It’s “Read An eBook Week” and my recipes and read are available for immediate download! Host a Southern-style book club supper with “Almost Sisters” by Joshilyn Jackson and my “Sunday Best Dishes” menu.
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Last year I discovered authorJoshilyn Jackson and devoured every book she’s written in record time. For me, her characters, strong Southern women, strike a chord with so many attributes I aspire to. Her heroines face challenges that we can identify with, although hopefully in not such a dramatic manner!
For this book club, I’ve chosen the book “The Almost Sisters”. This is not her most recent book, but I find it to be very current given our present political climate. And although this book is in no way political, it does deal with issues in the headlines.
“With empathy, grace, humor, and piercing insight, the author of gods in Alabama pens a powerful, emotionally resonant novel of the South that confronts the truth about privilege, family, and the distinctions between perception and reality—the stories we tell ourselves about our origins and who we really are.
Superheroes have always been Leia Birch Briggs’ weakness. One tequila-soaked night at a comics convention, the usually level-headed graphic novelist is swept off her barstool by a handsome and anonymous Batman.
It turns out the caped crusader has left her with more than just a nice, fuzzy memory. She’s having a baby boy—an unexpected but not unhappy development in the thirty-eight-year-old’s life. But before Leia can break the news of her impending single-motherhood (including the fact that her baby is biracial) to her conventional, Southern family, her step-sister Rachel’s marriage implodes.
Worse, she learns her beloved ninety-year-old grandmother, Birchie, is losing her mind, and she’s been hiding her dementia with the help of Wattie, her best friend since girlhood.
Leia returns to Alabama to put her grandmother’s affairs in order, clean out the big Victorian that has been in the Birch family for generations, and tell her family that she’s pregnant. Yet just when Leia thinks she’s got it all under control, she learns that illness is not the only thing Birchie’s been hiding.
Tucked in the attic is a dangerous secret with roots that reach all the way back to the Civil War. Its exposure threatens the family’s freedom and future, and it will change everything about how Leia sees herself and her sister, her son and his missing father, and the world she thinks she knows.”
There’s a pivotal scene in the book that serves as the catalyst for bringing Leia home to Alabama and her grandmother. Birchie and her caretaker, Wattie attend a potluck supper after Sunday church. It’s Birchie’s out-of-character outburst in front of the parishioners that sends a distress call to Leia.
Here are a couple of book club discussion questions to get you started:
There are multiple relationships in the novel that fit the title The Almost Sisters description. How did the title take on new meaning to you as the story developed?
Despite her worsening dementia, Birchie is still a strong character throughout the book. How would you describe her lifelong friendship with Wattie? Did your impressions change throughout the novel? Why do you think Birchie chose to keep their true relationship a secret even as times changed?
Leia makes the decision to hide her pregnancy early on and keeps her secret throughout much of the story. Do you think Leia made the right decision? Were you surprised by the characters’ reactions when her pregnancy was revealed?
I just returned from a whirlwind trip to Italy. We visited Sorento and the Amalfi coast and then motored our way north to the region of Tuscany. Most of us on the trip took in the sights and attractions, but I focused on the food and wine.
We interspersed multi-course meals in Michelin star restaurants with neighborhood trattoria’s (many of which offered menus featuring pages of pizza and pasta choices). I came away with three favorite dishes.
At the Don Alfonso 1890 Ristorante in Sorrento you can choose from several pre-set menus, starting with three courses and adding up to an astounding seven! My favorite course was dessert, a large platter filled with bite size pastries from truffles to cookies to nut-coated cake sticks, all set atop a smoke filled background. It was something! I’m posting a video to my social media on this one!
Just a quick nine minute helicopter ride from Sorrento you are transported to cliff side gardens and vast views of the Amalfi coast in the quaint city of Ravello. The Belmond restaurant in the Hotel Caruso sits at the top of the village and offers an outstanding dining experience. The menu features fresh Mediterranean cuisine, starring seafood from the coastal waters.
My favorite dish was an elegantly presented tuna tartar infused with fresh peaches. It was almost too gorgeous to eat, but I took one for our team and devoured every bite.
My final meal was a delicious lunch at Osteria di Passigno in Tuscany. The restaurant sits next to an ancient abbey house where a few monks still reside. The fields are filled with grape vines. A few varieties of wine are grown here, but the pride and joy is the Chianti Classico, a designation of wine that is solely made in this area.
After a quick tour of the winery and gardens, we were treated to a multi course meal that started with an extra virgin olive oil tasting and finished with pear-filled puff pastry drizzled with locally grown honey.
My favorite dish was a brothy fish stew accented with shaved vegetables that rose like stalagmites from the center of the dish.
