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book review, recipe

A Woman Is No Man + Stuffed Grape Leaves

When Etaf Rum’s A Woman Is No Man was shown as an option for the February Book of the Month, I didn’t hesitate to select it. The description of her debut novel ticked a lot of boxes for me. Rum takes us inside the lives of conservative Arab women living in America and leaves us gasping for air.

A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum

The novel is the story of three generations of Palestinian women — Deya, who is 18 and begrudgingly beginning to look for suitors; her mother, Isra, who desperately wants to find love, ultimately leaving her family in Palestine to marry a man living in Brooklyn; and Fareeda, Isra’s mother-in-law, who pressures Isra to bear sons and Deya to find a husband, even though both women want more for their lives than what is traditionally expected of them.

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book review, post series, recipe

What She Ate #1: Dorothy Wordsworth + Mini Pork Pies

As a lover of food memoirs, culinary news and food in general, Laura Shapiro’s nonfiction What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories has been on my TBR since it’s release two years ago. I have been meaning to do a review-recipe series on it for far too long, and that day has finally come! This post is the first in the series, so I’ll give a brief overview of the book before diving into the first woman’s story.

What She Ate by Laura Shapiro

As the blurb says, “everyone eats, and food touches on every aspect of our lives—social and cultural, personal and political. Yet most biographers pay little attention to people’s attitudes toward food.” Those of you who enjoy food memoirs like me know that, while food plays an important part in the storytelling, those memoirs are rarely just about food. They are about the human experience. So much insight can be drawn from not only what people eat, but how and why.

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book review, recipe

Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously + Julia Child’s Beouf Bourguignon

Ever since Julie & Julia hit theaters 10 years ago, it has been one of my favorite movies. Until recently, I had never read the book it was based on. Julie Powell’s memoir Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously is based on the year she spent cooking all of the recipes in Julia Child’s legendary cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking and blogging about it. Perhaps you can see why I love the story so.

Julie & Julie by Julie Powell

Not much over the course of Julie’s memoir was surprising to me, though certainly elements of it had been left out of the more streamlined movie (also paired with Julia’s life story, where Meryl Streep plays the iconic chef). I have to say, though, the book lacked the charm with which the movie nestled into my heart.

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book review, recipe

There There + Indian Tacos

Tommy Orange’s novel There There tells a multigenerational story of Native Americans as they are today, living not on reservations but in cities throughout America. It’s a perspective many of us have never seen or read about, that of the Urban Native.

There There by Tommy Orange

It’s a complex and epic story, told through vignettes involving twelve different characters. There are characters who embrace their Indianness, those who are just fully discovering it, and those who use it as a means to an end. Though in the beginning they are seemingly disconnected, their convergence at the Big Oakland Powwow gives each of them purpose.

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book review, recipe

The Book of Essie + Cuban Sandwiches

Meghan MacLean Weir’s debut novel The Book of Essie is about seventeen-year-old Esther Hicks, also known as Essie. Her father is an evangelical preacher and she grew up on a hit reality show, Six for Hicks. Not only do her parents have strict expectations for her, but her entire life is often under public scrutiny. When her mother finds out Essie is pregnant, an emergency meeting with the producers determines the best way to salvage the situation. 

The Book of Essie

While the producers and her mother plan out Essie’s life without her input, she is arranging a different future. She attaches herself to fellow student Roarke, and their to-good-to-be-true love story is sold to the media. Will Essie get the happy ending she desires, or will her parents and producers get their way?  

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book review, recipe

The Female Persuasion + Faith Frank’s Feminist Steak

I don’t remember where I first heard about Meg Wolitzer’s new novel The Female Persuasion, but I remember getting immediately excited and adding to my TBR on Goodreads. Even though I didn’t really like The Interestings, the description of this one seemed right up my alley. If I didn’t like it, I decided, Meg Wolitzer probably wasn’t for me. As luck would have it, I didn’t have to wait long to read it — I was the first one to receive it when it arrived at the library on New Book Tuesday, April 3. I rushed to pick it up.

In it, Wolitzer explores feminism from the inside-out. Greer is a shy college freshman when she attends an event where Faith Frank is speaking. A prominent figure in the women’s movement for decades, Faith captivates the room. Greer, too, is inspired and decides to approach Faith, making to a connection that will shape her ideas, her career and her future.

