April 15, 2008

Seafood for Book Clubs

Serendipity. This month the Lafayette Literary Society (my neighborhood book club) is reading Ann Patchett’s Run, set in Boston (seafood!); Rebecca is hosting at her house, and I’m cooking. Sometimes the host will make an effort to coordinate the food with the book, sometimes not. I of course wildly prefer the coordinated version of book club dinners. I just love how it deepens the experience of the book, the connection to place, my feeling of connection to the characters. While the only food Patchett lets us see Run’s characters eating is peanut butter toast (though cereal, coffee, and tea are mentioned) it seems to me that there’s no harm in making a stab at the Boston thing, especially since there are a couple of defining, simple dishes: clam chowder and baked beans. (Ya, there’s Boston Cream Pie, too, but I’ve got a guest with wheat allergy and no real time to pull it off, so I’m going with apple crisp instead.)

Book club is tomorrow night, so I’m prepping. I’m going to so the Oyster House Clam Chowder, substituting arrowroot for wheat flour, and clams in the shell for clam juice and canned clams. Around Christmas I bought some frozen homogenized clams in the shell from a little vendor at the Soulard Market, did the trick I read about in Heat of tossing them into the fettuccini and cream and butter and wine at the last minute, and I’ll tell you something, it was divine. The idea is that when the clams open up they let go their juices, and those juices are the whole point, nearly, they’re so good. It seemed to work! So, I figure, why not do it for chowder?

For the beans I’m modifying Alton Brown’s Once and Future Beans, which I’ve made before. You let them cook all night long (or all day) in a slow oven. I’m going to switch it up a bit, though, leaving out the jalepenos, and using ketsup instead of tomato paste, olive oil instead of pork fat (weeping: vegetarians will be present).

For accompaniment, corn bread using arrowroot flour instead of wheat, and slaw. I'm worried about the arrowroot. The guy at Local Harvest suggested it, but I've only ever heard of it being used as a thickener. Come to think of it, I amy make a small pan of that and a larger one with regular flour, just in case. Again, the apple crisp for dessert. I’m pretty good at a crisp. I have a couple of tricks. I’ll let you know how the whole thing goes.

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