I arrived home after a lengthy day (I mean 24 hours) of traveling. After a day of emptying suitcases, petting the parent-deprived dog and checking in with pals, I found myself in the kitchen. Inspired as I was, my first dish was neither pasta nor pizza. Instead, it was the delicious Mediterranean inspired fish dishes that won me over.
It took only a quick trip to the market to come up with the ingredients for one of my favorite dishes from SUNDAY BEST DISHES, Puttanesca Poached Cod. I share it with you, not only because it is a simple, yummy dish, but also, because it might inspire you to make Italy a destination in your travel plans.
Puttanesca Poached Cod
MAKES 4 SERVINGS
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 (7-ounce) tin flat fillets of anchovies packed in oil
1 (14-ounce) can marinated artichoke hearts, about 8 to 10 medium size, sliced
1/3 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
6 large garlic cloves, peeled and sliced, about 2 tablespoons
2 tablespoons capers, drained
1 cup red wine
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
4 (4 to 6-ounce) fillets of cod
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon coarse black pepper
Place the olive oil and anchovies (with oil) in a skillet over low heat. Cook until the anchovies begin to melt. Increase the heat to medium high. Add the artichoke hearts, olives, garlic and capers. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes. Pour in the wine. Cook until most of the liquid disappears, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer until the sauce reduces by half, about 10 to 15 minutes. Place the cod into the sauce. Cover the skillet with a lid. Cook until the cod just begins to flake, about 5 minutes depending on the thickness of the fillets.
Season the top of the fillets with salt and pepper, and a sprinkle of lemon juice. Serve the cod surrounded by the sauce and lemon wedges.
Yes, this is just as delicious as it sounds, and surprisingly quick to make. In place of traditional mushrooms, the Marsala sauce combines thinly sliced fennel, artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes with the wine. Truffle mustard adds a unique depth of flavor– one you will want to incorporate into other dishes.
This veal, like so many of my recipes, comes from a delicious memory. In the early days of my marriage, my husband and I would travel to my in-law’s home on Sunday night where my mother-in-law, Mary Jane, served veal marsala almost every time.
And why wouldn’t she? It was a winner!
I loved the tangy, rich sauce and the thin, lightly breaded veal cutlet. She bought the meat from a local butcher and he did the pounding for her. The end result is a tender, wine-laced bite that literally melted in my mouth.
My twist on the traditional recipe is to substitute Mary Jane’s sauce staple that includes thick slices of earthy mushrooms and replace them with fennel, artichoke, and sun-dried tomatoes – an ode to all tastes Italian and one of the best recipes in my latest cookbook.
This is hardly the only recipe from the Skillets and Saucery chapter of SUNDAY BEST that yields a melt in your mouth, romantic dinner best served with wine. I like to post the seared, braised and grilled dishes from this chapter maybe more than all the others, because they encourage passionate home cooks to use their imaginations.
Let me know if you made anything particularly luscious in your kitchen this weekend!
Sunday Best Veal Marsala
Makes 4 servings
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
4 (3 to 4-ounces) veal cutlets, pounded to 1/8-inch thickness
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon coarse black pepper
1 small fennel bulb, tops trimmed, cored and thinly sliced, about ½ cup
6 to 8 medium artichoke hearts, thinly sliced, about ½ cup
¼ cup julienned sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained
½ teaspoon dried French thyme
1 cup Marsala wine
½ cup homemade chicken broth, or prepared low sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon truffle mustard
Heat the olive oil and butter in a pan over medium high heat. Season both sides of the veal with salt and pepper. Place the cutlets into the pan and cook until golden, about 1 to 2 minutes. Turn and brown the other side, 1 to 2 minutes more. Remove the veal to a platter.
Place the fennel, artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes into the pan. Cook until the vegetables are soft and golden, about 2 to 3 minutes. Sprinkle the veggies with thyme. Pour the wine into the pan. Cook until the wine reduces by half. Pour the broth into the pan. Stir in the mustard. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer the sauce for 1 minute. Place the veal back into the pan. Simmer until the veal is cooked through, and the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes.
My name is Jorj Morgan and I’m a football fanatic. My last cookbook has an entire chapter dedicated to the Couch Potato… I mean Football Fan. Sunday Best Dishes has it all: giant, juicy burgers; both beef brisket and a turkey burger slider layered with pimento cheese and crispy onion rings. There’s an easy-peasy recipe for home-made veggie chips with a great onion dip to go with. There’s a recipe for quesadilla, one for loaded potato skins and even a recipe for game day pizza. There’s a decadent nacho recipe and my all time favorite…. A terrific recipe for Hot Garlicky Wings.