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book review, recipe

In the Midst of Winter + Chilean Cazuela Stew

Isabel Allende’s most recent novel In the Midst of Winter really just begs to be read at this time of year. Though it was published in October last year, I wasn’t able to get a copy from the library until December, which seemed like perfect timing to me. I started it just as an early snowstorm hit Michigan…and I was catching a plane to south Florida. As I sat in the warmth of a rare perfect weather weekend, reading Allende’s vivid descriptions of bitter cold, blustery wind and mounds of snow, I was grateful to have escaped – if just for a little bit.

Like the only other Allende book I’ve read, The House of the Spirits, this novel features strong Latin American women and shines a spotlight on the unique issues they face. Lucia is a university lecturer from Chili, currently living in the bottom floor apartment of Richard, a standoffish professor at the same university. As a snowstorm overtakes Brooklyn, Richard gets in a fender bender, setting off a chain of events no one saw coming. When the other driver, Evelyn, later shows up on his doorstep and refuses to leave, he enlists Lucia’s help.

Evelyn, an illegal immigrant from Guatemala, is working as a nanny and is terrified to return to her employers with a damaged car. After hearing her out, Lucia is determined to help the girl and a reluctant Richard is brought along for the ride. Winter couldn’t be more timely with its portrayal of immigrants – both legal and illegal – as it highlights their heartbreaking stories with compassion and humanity.

When Richard goes to Lucia to request her help, she is desperately trying to stay warm in her underheated apartment. She describes a delicious, comforting Chilean stew called cazuela – full of beef, corn, potatoes and pumpkin – that she often makes to warm up. She brings it upstairs to Richard’s.

As I looked for a cazuela recipe like Lucia’s, I kept coming across ones that included chicken. While cazuela may be made with any kind of meat really, beef is used in the traditional Chilean recipe. To get exactly what I was looking for, I combined two different recipes, one from Que Rica Vida and one from Taste of Home. In the end, I included beef, corn and potatoes, like Lucia, and substituted butternut squash for the pumpkin since I already had that on-hand.

I was unable to find a small 1-pound beef brisket at my grocery store because apparently they only offer them in slabs greater than 10 pounds (at least when I was shopping). I opted for corned beef brisket instead, because they were available much closer to the weight that I needed, but I would still recommend trying to find a small cut of brisket or other non-corned beef to use. While still alright, the corned beef ended up being a bit tough and may have affected the flavor a bit.

Anyway, I cut my roughly 1-pound brisket into 6 chunks, as the recipe directed, and set it aside. Then, I cut up my onion, butternut squash, potatoes and carrots into similarly large chunks, as evenly as I could manage.

To the oil already heated in my Dutch oven, I added the meat and cooked it for about 2-3 minutes on each side, about 10 minutes total. Then, I added the onions, oregano, cumin and salt and pepper, mixing and allowing to cook for another 5 minutes or so.

To the pot, I added the rest of my prepared veggies – carrots, potatoes and squash – and covered everything with a combination of vegetable broth and boiling water, about 6 cups total. I let it come to a boil and then simmered it, uncovered, for about 15 minutes before adding the frozen ears of corn.

When the stew was almost finished, I added a handful of frozen green beans and let it continue to simmer for another 5 minutes or so.

To serve, I put a bit of already cooked rice (about ⅓ – ½ cup) in the bottom of a bowl. I plucked out a piece of beef, corn, potato and squash, along with some carrots, onions and green beans and placed them on top of the rice, covering everything with a few generous ladlefuls of broth.

This warm, vegetable-filled soup certainly made for a comforting winter dinner and I’d be interested in trying it again sometime.  

Chilean Cazuela with Beef

  • Servings: 6
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Ingredients

  • 1 lb. beef brisket
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, cut into quarters
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 4-6 pieces of fresh or frozen corn on the cob (2 inches each)
  • 3 carrots, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 6 small red potatoes, peeled (or medium potatoes cut in half)
  • 6 small pieces of butternut squash
  • 1 handful of frozen green beans
  • Salt and pepper
  • Hot cooked rice (about 3 cups)
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • Fresh cilantro or parsley, to taste

Directions

  1. Cut the meat into six portions. Preheat the vegetable oil in a large pot. Cook the meat for approximately 3 minutes on each side.
  2. Add the onion, cumin and oregano. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix well and cook for 5 minutes.
  3. When ready, place the potatoes, carrots and butternut squash in the pot. Completely cover the contents with the vegetable broth and boiling water, approximately 6 cups. Bring to a boil and simmer for 25 minutes, or until meat is cook and vegetables are tender.
  4. Add corn after approximately 15 minutes. Add frozen green beans within last 5 minutes.
  5. Sample and adjust seasonings as necessary. Serve stew over rice in a shallow soup bowl, ensuring that each person receives one piece of meat, one potato, one piece of butternut squash and a portion of corn. Serve with hot pepper sauce, salt, pepper and cilantro or parsley as desired.

