Showing posts with label Television. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Television. Show all posts

12 September 2013


I confess, I love cookbooks based on television programs.  They tend to fall into two categories: the "unofficial" cookbook, which means someone writes a book outside of the purview of the producers of the show.  They tend to be rather plain and based on other cookbooks, much like the The Unofficial Downton Abbey CookbookWe are still hoping for that "OFFICIAL" Downton Abbey cookbook.  The official cookbook is the other kind of TV Show cookbook.  True Blood is an official cookbook.  This means they have all the force and resources of the particular show behind them.  Specifically, lavish photos.  (Primarily the reason we are hoping for an "Official"  Downton cookbook.)  

While the lavish photo are a big plus, the problem with many of these sanctioned cookbooks, is the desire to "pretend" that the actual characters in the show have assembled the cookbooks. What happens is some lowly junior writer is tasked with developing a back story for the character who is then given a voice to tell us about their  families cooking experience.  It is a bit lame.  OK, it is very lame.  

Why can't producers have faith in their audience.  Why don't they write a cookbook that features the historical justifications for the food in their series, especially if it plays an important role.  (I don't mean to harp, but this is EXACTLY what Julian Fellows should do with Downton Abbey.  Discuss the Edwardian kitchen.  Show lots of photos, give recipes for the food, come on Fellows, give us a cookbook! But I digress...)

With the "official" cookbook for the series Treme,  the producers have tried to give us both the cheesy, "Our characters wrote these recipes and here are their culinary back stories" and legitimate recipes from a wide variety of chefs.  Treme: Stories and Recipes from the Heart of New Orleans was written by respected food writer,, Lolis Eric Elie.  It would be hard to write a story of New Orleans and leave out either the food or the music.  David Simon, the producer of Treme uses both of these vital elements in his story telling.  In fact, he has blurred the lines of fact and fantasy by including real, recognizable chefs as members of his cast.  When the idea of a Treme cookbook came to light, there was a built-in repository of culinary info.

And still... we have to have the recipes come from the cast of characters in Treme.  Head chef is one Janette Desautel who writes the "introduction" to Treme.  Desautel is played by the fine Kim Dickens, who has played far too many hookers and addicts in her career. (News flash, Dickens is set to join the cast of Sons of Anarchy as ... "seductive and maternal madame Colette Jane".)  To get the rhythm of an actual chef, Dickens worked in several restaurants, spending a great deal of time with New Orleans chef, Susan Spicer.  when Janette Desautel goes to New York, Dickens actually works on Le Bernadine's line making the pounded tuna from Eric Ripert.   A set was built for Lucky Peach a fictitious David Chang restaurant, Chang said it was set up better than Momofuku, the real David Chang restaurant.

The Alabama born, Vanderbilt educated Dickens becomes the Alabama born, University of Alabama drop-out, Janette Desautel, who goes to Birmingham to work with Frank Stitt.  It all seems so believable!

One of my favorite characters in Treme is LaDonna Batiste-Williams, played by Kandhi Alexander (who like Kim Dickens, has played a lot of hookers, addicts and the occasional medical examiner.)   LaDonna Batiste-Williams both loves and hates New Orleans and the complexity of her charter is unusual on television.  In her bar, there is always a pot of gumbo, gumbo that has been cooking for a century.  While the gumbo cooks and the beers are cold, LaDonna Batiste-Williams might be inclined to serve up some microwave pralines.

Microwave Pralines

1 pound light brown sugar
1 cup heavy (whipping) cream plus 1 to 3 teaspoons cream or milk for thinning batter
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
2 cups pecan halves, cut in half again (in other words, not too big or small)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 4 pieces
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Line a heatproof surface like a countertop or 2 baking sheets with wax paper.

In an 8-cup microwave-safe glass measur­ing cup with a handle, combine the brown sugar, cream and corn syrup, mixing until all the sugar lumps are dissolved and the bat­ter is well blended.

Position the measuring cup in the micro­wave so you can see how the batter inside measures; the batter will be at or near the 2 1/2-cup mark. Microwave on high without covering or stirring, watching it continuously, until the mixture slowly bubbles up to slightly higher than the 8-cup mark and then deflates to near the 4 1/2-cup mark, 10 to 16 minutes (depending on how quickly your microwave cooks).
Do not open the microwave during the cooking process and, if in doubt, cook for less time, not more.
(If you want to make praline sauce instead of pralines, let the batter cook as directed until it has expanded to slightly over the 8-cup mark and then has slowly deflated just to the 7-cup mark. Use warm or at room temperature. Refrigerate the leftovers, tightly covered, for up to 1 week.)

