Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Julia Child's (Hot or Cold) Cream of Cucumber Soup Revisited for Cook the Books April/May Pick: Mastering the Art of French Murder

I totally missed the boat for our April/May Cook the Books pick of Mastering the Art of French Murder (An American in Paris Mystery #1) by Colleen Cambridge (April 2023) and I was the host. I have a litany of excuses involving May being full of travel, illness, increased work responsibilities and more travel, but nonetheless, you can see I am posting my review and dish today and we are 4 days into June. I will be rounding up the entries at the Cook the Books site soon --before I leave town again on Thursday and I thank our group for their patience. 

From the Publisher:

As Postwar Paris rediscovers its joie de vivre, Tabitha Knight, who recently arrived from Detroit for an extended stay with her French grandfather, is on her own journey of discovery. Paris isn’t just the City of Light; it’s the city of history, romance, stunning architecture . . . and food. Thanks to her neighbor and friend Julia Child, another ex-pat who’s fallen head over heels for Paris, Tabitha is learning how to cook for her Grandpère and Oncle Rafe.

Between tutoring Americans in French, visiting the market, and eagerly sampling the results of Julia’s studies at Le Cordon Bleu cooking school, Tabitha’s sojourn is proving thoroughly delightful. That is, until the cold December day they return to Julia’s building and learn that a body has been found in the cellar. Tabitha recognizes the victim as a woman she’d met only the night before, at a party given by Julia’s sister, Dort. The murder weapon found nearby is recognizable too—a knife from Julia’s kitchen.

Tabitha is eager to help the investigation but is shocked when Inspector Merveille reveals that a note, in Tabitha’s handwriting, was found in the dead woman’s pocket. Is this murder a case of international intrigue, or something far more personal? From the shadows of the Tour Eiffel at midnight to the tiny third-floor Child kitchen to the grungy streets of Montmartre, Tabitha navigates through the city hoping to find the real killer before she or one of her friends ends up in prison . . . or worse. 

My Review: 

I picked this book because I love cozy mysteries as a palate cleanser for other and heavier books and I love a good foodie cozy. I also love Julia Child and had a Once Upon a Book Club book box for it but I ended up reading it on my Kindle and I haven't opened the box and its corresponding gifts yet. I will try and do that and add to this post when I return from my trip after next week (a couple of days of PTO with a work conference added in in Oregon).

Overall, I thought this was fun--love a Paris after WWII setting and Julia was a fun character--who wouldn't want her as a friend? The food aspect was good and I thought the mystery worked. The main character Tabitha drove me a bit crazy when she called herself and "imp" or "sprite" when she was just making dumb decisions but I will still read the next book in the series that came out in April. (A Murder Most FrenchA Murder Most French

Food Inspiration: There was so much food inspiration in this book from Julia's struggle with mayonnaise to roasted chicken, salmon, stews, potatoes.... I didn't even get all of it written down. 

In the end, I went to Maine, got really sick, came back and had massive work commitments before leaving again and didn't get around to cooking a dish. Instead, I'm going to go back a few years and revisit a tasty cucumber soup from Julia Child. (First posted here). You can eat it hot or cold, making it perfect as we head into summer. 

Cream of Cucumber Soup
Slightly Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 2 by Julia Child via TheDailyMeal.com
(About 6 Servings)

1 1/2 lb cucumbers, about 3 large
1/2 cup minced shallots
3 Tbsp butter
6 cups light stock (I used vegan non-chicken stock), plus extra for thinning if needed
1 1/2 tsp wine vinegar (I used tarragon Vinegar)
3/4 tsp dried tarragon
(I added 1/2 tsp dill)
4 Tbsp farina (cream of wheat) breakfast cereal (I used cream of rice cereal)
salt and white pepper to taste
1 cup minced fresh herbs like dill, tarragon or parsley

Peel cucumbers. Cut 18-24 paper-thin slices and reserve in a bowl for later. Cut the rest of the cucumber into 1/2-inch chunks; you should have about 4 1/2 cups

Cook the shallots slowly in the butter for several minutes until tender but not browned. Add the cucumber chunks, broth, vinegar, and herbs. Bring to a boil, then stir in the farina. Simmer, partially covered, for 20-25 minutes. Puree in a blender and then return the soup to the pan. Thin out with more broth if needed, and season with salt and white pepper to taste.

Just before serving, beat in 1/2 cup of the sour cream. Ladle soup into bowls and place a dollop of the leftover sour cream on top of each. Float slices of cucumber on top of the sour cream and decorate with a sprinkling of herbs. 

Cooking Notes: If you are planning on eating the soup cold, let it cool down to about room temp, then stir in the sour cream and chill in fridge at least 4 hours before serving.

