This week's recipes are from Cooking from the Garden: Best Recipes from the Kitchen Gardener, a book with "an inviting retro look . . . and recipes that cover the gastronomic gamut from breakfast to dinner and from starters and snacks to salads, sides and sweets" according to cookbook columnist Sybil Pratt. Serve the summer vegetables atop the creamy corn polenta, or use them for separate dishes: it's up to you! And let us know if you give them a try.
4 side or 2 main-course servings | 220 calories, 8g fat, 260mg sodium; per side serving
This dish combines four of my favorite foods: fresh corn, polenta, rich and tangy Parmigiano-Reggiano, and thyme. Pair it with a full-bodied, oak-aged Chardonnay, and you’ve got a match made in heaven. When using subtler, less oaky wines, substitute fresh goat cheese for some of the Parmigiano-Reggiano. A note about the corn: cut and scrape it from the cobs at the last minute—while the stock is heating—for the best, sweetest flavor.
Fresh from the garden: CORN, THYME
1?2 cup reduced-fat ricotta cheese
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or smoked mozzarella
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1?2 cup coarse cornmeal
2 cups fresh corn kernels (from about 4 medium ears)
1 tablespoon butter
11?2 teaspoons fresh or 1?2 teaspoon dried thyme, optional
1?8 teaspoon salt
Blend the ricotta and Parmigiano-Reggiano in a small bowl and set aside.
In a heavy saucepan, bring the stock to a boil. Using a wire whisk, slowly add the cornmeal in a thin stream, stirring constantly to prevent lumps. Reduce heat to low and cook for a couple of minutes, whisking often, until the polenta reaches the consistency of thick mush. Stir in the corn kernels, and continue cooking and stirring until the corn is tender-crisp, 3 to 5 minutes.
Remove from heat and stir in the ricotta mixture, butter, and thyme, if desired. Taste for seasoning and add salt as needed. Serve immediately.
— Recipe by Andrea Immer
There’s no rule that a vegetable stew must be eaten piping hot. This one, in particular, is delicious warm or at room temperature. Leftovers make a good sandwich filling or addition to a salad plate.
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 bay leaves
2 onions, coarsely chopped or sliced
6 plump cloves garlic, peeled and halved, plus 1 clove for garnish
6 fresh thyme sprigs
6 fresh sage leaves
12 small carrots
3?4 pound small new potatoes
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
1?2 pound yellow wax beans, or a mixture of varieties, ends trimmed
5 tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, cut into 1-inch strips
1 pound summer squash, cut into large pieces
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon lemon zest
In a wide soup pot or casserole, warm the oil with the bay leaves over low heat until fragrant. Add the onions, 6 cloves garlic, thyme, and sage; cover and cook while you prepare the vegetables. Cut fat carrots in half lengthwise; leave small ones whole. If the potatoes are small, like large marbles, leave them whole; quarter larger ones or cut fingerlings in half lengthwise. Lay the carrots and potatoes on top of the onions and season with a little salt and pepper. Cut the beans into 3-inch pieces. Add them with the rest of the vegetables to the pot. Season each layer with a little salt and pepper, then cover and cook until tender, about 40 minutes. If tightly covered, the vegetables themselves will produce plenty of flavorful juices. If the pot seems dry, though, add a few tablespoons water.
For the garnish, chop the parsley with the last clove garlic and the lemon zest until all are in fine pieces. Serve the stew in bowls topped with the parsley mixture.
— Recipe by Deborah Madison
In recent weeks, I've fielded several requests for gift ideas for graduating seniors, either from college or high school. Of course, my default answer is always: "books!" But I know it helps to be a little more specific.
Instead of buying a grad a gift card to a book retailer--although there's certainly nothing wrong with that!--think about the following gift ideas, instead. (And yeah, yeah, Dr. Seuss's Oh, The Places You'll Go is perennially appropriate; I got a cherished copy myself. But below, I've focused more on practical suggestions.)
For a high school grad, you can't go wrong with William Zinsser's timeless guide On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction. This is by far my favorite book on the craft of writing because the thesis is pretty much foolproof ("simplify, simplify, simplify"); the examples are amusing; and the advice successfully guided me through all of my college papers. I still consult my 25th Anniversary Edition, and now the 30th Anniversary Edition is on sale.
