Browsing Tag

nonfiction

of interest

Top Ten Tuesday (Back-to-School Edition) – Non-Fiction I’ve Loved & Non-Fiction I Want to Read

Happy Tuesday! It’s time for another edition of Top Ten Tuesday, a literary list with a new bookish topic every week. In honor of the new school year upon us, this week’s topic is a back-to-school freebie. Last year’s BTS edition was one of my favorite topics — and one of my more popular posts — so I struggled a little bit with what to choose this time around. I landed on one of the suggested freebie topics: Non-Fiction Books I’ve Loved & Those I Want to Read.

I don’t read a lot of nonfiction, but I like to think it’s because I’m choosy about it. Obviously, non-fiction is great if you’re looking to learn something, but I also like it when that learning inspires me or sticks with me well after I’ve put the book down. I’ve decided to highlight five of the non-fiction books I’ve loved over the years, and give non-fiction books I hope will teach me something when I get to them!

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book review, recipe

Artful Eating + Sauteed Scallops with Peas

For anyone who knows about my recent journey to transform my eating and lifestyle to one that’s healthier yet still fulfilling from a food perspective (which I chronicled briefly here), you’ll understand why I was excited to get my hands on this next book: Karina Melvin’s Artful Eating.

In it, she talks about why “lasting weight loss is not about what you eat; it’s about how and why you eat.”

Artful Eating by Karina Melvin

Whether you’re trying to lose weight, or trying to be overall healthier – like myself – it’s important to focus on making a more permanent lifestyle change rather than seeking a “quick fix.” Karina’s book is full of resources to help you do just that. Each of the twelve chapters is part of a bigger picture to help you accomplish a new mindset to accomplish your goals. They also includes recipes that are smart and sensible but also satisfying.

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book review, recipe

The Power of Habit + Turkey Taco Zucchini Boats

In May, the task for The Literary Feast Reading Challenge was to read a book you’ve seen someone reading in public. Now, this may be an easy task for people living in large cities, where public transportation is rampant, or even people who frequent coffee shops. I neither live in a large city nor do I visit many coffee shops, so I counted myself lucky when, in March, I finally stumbled upon my first person reading “in the wild.” Or, more accurately, she was walking in the hallway between my office and the parking garage. She is still the only person I’ve seen reading this year, and she was reading The Power of Habit.

The Power of Habit Cover

Charles Duhigg’s nonfiction book explores the science behind why we do what we do, or how we create and form habits. I’ll admit, I thought the title sounded interesting, but I was not expecting to love it as much as I did. It probably helped that at the same time, I was attempting to undergo a personal transformation – and still am – to become healthier. So, much of what Duhigg covered about how we can change bad habits and create new, good habits really resonated with what I was focused on anyway.

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book review

Guest Post: 12 Memoirs for Nonfiction Newcomers

Today I’m sharing a post from fellow book blogger Ottavia over at Novels and Nonfiction, who was generous enough to let me share a review + recipe post on her blog last week. She’s bringing you an amazing list of book recommendations – seriously, I’ve already added half of them to my TBR. Check it out below and make sure to visit her blog regularly for even more thoughtful bookish content! Without further ado…

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Hi everyone! It’s Ottavia from Novels And Nonfiction. I’m really excited to have the opportunity to share a guest post today on the wonderful Megan’s blog. Since Megan primarily features fiction, and I tend to review a lot of nonfiction, I thought I would give some recommendations of nonfiction titles for readers who might not typically read nonfiction.

I decided to focus on memoirs because I find that they make great ‘gateway drugs’ for nonfiction newcomers. With their more personal and narrative style, they provide a much easier bridge into nonfiction for lovers of fictional stories. In fact, some of the stories within the memoirs I picked for this post are so incredible, they read like novels. I picked two memoirs per fiction genre – from historical fiction, to thrillers and even science fiction. Look for the genre of fiction you typically love and see if you want to dip your toe into similar nonfiction waters.

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book review, recipe

Educated + Peach Cobbler

As I mentioned in this month’s edition of Show Us Your Books, I read Tara Westover’s memoir Educated in a whirlwind over the weekend. It was one of my most anticipated books of the year, so even though I was excited to get a free copy from NetGalley (and read it before it even came out!), a little bit of me was also nervous to read it and be disappointed. Luckily, it lived up to expectations; I couldn’t put it down.

