A Farewell to Parms

For the first ten years of my life, my family lived in a quaint house on a quiet street – Rosedale Avenue. The downstairs did not have doors; instead, the complete circle of living room, den, kitchen, and dining room was divided by open doorways. Every Saturday night, my father would make some elaborate dish – often chicken parmesan. As Andrea Bocelli or another Italian divo crooned, smells of garlic, bay leaf, and a happily simmering tomato sauce would drift throughout the downstairs rooms. My mother made a similarly divine eggplant parmesan every once in a while, incorporating the same ingredients in a vegetarian option.

I absolutely adored my parents’ respective “Parmesan” recipes, but often bemoaned the hour at which they were finally served. After cooking out the sauce to perfection, breading the chicken and shallow frying it, melting the cheese under the broiler, and assembling the various elements, Saturday night dinner often did not begin before a spouse grew hungry, daughters cranky, and chef positively exhausted.

Like Ernest Hemingway’s writing style, this recipe takes the essential flavors and leaves out all things superfluous. It is minimalistic but still complete and complex. With only five basic ingredients, this ratatouille (and it’s very own cheesy carrying case) is still vibrant, colorful, and satisfying. As Hemingway used the omission technique to describe the relationship between Frederic and Catherine in A Farewell to Arms, this vegetable parmesan marries very few flavors (but encompasses all that is necessary to achieving the warm Italian dish).

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Ratatouille-Filled Parmesan Baskets

1/2 aubergine (eggplant)

1 courgette (zucchini)

1 red pepper

1 tbsp tomato paste

2 tbsp olive oil

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

Chives to garnish

Instruction:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grate a thin layer of parmesan cheese onto parchment paper (into a disk shape). Melt in oven, remove after about 4 minutes, immediately mold into small basket shape using espresso cup or shot glass. Let molded parmesan rest in dry, cool place until set.

2. Chop aubergine, pepper, and courgette into tiny cubes. Cook in olive oil over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Finish by binding all vegetables in tomato paste. Season with salt.

3. Let ratatouille cool. Serve in cooled Parmesan basket. Garnish with chives.

Enjoy vegetable parmesan with Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, and check in at warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!

The Unbearable Lightness of Bean

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This past January, I moved to London with no acquaintances and – more importantly – no concrete housing plans. As a perpetual planner, this was a very uncharacteristic thing of me to do. The first month of my living in London was a mess of hotel hopping, a brief two-hour commute from a small English village, and almost winding up in a convent with a 9pm curfew. Exhausted, I finally came upon the dorm-style housing that would be my home for the next five months. The building was right next to a cafe that served a lovely Tuscan salad, and I fell so in love with the dish that I set out to recreate it.

One of the key themes in Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being is the uniqueness of a single life. The decisions we make and the experiences that come of those decisions are unable to be replicated, giving our individual lives a certain ‘lightness.’ I cannot exactly imitate the cafe’s Tuscan salad exactly, but the choices I make regarding the ingredients and their proportions achieve a different and unique dish.

This book was given to me by a very important person in my life – someone I would not have encountered were it not for my decision to ‘wing it’ with housing in my early days abroad. The novel follows four characters whose lives collide in different ways. Like the confetti of ingredients in this summer white bean salad, no single figure would play the same role without the others complimenting and contrasting it. There are many textures and flavors in this dish that one would think it’d be overwhelming, but the salad achieves perfect lightness.

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Summer Salad:

5 cups baby arugula

1/2 cup cannellini beans, drained from can, chopped roughly

1 tomato, diced

6 or so scallions, sliced thinly

Parmesan cheese shavings (several shavings per serving)

4 or so slices of prosciutto, cut into thin strips

2 slices of sandwich bread

Salt and pepper

Vinaigrette:

1 lemon (juice of)

1/3 cup olive oil

1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

Salt and pepper to season

Instruction:

1. Croutons: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice bread into cubes, about 1/2 inch thick. Drizzle liberally with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Bake for about 10 minutes.

2. Bean salad: Dice tomatoes, add salt, and let sit over a strainer to remove some moisture. Add sliced scallions and chopped white beans. Let ingredients sit in strainer for a bit to allow flavors to blend. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

3. Vinaigrette: Whisk chopped parsley, lemon juice, and olive oil. Season with salt to taste.

4. Assembly: Toss arugula in vinaigrette and transfer to plate. Top with bean salad, prosciutto, parmesan, and croutons.

Enjoy a summer white bean salad with Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and check in at warandpeach.com for more recipes and book reviews!

