Sunday, February 18, 2018

Announcing our next four book selections

While we are all still traveling through time with chocolate, we have also traveled into the next several months to plan the upcoming editions of our book club. Here are the next four book selections:

Deb (Kahakai Kitchen) opens the series with the memoir Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China by Fuchsia Dunlop

I had heard so many great things about Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China and its author Fuchsia Dunlop that when it was a Kindle Deal several months ago, I snapped it up. To prompt myself to read it and not let it languish on my TBR pile, I chose it as our April/May 2018 Cook the Books selection. 

Dunlop is a British cook and food writer who specializes in Chinese cuisine—in fact she was the first Westerner to train as a chef at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine and she has spent much time exploring China and its food. She has four award-winning cookbooks focused on Chinese cooking; Land of Plenty (originally published as Sichuan Cookery in the U.K.), Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook, Every Grain of Rice, and Land of Fish and Rice. 

Published in 2008, Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper chronicles her experiences cooking and eating in China. From the book blurb:
An extraordinary memoir of an Englishwoman’s attempt to immerse herself in Chinese food and Chinese culinary culture. In the course of her decade-long journey, Fuchsia undergoes an apprenticeship at a Sichuanese cooking school, where she is the only foreign student in a class of nearly fifty young Chinese men; attempts, hilariously, to persuade Chinese people that ‘Western food’ is neither ‘simple’ nor ‘bland’; and samples a multitude of exotic ingredients, including sea cucumber, civet cat, scorpion, rabbit-heads and the ovarian fat of the snow frog.
It’s been quite a while since Cook the Books has traveled to China and I am looking forward to seeing the dishes that this book inspires!

Deadline for this selection is Thursday, May 31, 2018

For the June/July edition, Claudia (Honey from Rock) chose Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl 

Ruth Reichl, recipient of four James Beard awards as well as numerous other prizes, has written five memoirs and a novel, done TV shows and edited several cookbooks. Out of those, I frequently refer to my Gourmet Today. Her memoir Garlic and Sapphires stands out as my favorite of her memoirs. 

From her Publishers: 
As the New York Times's restaurant critic for most of the 1990s, Reichl had what some might consider the best job in town; among her missions were evaluating New York City's steakhouses, deciding whether Le Cirque deserved four stars and tracking down the best place for authentic Chinese cuisine in Queens. Thankfully, the rest of us can live that life vicariously through this vivacious, fascinating memoir. 
I love the way she assumed various disguises to find out how all sorts of customers were really treated — not attracting special service for a well-known critic — and she pulls no punches. She can be truly hilarious, and is such a descriptive and evocative food writer.

Deadline for contributing your post is Tuesday, July 31, 2018

For the August/September edition, Debra (Eliot's Eats) has chosen Sourdough by Robin Sloan  

I'm excited to announce the August/September selection: Sourdough by Robin Sloan (September 2017). A recent NPR report by Jason Sheehan describes the novel in this way: 
Think of it like Candide without the pirates. And set in San Francisco. Wait, that's not quite right. It's like Fight Club meets The Great British Bake Off. It's like Fight Club if no one got punched. It's like Fight Club if Fight Club was written by someone concerned with a different, quieter kind of revolution, and if Fight Club was all about bread.      
With a review and description like this, I cannot wait to read it! I was obviously taken with the title but was absolutely and totally intrigued when I read the publisher's blurb. The main character, Lois, is a software engineer working at a robotics company. Two of her few friends run a diner that Lois orders-out from every day. They unexpectedly close up shop but ask Lois to take care of their sourdough starter. 

She's not a baker but this sourdough gift starts her on a new journey and brings her into contact with the area farmers market vendors. Intrigued? Remember, Lois is a software designer and there is a sci-fi/technology twist to the plot. Sourdough is Sloan's second novel, a followup to the well-received Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore (October 2012). He currently is a partner in Fat Gold, a California Olive Oil Company. Hope you enjoy this wild ride of a read. I am anticipating lots of yeasty recipes. I personally, am ordering some starter now. 

