Napolean Dynamite: Tots

Napoleon Dynamite is a weird movie, but that is where all of its charm lives. The characters are deadpan, the plot is mildly absurd, and there is a random dance sequence; everything that geeks love. This movie was filmed for around 400k, which is change compared to most films and ended up grossing over 44M. It has developed a cult following which keeps the characters of Napoleon, Pedro and Uncle Rico in our peripheral pop culture more than ten years later.

I love this film and Jon Heeder as Napoleon, a listless and unenthusiastic teen that spends his days drawing ligers, working on his hacking skills to impress chicks, and feeding his grandma’s llama. Napoleon also lives with Kip, his brother who’s searching for love. They are being looked after by their Uncle Rico who is constantly reliving his glory days of high school football while their Grandma enjoys a trip to the dunes. Napoleon’s bizarre family life is interrupted when his best friend Pedro, decides to run for class president. Napoleon pulls out all his sweet moves to help Pedro win the presidency.

One of my favorite parts of the film and one of the most quoted is the tots scene:

(Napoleon has snuck tator tots out of the lunch room and is eating them during class out of his pants pocket)

Randy: Napoleon, give me some of your tots.

Napoleon: No, go find your own.

Randy: Come on, give me some of your tots.

Napoleon: No, I’m freakin’ starving! I didn’t get to eat *anything* today.

(Randy kicks the pocket with the tots, crushing them)

Napoleon: Ugh! Gross! Freakin’ idiot!

 

My husband was eating a hotdog and tots lunch with my girls a few days ago and I reflexively  quoted Randy’s line at him and it clicked: why not make some tater tots on my own?

The obvious use of tater tots in the film is based on setting; tots are generally associated with grade school lunches. The high school serves as the backdrop for the majority of this film so the tots make sense.

A closer look at the scene in which the tots appear gives us a deeper look into Napoleon’s personality and how he is generally regarded at his school. He sneaks the tots out of the cafeteria to eat during class even though he hasn’t eaten all day; this alludes to the fact that he is a loner. The overall conversation with Randy demonstrates that Napoleon is not only a loner but an outcast; largely ignored by the other kids but occasionally picked on. Randy demands the tots like a bully would demand lunch money; when Napoleon refuses to give them up Randy responds as a bully would, and administers an act of aggression. This whole scene is demonstrative of Napoleon’s place in the high school pecking order.

For research for this post I looked up several DIY tater tot recipes and found ones that covered a wide spectrum including spicy, savory, sweet, and everything in between. I felt I had to put these tater tots in context, so I decided to go with the most basic recipe I could think of; perfect for mimicking a mundane high school lunch.

The recipe I developed was surprising easy and probably something I will incorporate into my actual food rotation. The tater tots were simple to assemble and they can be frozen and reheated later which is a big selling point for me. To start, I chose some russet potatoes and par boiled.

Then I shredded them and mixed with flour and salt and pepper. The hardest part was shaping them into the actual tots, but with practice and patience I was able to get them to resemble the normal tot I am used to seeing.

I was very pleased with the end result. The taste was appropriately plain and the texture was exactly how I remembered them from my own high school cafeteria. They were nostalgically perfect. When I make these in the future I plan on adding spices and some other flavors to suit my current tastes. I suggest anyone making these to do the same unless you really pine for that high school cafeteria realness. Regardless of how you like your tater tots flavored they will always be a classic grade school food, just as Napoleon Dynamite has become a classic film.

 

High School Lunch Tater Tots:

2 pounds Russet Potatoes, peeled

1 Tbsp Flour

salt and pepper to taste

Shortening for frying

  1. Place potatoes in a large saucepan and cover with cold water by 1 inch. Bring to a boil and cook until parboiled, about 6-7 minutes; drain well and let cool.
  2. Using a box grater, finely shred potatoes.
  3. Transfer potatoes to a large bowl. Stir in flour; season with salt and pepper, to taste. The mixture should be workable but dry. Form potatoes into tots.
  4. Heat vegetable oil in a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat.
  5. Add tots to the skillet, 5 or 6 at a time, and cook until evenly golden and crispy, about 3-4 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.
This entry was posted in Film.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia-Rum Ham

I apologize to any regular readers about taking the summer off but I promise I am coming back from my trip to the Jersey Shore very inspired.  I can’t get a certain episode of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” out of my brain. It’s the one where, you guessed it, Frank, Dennis and the rest of the gang head to the Jersey Shore. Earlier in the summer, as I sat on the beach in Atlantic City contemplating the relationship of Charlie and his waitress, I suddenly remembered the real star of this episode: Frank’s Rum Ham. Could his ridiculous creation be a real thing? I had to find out.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is about  “The Gang”, which consists of five of the most ridiculous, self centered, shameless, manipulative and stupid people ever. A lot of the episodes of this show are filled with the gang engaging in some sort of manipulative scheme or conspiring against each other for no reason. The gang runs Paddy’s Pub, a disgusting dive in Philadelphia which serves as the arena and backdrop for the gang’s shenanigans.

In “The Gang goes to the Jersey Shore” Dennis and Dee lead the gang outside of Philadelphia to revisit one of their old favorite vacation spots on the Jersey Shore. Once they arrive, Dennis and Dee realize that the shore isn’t the magical place that exists in their memories. While Dennis and Dee try (unsuccessfully) to recapture the shore experiences of their youth, Charlie spends a magical evening at the beach with his waitress.

