A Cook and Two Books Blog #1: Death Comes in Through the Kitchen
I am so lucky to do what I do for a living. It is as far away from having a “regular job” as I can get, and that has been my goal for many years–actually since Junior High School, but that is another story. Recently I had the opportunity and privilege to work again with Toni Streckert at the Monona Public Library and Joanne Berg owner of Mystery to Me, the awesome bookstore on Monroe Street, on a truly unique event called “A Cook and Two Books” on April 11, 2018. Thanks to them for creating such a wonderful event. Thanks also to Samara Kalk Darby for writing a wonderful article that appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal on Easter Sunday on the front page of the “Sunday Best” section. Please check it out (HERE) as it gives a really good idea of what the event was all about. Briefly, the premise was that I would read two books and come up with a dish or two inspired by each of the books which I would prepare and then serve to the folks who attended the event.
What follows is what I wrote about one of the books, Teresa Dovalpage’s first novel Death Comes in Through the Kitchen. It is set in Cuba and is about an American man who goes down to the Island nation to propose to and then marry a woman with whom he has fallen in love over the internet. I know I am paraphrasing a bit, but when you read the book yourself you can fill in the details. I do indeed recommend reading the book. It is full of current Cuban social and cultural information and references; plus it is packed with innumerable food references! I felt like I learned a lot about Cuba, and definitely wanted to eat Cuban food. In fact, it made me come up with a couple of cooking classes featuring Cuban cuisine. (Kids Cuban Cuisine is this Tuesday from 4-6:30. There’s still space! Email me ASAP if you’re interested.)
Unfortunately, when the American arrives in Cuba, he finds out the woman of his on-line dreams has been murdered. Oh shoot, son of a gun he thinks. The rest of the book is spent trying to figure out who killed her and as we read we find out how complex her life was. There were so many food references it was hard to decide what to prepare. Banana bread was mentioned several times in the book. The murdered woman had claimed in her Cuban food blog to have made banana bread in the kitchen of her office building. When that was story was checked out, however, the only cooking appliance found in the office kitchen was a microwave. (You’ll just have to read it yourself to find out what happened next.)
I have an awesome recipe for banana bread, so I decided to make that for the event. The Caramel Sauce is just perfect to have with the wonderfully moist banana bread. The recipes and the musing I prepared for the event are below.
Book One: Death Comes in Through the Kitchen by Teresa Dovalpage — My Book Inspired Musings:
I was seven years old if my memory is correct. It was New Year’s Day and so appropriately cold in Central Wisconsin. My Dad noticed that our neighbors across the street had their garage door open and were grilling. I am sure he was feeling a kinship with a fellow cold weather griller when he walked over with me in tow to see what was on the grill. The family didn’t have any kids my age so other than that I knew very little about them. We were warmly greeted in the driveway by Dr. Diaz who walked us over to the grill, proudly lifted the lid of the shiny black brand new Weber grill and waited for my reaction to the whole, mini-apple mouth stuffed suckling pig. I remember my Dad being “oohing and aahing” and if he thought it was cool, I certainly thought it was cool. It turns out the Diaz family was from Cuba and that was their New Year’s Day tradition, cooking a whole suckling pig. It made me want to be part Cuban, if nothing else just to have the tradition of roasting a whole baby pig on our grill. I think we got a taste of the leftovers later in the week. I wish I could recall the sensation and flavor to this day, but I know it was exquisite.
Many, many years later after a summer in the Washington, DC area teaching kids how to cook in my culinary camps I came back to my home in Viroqua. With the help of my friend Mark Johnson, who owned Nate’s Supper Club, I was able to procure a suckling pig from Rod at Westby Locker and Meats. He had been able to talk a farmer into selling it for a price. He was so proud when he swung the little pig on the meat hook from the meat locker into the butcher shop. He had even managed to cram a small apple in its mouth. It wasn’t New Year’s Day, but I cooked it on my shiny black brand new Weber grill and my Dad was there. It tasted fantastic to both of us.
On another note, I made it into the late 90’s before I got a computer. After all, I still had unused extra ribbons for my typewriter. So I didn’t think I needed a computer. Not until my friend John made it clear to me that I needed a computer and he had a deal for me. He worked for a software company (not bedding and pillows) and they had an old computer that they would be willing to trade for a chef cooked dinner. On the menu that day was Gallotine of Duck Stuffed with Brie and Herbs along with Potato Gratin. I can’t remember the rest of the menu, but I know it was good. What I got in exchange to for the gourmet dinner was a fancy typewriter on which I didn’t have to change the ribbon. I just needed to learn how to change the printer cartridge that wasn’t as cheap as the ribbon.
More recently I have had the fortune to spend time in North Central Florida with my wife’s family and some of her childhood friends. One of our favorite traditions during our visits has been to go out for Cuban food. I know now that it is truly more Cuban-American Food than pure Cuban food. Nonetheless I love Cuban Sandwiches. What is not to like about wonderful bread with meat, cheese and pickles. My Dad would have approved and most likely said, “That tastes like more.”
The following recipe is one of my family’s favorites. It is especially good with Caramel Sauce. I haven’t tried making it in a microwave, but one of my mottos is, “I can cook anywhere” so someday I may try.
The more ripe the banana the better.
½ cup butter
1 ½ cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 cups all purpose flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 over ripe bananas, mashed
Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter, paper and butter 2 nine-inch cake pans. In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until smooth and fluffy. Add the eggs and beat in. In another mixing bowl combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix a bit. Add half to the creamed mixture and stir in. Add the other half. Add the milk and bananas. Stir just to combine. Pour in the pans. Bake for 25-30 minutes until done.
This sauce tastes good sitting in front of the TV using a squirt bottle.
½ pound sugar
1 cup water
6-8 ounces heavy whipping cream
Method: Combine the sugar and water in a non-reactive clean pot. Cover and place over medium high heat. Bring the water to a boil and allow the sugar to dissolve. Do not stir. Uncover and cook until the sugar turns to caramel. Add the cream off the heat and stir. Use as desired.