With increasingly darker, drearier days on the horizon (sorry everyone), 'tis the season for serious comfort foods. Superstar English chef Jamie Oliver has the answer with his new cookbook, Jamie Oliver's Comfort Food, and with 100 recipes to choose from, there should be plenty of good eats to last you until Spring. Ever wondered how to make the perfect grilled cheese? Oliver's got you covered.
No. 1 Toasted Cheese Sandwich
A toasted cheese sandwich is a beautiful thing, but I’m not messing about here—this is the ultimate one and it’s going to blow your mind. But there is a particular sequence of events that needs to happen in order to achieve the most ridiculously tasty, chomp-worthy sandwich. Follow this recipe and it will always make you feel good. It is also especially useful when you’re suffering from a light hangover. This is when the condiments—dolloped onto a side plate like a painter’s palette—really come into their own.
With the No. 1 toasted cheese sarnie we don’t score any points for buying expensive, artisanal bread. It’s important to go for something neutral, and in my eyes, only a white bloomer will do. Lightly butter the bread on both sides (oh, and if you’ve got any leftover mashed potatoes, spread that across one piece of the bread—it’s insanely good). To one piece of bread, add a nice grating of good-quality cheese that melts well, like Cheddar, Red Leicester or a mixture of the two. Place your second piece of bread on top, then cook in a sturdy non-stick frying pan on a medium heat for about 3 minutes on each side. This is important, because if it gets too colored too quickly, you won’t get the gorgeous ooze and melt in the middle, and this is about encouraging that internal cheese lava flow. As it cooks, I like to rest something flat with a little weight on top to ensure maximum surface area and crunch.
When lightly golden on both sides, lift the toastie out of the pan and grate a little layer of cheese into the pan where it was sitting. Place the toastie back in the pan on top of the cheese and grate more cheese over it. Leave it for just over 1 minute—wait for the cheese to bubble and the fat to spill out of it, then add a little pinch of cayenne pepper. Give the toastie a poke with a slotted spatula, and once it has a cheesy, doily-like crust on the bottom that moves as one, lift the toastie out of the pan and hold it on the spatula for 30 seconds so the melted cheese hangs down, sets hard, and forms an impressive cheese crown. Flip it onto the other side and, once golden, serve, remembering to let it cool for a couple of minutes before attempting to tuck in.
The final debate is what do you want on the side? Ketchup, HP sauce, a shake of Tabasco or hot sauce, mango chutney or a mixture—all are fine choices.
From Jamie Oliver’s Comfort Food by Jamie Oliver. Copyright 2014 Jamie Oliver. Excerpted by permission of Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Read our review of this book.
Colby Marshall is a writer by day and a ballroom dancer and choreographer by night, as well as a member of International Thriller Writers and Sisters in Crime. She kicks off her new FBI profiler series, starring Dr. Jenna Ramey, with Color Blind. The FBI has detained a mass murderer, but his partner is still on the loose, so Jenna has been called in to put a stop to any future murders.
Marshall and her heroine share a rather unusual trait—they both have synesthesia, a neurological condition that triggers color associations with people, places and things. We wanted to know—and apparently, everbody Marshall meets wants to know, too—how much of her own experiences contributed to Color Blind. Her answer may surprise you.
As an author, I won’t deny that I love answering questions, even if only so for a minute I can pretend I’m the latest runaway best-selling author letting loose in an exclusive interview for People magazine. Some questions readers ask surprise me. Others come up over and over again.
And while frequent-flier questions aren’t always the same types of things I’d ask an author—I’d rather hear what earned her the most time-outs as a kid than where her ideas come from (mostly because I’m pretty sure we all snag ideas the same way, from that guy on the corner selling them out of his van)—I guess I can understand the curiosity of a reader, a bookstore patron . . . or a stranger I’ve cornered at a party who I’m pretending is my number one fan. If you don’t enjoy or make a bad habit out of telling stories, I guess the details surrounding how we think up imaginary people, make them have sex and then kill them could be interesting, whether in a fascinated way or a the-more-you-know-the-better-you-can-hide-from-the-lunatics way.
