Monday, August 4, 2014

Our August/September 2014 Selection: A Thousand Days in Venice


A Thousand Days in Venice: An Unexpected Romance was one of those paperback novels that you pick up on those ubiquitous "Summer Reading" tables at the bookstore.  Call these "beach reads" or "fun reads," I typically don't expect a whole lot from this genre.   That being said, this "Summer Reading" table is where I was first introduced to Marlena di Blasi.

Di Blasi, a former chef from St. Louis, chronicles a solo trip to Venice, a trip in which she falls in love with the "The Floating City" and with a Venetian named Fernando.  She speaks a little bit of Italian.  He speaks less English. A Thousand Days follows her spontaneous decision to live life and share her heart with Fernando (“the stranger”),  immersing herself in the food, culture and people of Italy.  It is a love story between a man, a woman and a truly beautiful city.  Di Blasi also includes some authentic recipes such as Prugne Addormentate (Sleeping Pears), Pappa al Pomodoro, and Porcini Brasati con Moscato (Wild Mushrooms Braised in Late-Harvest Wine) to name a few.  In this very romantic memoir, she describes their exploration of the city, their developing romance, and the realization that they have both found their soul-mates.

I soon became an über fan.  A Thousand Days in Venice led me to the sequel, A Thousand Days in Tuscany, which led me to The Lady in the Palazzo, then to That Summer in Sicily, and finally Antonia and her Daughters.   (All of these books follow Marlena and Ferdinand as they explore Italy together.) She is also the author of two regional cookbooks:  Regional Foods of Northern Italy (a James Beard Foundation Award finalist) and Regional Foods of Southern Italy.

I am sure that re-reading A Thousand Days in Venice will spark me to pick up di Blasi's other books: Dolce e Salata (a book that falls between their adventures in Venice and Tuscany) and Amandine: A Novel.  

Di Blasi and Ferdinand currently reside in Orvieto, Italy.

Submissions for this round of CTB are due September 30, 2014.  Anyone can join in the Cook the Books fun by reading and blogging about the book and cooking up a dish inspired by its contents. Just contact me when your entry post is up by commenting on this post and/or sending me an email at

If you're new to Cook the Books, check out our About and Guidelines pages or leave a question in the comments here.   Please also check out some of the previous Round-Ups for examples of members' posts.


Debra (Eliot's Eats)

Postscript: I am also über excited to be hosting my first CTB selection as an official co-host, so I hope you all enjoy this selection and get inspired to make something romantic, decadent, and delicious.  

Friday, August 1, 2014

A Roundup of Delectable Jacques Pépin-Inspired Dishes for Cook the Book June/July Selection: The Apprentice

It is no wonder that the legendary chef, author, cooking teacher, and television personality Jacques Pépin inspired our Cook the Books group to make some amazing dishes through his foodie memoir, The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen, our June/July book pick. It seemed that Pépin's book and the man himself were universally loved by everyone participating--whether they were a Pépin fan to begin with, or newly introduced to him through his words.

Pépin wasn't on the radar for Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla until she read the book, but she plans to seek him out, especially now that she's tried his Fromage Fort. Camilla says, "It means 'strong cheese' in French and it's the ultimate way of repurposing leftover cheese. I love revamping leftovers into something completely different. Pépin's father used to combine pieces of Camembert, Brie, Swiss, bleu cheese and goat cheese together with his mother's leek broth, some white wine and crushed garlic. These ingredients marinated in a cold cellar for a week to a week-and-a-half. Pépin's wife, Gloria, makes a milder version in a food processor that takes only seconds. It's that version I decided to make.

Welcome Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm, joining out CTB group for the first time! Wendy says she was "flabbergasted by how much I enjoyed reading the story of Jacques Pepin and his life learning how to be a chef.  What a down to earth, kind man he is and what a wonderful family he has." She says, "There were a lot of recipes included in this autobiography but the one I decided to make as a side dish for our dinner tonight was the Semi Dry Tomatoes and Mozzarella Salad.  I make Caprese Salads quite often but this salad has a couple of twists so I wanted to see how it compares to others that I have enjoyed."

