June 12, 2012

Book Review-O-Rama: Apron Anxiety

It's not a new story: girl meets boy, whirlwind romance ensues, boy and girl move to a faraway town, girl is restless/unemployed, girl learns to cook (ahem, see the onus of this very blog). 

Thus begins Apron Anxiety by Alyssa Shelasky with the story of how Shelasky learned to cook as a way to cope with her at-times unmoored personal and professional life. It's a quick, engaging read, with recipes for her sentimental dishes sprinkled in between chapters.

But memoirs are tough to pull off, especially by a women with a star-studded, successful writing career (see multiple dinners at Nobu, vignettes of pre-Gisele Tom Brady and Nick Nolte, covering the Emmys), famous chef fiances (Spike Mendelsohn of Top Chef), and apparently a bottomless savings account (see months of unemployment while shopping at Whole Foods in DC). 

I have enjoyed food, cooking, and farming memoirs before, such as Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally by Alisa Smith and J.B. Mackinnon, Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter, and of course, Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain.  

But in these books, the authors are undertaking a challenge, like only eating food from with 100 miles of your home or raising pigs in downtown Oakland, or are fascinating, knowledgable and slightly crazy, a la Bourdain. 

Apron Anxiety features the slightly troubled times in a young, upper-middle class, white woman's life, the most challenging being her existential strife over love and work. OK, so not every memoir has to be about war, famine, or poverty, but after a while, the author's complaints become a little grating. 

Just like during my reading of Eat, Pray, Love, I found myself engaged, but in the end wondering, just what exactly are you complaining about? Coupled with her continued cutesy metaphors about just! how! little! she knew about food (Is Tallegio a London DJ? Is Lemon Chiffon a dessert or a porn move? Ha. Ha. We get it.),  I began to begrudge the narrator by the end of the book. 

Verdict: recommended for the beach or the plane, instantly forgettable, contains a good take away recipe: Cream of Tomato soup from when the author worked at Sarabeth's in New York, apparently an unforgettable soup for many. 

Coincidentally, I was experiencing a lot of anxiety on the day I made this soup (thankfully a rarity), and with all its seeming fussiness, this soup only added to my stress. But really, it's just extreme cream of tomato soup, so take it as such. 

Cream of Tomato Soup
From Sarabeth's via Apron Anxiety

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 small Vidalia onion, chopped
2 medium shallots, chopped
4 scallions, top green parts only, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
28 oz. canned crushed tomatoes (if purchasing, use crushed in tomato puree, not juice)
4 cups milk
4 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
About 1/3 cup dill fronds, torn into tiny sprigs
2 ounces Goat Gouda, grated, for serving

1.  Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a skillet over medium low heat. Add the onion, shallots, scallion tops, and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened and translucent, about 4 minutes. Transfer the mixture into the top of a double boiler and place over the bottom pot of boiling water.

2.  Using a wooden spoon, crush the tomatoes into small pieces. Add the crushed tomatoes with the puree, milk, and cream and bring to a simmer, stirring often.*

3.  Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter over low heat. Gradually whisk in the flour to make a roux. Cook, whisking almost constantly, for about 3 minutes, being sure the roux doesn’t brown. Whisk about 1 1/2 cups of the hot tomato mixture into the roux, then pour the roux mixture into the pot of soup and stir until blended.**

4.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer about 35 minutes to blend the flavors and thicken. Turn off the heat from the double boiler and add the dill, salt and pepper.

5.  Serve hot, topping each serving with about 2 tablespoons of grated cheese.  (The soup can be prepared up to 2 days ahead, cooled completely, covered, and refrigerated. The soup will thicken when chilled; while reheating, thin the heated soup with milk to the desired thickness. Do not freeze the soup.)

*I abandoned the double boiler at this step and transfered the soup to a large pot. I simmered it over low heat and had no troubles.

**If the dairy should curdle, as it did in mine, use an immersion blender to smooth the soup before serving.

For the collective reviews this month, we bloggers were given a selection of proof copies of cookbooks and food-related books from Samantha and Don at Rabelais Books (thanks!). Read the round up of bloggers' book reviews at Portland Food Map