This soup relies mostly on farina (cream of wheat) for thickening but the cream of wheat I found in my local grocery stores was over $7.00 for a large box that I doubted I'd use up. Instead I grabbed a small box of Cream of Rice soup that was under $4.00. Cream of rice is a good gluten-free option that works just as well. I made a couple of other small changes to the recipe, noted in red on the recipe. 

Notes/Results From When I Made It: I know cold soup, cucumbers and cold soup with cucumbers are not everyone's favorite cup of soup ;-) but this one is really delicious--crisp, refreshing, the flavor of the herbs (tarragon and the dill I added) come through nicely. it's creamy and rich but the sour cream and vinegar give it a bright pop of acidity. On The daily Meal where I found the recipe, they said it was equally good cold and hot and when I tried the warm soup, it was good. There is just something about cucumbers and cold that go together though so that's the way I'll enjoy it. It's going to work with me with egg salad sandwiches this week and I'd happily make it again.

If you like food and books, and foodie books, join us in June/July when we will be reading Family Tree, by Susan Wiggs, histed by Claudia of Honey From Rock.

Happy Reading, Cooking & Eating!


Sunday, March 31, 2024

Lucy Knisley's "Mom's Pesto" Cream Tortellini for Cook The Books Feb/March Pick, Relish: My Life in the Kitchen

It's Cook the Books time again. For February/March, we read Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley hosted by Simona of briciole.

Publisher's Blurb:

Lucy Knisley loves food. The daughter of a chef and a gourmet, this talented young cartoonist comes by her obsession honestly. In her forthright, thoughtful, and funny memoir, Lucy traces key episodes in her life thus far, framed by what she was eating at the time and lessons learned about food, cooking, and life. Each chapter is bookended with an illustrated recipe―many of them treasured family dishes, and a few of them Lucy's original inventions. 

A welcome read for anyone who ever felt more passion for a sandwich than is strictly speaking proper, 
Relish is a graphic novel for our time: it invites the reader to celebrate food as a connection to our bodies and a connection to the earth, rather than an enemy, a compulsion, or a consumer product.

(April 2013)

This was a reread for me but it had been about seven years, so it was nice to catch up with this fun foodie graphic novel. I love Knisley's illustrations--they really capture the essence of the food and the colors are so appealing. I think her memories growing up are easily relatable whether cooking and eating with family, friends, or while during travel. It's not to be read on an empty stomach! Although I read graphic novels on occasion and enjoy this format, I find Relish especially accessible if you are new to the genre or it isn't a favorite. 

This book is a about foodie inspiration from cookies to mushrooms, Sangria to sushi rolls, there's a little something in the book for all appetites. 

I have been craving pesto so I decided to make her "Mom's Pesto" recipe in the book. Knisley gives a host of ideas for using the pesto but I decided to make it into a slightly creamy sauce for cheese tortellini and add grape tomatoes, fresh basil leaves, grated parmesan, and my new favorite thing, Boursin Garlic & Fine Herbs Cheese Bites (little round pieces of Boursin cheese). 

I used the recipe sketch in the book as a guide even though pesto is pretty common and easy to make. I don't usually use both Romano and parmesan cheese in my pesto and I often switch out pine nuts for other nuts. To me, getting the balance of salt and olive oil right and using the freshest basil possible is what makes for good pesto. 

To Make the Dish:

Once I had the pesto made, I cooked my tortellini (from the refrigerated section of my local grocery store) while I made the cream sauce by adding a little butter to a small sauce pan and then about 3/4 cup of heavy whipping cream. and heat until hot but not boiling. Stir in about 1/3 cup of the pesto, reduce heat and simmer about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add about 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese and about 2 Tbsp of the pasta cooking water and stir until smooth. Add the drained tortellini and place in a serving bowl. Sprinkle cherry tomatoes, Boursin bites, another sprinkle of parmesan and small fresh basil leaves. Season with salt and pepper to taste and enjoy warm, so the pasta slightly melts the Boursin and parmesan. Enjoy!

Notes/Results: I really loved the pesto in the cream sauce and I am happy I have pesto left over for toast and salad dressing too. 

The deadline for this round is today (surprise, surprise) but if you like food and books, and foodie books, join us for April/May when we will be reading Mastering the Art of French Murder (An American in Paris Mystery #1) by Colleen Cambridge hosted by yours truly!

Happy Reading, Cooking & Eating!