Tara grew up in Idaho, where her parents were determined to be self-sufficient, teaching their children to be prepared for the end of days that were always just around the corner. They canned peaches and stocked up on other necessities, saved for solar panels and built a bomb shelter. The Westovers didn’t believe in government-sponsored education and insisted on homeschooling all of their children, though the education they received was more of the hard knocks variety than something akin to reading, writing and ‘rithmetic. Perhaps the most terrifying thing about Tara’s parents was their refusal to submit to the “Medical Establishment.” Every wound or injury – no matter the severity – was treated at home.

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book review, recipe

Bread & Wine + Bacon-Wrapped Dates

It’s wonderful to have someone so enthusiastically recommend a book to you one day and then, because they know you’ll love it, present it the next day for you to borrow. I am forever recommending books to others, and often pushing my own copy on them unbidden at the next opportunity, but it’s rare that I have someone do the same to me. I am forever grateful to my new coworker, who upon learning about my loves of reading and cooking (and subsequently my blog), shared one of her favorite books with me during her first week on the job.

Aside from recipes – admittedly, the cover looked delicious – I had no real expectations when sitting down with Shauna Niequist’s popular food memoir, Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes. As the title suggests, Niequist’s essays are overflowing with rich descriptions of food and the community it can help create. The memoir touches on not only her family and friends, with whom she loves to share meals, but also on her relationship with God and how that nourishes her in other ways.

In a memoir peppered with meaningful recipes, it can be challenging to choose the one that most represents it. While so many of them sounded appetizing, I went with the one Niequist had me wondering about from one of the very first chapters. She mentioned bacon-wrapped dates, stuffed with goat cheese, at least twice (and maybe more) before she finally revealed the recipe on page 171. The book is only 288 pages, so I was starting to get nervous it would never appear…when suddenly, there it was!

Niequist herself says in her introduction to the recipe that this appetizer is not the most practical thing to choose, if you’re only going to make one recipe from her book. Thankfully, since my heart was already set on them, she goes on to say that “practicality has never been my strong suit, so I think you should make these.” With her blessing, I did.

She describes them as a “go-to, serve-at-every-gathering, take-to-every-party treat” that people adore, so I decided to share them at Thanksgiving dinner this week. With only 3 ingredients and a strong suggestion to serve at room temperature, they were the perfect no-fuss thing to bring to my in-laws’.

On Thanksgiving morning, I gathered my ingredients – pitted dates, goat cheese, and bacon.

I started by slicing the bacon in half and then slicing the dates open to make little “date books” (pun intended).

I stuffed each date with a proportionate spoonful (using the teaspoon from our flatware set). I recommend using the date itself to help scrape the cheese off the spoon as you close it up.

Finally, I wrapped each date with a half-slice of bacon and placed each one seam down on a foil-lined baking sheet (with sides).

I placed the pan in a 400-degree oven and let them bake for 25 minutes, until they were crispy and brown. I let them cool for a moment before transferring them to a paper-towel lined plate to drain off a bit.

Before we left for our Thanksgiving dinner, I put the still warm bacon-wrapped dates into a serving dish to bring along. Of course, they were served on a much prettier platter (thanks to my mother-in-law), but here they are just before we left the house – looking delicious and tantalizing.

Thankfully, they were as delicious as promised and everyone enjoyed their addition to the appetizer selection. I would absolutely recommend adding these to your repertoire.

I’d also recommend picking up a copy of Niequist’s memoir, so you can read about all of the other recipes that had me drooling as I read. I can’t wait to try more of them myself.

Last but not least, I hope all those celebrating had a Happy (and food-filled) Thanksgiving! If you’re following along with my Thanksgiving Readathon, I’ll be wrapping that up with a post on Monday.

