2/24/15

Stuffed Cabbage, Ligurian-Style / I Want to Skype With You!

Yesterday during an interview, I was asked for a recent recipe from the blog that might be suitable for a beginner cook. And as I tried to come up with an answer, my mind scrolled through the last few blog posts. But the only food-based one that came to me were the pizzelle cookies, which didn’t seem right for a new cook. Of course, now, with my blog right in front of me, I know I should’ve said the shrimp and scallion pancakes, but they didn’t come to mind, mostly because it's been so long since I made them; they no longer felt like something I'd recently cooked. Needless to say, that question and my non-answer got scratched from the record.

I bring this up to show where my head has been: publicizing and promoting the book, i.e. not cooking. And while I’ve enjoyed much of it and have been thrilled to hear from readers, I’m also enjoying the return of my small, quiet life complete with trying out new recipes for the blog on weekends. Which brings me to one of my favorite days from the mini book tour: the one day I actually cooked something.
Perhaps you remember from the baked oatmeal video that Matt’s mom doesn’t eat meat but that Matt’s dad does and rather enjoys it. So when I decided on this Mario Batali recipe for (vegetarian) stuffed cabbage, it was met with enthusiasm from Matt’s mom and thinly-veiled suspicion from Matt’s dad as well as from Matt himself. Fair enough. I mean, I understand how maybe stuffed cabbage—even when followed by the much more exotic words Ligurian-style—doesn’t sound great to everyone. But I was won over by Mario’s beautiful photo and the pound of potatoes that were to be part of the filling.

And though Matt and his dad might have felt lukewarm about the recipe, they were both psyched to gather some of the ingredients at Penn Mac (a.k.a. Pennsylvania Macaroni Company), which (and despite the 15-degree weather) they rode to on their bikes.
The recipe ended up being a really good one to try with family members because though not difficult, there was a lot of chopping of vegetables. My mom came over early in the afternoon and together with Matt’s mom, we chopped potatoes and onions into teeny tiny pieces while Matt and his dad kept an eye on Teddy.
All of this work was made even sweeter by Matt’s parents' all-encompassing sound system. Music is piped in all throughout their place—even the bathroom, where one occasionally got “blasted.” Getting blasted was when you would be in the bathroom minding your business when the music suddenly got really loud. (Matt’s dad does this both as a practical joke and, in his words, as “a courtesy to his guests.”)

We listened to a lot of Billy Bragg, The Smiths, and Bob Dylan, and I couldn’t help myself from occasionally jamming out on the air guitar.
We served the cabbage with some fresh pasta, a simple red sauce, and tons of grated Pecorino Romano. Dessert was my mom’s famous cheesecake with some stewed blueberries. It was such a delicious meal, but more than that, a great day spent in the kitchen with my family. It reminded me how I don’t get to do this enough anymore—not just cooking with family but cooking in general. I’d really like to change that somehow. To which I say: sigh.   
But back to book-related things for a two quick moments.

1. I want to Skype with your book club!

As I’ve said already, it was so amazing and fun to meet and chat with some of you at the LA, Pittsburgh, and Raleigh book events. But since I’ll likely not be able to travel to other cities in the nearish future, Matt and I got to brainstorming and came up with an idea: What if your book club read my book and then you guys could Skype me in for a spirited discussion? Well, I would love to do that! If this interests you, just get your book club on board and then email me (bonappetempt@gmail.com) and we’ll work out a date and a time for the Skype session!

2. There’s a giveaway on Goodreads right now! We’re offering up 20 copies, so g’head and enter!

OK, that’s all for now. Talk to (and maybe even see?) you soon!
 
***

Stuffed Cabbage, Ligurian-Style slightly adapted from Mario Batali

NOTE: When we made this, we had much more filling than large cabbage leaves. So, if I were going to make this again, I would either make a little less filling or I’d pick up two cabbages and maybe some extra sauce so that I could use all of the filling.

1 large green cabbage (3 to 4 pounds)
Salt
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 medium red onions, cut into ½-inch dices.
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 pound new potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1/4-inch dice
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup fresh ricotta, drained
About 1 cup finely slivered fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 cups basic tomato sauce
¾ cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano, separated

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Bring 8 quarts of water to a boil in a large pasta pot. Fill a large bowl with cool water, and place it nearby.

Remove the tough outer leaves of the cabbage, finely chop them, and set them aside. Carefully cut out the cabbage core with a sharp knife.

Add 2 tablespoons salt to the boiling water. Drop the whole cabbage into the water and cook until it is tender, 5 to 6 minutes. Then transfer the cabbage to the bowl of cool water and let it cool.