There’s a story here! When I moved to South Florida with my family in the early 70s, we immediately became Miami Dolphin fans. We drove forty minutes from our house to the game and parked on the front lawn of a home belonging to a sweet Cuban family that lived blocks away from the Orange Bowl. The price to park at their house…. ten bucks! My mom packed tons of waxed paper wrapped sandwiches, and we ate on the sidewalk on our way to the game.
Joe Robbie built a new stadium in the late 80s and tailgating took on a whole new meaning. Fans hauled grills to the parking lot, and we ate footlongs, burgers and brats…sometimes a Buffalo wing or two!
The stadium was overhauled, team ownership changed, and the fans continued cheering. Stadium food grew to multi-course buffets and in-seat food delivery via your iPhone. Our fan-food palette grew, but the standards remained the same. Burgers, hoagies and wings!
Just look at these babies!
As long as I can remember there was a Game Day staple from a little restaurant in Pompano Beach that makes the best wings I’ve ever eaten! We ordered them with extra garlic and extra hot sauce. The sides included celery sticks with blue cheese dressing and a white paper sack filled with skinny, salty, greasy fries. The restaurant’s name is Wings ‘N Things. If you ever get to South Florida… you must give them a try!
But, if you are craving a game-day wing experience, and not planning a trip to South Florida, you can get a great dish by making my Sunday Best recipe for Hot Garlicky wings. Whether your team is winning, or on the verge of winning (and at this point in the season, there is always HOPE). These wings are the perfect couch potato, fan food!
Let me know what you think and share your favorite football stories with us!
Cook Time: About 30 minutes to fry all the wings and about 10 minutes more to simmer in the sauce.
For the sauce
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)
1 cup hot pepper sauce
1 tablespoon white vinegar
8 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced, about 3 tablespoons
For the wings
24 chicken wings
Canola oil for frying
1 tablespoon dried minced onion
1 tablespoon dried minced garlic
1 tablespoon coarse ground black pepper
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
Melt the butter in a large, deep skillet over low heat. Stir in the hot pepper sauce, vinegar and minced garlic. Continue cooking while you cook the wings watching to make sure that the garlic softens but does not burn.
Cut the tips from the wings and reserve for use in stock. Cut the wings into two parts and place onto a baking sheet. Season the wings with the spices. Heat canola oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Cook the wings in batches, (in the hot oil) turning once until golden brown. (Note: A mesh splatter guard placed over the skillet is very useful for this process as these wings will splatter!) Drain the wings on a rack placed over paper toweling. Place the wings into the sauce and toss to coat. Cover the skillet and continue to simmer over low heat until the wings are cooked through, about 10 minutes.
Serve the wings with celery sticks and blue cheese dressing for dipping.
Oh, my, my! It’s time to bake and share…. You know, those gifts that you have ready when you need something for a friend at work, or a favorite neighbor. My recipe for Blueberry Poppy Seed Loaf with Jammin’ Berry Jam fits the bill for a bake a share holiday treat. An excellent way to present this sweet and heavenly loaf of thoughtfulness is to wrap it in a linen kitchen towel, and tie it off with a sprig of holly.
Visually it works, and taste bud wise it totally works. I can all but guarantee nothing’s better with your morning skinny latte than a thick slice of warm, sweet cake with a slather of tart berry jam. It’s a combo that makes your tongue want to slap the roof of your mouth!
The jam is super fresh, owing that to a total of two pints of fresh blue and blackberries, zesty citrus and hint of mint.
This recipe works well, printed out and tucked into the gift of a new electric mixer. In my book, SUNDAY BEST DISHES, I recommend this Kitchen Aid – and since you’re already on Amazon, go ahead and get my cookbook while you’re at it. I can guarantee a personalized bookplate if you order before Christmas. But without further adieu…
Blueberry Poppy Seed Loaf
with Jammin’ Berry Jam
MAKES 8 SERVINGS
1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon table salt
½ cups whole milk
⅓ cup canola oil
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
1 cup fresh blueberries
Preheat the oven to 350°. Coat a 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pan with vegetable oil spray. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, nutmeg and salt in a bowl. Use an electric mixer to combine the milk, canola oil and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time. Stir in almond and vanilla extracts. Mix in the flour. Stir in the poppy seeds and blueberries until just combined. Pour the batter into the loaf pan. Bake until the loaf is golden on the top and a tester inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Remove the loaf from the pan and cool completely.
1 pint fresh blueberries
1 pint fresh blackberries
½ cup granulated sugar
Zest of 1 medium lime, about 1 to 2 teaspoons
Juice of 1 large lime, about 2 tablespoons
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
Place the berries, sugar, lime zest and juice into a saucepan over medium heat. Cook until the berries are mushy, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add the mint and cook until the berries break down completely, about 5 minutes more. Pour the jam into a bowl and cool to room temperature. Store in an airtight container.