Sunday, May 7, 2017

"Voracious" & "The Book Club Cook Book" - Red Flannel Hash and Angel Food Cake for National Library Week (April 9-April 15)

Date I made these recipes – April 9 – April 15, 2017 – National Library Week

Voracious – A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way Through Great Books by Cara Nicoletti
Published by Little, Brown and Company
ISBN: 978-0-316-24299-8; © 2015
Recipe:  Red Flannel Hash (from the short story "The Best Girlfriend You Never Had" by Pam Houston) – p. 261-262

The Book Club Cook Book – Recipes and Food For Thought From Your Book Club's Favorite Books and Authors by Judy Gelman and Vicki Levy Krupp
Published by Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin
ISBN: 1-58542-322-X; © 2004
Purchased at Arc's Value Village Thrift Stores, Richfield, MN
Recipe:  Mrs. Nesbitt's Angel Food Cake with Lemon Cream from the book No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt -  The Home Front in World War II by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

How is it possible that I just this year learned about National Library Week?  How?  Because I tell you what folks, the title of one of today's cookbooks, Voracious [reader] fits me to a "t."

Not too long ago, my brother commented on how he couldn't believe the speed with which I plowed through my book stacks as a child, and I wish I could show you film because his imitation of me was pretty hilarious.  According to his re-enactment, I would speed read a book, slam it down, pick up another, rinse and repeat.  I wish I had kept track of how many books I read but if memory serves, the answer is "a lot."

My love of books was such that when my 10th grade English teacher asked us to think about a college major, I thought to myself "Well, I like to read and write and so English, final answer."  Three years later, I enrolled at Northern Michigan University as an English major and I never looked back.

Let me just say that the sheer volume of reading to be done as an English major made me happy that I was an unofficial student of the Evelyn Woods Speed Reading method[1]otherwise, I would have died on the vine.  Most of my classes were comprehensive reviews of literature from either a country (American Lit, British Lit) or an author such as Shakespeare, Chaucer, Milton, etc.  And by "comprehensive," I mean that we ready everything – everything - by these authors such that to this day, Shakespeare, who is most people's favorite, remains among my least favored, certain works excepted, for example, I loved Hamlet. (And if you ever get a chance to see the movie Rosencrantz and Gildenstern Are Dead, you must.  In Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are childhood friends of the Prince of Denmark and are only briefly mentioned.  This movie expands their roles and turns them into comedic characters.  My husband and I love this movie.)

Many years after these exercises in torture, I enrolled in law school.  Law school also requires a lot of reading (and analyzing but in a different way) and thanks to some friends who had gone before me, I did not bat an eyelash when each professor assigned 200 pages or more of reading to be done by the next class.  You should know that sometimes "the next class" was the next day.  Since each law school student took four classes a semester (sometimes five), that meant that we read 800 pages a night (4 classes x 200 pages per night).  Yes, you may insert a "wow" emoji here.

Alas, because all this class reading took up so much of my time, reading for pleasure was difficult and my library use decreased dramatically.  That made me sad but it was only a little blip in the scheme of things.  In fact, let's take a look-back at my library history starting with grade school.

Believe it or not folks, my tiny little Catholic school had also a tiny little library.  To this day (many, many years later), I still remember the layout and recall also, that I read every Nancy Drew book there was to be read.  Those Nancy Drew books pretty much got the ball rolling for me and libraries.

My next library was the town's public library that was housed in the combined junior high and high school.  I can't say as I remember too many townspeople coming in to check out books, but I sure did.  One of my mom's friends told her that when her daughter checked out a book about the circus, my name was all over the borrower card. I have vague recollections of the book and wish I could remember it so I could see if I could acquire it after all these years.

By the way, please tell me that you remember "borrower cards?"  Please.  If not, Google that term and you'll see exactly what I mean.  Borrower cards were lined paper cards that were housed in the front of the book in a little - what shall we call it – pouch?  The borrower in question wrote his/her name on the card and the librarian stamped the card with the due date and kept it so they would know when the book was due.  The librarian also stamped the "pocket" with the due date so the borrower knew when the book was due.  When the book was returned, the card went back inside its little pocket all set and ready to go for the next borrower.  It sounds complicated but it was really very easy.