Adapted from: Que Rica Vida and Taste of Home

Recipe Notes: Chilean cazuela is a very flexible homemade stew – you can use lamb, chicken or pork in the recipe, but the classic version is made with beef. Butternut squash can be swapped for pumpkin, if desired.


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book review, recipe

A Homemade Life + Turkey Meatballs

Though I read this last book about a month ago, I thought it would make the perfect post to kickoff the new year. If you love food as much as you love books, like I do, Molly Wizenberg’s food memoir – which I gushed about during the Thanksgiving Readathon – is an absolute treasure. A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table is full of so many mouth-watering recipes that I had an extremely hard time deciding what to make for this post.

I became familiar with Molly through a funny food podcast called Spilled Milk, which she co-hosts with fellow foodie Matthew Amster-Burton. Little did I know, she also writes a well-loved blog, Orangette, which she started in a moment of self-discovery because “whatever [she] did, it had to involve food and writing.” We’re somewhat kindred spirits in that way. Not to give away any spoilers, but one of my favorite parts of the book was discovering that Molly actually met her husband through her blog. (I met mine well before creating my blog, but I’m lucky that he has always been extremely supportive of my efforts.) Since the book is mostly food, coupled with lovely personal stories of course, let’s get right to meat of it.

I snuck Molly’s father’s French toast recipe into a blog post late last year, partially because I didn’t think one recipe did this collection justice and partially because I’m indecisive. But, as I combed back through the pages, the perfect recipe for this post jumped out at me. I decided to choose the Mediterranean-style turkey meatballs from her friend Doron because they were one of the first recipes Molly wrote about on her new blog in 2005.

The ingredient list is a bit intimidating – I didn’t have pine nuts or golden raisins on-hand – but because it’s meatballs, the grocery shopping is really the hardest part.

To start, I made the yogurt dipping sauce because in the book she recommends leaving it at room temperature while you do the rest so the flavors can develop (here, the blog version of the recipe varies). I combined all of the ingredients – plain yogurt (I used Greek, full fat), lemon juice, minced garlic, ground cumin and salt – in a small bowl with a whisk. I set it aside while I made the meatballs.

To make the meatballs, I combined the majority of the ingredients in a large bowl – minced yellow onion, fresh cilantro leaves, pine nuts, golden raisins, bread crumbs, an egg and salt, cumin and freshly ground black pepper.

To that, I added the pound of ground turkey and used my hands to gently incorporate all of the ingredients, taking care not to overwork the meat.

Then, I rolled the meatballs, doing my best to keep them somewhat uniform in size – about 1½ inches round.

I heated a couple Tablespoons of oil in my skillet and added about half of the meatballs to begin cooking. Now, obviously it’s important to make sure poultry is cooked through and I’ll admit that the cooking part of the process gave me a touch of anxiety because it felt like it was taking forever. (Molly offered no rough time estimate in her recipe or notes.) That being said, I cooked each batch for approximately 20 minutes, checking for doneness as I went.

They turned out to be really delicious – no surprise there – and the yogurt sauce was the perfect complement.

The only thing left to do is to try more of Molly’s recipes, and see if I can work them into other future blog posts 😉 Have you read A Homemade Life? Do you have a favorite recipe I should try? Let me know in the comments!

Doron’s Turkey Meatballs with Pine Nuts, Cilantro and Golden Raisins

  • Servings: about 4
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Ingredients

  • ½ cup (1 small) yellow onion, minced
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • ½ cup chopped pine nuts
  • ½ cup golden raisins (halved or coarsely chopped if large)
  • ½ cup fine bread crumbs
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ⅛ tsp ground cumin
  • ⅛ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lb. ground turkey, chicken or lamb (see notes)
  • about 4 TBS olive oil
  • yogurt sauce, for serving (recipe below)