 

Mac and Frank spend their time sitting on the beach eating the Rum Ham, but remove themselves to a dingy in the ocean because they are tired of protecting their ham from the beach’s stray dogs. Floating around in the sun, and the booze infused ham proves too much for them and they pass out. They wake up very far from shore and Frank starts to panic as soon as he realizes that the Rum Ham is floating away. They linger in the ocean for a while, are rescued by a boat full of guidos and end up partying the night away getting spray tanned and taking steroids. Mac and Frank become reunited with Rum Ham on the party boat solidifying their awesome adventure.

The ham in this episode is significant because it obtains a level of personification that food rarely achieves. Rum Ham actually becomes a member of “The Gang” in this episode. It is just like Mac and Frank; loaded with booze afloat on the ocean; it even gets rescued by the guidos! Also during this adventure, Mac and Frank talk directly to the ham, at one point Frank actually apologizes to it while it’s floating away as if it was leaving in the middle of an argument.  When reunited, Mac and Frank both exclaim “Rum Ham!” as if shouting a buddies name before hugging it.

The Rum Ham is also a good representation of how this show often crosses the line into bizarre territory. The world that “The Gang” lives in is definitely not grounded in reality and is often disgusting as well as inappropriate. Mac’s initial reaction to the ham is a bit of disbelief, which is an expected reaction, however, he quickly declares Frank a genius and begins eating Rum Ham and shoving away the stray dogs. This marks a place in the show where the expected quickly gives way to the bizarre which is what this show thrives on.

In the episode Frank describes the making of Rum Ham by stating: “This is ham soaked in rum. It is loaded with booze”. I figured that would be the best pace to start. I wanted to use a spiced rum because I felt that would taste better with ham as well as give it that beach-y vibe.  I  also figured that to cook the ham in booze wouldn’t be enough and that I should soak it first to give it a chance to really absorb the rum. So, I created a marinade for the ham to hang out in comprised of spiced rum and brown sugar. I let it sit in my fridge about 5-6 hours but the longer you let it sit the more rum-ish it will be.

I kept thinking about Rum Ham hanging out in the ocean all day and I became inspired to cook this thing in my slow cooker. Not only would it infuse the ham more with the rum/brown sugar flavor but it would also save me from turning on my oven in the summer.

I get pretty vague with the cooking instructions on this recipe for a few reasons. The first being that as a post having to do with IASIP I figured that Frank would spend little to no time with careful preparations for his rum ham and so I could afford to be a little laid back with mine too. Also, I have found that when cooking with booze it is really more a matter of taste than anything, so use as much or as little rum in this as you like. There is even a non-alcoholic rum extract out there for those of you that want to participate but are not comfortable cooking with alcohol.

The ham came out really flavorful; the salt of the ham with the sweetness of the brown sugar was quite nice. The spiced rum I used gave it a nice complexity of flavor as well. I also feel that by soaking it in the marinade and then soaking it again in the slow cooker worked really well to infuse the flavors into the meat.  I would definitely make this again for a nice summery dinner to be enjoyed along with my Jersey Shore memories, (none of which involve stray dogs or steroids).

Rum Ham

Spiral Cut Ham trimmed to fit into your slow cooker with the lid on

1/4 cup of spiced Rum plus a splash

3Tbs Brown Sugar plus more for sprinkling

1-2 Cups Water

  1. Place the ham in a freezer bag or large bowl. Combine 1/4 cup rum, brown sugar, and water and it to the ham.  Place in fridge for at least a couple hours turning every once in a while. The longer it hangs out in there the stronger the rum flavor will be.
  2. Sprinkle some brown sugar to coat the bottom of your slow cooker. Place ham in there flat side down. Sprinkle some more brown sugar on the ham and add a splash of rum into the slow cooker. Cover and cook on low 4-5 hours. Every hour or so baste the ham with the collected juices from the bottom of the slow cooker.

 

 

This entry was posted in TV.

Twin Peaks 2017: Cherry Pie Reboot

Twin-Peaks-Revival-Red-Room

Twin Peaks is coming back!! For those of you that are unfamiliar with this gem of a show let me catch you up. Twin Peaks is the early 90’s masterpiece created by David Lynch and Mark Frost. It centers around the murder investigation of  small town homecoming queen Laura Palmer. FBI agent Dale Cooper heads the investigation and as time goes on the focus of the show is not only to catch the killer but the other goings-on of  the strange townsfolk in Twin Peaks. The show walks the line between picturesque small town life and the sinister things that occur just below the surface. Back in the 90’s we were able to find out who killed Laura Palmer but we never found out what happened to any other the other townsfolk after the show abruptly ended.

Twin-Peaks-Return

Showtime has picked up the show and is getting ready to continue the story 25 years from where it left off. Audiences have been assured that numerous actors are returning for the reboot including  Kyle McLachlan reprising his role as  the quirky, pie loving Dale Cooper.

A few months ago I created a post for Dale Cooper’s favorite diner style cherry pie. It was delicious! However, with the revival of the show, I felt that the recipe needed a revival as well. So, this is my 2017 Double R Diner cherry pie.

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Previously, I used a store bought crust because pie crust intimidates me and the fact that it seemed like a more likely ingredient for a diner pie. I decided to kick the crust up a notch this time around and make my own. If you want to use store bought for this, feel free! I did some research and came up with something I thought would taste good and still be simpler than regular pastry dough-short bread crust!

This crust was very easy to make and work with. It gave me a lot of confidence in my crust making skills. A great tip for this was to roll the dough out in between two pieces of cling film, it made it much easier to get off the counter and into the pie plate!

In addition to the crust getting revamped, the filling for this pie got an overhaul. In the previous version, I did a very simple filling but with fresh ingredients; this time, I wanted to take  the same concept and make the filling a bit more fancy. I added some vanilla and almond flavor which really gives the filling a bit more depth and pairs well with the short bread crust.

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I even decorated the top of this one and drizzled some sugar on the top crust!