Carefully remove the very hot measuring cup from the microwave and, using a sturdy metal mixing spoon, gently stir in the pecans, butter and vanilla, being careful to not splash any of the hot mixture on your skin. Continue stirring until the mixture is noticeably less glossy, about 3 minutes.

Working quickly, and using two spoons, scoop rounded tablespoonfuls of the mixture onto the wax paper, about 1 inch apart and, using a second tablespoon to push the batter off the mixing spoon. If necessary, thin the batter with the remaining 1 to 3 teaspoons of cream as you reach the end of the batter and it thickens as it cools. Let the pralines cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes, then serve as soon as possible. Any leftovers can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days.

In the hands of Lolis Eric Elie, Treme has manage to be both a television tie-in and a remarkable testament to the food of New Orleans.

07 September 2012

The Jill St. John Cookbook

We have been in full television mode at Cookbook Of The Day, so we felt a television themed Famous Food Friday was in order.  One just never knows who is out there getting a cookbook published but it seems if you are a bona fide television personality it is easier.

In the dark ages of the late 1980’s, before you were all born, the “Celebrity” chef was a rare thing.  Food Network was not being streamed into every family room/kitchen (Because there was just the kitchen and the dining room!), so cooking fell to actual clelebities.  Case in point, Jill St. John.

During the 1970’s and 80’s Jill got around.  The former Bond Girl dated Frank Sinatra, Henry Kissinger, Sean Connery, Peter Lawford, and Robert Wagner who became her fourth husband.  She parlayed her cooking enthusiasm into a monthly cooking spots on Good Morning America and became a food editor for USA Weekend Sunday magazine.  Who knew?

Many of these famous food cookbooks are simply afterthoughts from publicists, The Jill St. John Cookbook is quite polished.  I must say I was quite surprised by Miss St. John’s culinary skills.  We have laughed before about the decidedly twee farm-to-table cookbooks, so it was interesting to find that Jill St. John was a big advocate of growing your own herbs and eating locally.  Seriously, every recipe out there belonged to some before you!  Don’t kid yourself.

Here is Jill’s recipe for shrimp with a kick.   Notice she was “Cajun” before Cajun was cool!  She suggests putting out finger bowls if you serve these – how very 80’s.

Fiery Cajun Shrimp

5-6  large raw shrimp in their shells
1/2pound unsalted butter, melted
1/2pound margarine, melted
3-4 ounces Worcestershire sauce
4 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground rosemary
juice of 2 lemons
2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce
2 teaspoons salt

3 garlic cloves, minced
2 lemons, sliced

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

With a small, sharp pair of scissors, cut through the shells of the shrimp from top to tail.  Do not cut the tail.  Devein the shrimp but leave them in their shells.

In a bowl, mix together all the ingredients except the lemon slices.  Cover the bottom of a 13 X 9-inch glass baking dish with a little of this mixture.  Arrange the shrimp and the lemon slices in layers in the dish, stopping about 1 inch from the top. Pour the remainder of the butter sauce over.  Bake turning the shrimp once or twice, until they are cooked through, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Evidently, Jill is still cooking up a storm or to be more precise, Rigatoni with Vodka Sauce for Valentine’s Day, 2010.

06 September 2012

The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook

In keeping with our television theme, this month saw the publication of The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook.   (This book is unofficial and unauthorized.  It is not authorized, approved, licensed, or endorsed by Carnival Film and Television Ltd., its writers or producers, of any of its licensees.)   Here is my question – with all the “Downton Abbey” books coming out by Jessica Fellows and with all the research they did for the show, why is there no “official” cookbook? 

Emily Ansara Baines has provided the unofficial version.  Baines is a bit of an “unofficial” cookbook writer having penned The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook.

The first thing one notices about this cookbook versus the “official” True Blood Cookbook is the lack of glossy photos of the cast and set.   Frankly, those pictures would have sold me more on the cookbook and make a great case for “official” cookbooks based on television shows.  It is unusual in this day and age to find a cookbook that is merely text.  Not one recipe has a finished picture.  A small signature of photographs would have greatly enhanced the book.  My other criticism would be that many of the recipes seem similar to the old Upstairs/Downstairs cookbook, though both cookbooks deal with a period when cooking was basically the same.

