July 6, 2010

This book makes me cook - Garlic and Sapphires

For the month of June, the book club members chose Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl (RR). It is a witty memoir (with many sumptuous recipes) of her stunts as a New York Times food critic in 1990's. With an engaging and entertaining style of writing, RR is a very frank and a fair-minded as a critic, one of the things, I loved about her.

Whether it is portraying as Molly, her first disguise , a high school teacher by profession who in her beisge Armani suit pays meticulous attention to her details or as Miriam who is none other than RR's mother , one commanding figure who absolutely has no timid bone in her body to Chloe, a divorcee who is eager to start a new life to Brenda, bold & out-going who loves old-clothing like Japanese kimonos, cocktail dresses from 20s, to Betty, a spinster all her life long who is 'invisible' to the outside world and finally as Emily who wears tweeds & is well-known for her punctuality, one who she never make mistakes - Ruth manages to convinces them all. 

The way RR describes her experiences with food, places and people around is the best I have ever read in recent times. I can almost feel her happiness, frustration (with some NYT associates), her sorrow and every emotion she undergoes along her journey.

..One piece I particularly loved in this book is Why I disapprove of What I do (It's indecent to glamorize a $100 meal. Or is it? (Page 226) as it shows both - her conviction and her dilemma of being a food-critic.

and finally the recipe I chose to make from this book is...

Hash Browns

RR says -

"Making these remain in a cake is very difficult and requires a fair amount of practice. But they're delicious even when they fall apart, so keep trying.

A few hits: I use a Spanish tortilla plate, which is made precisely for the turning maneuver (it has a knob on the bottom), which makes things easier. And if you have a short-sided skillet, it is much easier to slide the cake out; the high sides of an ordinary cast-iron skillet means that you have to turn quickly in one smooth fast motion. And that requires strength..."

8 small waxy potatoes (new potatoes), 2 1/4 pounds
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 small onion, very finely diced
Salt and Pepper
Coarse salt for sprinkling on top

My Note: I used just three big russet potatoes, 1/4 medium onion , 2 tsp of Canola oil instead of butter to make a bit healthy and topped with minced garlic and cilantro. I wasn't too quick to flip the hash brown on time, hence the char. Nevertheless, it tasted amazing. :) 

Bring a saucepan of water to a boil, add the potatoes, and boil about 10 minutes, or until they are cooked about halfway through. Drani, and allow them to cool to warm; then peel and chop into about 1-inch squares.

Melt the butter over medium heat in a well-seasoned 8-to 10-inch cast-iron skillet. Remove about a quarter of the butter and set aside. Add the potatoes to the skillet, forming them into a flat cake and pressing down on it with a spatula. Cook, uncovered, over medium heat for about 6 minutes, until a good crust has formed on the bottom. Keep pressing with the spatula, and run it around the edges a bit so the potatoes don't stick.

Scatter the diced onions over the top, along with a good shake of salt and a good grinding of pepper. Remove the skillet from the heat and cover with a large plate; leave for 2 minutes, allowing the potatoes to steam. Using oven mitts, hold the plate and skillet together, and invert together, so the potatoes drop onto the plate.

Put the skillet back over medium heat and add the remaining melted butter. Carefully slide the entire potato cake into the skillet, trying not to break it. Add more salt and pepper, turn the heat up to medium high, and brown the potatoes for another 5 minutes, until a crust forms.

Slide the potato cake onto a hot platter, sprinkle with the coarse sea salt, and serve immediately.

Serves 4

RR's Note: You can use bacon fat or duck fat, or, if you are very lucky, goose fat for these potatoes as well. You can also gussy them up by adding diced parsley or diced garlic at the very end, as they do it at L'Ami Louis, in Paris.

For next month, the book chosen is Tales of a Female Nomad by Rita Golden Gelman. If you wish to join us in the reading, drop me a line or a comment here for more details of participation.

until next time,


  1. Wow, those hash browns are drool-worthy !!!

  2. Great review and a wonderful choice of recipe - your hashbrowns are looking good!

  3. Perfect for break fast... YUM! Looks so good.....

  4. Tempting hashbrowns, makes me drool..

  5. Wow! They look great.

    I would have picked hashbrowns too if I were not on my healthy streak :)

  6. next month Im definitely IN..lovely reciew..and recipe..

  7. Hash browns looks so yummy Siri...

  8. These are yummilicious hashbrowns.. I like the idea of making it healthy.

  9. I thought it's hashies, but as long as it's a family of cakes... I'm still good to go..

  10. I once made them and they were absolute delicious. I always wonder why all things that taste good are fattening. but you made it healthier.

  11. I am late on my review, but I agree with you absolutely. She is honest and you can totally relate to her. How did I miss the hash brown recipe in the book? Would have made this instead of the chocolate cake, which was yummy but I ended up eating it the whole week.


'Thought is the blossom; language the bud; action the fruit behind it' ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

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