The Girl with the Dragon Cashew

Over the weekend, we hosted an open house so that I could see family and friends before moving to London. From Saturday morning until well into the Sunday brunch hours, people from various walks of life came and went. In the midst of the haze of food, wine, laughter, and plenty of hugs, I began thinking about how each person at the party had influenced my life and my decision to begin an adventure across the pond. Every guest differs in age, personality, and role in my life, but they’ve all contributed a bit to what happens next.

Cooking is like solving a mystery. As a chef’s job is to find the perfect flavor combination, a crime novelist must make multiple seemingly random elements come together in the end. In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels, Stieg Larsson introduces multiple characters, each with a complex history that contributes to the plot. Like a fiery red pesto with surprising flavors, this novel’s many elements make up a delectable story. The audience may not understand throughout the creation process, and to the outside eye, some of the ingredients may seem bizarre, but the end result makes perfect sense.

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1/4 cup cashew nuts

1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes (I used the jarred kind soaked in olive oil, drained.)

1/4 cup basil

1/2 tbsp red pepper flakes

1/4 cup olive oil

Salt, to season

1/2 pound angel hair pasta

Instruction:

1. In food processor, combine cashew nuts, sun-dried tomatoes, basil, and red pepper flakes. Slowly add olive oil and allow it to incorporate as processor is still going. Season with salt.

2. Cook angel hair pasta in boiling salted water. Mix with pesto and thin out with a few tablespoons of pasta water, if necessary.

Enjoy fiery pesto and angel hair with Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and check in at warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!

Our Flan in Havana

Around the age of 6 or so, I dreamt of becoming a spy. I’d sit on the windowsill in my parents’ bedroom and watch cars and people passing by, writing down observations and descriptions. This was pretty dull work as we lived at the far end of a quiet residential block. Occasionally if I was ‘spying’ during the early evening, I would be able to record a groundbreaking “6:48 pm: Mr. So-and-So* comes home from work.” (*Name has been changed to protect Mr. So-and-So’s privacy.)

Graham Greene clearly had a better understanding of the world of espionage. In Our Man in Havana, he describes a world of political mission and international secrecy. Greene’s main protagonist, James Wormold, stumbles through the world of the British secret service on the backdrop of Cuba in the 1940s.

The flavors of Cuban cuisine carry plenty of heat. This roasted red pepper flan is light and airy, and to the naked eye, it is quite simple, but one taste reveals its powerful flavor combination of oregano, cumin, and chili powder. Perhaps my aspirations of trickery are better suited for the kitchen.

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Roasted red pepper flan:

6 red bell peppers

1/4 cup veg oil

1 tbsp oregano

1 tbsp cumin

1/2 tbsp chili powder (or more, depending on how much heat you like!)

1 clove garlic

Salt and pepper

Zest of 1 lime

1/4 cup heavy cream

3 eggs

Instruction:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut the bell peppers in quarters and remove seed and whiteish flesh.

2. Make a marinade of oil, salt and pepper, garlic, and half of the oregano and cumin for the bell peppers. Coat the peppers on both sides with the marinade and roast in oven, skin side up, for twenty minutes.

3. Remove bell peppers from oven and transfer back to marinade bowl. Cover immediately in cling film and allow steam to continue to wilt the bell pepper skins.

4. When bell peppers have cooled, remove skin and put in blender. Blend bell peppers, lime zest, chili powder, and remaining oregano and cumin. Taste and add salt to season. Blend in egg and heavy cream. Transfer into miniature spring form pan or any mold whose shape you’d like your flan to take. Place mold in larger pan and create a waterbath.

5. Cook flan in oven until for about thirty minutes (until mixture is firm and toothpick comes out clean).

Enjoy roasted red pepper flan with Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana, and check in at https://warandpeach.com/ for future recipes and book reviews!

Me Talk Parsley One Day

Parsley Confetti Ravioli

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When my sister and I moved out of the house for college, my parents developed some eccentricities because of their newfound and undirected attention. They began watching British sitcoms from the early nineties each night. My mother became so addicted to Scrabble that she has now taken to giving it up for Lent to control herself. My father began adopting plenty of new children – the herbs in our backyard. Every day he waters, prunes, and primps. They have flourished so much under his care that they’ve taken over a large percentage of our back deck.