I do love that each recipe in The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook has a small historical blurb about the dish or related issues of etiquette or language of the period.  While some of the recipes seem a bit too modern, the vintage throwback style abounds.  From tea sandwiches to digestive biscuits, from quail to Shepard’s pie this cookbook will give the reader a sense of what the meals might have been like during the Edwardian era.

Part One of the book features recipes set up to follow the courses of the popular service à la Russe.  It is said that Alexander Kurakin introduced the Russian style of serving a table to Pairs while he served as the Russian Ambassador.  From there it became popular throughout Europe.  A service à la Russe sets each place with a cover.  Each course is brought to the table by servers.  Each course is finished before the next course is served.  There were often as many as fourteen courses at a dinner.    

Tea holds a special place in the hearts of the English and there is a special chapter for tea at Downton Abbey.  Part Two of the cookbook deals with meals for the staff. 

Here is a favorite old-timey, definitely “downstairs” recipe.  It is a quite proper recipe for mushy peas.  Baines reminds us that the would have been a popular accompaniment to fish and chips and one that, “Mrs. Patmore might whip this up on nights when the staff is too tired to properly eat after a full day of tending to Downton's regulars and their guests.”
Mushy Peas

1 ½ cups (12 ounces) dried marrowfat peas
4 cups water
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 tablespoons butter
¼ cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. Soak dried peas overnight in a large bowl full of water and baking soda. The baking soda is important because it helps break down the peas. The next day, drain the peas, then place them in a medium-sized saucepan and just cover with water. Simmer for 25 minutes; the peas should break up without mashing.
2. Remove peas from the heat. Stir in the butter until it melts, followed by cream, sugar, salt and black pepper. If desiring a thinner consistency, add more cream.

Mushy peas are making a big comeback in posh London circles.  Today shoppers have the luxury of fine, frozen peas and an electric blender!   So all one needs to do is give those peas a quick boil, add a touch of milk and mash.  How easy and practical can nostalgia be?
Grab a copy of The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook and start planning your dinner party for the January return of Crawley girls.

05 September 2012

True Blood

Back with some television tie-ins!  After the finally of this season’s True Blood, with Bill all bad and evil and no resolution till next season…

We have been given a True Blood booster with the True Blood cookbook.   True Blood: Eats, Drinks, and Bites from Bon Temps features a menu from Merlotte’s filled with so much more than an a glass of Tru Blood. (As you know, vampires don’t eat.  I would be seriously bummed if I were a vampire!) 

Yes, Virginia, this is a kitschy and blatant attempt at wooing the True Blood fan, but as far as these things go, it is a pretty good cookbook.  Alan Ball and a couple of co-producers get the bulk of the credit for “writing” the cookbook, but you have to hand it to them, where the actual recipes are concerned, they called upon Marcelle Bienvenu.  Bienvenu is a famed expert on Cajun and Creole cooking.   After the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, one of the first things that residents tried to rebuild was their recipe box.  Family recipes were lost and there was an outpouring of requests at The Times-Picayune of New Orleans for reprints of classic New Orleans recipes.  Marcelle Bienvenu wrote Cooking Up a Storm, filled requested recipes and stories behind them.

So don’t be terribly dissuaded by the cheesy essays by “Sookie Stackhouse” about Gran’s kitchen.  Of course the recipes are purported to be from the culinary collections of various characters, and they have appropriately wacky names like Confederate Ambrosia, Burning Love BLT and Candied Sweet Jesus Potatoes.  If you are a True Blood fan AND you cook, who could want more?

Here is a recipe from Sookie.  She says:

“I drive all the way to Shreveport to see Alcide, and there’s Debbie, with a tray full of hostess snacks?  As if crawfish dip is gonna make up for trying to kill me – twice!”

It might just make up for trying to kill someone – once!

Crawfish Dip

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup chopped yellow onion
½ cup chopped green pepper
1 teaspoon minced garlic
3 tablespoons mince fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 pound peeled crawfish tales
One 8-ounce package cream cheese at room temperature
Cayenne Pepper
Tabasco sauce

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion and bell pepper and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are soft and golden, 6 to8 minutes.  Add the garlic, parsley, and crawfish tails.  Cook, stirring, until the crawfish throw off some of their moisture, 3 to4 minutes.

Add the cream cheese and reduce the heat to medium-low.  Cook, stirring, until the mixture is smooth and heated through.  Season with salt, cayenne and Tabasco.

As a true, True Blood fan, I can tell you this is not only a fun and fan-filled little book, but the recipes are well worth the effort.  If you are a vampire, you are sadly missing out.  Seriously, what is the point of living forever if you can’t eat!
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