I made this recipe for our January Cookbook Club meeting to see if it could be added to the holiday treats list next year.
Although I am a fudge snob and didn’t think it counted as “real” fudge (because no soft ball stage, no candy thermometer, needed to set in fridge, etc.), the FIve-Minute Fudge Wreath was a big hit at Cookbook Club.
The recipe called for optional decorations with red and green candied cherries, which I couldn’t find in my last-minute dash to the supermarket, so I decorated my wreath with the leftover walnut halves and butterscotch chips.
I would definitely make this again, and think it would be perfect for a dessert buffet or holiday potluck offering.
Something I’ve always thought would be fun would be a cookbook club where everyone would try a recipe from a cookbook, bring it to the meeting, and the group would talk about the good and bad of the cookbook, the recipes we tried, and the recipes we still wanted to try.
So I got the Good Taste Cookbook Club started at my library last September, and it’s going strong! Except for meeting every other month instead of monthly, it’s just like any other library book club, except that the books we read are cookbooks. Oh, and we also eat extremely well at every meeting!
My Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl was the January selection. It’s a combination memoir/cookbook that the longtime restaurant critic ended up writing after Gourmet – the magazine she had edited for ten years – was suddenly shut down, with everyone on staff laid off. Its format, design, and recipe layout are unusual for a cookbook (e.g. loose, conversational-style, sometimes inexact, instructions; ingredient lists divided into “Shopping List” and “Staples”; personal notes woven into the recipe directions) which some of the group didn’t care for, but others enjoyed.
“For the past six months, cooking had been my lifeline, and I was grateful for everything I had learned in the kitchen. Most cookbooks, I thought as I reached for an orange and began to squeeze it for juice, are in search of perfection, an attempt to constantly re-create the same good dishes. But you’re not a chef in your own kitchen, trying to please paying guests. You’re a traveler, following your own path, seeking adventure. I wanted to write about the fun of cooking, encourage people to take risks. Alone in the kitchen you are simply a cook, free to do anything you want. If it doesn’t work out – well, there’s always another meal” – My Kitchen Year
I made Lemon Panna Cotta for my contribution to the meeting, which was a very simple recipe from My Kitchen Year, having just three ingredients: heavy cream, sugar, and three lemons. As an example of the inexact directions, the recipe calls for the juice and zest of three lemons, but doesn’t tell you approximately how much juice and zest you should end up with. So I wondered if I had it right as I mixed the lemon juice and zest together and plopped it all into the hot cream, but the recipe worked – simple as it was! Even people who don’t particularly care for lemon desserts raved about it.
I put the Lemon Panna Cotta into plastic shot glasses for individual servings, with the remaining amount filling two ramekins. During the meeting, we discovered that it would probably be best kept refrigerated right up until serving time, because it got a little soupy in the bottom of the shot glasses. (The thinner layers in the ramekins seemed to stay firm, though.)
I also wanted to try the recipe for Food Cart Curry Chicken before the cookbook club met, but didn’t have time, so my personal chef (aka Mr. BaystateRA) kindly made it for me. My photo doesn’t do it justice, but it was delicious! Mr. B. complained about grinding spices when we had ground spices in the spice cabinet already, but I think the extra work – his, that is – was definitely worth it, for the flavor explosion.)
I’ve read many of Ruth Reichl’s other books, including the novel she also worked on during this year of unemployment (Delicious!). My Kitchen Year is divided into seasons – Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer – and chronicles her time spent in two residences, a New York City apartment and a country home, upstate.
My Kitchen Year happened to resonate with me, personally, because I had an unexpected six months of unemployment starting in the late fall of last year, which caused me to reevaluate my career and how I spent my time. Like Ruth Reichl, who found so much comfort in the kitchen during her year at home while looking for new employment, I did more cooking than usual during those months and also found it soothing. Although, unlike Ruth Reichl, I didn’t write a book (much less a cookbook AND a novel) during my time of unemployment, I discovered that preparing healthful meals can be as relaxing as baking, and got a lot more creative with salads, so I count that as an overall plus.
It’s the Year of the Monkey!I went along as a driver to the Tet in Boston celebration (which was actually held in a town near us, not in Boston) recently with my husband and his lovely group of students from Vietnam (and one from Haiti!) to learn English and attend college. He is a volunteer tutor at the nearby convent where they live while they’re here.
There were speeches, dancing, martial arts performances, and ceremonies, but our little group of sisters attracted a lot of attention from the Vietnamese-American crowd and became minor celebrities for the morning. Everyone wanted to have a picture taken with them, and sometimes wanted a picture of our whole group. Maybe because my husband dressed up in his Chinese jacket!
Most of the sisters don’t mind posing for pictures, anyway!
My favorite performance was the Lion Dancers. All young men in pairs, they made the giant dragons dance and leap into the air.
When I saw a few of the Lion Dancers relaxing after their performance, they agreed to let me snap their picture.
There were a lot of vendors and displays.
And, of course, a lot of tables where you could buy food!
I bought a Vietnamese sandwich, bánh mì, to take home and we sliced it and had it for dinner.
When our group of lovely ladies learned that morning that I had not yet tried phở (Vietnamese noodle soup) they decided to treat us to lunch at a nearby Vietnamese restaurant, where they showed me how to eat phở correctly. I made a valiant attempt with chopsticks, but soon gave in and used a spoon.
Bowl of pho with one of the additions (bean sprouts)shown
Close-up of my tofu-vegetable pho minus the tofu
The waitress graciously got her picture taken at the table
The other half of the table
We lost one car in our 3-car caravan and they ended up going straight back to the convent without going to lunch!
I ordered the tofu-vegetable phở but accidentally was given plain vegetable phở, which was still delicious. When the apologetic waiter brought me a dish of sauteed tofu, I just added it in!
The Tet in Boston was held before Lunar New Year, so my husband made banh chung to give to his students for their own New Year’s dinner the following week.