Overall, this pie is delicious and not very difficult. I really like the new flavors it brings as well as the different crust texture. To me, this cherry pie is not better than the previous one just different. I am hoping the same idea rings true for the restored Twin Peaks.

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Twin Peaks New Double R Diner Cherry Pie:

Crust:

2 cups Flour

1/4 tsp Salt

2/3 cup Powdered Sugar

1 cup (2 sticks) Butter, cold and cut in chunks

1 Egg

1/2 Tbsp. Water

Filling:

6 cups fresh, pitted Cherries

1/2 cup White Sugar

1/2 cup Brown Sugar

4 Tbsp Corn Starch

1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract

1/2 tsp Almond Extract

Egg wash:

1 egg

1 Tbsp. Milk

*Granulated sugar

  1. Begin the crust. In a stand mixer place butter, flour, and sugar in mixing bowl and use the paddle attachment mix until crumbly (sorta like wet sand). You can also use your fingers for this.
  2. In a separate bowl blend the egg and water together.
  3. Mix the egg mixture into the dry mixture just until blended. wrap in cling film and let sit in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  4. Assemble the filling. Mix the cherries, sugars and cornstarch and let sit for about 30 minutes to let juices flow.
  5. Cook over medium heat until mixture begins to thicken.
  6. Ladle filling (fruit first!) into pie crust and then add juice until full.
  7. Divide the dough in half. Rollout one half and fit over pie plate. Trim edges.
  8. After filling, roll out second half and fit over pie. Trim edges. Use cookie cutters to cut out shapes from any excess dough and arrange on top.
  9. Cover pie with egg wash and dust with granulated sugar.
  10. Bake  at 375 for 45 minutes, wrap edges of pie with foil if they brown too fast.
  11. Let cool before cutting.

 

This entry was posted in TV.

Black Butler: Gateau au Chocolat

I am willing to admit it; I am an anime fan. I love the plot lines, the visuals, and the complexity of the characters and their relationships.  I also tend to love series’ that have an obvious food theme. Black Butler happens to have all of the things I enjoy in one series. There is an interesting plot, well developed characters and at least one delicious dish presented in every episode.

For those of you that don’t watch anime or haven’t caught this particular show it follows Ciel Phantomhive, the adolescent head of the Phantomhive family, who is tasked with solving crimes in London’s underworld. He does this with the help of his trusty butler, Sebastian. Ciel has formed a contract with Sebastian Michaelis who is really a demon that has taken on the disguise of a butler, and in exchange for his services he will eventually be allowed to consume Ciel’s soul. So, we find ourselves in this show that is a mix of  mystery, scifi and Martha Stewart.

The first dish I have attempted from this awesome show comes from episode “His Butler, Supremely Talented”, which is about betrayal and drama that happens in conjunction with a curry competition. The dish I chose has nothing to do with curry; it’s Sebastian’s  gateau au chocolat, or chocolate cake.

The Gateau au Chocolat is important because it is part of a larger theme of the series; Black Butler deals heavily in the theme of appetites. Murder, lust, power, and sweets and are just some of the appetites that belong to the characters in this series.  The food is representative of the appetites overall and Sebastian’s appetite for Ciel’s soul in particular. The cake, in addition to all the food that is served, is a subtle reminder of Sebastian’s intentions.

It is also interesting to note that Sebastian prepares all of the food for Ciel; whose soul he intends to eat.  It is almost like Sebastian is fattening a calf for slaughter. I wonder if the sweetness of the food affects the taste of the soul?

Maing this, I was a little intimidated but I was determined. I was intimidated because I have been making a lot of complicated recipes lately and I was feeling a little exhausted by another one. However, it was much more simple than I thought. The hardest part was converting the ingredients to US measurements. The final result was almost like a brownie; dense and rich with great chocolate flavor. I loved this cake and will definitely be making it again.

 

Sebastian’s Gateau au Chocolat

12 oz. Dark Chocolate

3/4 cup Sugar

1/3 cup Flour

2/3 Cup Butter

4 Eggs

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch cake pan. Cut a parchment circle to fit the bottom of the pan and butter it as well.
  2. Combine the chocolate, butter and sugar in the top of a double boiler placed over simmering water. Melt over medium heat, stirring until the ingredients are thoroughly blended. Set the mixture aside.
  3. Whisk the egg yolks into the chocolate. Whisk in the flour.
  4. Beat the egg whites in a large bowl just until they form firm peaks; do not overbeat.
  5. Add ⅓ of the egg whites to the chocolate batter and mix vigorously. Gently fold in the remaining whites. Do this slowly and patiently. Do not over mix, but be sure that the mixture is well blended and that no streaks of white remain.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until the cake is firm and springy, 35 to 40 minutes.
  7. Cool on a rack for at least 30 minutes before unmolding. Dust with confectioner’s sugar, if desired

This entry was posted in TV.

Under the Tuscan Sun: Red Pepper and Balsamic Brushette

I was looking for a film to watch with a good story and some delicious food scenes and Under The Tuscan Sun did not disappoint. The film is based off of Frances Mayes’ memoir of the same name which details her impulsive purchase of a villa in Tuscany following a divorce and how she settles into her new life. I found the portrayal of Francis charming, the story delightful, and the food appealing so I attempted to recreate a little bit of Tuscany in my kitchen.

There is a scene in the film where Francis has started to acclimate to her new life in Tuscany and cooks for her construction crew. She writes a menu on a chalkboard that made my mouth water. Out of all the dishes she writes on the board one stood out to me: Red Pepper and Balsamic Bruschette.  I love bruschette and the idea of having it with peppers as the star was intriguing.

