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Yes, Chef

Yes, Chef

Book groups are great. You read books you might never have chosen yourself. You discuss them and hopefully learn a lot of new things about life, about love, about what makes people do the things they do.
My book group is all that and more. Because we’re a “foodie friends book group” we talk about the book while eating food we prepared, based on the theme of that month’s book.
Our latest selection was “Yes, Chef,” a memoir by Marcus Samuelsson. It’s a heartfelt book that speaks not just about the tenacity and hard work it takes to make it to the top of the ladder in the culinary world, but also to loyalty, friendship, and love of family.
Many of you readers know that Samuelsson was born in Ethiopia and adopted and raised by a Swedish couple. He eventually catapulted to culinary fame as executive chef at New York City’s Aquavit, and was honored with a coveted James Beard award. He now owns and runs Red Rooster in Harlem, a restaurant that celebrates the roots of American food, while fusing Swedish cuisine and flavors from Ethiopia.
In short, there were a diverse set of interesting recipes on his website we could choose from in putting together our menu for the evening. I’ve written out only one recipe at the end of this post, but click on any of the underlined words next to the photos below for the others.
We started out with appetizers — cheese and crackers brought by Lolly, a member of our group. I made Samuelsson’s recipe for deviled eggs, similar to the one I’ve used for years, but with an extra “kick” from a generous dose of cayenne pepper. Flowers are optional, but if it’s Springtime, I can’t resist decorating with the sweet look of edible pansies.
Smoked salmon is de rigeur when discussing a Swedish-born chef and Polly brought along this inviting platter to go with the gin and tonics.
Our hostess Rosalie outdid herself with her beautiful table settings, the perfect wines and these Szechuan-roasted Cornish hens.
I couldn’t stop eating these flavorful marinated eggplant made by Claire.
 I also rounded out the side dishes with this  green bean salad, again given some extra heat with chili peppers (and a decorative touch with chive blossoms).
Desserts are never left out with this group either. Lee contributed this delightful meyer lemon tart.
And though the photo isn’t exactly cover-worthy (the drawback of using only iPhone photos for this blog entry), this chocolate rum cake that Emilia made was delicious. Add a little whipped cream too, to gild the lily.
Want to start your own foodie book group, or just looking for more suggestions of food-related books? Click here on a “Books for Foodies” post I wrote a long while back. I’m due to update it but if you haven’t read any of these, it’s a good place to get you started.
And if you’re a writer (or wanna-be writer) who has a good story to tell all your own, but need help in crafting it, please sign up for our writing retreat in beautiful Lake Como, Italy. Writing in the morning in this dreamy locale, followed by afternoon excursions and time to relax and do whatever you want. Registration will be closing in a couple of weeks, so hurry and sign up now for Italy, In Other Words.



Vegan Green Bean Salad 
printable recipe here
by Aine Carlin
From Marcus Samuelsson’s website

(Note – I found that the lemon and olive oil wasn’t nearly enough to dress the beans, so added triple the amount of lemon juice and olive oil.)
Ingredients:
1 pack organic green beans
4 spring onions/scallions
1/2 red chilli (I used a red cherry pepper)
2/3 cloves garlic
1 tbsp chopped capers
1 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
zest of 1/2 lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp olive oil
sea salt and cracked black pepper
Method:
  1. Bring a pan of water to the boil. Wash and trim the green beans. Blanch the green beans for a few minutes until just tender – careful not to overcook as they’ll lose their color and go horribly floppy. Immediately drain and place in a pan of iced water or alternatively run under a very cold tap for a minute or two.
  2. Finely slice the garlic and chili (don’t bother to remove seeds). Set aside. Chop the scallions into medium to thick pieces.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a small frying pan/skillet and add the spring onions, chili and garlic and lightly fry for about a minute to two minutes. Season, take off the heat and allow to cool.
  4. Halve the green beans by slicing diagonally and transfer to a large bowl, season and grate over lemon zest.
  5. Roughly chop the capers and finely chop the flat leaf parsley and add to bowl along with the spring onion mix ensuring to pour over any remaining oil.
  6. Squeeze over lemon juice, season and lightly toss until all the greens are coated.
  7. Refrigerate for later or eat immediately. Would make a beautiful accompaniment to most meals but also delightful on its own.
Egg-Filled Polenta Cups

Egg-Filled Polenta Cups

We may be having a mild winter here in the northeast, but soul-warming polenta is welcome at my table even if there’s no snow on the ground. There’s plenty of snow in Italy this year and that counts for me. And when polenta arrives at the table with melted fontina cheese, sauteed spinach and a runny egg just waiting to ooze onto your plate, so much the better.
I know some of my Italian friends would consider it heresy, but I used the quick-cooking polenta for this recipe. When you gussy it up with all the other ingredients, nobody will ever know. I was inspired to make this dish after seeing a similar version on Menu Turistico’s blog, made with cavolo nero and scimudin cheese.
 I started by heating the milk with some chopped rosemary and a bay leaf. I let the bay leaf steep in the milk until it came to a slow boil, then removed it prior to adding the cornmeal.