Yet, one question used to surprise me every time, no matter how often it cropped up. It’s been put to me by the neighbor dying to sneak a gossip-gathering peak inside my garage door, by the glove-snapping gynecologist only talking to distract me from the forthcoming, oh-so-cold evil, by my mother’s hairdresser in between not-so-subtle hints that I could use a few highlights, and by my devious nemesis of a mailman, who I’m convinced starred in at least one Nightmare on Elm Street sequel before he was featured on "America’s Most Wanted" when I was 8. But I digress . . .
That two-part question asked at every family reunion and inside every white-walled church fellowship hall is: Do I write about myself, and do I get my characters from those who fill real-life roles in the crazy one-woman show that is my life?
Until recently, this question routinely set off a seemingly pre-programmed string of thoughts through my head. Is this a more common practice than I realized? Could all of my favorite authors who have entertained and wowed me with their ability to weave mesmerizing fiction (read: big fat lies) out of nothingness be, in reality, regurgitating personas they see every day onto their books’ pages? Are they using their manuscripts like public journals, only ones they’re willing to turn toward the people close to them to serve as honest-but-sort-of-fictionalized-even-if-most-of-it’s-true mirrors?
My second thought always hit like clockwork: If all authors do this, then damn. After the things Thomas Harris has seen, he’s bound to be a vegetarian by now. And I bet R.L. Stine wishes his parents would’ve moved him to a town where he could’ve taken piano lessons from a teacher without a creepy hand fetish . . . and maybe lived on a cul-de-sac with fewer shadowy homeless men carrying cursed cameras.
But with my newest book, I’ve gained some perspective. A few years ago, I found myself writing about an FBI forensic psychiatrist—something I, a 5’1”, indoor, glitter-heel-wearing blonde girl, am not—and giving her a little bit of something I am. I gave her a brain quirk. Made her a graphemeàcolor synesthete. A neurological phenomenon that causes a person to associate colors with everything from letters to days of the week and even people and emotions, graphemeàcolor synesthesia doesn’t have many practical uses in my own life, unless you count the time I filled awkward silences at my spouse’s company Christmas party by entertaining acquaintances with the colors my brain links to two particularly unpopular high school foreign language teachers with whom everyone in the group happened to share an F-filled history. But for Jenna, it’s useful. It can’t do her job for her—a flying-off-buildings kind of superpower, it ain’t (sadly)—but the subtle flashes of color in her head can illuminate important details and fine-tune theories as she sifts through clues she already has.
On paper, Dr. Jenna Ramey does lots of things I don’t: I like movies with explosions, but she actually shoots at bad guys. I research abnormal pathologies for stories, but she’s a trained expert at getting inside the minds of those relevant to her case. I dream of reaching the cereal box on the top shelf; she stores dishes on all three levels in her kitchen cabinets. But she and I are alike in a big way that helps her life and career run smoother. That little bit of me I used from real-life guarantees she—and I—can save fictional lives in a way no other FBI agent can. At least, none in Jenna’s world.
Maybe in the past I’ve taken the idea of authors pulling personas from their Rolodexes too literally. (Do you know anybody who still owns a Rolodex?) After all, your main character’s partner-in-crime doesn’t have to be an exact replica of your own best pal right down to her neverending coffee mug collection and penchant for breaking the news that the joke you thought was so hilarious five minutes ago only made you laugh because one Fuzzy Navel was affecting you way more than a single wine cooler ought to be. If an author does her job, a character trait can be inspired by someone’s quirks or killer fashion sense and still shape an entirely imagined character. That way, the front-of-the-book disclaimer that says any resemblance of the story’s characters to real-life people is unintentional can hold stronger legal teeth than semantics and a prayer.
