Saturday, November 30, 2019

Spaghetti with Creamy Clam Sauce #FoodieReads


I almost didn't finish We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh*, the book that was chosen as our November Lit Happens selection. I  loved Diffenbaugh's first book, The Language of Flowers, and started - and stopped - this book multiple times during the first two weeks of the month. Then I put it down and couldn't find it until today. Seriously. I didn't have the book in my hands until the last day of the month.

Thankfully, R was busy working on college application essays; D was making felted nisser (Danish Christmas gnomes); and Jake was working on his Christmas forest. Yes, not just a tree. You'll see soon...

But all of their activities allowed me to settle in on my bean bag and read this book cover to cover while sipping mulled cider and eating gingerbread cookies this afternoon. Then I ran to the store, inspired by a dish Rick makes for Letty's Christmas party. More on that soon.

On the Page

As I mentioned I loved her first book and had a hard time getting into this one. However, Diffenbaugh tackles some tough issues in an eloquent manner. She addresses a woman who is given a second chance to mother her own children after her parents have largely been responsible for raising them; a young man who is searching for his birth father who doesn't know he exists - all while experiencing his own first love; and a mother and daughter dodging the shadows of immigration control. There are teen pregnancies - Carmen was fourteen when she had Yesenia - immigration status issues, school registration fraud, and bullying.

I had a tough time reading about Letty's questionable parenting decisions, especially when she gets her own son drunk. Oye. But, I was able to look beyond Letty's imperfect character because Diffenbaugh writes Letty's thoughts, doubts, insecurities, and her recognition of her mistakes in a regretful manner. She isn't cavalier in her shortcomings. We can see that she loves her children despite abandoning them to her parents a decade and a half ago. And she is trying. That means a lot in my book.

And I do think the biggest take-away: no action is without consequence. And many actions reverberate for an entire generation...or more.

While I didn't love this book as much as her first. I'm glad I read it. Written before our current administration, I found immigration lawyer Kate's words eerily accurate: "'DACA is an executive order,' Kate explained. 'Not a law. Which means it can be revoked at any time. We elect a new president? It's gone'" (pg. 280). Sadly true.

There was lots of back and forth between the book group about the significance of feathers and wings. As Letty's father had left his feathers for Alex when he returned to Mexico. I thought I'd share some photos of a stained glass feather class my best friend took me to as a belated birthday present recently. It was so much fun...and didn't involved collecting without a permit!


On the Plate

There was quite a bit of food mentioned in this novel and a ton of cocktails, too, since Letty worked at a bar. Letty's mother had left meals in the freezer when she returned to Mexico. "Clear glass casserole dishes were stacked on the left; gallon Ziplocs of soup, tamales, and taquitos were piled on the right. She pulled out a plastic bag of what looked like chicken soup and read the directions written on the front in permanent marker. 1. Thaw in warm water. 2. Transfer to glass. 3. Microwave" (pg. 61).

Rick brings Letty lunch that he learned to make at his dad's restaurant. "'Al mojo de ajo...'. Her mouth full of shrimp and three different kinds of salsa, and she willed her eyes not to roll back in her head from pure ecstasy. She took another bite and nodded as she tracked with his story: the family business his father had every intention of passing over to Rick, his oldest child, but not until he earned it, starting as a dishwasher and working his way through every job - prep cook to line cook to host to runner. He paid for college with his salary as sous-chef" (pg. 135).

But what inspired me into the kitchen was the meal that Rick cooks at Letty's house for Christmas. "Rick arrived at eight, his arms full of groceries. ...[Later] they walked into the kitchen, where a steaming platter of linguine and clams sat on the table. Two salads and a glass filled with forks had been placed on the table beside it. Sara pinched a clam from the tray and popped it into her mouth. 'You made this?' Sara's expression was disbelieving. 'No way...' (pp. 230 and 234).

I love how easy this is, using canned clams and all. When I am feeling more motivated, I like to make this with clams in their shell, like my Linguine alle Vongole. But tonight I wanted quick and easy as R finally asked me to read over his college application essays...after Jake and D got to read them last night. I guess they are finally mom-ready.

