Book Club: Tender at the Bone

I've mentioned in past posts a few of my resolutions for 2011, and this post is the result of accomplishing one of them: joining a book club. I was really excited about the idea of joining a book club, but had some concerns about having to read books I didn't want to read or couldn't get into. I read a lot, and have a pretty extensive to-read list on Goodreads.com, so I hate to waste my time reading books I don't want to read.

Recently, I read A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg. It was a wonderful book; beautifully written with delicious collection of recipes. The book came about as a result of Molly's very successful food blog, Orangette, so I decided to go check it out. After reading some posts, I came across a comment from someone who said they read her book as part of an online food book club. This immediately piqued my interest and, as a result, I joined the online group This Book Makes Me Cook. Every month, a group of food bloggers (like me) vote on a book, read it, then cook a recipe out of the book and blog about it. This post is the first of what will hopefully be many posts for my book club readings.

The book we read this month was Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl. I found the book well written, and so truthful in some parts it was almost painful. The book allows you to follow her life through the food she made and the people she shared it with. Her prose is very thoughtful and makes you appreciative of how the food you share and those you share it with really impacts your life. Her recipes I found somewhat old fashioned and not necessarily up my alley (many of them contained meat), which left me looking to her baked goods. Being that Valentine's Day was coming up, I opted to try her Devil's Food Cake and 7-minute Frosting so I could take a delicious treat to my co-workers on the 14th.

Blogger Note: I realize that this does not exactly fall in line with my typical recipes, which showcase local produce and local artisan products. That being said, please try to use local dairy and local eggs, and shop locally for your ingredients (i.e. stay away from the chain stores if possible).

I made the cake, but with a few modifications (I've inherited my dad's inability to follow a recipe exactly, even when baking). First, I made them into cupcakes instead of a layer cake as she instructs in her book, to make workplace distribution easier. This required a shorter baking time, as noted below. I also point out a few things below I think are important to the recipe that Ruth does not point out in her book. I'm not trying to out-do her, but as an experienced food writer and cook, she may have assumed bakers would do these things. The cupcakes were moist with a robust chocolate flavor; something I was excited to share with my colleagues.

The frosting, unfortunately, was another story. I made it exactly as instructed and am confident I did it correctly, I just think I wanted (and needed) something more substantial for these cupcakes. The frosting turned out to be very close to a whipped cream frosting, but even lighter; more like a meringue. The vanilla flavor was not strong enough for me, but adding more vanilla I still was a bit put off by the texture of the frosting. Plus, I knew that frosting made in this fashion would fall in transport. Instead, I opted to fill and frost the cupcakes with a chocolate Chambord ganache, which was incredibly divine and indulgent (and thick enough to handle the drive to work). I've provided Ruth's frosting recipe below, in case you would like to try it. If you do, please let me know how it turned out and what you think. Otherwise, I promise that the cupcakes I made are delectable. My co-workers certainly thought so!


Devil's Food Cupcakes with Chocolate Chambord Ganache
Makes 2 dozen cupcakes and more ganache then you will ever need

1 c milk
1/4 c cocoa
1/3 c cane sugar
1 c unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 c brown sugar
3 eggs, at room temperature
1/4 c sour cream (I used plain yogurt), at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla
2 c sifted cake flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with cupcake liners or grease with butter and dust with flour.

Heat milk in a small pan until bubbles begin to appear around the edges. Remove from heat.

Mix cocoa and sugar together in a small bowl; slowly beat in warm milk. Let cool.

Cream the butter with the brown sugar. Beat in the eggs, sour cream (or yogurt), and vanilla. Add the cocoa mixture.

Mix remaining dry ingredients together and gently blend into butter mixture. Do not overbeat (overbeating will cause the cupcakes to be tough).

Fill muffin cups until 2/3 full. Bake 20-25 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Wait to cool completely before filling and/or frosting.

Note: If you want to make a layer cake, turn the batter into 2 well-greased and floured 9-inch layer cake pans and bake for 25-30 minutes, until cake shrinks slightly from the sides of the pan and springs back when touched gently in the center.