I thought, what better way to try a recipe from a film than by using the actual recipe that is from the film? FYI,  Francis Mayes has also written a very successful cookbook that coincides with her life in Tuscany. So it seemed like a no brainer for this post to use her recipe from the book, the film, and her real life lol.

The significance of the bruschette is pretty obvious, the cooking of food in the scene is representative of her metamorphosis in the film. Francis doesn’t cook until she has decided to embrace her new life; until she has changed along with her surroundings. The fact that she is cooking Italian food is symbolic of the fact that she has shed the hurtful American part of her life and she is ready to see things according to an Italian worldview.

 

In this scene Francis is done mourning her marriage which is symbolized by the precence of the food. Frances’ state of emotional starvation is giving way to nourishment when she brings food back into her life. It is also interesting to note the people she is feeding with this meal are the people who are literally giving her a new foundation for her new life.

The recipe for Red Pepper Balsamic Breschette couldn’t be simpler, the ingredients are only peppers, olives and balsamic vinegar. The most difficult part about this recipe is the waiting. You have to simmer this low and slow for what seems like forever. Francis’ recipe states to cook about 40 minutes but I found the texture of the dish more to my liking after about an hour.

Normally, I don’t care for olives but the smell of this dish cooking made me forget that fact.  I tasted it and I felt transported. The flavors are deep and delicious. I ate the leftovers with eggs the next day.

The charming landscapes, the food, atmosphere and the glimpse in to the culture of Tuscany in this film left me happy and hungry.  I was glad that Francis was able to find friendship, family and love in Tuscany during this film. I was even happier  found such a great recipe!

 

Francis Mayes’ Red Pepper and Balsamic Breschette (Red Peppers Melted with Balsamic Vinegar)

3 Red Bell Peppers, seeded and thinly sliced

1/2 cup black olives pitted

3 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil, or more if needed

1/4 Cup Balsamic Vinegar, or more if needed

1/4 tsp Salt

1/4 tsp Pepper

Prepared Brushette or Crostini

  1. In a large skillet on lowest heat, cook the peppers and olives, uncovered, with the oilive oil and balsamic vinegar until the peppers are soft, about 40 minutes. Stir occasionally; the peppers should almost “melt.” Add more olive oil and balsamic vinegar if they look dry. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon peppers onto bread and serve warm.

 

This recipe is from Francis Mayes cookbook, The Tuscan Sun Cookbook.

 

This entry was posted in Film.

The Blacklist: Beef Stroganoff

I just started watching The Blacklist and I. Can’t. Stop. The writing on this show is great and I love contemplating whether or not someone is “good” or “bad” after every episode. Great suspense, great dark humor, tons of food references and it has James Spader; I can’t think of anything missing!

For those of you that are unfamiliar with this show it is about Raymond “Red” Reddington, a former Navy officer turned high-profile criminal who, after eluding capture for decades, tells the FBI that he has a list of the most dangerous criminals in the world that he has compiled over the years and is willing to inform on their operations in exchange for immunity.  However, he insists on working only with a rookie FBI agent by the name of Elizabeth Keen. Once Elizabeth starts working with Red her whole world becomes this surreal situation where the people she thought she knew are strangers and the people she is just encountering have been on the sidelines of her life for longer than she knows. The viewer has no idea who is meaning to do her harm or help her; we also have no idea regarding Red’s intentions for working only with Elizabeth.  (At least as far as I have watched it!)

Raymond Reddington spent his criminal years globetrotting around the world and has been to his fair share of exotic locales. He has also enjoyed a wide spectrum of delicious food. However, the dish I have chosen to write about in terms of this show is one that is pretty common and not exactly exotic: Beef Stroganoff. Originating in Russia and popular in almost every region of the world, Beef Stroganoff is featured in one of the most memorable scenes of The Blacklist to date.

During the first season, in the episode “The Good Samaritan Killer” Red is still looking for the leak in the FBI. He discovers that money had been transferred into an agent’s bank account and goes to investigate the banker that handled the money. The scene is set up so that the banker arrives home to find his wife drinking wine, hanging out and cooking Beef Stroganoff for Red. If that isn’t bizarre enough, when Red fails to get the information he is seeking and shoots the banker in the leg the wife reacts by screaming hysterically and insisting that they call a doctor.  Things get kicked up a notch when an exasperated Red threatens to put her in the closet if she doesn’t stop; he ends up cramming her in the closet. After Janice continues to yell from the closet an even more irritated Red tells her in a strangely non threatening way that he will shoot through the closet door if she doesn’t stop yelling. Finally, Red leaves with the information he wanted but not before yelling,  “Janice, my sincerest apologies. I’ll take a rain check on the Stroganoff. It smells delicious!” Wtf?

Obviously, the scene is memorable because of its absurdity and that is one of the reasons why it is important. It’s significant because it marks a major moment in the show where the writers realized that they could make this dark or make it dark humor; they went the humor route. The scene mirrors one from the film Taken where Liam Neeson’s character is trying to get information and the scene goes the route of dark, bloody and intense; when the same sort of scene presented itself in The Backlist we get humor. This is because Red’s character is happy, full of life and he is just as good at making friends as he is at making enemies. By utilizing Red’s personality the writers were able to reach their objective for the scene (getting the information) but in a fun and unpredictable way. The “Stroganoff Scene” actually changed the course of the show.

This scene is also significant because it hints at the lengths that Red will go to in order to tie up loose ends but also demonstrates his sense of fair play. He is a man willing to befriend the wife of his target, use lies and  persuasion in addition to violence. This man was just one small part of the equation and Red spends a great deal of energy getting the information he wants. He is able to get the information from the banker without harming Janice at all and without causing any unnecessary damage. This scene is indicative of Red’s style in these types of matters, he is thorough, efficient, and totally charming. This scene is where Red becomes the anti-hero that viewers really applaud.