Ingredients serves 4
  • 1/2 pound spaghetti (1 pound actually serves 8 though most people cook the entire package)
  • 2 shallots, peeled and finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and pressed
  • 4 T butter
  • splash of olive oil
  • 3 T flour
  • 3 cans (6-1/2 ounces each) minced clams with their juice
  • 1 C milk + more as needed
  • 1 C grated Parmesan cheese + more for serving
  • 1 t fresh herbs (I used fresh thyme) + more for serving

Procedure
Cook spaghetti according to package directions. Mine took 11 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, sauté shallots in 2 T butter and a splash of olive oil. Add garlic and sauté for just a minute until the garlic grows fragrant. Add in the remaining 2 T butter and cook until melted. Whisk in flour until blended and a roux forms. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, then gradually add in the clams, their juice, and milk. Cook until thickened, approximately 2 to 3. Stir in the cheese until melted, then add in the herbs.

Add cooked and drained pasta to the pan and toss to coat. Serve hot. I served this with a green salad and roasted asparagus.

*This blog currently has a partnership with Amazon.com in their affiliate program, which gives me a small percentage of sales if you buy a product through a link on my blog. It doesn't cost you anything more. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to go directly to Amazon.com and search for the item of your choice.

Click to see what everyone else read in November 2019: here.

The 'Ab Ovo Usque Ad Mala' Recipes + Some Bubbles from the Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG #ChefsSecret


As my parents' friends trickled in for our Thanksgiving lunch, we exchanged greetings and my boys handed out glasses of Italian bubbles. Several of the group had been to our table before; but a few were new. The ones that were new had received a warning ahead of time: "My daughter doesn't prepare a traditional Thanksgiving meal. But if you aren't expecting turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and gravy - and are up for a little culinary adventure - you'll enjoy it. Come hungry," my mother cautioned.


The table was set with china, linens, and each setting had my menu...
On the Table
But I still explained that everything I was serving was inspired by the historical fiction novel The Chef's Secret by Crystal King*. Then we settled in for a feast and chatted about the recipes and the inspiration. I have posted almost everything and you can find the recipes here...click on the titles to go to the original recipe post.








In the Glass

Back in July, Nicole of Somm's Table, had extended an invitation for me to join her at a Prosecco Superiore luncheon in San Francisco. Sponsored by the Consorzio of Prosecco Superiore DOCG, organized by Charles Communications, and hosted by Perbacco, we were treated to course after course and pairing after pairing all the while learning from Iris Rowlee, Perbacco's wine director, and Giulia Pussini from the Consorzio. What an amazing experience!


In any case, they sent me home with beautiful literature on the region and a bottle of Sommariva NV Brut, Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore. Jake and I sipped and enjoyed it that evening. So, I knew that I wanted to track down a few bottles for our Thanksgiving feast.


Nothing goes so well from course to course as Italian bubbles and Prosecco Superiore is the reigning monarch in that hierarchy. You can click to read about my explorations and pairings last July: here.


The Sommariva NV Brut Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore is crisp and aromatic, offering layers of herbs and stone fruit with hints of toasted nuts. Its broad range of aromas carry over to the palate with brightness and vibrant acidity, making it incredibly versatile and food friendly. 

Though it probably would have been a match for every single course, I did pour a Sangiovese from Umbria with the quail and the sausages. However, I myself moved back to the bubbles for the dessert course.

And this is a wrap on my Thanksgiving recipes. I wonder if Crystal will have her third novel out anytime soon for my next year's menu! I hope so.


There are so many things for which I am thankful this year. But, for this post, I'll leave it at being thankful for inspiration, creativity, and Italian bubbles. Happy Thanksgiving to all. Cin cin.

*This blog currently has a partnership with Amazon.com in their affiliate program, which gives me a small percentage of sales if you buy a product through a link on my blog. It doesn't cost you anything more. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to go directly to Amazon.com and search for the item of your choice.

