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book review, recipe

Our Life in the Forest + Roasted Mushrooms with Herbed Quinoa

I requested Marie Darrieussecq’s novel Our Life in the Forest from NetGalley because the concept was intriguing. Marie — both the author and the main character, our narrator — describes for us a future world in which wealthy humans of her generation have “halves,” or breathing but unconscious humans that are available should they need spare body parts. If you’re less fortunate, you’ll have a “jar” instead, holding just a backup heart and pair of lungs.

Our Life in the Forest by Marie Darrieussecq

It’s a bleak future, and it’s one that Marie has decided to escape with several others. They have taken their halves and are hiding in the forest, where the drones can’t spot them through the dense treetops. The story is translated from French (a wonderful translation) and Darrieussecq’s writing style is direct; we are treated to very little extraneous description.

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book review, recipe

The Late Bloomers’ Club + Burnt Sugar Cake (and Corn Tomato Salad)

If you’re anything like me, you’re looking forward to fall. It’s the season of cool nights, hot cups of tea, fresh baked goods and cuddling up under a blanket with a good book. Reading Louise Miller’s The Late Bloomers’ Club was so cozy and comforting, it felt like I stumbled into Stars Hollow, a fall festival just around the corner. I’m absolutely jones-ing for fall.

The Late Bloomers' Club by Louise Miller

Nora owns the Miss Guthrie Diner, which was opened by her parents and is now an institution in the small Vermont town of Guthrie. She is well-respected in the town but mostly keeps to herself in the wake of her divorce from her high school sweetheart. When the beloved local cake lady, Peggy, unexpectedly dies and leaves her estate to Nora, no one is more surprised than her. Nora learns that Peggy was considering selling her land to a large corporation, potentially changing the town of Guthrie forever, and she must take on the burden of making the decision herself.

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book review, recipe

The Immortalists + Apple Noodle Kugel

I included Chloe Benjamin’s novel The Immortalists on my list of Books I’m Looking Forward to in 2018 over eight months ago. It’s been sitting on my shelf for nearly as long (shortly after it came out in January), and I just — finally! — got around to reading it. I’m happy to say it lived up to expectations!

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

The novel follows the four Gold siblings: Varya, Daniel, Klara and Simon. In 1969, when they’re still quite young — Varya, the oldest, is thirteen and Simon, the youngest, is only seven — they visit a mysterious psychic because Daniel has heard she is able to tell anyone the day they will die. They leave shaken but armed with a glimpse into their futures.

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book review, recipe

The Cast + Summer Picnic Food

Amy Blumenfeld’s The Cast centers around a group of friends — Becca, Jordana, Seth, Holly and Lex — who are bonded and forever touched by Becca’s battle with cancer as a teenager. Though as adults they’re not the tight-knit group they once were, this intense bond brings them back together when life happens. Jordana organizes a 4th of July weekend getaway to celebrate Becca’s 25th year cancer-free, and that’s where we begin.

The Cast by Amy Blumenfeld

Life never goes as planned, and their get-together embodies that perfectly. Everyone is hiding something but trying to keep a brave face for the others. When that all breaks down, their friendship shines the brightest and it’s obvious why it has endured so long. It was an easy book to get through, but it wasn’t “light.”

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book review, recipe

The Oracle Year + Stir-Fried Lotus Root

In Charles Soule’s first novel The Oracle Year, the comic book writer explores a clever concept about the power of prediction. The main character, Will Dando, is a twenty-something musician who wakes up one morning with 108 predictions about the future. The predictions range from seemingly innocuous to world-changing and extremely specific to frustratingly vague.

The Oracle Year by Charles Soule

While man behind The Oracle is a mystery, his predictions are practically front page news around the globe. As more and more of them come true, he is forced to go to great lengths to remain anonymous for his own safety. It’s a delicate balance between sitting on what he knows and sharing it with the world as he learns whether he has control over their source, or it has control over him.