Directions

  1. Mix all ingredients combine onion through black pepper in a large bowl.
  2. Add the ground meat, and using your hands, break it up into small chunks. Then massage and gently knead the meat to incorporate the ingredients. Mix until combined, but do not overmix; meat gets tough easily.
  3. With damp hands, gently pinch of hunks of the mixture and roll into 1½-inch balls. Set aside on a large plate.
  4. Warm 2 Tablespoons of the olive oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add about half the meatballs, taking care not to crowd them. As they begin to color, turn them regularly so that they are golden on all sides. They should be done when they are evenly browned and feel medium firm—but not hard—to the touch.
  5. Transfer the finished meatballs to a plate lined with a paper towel. If the skillet looks dry, add the remaining 2 Tablespoons oil. Cook the remaining meatballs.
  6. Serve hot, warm, or cold with yogurt sauce.

From: A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg, pages 168-169; an earlier version can also be found on Molly’s blog Orangette

Notes: Particularly if using chicken or turkey, make sure the meatballs are fully cooked before serving. You can cut one or two of them in half, if you like, to make sure they’re cooked through. Each batch of mine (using ground turkey) cooked for approximately 20 minutes.


Lemon and Cumin Yogurt Sauce

  • Servings: about 4
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Ingredients

  • 1 cup plain yogurt (not low fat or nonfat)
  • 3 TBS lemon juice (or the juice from 1 lemon)
  • 1 medium clove garlic, minced
  • ¼ tsp ground cumin
  • ¼ tsp salt

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, combine all ingredients and whisk to combine. Set aside at room temperature to let the flavors develop while you make the meatballs.

From: A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg, pages 168-169

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book review, recipe

The Other Einstein + Serbian Hamburgers

As the saying goes, beside every great man, there is a great woman. In many cases, those relationships are public and well-documented, as in the case of the Roosevelts. In the case of Albert Einstein, however, the life and accomplishments of his first wife Mileva are not widely known. A physicist and likely genius in her own right, her contributions to Albert’s theories has been debated in the physics world for decades. Marie Benedict’s novel The Other Einstein explores the life of this extraordinary woman a bit further.

Like the author before she dove into research, I hadn’t heard of this “other” Einstein before and I was intrigued when I learned about this novel last fall. The novel follows Mileva (or “Mitza”) from her time as the only female physics student at a Zurich university, where she meets Albert Einstein. Though she and Albert share dreams of living a bohemian life together of intellect and discovery, he doesn’t stand by her when his vision of success seems clearer without her.

As a feminist, the part of the novel I found the most particularly compelling was the meeting between Mitza and Madame Curie, where the differences between their husbands and situations could not be more clear. It is amazing how much can be accomplished by women when their husbands are not only supportive but treat them as true equals.

Mitza and her family were of Serbian descent and many new-to-me foods were mentioned through the novel. The one I bookmarked to make for today’s post was the pljeskavica, which when I looked it up later, was revealed to be a large hamburger. I found a few recipes, and though I borrowed from a few of them for inspiration, the one I most closely followed was from The Spruce.

First, I combined all of my ingredients to make the patties. I opted to use 1 pound each of ground beef and ground pork, but you can use a combination of beef, pork and lamb if you’d like (see recipe notes). To the meat, I added minced garlic, finely chopped onions, salt and paprika. I let the mixture sit in the refrigerator for a while before forming the patties.

I used a salad plate lined with parchment paper as my guide for sizing, using the paper to prevent the patties sticking to the plate or each other.

I grilled the burgers outside, approximately 7 minutes per side.

While they grilled, I prepared the pita bread by cutting it open partway to reveal the pocket. I also sliced some fresh tomato and lightly grilled some onions, being careful to not let them lose too much of their shape. Other serving suggestions include green onions, pickles and Kajmak cheese.

I slotted each cooked hamburger into a pita pocket and topped with my veggies and a dollop of quick homemade Kajmak.

Serbian Hamburger (Pljeskavica)

  • Servings: 4
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Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground beef chuck
  • ½ pound lean ground pork
  • ½ pound lean ground lamb
  • 2 cloves finely chopped garlic
  • ½ cup finely chopped onions
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon sweet or hot paprika

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, mix together ground beef, ground pork, ground lamb, garlic, onions, salt and sweet or hot paprika until thoroughly combined. Do not overmix because this will toughen the meat.
  2. Refrigerate meat mixture for several hours for the flavors to meld and for the mixture to firm.
  3. Heat a grill, indoor grill, broiler or skillet. Using slightly dampened hands, divide meat mixture into 6 portions. Form into thin patties, 9 inches by 1/2 inch or about the size of a small dinner plate.
  4. Cook pljeskavice about 7 minutes per side.
  5. Serve with green onions or chopped raw onion, tomatoes, ajvar, lepinje or pogacha bread and Serbian potato salad or cole slaw on the side. Some Serbs place the patty on a large bun like an American hamburger.