With parsley coming out of my ears, I decided to use the opportunity to my advantage. Just as David Sedaris took his father’s bizarre habits and turned them into the hilarious anecdotal short stories of Me Talk Pretty One Day, I’ve taken my father’s herb garden and used it for my own craft: cooking. Adding parsley to pasta dough for a confetti pattern makes the dish whimsical and fun. As Sedaris achieves lighthearted and bite-sized stories that are loaded with many different colors and flavors, these raviolis are encouraging my father and his quirks to grow. If only there were a way to melt my mother’s Scrabble tiles into a soup…

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Whole wheat pasta sheets:

3 cups whole wheat flour

4 eggs

1 tbsp salt

1/4 cup water (as needed)

Ravioli filling:

4 oz mascarpone

2 oz ricotta

4 oz mozzarella, grated

2 oz parmesan, grated

4 oz (1/4 pound) prosciutto, diced finely

1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

Salt and pepper

(You can play with the ratio of the four cheeses, depending on which flavors you like, but make sure there is enough mascarpone or ricotta to bind the rest of the filling together.)

Instruction:

1. Pasta dough: In a standing mixer, combine flour, eggs, salt, and water. Knead on countertop and form into a ball. Wrap in cling film and let rest at room temperature for fifteen minutes or so.

2. Filling: Combine four cheeses, prosciutto, and parsley. Season as needed and transfer to piping bag.

3. Assembly: After dough has rested, use pasta machine to roll out sheets (to gauge thinness – I rolled each sheet to 6 out of 8 settings). Pipe filling and make small raviolis, pressing the sheets together with a fork to seal.

4. Cooking ravioli: Drop raviolis in boiling salted water. When raviolis are cooked, they will float to the surface. To be safe, let them cook for a minute more. Serve with butter and parmesan shavings.

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Enjoy parsley confetti ravioli with David Sedaris’s Me Talk Pretty One Day, and check in at https://warandpeach.com/ for future recipes and book reviews!

Jeeves and Worcestershire

When I was a young girl, I would watch my dad laughing out loud as he read P.G. Wodehouse. Wanting to be in on the joke, I would flip through the pages of the Jeeves and Wooster stories, laughing out loud in imitation even though I didn’t understand what was going on. As I got older and both my love of literature and sense of humor developed, my enjoyment of the books became authentic. Wodehouse’s writing style is light and his character descriptions are hilarious, and because of that, Jeeves and Wooster have long been my favorite literary duo.

Hollandaise perfectly describes the relationship between Bertie Wooster and his valet, Jeeves. This sauce has so much potential to go wrong – too much heat and it can split, and too little heat and it won’t get cooking. It takes the sharp attention of the chef’s eye to keep it together. In each whimsical plot line, Jeeves knows how to control the temperature of Bertie’s antics. Even with the addition of the flavorful temper of one of Bertie’s aunts, or in our case, the punchy Worcestershire sauce, everything remains in tact with the right person in charge – and the result is just delicious.

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Worcestershire Hollandaise Sauce:

2 egg yolks

1 lemon (juice of)

1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

pinch of salt

1/4 cup clarified butter*

1 tbsp of water, if needed

For Use On Eggs Benedict:

4 slices of bread

4 eggs

4 slices of pancetta

Chives to garnish

Instruction:

1. Over double boiler and on medium-low heat, whisk egg yolks, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, and salt until yolks slowly cook up to a ribbon-like consistency.

2. Lower heat and slowly add clarified butter, continuing to whisk as sauce thickens. Thin out with water if necessary.

3. Serve on top of a poached egg, pan-fried pancetta, and bread toasted in excess pancetta fat. Garnish with chives.

*You can make your own clarified butter by melting a stick of unsalted butter over a double boiler, and separating the clarified part on top from the white fats that have settled at the bottom of the bowl.

Enjoy Worcestershire hollandaise sauce on Eggs Benedict with any of P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster stories, and check in at https://warandpeach.com/ for future recipes and book reviews!

A Sweet Bar Named Desire

Summer is winding down, and though the evenings are getting cooler, mid-day outdoors still tends to coat me in a sheen of sweat. Because of central air conditioning, August is a much more pleasant month than it used to be, and I am glad to spend the days baking treats inside instead of baking my pale skin outside.

Tennessee Williams sets the backdrop for A Streetcar Named Desire as a Louisiana summer in the 1940s. The air is heavy and dense, in many manners of speaking. Stella knows that her husband Stanley is sinful but can’t seem to get enough of him. And while I agree that there are few things yummier than a young, pouty Marlon Brando – I may have found one of them to be peanut butter cheesecake bars. The combination of cream cheese, graham cracker crust, peanut butter and chocolate chip may even drive you crazy.