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book review, recipe

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane + Scallion Pancakes

Lisa See’s historical fiction novel The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane is a family saga that begins in a remote mountain village in China in the late 1980s. Life there revolves around tradition and tea farming, until a stranger arrives, bringing a glimpse into the modern world — and a proposal that will transform all of their lives.

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane Book Cover

Interspersed with Li-Yan’s story, as she struggles against the traditions of her village and family but fully embraces the rituals and importance of tea in their culture, is the story of a young girl growing up in Los Angeles, searching for a key to her past. The story is full of heart, and the plot full of coincidence. Some of the village’s traditions were a bit hard to stomach, but I think Li-Yan’s personal rebellion against them made her more relatable, at least to me.

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book review, recipe

Guest Post: Jane of Lantern Hill + Old-Fashioned Potato Salad

Hello! My name’s Elsie, and I’m visiting from the Tea and Ink Society. The Society is where I share book lists and literary musings with a bent towards the classics. I also love to play in the kitchen, so I was excited for Megan’s invitation to share a literary recipe with you all!

For this post I chose to make a classic, old-fashioned potato salad recipe to go along with L. M. Montgomery’s 1937 novel Jane of Lantern Hill.

One of the things people love and remember most about the novels of L. M. Montgomery are her evocative descriptions of nature and the pastoral world of Prince Edward Island. Over the past two years I’ve immersed myself in this world again, going on a spree of reads and re-reads as I traverse the Island and the early decades of the 1900s with each heroine. Like many fans, I’m captivated by the Island’s natural beauty, of course, but this time I’m also noticing the food.

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book review, recipe

Pachinko + Kimchi

Pachinko, for those of you who don’t know (and I didn’t until I read Min Jin Lee’s novel of the same name), is a Japanese game of chance, a combination of pinball and a slot machine. Like the game it’s named for, Lee spins an epic tale that goes up and down, away and back again, all as the Korean family we follow move to Japan and either suffer or thrive there. The novel starts with the parents of our strong central female character Sunja and spans over seventy years and several generations.

I liked Pachinko, but despite being well-written, it wasn’t a particularly enjoyable read. Lee really put her characters through the ringer, and the suffering they experienced left me feeling very defeated. It was an interesting perspective on an immigration story – one we aren’t often exposed to here in the United States but one that didn’t leave me with much hope either.

It was a book we chose for our August book club, and I’ll admit I put it on the list because I already owned it (checking off that TBR!) and because I wanted to make and eat sushi. It turned out that while sushi did show up a couple of times in the novel, kimchi is what really made an impression. Sunja and her sister-in-law used their skills in the kitchen to make kimchi when times were tough, supporting their family the only way they could.

Kimchi, which is made of fermented vegetables – usually cabbage, requires about a minimum of a week to make. So, it was about two weeks ago that I set to work. I found a recipe that didn’t seem too intimidating and stopped by the trusty 168 Asian Mart (you may remember from my dumpling-making adventures) to gather all of the Korean-specific ingredients, such as salted shrimp and red pepper powder.

I chopped my cabbage into roughly 2-inch pieces, put them in a large bowl and sprinkled them with a generous amount of salt (half a cup), tossing the leaves to make sure they were well-coated. Then, I covered the cabbage with water – I ended up using about 15 cups – and covered the entire bowl with plastic wrap. I let it sit for about a day.

Then, I placed the cabbage in a colander, rinsed it and squeezed it out. While that sat, I combined all of the other ingredients in a large bowl – radish cut into matchsticks, scallions cut into 1-inch pieces, what seemed like a ton of Korean red pepper powder, fish sauce, minced ginger and garlic, Korean salted shrimp and a little bit of sugar.

Once it was well-combined, I added the cabbage and tossed it until it was well-coated and pretty red too. Then, I stuffed everything into my large glass jar and sealed it. I snapped a quick picture before I left it in the dark, cool basement for another full day.