Bacon-Wrapped Dates

  • Servings: approximately 32 pieces
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Ingredients

  • 8 oz. package of pitted dates
  • 4 oz. goat cheese
  • 16 oz. bacon

Directions

  1. Slice alongside one side of each date, from the top to the bottom, so you can open it like a tiny book. Scoop a small amount of goat cheese into the center of each one, and then close it back up.
  2. Cut the whole package of bacon in half, so that each long strip is now half as long. Wrap a half-slice of bacon around the outside of each date.
  3. Arrange seam side down in a baking dish or on a baking sheet with sides to catch any grease. A foil pan is really nice for no cleanup.
  4. Bake at 400-degrees F for 20 to 25 minutes, or until well browned and crispy. Drain on a paper towel, and serve warm or at room temperature, but definitely not hot, unless you want to burn the roof of your mouth so badly you don’t taste anything for days.


This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.

book review, of interest, recipe

Talking As Fast As I Can + Luke’s Cheeseburgers

Two months ago, I pre-ordered Lauren Graham’s collection of personal essays. Last week, it arrived! I couldn’t wait to dive in and, once I started reading, I tackled it within a few hours. She covered everything from her time on Parenthood (another enjoyable TV favorite) to her experience writing her novel Someday, Someday, Maybe and, of course, what it was like to be a part of Gilmore Girls the first time around and how lucky she felt to get to do it all again in the recent revival.

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Reading Talking As Fast As I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls and Everything in Between is what I imagine talking with Lauren Graham to be like – funny, genuine and a little all over the place. As such, she didn’t spend too much time on any one thing and, in a few cases, I was left wanting more.

I thought it was interesting to learn that, as an actor who doesn’t particularly like watching her work, she hadn’t actually seen much of the original Gilmore Girls series. One of my favorite parts of the book was her chapter on the show as she watched it on Netflix. Another natural favorite was her chapter on the revival – don’t worry, she gives fair warning about the spoilers. After devouring the new episodes and being left with mixed feelings about it (more on that in my next post), it was above all nice to see the heart that went into making it, on Lauren’s part as well as everyone else involved.

Deanna and I chose to pair Lauren’s book with a Gilmore Girls classic, a dish that Lorelai herself ate many many times on the show – the Luke’s Cheeseburger. If you’re visiting Stars Hollow (I wish!), a stop at Luke’s for breakfast or lunch is an absolute must and, based on the quantity these ladies ate, I’d say they’re highly recommended.

If you have a man friend who can help you out by throwing on a flannel shirt, a backwards hat, and a bit of a sarcastic no-nonsense attitude, you can try to get there. Even without the Luke imitation, these burgers were quite delicious.

To start, Deanna seasoned the beef and formed the patties, while I prepped our chosen toppings of lettuce, tomato and red onion.

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If you like your buns toasty, as I do, start by heating a griddle or large skillet and lightly buttering both sides of the sesame buns. Once the griddle is hot, place them butter side down and rotate them as needed to get a nice even golden brown on them.

While the buns are toasting (they can sometimes take longer than the burgers), get another skillet going over medium-high heat. Place the burgers in the preheated pan and, making sure to leave space between them, let cook through for about 3 minutes. Flip the burgers and cook for an additional 2-4 minutes. (Be sure to cook it to your desired doneness, which can be done with a meat thermometer.) If you’re adding cheese, do so now and cover loosely to help it melt.

Place the sesame buns on the plate and arrange the garnish as desired, before adding the burger to the bottom of the bun. Top with condiments if you like. Lorelai would request that you serve with french fries.

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If you’re feeling fancy, you can eat them with pinkies up, like I made Deanna do.

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We hope you enjoy! And, remember, no cell phones.

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Luke’s Cheeseburgers

  • Servings: Makes 2 half-pound burgers, or 4 quarter-pound burgers
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Ingredients

  • Sesame seed buns
  • Butter
  • 1 lb lean beef, ground
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • Cheddar cheese slices
  • Red onion, sliced thinly
  • Tomato, sliced
  • Lettuce leaves
  • Pickle chips

Directions

  1. Prepare garnishes as desired. Recommend 1 lettuce leaf in halves, 2 thin tomato slices, 3-4 rings of red onion, and 3 pickle chips per burger.
  2. To make the hamburger patties, divide the ground beef as desired into 2 or 4 portions. Roll each into a ball then flatten between palms. Season each flattened patty with salt and pepper.
  3. Heat a large griddle or skillet over medium heat. Lightly butter each half of each bun and place butter-side down on the griddle. Cook until each bun is lightly browned. Place on plates and arrange with garnish.
  4. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Place the hamburger patties onto the skillet, leaving space between them. After 3 minutes, flip the patties. Cook for an additional 2 minutes (or longer, depending on your desired doneness.) If desired, add cheese to each patty. Cover if able to help the cheese melt for approximately 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
  5. Place each patty on a bun and serve.