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Persian "Adassi" Lentil Stew (Not Really For) Cooked the Books: December/January Selection: Undercooked by Dan Adhoot

So big confession, I am currently failing at life. I could go on and on, but it seems like I am always whining about being busy or being sick, so I won't belabor it here. On the plus side, I did finish (and enjoy) Undercooked: How I Let Food Become My Life Navigator and How Maybe That's a Dumb Way to Live by Dan Ahdoot, our December/January Cook the Books selection (hosted by Debra of Eliot's Eats)  last week but on the downside, I got bronchitis and never made it to the kitchen. With better timing of my life, I would have read the book earlier and not while ill, but procrastination is my middle name (actually it's Ann, but you get the idea.) I started feeling somewhat better yesterday, but I had no plan in place so the options were: 1) Sit out this round 2) Try to run to the grocery store after work and cook something tonight and get a very late post in (not that appealing) or 3) Repost a Persian dish from the ones on my blog. We are going with 3) and hoping I am not drummed out of the club! 

I made (and modified) this Persian Adassi (Lentil Stew) back in May 2018 from the gorgeous cookbook, Sirocco by Sabrina Ghayour. It was tasty and warming and if I were to run to the grocery store and cook something to get away from my current chicken noodle soup and toast diet, it would be a soup like this. 

Publisher: ‎Crown (March 21, 2023)
Hardcover: ‎240 pages

My Thoughts on the Book: I had not heard of actor, writer, and comedian Dan Ahdoot before reading Undercooked (I got my copy through the library as an e-book) but found his story interesting. I think he's a good storyteller and I enjoyed his humorous essays. He's a very bad boyfriend and I don't think I would want to hang out with him (he seems both judgey and needy and very high pressure to go to a restaurant with) but I did start following him on Instagram and plan to check out his podcast and Food Network show, and he's pretty funny overall. I enjoyed the tie-in to food and family and loss and comfort that food always seems to bring. That part was extremely relatable. I didn't like the hunting stories--I still lean vegetarian overall but the learning he got about himself and others when he joined in with Meals on Wheels was endearing. Overall, it was an engaging read and I enjoyed it. 

From undercooked risotto to fusion fine restaurant dining, plus French food, offal to both Jewish and Persian cooking, there was plenty of food inspiration in Undercooked. I love a good falafel and I have made a lot of great Persian food over the years. My old roommate's uncle was from Iran and an excellent cook and made a similar Persian rice recipe like he got from his mother (at the end of the book--probably the part I laughed the most at!) with chicken and fava (or often lima beans in Oregon)  and served it with yogurt. It was amazing and I still think about it--even though I have never gotten the recipe quite right. 

As mentioned above, I picked a recipe I made a few years ago from one of the several Persian cookbooks I own. It's a simple soup but if you search Persian in my blog search bar you can find other dishes and recipes.  

I can't vouch for how authentic this soup is as the recipe is written, and I, of course, added my own touches (coconut milk for creaminess) but here you go! 

Persian (Adassi) Lentil Stew 
Slightly Adapted from Sirocco by Sabrina Ghayour
(Serves 4)

3 Tbsp vegetable oil (I used coconut oil)
1 large onion, finely diced
1 1/3 cups Puy lentils
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 heaping Tbsp medium curry powder
flaky sea salt
1 1/2 quarts or so hot water from a kettle
(I added I can coconut milk)
(I added 1/2 tsp Aleppo pepper)

Heat a saucepan over medium-low heat (or medium heat, if you are cooking on an electric stove). add the oil and fry the onion until translucent. Add the lentils and stir for 1 minutes. then stir in the tomato paste and curry powder, season with salt, and add a couple of tablespoons of water to hydrate the mixture (spices absorb moisture quickly). Stir well for about a minute, until the ingredients are evenly mixed in. 

Then, in stages, stir in a few ladlefuls of hot water at a time, stirring well and allowing each ladleful of water to be thoroughly absorbed by the lentils before adding the next. Once all the water has been absorbed, taste the lentils to check you are happy with the texture and that they are cooked thoroughly. If not, add another 1-2 ladlefuls of water until you are satisfied. (At this point I stirred in a can of coconut milk and seasoned with a bit of extra salt and some Aleppo pepper.)

What I Said: Notes/Results: A simple soup, but great flavor from the curry and another demonstration of why Puy lentils are my favorite for soups. I love the texture and body they give it--staying firm rather than melting into the liquid or getting mushy, like other lentils do. I really didn't notice what gradually adding the liquid to the lentils did or didn't do for the soup--I'll have to look into it more. Since there are few ingredients and a good amount of curry, use a curry you really like for it as the flavor stands out. The one I use the most is on the milder side of medium, so I added a bit of Aleppo pepper for a little kick. In the end, I liked it as it was but felt it would be even better with coconut milk added to make it creamy. I thought it made it even better, but you can certainly leave it out. I served my soup with a prantha--Indian flatbread I stock in my freezer but think it would pair well with any bread or flatbread or rice, I would happily make it again.

The deadline for this round is today (surprise, surprise) but if you like food and books, and foodie books, join us for February/March when we will be reading the graphic novel, Relish by Lucy Knisley (hosted by Simona at briciole

It's a reread for me and I am going to attempt to have my act together!