Then, I opened the lid and allowed the gases to escape – the product of our fermentation process was quite pungent. I’d recommend doing this with the windows open, or in a very well-ventilated room. After about a half an hour, I sealed it back up and placed it in the fridge. The jar hung out in the fridge for about 10 days, until yesterday, when I opened it up to attempt to make kimchi fried rice.

You can use kimchi for a lot of different things, but the one I thought I might enjoy the most was kimchi fried rice. (Disclaimer: I’m not a huge kimchi fan to begin with.) Luckily, I was already familiar with fried rice from my Boston Girl blog entry earlier this year.

I ended up tweaking the recipe I found a little bit, but I loved the idea of serving it with an egg on top, so I had Scott fry some up while I put the finishing touches on the rice. The whole meal turned out really well – the kimchi added a little bit of an extra kick to the fried rice, and I liked it much more than I expected to! Now, we just have to figure out how to use the rest of the kimchi 🙂 Any suggestions, fellow foodies?

Basic Napa Cabbage Kimchi

  • Servings: 1½ quarts
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Ingredients

  • 1 (2-pound) napa cabbage
  • ½ cup kosher salt
  • about 12 cups cold water, plus more as needed
  • 8 ounces daikon radish, peeled and cut into 2-inch matchsticks
  • 4 medium scallions, ends trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces (use all parts)
  • ⅓ cup Korean red pepper powder
  • ¼ cup fish sauce
  • ¼ cup peeled and minced fresh ginger (from about a 2-ounce piece)
  • 1 Tablespoon minced garlic cloves (from 6 to 8 medium cloves)
  • 2 teaspoons Korean salted shrimp, minced
  • 1½ teaspoons granulated sugar

Directions

  1. Cut the cabbage in half lengthwise, then crosswise into 2-inch pieces, discarding the root end. Place in a large bowl, sprinkle with the salt, and toss with your hands until the cabbage is coated. Add enough cold water to just cover (about 12 cups), making sure the cabbage is submerged (it’s OK if a few leaves break the surface). Cover with plastic wrap or a baking sheet and let sit at room temperature at least 12 hours and up to 24 hours.
  2. Place a colander in the sink, drain the cabbage, and rinse with cold water. Gently squeeze out the excess liquid and transfer to a medium bowl; set aside.
  3. Place the remaining ingredients in a large bowl and stir to combine. Add the cabbage and toss with your hands until evenly combined and the cabbage is thoroughly coated with the mixture.
  4. Pack the mixture tightly into a clean 2-quart or 2-liter glass jar with a tight-fitting lid and seal the jar. Let sit in a cool, dark place for 24 hours (the mixture may bubble). Open the jar to let the gases escape, then reseal and refrigerate at least 48 hours before eating. (Kimchi is best after fermenting about 1 week). Refrigerate for up to 1 month.

From: Chowhound

I used the kimchi to make Kimchi Fried Rice (from Rasa Malaysia), though it can be served as a side or in a variety of dishes.


This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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Grannie’s Cracklin’ Bread

  • Servings: 8-10
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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.

book review, recipe

1984 + Artisan Dinner Rolls

I never read George Orwell’s 1984 in high school. I also never read Animal Farm until my boss recommended it to me as an adult, and while it was fine, I wasn’t particularly moved to seek out other Orwellian novels. But, like many Americans, once Trump was elected and “alternative facts” became a thing, I got interested. Suddenly, it was selling out everywhere – even Amazon – and I had to backorder my copy.

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For those of you who don’t know, 1984 is a dystopian novel that imagines a world where Big Brother watches over your every move, the Thought Police have jurisdiction and the news is altered on a regular basis to better correspond to reality and/or change the past. It was written 35 years prior to 1984, and now, another almost 35 years later, it is more relevant than ever.