Seven Minute Frosting
If you are feeling brave...

4 egg whites
1 1/2 c cane sugar
1/4 c water
1 tsp cream of tartar
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla

Combine all ingredients except vanilla in the top of a double boiler. Set over simmering water and beat with an electric mixer for about 5 minutes, until soft peaks are formed. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Keep beating until frosting is stiff enough to spread. Use immediately.

Adapted from Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl, p. 75-76


A Lunch of Roasted Vegetables

I am leaving for vacation this coming weekend and am so excited about it! It is my family's annual trip to Summit County, Colorado; a Ford family reunion of sorts. We spend a week on the slopes, eating tasty food, drinking some good wine and local beer supplied by Applejacks in Denver, and enjoying everyone's fabulous company. It is certainly one of my favorite trips and I am so excited to snowboard on the snowy slopes!

Since I am going to be gone for about 9 days, I am starting to think about all the food I have in my house and what I am going to do with it before I go, as I do not want it to spoil. Today, I also happened to be thinking about lunches for the week. Standing at my kitchen cart, which is the home to all fruits and veggies that don't require refrigeration, I grabbed a butternut squash, some potatoes and a few sweet potatoes. Digging through my refrigerator's vegetable drawer, I found some carrots and beets. Clean them off, dice them up, add some spices and throw them in the oven to roast and I've got lunch for the week!

I keep the skins on the potatoes and sweet potatoes, since they have lots of good nutrients in the skin. If you do this, be sure to give the potatoes a good scrub with a potato scrubber or clean kitchen scrubber. It is fine to remove the skins, too, as it will not affect the flavor.

This dish incredibly simple and really delicious. The sweet potatoes add a brown-sugary, almost indulgent sweetness that compliments the earthy flavors of the other ingredients. Feel free to use other vegetables, like turnips, parsnips, red potatoes, and other kinds of squash. You'll find this recipe to be very versatile to what is available in your kitchen. Just remember to keep it local if you can :)


Roasted Vegetables with Fresh Rosemary
Makes 1 large pan, good for at least 1 week of lunches for 1 person

1 small butternut squash, peeled, cleaned, and diced into 1-inch cubes*
2 sweet potatoes, cleaned and diced into 1-inch cubes
5 baby yukon gold potatoes, cleaned and diced into 1-inch cubes
2 carrots, peeled and diced as above
1 bunch beets, tops removed, cleaned and diced as above
2 tbsp olive oil
2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary, removed from stems and roughly chopped
Salt & fresh ground pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Place all vegetables into a large bowl. Add oil, rosemary, salt, and pepper; toss to coat.

Turn the vegetables onto a baking sheet lined with a non-stick mat or into a large baking pan.

Roast for 15-30 minutes, until all vegetables are fork-tender. If you are using a deep baking dish, stir the mixture a few times during baking. (Baking times will vary depending on if you have it in a large baking pan or in a single layer on a baking sheet.)

*Note: I had a rather large butternut squash needing to be used, so I used half of it for this recipe. The other half I cleaned and diced just the same, but froze individually and then transferred into a container to freeze for later use.


Peanut Butter Dog Treats

I have two loving, high-energy black lab-border collies. My youngest (at 1 1/2 years) is still too delinquent to be left unattended when we are not at home, so we have to crate her. Left uncrated, she has destroyed library books, eaten Christmas gifts (including a tin full of homemade toffee), and annihilated a box of dryer sheets, among many other things. In training her, I gave her a treat every time I was leaving to coax her into her crate. She has gotten so good at this that when she hears the door to the closet where her treats are kept, she goes in her crate. We are ecstatic that she is so well trained in this regard, but it means we go through a lot of treats, since there are days when I leave the house three or four times.

I usually buy a basic peanut butter dog biscuit from our co-op. Peaking at the label, as well as the label on many other treats we've bought (and acknowledging that there are dog bakeries popping up), I figured I could probably make them myself. They're as easy as baking cookies, and even using high quality ingredients still end up being cheaper than buying treats at the store.