Polpette al Forno #ChefsSecret


As the final offering of the antipasti portion of our Ab Ovo Usque Ad Mala Thanksgiving menu, I was inspired by this passage in Crystal King's The Chef's Secret* - "One day I was helping Bartolomeo make meatballs when the court jester found us and, of course, the name polpetta stuck" (pg. 23). It's not that Crystal mentioned or even described an intriguing meatball dish; it's just that 'polpetta' made me chuckle as a nickname. So, I opted to make one of my own favorite Italian-inspired meatballs. These are baked in the oven, then simmered in a fragrant sauce. I did use ground venison for this version though I have also made these with lamb and beef.

Ingredients
makes 24 walnut-sized meatballs

Meatballs
  • 1-1/2 pounds ground venison
  • 1/2 C organic raisins
  • 3 anchovy fillets
  • 2 T balsamic vinegar
  • 1 T minced garlic
  • 1 T capers
  • Also needed: baking sheet, parchment paper, fresh herbs for garnish (I used fresh thyme)

Sauce
  • 1 organic onion, peeled and diced
  • olive oil
  • 1/4 C raisins
  • 1 C tomato sauce
  • 1/2 C wine (I used some leftover red)
  • 1 tomato, thinly sliced
  • 2 T aged balsamic vinegar
  • freshly ground salt, as needed
  • freshly ground pepper, as needed

Procedure

Meatballs
About an hour before you want to cook - or longer if you need to - place the raisins and anchovies in a small container. Pour the vinegar over the top and let stand. When you're ready to cook, place the raisins, anchovies, and vinegar in a blender or food processor and pulse a few times to break down the raisins.



Place the ground lamb in a mixing bowl along with the raisin mixture. Add the garlic and capers. Use your hands to mix everything together until well-incorporated.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.


Form meatballs and place them on the prepared baking sheet.


Place tray in the oven and bake for 35 to 40 minutes. The meatballs should be firm to the touch and lightly browned. While they bake, make the sauce.


Sauce
In a large skillet, warm a glug or two of olive oil. Add in the onions and raisins. Cook until the onions and cook until they begin to soften and turn translucent.


Pour in the sauce and wine. Stir to combine and lay the slices of tomatoes over the top. Cover the pan and simmer until the meatballs are ready. Spoon the sauce into a blender or food processor and gently pulse to break up the larger pieces. Return the sauce to the pan and simmer until thickened slightly.

Stir in the aged balsamic vinegar. Drop the cooked meatballs into the sauce. Simmer for a few minutes and turn to coat the meatballs with sauce.


To serve, place the meatballs on a platter or individual serving plates. Serve immediately.

*This blog currently has a partnership with Amazon.com in their affiliate program, which gives me a small percentage of sales if you buy a product through a link on my blog. It doesn't cost you anything more. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to go directly to Amazon.com and search for the item of your choice.

Bejeweled Roasted Quail #ChefsSecret


When we moved to the secondi section of our Ab Ovo Usque Ad Mala Thanksgiving menu, I was inspired by this passage in Crystal King's The Chef's Secret* - "She closed her eyes and savored the flavors. He himself has studded the birds wtih cloves and stuffed them with fennel.... He had spooned the pomegranate sauce over their wings, the little seeds falling onto the plate like tiny jewels" (pg. 47).


I have always likened the color of the arils to a clear ruby or garnet. And we love quail at this house. So, this was an easy pick for a main dish as I haven't roasted a turkey in probably twenty years for Thanksgiving!

 Ingredients serves 4 
(I tripled this for the dozen guests at our table)
  • 4 whole quail
  • 1 fennel, trimmed and thickly sliced
  • 1 T smoked paprika
  • 1 T sweet paprika
  • 1 t ground cumin
  • 1 t ground coriander
  • 1/2 t ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 t ground ginger
  • freshly ground salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • olive oil, as needed
  • Also needed: 100% cotton twine, roasting pan
  • For serving: pomegranate arils, Orange-Saffron Sauce

Procedure

Preheat the oven to 500°F. 