I was excited to make this dish because like Janice, I already had a recipe that I have used for years that I make when “company” comes over. I wrote the recipe using round steak and that is what I actually used this time but I have previously made this with all sorts of cuts including stew beef. So use whatever you are comfortable with.

Cooking the mushrooms right in the pan after the meat has been removed allows you to deglaze the pan with the mushroom juices. This really helps blend the flavors of the dish. Adding the onions to the skillet when the mushrooms have had time to start breaking down is the key to avoiding overdone onions and underdone mushrooms. This way, they finish at the same time making the texture of the dish really great.

One key to the sauce for this dish is to let the sour cream warm up a bit on the counter before adding it to the skillet. Doing this helps to temper the sauce so its less grainy and integrates better with the other ingredients. After whisking the sauce together you add all the other components back in and it’s Stroganoff magic.

 

This dish is one of my favorites because it’s simple; alternatively I am loving The Blacklist because of the complexities. I am delighted that both could come together for this post. I may make another batch to eat while I binge watch the next season of The Blacklist this weekend.

 

Beef Stroganoff

1-1.5 pds Round steak

3/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. pepper

4 tbsp. flour

2 tbsp. oil

1/2 cup chopped mushrooms

3/4 cup chopped onion

2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 (10.5 oz.) can of cream of mushroom soup

1 cup sour cream

8oz egg noodles cooked.

  1. Cut the steak into thin strips against the grain. Coat with salt, pepper and flour.
  2. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Brown the meat and set aside.
  3. Reduce heat to low. Add the mushrooms and cook 1-2 minutes. Add onions and continue cooking until done.
  4. Add Worcestershire sauce, soup and sour cream. Whisk together to blend, making sure you get all leftover browned bits off bottom of skillet.
  5. Bring to a boil, simmer 10 minutes.
  6. Add the meat back in and the egg noodles. Stir to coat. Serve.

 

This entry was posted in TV.

The Husband’s Secret: Hot Cross Buns

I love Liane Moriarty novels. I love the food (and drinks) that I have been able to make from her books. The Husband’s Secret is no exception; I loved this book. It can be summed up as a modern day take on the story of Pandora and her box. Only in this case the box is actually a letter written by Cecilia Fitzpatrick’s husband. The novel goes on to detail the lives of three women (Cecilia, Rachel and Tess) who are impacted by the murder of a teen girl that happened nearly thirty years ago. This novel illustrates how tiny decisions can change the scope of dozens of lives.

The story takes place around Easter so a main food component in the novel is Hot Cross Buns. In fact, the buns are all eaten by the characters on Good Friday the eating of the buns by the characters is interesting not only because it is a tradition to eat them on Good Friday but because it marks the convergence of all the individual story lines of the women into one final conclusion. It is the point where their individual experiences come together for the conclusion of the novel.

The scenarios in which the buns appear for each character also carry meaning in the story in regards to their individual situations. First there is Cecilia, who makes the buns for her family and upon getting ready to eat them discovers that she has forgotten butter to put on them. This is significant because it has been established in the novel that she is a very accomplished homemaker, the fact that she has forgotten a staple like butter is indicative of the effect her husband’s letter has had on her. It demonstrates her inability to focus on the everyday tasks because she is so taxed with John-Paul’s situation.  Cecilia forgetting the butter for the hot cross buns shows how Cecilia is slowly starting to fall apart because of John Paul.

“How could that have happened? She never forgot a staple. Her system was foolproof. Her refrigerator and pantry were always perfectly stocked”. -Liane Moriarty

Next there is Tess, the hot cross buns are significant in her storyline because they represent her situation with her husband and with her lover. When she is on the phone with Connor she tells him that, “I’ll come over after Liam is asleep. I will bring hot cross buns”. However, later when she is imagining her conversation with Will she thinks to herself how she will withhold the buns from him and not let him have any even though he loves them.

“The thought of seeing Will filled her with almost unbearable confusion. Would she cry? Yell? Fall into his arms? Slap him across the face? Offer him a hot cross bun? He loved hot cross buns. Obviously he did not deserve one”. -Liane Moriarty

The buns are demonstrative of her feelings for each man. She wants to give them to Connor while she wants to deny them from Will. The buns represent the conflicts she feels in her love life and where she wants to direct her emotions.

Finally there is Rachel, the buns for her are indicative of the fact she exists outside of the family unit of her son.  On Good Friday, Lauren is the one that makes the buns, this is to position her as the matriarch of the family, not Rachel. When Lauren brings the buns into the room Rachel offers to help and Lauren tells her no.

“” Let me help, “said Rachel. “Absolutely not,” said Lauren over her shoulder as she returned to the kitchen. “You never let me help at your place” …when you didn’t let a woman help, it was a way of keeping her at a distance, of letting her know she wasn’t family”. -Liane Moriarty

This whole scenario is an allusion to the fact that Rob, Lauren and their child are exclusive of Rachel. The buns in this scene serve as reminder of  the fact they are leaving Rachel behind, they are moving and not including her in their plans just like Lauren does not include her in the serving of the buns.

It is on the day that all three ladies have their individual experiences with eating the hot cross buns that their stories unite and the novel concludes. With all the mentions of the buns smothered in butter I decided I was hungry for them. I have never made hot cross buns or eaten them but Easter is approaching so it seemed like a good time to try.

The Husband’s Secret takes place in Australia so I looked up a traditional Australian hot cross buns recipe to make them authentic to the novel. I lucked out and found one  from The Australian Women’s Weekly magazine which is where I picture a woman like Cecilia getting her recipe from.  You can find that recipe here.