The deadline for Sourdough is Sunday, September 30, 2018.

To round up the list of selections Simona (briciole) picked My Cooking Gene, A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South by Michael Twitty

I was glad to see this book mentioned on our suggestion page, as it was already on my TBR list. I have had to pleasure to meet Michael and hear him speak, so I am thrilled to read his book and share the experience with others.

From the publishers' page:
A renowned culinary historian offers a fresh perspective on our most divisive cultural issue, race, in this illuminating memoir of Southern cuisine and food culture that traces his ancestry—both black and white—through food, from Africa to America and slavery to freedom... 
As he takes us through his ancestral culinary history, Twitty suggests that healing may come from embracing the discomfort of the Southern past. Along the way, he reveals a truth that is more than skin deep—the power that food has to bring the kin of the enslaved and their former slaveholders to the table, where they can discover the real America together.
Deadline for contributing your post: Friday, November 30, 2018.

Remember that membership is open to anyone and we hope you will join us by reading these selections and creating inspired recipes.  For more information about participating in our virtual book club, click here.  

As always, specific announcement posts can be found at Cook the Books as the year marches on.

To recap:

April/May: Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Peppery by Fuchsia Dunlop (hosted by Deb at Kahakai Kitchen)

June/July: Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl, (hosted by Claudia atHoney from Rock)

August/September: Sourdough by Robin Sloan (hosted by Debra at Eliot's Eats)

October/November:  The Cooking Geneby Michael Twitty (hosted by Simona at briciole)

Happy reading and cooking!

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Our February /March selection: The Discovery of Chocolate

Fans of the fascinating Sidney Chambers know James Runcie as the author of six volumes of stories featuring the Vicar of Grantchester (who then becomes Archdeacon). The Discovery of Chocolate (2001) is the first novel published by the British author, who started his career as screenwriter, director and producer.

In this historical novel, love sets young Diego on a journey to the New World with the conquistador Cort├ęs. In Mexico, Diego discovers the delights of chocolate, which was then a beverage. Drinking a special chocolate prepared by the fascinating Ignacia has a "funny" effect on Diego, which allows the novel to span not only continents but also centuries (I just finished reading the chapter where Diego makes raspberry creams with the Marquis de Sade in the Bastille).

On his website, the author says a few words about the novel's genesis:  
I had originally planned to write a series of short stories, one for each century, connected by chocolate but with different characters and different moments in time. But then I thought that they might be able to have the same narrator, a character who travelled through history, and across all the stories...
It would be a novel about the need for readiness, and for acceptance. It would be about the need for calm, and the ability to look death in the face without fear...
So these became my basic ingredients. Life and death, love and chocolate.
If this morsel tempts you, grab your favorite chocolate bar or truffle and join us for this edition of our virtual book club.

Deadline: Saturday, March 31, 2018.

Remember that anyone can participate in Cook the Books, simply pick up a copy of the selection from your local bookstore or library, take inspiration from said reading, cook and post an inspired dish. We look forward to having you read and cook along with us in 2018. New participants are always welcomed with open arms! (Leave a comment here or check out our Guidelines page if you have any questions.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Feast of Sorrow Round-Up

Welcome to the current round-up!  For the past two months our members have trekked back to ancient Rome with Feast of Sorrow by Crystal King.  King's tale follows the life of Thrasius, a culinary-gifted slave purchased by Apicius, a Roman patriarch that is obsessed to be named the culinary adviser to Caesar.   There is more than a plethora of food in the novel, everything from fried flamingo tongues to stuffed dormice.  As Thrasius creates and develops delicacies for his master's table, there is also more than enough cruelty as slaves are condemned to unspeakable atrocities. You can read the announcement post here.  