Additional optional garnishes, as recommended in the original recipe, are grilled onions or sauteed mushrooms.

book review, recipe

Blood, Bones and Butter + Lamb Chops

I don’t just enjoy cooking and eating (and writing) about food, I also enjoy reading about it – whether it be literature, a piece of nonfiction or another blog. Most often in my case it comes in the form of a memoir, like my latest read, Blood, Bones and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef. This was buried pretty deep on my to-read list (it’s been hanging out there since 2013) when Goodreads Deals brought it back to my attention. I finally added it to my collection and dug in.  

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For me, nothing compares to extremely detailed descriptions of food that actually existed in real life, food that was often so life-changing that it has made its way to a book, tempting readers from the page. Gabrielle Hamilton’s memoir begins with one such powerful food memory.

She walks us through the preparation for her family’s annual lamb roast, which happened every spring when she was a child. Gabrielle describes her bohemian father, who brought her along to the butcher and later basted several whole lambs with a flavorful, dripping marinade over a crackling open fire. She talks lovingly of her now-estranged French mother who “instilled in [Gabrielle and her siblings] nothing but a total and unconditional pleasure in food and eating.”

Gabrielle didn’t set out to be a chef, but that’s exactly what she becomes. Out of desperation as a teenager, she begins working in a local kitchen, mostly learning on the job. A series of kitchens, a trip around the world and a Masters degree in writing later, she finds herself with an unexpected opportunity to open her own restaurant, and so she does.

Though full of descriptions that made my stomach rumble, Blood, Bones and Butter is about more than just cooking and kitchens. It’s about the family that Gabrielle came from, the family she works with, and the family she is beginning to make.

I kept coming back to the lamb roasts of her childhood. Lacking the backyard to roast an entire lamb, I found a recipe for French-inspired lamb chops and accompanied those with new potatoes and Brussels sprouts, both fresh from the farmers’ market this weekend.

The potato recipe calls for them to be peeled, and so I began there, knowing it could be a little time-consuming. It was, and it was also a little dangerous.

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Tiny potatoes leave little room to hold onto them while wielding a peeler. On top of which, once the skin is removed, they’re quite slippery. Potatoes were flying all over the counter! I eventually made it through (unscathed), cut them in half and put them in a small pot of water, covered by 1-inch.

Then I preheated the oven to 400 degrees F and began prepping the Brussels sprouts. Cut off the bottoms and remove the outer, dark green leaves, chopping the larger ones in half. (I prefer to keep small sprouts whole, but feel free to cut them in half as well.) Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Toss on a foil-covered baking sheet until well-coated. They should roast for about 30-40 minutes, according to your preference. I recommend tossing/stirring about halfway through, so they brown more evenly. (Here they are pre-roasting.)

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With the sprouts in the oven, I began boiling the potatoes and focused on making the butter mixture for the lamb chops. Using a fork, I mixed together the softened butter, mustard, fresh thyme, lemon zest and salt and pepper. Once finished, I put the compound butter in the fridge to stay chilled. (Check the potatoes here and if they’re boiling, reduce heat to a simmer. Set timer for 10-12 minutes.)

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I readied my broiler pan, as directed, and placed the lamb chops on top. I seasoned generously with salt and pepper on both sides.

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With the broiler on high, I put them in for 8 minutes and set my attention to the shallot mixture for the potatoes. I minced a large shallot and mixed it with lemon juice and salt. I let this sit until the lamb chops were finished (about 15 minutes), before tossing with the chopped parsley and cooked potatoes.

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Having never made lamb chops, I found them easier to pull off than I initially expected. I also couldn’t get enough of the rich, buttery potatoes – those will definitely be going in the regular rotation!

