The December-January Cook the Books selection was chosen by Deb of Kahakai Kitchen. She invited us to pick up a copy of Miss Cecily's Recipes for Exceptional Ladies by Vicky Zimmerman. You can read her invitation: here.
On the Page
I'll admit that I started Miss Cecily's Recipes for Exceptional Ladies by Vicky Zimmerman months ago - as soon as I saw the assignment posted - but I didn't get very far into the novel as the protagonist annoyed me. Kate's inability to see that Nick was a narcissist and her pining for him just irritated me to no end and I put the book down. Then, when I saw it pop back up in my calendar to post about the book, I picked it up again. And I'm glad I persisted, but because it ended up being a delightful read about friendship. And the recipes were quite inspiring!
Here's a brief summary: Kate Parker, an advertising copywriter at a grocery store, begins volunteering at the Lauderdale House for Exceptional Ladies where she meets 97-year-old Cecily Finn, a cantankerous, witty woman who has no patience for Kate's terrible choices in life and love. Cecily gives Kate a 1950s cookbook that provides menus and recipes for anything that life throws at you such as 'Valentine’s Dinner for a True Love after Three Decades Together' (Jake and I are inching towards that. I'll bookmark it!), 'Tea for a Crotchety Aunt', and more.
There are some plot twists that I didn't anticipate nor will I share them because those added to the charm of the novel and you should really just pick up the book and soldier through the beginning bits.
And there really was a ton of food inspiration. Take this mouthwatering description of a burger: "This burger has taken time, but it’s worth the wait: six ounces of minced steak, crowned with bacon and a perfect square of melting, tangy cheddar; delicate concentric bangles of red onion, tomato, and lettuce; and Magic Sauce—a mixture of Tabasco, mayo, and ketchup, to add heat, creaminess, and tang. Then the bun: Kate and Nick have spent more time researching this bun than some couples spend choosing a car."
Or this: "She closes her eyes and in her mind walks through Borough Market, starting at the amazing fruit and veg stall with its bounty of squashes and mushrooms; the wonderful smoky, grilled smell from the chorizo sandwich seller—a pile of fresh, warm, flour-dusted bread rolls stacked ready to be filled; then on to the custard doughnut man, with rows of golden sugary doughnuts—luscious vanilla and chocolate cream erupting from the top, just waiting to have someone’s teeth sink into them."
But what inspired me into the kitchen was a dish that Kate actually doesn't make. "Kate is due to make supper at Bailey’s that night, and Bailey’s on a diet, but Bailey doesn’t need to be on a diet, and besides, sole Veronique and grilled tomatoes are simply too virtuous. Instead, Kate has chosen to make 'Dinner Cooked at a Friend’s House after an Arduous Day'—lamb stew, tiramisu, and a lot of red wine—a far more appetizing lineup." I was intrigued by the dish that was too virtuous.
I read more about this new-to-me dish called Sole Véronique. Oh, and before anyone screams that this isn't a traditional Sole Véronique, I know. It's my take on the recipe with what I had on-hand.
I will admit it's a rare evening when all three of my food critics (that's husband and two boys) agree that a dish is fantastic. This was one of those dishes. But you really can't go wrong with fresh fish, butter, cream, herbs, and roasted grapes!
2 cups fresh grapes on stems, cut into small clusters - about 4 or 5 grapes to a bunch
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 pound fresh sole, cleaned and sliced into filets
2 Tablespoons butter
1/2 cup organic heavy cream
1/4 cup dry white wine
bunch of fresh chives, some chopped and some kept whole for garnishing
freshly ground salt
freshly ground pepper
Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Place grapes in a rimmed baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast until grapes have burst and some have charred, approximately 30 minutes. Let cool slightly before handling.
Season each fish filet with salt and pepper and roll as tightly as you can. Melt butter in a large skillet and place rolled filets in the pan.
Pour cream and wine over the top of the fish. Sprinkle with chopped chives. Bring the liquid up to a simmer. Cover and poach until the fish is opaque and firm, approximately 5 to 6 minutes.
To serve, move 2 to 3 rolls onto an individual serving plate. Season with salt and pepper. Top with longer sections of chives. Spoon the sauce over and around the fish. Garnish with roasted grapes.