Tag Archives: Review

Recipe Review: Zucchini Ragout with Bacon and Tomato from The Art of Simple Food (2007) by Alice Waters

for Norma….

Miss Bingley was engrossed by Mr. Darcy, her sister scarcely less so; and as for Mr. Hurst, by whom Elizabeth sat, he was an indolent man, who lived only to eat, drink, and play at cards; who, when he found her to prefer a plain dish to a ragout, had nothing to say to her.” – Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice



The ragout of Jane Austen wrote about, and we are told enjoyed, was a relatively exotic, spicy dish that I can say was probably nothing like Alice Water’s Zucchini Ragout with Bacon and Tomato found in The Art of Simple Food (2007). Jane Austen’s contemporary, Regency Era readers would have understood the character comparison: Elizabeth Bennet preferred good, common sense, “John Bull” English food whereas Mr. Hurst preferred the exotic, imported food styles of the European Continent. “John Bull” was the patriotic English yeoman used in Napoleonic War propaganda to contrast the solid English people to the floozy Neopoleonic French. Elizabeth’s lack of sophistication that generations of readers, and Mr. Darcy, admire is what has kept Pride and Prejudice in constant print for over two hundred years.

Zucchini Ragout with Bacon and Tomato is not a spicy ragout. I had problems as I made this recipe from what I perceived as the limited use of spices. I eventually learned this recipe is not about decorating and compensating vegetables but celebrating fresh, summer vegetables.

Fig 1. Vegetables purchased at the farmer's market

I purchased several ingredients at the Saturday Farmer’s Market. Zucchini: $5.50. Tomatoes: $2.00. Onion: $0.50 (Fig 1). I did not have bread to toast, as suggested by the recipe, so I prepared brown rice. I roasted several cloves of fresh garlic and added the soft garlic the cooked brown rice.

The bacon from the recipe was home cured and smoked by my father. He used a maple cure. Once you have had fresh, home-made bacon, you cannot eat the stuff sold in the grocery stores. Home-made bacon stands, its broad shoulders straight and shouts as it touches your tongue, “Bacon!” Whereas store-bought bacon slouches into your mouth with its hands in its pockets and mutters “Yeah, I’m bacon.”

Fig 2. Zucchini was just added to tomato/onion mixture

The recipe is very straight forward (Fig 2). I would freeze the bacon firm to make cutting the bacon easier. I would slice and dice all vegetables before starting. The timing is accurate for the preparation steps. Once things start happening, there is no time to prepare ingredients without overcooking the other vegetables.

Fig 3. Zucchini Ragout with Bacon and Tomato served with brown rice

Fig 4. Next day, for lunch. Zucchini ragout warmed in a microwave and served with pasta.

Warmed up the next day for lunch at work, it tasted fine (Fig 4). The vegetables were a bit watery. I served it with pasta that is supposed to contain a serving of vegetables. I think this dish may be best consumed on the day of cooking.

As I have play with recipes from this Alice Water’s cookbook, I appreciate what she is doing. The quality and tastiness of the ingredients are on display. You could not successfully make this recipe “as-is” in January with anemic, hydroponic tomatoes and imported, cardboard zucchini. This zucchini ragout demands quality ingredients which I am lucky to have access to through my mid-Missouri, local farmer’s market. Go to the library and check the cookbook out.

Publisher: Clarkson Potter/Publishers

ISBN: 978-0-307-33679-8

Poetry Collection Review: The Alchemist’s Kitchen (2010) by Susan Rich

The Alchemist’s Kitchen (2010) by Susan Rich published by White Pine Press

I really wanted to like the first poetry collection I reviewed. I wanted to admire the collection as a whole with individual poems synthesizing into a well-rounded exploration of some grand idea. I did not desire to find myself disappointed.

When I plucked The Alchemist’s Kitchen from the 811 section of the “New Book” shelves of the public library, I had every expectation of liking the book. I went home, sat down and read straight through over 4 or 5 days. I admired the title and the concepts stated in the three sections of the book and looked forward to seeing how the poet explored and expanded the concept of an alchemist’s kitchen.

Alchemy is the art and science of taking basic, gross, undesirable material (example: lead) and processing it into a more valued, possibly “purer” substance (example: gold). Alchemy as a concept is used in industrial processing and in writing fiction: take society’s trash and transform it into “gold”.  The Alchemist’s Kitchen has the structure to accomplish showing the process of transforming emotional trash into jewels but does not produce.

Disappointed, I sat the book down beside my reading chair. For several days I scowled at it. I moved it from the kitchen table to the ottoman several times. Then, I picked up the collection and read several random poems.

Over the next couple of weeks, I read one or two poems before leaving for work in the morning, while supper cooked, or before going to bed a night. I slowly fell in love with the poems as individuals. I feel like I went to class with the girl who wanted to disappear and stepped in front of a truck. I can see Mrs. Myra Albert Wiggins mounting photographs in his shop. I know his smile as he watches his wife ride her bicycle down the street or when the playboys make snide remarks about his clothes. I feel sorrow for the refugee girl whose hand was cut off by a African bandit who thought her plastic, shiny, gold-colored bracelet had monetary value.

