The Back Cover — Why Yes!

Almond Polenta Tart with Sherried Plum Compote

Almond Polenta Tart with Sherried Plum Compote

Take 1

[February 2014, before Valentine’s Day *]

Hello, from the cluttered chaos of my kitchen. From my recipe-covered office floor. From someone who has eaten so much ancient grains as of late that she wouldn’t mind eating chocolate for a day! Yes, that’s me in thick of the final weeks of my first manuscript draft. In the mad rush to the end which is beautiful and frightening all at once. Beautiful because I finally see what I was hoping to achieve with my new book, and that took a while. And frightening because no editor has set eyes on it yet.

Take 2

[February 2015, before Valentine’s Day *]

Hello again. I’m DONE. Yes, as in completely done. And, I’ve cleaned up and cleared out. It took two (!) months to restore some sanity to my computer desktop. To see the carpet again in my office. To put my cookbooks back onto shelves. And recipes into files where I will probably never find them again. I overhauled my spice shelves and my ancient grains and flour pantry—six storage containers which at some point were filled with at least 30 pounds of grain each. Today the pantry looks like the science lab of a neat freak. And that’s a good thing. Because, hello, my new book arrives in warehouses soon.

Take 3

[February 2015 after Valentine’s Day *]

Simply Ancient Grains has arrived. At least, the very first copy, my own. It miraculously landed on my doorstep, dry. Between the endless winter snow storms that brought much of Boston to its knees this year. Instead of ripping the box open, I circled the unopened package. For days, and days. The most exciting parcel to arrive since 2011 when Ancient Grains for Modern Meals came out. In between I threw myself outside and into the snow, shoveling to calm my nerves, and then went back to circle the package. I was equally exhilarated and terrified to see it. The truth is I didn’t really mind the walls of snow everywhere. I went digging with a vengeance. Until I noticed that my friends looked at me funny when I asked for more snow. And the e-mails arrived asking whether I opened the package. Of course not!

Take 4

Writing a cookbook is not a walk in the park. It is a monastic, hair-raising, passionate and magical journey, full of exhilarating highs and lows. Initially I spend months dancing at the stove, jotting down notes each time the creative muse strikes, before deliriously spooning up good food.

Recreating this bliss in recipes which everyone can make is a whole other thing. It involves many rounds of testing, and re-testing, and re-testing. Sometimes I despair. So does my husband, my recipe tester, my friends who eat and reply: this cake is very good; it’s ready. To which I say: you haven’t seen the last of it. And I’m right, of course. Because very good is not good enough. And then I cook more food. Five rounds of testing remain my average. While I have a super-fast mind and work like a dog, I’m embarrassingly slow. Until I get to this magical creation, a recipe is not ready. And many recipes disappear entirely, on my hard-drive.

5 Take this

I moved the package into my office. More circling.

6 And that

At some point, I realized that I better take a look or no one will know I have a book coming out. And you readers and my colleagues responded with such cheer and generosity that it blew me and all the angst away.

7 And that back cover

I often start at the back when reading newspapers, magazines, and pretty much everything else. So after this long hiatus away from this blog, I might as well entice you with one of my favorite desserts, on the back cover of my second book, a splendid almond polenta tart with sherried plum compote.

8 Is a tease

to entice you to pre-order Simply Ancient Grains because these early orders matter a lot for cookbook authors nowadays.

9 And a recipe, from the book, you can already try. Enjoy!

Burgundy bulgur with blueberries and orange blossom water - photo by Erin Kunkel

Burgundy bulgur with blueberries and orange blossom water – by Erin Kunkel

Burgundy Bulgur with Blueberries and Orange Blossom Water
serves 4

Of all of the grains in my pantry, intensely nutty bulgur is my go-to choice during the week. The fiber-rich grain is pleasing in a humble way yet speedy and unfussy. One morning, I tossed in all the color I could find in my kitchen to paint my bulgur a deep reddish-blue hue. As an added benefit, this breakfast is an antioxidant powerhouse. If you have orange blossom water in your cupboard, here its fleeting floral and bittersweet scent is a boon.

2 cups unsweetened pomegranate juice
1 cup medium-coarse bulgur
1⁄4 cup dried cranberries
1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1⁄2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries (no need to defrost if using frozen)
1 teaspoon honey, or more as needed
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1⁄2 to 1 teaspoon orange blossom water, or more as needed (optional)

to finish
1 cup whole or low-fat Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon honey, or more as needed
1⁄4 cup pomegranate seeds (from about 1⁄2 small fruit) or blueberries, for garnish

To make the bulgur, add the pomegranate juice, bulgur, cranberries, and vanilla to a heavy 3- or 4-quart saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring once or twice. Decrease the heat to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook for 10 minutes. Stir in the blueberries and honey and continue to simmer until the berries are warmed through, about 2 minutes. Gently stir in the zest and the orange blossom water. Taste and adjust with a bit more honey and orange blossom water if you like.
Meanwhile, add the Greek yogurt and the 1 tablespoon honey to a small bowl and beat until smooth.
To finish, divide the bulgur between four bowls. Top each with 1⁄4 cup of yogurt and garnish with pomegranate seeds. Drizzle with more honey if you like. Serve warm.

fine points
If you are new to orange blossom water, start with a little to acquaint yourself.
Leftovers reheat in the microwave—about 1 1⁄2 minutes on high per serving, stirring once in between.

Use quinoa, preferably red for a visual treat, instead of bulgur, and cook for 18 to 20 minutes.

* Why, you ask, Valentine’s Day? Why, you ask, Chocolate Pudding —this is the title of my next post. Stay tuned. Coming soon!

5 Responses to The Back Cover — Why Yes!

  1. Pingback: Why, you ask, Chocolate Pudding?   | Maria Speck

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