12/07/2017

"This Must Be the Place" for Brutti-Boni


Just finished This Must Be the Place, a novel by Maggie O'Farrell.  She certainly knows how to spin an intriguing story or two.  Or three, or four.  They kept coming, interconnected, and at different dates, and places, leaping back and forth between 1986 and 2016, with the various characters, though most were a recurring group.  I found it a bit confusing, and was continually shuffling around in the book to figure things out and understand what was going on.  Still O'Farrell keeps us fascinated throughout.  She is such a good writer.  I've read a number of her novels at this point and loved them all.   From the Publisher:

"Meet Daniel Sullivan, a man with a complicated life. A New Yorker living in the wilds of Ireland, he has children he never sees in California, a father he loathes in Brooklyn, and a wife, Claudette, who is a reclusive ex–film star given to pulling a gun on anyone who ventures up their driveway. Claudette was once the most glamorous and infamous woman in cinema before she staged her own disappearance and retreated to blissful seclusion in an Irish farmhouse.

But the life Daniel and Claudette have so carefully constructed is about to be disrupted by an unexpected discovery about a woman Daniel lost touch with twenty years ago. This revelation will send him off-course, far away from wife, children, and home. Will his love for Claudette be enough to bring him back?"


 Brutti-Boni, according to Ruth Reichl in Gourmet Today, means "ugly but good" cookies, which I thought was a nice metaphor for life, the good with the not so pretty.  She says they "are found in many regions of Italy, usually made from finely ground almonds in a meringue base.  But the Mattei bakery in Prato, near Florence, makes (and spells) them in typical Tuscan style.  The egg whites are only lightly beaten, and the nuts, which include a handful of pine nuts that add a more complex, creamy flavor, are coarser.  These crisp, chewy cookies were shared with us by the authority on Italian cooking, Faith Heller Winninger."

Thank you Ruth.  I made them first with almonds, as per the recipe and the second time with macadamia nuts.  Both times with 1 cup of cacao nibs subbed in for part of the nuts (since we have a lot around here, and they're great).  Have to say that I actually liked the almond ones better.  Sorry mac nuts.


Brutti-Boni Cacao
Adapted from Gourmet Today, edited by Ruth Reichl

1 cup unblanched whole almonds, toasted
1 cup cacao nibs (or you could use almonds as in the original, if you can't get nibs)
1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
1 1/3 cups sugar
2-3 large egg whites
2 tablespoons cake flour
1/8 teaspoon salt

Put a rack in the middle of oven and preheat oven to 350 F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Pulse almonds, cacao nibs and pine nuts with sugar in a food processor until coarsely chopped.  Lightly beat 2 egg whites with a whisk and add to nuts, along with flour and salt.  Process until evenly moist. (Dough should be slightly sticky but firm enough to hold together.  If it is too dry, lightly beat remain egg white and blend into dough 1 teaspoon at a time.)


Drop heaping teaspoons of dough about 1/2 inch apart onto lined baking sheets.  Gently squeeze each one with your fingers to form a rough cone shape.

Bake cookies in batches until barely browned and still moist in center, 12 to 15 minutes.  Cool cookies for 5 minutes on sheet, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.


The cookies keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week.  If they last that long.  I mailed some off to the Mainland for gifts, and we ate the rest.  Ugly perhaps, but very tasty.  This post will be linked to Weekend Cooking, hosted by Beth Fish Reads.

12/05/2017

First Chapter - First Paragraph Tuesday Intros

I'm doing something new today - First Chapter ~ First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, which is hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea, where bloggers post the first paragraph(s) or introduction of a book they are currently reading or planning to read sometime soon.


I have noticed some stunning beginnings in my reading years, though the books don't always live up to them. My contribution today is This Must be the Place, by Maggie O'Farrell.  I'm just into the second chapter, but it's quite good so far.

11/29/2017

Lamb in Cotes-Du-Rhone for Cook the Books


 I have enjoyed all of the books by Martin Walker, in his series featuring Bruno, Chief of Police.  The Patriarch, is our current selection for Cook the Books Club.  However, a disclaimer here - many of us, myself included, like to start reading books written in a series at the beginning, as further along, the returning characters have undergone some previous development.  I suppose authors don't like to repeat themselves too much.  So, you may want to go back and read the first first.

In this novel Bruno is invited to the chateau of a boyhood hero, a popular leader in the French Resistance, for a lavish birthday celebration.  Of course a murder ensues and our village police chief gets involved.  It looks to be an accident, but Bruno thinks otherwise.  Family secrets and tragedy are exposed.  Also causing trouble in the region, an animal rights activist is protecting deer without any means of keeping them safe, outraging local hunters. 

For this, as in his earlier novels, the food and wine descriptions were plentiful and tempting, however the only difficulty was in narrowing it down to what might be available, or in tune with the season.  I decided to go with a take-off from one of Chief Bruno's very first mentions, a roast of lamb marinated in wine with herbs.  Not being able to secure the Monbazillac, I went with a nice, earthy red Cotes-Du-Rhone from Saint Cosme instead, and made a braise of  lamb shoulder stew chunks.

