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'Literary' cookbooks

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alt“Millions of Mitford Fans will agree - it's easy to put on a pound or two reading a Mitford novel (The Mitford series featuring Father Tim, by Jan Karon). In scene after scene you find colorful characters eating ravishing dishes……And before you know it you have read several pages by the glow of the refrigerator light bulb.”   
– From the introduction
to “The Mitford Cookbook and Kitchen Reader”

I confessed last week that cookbooks are part of my bedside reading material. It seems that food and its preparation is also a part of other areas of entertainment in my life.  I, of course, enjoy watching the food channels on television and enjoy food magazines, but did you know that there are also several movies and literature choices that make great pastimes and gifts for foodies?

The Mitford series mentioned above is great bedside reading for stories about the delightful community of Mitford, its wonderful characters, Father Tim and the great food they bring to special events. The recipe for Esther's Orange Marmalade Cake alone makes “The Mitford Cookbook and Kitchen Reader” worth the purchase.

Other interesting cookbooks from fiction include several cookbooks based on Jane Austen's writing and “The Book Club Cookbook,” which offers a menu from selected famous works such as “The Great Gatsby.”

My favorite genre of culinary fiction is the culinary mystery. It seems that foodies are also highly attracted to mysteries and puzzles. The genre began with a few wonderful stories by Virginia Rich. In her Eugenia Potter series, she used food and its preparation as a vehicle to tell delightful stories that took place in Arizona and Martha's Vineyard.

It has exploded to include a wide range of authors and story lines. My favorites are Diane Mott Davidson's catering series about Goldy Locks Catering, Joanne Fluke's series featuring cookie bakery owner Hannah Swensen, and Katherine Hall Page's books with a catering minister's wife, sleuth Faith Fairchild.

There are also several new authors on the horizon that I can't wait to read; Livia Washburn's series from Weatherford, with a retired teacher and baker solving crimes, Ellen Hart's series starring a food critic and Miranda Bliss's series using a cooking class as the base for her stories.

I have heard there is also a new wave of culinary romances and other novels on the rise. I haven't had a chance to read one yet, but it sounds interesting.

For your viewing pleasure, there are some great movies on DVD that not only inspire with the story line, but also tantalize your taste buds.

Two recent movies are “No Reservations,” about a chef who must raise her niece and run a restaurant, and the Disney animated film “Ratatouille.”  Both give a great inside look at the workings of a restaurant kitchen.

For a feel-good family movie, “Tortilla Soup” and “Last Holiday” fit the bill.  Both have great food visuals and show how food is an integral part of sharing our love with someone.

Two romances that focus on the sensuality of food are “Chocolat” and “Like Water for Chocolate.” And my all-time favorite food movie is “Babette's Feast.”  It is a foreign language film with sub-titles. In the movie, Babette is a former chef living in isolation with two sisters who are very restricted religiously. After spending months cooking salted cod for them, she lovingly prepares them a feast that requires several days and all of her wages.  The preparation of the feast is glorious for the eyes, and the story is wonderful.


Esther's Orange Marmalade Cake

For the cake
1 cup unsalted butter, softened, more for greasing the pans
3 1/4 cups cake flour, more for dusting the pans
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 2/3 cups granulated sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature
4 large egg yolks, at room temperature
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
For the orange syrup
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/4 cup granulated sugar
For the filling
1 (12-ounce) jar orange marmalade
For the frosting
1 cup heavy cream, chilled
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 cup sour cream, chilled

The cake. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly butter three 9-inch round cake pans, line them with parchment paper, then lighly butter and flour the paper, shaking out the excess.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. Sift a second time into another bowl. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until light in color, about 4 minutes. Add the 2 2/3 cups sugar in a steady stream with the mixer running. Beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the eggs and yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Be sure to stop at least once to scrape down the batter from the sides of the bowl. After all the eggs have been added, continue to beat on medium speed for 2 more minutes. With the mixer on low speed, add the oil and beat for 1 minute. In a small bowl, combine the orange zest, vanilla, and buttermilk. Using a rubber spatula, fold in half of the dry ingredients. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add half of the buttermilk mixture. Fold in the remaining dry ingredients, scrape down the sides, and add the remaining buttermilk.

Pour the batter among the prepared pans, smooth the surface, rap each pan on the counter to expel any air pockets or bubbles, then place in the oven. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the pans on racks for 20 minutes.

The orange syrup. In a small bowl, stir together the orange juice and 1/4 cup sugar until the sugar is dissolved. While the cakes are still in the cake pans, use a toothpick or skewer to poke holes at 1/2-inch intervals in the cake layers. Spoon the syrup over each layer, allowing the syrup to be completely absorbed before adding the remainder. Let the layers cool completely in the pans.

The filling. Heat the marmalade in a small saucepan over medium heat until just melted. Let cool for 5 minutes.

The frosting. In a chilled mixing bowl, using the wire whisk attachment, whip the heavy cream with the 4 tablespoons sugar until stiff peaks form. Add the sour cream, a little at a time, and whisk until the mixture is a spreadable consistency.

To assemble the cake. Invert one of the cake layers on a cake plate and carefully peel off the parchment. Spread one-third of the marmalade over the top, smoothing it into an even layer. Invert the second layer on top of the first, peel off the parchment, and spoon another third of the marmalade on top. Place the third cake layer on top, remove the parchment, and spoon the remaining marmalade onto the center of it, leaving a 1 1/4-inch border around the edges. Frost the sides and the top border with the frosting, leaving the marmalade on top of the cake exposed. Or, if you prefer, frost the entire cake first, adding the marmalade as a garnish on top.
Chill for at least 2 hours before serving.

Recipe excerpted from Jan Karon's “Mitford Cookbook and Kitchen Reader” ©2004 by Jan Karon. Used by permission of Viking Books.
For the past 20 years, Cindy Welch has been involved with all aspects of cooking, including formal culinary training, experience as food service director for First Baptist Church of Euless, a personal chef and owner of Cindy’s Casa Cuisine. Cindy’s favorite hobby is “providing delicious food for the people of Sulphur Springs.” Her columns cover all aspects of the cooking experience.



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