gotten really into this yet, but I’m excited about to dive in. I first heard about it on an episode of All the Books (source of many of my book recommendations, as you’re probably aware), and I got excited about the combination of feminism and superheroes. It’s pretty short, so it should be a quick, fun and hopefully thought-provoking read.

What did you read this month? Which books did you enjoy most? Least? I’d love to hear your recommendations!

This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.

book review, recipe

The Heart’s Invisible Furies + Custard Slice

Generally, I do enjoy most of what I read. Sometimes I don’t, but luckily, sometimes the opposite is true and I love a book so much that I can’t shut up about it. John Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies is one such book. Readers, my second 5-star book of the year is here, and I couldn’t be more excited to share it with you!

I first heard about this book on my new favorite podcast, All the Books. (Thank you, Liberty Hardy! You’re always full of excellent recommendations.) So, when I saw it in my August BOTM selections, I knew I had to select it. When it showed up in the mail, I was surprised at its heft – it’s nearly 600 pages – and set it aside for nearly enough, thinking I didn’t have time to get into a difficult, long book. I waited a couple of weeks, but when I finally picked it up, I was captivated in just the first few pages and by the end of the first chapter, I was hooked.

The novel follows Cyril Avery beginning when he is still an unborn child in his mother’s womb in a small town in 1940s Ireland. When she is cast out by a cruel priest, she finds herself in Dublin, where she must make it on her own. Her circumstances almost require her to put Cyril up for adoption, and he is taken by a hunchbacked Redemptionist nun to the home of Maude and Charles Avery, an eccentric couple who aren’t exactly cut out for parenthood. From there, Cyril’s life takes both heartwarming and heart-wrenching turns, bringing us to modern day Ireland in truly spectacular and unforgettable fashion.

This book may be 592 pages, but I couldn’t put it down. I finished it in a weekend and have been talking about it ever since. Furies is filled with complex and varied characters, all memorable in their own way. As entertaining as this novel was – it absolutely had it’s laugh out loud moments – I should probably mention that, like my last 5-star favorite, it tackles some sensitive topics and was hard to read in parts. But to me, that is the beauty of Boyne’s novel; he expertly captured all the nuances of humanity, from the mundanely everyday to unexpected tragedy in a captivating way.

Finding a recipe to pair with such a sweeping saga wasn’t as hard as I expected it to be. Several key scenes throughout take place in a parliamentary tea shop where “cream slice” seems to be a popular menu item. After doing some research, I found it’s also known as custard slice. I was able to find a recipe from RTE, or the Raidió Teilifís Éireann in Ireland, which is a real television station where Cyril finds himself working at one point in the novel.

The recipe has quite a lot of steps, but the ingredients list is small and it’s not really that complicated, so don’t let the long recipe below fool you. It’s totally doable.

To start, I set out my frozen puff pastry sheets to thaw while I made my pastry cream. I poured the milk into a saucepan, added a vanilla pod split down the middle and let it come to a boil. In the meantime, I combined the sugar, egg yolks and cornstarch with a mixer, beating for a few minutes until it became pale and light.

Once the milk began boiling, I removed it from the heat and slowly added it to the egg mixture, whisking all the while. I added it back to the saucepan, bringing it up to a slow boil over low heat, stirring continuously. After several minutes, it thickened, so I removed it from the heat and added it to a wide bowl to cool more quickly. I covered it with cling wrap and placed it in the fridge.  

Once the puff pastry dough was thawed (able to be unfolded), I used a sharp knife to cut it down to an 8×8 square. (I don’t think this is entirely necessary, if you have a 9×9 pan, which I found I did after the fact. I’ve explained further in the recipe notes below.) Then, on two parchment-lined baking sheets, I baked them for about 10 minutes each, until they were lightly golden.

After they cooled, I placed one pastry in the bottom of my pan, which was lined with foil. Per the directions, I made sure to leave extra foil hanging out of the pan so the completed custard slice could be removed more easily later; this is definitely a big help. Then, I smoothed the cooled pastry cream over the bottom layer of puff pastry and placed the prettier looking pastry sheet on top. The assembled dessert went back into the fridge to set while I made the topping.