When the cabbage is cool enough to handle, drain it. Carefully remove the whole leaves from the head, and set aside about a dozen of the best and largest. Chop the remaining cabbage into 1/4-inch pieces and set them aside.

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat the oil over medium heat until just smoking. Add the onions, garlic, potatoes, and the raw and cooked chopped cabbage. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are very soft, 15 to 18 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and allow to cool.

When the potato mixture is cool, add the ricotta, basil, parsley, and 1/4 cup of the Pecorino Romano and fold together. Place a scant 1/2 cup of the cabbage/ricotta mixture in the center of each whole cabbage leaf. Fold each leaf around the filling like a burrito, and secure it with a toothpick.

Pour the tomato sauce into a 9- by 13-inch baking dish, and arrange the cabbage packets on top. Cover the dish tightly with foil, and bake for 30 minutes.

Remove the foil, sprinkle the cabbage packets with the grated pecorino, and bake for another 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
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2/17/15

The Book Tour!

In the past two weeks, I feel as though I've said thank you one million times. But I'm just going to move forward and continue saying it because the people to thank keep sprouting up, as if I'm playing some sort of super fun (and emotional) version of whac-a-mole™. For starters, thank you to Skylight Books for the amazing launch event on the 3rd and for everyone who attended it. It was so cool/amazing/dream-come-true-stuff to see you all there.
The Friday after the Skylight event, we headed to Matt's and my hometown, Pittsburgh. Teddy arrived with a full-blown ear infection, and so I'd like to take this moment to apologize once more for those passengers who were also on the flight with us from LAX to PIT.
We stayed with Matt's parents at their loft in the Strip District. And Matt and I fell in love with Pittsburgh all over again. It's such a beautiful city!
The reading in Pittsburgh was at my hometown Barnes and Noble, and once again, it was so great (and emotional!) to see everyone who turned up to support me / the book. Thank you so much for coming! (For those of you who couldn't make it, so sorry but you missed out on seeing a grown woman cry in a suburban Barnes and Noble!)
We finished the trip in Raleigh, North Carolina where my sister-in-law and Matt scored me a reading at the truly superb Quail Ridge Books and Music. I hate to pick favorites, but this event was so great. So many friends, family members, readers, and straight-up strangers (mostly because of this super complimentary review of the book from the Raleigh News and Observer) showed up! Plus, I guess because it was my third reading, I wasn't as terrified.
My brother (not photographed) (because he doesn't like being photographed) drove in from Charlotte and my sister Margaret, who I rarely get to see and who has a 9-month-old sweetie pie, drove in from Virginia Beach!
And while I'm wrapping up the tour / thanking people, I thought I could do a quick round up of some of the awesome publicity the book has gotten. Thank you so much to everyone who has helped spread the word!
1. People magazine, which describes the book as a "winning memoir about youthful befuddlement and finding yourself."
3. As The Plot Thins interview
5. largehearted boy (where I put my book to music!)
7. Something Lovely interview
9. News and Observer book review
12. Not really publicity, but... our Teddy video went viral! 
Top row, from left to right: Teddy at the Pittsburgh airport; Matt relaxing at his parents' place; Teddy and I getting excited to go to the Pittsburgh Children's Museum; Teddy and Matt's mom at the Children's museum.

Middle row, from left to right: Teddy and me three hours into the eight-hour drive from Pittsburgh to Raleigh; Teddy and me on hour seven; Teddy and Matt on the flight back to LA.

Bottom row, from left to right: Matt's sister Andrea made a strawberry poke cake. I can't wait to try one at home; This is a screenshot of the #bonappetempt hashtag on Instagram. I love how many of you have posted a photo of the book! This third photo is from before the tour, but I really love it. It's my bff Mary Anne here at our house with Teddy, the book, and Mavis. And lastly, this is Teddy in his diaper and a plastic apron on the "waterplay" level of the Children's Museum! 

OK, that's all for now. The next post will have a recipe to go with it, I promise!

Until then and with a million more thank-yous,
Amelia

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2/2/15

Acknowledgments / Thank YOU!


Dear Friends,
My book finally comes out tomorrow(!), but before it's officially out there, I'd like to take a moment to publicly thank some of the people who helped me along the way. Below, I'm copying and pasting the "Acknowledgments" from my book, which I've annotated slightly, mostly because it's been a year since I wrote them and a lot of things can happen in a year. (I'm also including links where I can.)
***
First and foremost, I want to thank the readers of my blog. Without all of you, this book would never have happened. I especially want to thank those who, through their thoughtful comments on the site and occasional e-mails, became more than just readers but cheerleaders and friends. Whether you knew it or not, your digital messages often served as tangible proof I actually had readers, which translated into quiet encouragement to continue the blog (and to continue writing in general).