It seems like the readership loved this book which is always a relief to the host of each round.   (Thanks, all!)  There has also been a great deal of discussion as to whom would play Apicius in the film version of this novel.   (I believe the topic got started by Tina .)   So, before we begin the round-up of Roman inspired dishes, let's pause for a Gerard Butler moment.
Gerard as Aspicius?  Casting is calling.
Tina was so excited about Gerard as Apicius, she was the first one to post up with a Roman-inspired feast.  Her take on the book was similar to mine:
The treason and infidelities committed in this book makes for a good plot.  I was simultaneously fascinated and saddened to see innocents drawn in, suffering undeserved consequences. The ending chapters were indeed horrifying but I can’t give away the plot.  It all comes together and I could have read more.
A feast fit for Apicius!

Wendy, from A Day in the Life of the Farm, listened to the audio book narrated by Simon Vance.  She was inspired by one of the first food items mentioned in the novel:

Thrasius, previously owned by a cruel taskmaster who didn't hesitate to beat him and use him for his sexual deviancy, wants very badly to impress and please Apicius.  The very first meal he serves him is Ham in Pastry.
Wendy enjoyed the novel and enjoyed this dish.  In fact she writes, "It was delicious and I'm sure Apicius would have allowed me to live one more day......."   Indeed, I am sure of that as well, Wendy.

Amy was thinking similarly to Wendy and was inspired by the same reference in the novel.  
There was no shortage of foodie inspiration from this novel.  The story follows Thrasius, the new coquus (head chef) of Marcus Apicius’ kitchen, the food descriptions frequent and mouthwatering.... My inspiration for today’s recipe showed up on the second page of the book!  The idea took root and I just had to go for it!  In the book, the dish is described as “…ham in pastry, with honey and figs…”
Her Ham & Swiss Stuffed Piglet Buns are beyond cute and creative!

Culinary Adventures with Camilla was next up.  Cam posted her take on another ancient Roman favorite Parthian Chicken.   She adapted the recipe for game hens.  
Camilla commented on the research and authenticity of King's book.  (Camilla studied Latin and lived in Rome after college.)  I think she also summarizes the crux of the book well.
Some of the earliest foodies, it turns out, wrested credit for the work of the talented cooks they enslaved. This is a story where innovation collides with exploitation, loyalty with rivalry, and love with venomous hatred. I highly recommend this for any fan of historical fiction, anyone who loves Rome, and anyone who enjoys feasts and foods. I found it impossible to put down. Twice.
Cook the Books co-host, Claudia, cooked up an authentic Roman feast.  She found it hard to narrow down what to make from the lengthy list of food in the novel.  
I wanted to make a simple Roman style meal.  No stuffed dormice or crispy, fried flamingo tongues.  Something ordinary people would sit (lie) down for.  Not having a troop of kitchen slaves to assist, and without some rare or hard to find ingredients, we must rely on approximations and shortcuts occasionally.
Quite the feast!

Cathleen from Delaware Girl Eats connected the most with Thrasius:
He was both a slave and cook extraordinaire, often preparing meals for visiting dignitaries on behalf of his owner Apicius, who passed them off as his own. In one passage from the book he reflected on a fine meal that another prepared, “For the first time in many weeks there were no guests at cena (funny how the word cena still signifies dinner in the Italian vocabulary). I was pleased as the quiet family meals were the ones I tended to enjoy best. Timon made our favorite dishes, which were always the ones that were most simple. That night it was fig cakes, sweet wine biscuits, Persian lamb, chicken and almond meatballs with soft plaited bread made from olive oil and goat milk.”
She went outside of her comfort zone having never made Persian dishes or cooking with lamb.  Here's her Persian Lamb with Couscous.
She writes that if you can manage the array of spices in this dish, it's a simple dish.  Love your presentation, Cathleen.