In the bleak world Orwell paints, the main character Winston Smith is a member of the Outer Party, and since he actively participates in spreading propaganda and revising history, he lives a decently comfortable life – even if it’s under constant scrutiny. While we primarily follow his journey for the truth, I found the “Proles” to be the most interesting, and Winston too, thinks of them as the best chance to overthrow the ruling Inner Party. Though they are roughly 85% of the population, they exist only to supply labor and grow the population.

I’m not sure I would’ve fully understood this book, let alone appreciated it had I read it in high school. It’s not a book that I like even now, as alarming as it was, but it certainly respect its message. I think everyone should read it once, and it was certainly worth it for me.

I could’ve made something decadent to represent the Inner Party, who always seem to be enjoying chocolate and wine while the rest of the country is told there’s a shortage, but I felt like a rustic bread was more representative of those who struggle beneath them – the Outer Party and the Proles. Outside of culinary school, I haven’t attempted bread, so I found a recipe for Unbelievably Easy Artisan Rolls and set to work.

As promised, the rolls were unbelievably easy to make. Just before going to bed one night, I whisked together the flour, salt and yeast before adding 2 cups of room temperature water. I mixed it all together with a rubber spatula, covered it with plastic wrap and set the bowl on the stove to hang out while I slept.

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In the morning, I removed the plastic wrap to see how much the dough had risen. It wasn’t a crazy amount, but it definitely had expanded and there were bubbles on top.

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With the oven coming up to 425-degrees F, I began coating the large ball of dough with flour and then used a bench scraper to divide it into a dozen smaller pieces. With each well-coated with more flour, I formed them into balls and placed them on the parchment paper with the pinched side down (to make a smooth top). They rested for another 20 minutes before going in the oven.

I baked them for 15 minutes, rotated the pan, and baked for an additional 5 minutes. Mine probably could’ve spent another few minutes in the oven to get some more color, but I pulled them and allowed them to cool at that point – mostly because I’m impatient and they looked done enough to me.

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More importantly, they tasted delicious! They were great alongside soup, salad and pasta – all of our meals for the rest of the week. With rolls this easy, I probably don’t have any excuse for not making my own ever again.

Artisan Rolls

  • Servings: 10-16
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Ingredients

  • 4 cups bread flour, plus extra for shaping [I used all-purpose flour because it’s what I had at home and the rolls still tasted delightful.]
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon dry yeast
  • 2 cups room temperature tap water

Directions

  1. In a medium-large bowl, whisk together the bread flour, salt, and yeast. Make a well in the center and add the water. Mix with a sturdy rubber spatula until all flour is incorporated. Don’t worry, the dough will be wet and sticky, that’s how it should be. Cover bowl with a plastic wrap and leave to rise at room temperature overnight or for up to 12 hours.
  2. The following morning (or after 8-12 hours), the dough will have risen, but it may still look shaggy and it’s surface will be covered with bubbles.
  3. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper*. Preheat the oven to 425ºF.
  4. Spread a generous ¼ cup of flour on a work surface. Dump the dough out onto the floured surface and turn it several times to coat with flour. I like to use a bench scraper for this.
  5. Divide the dough into 12-16 equal portions, turning each piece in the flour to coat. (The bench scraper is also great for cutting the dough). Shape each piece into a ball, pulling edges under and pinching together to make a smooth top. Invert balls and place on prepared pan, pinched side up. This will give you craggy, rustic textured rolls. If the dough is sticky as you’re shaping, just roll the piece in more of the flour. Let shaped rolls rise for 20 minutes.
  6. Transfer pan to the oven. Bake 15 minutes. Rotate pan. Bake 5 minutes more or until nicely golden. Transfer rolls to cooling rack to cool completely.
  7. If making in advance, remove from oven when pale golden brown (about 3-4 minutes less). Cool completely, then freeze on a baking sheet. Once frozen, transfer rolls to a large zip lock bag and store in the freezer. To serve, allow rolls to thaw, then heat for 8-10 minutes at 350˚F.