Wednesday, August 11, 2010

5 Questions for Jenny Nelson

This post is the result of an offer I couldn't refuse: Check out a copy of Jenny Nelson's new novel, Georgia's Kitchen, and then pick her brain to my heart's content. Since I tend to enjoy the delicious blend of food and fiction, I was happy to give it a try. 

This is definitely fun summer reading. I love books and movies set in New York City, and this one gives us a peek into a fictional dining hot spot where our heroine is the head chef. But not for long...

Read on to learn more about the book and what kind of grueling research the author undertook to get the food details just right!

Julie: Georgia, the main character, is a top New York City chef (at least she is when the story begins). Have you ever fantasized about a career in restaurant kitchens?

Jenny Nelson: Absolutely! I would love to work in one of the top kitchens – maybe at Thomas Keller’s Per Se or Jean Georges … though my skills are nowhere near up to snuff and I’d be booted so fast I wouldn’t even have time to pack my knives. But what fun to watch the great chefs work their magic!

Julie: You describe the food Georgia cooks in detail ("a house-made taglierini with peas and ramps from the Greenmarket, slivers of bresaola, and shaved pecorino"). What kind of research did you do to come up with the dishes described in the book?

JN: I ate a lot! I studied menus and recipes and ate in as many restaurants as my waistline and my wallet could afford. It was a blast.

Julie: Part of the book is set in Tuscany. Do you have any other favorite food destinations?

JN: I love the food in Vietnam, especially in Hanoi – it’s so fresh and light and filled with great vegetables and fish and herbs like cilantro. It’s exactly the kind of food I love to eat.

Julie: Vietnam is one of all-time favorite food destinations too, but I've only been to Ho Chi Minh City and Nha Trang. I would love to visit Hanoi!

Julie: Describe your perfect meal (whether it's one you've already had, or one you hope to have someday)?

JN: The perfect meal means perfect company, and that’d include my husband and six-year-old daughters. I’d put us at a seaside restaurant in Sardinia and we’d start with plenty of good bread and e.v. olive oil and something with tomatoes – maybe a simple bruschetta. Then we’d move into an arugula and parmesan salad, some type of risotto, branzino (my absolute fave), and finish with a cheese selection and house-made gelato, a variety of flavors but at least one would have to be chocolate based.

Julie: What do you make to eat for yourself when you're alone (be honest, even if it's cereal with milk!)?

JN: How’d you know? I’m a huge cereal fan and have been known to indulge in more than a few late-night bowls. Typically, I eat lots of fish, chicken, pasta, quinoa, tons of salads and veggies (really into sautéed kale and chard lately) and, oh yeah, tons of cheese. Yogurt with berries and walnuts is another almost daily meal, as is oatmeal with raisins, cinnamon and brown sugar. Though I’m not a huge meat eater, I do love the occasional burger and I make a terrific grilled flank steak with horseradish sauce. I’m getting really hungry!

Bonus Question: You've worked at both and Do you plan to set a future novel in the fashion world?

JN: Probably not. Fashion has been done to death and unless I thought of a truly unique angle, I think that’s one topic I’ll avoid. Although, now you’ve got me thinking … 

Thank you, Jenny, for taking the time to visit A Mingling of Tastes! A review copy of Georgia's Kitchen was kindly provided by the publisher.

Now tell me what YOU are reading this summer? Anything food focused, or just some plain good reads? Please share!

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Quick Calimyrna Fig Jam

This week, I made two old summer favorites: refrigerator fig jam and peach-blueberry cobbler with cornmeal biscuits. Both were delicious. Follow those links for all the details!

I've been very patiently waiting for a bumper crop of figs to get shipped over from California. My Whole Foods has had them for a few weeks now, but they've always got just a few little, not-so-enticing baskets on display. Then we took a little drive to my favorite Indian grocery store. As soon as I walked through the door, I saw big flat crates of juicy Calimyrna figs at a very nice price. I also got a huge bag of baby bok choy for $1.87 and restocked my supply of pickles and chutneys. That store never fails to make stupidly happy.

Calimyrna figs are light green, so you might mistake them for an under-ripe fig. Nope. If they're soft, especially if they're oozing their figgy juice, they are more than ready to eat. They're very sweet, with a less complex flavor than Black Mission figs, my favorite variety. They also seem to have firmer skins and made a very chunky jam, with most of the pieces remaining intact. I absolutely prefer this over the mushiness of traditional jam. You could think of them as preserved figs more than jam, I guess.

I didn't take a new cobbler photo, but think it may have turned out better than ever this time. I got beautiful fruit at the farmer's market, and the biscuit topping was excellent. Instead of yogurt, I used half a cup of buttermilk, but either one is fine. I made it for dessert, but a couple days later, I had some for breakfast with sweetened Greek yogurt. This is what cobbler is meant for--I'm totally convinced.

Have you done some summery things with figs, blueberries or peaches? Share!

Monday, August 02, 2010

Simple Broccoli Soup with Smoked Paprika

When I say "simple" in this recipe title, I mean two things: easy and "pure and simple." I made it twice in a three-week span because it takes so little effort for a huge batch, and because it's the kind of health-giving, detoxifying food that makes you feel good. It's a nice way to balance out a restaurant meal or a big grilled steak.

If you have no need of its detoxifying properties, the soup goes perfectly with richer main dishes like quiche or savory tarts--It's is more substantial than just a side of steamed broccoli. I have enjoyed it both ways!

You can do anything to jazz it up with spices and herbs. Pureed like this, the broccoli is pleasantly bland, so you need adequate salt, as well as those flavor enhancers. It's great with yogurt or sour cream stirred in, and in the picture, it's served with Parmigiano-Reggiano and more smoked paprika (By the way, I can't live without McCormick smoked paprika lately. I love to use a ton of it to make tuna or salmon salad sandwiches--it is so smoky!). I think an Indian-spiced version would be delicious, and I might also try half-broccoli, half-cauliflower. Tell me, do you need a detox? Or is this way too healthy?

Simple Broccoli Soup with Smoked Paprika
The spice quantities are estimates, so please adjust to your own taste.

Makes 7 to 8 cups

1 Tbs olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 Tbs finely chopped fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chile powder
cayenne pepper to taste
4 to 5 cups water
2 lbs frozen broccoli florets
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Serving ideas: Greek yogurt, sour cream, grated cheese, scallions, pepper flakes, hot sauce, smoked paprika

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook until soft and lightly browned. Add ginger and garlic and cook 1 minute, stirring often. Add spices and continue cooking 1 minute. Add 4 cups water and bring to a boil.

Add broccoli, cover and simmer until very tender, about 10 minutes (If broccoli is too crowded, add additional cup water). Remove from heat. Puree with an immersion blender, or in batches in a regular blender (a regular blender yields a smoother soup; instead of using the blender lid, cover with a kitchen towel, so steam can escape, and be careful when blending hot liquid; return to pot after blending). If soup is too thick, add additional water. Add salt (I used about 1 tsp) and pepper to taste. Serve hot.