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Happily, everything came together to make a fancier-than-usual weekend meal and the perfect addition to Scott’s birthday weekend. In a meal based on Blood, Bones and Butter, it became clear “you can never have too much butter.”*

Lamb Chops with Lemon, Thyme & Mustard Butter

  • Servings: 4
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From: Fine Cooking

Ingredients

  • 4 TBS unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tsp whole-grain Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, lightly chopped
  • ¾ tsp finely grated lemon zest
  • ⅛ tsp kosher salt; more as needed
  • ⅛ tsp freshly ground black pepper; more as needed
  • 8 lamb loin chops (1-1/2- to 2-inch-thick chops; about 3 lb.), trimmed

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, mash together the butter, mustard, thyme, zest, salt, and pepper until well combined. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  2. Position an oven rack 5 to 6 inches from the broiler element and heat the broiler to high. Line the bottom of a broiler pan with foil and replace the perforated top part of the pan. Arrange the chops on the pan. Season both sides of the lamb generously with salt and pepper.
  3. Broil until the first side is well browned, about 8 minutes. Turn the chops over with tongs and continue to broil until they’re well browned and the center is cooked to your liking, 3 to 5 minutes longer for medium rare (cut into a chop near the bone to check).
  4. Transfer the lamb to serving plates and top each chop with a dab of the flavored butter. Serve hot.

New Potatoes with Butter, Shallots & Chervil

  • Servings: 6
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Ingredients

  • 2 ¼ lb. small (2-inch) new potatoes, such as Yukon Gold or Yellow Finn, peeled and halved lengthwise (about 14 potatoes)
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 large shallot, minced (about 1/4 cup)
  • 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 6 TBS unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces, softened to room temperature
  • 2 TBS chopped fresh chervil or flat-leaf parsley
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Put the potatoes in a medium pot, add water to cover by 1 inch, and season generously with about 2 TBS salt (the water should taste almost as salty as sea water).
  2. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and gently cook the potatoes until tender when pierced with a fork, 10 to 12 minutes. (You want them to maintain their shape, so be careful not to overcook them.)
  3. Meanwhile, combine the shallot, lemon juice, and a pinch of salt in a small bowl, and let sit for at least 10 minutes (up to 2 hours).
  4. Drain the potatoes and return them to the warm pot. Immediately add the shallot mixture, butter, and chervil or parsley and gently stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.


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*From the wonderful movie, Julie & Julia – thank you, Nora Ephron

book review, recipe

Pumpkin: The Curious History of an American Icon + Pumpkin Pie

Last fall, my cousin Nora and I campaigned hard for Pumpkin: The Curious History of an American Icon at our Good Reads & Good Eats book club – primarily so we could pair it with dinner at The Jolly Pumpkin. We were the only two who voted for it.

Still, the book stayed on my mind, and this fall, I decided to buy a used copy of it – primarily so I could make my very favorite dessert for the blog. Not that I didn’t want to learn the history and virtues of pumpkins; I just really wanted an excuse to make pumpkin pie.

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As the title promises, Pumpkin: The Curious History of an American Icon is chock-full of facts about pumpkins. In fact, as someone’s Grandma Jane wrote in the note that fell out when I opened my new-to-me copy of the book, it contains “absolutely more than you’ll ever remember about pumpkins!”

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Grandma Jane was right! There is way more information than I could ever remember, or that I ever needed to know. I’ll share a few:

In the very early days of farming, pumpkins and squash were basically interchangeable, in name as well as use. They were prized for their ability to grow abundantly in almost any condition and were often fed to livestock. Sweet pumpkin pie originated in the late eighteenth century and  was included in the first American cookbook by Amelia Simmons. By the time manufactured products became widespread, canned pumpkin made using fresh pumpkins in the kitchen seem like “an old-fashioned novelty.” And, even though canning made it possible to eat pumpkin year-round, Americans continued to prefer to eat it in the fall, particularly as part of the Thanksgiving meal.   

That’s probably why I was so looking forward to making pumpkin pie. The fall harvest has arrived – just look at all of the beautiful pumpkins and squash on display at Eastern Market this past Saturday!

I dug up my trusty pumpkin pie recipe, which I love because it’s well-seasoned. There’s nothing worse than a pumpkin pie that tastes like straight-out-of-the-can pumpkin. Though it’s called Scratch Pumpkin Pie, I’ve never actually made it from scratch because I’m way too impatient to spend 4 hours prepping and baking a pie before it’s ready to eat, and this time was no different.