I want to thank my agent Amy Hughes for calling me three years ago and proposing the idea for this book as well as for her continued support through this whole process, not to mention other important processes, e.g., childbirth and child-rearing.

I want to thank my editor Emily Griffin, who encouraged me to write the kind of book I always wanted to write and who took so much care not only with this manuscript but also with me. I like to joke with my writing students about how writers are naturally fragile, self-conscious, sensitive creatures, and during the writing of this book, I was all of these as well as pregnant, and then very pregnant and grieving. I couldn’t have asked for a better or more understanding person to help me shape this book.

I want to thank Wendy Brenner—my professor and thesis director while I was at the University of North Carolina Wilmington—who has always encouraged my writing, both fiction and non-, and who has been a reader and supporter of the blog from the very beginning. I also want to thank her for convincing me to watch the 1948 classic film The Red Shoes during a time period when I was feeling particularly down and out. She wrote to me, “the MOVIE is insolent and…you (Amelia) have to be insolent (defiant) to be an artist of any kind.” It was exactly what I needed to hear at the time.

I also want to thank my other writing professors who believed in me enough to allow me to believe in myself (if even for a few fleeting moments). I’m referring to you: Rebecca Lee, Lucy Bucknell, and Stephen Dixon.

I want to thank my fellow “food bloggers,” or perhaps better-put, this creative, supportive community I’ve found myself in; specifically, Tim from Lottie and Doof, Luisa from The Wednesday Chef, Kimberley from The Year in Food, Sarah from The Yellow House, Kelsey from Happyolks, and Tannaz from All Kinds of Yum. Each one of you and your sites have been sources of encouragement as well as inspiration.

I want to thank my friends (specifically: Dionne, Kat, Roger, Stephanie, and Simone) and bosses at Heath Ceramics. Although the job might have brought me to tears on more than one occasion, the people I worked with made me smile way more often. Plus, I found daily inspiration in the company's dedication to the art of making as well as the beautiful ceramics.

I’m a demanding friend. (Or, as my friend Liz once kindly put it, “Amy is complicated.”) I want to thank my close circle of friends for their support. Mary Anne, Adam, Raena, Sonya, Liz, Kara, Tim, Corinne, Jodi, Neal, Sara, Sean, Ali, James, Peggy, Rachel, Chelsea, Nick, and Kathleen, you guys have been there for me time and time again, and I can’t thank you enough. Thank you also to those of you who served as trusty recipe testers. Your feedback was invaluable to this self-taught home cook.

Of course, this book really wouldn’t be possible without its main topic, my family. They say, “you can’t choose your family,” but if you could, I bet very few people would choose someone who was writing a memoir in which you were a main character. Yet my immediate family has been nothing but supportive of this project—from my kindhearted stepdad to my loving and enthusiastic in-laws (aka Mombers Dadbers) to my amazing siblings-in-law (Andrea, Adam, and Fave) to my late grandma, my culinary guardian angel, and, of course, my late father who supported this book in his own unique way.

I especially want to thank my mom and brother, who helped me write this book by picking up the phone when I called (just about daily) while on a walk in the late afternoon after a morning at my computer. When Matt asked my mom for permission to marry me, and she famously warned him that I’m extremely difficult, she was extremely right. With that in mind, I also want to thank my mom and brother for loving me despite all of my many flaws and all of the instances I’ve taken the time to point out theirs. The truth is that no matter what I might say (or write), I love them with my whole heart.

Of course as much gratitude as I owe to all of the abovementioned people, I am most indebted to my husband and best friend, Matt, without whom I would have given up the blog long ago; without whom this story wouldn’t be worth telling.

To be on the receiving end of Matt’s specific, highly energized, and open-hearted brand of unconditional love is a very special thing. And to watch it in action with our six-week-old one-year-old son is possibly even more special. Just for introducing me to this kind of love, I’ll never be able to thank him enough.
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1/26/15

Video: Teddy's Birthday / A Vanilla Birthday Cake with Meyer Lemon Curd Filling

We're taking a momentary break from all the book publicity to celebrate the first year of our son's life. No big deal! Psyyyyych. It's a huge deal. I love this kid soooooooo much.
Basically, I took three different recipes and put them together to make a layer cake. Teddy loves citrus, so I put a few dollops of lemon curd in between each cake layer, and then I iced it all with the vanilla frosting (which I obviously dyed with food coloring). Also, I used Meyer lemons for the curd because we have a Meyer lemon tree (God bless, Southern California!), but you could definitely use regular lemons.