I knew right away that I would have to find Americanized versions of some ingredients. I was able to get the currants no problem but I had trouble finding sultanas and used golden raisins. I also had to figure out the American equivalents to some of the measurements. Once I had all that figured out I was ready to get started.

While working through the recipe I felt strange putting the yeast into a room temperature liquid. However, I decided to just trust the recipe. It worked out fine. As far as the warm place to put the dough to rest I suggest a windowsill in sunlight, or on an open oven door, with the oven set at a low temperature, as the perfect place for yeast dough. Also when working with the original recipe I found the dough to be really wet and so I increased the amount of flour in mine to make it more manageable.

When the buns came out they smelled delicious. The glaze makes them look glorious, seriously don’t skip this step! I tried one loaded up with butter and it tasted delicious.  The fruit adds just the right amount of sweetness and the butter gives them an indulgent taste and a great texture. I will definitely be making these again for Good Friday next year. To tie everything back to the novel, hot cross buns are an interesting device used in the novel to help signify different truths in each of the women’s situations. I think Moriarty did a fantastic job of using them to make subtle points in the stories of Cecilia, Tess and Rachel.

The Husband’s Secret: Hot Cross Buns

  • 1 cup  milk
  • 2 Tbsp. honey
  • 5 Tbsp. Butter
  • 1 cup apple at room temperature
  • 1 packet of dried yeast
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp.  orange zest
  • 1/3 cup currants
  • 1/3 cup golden raisins
  • 5 3/4 cups bread flour (see tips)
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp salt

For the Flour Paste:

  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 tbsp. powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup cold water, approximately

For the Glaze:

  • 1 tbsp. powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp powdered gelatin
  • 1 tbsp water
  1. Heat the milk until bubbly in a small saucepan, then remove from heat and add the honey and butter; stir until combined.
  2. Whisk together the flour, cinnamon and salt.
  3. In a separate, large bowl, whisk the juice and yeast until dissolved. Whisk in the egg and orange zest until combined. Stir in the currants and raisins. Add the flour mixture, then milk mixture. Mix together until well combined. Cover with a clean tea towel or plastic wrap and stand in a warm place for 30 minutes.
  4. Lightly knead the dough on a lightly floured surface for 10 seconds. Return dough to the bowl, cover and stand in warm place for 1 hour or until risen by half.
  5. Divide the dough into 16 pieces. Shape into balls and place on a large baking tray lined with parchment paper in four rows of four. Cover and stand in a warm place for 30 minutes or until risen by half.
  6. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  7. To make flour paste: combine flour, sugar, and vanilla in small bowl. Gradually mix in enough water to form a smooth paste. Place mixture into a small piping bag fitted with a small plain tube. Pipe crosses on buns.
  8. Bake the buns for about 20 minutes until browned then leave to cool on the tray.
  9. To make glaze: combine all ingredients in small pan and stir over low heat, without boiling, until sugar and gelatin are dissolved.
  10. Transfer the buns to a wire rack and brush tops with the glaze. Serve warm with butter.

This entry was posted in Books.

LEGO Batman Movie: Lobster Thermidore

I recently snuck off without my kids to see The LEGO Batman Movie. I love Batman and I really enjoyed the last LEGO movie and it seemed like a great afternoon date idea. I was curious about how LEGO would pull off a Batman film but it was witty in all the right places, campy in all the right places, filled with LEGO’s and I really liked it!

The plot was actually more complex than I expected it to be. There was the story arc of Batman vs Joker and the rest of the rogues gallery but there was more to it than that. The film also centers on Batman learning to work with others and becoming less egotistical. When the film begins he is very arrogant and selfish, (a lot of the humor comes from the portrayal of him like this).  It was interesting because I didn’t expect the LEGO franchise to portray Batman so humorously narcissistic and self centered. Later in the film, Batman learns to accept others into his life (Robin), and work as part of a team (with Barbara and the others).

Let’s not forget about the food. Batman’s favorite dish is Lobster Thermidor. He has Alfred cook it for him everyday. This is meaningful not only because it perpetuates a joke that billionaire Bruce Wayne would eat lobster every day but he also forces his elderly butler to cook the dish for him every day. I decided that if elderly Alfred can whip this up everyday for Batman, then I can make it at least once for myself.

 

Lobster Thermidor is not generally served in restaurants any more because the ingredients are expensive and the dish is time consuming; this alludes to the fact that in this film, Batman is rich and he is tedious. Using this dish in the film also indicates how uncaring Batman is because he makes Alfred cook this for him repeatedly.  After Batman has become more accepting of the other people in his life some of his selfishness still remains in the fact that although he shares his Lobster Thermidor with everyone, he still has Alfred doing all the work.

To make Lobster Thermidor you obviously have to steam lobsters.  I couldn’t bring myself to steam live lobsters and was able to get a fishmonger to do it for me. If you have the guts to do it yourself  then by all means, but if you don’t I suggest asking your lobster supplier if they will do it for you. I had the good fortune to have mine steamed and the meat picked out for me. Bonus!

Once your lobsters have been steamed and picked out, the next step is to start the long process of making the lovely sauce for this dish. I used almost every pot I own for this part. Once all the steps have been completed you can assemble the dish by filling the shells with the yummy mixture of sauce and lobster, sprinkle with cheese and breadcrumbs, and broil.

 

After spending so much time and making such a mess in my kitchen with this dish I totally understand the meaning of Lobster Thermidor in terms of it being labour intensive and costly. A perfect metaphor for Batman in this film. Another point is that the dish, like Batman is inherently good. I couldn’t make this everyday and I would never make my elderly butler (if I had one), do it either, however it is so good and decadent that I might make it again.