Lynda from Reviews, Chews & How-Tos read the book while trekking through Germany, including the Roman city of Trie.  I loved reading her thought process of trying to do a Roman recipe while going Whole30!
First, I had to make it Whole30 compliant, and then I had to make it 'Roman'.  (By the way, faux-foods would have totally appealed to Crystal King's Apicius, I think!  So a faux-Spanish recipe going faux-Roman? Served with faux-pasta?  On it!) 
My modifications involved switching the wine for wine vinegar, getting rid of the brown sugar entirely, and switching out the prunes for dried dates (why? Because I have dates in the house, love them, and dates and figs feel more Roman to me).  Finally, in an homage to the never-ending fish sauce, which seemed to go into everything, I added a bit of Red Boat fish sauce, too.
Her Chicken Apicius (Whole30) was so good it has found it's way into her regular recipe rotation.

Simona, another co-host,  enjoyed the historical aspect of the novel.  
The novel weaves together the lives of the individual characters with ancient Rome's life, politics and cuisine. A couple of novels I read some years ago prompted me to delve into the subject of Roman recipes for which De Re Coquinaria(a.k.a., Apicius) were the source1. This is not the right venue for a detailed discussions of the relationship between Marcus Gavius Apicius and De Re Coquinaria. The latter is a great source and I consulted it again to find a recipe to go with our book selection.

She delved deep in to ancient Roman recipes and pulled an authentic dish from De Re Coquinaria.  

Her Braised Celery and Leeks can be turned into a meal with the addition of some beans.  I love the versatility of this dish.

I made two dishes for this round.   I first baked Libum (honey cakes).  I got a bit bogged down with the atrocities depicted in the novel and wanted to make something that a slave would have had access to, a simple dish that was used for sacrifice to the gods.   (I used a mixture of recipes found on King's website.)
Because the novel is also about triumph despite overwhelming odds, I was inspired by one of Thrasius' dishes, stuffed beet leaves.  I created a recipe using the flavors of his dish and threw in some farro because it's an "ancient" grain that he probably had as well.   Here's my Beet and Leek Farro Salad with Spiced Vinaigrette.

As the host of this round, I am ecstatic that everyone enjoyed (or loved) Feast of Sorrow.  Like the rest of you, I am looking forward to the February/March round with The Discovery of Chocolate by James Runcie (hosted by Simona at bricriole).  

Look for her announcement post here soon.

You might have noticed that we're missing a co-host this round.  Deb from Kahakai Kitchen regretfully had to sit this one out.  Please send good thoughts her way.   Get well soon, Deb!  

Friday, December 1, 2017

Feast of Sorrow Announcement

One book reviewer describes Feast of Sorrow  by Crystal King as "The Food Network meets HBO’s Rome."  That is a spot-on description.  

For the December/January round, we travel to the time of togas.  The novel's plot revolves around Thrasius, a slave who is coveted by many for his culinary prowess, and his master Apicius.  This is a tale of intrigue, power, and obsession as Apicius is determined to become the culinary adviser for Caesar.   He sees his new slave as the key to his success.   

Rendering of  Marcus Gavius Apicius from Vast Morsels

Apicius is based on a historical figure, Marcus Gavius Apicius, who lived during the First Century AD.  He was known as a gourmand and epicurean and is often attributed as the first author of any known cookbook.  Although the truth about Apicius' life is a bit sketchy at best, King takes historical references of his life (from ancient texts) and of his tragic death and fills in the blanks in this work of fiction.  

From The Kitchen Project
Apicius, the collection of recipes that bears his name, was actually compiled in the late Fourth or early Fifth Century.  (A good modern compilation is Cooking Apicius by Sally Granger.)

The list of culinary inspiration is almost infinite in this historical novel.   King teases with just a few offerings on her website including the following:

I cannot wait to see what ancient culinary delights are cooked up for this next round.  For more inspiration and an interesting discussion of this book and ancient Rome, you might want to listen to "What Did Ancient Romans Eat? New Novel Serves Up Meals and Intrigue" (The Salt, April 28, 2017).  