I combined powdered sugar with a small amount of cold water to create a drizzle-able icing. I also melted some dark chocolate (you could also use milk chocolate if you prefer) in a small bowl in the microwave, until it was thin enough to drizzle with a spoon.

First, I drizzled the icing diagonally across the top of the pastry. Then, turning the pastry 90 degrees, I drizzled the melted chocolate to create a criss-cross pattern with the icing.

I covered the completed custard slice and put it back in the fridge to set until we were ready to give it a try. Later that evening, I cut it into 8 rectangular slices and served as our dessert. We found it to be sort of messy to eat, and I would recommend using a fork and a knife, but it certainly was tasty. If you decide to give it a go, I hope you enjoy!

Have you read John Boyne’s novel yet? What did you think?

Vanilla Custard Slice

  • Servings: 8
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 2 sheets frozen puff pastry
  • 13 fl oz whole milk
  • 1 vanilla pod, split down the middle or 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 6 Tablespoons (3 ounces) granulated sugar
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 3 Tablespoons cornstarch
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 Tablespoons, or 1 ounce, or unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • ¼ cup powdered sugar
  • ¼ cup melting chocolate or chocolate chips

Directions

  1. Make the crème pâtissière to begin: Pour the milk into a saucepan and add the split vanilla pod, if using. (If using the vanilla extract, add it in with the butter at the end.) Bring the milk mixture to the boil, then remove from the heat.
  2. Whisk the sugar, egg yolks and cornstarch together in a large bowl for about 2–3 minutes using a hand-held electric mixer until pale and light.
  3. Pour the hot milk onto the egg mixture, whisking continuously, and then return the mixture to the saucepan. Cook the mixture over a low heat, stirring continuously, until the mixture becomes thick. It should just come to a boil. If it boils unevenly or too quickly, it may become lumpy, in which case use a whisk to mix until smooth again.
  4. Remove the custard from the heat and pour into a bowl (push the mixture through a sieve if there are any lumps). Add the pinch of salt and the butter (and vanilla extract if using) and stir until melted and thoroughly combined.
  5. Leave to cool, cover with cling wrap and chill before using.
  6. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line two baking trays with parchment paper.
  7. If using frozen puff pastry sheets, these should already be approximately 9×9. If you have a 9×9 pan available, you can use as-is. If you only have (or prefer to use) an 8×8 pan, cut the puff pastry sheets so they will fit the smaller pan. Cut approximately 1 inch off two of the sides, forming an 8×8 square.
  8. Place each pastry sheet onto the lined baking trays, prick each piece a few times with a fork and chill for 10-15 minutes. Then, bake the pastry sheets for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown and crisp. Set aside to cool.
  9. While the pastry bakes, line your baking pan with foil, allowing plenty of extra foil at the sides to allow you to lift out the assembled slices. If you don’t have a square tin, it’s not the end of the world, just use the foil to make a base and sides.
  10. Place one pastry sheet in the bottom of the lined tin (reserve the prettiest piece for the top). Spread the crème pâtissière evenly onto the pastry in the baking tray before placing the other piece of pastry on top. Refrigerate while making the icing.
  11. For the icing, sift the icing sugar into a bowl. Stir in 3-4 teaspoons cold water – just enough to give you a thick, drizzling consistency – and set aside.
  12. Place the chocolate in a bowl sitting over a saucepan with a few centimetres of water. Bring the water up to the boil, then take off the heat and allow the chocolate to melt slowly. (Another option would be to heat in the microwave at defrost or 30% power in 30 minute increments, stirring until it becomes melted enough to drizzle. If using melting chocolate, follow directions on the bag.)
  13. Take the custard slice from the fridge to decorate. First, using a spoon, drizzle the icing diagonally across the pastry. Turn the pan 90-degrees and, using a different spoon, drizzle the chocolate across the pastry forming lines that criss-cross the icing lines. Repeat with icing and chocolate as desired/until you run out.
  14. Place the slice back into the fridge to set. Later, cut the finished custard slice into 8 pieces. Using the foil, carefully lift the portioned vanilla slices out of the tray and serve.

Adapted from: Rachel Allen, via RTE

Notes: This recipe was adapted for the US from a recipe created in Ireland. Measurements were converted when necessary to accommodate American cooks.


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