 

Lobster Thermidor

Part 1.

2 1-1.5 pound lobsters

Part 2.

1/4 pound mushrooms sliced

1Tb Butter

1/2 tsp. Lemon juice

1/8 tsp. salt

Part 3.

3 Tb. Butter

3 Tb. Flour

1/2 cup cream

Part 4.

2 Egg yolks

1 tsp. Dry Mustard

1/4 cup Cream

2 Tb. Sherry

pinch cayenne pepper

Part 5.

4-5 Tb. Cream

Part 6.

2 Tb. Butter

2Tb. Sherry

1/4 tsp.  black pepper

1/8 tsp. salt

Part 7.

1/4 cup grated Parmesan Cheese

1/4 cup Panko Bread Crumbs

  1. Boil lobsters. Let cool. Split them in half, lengthwise, making sure to keep the shell halves intact. Crack claws and remove meat, remove meat from tail and discard any remaining lobster innards. Cut all meat in 1/4 inch pieces, set aside.
  2. Place all of the items from Part 2. in a sauce pot with a lid and let stew for 10 minutes over low to medium low heat.
  3. Remove mushrooms but leave the liquid in the pot.  Melt butter from Part 3.  in the same pot and add flour until foamy. Remove from heat and whisk in cream. Replace on heat and cook until it starts to thicken. Set aside.
  4. In a separate saucepan mix ingredients of Part 4 together and whisk over a low heat until thickened. Gradually add this mixture to the other sauce mixture and set aside.
  5. Set a skillet over medium heat with the butter from Part 6. When foam starts to subside, add the lobster meat and stir slowly for 5 minutes until it turns a rosy color.  Add the salt, pepper and sherry and then boil for 1 minute.
  6. Thin out the sauce mixture with the cream from Part 5. Add half the sauce mixture to the lobster mixture and add back in the mushrooms.
  7. Arrange the split lobster shells in a roasting pan and heap the mixture into the shells. Cover with remaining sauce. Mix Part 7 ingredients together and sprinkle over lobsters. Put a pat of butter on each half.
  8. Place in a 425 degree oven for 10-15 minutes until bubbly and sauce has browned. Serve immediately.

This entry was posted in Film.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette: Audrey’s Rosemary Apple Tarte Tatin

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple was another pick from my book club and another book that I didn’t think I would enjoy but did.  The novel follows Bernadette Fox,  an anxious, reclusive ex- architect who disappears right before a family trip to Antarctica. The story’s narration is a compilation of letters, emails and other documents that 15 year old Bee has gathered in hopes of finding her missing mom. The epistolary framework of this novel is a turnoff for some people but I found that it really worked in this case and helped round out the story.

As much as I enjoyed this book there is not a lot of food in it. The big exception to this is the correspondence between Soo-Lin and Audrey (the novel’s antagonists) discussing the upcoming brunch to recruit new students for the private school that Bee attends.

“I still have enough green tomatoes in the greenhouse to fry up for appetizers, plus dill, parsley, and cilantro for aioli. I’ve stored two bushels of apples and want to make my rosemary tarte tatin for dessert”. -Maria Semple

The idea of an apple and herb dessert caught my attention, so I decided to make Audrey’s apple and rosemary tarte tatin.

The tarte tatin is an inverted dessert. It is literally baked one way and flipped 180 degrees to get the finished product. This perfectly describes Audrey’s character, she starts off as an adversary to Bernadette. She spreads rumors, shames her on her lack of parental involvement in school activities, lies about her, and judges her at every turn throughout the novel. However, there is a turning point for Audrey and she does a “complete 180” and becomes somewhat of a hero by the novel’s end. I think it is fitting that Audrey makes a dessert that completely flips over ending right side up.

“You know how we thought Audrey Griffin was the devil? Turns out Audrey Griffin is an angel”. -Maria Semple

I based my work off a recipe I found from the New York Times and you can find that here. I changed it up because, to be honest, I wasn’t keen on making an 11 inch tarte tatin  and the flipping had me freaked out so I had to modify the recipe to work with a 10 inch cake pan. I used a cake pan for easier flipping and also because Julia Child said it was acceptable to make this dish in one.

You all know I am super intimidated by pie crust, but I felt fine making this one. It was simple, and I was able to realize that even if it was ugly when I put it in the oven it wouldn’t matter because after the dish gets flipped, you can’t see it anyway!

The entire dish is pretty straightforward and simple but it did take a lot of prep time. I suggest starting this thing early if you are going to make it or prep parts of it in advance such as the pastry dough and prepping the apples.

The flipping part was a little scary but I felt better putting a platter over my cake pan and then flipping it over versus trying hold a skillet but that is just my preference.

I also found it helpful to wiggle the pan after the flip to make sure it all came out. Here it is after the flip:

 

Like Audrey, the villain turned hero of the story, Apple Rosemary Tarte Tatin is a great mix of sweet and savory. I really enjoyed the flavors of this dish but my family is not as enthusiastic about sweet/savory mixes. They did enjoy the idea of it being prepared one way and then flipped over though. I may bring this for my next book club meeting; they seem to have great taste in books, they probably have great appreciation for good food as well.