When I was in 12th grade, I became a student librarian, and let me tell you, a lot of power and authority came with the [use of that] stamp!  I loved stamping books!  Loved it.  Stamping [checking out] books was way more fun than shelving them or typing up library classification cards for the card catalog.[2]

In college, and in law school, my semesters were spent reading assigned books for my classes so reading for pleasure (and borrowing from the library) was out of the question.  But once the semester was over, and with apologies to DJ Khaled, all I did was "read, read, read, read, read."  In college, I took perverse pleasure in reading the "trashiest" (my mother's words) novels I could find; my mother's literature selection was pretty tame.  It didn't really matter the book's topic so long as it was entertaining and believe me, after reading serious literature during a 16-week semester, just about everything was entertaining.  I repeated this same process while on break from law school although this time around my "trashy" novel selection was pretty tame and not coincidentally, focused on law or law-enforcement related novels.

These days, I am happy to report that I am devoted to my local St. Paul Library (housed in a beautiful Carnegie library building) and am also a Friend(s) of the St. Paul Library (Friends are donors/supporters).  From time to time, I give to and borrow from the Hennepin County (Minneapolis) Library although the St. Paul system is closer to me.  (Happily, one card serves two library systems as well as the Ramsey County system of St. Paul.)   Right now, I finishing up the second of two books I borrowed and am on the wait list for the latest David Baldacci novel.  I have no problems with putting a book on hold and waiting for it although some authors seriously need to cut down on their pages because it can be a challenge to get through 650+ pages in three weeks! Just sayin'...

And now we come full circle to two cookbooks related to books and reading and I thought it would be perfect to make something from each in observe of National Library Week.  True confession:  I was/am way behind schedule on cooking and blogging, oh well.

Each book's Table of Content includes books that I read (borrowed from the library or purchased) as well as some I wish I had read.  Let's take a look:

Voracious – 23 books read out of 50
A sampling of what I read includes:
  • Pippi Longstocking (Recipe: Buttermilk Pancakes – p. 64)
  • Nancy Drew (Of course!  Note there are 64 N.D. books total) (Recipe:  Double Chocolate Walnut Sundae – p. 19)
  • Anne of Green Gables (Recipe:  Salted Chocolate Caramels – p. 47)
  • Homer Price (This book is a "classic" from the 1940's and recalls fictional character Homer Price's very bad but very funny day working in a doughnut shop) (Recipe:  Old-Fashioned Sour Cream Donuts – p. 53)
  • Lord of the Flies (Recipe:  Nope, not even going to go there.  If you read the book, you can probably guess what the recipe was.)
  • Great Expectations (Recipe: Pork Pie – p. 124)
  • Moby Dick (I hated this book.  During the course of my high school and college English major studies, I think I was assigned this book to read three times, maybe four.  Hated it then, hate it now.  Hate.) (Recipe: Clam Chowder – p. 130)
  • A Confederacy of Dunces (Hil-larious!) (Recipe:  Jelly Donuts which will make sense to you if you read the book – p. 191)

The Book Club Cookbook – a paltry 30 out of 100?  How is that possible?  (Likely answer:  because I haven't been in a book club for a couple of decades?)  A sampling of what I read includes:
  • The Da Vinci Code (Recipe:  Rosemary Spaghetti – p. 85, and Death By Chocolate – p. 85)
  • The Devil Wears Prada (Never, ever did I picture Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly while reading this book and yet it works, right?) (Recipe:  Sun-Dried Tomato and Goat Cheese Pizza – p. 95)
  • The Grapes of Wrath (Recipe: Artichoke-Jalapeno Spread with  Tomato Bruschetta Topping – p. 167)
  • Nickel and Dimed (Recipe: Mozzarella Sticks – p. 300)
  • Jane Eyre (Childhood favorite) (Recipe:  Walnut Cheese Sandwiches – p. 210)[3]
  • My Antonia (Recipe: Spiced Plum Kolaches – p. 281)
  • The Poisonwood Bible (Recipe: Tropical Fruit Salad – p. 353)
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany (Recipe:  Banana Pineapple Smoothie – p. 363)
  • A Walk in the Woods (I have not seen the movie and don't plan to because the book stands on its own.  It's side-splittingly funny.) (Recipe:  Very Yellow Lemon Meringue Pie – p. 473.  By the way, this was a strong contender for a while.)
  • The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down (Hmong Eggrolls with Hot Dipping Sauce – p. 410)

