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Posts tagged ‘Cook the Books’

My Feast of Love

I decided to cook my meal inspired by the Diana Abu-Jaber’s memoir The Language of Baklava on Valentines Day. My sweetie loves Middle Eastern food and what better night to cook up one of his favorite cuisines.

For my feast, I served:

  • hummus
  • tabbouleh
  • garlic & lemon marinated olives
  • chopped salad of tomatoes, cukes, red bell peppers, and red onions with lemon juice and EVOO
  • mjeddrah/muccedere  (rice)
  • spice rubbed lamb rack
  • mango almond baklava


(Recipes after the jump!)


The Language of Baklava

A Memoir The Language of Baklava: A Memoir by Diana Abu-Jaber
rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Several years ago, I read two novels by Diana Abu-Jaber: Arabian Jazz and Crescent. I really enjoyed both books and found them unique from other novels that were out at the time since they focused on the Arab-American experience.  Both books were big hits in the book clubs that I read them in. My friend Amanda still cites Crescent as one of her all-time favorite book club books. In her memoir, The Language of Baklava, Abu-Jaber share her memories of food and family and growing up between cultures.  Abu-Jaber’s father is from Jordan and her mother grew up in America and is of western European stock.

I found the book really interesting from a personal perspective since I am an American of European descent and my husband is from Pakistan. We are definitely a food-centric household. Many of our memories are built around food and we both love to cook.  Our future children may face multiple culture clashes… food-related, tradition-related and definitely religion-related.  Will my kid’s reject the Pakistani food in favor of burgers and fries? Will they have a healthy mix of the foods their mom & dad grew up with?  Will they be embarrassed if they are sent to school with pakoras and kabob sandwiches for lunch?? Will they be unable to resist the lure of bacon and eat dirty, dirty pig?  I’ve steered clear of pork products since I’ve been in a relationship with my husband, but will our kids do the same when they aren’t under the watchful eye of their father.  We plan on raising our kids in America but taking them on many visits to Pakistan so they can learn the language, the traditions, and get to know their family that still lives there.

 Abu-Jaber’s memoir  was funny and insightful as to what it felt like to grow up in such an environment. Her observations about the influence on members of both sides of her family on her life were humourous and heart-felt.

In one chapter, Abu-Jabershares memories of making apple strudel with her Aunt and talking about marriage and children.

 ‘Marry, don’t marry,’ Auntie Aya says as we unfold layers of dough to make an apple strudel.

‘Just don’t have your babies unless it’s absolutely necessary.’

‘How do I know if it’s necessary?’

She stops and stares ahead, her hands gloved in flour. ‘Ask yourself, Do I want a baby or do I want to make a cake? The answer will come to you like bells ringing.’ She flickers her fingers in the air by her ear. ‘For me, almost always, the answer was cake.’

The book is riddled with lots of words of wisdom and big bites of humor.   I loved Abu-Jaber’s writing and wit.  It is obvious she loves her family and the food they congregated over. I tore through this book like a tear through a plate of delicious food. Abu-Jaber made my mouth water in parts and definitely made me want to cook up some Middle Eastern food.

Abu-Jaber has recipes interspersed throughout the chapters. These recipes are related to the memories relayed in the chapter. Some of the recipes are for Jordanian food and others for more American fare.

In the chapter Mixed Grill in the Snow, Diana and her family journey to their relatives’ house for a New Years Eve party.

The adults sit away from the children in the dining room, which frees us to eat as wantonly and barbarically as possible. Ed illustrates how he can fill his entire mouth with roasted zucchini. The juices stain our lips, and we slump and make loud caveman grunts as we chew. We use pieces of bread to push the meat and fire-scorched vegetables from the skewers onto a big communal platter-or right into our mouths.

 This chapter seriously tempted me to drag out our grill and make some kafta kabobs. But… it was a bit too cold and slushy out for that.  Instead I opted to cook an indoor meal of spice-rubbed rack of lamb and mjeddrah/muccedere (rice pilaf), followed up by baklava, of course. You will soon be able to behold my feast as the posts and recipes for what I cooked up are coming soon!

Language of Baklava was the monthly selection for the foodie book club, Cook the Books. Stop by and check out what others think of the book, what they’ve cooked up, and what the next book will be. 