Heck, an author can even pay homage to a pal if he likes. As long as he doesn’t blab about his bud’s embarrassing fourth nipple removal (while changing only one letter of her first name), coloring stories with distinctive habits and idiosyncrasies can be just what a book character needs to transform her from so flat she might as well be a paper doll to someone . . . well, someone readers might want to meet. Maybe even hang out with for a while.
Next time I run into another author, I think I’ll ask if he uses people in his real life in his writing. Who knows? I might find out something plucked from reality is that thing I love most about a favorite character.
Thanks, Colby! Readers, Color Blind is out today.
In her 35th novel, best-selling science fiction and fantasy author Tepper brings back two of her favorite characters for another adventure. Abasio the Dyer (first seen in A Plague of Angels) and his wife, Xulai, are on a trip with a mission: to warn the residents of Tingawa of a literal sea change heading their way. The waters are rising, and people must adapt to a sea-dwelling lifestyle. Not exactly the most welcome of messages, as they discover . . .
Though they had been on this journey for almost a year now, their reception from place to place had been so varied that they had been unable to settle on a routine. Words and phrases that were acceptable in one village turned out to be fighting words in the next place, even though they tried to avoid any fighting at all. If hostility seemed imminent, they had the means to leave, and they did leave: horses, wagon, and all. Essentially they had three duties: first to explain that the world was being drowned; second to let people know about the sea-children. Third: to survive!
What are you reading this week?
Author Sarah Kennedy set her thrilling new series during one of the most intriguing eras of British history—the Tudor era. It stars an "everywoman," Catherine, a former nun who has lost her vocation due to Henry's shift from Catholicsm to Anglicism. More than 400 years after this dynasty died out, why do they continue to fascinate? In a guest blog post, Kennedy—who holds a PhD in Renaissance poetry—explores this idea.
Guest post by Sarah Kennedy
Henry VIII. Anne Boleyn. “Bloody Mary” Tudor. Queen Elizabeth I. Shakespeare. Who doesn’t love the Tudors? Or love to hate the Tudors? Lust, power, betrayal, the church, the state—they embody it all. The Tudor era still looms large in our imaginations, from The Other Boleyn Girl and Wolf Hall to Shakespeare in Love and Anonymous. We love to follow the intrigues, romances and betrayals of these glamorous historical figures. But why?
Henry VIII’s six wives have always intrigued us, partly because there were so many of them and partly because each woman was different and had her own impact on the politics and religion of the time. How many times have we watched Anne Boleyn win the king then lose her head? We know what has to happen, but those of us who admire her pluck and daring are usually hoping, somewhere deep inside, that she’ll make it this time, that she’ll have that son or that she’ll somehow escape to the countryside with her daughter. Those who favor Katherine of Aragon see her as the tragic heroine who led her people into battle and tried valiantly to be a successful queen over a foreign country—and with a husband who grew to despise her. Jane Seymour, of course, died providing the desired heir, who didn’t live to be an adult, and she was followed by poor Anne of Cleves, destined to be known as the “mare of Flanders” because the king found her unattractive. Catherine Howard, the girl-queen who clearly didn’t know what she was getting herself into, was summarily executed for misbehavior that the court seemed to wink at, and Catherine Parr, that strong-minded widow, managed to survive by playing to the aging king’s ego.
It’s the very stuff of drama—human personalities clashing and contending while the country reels from one religion to another. The royal characters of the Tudor era are both larger than life and real. They fight and they kill and they lie . . . and they love and dedicate themselves fiercely to their beliefs and their families.
And then there is the second generation: Edward the son, who suddenly falls ill in his teens and tries to “give” the crown to the tragic Jane Grey. The outcast older daughter, Mary Tudor, or “Bloody Mary,” was the first real queen regnant in England, and her half-sister Elizabeth ruled over the island’s “golden age”—but refused ever to marry.