The deadline for Feast of Sorrow is January 31, 2018.  Anyone can join in by reading the current selection, preparing a dish inspired by its contents, and writing about it. Let me know when your entry post is up by commenting on this post and/or sending me an email at 

New to Cook the Books? Welcome to all!  Check out our About and Guidelines pages or leave a question in the comments on this post.


Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Patriarch - A Delicious Roundup

For our reading of The Patriarch, by Martin Walker, everyone seems to have enjoyed all the food and wine inspiration available throughout the novel, and we certainly had an incredible bounty to choose from.  All the tempting selections by our participants with brief snippets follow.  Please do stop and visit each one for their recipes, photos and comments about the book.

First into the mix was Wendy from A Day in The Life on the Farm, with a yummy Braised Venison.  Part of a  fabulous meal that Bruno would have been proud to serve.  She wrote, I "loved the setting of this novel.  I could envision the beauty of the land.  I wanted to taste the wine and partake in the many feasts in the story.  I wanted to rent a vacation house on the property bought by Bruno's girlfriend and spend some time with the horses."

She thought the characters could have been better developed, but enjoyed all the food and wine served up.  "Perhaps if you've read all of the books leading up to this one, you feel that you know them all", Wendy said.

Next up was Terri of Our Good Life, who recreated one of Bruno's little hors d'oeuvres repasts, to be accompanied by her Jalapeno Infused Vodka.  Sounds like a cocktail I'd like to mix up.  She says Bruno " is a true Renaissance man, an unassuming .... gourmet cook, wine enthusiast, gardener who is dabbling in truffle oak trees, a hunter, and a dog man.  He makes his own jams, pates, sausages, confits, etc.  He rides horses and is a sensitive, caring man.  Wish there were more like him!"  Indeed!

Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla, treated us to drinks as well, with her gentian inspired Negroni cocktail, made with a new bitters favorite of mine, Bruto Americano.

While she "wasn't enamored with the book, I did enjoy the descriptions of food that were sprinkled throughout".

Deb of Kahakai Kitchen joined our dinner party with a stunning looking platter of Salmon Salad Nicoise.
She also enjoyed the book, especially the food mentions, but was another who thought the characters could have used more development.  A downside from choosing a book near the end of an ongoing series.

Simona of Briciole and a Cook the Books host, contributed a lovely pairing of cabbages in a a side dish creation of Savoy and Radicchio.  She liked the novel and thought it was "a pleasant read, weaving together into a tense plot, local politics, the history of WWII, and the past and present life of the various characters."  With " plenty of food and wine in the story", even likening two of the principal characters to the two cabbages she chose.

Debra, of Eliot's Eats, another one of our Cook the Books Club hosts, brought a fabulous Tarte Flambee to the party and though not much of a mystery fan, said:  "Walker’s cast of characters (and there is a lot of them) did keep me intrigued along with the rustic traditions and beauty of St. Denis."  She thought " the amount of feasting in the book is as rich and plentiful as the French countryside."

At Honey from Rock, I cooked up a dish inspired by an early mention in the novel, Bruno's Lamb with Monbazillac, however not having that wine available, morphed it into a braise, Lamb with Cotes-Du-Rhone, a nice earthy French red.  Of course I loved the novel, being a fan of Martin Walker's series.  His lead character, Bruno is such a well-rounded kind of guy, and a Foodie, in the best sense.  I also enjoy the way Walker blends in local French culture, history and ongoing current events.

After the deadline, but just in the mix, was Amy of Amy's Cooking Adventures with a warming Roasted Carrot Ginger Soup.  It looks to be just the thing to chase away any lurking colds.

I would recommend reading Walker's series from the beginning.  His first was, Bruno, Chief of Police: A Novel of the French Countryside.

Do join us as we read and cook, inspired by our next selection, Feast of Sorrow, by Crystal King, a novel set in ancient Rome, and hosted by Debra of Eliotseats. The deadline for Feast of Sorrow is January 31, 2018.  See you then!