I used a combination of two kinds of flours and rolled oats, but this part of the recipe is pretty flexible. Because I used rolled oats, I had to up the flour a little bit. If you choose to just use flour, use 2 cups total. You can also grind up oats in a food processor to make oat flour, but again, the total flour should be 2 cups if you are just using flour.

Try to use a natural peanut butter if you can. The only ingredient should be peanuts, but if you have one with sea salt in it, that is fine. Just avoid ones with added sugar or oils.

The end result is crisp, snappy little cookies that my dogs adore. Hope your canine companion enjoys them as much as mine do!

Peanut Butter Dog Treats
Makes about 60 treats, depending on size

1 c whole wheat flour
3/4 c rye flour
1/2 c rolled oats
1 tsp baking powder
1 c natural peanut butter (smooth or creamy)
1 c skim milk

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl; set aside. In a small bowl, stir together milk and peanut butter until combined (be patient, this may take a few minutes). Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients; stir until well mixed.

Turn some of the dough onto a well-floured surface. Roll out dough and cut into shapes. Place on a baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden and crisp. Repeat until the dough is gone. Cool completely on a drying rack before feeding to your furry friend.

P.S. I know the picture doesn't really do much for the biscuit, but I couldn't do a recipe for dog treats and not show how excited my dogs were about them :)


Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

We were treated with a few weeks of lovely spring weather starting around the end of January. Sixty degrees, sun, not much wind. Even the trees and flowering plants got confused and started sprouting their buds. Chris and I took advantage with a few long bike rides on the American River Parkway and a hike in Napa Valley. And then, this week, the temperature dropped and the rain came in. Now, I'm not complaining, because I know we need the rain and all of that, plus the rain gives me the opportunity to wear my green rain boots (which I just adore). Also, it gives me the opportunity to cook some more comfort foods, because 45 degrees and raining requires comfort food.

Butternut squash soup is really a divine form of comfort food. Not heavy or dense, this soup is velvety soft and incredibly smooth, with a hint of woodsy maple syrup to just lightly enhance the sweetness of the squash. I use just a small amount of cream and butter; enough to give it softness but without drowning out the flavor of the soup (which is what I feel happens with recipes that use too much of these ingredients). Served with a slice of homemade crusty bread and a glass of equally smooth Chardonnay, and you're ready for a cozy evening.


Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
Makes one big pot of soup

1 2-lb butternut squash, peeled and diced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2 onions, sliced thin
36-oz vegetable stock or broth
2 tbsp real maple syrup*
Salt & fresh ground pepper
1/4 c heavy cream
2 tbsp butter, diced

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil or a non-stick mat.

Place butternut squash in a bowl with the garlic cloves. Add 2 tbsp olive oil and a pinch each of salt & pepper; toss to coat. Turn the squash onto the baking sheet and spread across the baking sheet into a single layer. Put in the oven and roast for 15-20 minutes or until soft.

While the squash is cooking, heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and saute until soft and brown, about 10 minutes. Once the squash is done, add the squash to the pot. Pour in the vegetable stock and use it to deglaze the pan. Add maple syrup, stir to combine. Turn off the heat.

Spoon the mixture into a food process or blender, trying to get as even an amount of squash and liquid as possible. Puree until smooth. Place a fine mesh sieve over a clean soup pot; pour the pureed mixture through the sieve. Using a wooden spoon, push the puree through the sieve. If anything does not go through, return it to the other saucepan to be pureed again. Repeat this process until all the soup is pureed and strained through the sieve into the new soup pot.

Place the new soup pot (of the pureed soup) on the stove over low heat. Add cream and butter, stir until butter is melted. Taste, adding more salt, pepper, or maple syrup as needed (it should not be sweet, but you should get a hint of the syrup). Continue to stir until the soup is heated through. Serve hot.

*Please use real maple syrup in this recipe. Many syrups available at grocery stores are combinations of corn syrup and caramel color and will add a painful sweetness with absolutely no flavor. The only ingredient should be "pure maple syrup."