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Fettucine with Yellow Peppers

After reading the fabulous work of fiction: La Cucina by Lily Prior…I was inspired to cook some Sicilian style pasta. I found a recipe from the cookbook Sicilian Home Cooking by Wanda and Giovanna Tornabene that looked tasty to me AND conveniently enough, I already had most of the ingredients in my cucina.  The pasta was fairly easy to make with the most time consuming steps being roasting the yellow peppers and boiling the fettucine.

I enjoyed the pasta. It was different from most pasta dishes that I I usually make in that the “sauce” was mainly just olive oil with a few seasonings. In my opinion, for the amount of pasta and other ingredients in the pasta, the recipe called for a smidge too much olive oil.  Next time I might try adding shrimp or chicken to give it a little protein and make it more appeal ling to my husband who for whatever reason seems to be of the opinion that pasta without meat or seafood is like a sin against nature. 

Check out the Cook The Books Roundup for the dishes that others were inspired to whip up after reading La Cucina.


Fettucine with Yellow Peppers (from Sicilian Home Cooking)


  • 2 large yellow bell peppers
  • 3 fresh tomatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • 1/3 cup freshly chopped basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1/2 cup diced smoked pecorino cheese
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 pound fettucine


Heat the broiler. Broil the peppers on a piece of aluminum foil on rack about 5 inches from the heat source, turning occasionally, until the skin has blackened all over.

Place the peppers in a brown paper bag. Close the bag securely and let the peppers rest for 5 minutes.

Remove the peppers. When cool enough to handle, remove the stem ends, seeds, and any white membrane. Cut the peppers into thin strips and put into a large bowl. Add the tomatoes, capers, basil, fennel, pecorino, and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and toss. Set aside.

Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon of salt. Stir in the fettucine and cook until al dente, stirring often.

Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of hot pasta water. Add the pasta to the sauce in the bowl and toss, adding a little hot pasta water if necessary. Taste for seasoning. Serve hot.

Reads: La Cucina

A Novel of Rapture La Cucina: A Novel of Rapture by Lily Prior

rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lily Prior‘s La Cucina is a steamy and saucy little novel about Rosa, a Sicilian woman with a passion for food. Rosa grows up on a farm in a rural area of Siciliy. She is the only girl amongst a gaggle of brothers and she spends much of her time growing up in la cucina (the kitchen) learning how to cook. By the time she is a teenager, Rosa is a master chef who wows the farm workers and other locals with her food. 

In many ways this book reminded me of Like Water for Chocolate or other works of magical realism. Rosa’s passion for food and her sexual awakening made for some steamy reading.  The underlying theme of the book is a woman’s journey towards self-discovery. While Rosa is preparing their dinner, her lover tells her

Signorina, soon you will see that the arts of amore e cucina compliment one another perfectly.  Indeed they are part of the same thing: the celebration of life. We should not sacrifice one for the other.

The best part of the book for me were the details of Rosa preparing food.  Rosa makes dish after dish of Sicilian specialties, from pasta to breads. Lily Prior has written mouth-watering descriptions of food. Some parts had me wanting to run home and whip up some Italian food.

I began by preparing pasta: my deft little fingers forming the intricate shapes of rigatoni, ravioli, spiralli, spaghetti, cannelloni, and linguini. Then I would brew sauces of sardines, or anchovies, or zucchini or sheep’s cheeses, of saffron, pine nuts, currants, and fennel.  

I read Prior’s novel Nectar several years ago. Nectar was about an albino woman with a scent that men found irresistible. It had a similar undercurrent of sensuality and magical realism as La Cucina. I enjoyed La Cucina a bit more than I liked Nectar. I suggested another of Prior’s novels, Ardor, for a selection for one of my book clubs. Ardor is a “fairy tale for adults” about an Italian olive grower who buys magical seeds that are supposed to make women fall in love with him.  But, my book club proclaimed that the novel sounded too bizarre. I like bizarre! I will definitely be reading Ardor at some point in the future.

Later this week I will be cooking up some food inspired by Rosa’s endeavors in la cucina…perhaps some soup and some pasta. La Cucina was the first selection for the Cook the Books book group. This new book group reads a food related book and cooks food inspired by the book. I recommend La Cucina to any fans of food-related fiction, particularly fans of Like Water for Chocolate.

View all my reviews.