For the crust, though, I shirked my usual go-to (the store bought frozen kind) and decided to go the homemade route. Despite my fear of additional prep time, the homemade crust really didn’t add more than 15 minutes or so. Plus, it tasted better. I used a recipe from one my very first cookbooks (courtesy of my mother, while I was in college), Anyone Can Cook.

I stirred the flour and salt together and then used my pastry blender to cut in the shortening. I filled a small prep bowl with cold water and grabbed a fork and tablespoon to begin moistening the dough.

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I probably ended up using closer to 6 or 7 tablespoons, but the recipe suggests 4-5 tablespoons. Use your best judgement – it shouldn’t be wet but should definitely be well-moistened.

I formed the dough into a ball and flattened that into a thick disk before rolling it out. As directed, I used the rolling pin to help lift the dough into the pie dish. I trimmed the edges where needed, folded any overhang underneath, and pressed the dough to fit the scalloped pattern of my dish.

When not using fresh pumpkin, the prep for the custard filling is easy. I use only 1 can of pumpkin puree (15 ounces), then add in the sugar, salt, spices and eggs. Once that’s combined, stir in the can of evaporated milk. I usually just use a wooden spoon, but you could use a whisk or hand-mixer if so desired.

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If you’re using store bought frozen pie crust, this makes too much filling. Fill the pie to almost the top of the crust; put any leftover filling in a small oven-safe bowl to bake separately in a water bath like a custard. (This is an excellent way to test your filling before you serve it, though I’ve never had any complaints with this recipe!) You’ll also need to watch the cook-time on the smaller portion, as it may not take as long as the whole pie.  

Because I used homemade crust in a larger pie dish (10-inch), this amount filled the pie up perfectly. I covered the edges in foil, so they didn’t brown too quickly and put it in the oven for about 80 minutes. (If using a smaller pie dish or a frozen crust, cook-time will be closer to the original recipe at an hour.)

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I did want some color on my crust, so I removed the foil with about 20 minutes left. You’ll know the pie is done when a knife or cake tester comes out clean. Allow it to cool, and enjoy!

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Pumpkin Pie

  • Servings: 6 to 8
  • Print


Adapted from: Cheri B’s Scratch Pumpkin Pie, Food.com

Ingredients

  • 1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree
  • 1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
  • 3 eggs
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 pie shell, 9-inch deep dish up to 10-inch (homemade or store bought)

Directions

  1. In medium bowl, add pumpkin puree, sugar, salt, spices, eggs. Mix until combined, then carefully add evaporated milk and stir.
  2. Pour into pie shell, foil edges, and place on foiled, cookie sheet and bake 350°F for 50-60 minutes. Give knife clean test. If not clean, bake longer. [Larger pie dishes will require longer baking times. My 10-inch pie baked for 80 minutes.]
  3. If using a smaller pie crust/dish, pour leftover pumpkin pie mix into a greased oven-safe dish (up to 1-quart) and bake in a water bath like custard. [This may take less time to bake than the pie.]

Pastry for Single-Crust Pie

  • Servings: 1 pie crust
  • Print

From Better Homes & Gardens Anyone Can Cook (Book 20, published in 2007), page 470

Ingredients

  • 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ⅓ cup shortening
  • 4-5 tablespoons of cold water

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, stir together all-purpose flour and salt. Using a pastry blender, cut in shortening until pieces are pea-sized.
  2. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of cold water over part of the flour mixture, gently tossing with a fork. Push moistened dough to one side of the bowl. Repeat moistening flour mixture, using 1 tablespoon at a time, until all the flour mixture is moistened.
  3. Form pastry into a ball.
  4. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into a circle about 12 inches in diameter. [Or larger, if needed to properly fill/cover your pie dish. Mine was closer to 15 inches.]
  5. Wrap pastry circle around the rolling pin to transfer it; unroll circle into a 9-inch pie plate. [Mine was a 10-inch dish.] Ease into pie plate without stretching it.
  6. Trim pastry ½ inch beyond edge of plate. Fold under extra pastry. Crimp edges as desired.

book review, recipe

Reading Lolita in Tehran + Cream Puffs

It probably comes as no surprise that I usually adore books* about bookstores, book clubs, book nerds…you get the idea. I find the characters relatable, occasionally discover new insights into books I love, and best case scenario: I walk away with a list of books to read.