In a small bowl, mix together all the dry spices along with a few grinds of salt and pepper. Place a few slices of fennel in the quail cavity and cross its legs. Tie the twine around the legs to keep them in place.


Rub the quail with the spice blend and place in a rimmed roasting pan.

Drizzle the quail with olive oil and place in the preheated oven. Roast quail for 10 to 12 minutes. They should be nicely browned. Remove the birds from the oven. Tent with foil and let rest for another 10 minutes.


To serve, spoon the sauce onto a serving platter. Arrange the roasted birds on the plate. And scatter arils over the top. Serve immediately.

*This blog currently has a partnership with Amazon.com in their affiliate program, which gives me a small percentage of sales if you buy a product through a link on my blog. It doesn't cost you anything more. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to go directly to Amazon.com and search for the item of your choice.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Le Uova #ChefsSecret


Ask anyone and you will get a family-favorite recipe for deviled eggs. Trust me. They are easy to make, portable, and almost universally adored. I myself have even taught a version at a kids' cooking class at a local museum when we made Cracked China Deviled Eggs. I have also shared recipes for Umami Deviled Eggs, with miso and picked red onions; Herbed Deviled Eggs; and Bacon & Bleu Deviled Eggs, yes, bacon makes everything better, right?!


But most versions are fairly similar and include egg yolks and mayonnaise. For the antipasti course for our Ab Ovo Usque Ad Mala Thanksgiving menu, I was inspired by this passage in Crystal King's The Chef's Secret* - "I slaved over...eggs stuffed with their own yolks with raisins, pepper, cinnamon, orange juice, and butter" (pg. 200). No mayo, huh? Challenge accepted.

I have never piped my deviled eggs, but I wanted these to look extra pretty. I'll probably do that from now on; they looked great and were pretty quick to do!

Ingredients makes 24 deviled eggs
  • 12 large organic eggs
  • 4 T butter, softened
  • 1/4 C ricotta cheese
  • 1 T zest from an organic orange +  more for garnish
  • 1 t ground cinnamon
  • freshly ground salt, to taste
  • freshly ground pepper, to taste, plus more for garnish
  • olive oil, as needed (I probably used 1 T)
  • 24 raisins for garnish
  • fresh herbs for garnish (I used dill)
  • piping bag and tip completely optional


Procedure
 

Hardboil your eggs. Cover eggs completely with cold water by 1 to 2" in a heavy saucepan and bring to a rolling boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer eggs, covered with a lid for 30 seconds. Remove from heat and let stand - covered - 15 minutes. Transfer eggs to a bowl of ice to stop cooking. Let stand 5 minutes.

Peel eggs and halve. Remove yolks as carefully as you can so you don't split the whites. Place in a mixing bowl with all of the other ingredients. Use a hand-blender to create a smooth mixture. Mine was a little bit dry, so I added olive oil to help it come together.


Stuff the yolks back in to the whites and smoothe the tops. Pipe more filling on top, if desired. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Sprinkle with cracked black pepper, fresh dill, and orange zest. Press a raisin into the top of each egg and serve immediately. 

*This blog currently has a partnership with Amazon.com in their affiliate program, which gives me a small percentage of sales if you buy a product through a link on my blog. It doesn't cost you anything more. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to go directly to Amazon.com and search for the item of your choice.

Cauliflower-Leek Soup #ChefsSecret


For the soup course for our Ab Ovo Usque Ad Mala Thanksgiving menu, I was inspired by this passage in Crystal King's The Chef's Secret* - "Soups of cauliflower, mushroom, and leeks simmered for the better part of the day. When I finally made my way home that day I was exhausted" (pg. 200).

This soup is fairly easy to make. The longest process is to caramelize the onions and the leeks though it is largely hands-off. Don't skip this step, however, as it add a delicate sweetness to the dish.You can also make this soup the day before you need to serve it. Also, I was serving a dozen guests. You can easily halve this recipe to serve a family of four with some leftovers.

