May 7, 2013

Reads and Eats: Garlic and Sapphires

For this month's book club meeting, we read another memoir-style novel, this time from the perspective of a food critic.  And not just any food critic, but Ruth Reichl, who held the title of The New York Times' food critic for many years through the 90's.  Though her life sounded as glamorous as you might expect (decadent meals at every turn), she struggled to keep her identity a secret, wanting a truly anonymous dining experience at some of New York's finest dining establishments. However, Garlic and Sapphires tended to emphasize the over-the-top characters Mrs. Reichl concocted for herself rather than the food these characters were tasting.  A bit over-dramatic at times, but an interesting view into the everyday life of a famous food writer.

Though the book did contain a handful of recipes- the author also spent some time in the kitchen and went on to edit Gourmet magazine- most fell into the "serve immediately" category, difficult for a group of women all meeting up after a day at the office (or in the lab!).  We all took some inspiration from a restaurant or chef to which we would like to award four stars.  For me, that was a no-brainer; Kanella is consistently one of my favorite restaurants in Philly.  I put together a baked eggplant salad with olives, capers, and cilantro finished with plain Greek yogurt.  A great mix of earthy but vibrant Greek flavors.

Another member of our group followed a Jose Garces recipe for a quinoa soup.  This "soup" contains corn, potatoes, bacon, and cream and was incredibly satisfying- Latin comfort food at its finest.  For some reason, this turned out more like a casserole- incredibly thick with the tri-color quinoa soaking up almost all of the liquid.  I couldn't stop myself from taking a second serving.. and then a third...

Our club raved so much about Marcus Samuelsson's "cool and crunchy" Vietnamese-inspired salad that we requested to have it made again.  I'm still enamored with this bok choy and spicy shrimp salad, complete with tons of crunchy vegetables and fresh herbs.  Perfect for our first meeting where we could appreciate our hostess's wonderful outdoor dining setup- the joys of a large porch!  A also took advantage of the location, using the grill to cook a chermoula marinated sea bass inspired by Michael Solomonov.  Chermoula is a pureed mixture of parsley, cilantro, ginger, lemon juice, garlic, and a few spices- perfect for the flaky white fish.  The veg-friendly meal was rounded out by a Talula's Garden-esque carrot soup, made by the newest member of our group.  Based on this refreshing soup with a nice zing from plenty of ginger, she's a welcome addition!

Of course we had to finish off the meal with something sweet- this time my favorite baker whipped up some excellent lemon bars, using a recipe from Wolfgang Puck.  His role as a judge on this past season of Top Chef had us seeing him in a new light- he's quite a character! These bars are complete with tart gooey lemon custard and a buttery, crumbly cookie base.  One of my favorite desserts that doesn't involve chocolate or peanut butter.

Another successful meeting- I can't believe we've been getting together for over a year now!  Even though this book wasn't my absolute favorite, it still provided lots of fodder for discussion- the crazy costumes and personality changes that Mrs. Reichl rotates through are enough to question her sanity.

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