So I have a weekly cooking column over at CriminalElement.com called Cooking The Books, where I find mysteries with recipes and cook from them. Aside from your expected culinary cozies, I’ve also worked from the Red Sparrow series (yes, the basis of of the movie starring Jennifer Lawrence) as well as a promotional cookbook tie-in to Louise Penny’s celebrated Inspector Gamache novels, The Nature Of The Feast. This is the first time I’ve been able to cook for work from an honest-to-God hardcover cookbook, however, and what a gorgeous way to start!
The author of this volume, Chelsea Monroe-Cassel, is also the creative force behind The Inn At The Crossroads, a site I’ve admired for years (tho I have yet to try out the recipe for lemon cakes that first brought me there.) When Titan Books offered me a chance to review this cookbook, I leapt at it because also, as you might already know, I’ve long been a fan of the ‘Verse.
And oh, what an utterly rewarding book this is! Aside from being a surprisingly solid cookbook, it’s a love letter to the Firefly fan, digging up recipes even obliquely mentioned in the series and film for our delectation. Bonus: each of the ones I’ve tried so far has been incredibly fuss-free. Ms Monroe-Cassel is not only talented at coming up with recipes based on dialog and the occasional scene alone, but also knows how to write each recipe in a way that is informative and concise, a boon to any cook.
One such is the recipe for Five-Spice Mix, included in the section covering the Basics of cooking in the ‘Verse. In a future as heavily influenced by Earth-That-Was’ Chinese culture as by its Old West, this is an important seasoning used in a bunch of different dishes, including one we’ll try later on in this series of reviews. Oh yes, I’ll be reviewing this book over the course of four weeks, as we explore the different facets of cooking in this setting. So here, a (lightly edited for format) version of Ms Monroe-Cassel’s basic spice recipe:
2 tsp Sichuan or black peppercorns
5 star anise seeds
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp cinnamon
1 Tbsp fennel seeds
Toast the peppercorns in a hot skillet for 1-2 minutes, until aromatic. Put all ingredients in a spice grinder or coffee grinder and process to a fine powder. Keep fresh in an airtight container stored in a cool, dark place.
So I decided to use black pepper to spare the tastebuds of my lovely assistant Karin, who does not do well with spiciness and related mouthfeels, tho she’s generally okay with a bit of regular pepper. This worked out fine; less successful was my decision to use a plastic spice grinder that had previously housed sea salt. I wound up having to rectify that mistake with mortar and pestle, tho even then I don’t think I ground the star anise finely enough. The roughness of the end result does however add a dash of the provincial to an otherwise quite sophisticated blend. Karin pointed out that I could probably just have used store-bought but honestly, this tasted so much fresher. I’d highly recommend using a metal bladed grinder tho, for the rest of you trying this at home.
Next week, we’ll talk about the organization of the book, by which I mean I’ll continue to wax poetic over Ms Monroe-Cassel’s talents as a cookbook author, while considering a delicious beverage recipe. Do join me!