Any college grad should be happy to receive a cookbook. Boring, right?! Wrong. When I graduated from college, the last thing I wanted to spend precious cash on was a nice cookbook. (Silly, since what was I going to do. . . eat all my meals in restaurants?) Though we can all find recipes on the internet now, no sort of meal planning can beat flipping pages and seeing pretty pictures of potential dinners. Browse our cookbook archive for ideas. My first cookbook was from trusty Rachael Ray (30 Minute Meals), and I still use it all the time.
High school or college grads would be lucky to receive Manisha Thakor and Sharon Kedar's On My Own Two Feet: A Modern Girl's Guide to Personal Finance. As the title suggests, the intended audience for the book is women--the assumption being that more women than ever are in charge of their own or their family's finances--but I think the advice is universal. I'm usually skeptical of personal finance books, but Thakor and Kedar break down budget and savings plans and explain investing in terms that even a teen could understand. This book will make concepts like "saving for retirement" much easier to grasp. (For coupled readers, Thakor and Kedar have a new book out called Get Financially Naked: How to Talk Money with Your Honey.)
Do you have any suggestions for graduation gifts?
A Gate at the Stairs
by Lorrie Moore
Knopf, September 2009
So, I've been looking forward to reading A Gate at the Stairs since its fall publication, when it was described in BookPage as "solidly and delightfully Lorrie Moore territory; there’s the isolated, intelligent female narrator who both hides and survives through her humor and nonchalance; the Midwestern landscape that stretches with ennui and possibility; the pithy wordplay that is as haunting as it is lighthearted." The story is about Tassie, a 20-year-old girl who takes a job as a babysitter during winter vacation. Sarah, the woman who hires her, takes an immediate liking to Tassie and—oddly—asks her to "be there with us for everything, from the very first day." The excerpted passage is from Tassie's first outing with Sarah, who is adopting. They go to meet the birth mother (Amber) and adoption agency counselor (Letitia).
If you've never read Lorrie Moore before, or A Gate at the Stairs is on your TBR list, I encourage you to check out this novel—either now or in September, when the paperback comes out. Moore has a knack for describing bizarre situations that still feel instantly recognizable, and she's hilarious, to boot.
Things moved with swiftness and awkwardness both, like something simultaneously strong and broken. We hung up coats; we ordered; we ate; we made chitchat about the food and the snow. "Oh, there's my probation officer," Amber said, giggling; her face brightened, as if she had a little crush on him. "I think he sees us. He's sitting right over there by the window." We looked up to see the probation officer, his blue jacket still on, his bottomless Diet Coke stacked with ice. A going-to-seed hunk in a windbreaker: the world seemed full of them. We all just stared to buy ourselves time, I suppose, and to avoid the actual question of Amber's crimes.
Letitia began to speak to Sarah, on Amber's behalf. "Amber is happy to meet Tassie as well as you, Sarah." Here Amber looked across at me and rolled her eyes, as if we were two girls out with our embarrassing mothers. I had been noticing Amber's face, which was as lovely as advertised but sassy, with a strange electricity animating it, and with the missing teeth she seemed like a slightly educated hillbilly or an infant freak. her hair was a gingery blond, shoulder length, as straight and course as a horse's tail. "Amber is wondering, of course, about your religious plans for the baby. She is very interested in having the baby baptized Catholic, aren't you, Amber?"
"Oh, yeah," said Amber. "That's the whole point of this." She pulled out the front of her bulging stretchy sweater and let it snap back.
"And of course, she would hope you would have the child confirmed as well, when the time came."
"We could do that. We could definitely do that," Sarah said agreeably.
"Were you raised Catholic?" asked Amber.
"Uh, well, no, but my cousins were," said Sarah, as if this solved everything.
The Audie Awards were given out last night in New York City, and the biggest prize—Audiobook of the Year—went to Nelson Mandela's Favorite African Folktales. (Read more about this book and listen to an excerpt.)