From: The Spruce

Note: Other recipes I read used the same amount of meat to make 4 patties, and so I ended up making just 4. This also kept the patties approximately as large as recommended – I used salad plates as my guide and did the best I could to get them that size.

If you can’t find ground lamb or don’t want to use it, I used a mixture of ground beef and ground pork, 1 pound each. The other recipes I found used only beef and pork as well.

Lastly, other recipes recommended using pita bread in place of lepinje, which is what I did. Though it made it slightly hard to photograph, I think it worked better than a traditional American bun would’ve given the size of the burger. The pita helped hold in all the toppings and didn’t fill us up too much with bread – the burger filled us up enough!


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book review, recipe

The Kitchen House + Cracklin’ Bread

As you may know from my latest life update, Scott and I recently moved into our first house. The following Monday, I ventured out to find the local library and become a member. I also found out about an upcoming semi-annual used book sale hosted by the Friends of the Library – it was just a few weeks away, and I was so excited I hadn’t missed it! I ended up buying 13 books that day and The Kitchen House was one of them.

the-kitchen-house.jpg

I’d read about half of the books I bought and took a gamble on the other half. Not sure of where to start, I posted the haul on my online book club’s page and was overwhelmed with suggestions to start with Kathleen Grissom’s novel; so I did. It’s not exactly the expected tale of Southern plantation life, and I loved it all the more for that.

After her parents die on the journey from Ireland to the States, newly-orphaned Lavinia is taken in by the master of a tobacco plantation and placed under the care of Belle, a slave in the kitchen house. Though she lives and works with them, the difference between Lavinia and her adopted family becomes more and more clear as she grows up. She is given opportunities that are intended to improve her life, including whisking her off the plantation and providing her with an education.  

Eventually, the bond Lavinia shares with her adopted family puts them all in a precarious situation and tough choices must be made. I found myself rooting for Lavinia, Belle and every one of their family members.

Early on, Belle makes cracklin’ bread, cornbread with “crunchy bits of pork fat” mixed in. Lavinia and Fanny ate the cracklin’ “with zeal” and, from that point on, all I could think about was making my own cracklin’ bread. I couldn’t get my hands on any cracklin’, nor was I exactly sure of how to go about finding the pork bits to make it, so I unfortunately had to substitute with bacon crumbles. Don’t worry, the recipe I found from Southern Living said it’s okay, but maybe it’s just trying to make northerners like me feel better.

It was very easy to make, and I started by rendering down my bacon. Once it cooled a bit, I chopped it into small crumbly bits. I preheated the oven to 425 and melted the butter in my skillet.

In a bowl, I used a whisk to mix the cornmeal, baking powder and salt (making my own self-rising cornmeal) with the flour.

IMG_3276

In a separate bowl, I mixed together the buttermilk and eggs before adding to the well in the middle of my dry ingredients. I added the crumbled bacon as well and stirred until just wet. I poured the whole mixture into the hot skillet.

IMG_3277

After baking for about 25 minutes, the cracklin’ bread was a beautiful golden brown.

IMG_3278

Grannie’s Cracklin’ Bread

  • Servings: 8-10
  • Print

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup butter or margarine
  • 2 cups self-rising cornmeal*
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2½ cups buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup cracklings**

Directions

  1. Place butter in a 9-inch cast-iron skillet (or other oven-safe skillet), and heat in a 425° oven for 4 minutes.
  2. Combine cornmeal and flour in a large bowl; make a well in center of mixture.
  3. Stir together buttermilk, eggs, and cracklings; add to dry ingredients, stirring just until moistened. Pour over melted butter in hot skillet.
  4. Bake at 425° for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown.

From: Southern Living, by way of MyRecipes.com

*If you don’t have self-rising cornmeal, you can make your own by adding 1 TBS of baking powder and 1 tsp of salt to 2 cups of regular cornmeal.

**1 cup cooked, crumbled bacon (12 to 15 slices) may be substituted for cracklings.


Here is the rest of my book haul. What should I dive into next?

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This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.