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Peanut Butter Cheesecake Bars:

12 oz cream cheese

1 cup peanut butter

1/2 cup milk

1 egg

1/4 cup brown sugar

pinch of salt

1 cup chocolate chips

Graham Cracker Crust:

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs

1/4 cup brown sugar

6 tbsp melted butter (unsalted)

Instruction:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Make graham cracker crust by combining graham cracker, brown sugar, and butter in food processor. Press to make even layer on bottom of greased baking pan. Bake in oven for five minutes, allow to cool on stovetop while making the cheesecake batter.

3. In medium bowl, combine cream cheese, peanut butter, brown sugar, salt, and egg using electric mixer. Add milk a bit at a time, incorporating well into the batter. Fold in chocolate chips with spatula.

4. Pour cheesecake batter over cooled graham cracker crust. Bake in oven for 25 minutes. Allow to cool on wire rack (still in baking pan) for an hour, then chill in refrigerator for two hours. Remove from baking pan and cut into bars.

5. (Optional:) Sprinkle with cocoa powder and/or powdered sugar.

Enjoy your peanut butter cheesecake bars with A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams, and check in at warandpeach.wordpress.com for future recipes and book reviews!

The Grape Gatsby

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The first time I went to France and tried a crepe was during my early high school years. My family spent several days in Paris, and one day we went to lunch at a small hole-in-the-wall creperie with limited seating and a loudly singing proprietor. I ordered a simple ham and cheese filling, followed by a strawberry and nutella for dessert. I was amazed that the same foundation, a simple crepe batter with only four or five ingredients, could be a vehicle for such different and unique flavor combinations – sweet or savory, creamy or fruity.

Around the same time, I was assigned to read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. In middle school, I did not have a very good relationship with reading. I would lazily skim for school assignments – getting the gist of the plot but missing the beautiful character descriptions and the subtleties in the language. The Great Gatsby reminded me of the wonderful creativity of literature. It lifted me out of my reading slump. I read it slowly, taking my time with each chapter. I listened to the dialogue in my head, and pictured the Gatsby mansion and its lavish parties. Like my first experience at the Paris creperie, I was amazed by the variety of the book and how different it was from any literature I had ever experienced.

Fitzgerald’s writing style is light and crisp, full of dynamic characters and elegant surprises. Any crepe can parallel these themes – never becoming too heavy or unmanageable, but providing enough variety in texture and flavor to be interesting.

I am always looking for parallels between my passions, and cooking and reading intersect in their endless possibilities. One can never run out of books to read or recipes to try. If ever in a slump, look for something different from anything you’ve tried in the past; it will surely revive you!

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Crepe batter:

4 eggs

2 cups whole milk

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons butter, unsalted and melted

Filling:

1 cup red grapes, halved

1 cup goat cheese, crumbled

3 chicken breasts

Basil

2 tbsp flour

2 tbsp butter

2 cups whole milk

Salt, pepper

Juice of 1 lemon

1 cup white wine

Instruction:

1. Combine flour, sugar, and salt. Whisk milk and eggs in separate bowl. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients in portions, whisking in between additions so as to avoid lumps in the batter. Whisk in melted butter. Cover batter in cling film and allow to rest for 20 minutes. (You can mix these ingredients in a blender, but I like to whisk by hand to have more control!)

2. Season both sides of chicken breast with salt and pepper. In a sautee pan over medium-high heat, sear chicken breasts on either side for a golden brown color. Finish in a 350 degree oven for about 10-12 minutes (until firm and cooked through). Remove from oven and cover  with tin foil to retain moisture as the chicken cools a bit.

3. For cream sauce: melt butter in small saucepan. Add flour and stir over medium heat, allowing flour to cook out for a minute or so. Add heated milk bit by bit, whisking between additions to avoid lumps. In a separate saucepan, bring lemon juice and white wine to a simmer and reduce by half. Add lemon wine mixture to the milk pan; season with salt and pepper.

4. Halve red grapes, crumble goat cheese, cube chicken, and chop basil.

5. Assembly of crepes: grease a non-stick frying pan with butter on medium-high heat. Spread a ladle-full of thin batter in the pan, creating an even layer. Allow first side of crepe to cook for about 45 seconds; flip with spatula and allow second side to cook for about 30 seconds. Add fillings (cream sauce, grapes, goat cheese, cubed chicken, basil) to crepe and fold to contain all elements.

Enjoy your crepe with The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and check in at warandpeach.wordpress.com for future recipes and book reviews!