11/16/2017

Roasted Roots for Blood at the Root

 
Blood at the Root, by Peter Robinson, is the 9th in his Inspector Banks mystery series.  I don't like to admit it really, but a male author's perspective is frequently coming directly from Mars (just my personal opinion here) and I often find the writing of women more simpatico. It would be obvious to most why Banks' marriage is failing.  The real mystery is the length of time his wife put up with things.  But his problems, marital, and job related tend to get in the way of the murder solve, and there is a lack of real resolution at the end.  We're supposed to read the next book apparently.   All that aside, I know some of you are total Peter Robinson fans, and actually the plot was quite intriguing with the supposed "good boy" turning out to be something else altogether.  Neo Nazis, race riots and drug exporting behind it all.

As the Publisher's blurb says:
 
"In the long shadows of an alley a young man is murdered by an unknown assailant. The shattering echoes of his death will be felt throughout a small provincial community on the edge—because the victim was far from innocent, a youth whose sordid secret life was a tangle of bewildering contradictions. Now a dedicated policeman beset by his own tormenting demons must follow the leads into the darkest corners of the human mind in order to catch a killer."

11/02/2017

Pacific Spinach Cannelloni and Nero Wolfe


 Don't you love discovering new authors and new foods?   Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Mysteries have just done it.  He's been around (1886-1975) for quite a few years, but new to me all the same.  The detective hero, Nero Wolfe, head of his own agency,  has been described as "overweight, epicurean and orchid-loving."  And I love how he spends as much time with the orchids as he does solving mysteries and helping his chef, Fritz, to perfect various culinary creations.  In the first of this volume, two novels in one, Black Orchiids and The Silent Speaker, Fritz was making some special sausages, saucisse minuit.  Later on he and Nero, on the advice of a Southern girl, material witness in an ongoing murder investigation, tried adding chitlins to a batch of corned beef hash, in a quest to solve that cooking problem, of nearly equal importance to solving the identity of the murderer.

10/28/2017

Cacao Nibs and Mac Nut Brittle



No Tricks, just treats today! Saturday morning project!  My first experiment in cacao nib brittle making, or brittle making period.  I found 4 recipes to experiment around with, and this is the first, maybe the only.  The kind of guinea pig I don't mind being..  This one was courtesy of  Marc Matsumoto at No Recipes. The only change I made was adding in macadamia nuts. His notes are excellent, so I've included them as well.  My notes and changes are in pink.

10/01/2017

A Death in Vienna - Pastry Disaster

 I just finished A Death in Vienna by Frank Tallis, the debut novel for a new series, and was quite impressed with his unique combination of the history of psychology and early 20th century Vienna, romance and mystery.  This is the era of Freud, Klimt and Mahler. There is a new wave of artistic as well as scientific innovation, contending with old school thought, the reigning, male dominated conservatism which categorized abused and traumatized women as "hysterics" and often had them committed to hospitals for the mentally ill.  It was also an age in which antisemitic feeling was gaining ground.

This then is the setting for a murder, and the fledgling psychologist hero, Max Liebermann, assists his police detective friend in finding the totally unusual and unexpected solution.

A beautiful medium is killed in mysterious circumstances – a murder that couldn’t have been committed by anyone alive, from all the available evidence.  The supernatural is invoked, but of course, appearances can be deceiving.  A fascinating, delightful read and highly recommended.

9/17/2017

Bird's Nest Pudding for the Farmer Boy


Our latest Cook the Books Club selection was Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder, her charming, somewhat bucolic, and idealized novel of early American farm life, as seen through the eyes of a young boy. Mostly biographical, as it was based upon her husband's upbringing in upstate New York.

I enjoyed the story, with all of the homegrown vegetables, grains, and meat, the home cooking, preserving of food, weaving, spinning, and their whole life of self reliance and  living on and from the land.  Even using the straw for hats, leather for shoes, etc.  Talk about going back to the land.  We have come so far from that sort of life. Refreshing to read about.

Even the "bad boys" at school get their comeuppance.  This is definitely not a dysfunctional family.  Though of course we know there were lots of those at that time as well as in our own.  She spared her young readers, many of whom likely wished themselves on the little house planet.

8/08/2017

The Corsican Caper and Mashed Limas

 

The Corsican Caper is another of Peter Mayles' light, summer reading type thrillers, with beaucoup good food and wine mingled throughout.  I have been enjoying his various "Capers" with a few yet to read.  Don't expect anything deep, or even thought-provoking here.  Just frothy entertainment.  Despite which, you will get lots of cooking inspiration, and ideas for wine selections.  From the Publisher: In The Corsican Caper, "Master sleuth, Sam Levitt....investigates a case of deadly intrigue among the Riviera's jet set."  His good friend, billionaire Francis Reboul, is being stalked and pressured to sell his villa to a Russian tycoon, who stops at nothing in getting what he wants.