The Tudor era was a time of massive change in Europe, but the family didn’t last long, which is another reason we go back to them. The 16th century in England is dominated by Tudors, but after Elizabeth’s death in 1603, they’re gone. In a hundred years, everything has changed, and the Tudors almost immediately become the family of legend. Henry’s break from Rome caused an upheaval in his country that rocked the very foundations of everyday life: the Church. Like us, people in Tudor England struggled with fundamental questions of belief and authority. What is the right relationship between religion and politics? What moral authority does the king have? What moral responsibility do people have to follow a leader they see as ungodly?
My first novel, The Altarpiece, tried to provide some possible answers, and the Cross and the Crown series follows a young woman who tries to make sense of her world and her God as she navigates the tricky waters of the Tudor court. Catherine Havens is a kind of everywoman. Like us, she wants to follow her conscience . . . and she wants to live a “good” life. And like us, she is trying to figure out what that life might . . . or must . . . or can be. Will her own intelligence be her guide? Or will she follow the dictates of her king?
It’s a question we all still ask ourselves, and the Tudor era continues to offer a dramatic stage on which writers, filmmakers, and playwrights can play out these human spectacles. I also wanted to consider the particular problems for women, who were seen as inferior to men—but who governed and taught and led both king and country. My Catherine is strong-willed and educated: a true Renaissance woman. But she is still a woman, who must take care not to seem smarter than the men close to the king—or than the king himself.
Why the Tudors? They are close enough to us to show us versions of ourselves, but also far enough away in time that the picture comes more sharply into focus. We know what they should do, but we also know what they will do, and our pleasure come both from hoping that things will go better this time around and watching the tragedies and triumphs play out as we know they must. And when we close the book or turn off the film, we’ve learned more about our past—and more about ourselves here in the present day.
Thanks, Sarah! The second book in the Cross and the Crown series, City of Ladies, goes on sale today (BAM | B & N | Indiebound | Amazon) and the third book will be published in 2015. Find out more on her website.
Friday marked the end of National Reading Group Month. Of course, don't let that stop you from celebrating the joy of reading groups all year long! We've rounded up all of our coverage below:
In his memoir, A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka, Lev Golinkin looks back on his childhood in a floundering Soviet Union and his journey to American identity. Our reviewer writes, "A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka blends memoir and history into an intimate tale of personal growth." (Read the review here.)
We were curious about the books Golinkin has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked him to recommend three favorites.
This book takes you behind the curtains of industries that I didn’t even know had curtains, much less mysterious happenings behind them. You go into the world of cross-country truckers, UPS handlers, riverboat captains and train engineers; by the time I was done, I felt like McPhee could have written an entire book about any one of these. For example, there is a giant (I imagine Rube Goldberg-esque) machine in a UPS center in the Midwest. He also explores the logistics behind trying to operate a gigantic riverboat (which brought on terrifying memories of my parallel parking failures) and tours a built-to-scale training center in Switzerland, where future boat operators learn how to eventually captain their own boat.
I bought this book a while ago and finally picked it up because I was tired of not knowing the details of Israel and Lebanon’s conflicts. Friedman is fascinating in that he is somehow able to present what seems like a balanced and sympathetic description of the bewildering and conflicting parties involved. He doesn’t pull punches from PLA, Israeli forces, various factions of Israel government or the different Lebanese sects; however, he also strives to show why individuals and organizations acted the way they did and what comprises their mindset. Friedman does it so effortlessly, too: He doesn’t draw parallels, but simply narrates, and you can’t help but feel like you’re riding behind these people’s eyes.
I started reading this after The Name of the Wind, the first book of Rothfuss’ trilogy. Halfway through The Wise Man’s Fear I realized that Rothfuss has been putting these little, seemingly background details into the story, which wound up playing crucial roles down the road. I found myself planning to reread the first book even before finishing the second one. The best thing I love about it is how Rothfuss plays with the way the reality of a story is warped and reshaped through the years and by various narrators.
Thanks, Lev! See any books you're interested in picking up, readers?