Vanilla Birthday Cake with Meyer Lemon Curd Filling 
serves a bunch of adults and even a few babies

Vanilla Cake (can be divided into either two or three 9-inch round cakes) slightly adapted from The Art of Simple Food
4 eggs, separated
1 cup milk
3 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter the cake pans and line the bottom of each with parchment paper. Butter the paper and dust the pans with flour, tapping out the excess. Separate your eggs. Measure the milk.

Sift and measure the flour. [I always skip the step of sifting flour, though I'm sure my cake would be somewhat lighter if I didn't.] Stir in the baking powder and salt. In another bowl, beat the softened butter until light and fluffy. Add the sugar and cream until it's also light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time. Add the vanilla.

When well mixed, add the flour mixture and milk alternately, starting and ending with the one third of the flour. Stir just until the flour is incorporated. In another bowl, whisk the egg whites to soft peaks. Stir one third of the egg whites into the batter, then gently fold in the rest. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 30 to 40 minutes if using two cake pans and more like 20 to 30 minutes if using three cake pans.


Meyer Lemon Curd slightly adapted from The Art of Simple Food
Note: This recipe makes about two cups of curd, which is more than enough for the cake. Maybe use the rest on top of toast for a special breakfast? Or on top of zucchini bread? I don't know!

about 3 Meyer lemons (You need 1/2 cup of lemon juice)
2 eggs
3 egg yolks
2 tablespoons milk
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt (omit if using salted butter)
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) of butter, cut into small pieces

Grate the zest of one lemon and set aside. Juice the lemons; you want about 1/2 cup juice. Beat the eggs, egg yolks, milk, sugar and salt together until just mixed. Stir in the lemon juice and the lemon zest. Add the butter.

Cook in a nonreactive heavy pan, stirring constantly over medium heat until it's thick enough to coat a spoon. Do not allow the mixture to boil or the eggs will curdle. (Guess what? My eggs did curdle just a tiny bit, but no worries! I just strained the mixture through a sieve and it was totally fine.)

Pour into a bowl or clean glass jars to cool. Cover and refrigerate for up to two weeks.

Vanilla Frosting slightly adapted from Martha Stewart Living
makes enough to ice and decorate a 9-inch layer cake

2 sticks butter, softened
8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
about 6 cups confectioner's sugar
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Beat together butter and cream cheese with a mixer on medium-high sped until pale and creamy, about 1 minute. Reduce speed to low. Add confectioner's sugar, about 1 cup at a time, beating well after reach addition.

Add salt and vanilla and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes.

(If not using immediately, cover surface of frosting with plastic wrap. Frosting can be refrigerated in an airtight container up to 1 week. Before using, bring to room temperature, then beat on low speed until smooth.)
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1/21/15

Video: Shrimp and Scallion Pancakes

Onward with the book publicity stuff! I really hope you enjoy this recipe, which is a current favorite of mine and which is featured in one of the later chapters. Bonus: Teddy loves it too!

Korean-Style Shrimp and Scallion Pancakes via Bon Appétempt
Makes 8 to 10 pancakes

For the pancakes:

1 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil or another neutral oil, plus more for the pan
1 bunch scallions, dark and pale green parts only, cut into 3-inch pieces
1 pound peeled shrimp, chopped into 1-inch pieces (depending on the exact size of the shrimp, each one is chopped into 2 or 3 pieces)
1 small jalapeño, sliced into very thin rounds

For the dipping sauce:
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
A few pinches of Korean red pepper (or Italian crushed red pepper)

To make the pancakes:
In a large bowl, mix the flour, eggs, and oil with 1 cup water until a smooth batter is formed. Stir in the scallions and shrimp. Let the mixture rest for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Place a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat and thinly coat the bottom with oil. Once the oil is hot and lightly smoking, use a slotted spoon to scoop out as many 4-inch-in-diameter pancakes as you can. (The slotted spoon is important here, as you want just enough batter to hold the pancake together.)

With the bottom side of the pancakes cooking, use a fork (to protect your fingers) to lay one or two of the jalapeño rounds on top of each pancake. (You may not end up using the entire jalapeño.)

Cook until the bottom is browned, about 3 minutes, then flip and cook for another 3 minutes, occasionally pressing down on each pancake with the spatula, which helps to make sure you don’t get any pancakes with uncooked batter in the middle.

Repeat with the remaining batter, adding additional oil halfway through if needed. (You may want to place the finished pancakes in an ovenproof dish and throw them in a 275°F oven just to keep them warm.)

To make the dipping sauce: 
In a small bowl, mix together the vinegar, soy sauce, and red pepper. Serve the dipping sauce alongside the pancakes.
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