Archive for January, 2012

Tea, a cookie and a delicious book

This is the time of year in Vermont when the going gets tough, so the tough get reading.

Yes, cooking is wonderful with the heat and aromas from the stove warming the kitchen. But it is also warm and wonderful to curl up with a cup of steaming tea, a sugar cookie and a good book, especially if it centers around food. So “Fork on the Road” readers meet my other passion “The Book Jam“, a blog I write with fellow book lover and good friend Lisa Christie. The post that follows was published on The Book Jam on January 17, 2012  and reviews two of my favorite recent foodie novels. I just couldn’t resist “reserving” them to you here.


Reprinted from The Book Jam, January 17, 2012

Brrrr. Baby, it’s cold outside. No matter. These frigid temperatures make it all the better to cozy up with a book. In bed. Under a pile of blankets. Wearing very thick socks. Mittens, however, are no good, as they would get in the way of turning the pages.

So if these below zero temperatures make you hungry as you struggle to keep your body temperature at 98.6, then we have a couple of titles to fill you up. The best news of all is that they are both calorie free.
White  Truffles in Winter by N. M. Kelby (2011). Luscious. If you could never read the words trufflechampagnelavender honeyand fois gras enough, then add this novel to your list.

In this appetizing story, author Kelby imagines the last days of the famous French chef Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935). It’s clear that she’s thoroughly researched and included many details from his illustrious career (Escoffier was the designer of the Titanic’s menus, one of  Sarah Bernhardt’s lovers, a business partner of the hotelier Cesar Ritz, the creator of the modern restaurant kitchen layout, and the designer of such immortal recipes as “Peach Melba” and “Cherries Jubilee”). But this talented writer pushes further and imagines that which “is left unsaid,” believing it to be the most interesting part of  any life.

The first pages unfold with Escoffier’s ailing wife, Delphine, wishing for him to create a dish of her very own. Though they have been married for decades, he has never named one after her. They are both dying and it is in their family kitchen that a lifetime of love is explored, remembered, savored, and interpreted for the first time.

This is more than just a book for food lovers. It’s a sensuous, poetic story that brings details from this era of history to life so that readers can truly taste it.

The Hundred Foot Journey (2010) by Richard C. Morais. How did I miss this toothsome treasure when it was first published? Some reviewers have described it as Bollywood meets “Ratatouille.” That’s fitting as this fictional story chronicles the development of a talented chef from his boyhood in India through a brief adolescence in England to a full-fledged culinary career in France. But there is more to it than that.

The main character, Hassan, rises above cultural prejudices, crippling accidents, and jealous competitors to shine in his art despite a cut-throat working environment. Culinary enthusiasts will savor the descriptions of oysters (who knew they could be so tricky?!), French kitchens and country markets. Francophiles will love reading about the Alps and villages of the Jura. But the story really shines once Hassan reaches Paris, the pinnacle of all things epicurean. As a former senior editor at Forbes magazine, author Morais keeps the story moving while seamlessly explaining the fiscal realities, risks, and politics involved in running a multi-million dollar restaurant. This book is an education in flavor, talent, and another tantalizing take on the history of fine dining. Read it and eat!

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Mushrooms in afternoon light

Mushrooms in a late afternoon light

Some thoughts from Monday night:

I have a favorite pot. It’s green enamelled cast iron and chimes like a dinner bell when I clang it on the side with a spoon. I just love this sound because it means soup or stew is simmering away and that it’s almost time to get out a bowl. It also brings back memories and reminds me to be grateful.

This pot has cooked soft food for little babies, made batches of chili for sleepover parties, and whipped up daubes for more grown-up dinner guests. It brings lots of flavor and comfort into our lives. Plus, it’s the perfect size. It always makes just enough.

If I had to leave my house in a hurry – say the river below us flooded, or a wildfire was sweeping though the woods up on the hill – I’d take it with me, like a trusty pioneer woman. I’d carry it under one arm, my kids, cats and dog under the other. Then I’d holler for my husband and leave everything else behind. Well, maybe I’d call for a ladle, too.

One afternoon my pot fell out of the back of the car because I’d unknowingly left the hatch open (oops!). It bounced out onto the asphalt and rolled off into the tall grass on the side of the road, all without me realizing it. I came back later that night with a flashlight and walked up and down the sides of that town highway, searching for it, calling for it like a lost pet. When I finally found it, overturned and emptied of its contents, there was just one little nick out of its shiny green enamel. I picked it up and kissed it. Do other people have items in their kitchen that elicit such strong feelings of attachment? I really wonder.

Favorite pot, favorite mushroom soup

Right now, it’s all in one piece and bubbling with a delicious mushroom soup. The aroma of fresh thyme and the earthy scent of the mushrooms are permeating the kitchen, filling it with the smells of a forest. At the end of this especially cold Vermont winter’s day, I’m grateful to have my family, the animals, and a pot full of one of my very favorite winter vegetable soups on the stove. I think this is the true meaning of delicious: we’re all in one piece, in one place and enough dinner is heating in a trusty pot.

A trail of herbs on the cutting board

A dollop of dilly yogurt

“Winter Thyme” Mushroom Soup with Dilly Yogurt

This is an immensely flavorful soup full of fresh mushrooms and thyme. It’s simple to prepare on a weekenight and is quickly dressed up with a silky dollop of dilly yogurt. There are only a handful of ingredients and the technique is basic. Nothing fancy, just the grounding smell of mushrooms wafting about as you stir and simmer them in broth. It’s also relatively low fat with a mere three tablespoons of olive oil and a cup of low-fat milk. We make many batches in our kitchen every January. It just tastes right at this time of year. Serves 6

For the soup:

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 medium shallots, diced

1 small onion, diced

1 1/2 lbs mushrooms, wiped and sliced, keep on those stems! (you can use all white button mushrooms or mix in a half of a pound of a more exotic variety if you like. Sometimes I use “Italian Brown”)

1 tablespoon fresh thyme (you may 1 teaspoon of dried thyme if you’re in a pinch – I’ve done it before)

5 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons sherry

5 cups of chicken or vegetable stock (I use Better Than Bouillon brand)

1 cup lowfat milk

salt and pepper to taste

For the Dilly Yogurt Garnish:

1/2 cup non-fat Greek yogurt

1 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped

a pinch of salt

Place your (favorite!) soup pot over medium heat and warm the olive oil.

Add the shallots and onions and cook, stirring often until they are soft (but not browning), about 3 minutes. Stir in the mushrooms and increase the heat a little so that the mushrooms start to release their liquid. Cook the mixture for about five more minutes, being mindful that the ingredients don’t stick to the pot. A little browning is OK but burning isn’t.

When the mushrooms have softened and started to release their juices, add the flour and blend it in, stirring for about 1 minute. Then pour in the sherry and sprinkle in the thyme. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring, constantly and scraping the bottom of the pan, for about 3 more minutes.

Stir in the stock and bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat and simmer until it is slightly thickened, about 15 minutes. While the soup is cooking, combine the ingredients for the dilly yogurt in a small bowl. Set aside.

When the soup has thickened slightly, using a hand blender or a food processor, puree until it is the desired consistency (I like to make sure to leave bits and pieces of mushrooms visible in the broth). Now stir in the milk and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Ladle into bowls and top with a dollop of dilly yogurt.

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