I’m taking a stab at something new for my blog: Reviewing, well really just discussing, books I enjoy and which relate to food. I might choose a book which revolves around eating at ridiculously fabulous restaurants, like in Ruth Reichl’s Garlic and Sapphires (today’s special). Or the book might inspire me to try a new recipe. The Giving Tree, for example, could inspire an apple crumble/pie/cookie creation. See for me, along with cooking and eating, reading adds another enchanting layer to the experience of food.
Don’t worry, I’ll only subject you to my literary ramblings once in a blue moon and I’ll always include a recipe. Reading about a meal is one thing, but eating, well you know how I feel.
by Ruth Reichl
Garlic and Sapphires begins with Ruth Reichl moving to New York in order to assume her new role as "The New York Times” Restaurant Critic. Reichl realizes that even before she lands, every major restaurant owner in New York has memorized her face. A glowing NY Times review could keep a restaurant’s tables booked for a year while a bad review could run the place into the ground. With such stakes, Reichl cannot eat at a restaurant without receiving premier treatment: the freshest produce, the best cut of meat and inventive dishes unavailable to the common diner. But Reichl wants to be a honest critic and so must disguise herself in order to get a true meal.
Led through multiple hilarious disguises, from a Midwestern Soccer mom to a Femme Fatale, the reader experiences some of New York’s most famous restaurants through the eyes of ordinary people. I appreciate Reichl’s blunt portrayal of the inequality of service and food dished out in restaurants. You share her indignity since when disguised, Reichl is you, the unknown diner rather than an elite critic.
At times, I find Reichl’s caricatures of the people she imitates clichéd and a little silly. Her portraits of food, however, are perfectly crafted. When she describes tender duck meat falling from the bone in a Chinese restaurant in Queens, you somehow sense it’s butter texture and taste without ever having had a bite. Entertaining from cover to cover, you wish she’d take you to just one more restaurant.
Reichl also includes in her book a few choice recipes. Some inspired by the reviewed restaurants and others homegrown in her kitchen. I chose one of the latter. A delicious classic vanilla cake made in a bundt pan. Beautifully browned on the outside, golden and incredibly moist on the inside, the cake reminded me of a perfect old fashioned doughnut you'd find at a farm stand or a local diner. I decided to add a simple glaze to the cake and the results were intoxicatingly tasty. Easy to make, I considered whipping up another on the spot to meet my friends' cries for another slice.
Adapted from Garlic and Sapphires
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1. Preheat oven to 350. Butter and lightly flour a bundt cake pan.
2. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar together using an electric mixer on medium speed. Beat for about 2 to 3 minutes or until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time. Beat well after each egg.
3. Mix flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt together in a separate bowl. Add to butter mixture and beat together until fully incorporated.
4. Add sour cream to mixture. Beat until fully incorporated. Then add vanilla. Beat until fully incorporated.
5. Pour batter into bundt pan. The batter will be very thick and you may need to use a spatula to even out batter in pan.
6. Bake 40 to 45 minutes or until a toothpick removes clean. Cake should be golden brown. Let the cake cool in pan for 10 minutes. Gently loosen cake with spatula, turn pan upside down and remove cake. Let cake cool completely before icing.
For the Icing
Adapted from smittenkitchen
8 ounces powdered sugar
3 tablespoons milk
2. Spoon evenly over cake, allowing icing to run down the sides. (Some icing might run into the center of the cake. Use a spoon to carefully remove from the center and re-spoon over cake for even coating)