It’s Food Week here at thevalentineRD and to make sure that we do it right, we have “In Susie’s Kitchen” with the low-down on a fun new cookbook!
Let’s play word association. When I say “Jackie Collins,” what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? (I know—sex, right?) You’d hardly think of rich pesto, briny lemon chicken, or luscious, silky butterscotch pie . . . well, maybe that last one!
But the ever-fabulous Ms. Collins has put together a cookbook in honor of her most-celebrated heroine, Lucky Santangelo, and there are some tasty recipes to be found in the pages of The Lucky Santangelo Cookbook. I was more than thrilled to receive a copy for review!
A bit of background: Jackie Collins has written eight novels about the Santangelo family featuring her ballsy (ahem), sexy heroine, Lucky and her ex-gangster father, Gino. I do have to say that even as a young teenager sneaking CHANCES and LUCKY out of the local library (sorry, mom!), what really made an impression on me about these books—besides the really really racy sex scenes!—was how Lucky Santangelo always stood up for her family and her decisions, whether business or personal. Collins had developed a female character with strong principles, and she leaped right off the page—and still does!
So, to the cookbook. While I did not have the opportunity to sample as many recipes as I would have liked, I did try three savory dishes, all of which were quite good. However, I did notice some standout copy-editing issues in the recipes that could make for confusion with cooks, and I’ll point them out here.
The first recipe I tried—and loved! I’ve since made it again—was the Chicken Breasts with Roasted Lemon, Green Olive and Capers. This was a quite yummy dish—a little briny, perhaps too briny for some (I couldn’t find salt-packed capers, so that likely didn’t help) but personally, I love lemon, so this dish was perfect for me over some rice.
A bit of a note about the recipe—the directions include a note to add “the chicken broth, olives, capers . . . “ but the ingredients list doesn’t include broth or an amount! I fudged it and used approximately one cup, which seemed to work both times I made the dish, so that would be my suggestion.
Next, I sort of divorced two elements—I made Gino’s Favorite Pesto without the Pizza (I tossed it over some whole wheat penne instead.) The first thing I noticed was that the recipe contains 3 tablespoons of butter, which I thought was a little odd as I’d never seen butter in pesto before.
I did some searching on the web but couldn’t find anything other than a few threads claiming that butter isn’t traditional. An old Chowhound thread claimed that “pesto” is derived from the vessel in which the sauce is traditionally made—the pestle—so while oil is without question classic, if a recipe adds a bit of butter for a reason (perhaps smoother taste, maybe to soften the garlic a bit?) nothing says that it can’t do so. It simply won’t be a traditional pesto.
Well, mine definitely wasn’t since I ended up not using pine nuts either—by the time I found mine, turned out they were a tad rancid (ew) so I used walnuts instead, which I toasted a little for extra flavor.
My first taste after mixing in the butter—not bad! It did seem to mellow the garlic flavor, which I usually find sharper, but this might have also offset the balance a little bit. It did make the pesto seem a little richer in mouthfeel. (Sadly, I hadn’t left my butter out long enough to soften as much as it should have, so I had teeny flecks of butter throughout my pesto. I figured they’d melt over the pasta, which they did.)
Next up, I went a slightly healthier route with the Sole with Parmesan Crust. Now, I ultimately wound up loving the flavors in the recipe, but I had many issues with this along the way (namely, that the crust wouldn’t stick to the fish. I know—first world problem.)
My main issue here – and I’m being very nitpicky, but on behalf of home cooks everywhere, which is why The Valentine RD pays me the no-bucks! ☺ —is that the title calls for Sole. The ingredients list calls for Striped Bass.
These are two different types of fish. Sole is considered a “thin” fish and could easily be swapped out with similar types of fish, such as flounder, grey sole or lemon sole, tilapia (feh—though some are now farming this sustainably, so look for this type and buy healthy!) and trout. Striped bass is considered a thick fillet—not comparable in cooking time to sole, which would be important in this recipe, as it would turn out rather undercooked—and could be compared in thickness to fish such as cod, grouper or monkfish. Even red snapper could be swapped out, despite its thinner appearance.
Okay, rant over. I used flounder, since that was freshest that day (and in fact you can—and should—simply buy what looks and smells freshest at your fishmonger’s that day, and adjust the cooking time of the recipe to suit your purchase. Fish is simple that way, depending on the recipe, of course.) In this case, the majority of the searing is done before the crumbs go on (or fall off. Oy, sorry. I’m still not over this!)
The crumbs themselves are really delicious! Panko, softened butter (make sure to leave it out until it is really soft for best results), finely chopped onion (I used a shallot—all I had), fresh rosemary, grated Parmigiano and salt and pepper—what could be bad? (Nothing – I literally chased the last crumbs around my plate!)
I seared the fish until opaque, then attempted to spread the crumbs on top before putting them in the oven to brown for the final minutes . . . no dice. Those crumbs didn’t want to stick. I finally made it work, but in the end, it all tasted so good, it really didn’t matter. I would absolutely make these again. They were just delicious!
After all the buttery, briny goodness, I really longed for a vegetable . . . and perusing the side dishes, my eye fell on something a little unusual—Jackie’s Green Beans with Cumin for a Crowd (well, in our case, two. We downsized the recipe a bit.) This was FABULOUS!!!! My husband kept saying “Won’t these be overcooked? I hate overcooked vegetables!”
They do cook for a long time—close to twenty minutes all in. But their unusual combination of flavors – the gingery, cuminy, peppery kick with a hint of lime and cayenne – is so good, that it makes sense to have the beans more tender than crunchy, as it helps to mellow the spices and meld the flavors. I highly recommend this one—perhaps alongside the sole!
If you’re a fan of Jackie Collins, this might be a fun book to add to your collection. (And I personally cannot wait to try that butterscotch pie!) I just have to wonder, though—if this is really how Lucky Santangelo cooks all the time, how on earth does she stay so fit?!?!
Disclaimer from thevalentineRD: The cookbook link above is an Amazon affiliate link which means if you click the link and buy the book on Amazon, I may make a few pennies to add to my Duran Duran ticket fund for 2015. Help a girl out, won’t you?
What is your favorite cookbook of all time?