Audrey Griffin’s Rosemary-Apple Tarte Tatin:

For the Crust:

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons sugar

¾ teaspoon kosher salt

¾ cup cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

2 egg yolks, beaten with 1 tablespoon of water

For the Filling:

1 cup sugar

10 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, quartered and cored

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1-1 ½ tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

  1. Make the Crust: Place the flour, sugar, salt and butter in a food processor and pulse until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.  Add the yolk mixture and pulse again until mixture comes together. Gather dough into a ball, flatten into a disc, cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least one hour.
  2.  Place the sugar in a pot over medium-low heat. When the sugar begins to melt, stir until it melts completely and turns into a caramel-colored syrup. Remove from the heat. Pour into 10-inch cake round.
  3.  Toss the apples with the melted butter and rosemary. Arrange the apples in the skillet on top of the syrup in 2 layers, making concentric circles.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Roll the dough out into a circle slightly larger than the cake round. Place the dough over the apples and fold in the extra dough, pressing it against the skillet to form a seal. Bake until the crust is lightly browned, about 40 minutes.
  5. Let stand for 10 minutes. (I only waited 7) Quickly but carefully invert the pan over a large plate or platter. Serve warm with creme fraiche or vanilla ice cream.

 

 

 

This entry was posted in Books.

Beauty and the Beast: Cheese Souffle

I feel like Beauty and the Beast is everywhere these days. Disney is about to release a live action version of the popular animated film, so I thought I would celebrate by making something from the animated movie. For those of you that may not have heard the story (could that be possible?),  it is about a girl named Belle who agrees to live with a prince turned scary monster in order to free her dad from his dungeon. Belle and the Beast get off to rocky start but begin to fall in love, which is the key to breaking the curse on the Beast and his castle. This story has been around for a very long time but Disney made it mainstream pop culture with their beautifully drawn movie and memorable soundtrack.

 

One of the most famous scenes in the film is when Belle has agreed to stay at the castle in exchange for her father’s freedom, and is so depondent about being stuck with the Beast she refuses to leave her room to eat. Finally, the enchanted members of the castle staff entice her downstairs to eat by showing her (through song and choreographed dance), all the wonderful things they would like to do for her. The staff is so excited to have a guest they are compelled to demonstrate all of their hospitality skills. They are also hoping to make Belle feel comfortable and more accepting of her situation (and the Beast).

 

It is during the famous “Be Our Guest” song and presentation that Lumiere shows Belle a cheese soufflé ready for her to eat. I always loved the enchantment of this scene and so I chose the soufflé to make.

The soufflé is significant because it is a French dish-lending itself to the appropriate time and place of the story. It is also significant because the word soufflé comes from the French word to breathe-Belle is a metaphorically a breath fresh air in the palace and that may be why the dish is talked about at the same time as her arrival.  Also, souffles are labeled as  being a little difficult to prepare and delicate to handle; these characteristics mirror the early relationship between Belle and the Beast. Their situation is a precarious agreement that could “collapse” at any minute causing everyone to be cursed forever. Finally, in more recent depictions the falling of a soufflé is often a source of humour in a cartoon or show; the fact that it is featured during one of the most whimsical parts of the film may not be a coincidence.

To make this I knew I had to start with eggs and cheese, and after looking at a few generic recipes for cheese soufflé I realized there wasn’t much more to it. However, I was more confused about process with this dish rather than ingredients. So I consulted an expert: Julia Child. A lot of her cooking shows can be found on various websites, including Youtube. After watching her cheese soufflé episode 30-40 times I was ready to attempt the dish. I planned on doing it in my own way but I needed a little bit of guidance!

First, I buttered my 1 quart soufflé dish and sprinkled it with some parmesan cheese. This is so that the soufflé has something to hold on to as it rises; it also provides a delicious crust. A lot of other recipes use breadcrumbs for this part which is totally acceptable but I figure you can never go wrong with more cheese.

Next, I melted more butter in a saucepan and added  flour. I let it get bubbly and then removed it from the heat. Then I added milk and whisked to remove lumps and then put it back on the heat. TIP: I warmed the milk up beforehand so that it would mix better with the already warm butter and flour. Once the milk mixture started to thicken I added my cheese and then removed it from the heat. Since the backdrop of the story is French I used one of my favorite French cheeses: Gruyere.  Gruyere has a great strong woody flavor that goes great in any egg dish. To the cheese mixture I added the egg yolks and spices.

I set my cheese mixture aside and started to whip the egg whites with the cream of tarter. I used a hand mixer and blended until I had stiff peaks. This is when you stop the mixer and hold it upside down the peaks stay stiff and do not fold over onto themselves. I folded about half of the egg whites into the cheese mixture and then the other half. I poured it all into my dish and baked.

This dish was like eating a cheesy, egg-y cloud! It was so good and light! The taste was amazing! Making it, I realized that as extravagant and fancy a cheese soufflé may seem it really was a simple dish with basic ingredients. It reminded me of the film in terms of how, when the Beast is able to simplify his situation and be himself with Belle, magic happened. I am really hoping the live action version of Beauty and the Beast is just as great (and delicious) as the animated version.

 

Cheese Soufflé:

Melted butter for brushing sides of dish

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese ( for dusting the dish)

1/4cup  Butter

1/4 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground mustard
Dash of ground red pepper (cayenne)
1 cup warm milk
2 cups Gruyere cheese (8 ounces)
3 eggs, separated
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1. Heat oven to 350°F. Butter 1-quart soufflé dish or casserole. Dust bottom and sides of dish with parmesan cheese. Shake dish to properly cover and dump out excess.
2. Melt butter in 2-quart saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until smooth and bubbly; remove from heat. Whisk in milk. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir 1 minute. Stir in cheese until melted; remove from heat. Add egg yolks and spices stir until combined.
3. Beat egg whites and cream of tartar in medium bowl with electric mixer on high speed until stiff but not dry; set aside. Fold about 1/2 of the egg whites into cheese mixture. Fold in remaining egg whites. Carefully pour into soufflé dish.
4. Bake 50 to 60 minutes or until knife inserted halfway between center and edge comes out clean. Serve immediately.

This entry was posted in Film.