This Side of Peared Ice

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One of my favorite things to do during summertime evenings is put on jazz and enjoy a refreshing cocktail. In so many of his books, F. Scott Fitzgerald paints the Jazz Age as a time when the hand was perpetually holding a champagne glass and the foot was constantly tapping along to a syncopated tune. But Princeton student Amory Blaine in This Side of Paradise reminds me how cocktail hour and the luxuries of adulthood are not a privilege; they are an earned right that can only be enjoyed after the ever-bumpy ‘coming of age’ progression.

This Side of Paradise is a novel that, though written and set almost a century ago, describes every college student’s slog. Throughout the novel, Amory learns to occupy the space between parental impact, proper mentorship, academic vocation, and relationships stopping and starting. Just as the punch of lemon zest blends with mature thyme and elegant pear, seemingly different components of Amory’s (and any eighteen-ish year old’s) life slowly come together and begin to make sense.

I am able to compare my own time at college with Amory’s from the calm of my back porch as a jazz melody softly plays from inside. Though my roaring twenties are far from over, I am able to enjoy a side of paradise that can only come from cocktail hour.

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Cocktail:

1 pear

1 cup water

1/4 cup sugar

5 sprigs thyme

1 lemon (zest and juice)

1 1/2 cups vodka

1 bottle champagne

Instruction:

1. Use a melon baller (also known as a Parisienne scoop) to make small pear balls. Put in freezer on parchment paper and leave for at least an hour.

2. In a small saucepan, add water, sugar, thyme, remaining pear trimmings, and lemon zest. Heat until sugar has dissolved, then set aside to cool down and infuse.

3. Strain simple syrup and shake over ice with vodka and lemon juice.

4. Fill about a third of your cocktail glass with the vodka mixture. Top with champagne. Garnish with frozen pear balls and lemon zest.

Enjoy this summery cocktail with This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and check in at warandpeach.wordpress.com for future recipes and book reviews. Cheers!

A Tale of Two Chutneys

Anyone who has thrown a borderline stale baguette into the garbage and exclaimed, “This is the worst of times!” perhaps needs to remember how Charles Dickens began A Tale of Two Cities. Although this day old bread may seem like a lost cause – a sign that you were too preoccupied yesterday to dig into some freshly baked carbohydrate-y goodness – what otherwise would be a waste may indeed be a golden (well, golden-brown) opportunity. By turning a baguette into small toasts and accessorizing it with delicious toppings, this appetizer will make you rejoice and declare, “It is the best of times.”

Like the two male protagonists in A Tale of Two Cities, crostinis can be seemingly similar – identical in foundation, size, shape – perhaps no one can say which is ‘better’ or ‘more desirable.’ One may prefer a Charles Darnay character: a simple flavor, transparent, no surprises, elegant, easy to figure out. Or, like me, one may be intrigued by the complexity of Sydney Carton – a sweet chutney with the surprising cut of vinegar on the smoothness of brie. The reader and eater can constantly side with one and in the blink of a bite or chapter begin sympathizing with the other.

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Crostini:

Baguette (I use sourdough, but anything will work!)

Olive oil

Brie cheese, room temperature

Fig -Apple Chutney:

1 red onion, finely chopped

2 apples, diced

10 (or so)  fresh figs, diced

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 tbsp cinnamon

Olive oil

Instruction:

1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

2. In saucepan, sweat red onion in olive oil until softened (medium heat). Stir in brown sugar and allow to melt on heat. Add apple cider vinegar and allow to reduce by half.

3. Add apples, figs, and cinnamon, lower heat, and cover saucepan with lid. Allow chutney to cook until apples have softened and begun to break down. If, when apples are cooked, the chutney looks too wet, remove the lid and raise the heat to medium to allow some moisture to evaporate.

4. Slice baguette into rounds, about a half-inch in thickness. Drizzle with olive oil and let bake in oven until golden brown and crispy.

5. Spread brie on the toasted baguette rounds, top with chutney.

Alternative (Pineapple-Lime) Chutney:

1 can of crushed pineapple

1 lime, zest and juice

1/4 onion

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon olive oil

Basil to garnish

Instruction:

In saucepan, cook onion in olive oil and salt on low heat until caramelized. Add crushed pineapple, lime zest and juice and warm through. Raise the heat to medium to allow some moisture to evaporate. Garnish with basil.

A Simpler Assembly:

(In place of apple-fig chutney and brie.) Toast baguette rounds. Top with a slice of cheddar cheese, several slices of apple, and a bit of prosciutto.

In honor of Bastille Day, enjoy chutney on baguette with A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, and check in at warandpeach.wordpress.com for future recipes and book reviews!