Mandela and the 23 artists who participated in this recording must be pretty pleased to have beaten out the Bible and Patrick Swayze. We're guessing that the talented readers combined with the fact that 100% of the proceeds from the audiobook go to a nonprofit working in South Africa and the U.S. to combat HIV/AIDS and The Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, convinced judges that this one deserved the prize.
The newsletter debuts tomorrow morning. The first issue includes a super giveaway, an author interview (one hint: Stanley Yelnats), a behind-the-book essay and plenty of reviews. Sign up now, if you haven't already!
Here's a book deal many of you will like: Debut novelist Gabrielle Donnelly has sold a book called The Secret Lives of Sisters, which is inspired by Little Women and the descendants of Jo March.
Here's more from Publisher's Marketplace: "When one sister is at a crossroads in her life, she finds her great grandmother Jo's letters to Meg, Beth and Amy, and discovers Jo's secrets may hold the key to finding her own way in life."
Touchstone Firestone will publish the book in summer 2011.
Michael Joseph, an imprint of Penguin UK, bought the book rights back in early 2009. British publishing news site Bookseller.com reported on the plot:
Donnelly explores the issues facing "20-something women of the 21st century" by tracing the lives of the grand-daughters of Jo March, one of the key protagonists in Louisa May Alcott's 1868 novel Little Women.
Financial worries, career crises and relationship difficulties are contemplated by three sisters Joss, Sophie and Lulu, who discover their grandmother's letters in an attic. [Commissioning editor] Newhouse said Donnelly "stays faithful to the spirit of Little Women".
Does The Secret Lives of Sisters sound like something you would like?
Just out of curiosity, how many Book Case readers took off work today to read The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest? (Or maybe you're reading under your desk right now—or, most likely, watching the clock tick down until you can go home and read.) In any case, Happy Book Release Day! Judging from comments I've seen on this blog, many of you are very excited about this day. As Charles McGrath wrote in a lengthy article about Stieg Larsson in the New York Times,
Except for “Harry Potter,” Americans haven’t been so eager for a book since the early 1840s, when they thronged the docks in New York, hailing incoming ships for news of Little Nell in Charles Dickens’s “Old Curiosity Shop.”
Has anyone had a chance to start Hornet's Nest? What do you think? (No spoilers, please!)
Exciting news for Mark Twain fans—when he died in 1910, the author left behind hundreds of pages of an autobiography, complete with a stipulation that the book's publication be held until 100 years after his death.
Well, it's 2010, and on November 15 the University of California Press is releasing book one in the three-part series: Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume I: The Complete and Authoritative Edition. Here's a bit more from the publisher:
His innovative notion—to “talk only about the thing which interests you for the moment”—meant that his thoughts could range freely. The strict instruction that these texts remain unpublished for 100 years meant that when they came out, he would be “dead, and unaware, and indifferent” and therefore free to speak his “whole frank mind.”
Will you read Twain's uncensored bio?
If you think everyone interested in books will have one novel on the mind this week, you're probably right (hint: it starts with The Girl Who). But in case you're not a Larsson fan—or you were lucky enough to read an advanced copy of the novel—this week we're highlighting plenty of other books and genres on BookPage.com.
For those of you who do have Lisbeth Salander on the brain, we've got you covered, too. First up...
As you count down the minutes until tomorrow's release of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, read an interview with Knopf publisher and editor-in-chief Sonny Mehta, who introduced the works of Stieg Larsson to American readers.
If you're looking for an unusual memoir, try...
Vanessa Woods, an Australian chimp aficionado, had never heard of bonobos until she fell for Brian Hare, an American scientist whose dream is to compare the behavior of chimps and bonobos living in Congolese sanctuaries and figure out what the differences reveal about human evolution. Bonobo Handshake is Woods’ beguiling story of falling in love with bonobos and the Congo while her marriage to Hare matured.
Heading to the lake, beach or pool over Memorial Day weekend? Don't miss...
Romance columnist (and author) Christie Ridgway's book recommendations will start your summer with a sizzle! In her words: "With summer’s approach, it’s time for books destined to fill those long hours of daylight or the warmth of a flower-scented night with steamy stories. From regency to contemporary romances, this month’s selections really turn up the heat. Enjoy!"