Black Rice & Kale Salad

This past weekend, Chris & I spent a long weekend in Yosemite National Park. We had a great time hiking in the park and cozying up in our yurt with a few good books. On our way home, we stopped at Oakdale Cheese in Oakdale, CA (because, as you know, I am a total nerd for artisan cheese). They have the cutest little gift shop where you can purchase their cheese, and you can even see cheese being made. We tasted all of their cheeses and even treated ourselves to a grilled cheese sandwich made out of their mild gouda. We left with a few wedges of cheese, my favorite being Seascape: an aged cheese made of cow and goats milk. It is simply divine!

So, onto this week's recipe...

I started a new job in January and, as a result, needed to start planning my lunches ahead of time. This is something I try to take care of on the weekends to prevent the two things that would happen if I didn't plan: either throwing a bunch of stuff together from the fridge (which would inevitably result in me being dissatisfied with my lunch) or going out to eat (which would most likely result in me being overfed and in a food coma by 2PM). I also need something that is satiating yet light and tasty yet healthy. And I totally hit the jackpot with this recipe.

You've heard me talk about Heidi Swanson before, and her food blog. She always puts together fabulous vegetarian dishes, and this one is no exception. It is a delicious combination of black rice, kale, and tofu with a fantastic Asian-inspired dressing. Following her suggestion, I also topped it with a poached egg and it was even more tasty, but you could certainly omit it if you are vegan, or just not an egg person. The egg & tofu provides a great amount of protein for my active lifestyle, the rice is filling and nutritious, and the kale is currently in season, so it was fabulous (I am a big fan of kale). The whole dish is tied together with a combination of sesame oil, shoyu, rice vinegar, lemon zest, ginger, & honey. This dressing packs such a punch and really elevates the dish.

If you cannot find black rice, you can also use brown rice (I just happened to have black rice in my pantry). Just stay away from white rice, as it lacks the nutrients of these other rices. If you want the egg too and are planning on this being a work lunch, poach the egg either the night before or in the morning, then at lunchtime heat it separately for 30 seconds (heating it longer will cook the egg more and in turn could make it rubbery). Make sure you get your eggs from a local, organic, reputable seller. The eggs will be more flavorful and healthier for you.


Black Rice & Kale Salad
Serves 4-6 people (or one person's lunch for a week)

1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 c extra-firm tofu, cut into a 1/2-inch dice
1 clove garlic, minced
2-3 c kale, stalks & veins removed, finely chopped (chard could work as well)
2-3 c black rice (brown is a fine substitute)
4-6 good-quality eggs (depending on how many you are serving)

Zest of 1 lemon, grated
1-inch knob of fresh ginger, grated*
1 tbsp honey
3/4 tsp cayenne
3/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 c shoyu or soy sauce
1/3 c brown rice vinegar
4 tbsp sesame oil (or 2 tbsp toasted sesame oil and 2 tbsp olive oil)

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the tofu and cook until just slightly browned. Add the kale and garlic, saute until the kale is soft, about 5-8 minutes. Stir in the rice until heated through. Remove from heat.

To make the dressing, combine the lemon zest, ginger, honey, cayenne, and salt in a food processor; process until smooth. Add lemon juice, shoyu, and rice vinegar, pulse to combine. With the food processor running, slowly drizzle in the oil. Once oil is incorporated, you can stop the food processor.

Put the kale-tofu mixture back on low heat and pour the dressing over it, stirring to incorporate completely. Remove from heat.

To poach the eggs, heat a pot of water on the stove until simmering. While waiting for the water to heat, crack an egg into a ramekin or small dish. Over the sink, slowly pour the egg into a fine mesh sieve (this will prevent flyaway whites during poaching). Return the egg to the ramekin. Once the water is simmering, gently slide the egg into the water. Poach 3 minutes for a runny yolk; 5 minutes for a fully cooked yolk. If serving right away, repeat this process with the remaining eggs.

To serve, add a scoop of the rice & kale mixture to a bowl. Top with a poached egg.

*Note: A great way to always have ginger around is buy a big piece and keep it in your freezer. Whenever you need some, grate the frozen ginger with a microplane grater.

Adapted from Poached Eggs Over Rice and Otsu from Super Natural Cooking, p. 62