Here lies the problem with The Alchemist’s Kitchen. What Rich has is several poetry collections scattered throughout one book. There is more than one, independent, incomplete story told in this collection. If Rich was attempting to show that the multiple stories (for example, the plight of refugees all over the globe, the legacy of Mrs. and Mr. Myra Albert Wiggins) come to the same alchemical end, she does not accomplish that. I want to know more about Mrs. And Mr. Myra Albert Wiggins. I want to watch the story of the refugees from beginning to end. Some of these poems are beautiful, but as a whole the collection is not cohesive. If she could explore one story, the potential impact of that collection could be earth-shaking.

Publisher: White Pine Press (www.whitepine.org)

ISBN: 978-1-935210-14-6

Recipe Review: Peaches ‘N’ Cream Éclairs with Bourbon Caramel Sauce by Lawrence Karol in Gourmet, July 2007

Several years ago, for the family 4th of July picnic, I made several desserts. The cousins are still talking about the Pavlova. During the U.S. Memorial Day holiday at the end of May, the cousins start asking what dessert am I going to make for the 4th of July this year. Since the Pavlova, my dessert contribution is now expected to be dramatic and tasty.

For 4th of July, 2011, I prepared Lawrence Karol’s Peaches ‘N’ Cream Éclairs with Bourbon Caramel Sauce from Gourmet, July 2007. Because this is my mother’s party, she has always volunteered to buy ingredients. The nice thing about this recipe, and the author states this in his brief write-up, is that most ingredients can be found in a well-stocked pantry and refrigerator. The only ingredients my parents purchased for this recipe were the white peaches ($3.80) and heavy cream ($3.59). One nice thing about cooking at my parents’ house is they have every kitchen gadget you could want to play with.

Following the directions of the recipe, the choux pastry quickly came together with no fuss. After mixing the flour mixture of margarine, water, salt and flour in the sauce pan, I transferred the dough to a metal mixing bowl. It took longer than the recommended five minutes to cool the dough to the point I felt comfortable adding the eggs. I wonder if this isn’t because I was using a metal bowl and not a glass bowl. When I make éclairs at my house, I use glass mixing bowls. Perhaps the metal holds the heat longer than glass.

The recipe only made seven pastries instead of the recipe-listed eight. Before this recipe, I have not used a pastry bag to make éclairs. Usually, I evenly divide the dough into desired number of pieces, use a large spoon to place on the baking sheet and shape (Unorthodox?). The pastry bag was a two person operation: I held the pastry bag and my mother spooned the dough out of the mixing bowl.

Figure 1. Pastries were sliced after cooling.

Baking was easy. Placing the pastries in a preheated oven at 425° F for 15 minutes and then lowering the temperature to 400° F for 15 minutes (30 minutes total baking) produced lightly golden pastries (Fig. 1). Using my father’s silicon-lined baking sheet produced pastries that were the same color on the bottom as well as the top. When using a buttered baking sheet or a sheet lined with parchment paper, I often have trouble obtaining a uniform color on the top and bottom of the pastry.

Figure 2. Eclairs with peaches, whipped cream and caramel.

One disappointment is the pastries were not as puffy as other éclair recipes I like to make (Fig. 1). The pastry tasted rich, but crumbled when sliced. That said, the photograph of the finished dessert on page 20 of Gourmet, July 2007 looks rather not puffy. So, maybe the pastries were like they were supposed to be. The whipped cream seemed to glue the pastries together (Fig. 2).

Figure 3. Bourbon caramel sauce.

I found it difficult to keep the sauce at a constant temperature; the sauce was either to hot or to cool (Fig. 3). However, making the sauce was easy. I would suggest constant stirring. Once the sugar has melted, you need to take care when adding the water and other ingredients. The steam coming off the skillet could be dangerous. I lightly scalded the tip of my right index finger. The hot material splattered until the sauce calmed down.

Figure 4. My cousin holding the served eclair topped with the bourbon caramel sauce.

The finished éclair with the bourbon caramel sauce was amazing (Fig. 4). I was not prepared for the “Oh my God! This is good.” experience. The cousins, aunts and uncles loved it. My mother declared the recipe “a keeper”. Because this was a family pot-luck there was lots of food so only making seven pastries was not a problem like I feared. There were no left overs, yet everyone who wanted was able to have half an éclair.

I felt like I spent more time fretting over the bourbon caramel sauce than any other task involved with this recipe. There was much more sauce than pastries. The bourbon caramel sauce went wonderfully over my brother’s home-made vanilla ice cream.

If you have not made éclairs before, this would be a good introduction. Éclairs are extremely simple and quick to make. For such little effort, you can look good.

Now, the question is what am I going to do 4th of July, 2012?