Ingredients serves 12
  • 2 organic cauliflower heads
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced, approximately 1 C while raw
  • 2 to 3 leeks, trimmed and thinly sliced, approximately 1 C while raw
  • olive oil
  • 1/2 C half and half or heavy cream
  • 3 C organic vegetable broth
  • water, as needed
  • freshly ground salt, to taste
  • freshly ground pepper, to taste and for serving
  • organic dill sprigs to garnish

Procedure

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Quarter the cauliflower heads and place on a parchment-linked baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil.

Roast until softened and beginning to brown slightly, approximately 50 to 60 minutes. In the meantime, caramelized your onions and leeks. The trick to caramelizing onions and leeks: low heat for a long time.

Place a tablespoon of olive oil in a flat bottom pan. Add the onions and leeks and stir to coat completely with oil. Spread the onions out over the bottom of the pan. Stirring occasionally, the onions will turn from white to clear, then golden and, finally, to a deep caramel brown. It might take 40 to 60 minutes.

In batches, blend cauliflower and onions with vegetable broth until smooth. Use water if it's still too thick. Place the blended cauliflower in a large soup pot. Pour in the half and half.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Serve hot or at room temperature. To serve, ladle soup into bowls. Garnish with a sprinkling of cracked black pepper and fresh dill.

*This blog currently has a partnership with Amazon.com in their affiliate program, which gives me a small percentage of sales if you buy a product through a link on my blog. It doesn't cost you anything more. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to go directly to Amazon.com and search for the item of your choice.

Quince-Apple Mostarda #ChefsSecret


Though a cognate for what comes out of a bright yellow squeeze bottle, this relish has very little in common with that Easter egg-colored condiment. Mostarda is a chunky agrodolce (sour-sweet) sauce made with whatever fruit you have on hand and is a delicious topping for everything from cheese to roasted meats.

Inspired by this passage in Crystal King's The Chef's Secret*, I added two different mostarde to our Ab Ovo Usque Ad Mala Thanksgiving menu. "'The mostarda you probably know is made with all sorts of fruits, such as figs, raisins, and pears, but in Venezia the mostarda is made with quince, which you can't always find in Roma. Bartolomeo would always lament how much better the mostarda was in Venezia'" (pg. 153).


I served the two different mostarde with three different game sausages. This quince-apple mostarda went nicely with the duck and the boar sausages while my cranberry-orange mostarda complemented the venison sausages really well.


Oh, and if you aren't familiar with quince, it has a very short season here. They are golden-hued till you cook them. Then they take on unique shades of pink, orange, and rose. They are beautiful and I love them. Many people have commented that they don't know what a quince is or they haven't ever had a quince. If you're unfamiliar, here's a piece I wrote for Edible Monterey Bay back in 2014: Queen of Quince Takes Her Show on the Road. Whenever I can get my hands on the fruit, I scoop them up.

Ingredients 

  • 2 to 3 quince (I used the other ones for something else, after they were poached)
  • 1 small onion, peeled and diced (approximately 1 C)
  • 2 to 3 small apples, diced (approximately 1-1/2 C)
  • 2 T raw organic honey
  • 1/4 C vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar)
  • 1/4 C water
  • 1 T black mustard seeds
  • sea salt to taste
Procedure

Rinse the quince and place them in a large pot. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Simmer uncovered for 75 to 90 minutes until the quince is tender. The fruit will turn golden; the longer you poach it, the more pinkish it becomes.

'
Slice drained, poached quince in half. Remove the cores, stems, and peels. Cut into cubes.


Place all of the ingredients in a heavy-bottom pan. Simmer for 50-60 minutes, until the onions are translucent and the sauce syrupy. To finish, season to taste with salt. This keeps in the fridge for two weeks or so.


*This blog currently has a partnership with Amazon.com in their affiliate program, which gives me a small percentage of sales if you buy a product through a link on my blog. It doesn't cost you anything more. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to go directly to Amazon.com and search for the item of your choice.

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