If you have not heard of or read the last book, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, you must get on board right now.  MUST.  It's the story of a Hmong family that includes a daughter with epilepsy.  This family did not understand epilepsy but believed in their hearts that her ailment was because "The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down."  For the longest time, they tried traditional Hmong methods to rid the daughter's body of this spirit, but when that didn't work, they sought out western medicine assistance with mixed results.  This book chronicles the family's quest to fix their daughter and the inevitable clash of east meets west.  It was both heartbreaking and enlightening and I loved it.

Even though I could wax poetic about even more books included in these two cookbooks, we'd be here all day so let's get on with my selections:

From Voracious, I selected "Red Flannel Hash."  I love beets (thus, the "red flannel" and I love hash.  I opted not to make the poached eggs accompanying this dish but will include the recipe anyway; the hash itself is very filling. This recipe was inspired by the story, "The Best Girlfriend You Never Had."  I have not read this story, nor am I likely to read it, but this should not dissuade you from trying out both the recipe and the story. 

I have to confess that I also never read the book, Charlotte's Web (I know, I know:  what is wrong with me?  In my defense, this was just not in my children's literature library), and was sorely tempted to make Pea and Bacon Soup – p. 75-77 – but could not bring myself to do so because, you know...bacon.

From The Book Club Cookbook, I selected the absolutely delicious "Mrs. Nesbitt's Angel Food Cake" inspired by the book No Ordinary Time:  Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt – the Home Front in World War II by noted historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.  I love Doris and her books but this book weighs in at 759 pages and that many pages requires a time commitment I don't have right now.

I hope it didn't escape your attention that I have not read either of these two writings which is somewhat cosmic and certainly not planned, but there it is.

Before I get into the recipes themselves, let me just say that I think a James Beard Award is in order for the company(s) that decided to separate egg whites and egg yolks and to put each product in a carton for ease in use.  Brilliant!  Smashing! Capital!  Why am I so excited? Well, you need 10-12 egg whites for the angel food cake and the thought of separating all those eggs, never mind trying to figure out a use for the leftover yolks gave me pause.  Pause, I tell you!  You can find these liquid egg whites in most grocery store's eggs and dairy sections. 

Here then are your literary recipes both of which were fantastic.  As to the books, I waxed nostalgic over many of the titles in each but just don't have time to reread them all as I have plenty of books on my "To Read" list for this year.  As always, there are too many books, not enough time.

And although I am terribly behind on posting this salute to libraries, I once again have to commend our public library system and all the librarians and support staff working in them.  "Free" is a good thing – free access, free lending, free classes and services and frankly, free education.  When I was a youngster in 7th grade, I had to give a speech for a class and I'll never forget my theme:  "Reading is your road to learning." (Feel free to quote me!)

Go "learn!"

Red Flannel Hash – Serves 4 generously
For the hash
1 ½ pounds fingerling potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes
2 medium beets, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes
1 pound thick-cut bacon, cut into chunks
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
4 thyme sprigs
For the poached eggs
¼ cup white vinegar
4 large eggs
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Set a steamer basked over a large pot filled with enough water to just reach the bottom of the basket.  Place the fingerling potato and sweet potato cubes in the basket and bring the water to a boil over medium heat.  Cover the pot and steam the potatoes for 7 minutes.  Transfer to a bowl.

Next, steam the beet cubes for 12 minutes.  (Ann's Note:  You may want to steam all vegetables a bit longer than directed to ensure doneness.)