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In Azar Nafisi’s memoir, Reading Lolita in Tehran, the books the women read were Western classics – forbidden at the time in Iran. Nafisi, a former professor, and seven of her most like-minded female students meet every Thursday morning to discuss these novels over pastries and tea. It seemed like a book I was destined to love.

Each of four sections is focused on the works of a specific author (Nabokov, Fitzgerald, James and Austen), and their works of fiction were used as a lens through which we learn about Nafisi’s life and her students’ lives. I thought it was a little unbalanced and too literature-focused, particularly in the beginning; I was left wanting more about what was going in Tehran and the lives of the women. Unfortunately, I found it hard to get through – maybe it was because it was written by a literature teacher, but at times I felt like I was back in English class, struggling to get through a required reading assignment.

During the first meeting, Nafisi suggests the “calming distraction of cream puffs and tea” to break the ice. For my recipe, I turned to Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I had made cream puffs only once during culinary school about five years ago, so I was hoping it would be like riding a bike. With my brand new standing mixer** at the ready and Julia’s words of encouragement, I was up to the task. (Really, has anyone read her cookbook? It’s so cheery that it makes any recipe seem nearly impossible to fail.)

Anyway, I began by putting milk on to boil and beating the sugar and eggs until they turned pale yellow and reached the ribbon stage. Here it is just getting started:

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I beat in the flour and then carefully dripped in the boiling milk while continuing to beat the mixture, which is where the standing mixer came in handy. After it was well-combined, I transferred to a saucepan on the stovetop and whisked until it became custard-y in consistency. I removed it from the heat and added the vanilla and butter. In an attempt to cool it off, I scraped it into a bowl, covered with saran wrap (so it wouldn’t form a “skin”) and put it in the fridge.

While that cooled, I began prep for the pâte à choux, or puff paste. It is a very light dough that is used to make not only cream puffs but many kinds of puff pastries including eclairs, profiteroles and beignets. In culinary school, we were warned that it takes great attention because the number of eggs you need is not constant. It can vary based on humidity or even the size of each egg. It’s important to not use too few eggs as this can cause the dough not to puff up and form the small caverns inside that are a hallmark of any sort of puff pastry.

I doubled Julia’s recipe, so I started with 8.

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In the end, I only needed 8. This is something you can only really tell by the look (though if I hadn’t been to culinary school, this wouldn’t have been as clear to me). This website does a good job of explaining how to tell if it’s ready, and I’ve included an excerpt below:

How to Tell if Choux Paste Is Ready

This fact means that it is more important to know how the finished paste should look and feel than it is to just follow the recipe. Finished choux paste should be soft, smooth, and be able to be piped.

If you pull the paddle attachment of an electric mixer out of the paste, a “tongue” should appear at the tip of the paddle.

Similarly, if you gently scoop up a bit of the paste with a rubber spatula and let it fall back into the bowl, a “v” of paste should be left behind on the spatula.

Be sure to mix thoroughly between adding in each egg and then check the paste before adding the next one. The mixture will appear separated and gloppy in between additions, but will come back into a smooth paste as you mix.

If by the second-to-last egg, the paste is already looking smooth and forms a “v” as it falls back into the bowl, it’s OK not to add the last egg. Feel like your paste is borderline and just needs a little more egg? Whisk one up and only pour in half!

Before I scooped it into my pastry bag, it looked like this:

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I didn’t take a picture of my pre-baked choux mounds, but I’ll mention that it’s important that you simply hold the tip to the baking sheet and let the paste gently round up and out until it’s the size you’re looking for. (The size is entirely up to you – puffs can be large, small or medium.) If you attempt to swirl the paste into a circular shape, it can cause your puffs to sort of snail-out and flatten as they bake. (Don’t worry, though, they still taste great! It happened to a few of mine, though they’re not pictured.)

Once all of the puffs were cooled, I used a smaller pastry tip to fill them with the previously-made pastry cream. If I had to do it again, I probably would’ve made the lighter cream that Julia suggested (see notes below), but I was still quite happy with the end result.