Cathy of Delaware Girl Eats was lucky enough to get to meet Pépin saying, "When I attended a chef’s roundtable, he spoke genuinely about his life working in French kitchens and amiably signed cookbooks afterward. I brought my copy of “Jacques and Julia Cooking Together” and that autographed book holds a special place on my cookbook shelf." Cathy made this gorgeous Bastille Day Red White and Blue Dessert and said, "It features blueberries, which have just come into season in nearby New Jersey. They are a delight dressed with nothing more than a little sugar and whipped cream in this dish which perfect to serve on a sultry July day.

My fellow Hawaii food blogger Claudia of Honey From Rock says, "...what an entertaining writer he is!  I have to think when I've so much enjoyed a memoir." It inspired a lovely dinner of Potato Turnip Galette with Roast Chicken. Claudia says, "What came most powerfully to mind for me was the lovely smell of roasting chicken, I don't know why.  Especially when liberally covered with chopped garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper, inside and out. ... In another place he writes of a galette (a flat cake) made of potatoes and mushrooms, so I decided to do a combination galette/gratin, one layer of grated potatoes and turnips, with a bit of onion, and milk, topped with Gruyere cheese, to go with the roast chicken."

CTB co-host Rachel, The Crispy Cook, was inspired to make Jacques' Venison Revenge Ragout, saying "...I decided to create something with venison, in reference to the most harrowing incident related in the book: Pepin's nighttime car accident with a deer that left him with a broken back, two broken hips, a broken leg, cracked pelvis and a left arm that was so badly fractured that his surgeon considered amputating it. What an ordeal! But Pepin doesn't dwell on that incident, and segues into his subsequent experiences in teaching cooking classes, working with corporate clients and writing cookbooks. But I feel Jacques should have his revenge against that kamikaze deer with a venison dish, so I pulled some venison stew meat that we had in the freezer care of Dan's hunting cousin and put together a delicately seasoned venison stew."  

Tina of Squirrel Head Manor says, "I didn’t know anything about Jacques Pepin’s personal life, his childhood or training in the culinary industry. After reading this book I know so much about him and enjoyed each and every chapter." The simple but flavorful Semi-Dry Tomatoes and Mozzarella Salad called to her, she says, "Recipes follow each chapter so there are many to select and drool over. French cooking doesn’t have to be complicated. Any of the French cookbooks have call for absolute simplicity and this is what Pepin delivers.

CTB co-host Simona of briciole just caught a brief glimpse of Pépin and Julia Child on television years ago but found his memoir "quite a pleasant read, seasoned with a nice dose of recipes." Simona made the unique Tapenade with Figs and Mint, saying, "Pépin's version has two unusual ingredients: dried figs (fichi secchi) and mint leaves (foglioline di menta). When blended with the traditional components of tapenade, the two newcomers create a multi-layered flavor in which the sweetness of figs, the saltiness of preserved olives, the tanginess of capers and anchovies, the fresh aroma of mint (with a light citrusy note in my case) and the richness of olives and olive oil create a combination that surprises at every bite."

The book led to many pop culture connections to Jacques for CTB co-host Debra of Eliot's Eats. (Check out her very humorous post to see!) She says, "What struck me the most about The Apprentice is Pépin’s humor (much of it self-deprecating). He isn’t above describing his humorous misadventures and foibles." For her dish, Debra chose to make a French and American classic inspired by Pépin's maman saying, "What’s more American than apple pie so I decided on Pépin’s  recipe of his mother’s Apple Tart. (Besides, The Hubs loves apple pie.)

Finally, it will come as no surprise to most of you that over at Kahakai Kitchen, I took inspiration in a bowl of soup--Pépin's recipe for Tomato Chowder with Mollet Eggs. I just cannot resist a dish with runny egg yolk or a soup with toppings and it was a chance to try a new technique. Jacques says, "...mollet (moll-ay) eggs are similar to poached eggs in texture, with runny yolks and soft whites. The eggs are cooked in their shells in barely boiling water for about 6 minutes, then thoroughly cooled and carefully shelled." My shelling technique needs work but the resulting soup was one of the best soups I have made/eaten in quite a while. Thank you Jacques! 

If it is possible to gain weight from putting together a roundup I am sure I just put on more than a few pounds from the descriptions of all of these incredible dishes. I think Pépin would be proud of all of us! Thanks to everyone who joined in this round of Cook the Books.

Please join us for August/September when we will be journeying to Italy for A Thousand Days in Venice, by Marlena De Blasi hosted by Debra of Eliot's Eats.