While the beets are steaming, fry the bacon in a cast-iron or other heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat until lightly crisp. (Ann's Note:  I've cooked thick-cut bacon many times but it doesn't crisp the way regular bacon does.  It still tasted great but I don't think it ended up "lightly crisp" and I cooked it a long time.)  Add the chopped onion and minced garlic and cook over low heat.  Once the beets are steamed, add them to the skillet, along with all of the potatoes and the thyme.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are crispy, about 20 minutes.  Discard the thyme sprigs.

To poach the eggs
Fill a sauté pan or skillet with water.  Add the vinegar.  Heat the vinegar-water over medium heat until very hot, but do not let the water come to a boil, or even to a simmer.  You want it to be at the point where bubbles are forming at the bottom of the pan and steam is rising from the surface.

Crack 1 egg into a ramekin and create a whirlpool in the water with a spoon.  Gently slip the egg into the water and let it cook for 20 seconds.  After 20 seconds you can start very gently nudging the white around the yolk.  If the egg is sticking to the bottom of the pan, just use a spatula to loosen it. Cook for about 3 minutes – the white should look cooked, but you should still be able to see the yolk wiggling around inside.  Lift it out with a slotted spoon, place it on a paper towel to drain, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve on top of the red flannel hash.

Repeat with the remaining eggs.

Mrs. Nesbitt's Angel Food Cake with Lemon Cream – Yield:  8 to 10 servings
For the cake
1 ¼ cups egg whites (10-12 eggs) (Ann's Note:  Make your life easier and buy egg whites in a carton found in your store's refrigerator section.  You will need just over one carton for this endeavor so buy two.)
1 ½ teaspoons cream of tartar
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
½ teaspoon almond extract
1 cup sifted cake flour
¼ teaspoon salt
For the Lemon Cream
½ cup heavy cream
¼ cup confectioner's sugar
½ cup lowfat lemon yogurt

Preheat oven to 375F.  Beat the egg whites until foamy.  Add the cream of tartar, then gradually add 1 cup of the sugar, beating continually, until the whites stand up in peaks.  Beat in the almond extract.  Sift flour.  Sift together the remaining ½ cup sugar, flour, and salt.  Gently fold flour mixture into egg whites, ½ cup at a time, just until flour is moistened.  (Ann's Confession:  I used my Kitchen Aid and might have over-folded by just a bit but it didn't seem to matter as the cake baked perfectly."

Pour the batter into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan and bake 30-35 minutes, until the top feels springy to the touch.  Invert the cake pan and stand it on a bottle to cool.

When cake is completely cooled, loosen its edges by running a spatula or thin knife around the edge of the pan.  Gently shake the cake onto a serving plate.  Top with Lemon Cream and garnish with strawberries.

To make the Lemon Cream, beat the whipping cream and confectioners' sugar until soft peaks form.  Fold in the lemon yogurt.  Serve immediately.

Ann's Note:  Damn, this was good! 

[1] Remember Evelyn Woods Speed Reading courses?  When I was growing up, Evelyn advertised her services everywhere – comic books, magazines, newspapers.  I am totally joking about speed reading although I do set a brisk pace when it comes to reading books.  At any rate, those of a certain age will hopefully get this reference.  Please feel free to chuckle.

[2] Three words:  Dewey Decimal System. Loved it then, love it now.  That is all.
[3] First, I am doing you a solid by not requiring that you name all the authors of these books.  You're welcome.  If you were an English major though, it was/is practically a degree requirement such that all these years later, I can still rattle off most authors, even contemporary authors.  And as an aside, I'll never forget reading Jane Eyre for a high school class – maybe 10th grade – and then getting tested on it.  One of the questions asked was "What was the name of Mr. Rochester's horse?" and I wrote "I don't know.  Trigger?"  This was absolutely incorrect but it made my teacher laugh.  Why?  Because at the time, singer and actor Roy Rogers and his wife, Dale Evans, were very famous "Western" stars and Trigger was Roy's horse.  Once again, those of a certain age...

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