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Creme Patissiere (Pastry Cream)

  • Servings: makes about 2 ½ cups
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From: Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Anniversary Edition)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 5 egg yolks
  • ½ cup flour, scooped and leveled
  • 2 cups boiling milk
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 ½ tablespoons vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Put the milk in a saucepan on the stove and begin to bring to a boil.
  2. Gradually beat the sugar into the egg yolks and continue beating for 2-3 minutes until the mixture is pale yellow and forms the ribbon.
  3. Beat in the flour.
  4. Beating the yolk mixture, gradually pour on the boiling milk in a thin stream of droplets.
  5. Pour into a heavy-bottomed 2 ½ quart enameled saucepan and set over moderately high heat. Stir with whisk, reach all over bottom of pan. As sauce comes to a boil it will get lumpy, but will smooth out as you beat it. When boil is reached, beat over moderately low heat for 2-3 minutes to cook the flour. Be careful custard does not scorch in bottom of pan.
  6. Remove from heat and beat in the butter, then the vanilla extract. If custard is not used immediately, clean it off the sides of the pan, and dot top of custard with softened butter to prevent a skin from forming over the surface. It will keep for a week under refrigeration, or may be frozen. [I recommend refrigerating in a bowl covered with cling wrap pushed tightly over the top of the custard, prior to filling the puff shells.]

Pâte à Choux (Cream Puff Paste)

  • Servings: 36-40 small dessert puffs
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Ingredients

  • 1 cup water
  • 6 tablespoons or ¾ stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ⅛ teaspoon pepper [I didn’t use this in mine]
  • 1 pinch nutmeg
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour, scooped and leveled
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 egg, beaten with ½ teaspoon water in a small bowl

Directions

  1. In a 1 ½ quart heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring water to a boil with the butter and seasonings and boil slowly until the butter has melted. Meanwhile measure out the flour.
  2. Remove from heat and immediately pour in all the flour at once. Beat vigorously with a wooden spatula or spoon for several seconds to blend thoroughly. Then beat over moderately high heat for 1-2 minutes until mixture leaves the sides of the pan and the spoon, forms a mass, and begins to film the bottom of the pan.
  3. Remove saucepan from heat and make a well in the center of the paste with your spoon. [Here I transferred the mass to my standing mixer with paddle attachment and added the eggs one at a time while on a setting between 2 and 4.] Immediately break an egg into the center of the well. Beat it into the paste for several seconds until it has absorbed. Continue with the rest of the eggs, beating them in one by one. The third and fourth eggs will be absorbed more slowly. Beat for a moment more to be sure all is well blended and smooth.
  4. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F and butter [or lightly spray] 2 baking sheets.
  5. Using a rubber spatula, fill a pastry bag with a ½-inch round tube opening with the warm choux paste. [If you do not have a pastry bag, drop the paste with a spoon.]
  6. Squeeze the paste onto the baking sheets, making circular mounds about 1-inch in diameter and ½-inch high. Space the mounds 2-inches apart.
  7. Dip your pastry brush into the beaten egg mixture and flatten each puff very slightly with a side of the brush. Avoid dripping egg down the puff and onto the baking sheet, as this will prevent the puff from rising.
  8. Set the sheets in the upper and lower thirds of your preheated, 425-degree oven, and bake for about 20 minutes. The puffs are done when they have doubled in size, are a golden brown, and firm and crusty to the touch. Remove them from the oven and pierce the side of each puff with a sharp knife. Then set in the turned-off oven and leave the door ajar for 10 minutes. Cool the puffs on a rack.

I filled my shells with the pastry cream recipe provided above, as I did when I was taught to make these in culinary school. The same filling and dough can also be used for eclairs, though instead of baking in mounds, you bake in longer lines.

Julia Child suggests using a Creme Saint-Honore, which is the recipe above with beaten egg whites and additional salt and sugar. It produces a fluffier filling for the cream puffs, if desired. The exact recipe can be found on page 591 of the Anniversary Edition of her cookbook.


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*Some that I would recommend include: The Jane Austen Book Club, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry and Anne of Green Gables

**Once again, a very enthusiastic thank you to Scott’s mom for the thoughtful gift!