 

This quick-cooking stuff really lives up to its name. In five minutes, you’ve got ready-to-eat, delicious polenta. It’s almost faster than boiling pasta.
Quickly pour the polenta into small ramekins that have been oiled, then make an indentation in each one using a spoon or measuring cups like I did. That hole is for the egg that you’re going to plunk inside.
 Use a medium egg here, so it doesn’t spill over the sides. Crack it in a bowl first, then slide it into the small cavity.
 Cover with some spinach that you’ve sauteed with onions and garlic.
 Then top it all with grated fontina cheese.
 Heat it in the oven for a little while  – but not so long that you overcook the egg. Serve piping hot and watch the surprised look when unsuspecting friends discover the runny goodness that comes gushing forth. It’s enough to make you wish for six more weeks of winter. Well, not really, but as long as you’ve got to endure the cold weather, stoke up with this hearty and delicious dish.




Join me for a week in Italy at the end of May and live like an Italian – sightseeing, cooking and eating in a villa located in the Alban Hills near Rome. There’s still time to enroll. For details go to:
www.cookinitalywithciaochowlinda.blogspot.com 

Adapted from Menu Turistico 

Printable Recipe Here
Serves four people
1 cup polenta (I used the quick-cooking kind)
2 cups milk (I used skim)
1 1/2 cups water
1 bay leaf
1 T. minced rosemary
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
salt, pepper to taste

1 bunch of fresh spinach (I used a pre-washed bag of baby spinach leaves)
1 T. olive oil
1/4 cup minced shallot or onion
salt, pepper

1 cup grated fontina cheese

4 medium size eggs

Heat the milk and water in a saucepan and add the bay leaf and rosemary. Bring it to a low simmer and let the bay leaf impart some flavor for a few minutes, then remove it. Add the cornmeal in a steady stream and stir constantly until it thickens. If using instant polenta, it will take only five to 10 minutes. Pour the polenta into greased pyrex ramekins or other similar containers. Immediately, make an indentation with a spoon or use a small measuring cup or the bottom of a small glass. Make it large enough to fit a whole egg into the space. Chill the ramekins in the refrigerator for five to ten minutes. Then remove the polenta cup from the ramekin by flipping it upside on your palm, and then right side up. Place the ramekins in a greased baking dish.

Saute the minced onions in the olive oil, then add the spinach and cook for a few minutes until the spinach is wilted.

Crack a medium size egg into each of the polenta cups. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes – keeping an eye on the egg so it doesn’t get overcooked. It may take shorter or longer, depending on your oven, but the egg should be very runny. Then cover the egg with the spinach mixture and grated fontina cheese. Bake another five minutes until the cheese is melted. When I first made these, I baked them from the start with the spinach and cheese over the raw egg, but the egg was so well insulated with the covering that it took a long time to cook. Also, when the egg is totally covered, you can’t really tell if it’s cooked, or overcooked, so use the method of baking the egg alone on top of the polenta in order to have greater control over the runniness of the egg, then finish baking for only a couple of minutes at the end with the spinach and cheese.

Le Matte Hit The Road For  Pasquetta

Le Matte Hit The Road For Pasquetta

It may be just another workday if you live in the U.S., but if you’re in Italy, it’s Pasquetta or Easter Monday and you’ve got the day off from work. Most people spend the day with family and friends enjoying a picnic lunch in a park or the countryside.

Le Matte, my Italian chit-chat group, is celebrating Pasquetta by taking a road trip to the beach. Clara, one of our members, invited us to share the day with her at her vacation home on the Jersey shore. We’re a large group of more than 25, but not everyone is available on every meeting. Today there are at least eight of us are heading out, toting all sorts of yummy foods that we will enjoy once we get to Clara’s beachhouse. I wish you could join us.
Here’s my contribution.

Deviled Eggs

one dozen eggs, hard boiled (click here for a post on how to make perfectly cooked hard-boiled eggs.)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/8 tsp. salt
white pepper, to taste
1/4 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. white wine vinegar

Put the yolks and all the other ingredients in a food processor. Pulse until everything is blended and smooth. I then use a pastry bag to pipe it into the egg whites, but you can spoon it in. Sprinkle with paprika. Decorate with either edible flowers, pieces of pickle, red or green pepper, tomato strips or anything else you can dream up.