It's the most magical day of the year! Have a safe and happy Halloween, and check out all of our Halloween treats below:
Food writer and editor Dana Cowin tackles her personal culinary shortcomings in her new cookbook, Mastering My Mistakes in the Kitchen. With more than 100 recipes—like this simple and fabulous one for Roasted Winter Vegetables with Miso Vinaigrette—you too can learn from the best chefs around and move past common blunders.
A sports coach for my son, William, once told me that the sign of a great player is consistency. If a kid could hit the ball the same way time and again, he said, he could be a star. The same goes for cooking. Great restaurant chefs make the same dish the exact same way night after night. I now aspire to this in my cooking. In winter, I get a lot of practice making roasted vegetables.
My daughter and I routinely go “bin diving”—we open the fridge’s produce bin and take out all the wounded vegetables, dice them, toss them with olive oil and roast them. Sometimes they come out perfectly—the flavors intensified and delicious. But sometimes they burn on the bottom and are still raw on the top. Determined to become more consistent, I asked April Bloomfield to be my vegetable-roasting coach. She had two excellent recommendations: Be sure to cut the vegetables into the right size so they cook at the same time. For example, carrots and sweet potatoes won’t cook at the same rate, so carrots need to be cut smaller to cook in the same amount of time or similar as the less-dense Brussels sprouts. And stir the vegetables occasionally as they roast, for even cooking.
Active Time: 35 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour, 25 minutes
1. Position the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Put the vegetables in a large bowl and toss with the olive oil and salt. Divide the vegetables evenly between the two baking sheets, spread them out and roast, stirring occasionally, until tender and very browned, 30 to 40 minutes. Switch and rotate the baking sheets halfway through cooking.
3. Meanwhile, put the sesame oil, rice vinegar, miso, soy sauce and honey in a small bowl and whisk together.
4. Remove the vegetables from the oven and transfer to a serving bowl. Immediately toss with the miso vinaigrette. Scatter the sesame seeds and scallions on top and serve.
The dressing can be refrigerated for up to 1 week. Bring to room temperature before tossing with the vegetables.
Why Didn’t I Think of That? More Recipe Ideas from April Bloomfield
Chef Tips from April Bloomfield
ON HOW TO CUT THE VEGETABLES
If you are roasting different kinds of vegetables on the same tray at the same time, cut them according to their cooking times. For example, a thinly sliced onion will roast much faster than a large wedge of sweet potato. So, if you’re doing them together, cut the sweet potato into smaller pieces and the onion into slightly larger ones.
ON PREPPING THE VEGETABLES
Always toss vegetables with olive oil before roasting. This is especially important for tougher vegetables like pumpkin, fennel and celery root.
Amy hates her job at the rip-off Ikea superstore, Orsk. And now, she’s been wrangled into taking a night shift with some of her coworkers to catch the vandal who’s been roaming the store after dark. But as the gang investigates strange happenings amidst the shoddily made furniture, it becomes clear that there’s something far more sinister roaming the showroom floor after the industrial lights are dimmed.
Illustrated catalogue-style with furniture that gets progressively more disturbing with each chapter, this book takes a stab at American consumer culture. However, lest you think it's solely satirical fun, I’ll have you know that I slept with the light on after finishing this book. Thankfully, my town doesn't have an Ikea.
Her cell phone unleashed a shrill Woody Woodpecker laugh, informing her that she’d received a text message. Basil watched in disbelief as she fumbled the phone out of her pocket.
“Of course,” Basil announced to the trainees, “Amy knows that partners are never permitted to bring their phones onto the Showroom floor.”
“It’s another help message,” she explained, showing him the phone’s screen.
A few weeks earlier, several floor partners had started receiving one-word texts reading help from the same private number. Proliferating like rabbits, the texts came pouring in at all hours, and they were freaking people out. Corporate claimed that IT was powerless to address the issue since It was technically not Orsk related.
Are you reading anything spooky as Halloween approaches?