Finishing two novels in just over an eight-month span is an exercise in potentially disastrous flirtation … unless one happens to be a genius. (ahem.) I’m not concerned with anyone else’s process or peculiarities when it comes to creative discipline, but I do know a few objective things about crafting a proper book.
First, only a ridiculous person would believe that quality in any long-format work can be achieved at the expense of time and a fair amount of tedium. If you’re going to attempt to circumvent the most fundamental aspects of artistic quantum physics while gunning for a masterpiece, then I suggest you hunt down the most reputable voodoo sorceress within a 500-mile radius and avail yourself of her supernatural powers. You’re going to need them, in order to cheat your way to genuine greatness and sneak past the capricious Gods of Literature, who are ever vigilant and who love nothing better than to punish unrepentant hacks for an eternity in the subterranean cesspits of Hades. [NOTE: The cesspits themselves are not considered punitive. Rather, the doomed and damned “author” will be forced to read his or her own work … forever. Basically, one ends-up steeped in sewage, no matter how you view the eschatological ramifications. Be ye Forewarned.]
Second, there is no more fulfilling way to take a day off from literary machinations and manipulations than by cooking a fabulous meal and stuffing one’s self (along with a friend) to the point of button-bursting, zipper-zapping discomfort. In this case, the accomplishment of painstaking culinary craftsmanship always justifies the resulting gluttony, not to mention the initial reluctance to spend a whole afternoon tapping-out storylines involving make-believe characters who will never, ever be able to taste a damn thing.
This weekend afforded me a superb opportunity to engage in such wanton gastronomic adventure, and the atmospheric conditions could not have been more conducive to fussing in the kitchen and making a big, delicious mess. Indeed, we in the parched wasteland of Northern California were favored at last with the year’s first relentless rainstorm. It was cold. It was gloomy. There was wine in the house. The downpour stirred feelings of rebellion and awakened my inner-libertine from its shadowy hibernation. I felt like cooking, like living on the edge.
The meal I threw together (at a racing escargot-cart pace, I assure you) turned out to be rather inspired, if I do say so myself. I had no guarantee that the individual components of the repast would add-up to an ultimately harmonious and satisfying taste-experience on the whole, but I did have a hunch that the flavors might bounce admirably off of each other. Therefore I took a chance and am pleased to report that, in the end, I was not disappointed. I don’t typically post recipes or anecdotes on this blog, but when something comes together as nicely as did my little soiree, I figure it’s worth sharing. If you feel like whipping-up a sumptuous feast of your own to get away from the humdrum and monotony of whatever might be monopolizing your existence–be your burden artful or pedestrian–then I am only too happy to proffer the following suggestions. By the way, I am not going to delineate the recipe with anything approaching Martha Stewart-ish or Ina Gartenesque meticulousness, so bear with me. I’m sure you can figure it out on a purely intuitive level, and if you can’t, treat yourself to a pizza or buy a bottle of tequila and a bag of limes. You won’t care whether or not you’ve spent the day profitably, and sometimes that is all that really matters: Not caring. Otherwise, this is what you’ll need in order to make …
Grilled Salmon & Prawns in a Lemon & White Wine Seafood Crème Sauce W/ Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Kale & Pancetta Salad (For two)
2 Pacific Salmon filets (Buy it as fresh as possible from your local fishmonger. You’re making something a bit elaborate here–seeing as a nifty sauce is featured–so save the frozen filets for less involved culinary exploits, wherein frozen filets are always more than adequate. My grocer also had a salmon-belly on ice, so I snapped that up, too. The belly is delicious and easy to cook–just be sure to monitor its progress if you grill or sauté it alongside the thicker filets.)
8 Large Prawns (I bought large Mexican prawns, which are quite flavorful and currently “in season” in NorCal.)
2 Large Idaho or 4-5 Medium-sized Yukon Gold Potatoes
1 Bunch Kale (Get it fresh and organic, if you can swing it.)
2 Large Shallots
8-9 Cloves of Garlic
2-3 Slices Pancetta Bacon
2-3 Bottles Dry White Wine (Only one-quarter of one bottle of which is actually for cooking. I brought home some spectacular 2012 Sauvignon Blanc from Dawn’s Dream Winery, Monterey County.)
1 Pint Heavy Cream
1 Pint Sour Cream
2 Medium-sized Granny Smith Apples (Peeled and cored.)
Bag of Pecans or Slivered Almonds (I used almonds.)
White Wine Vinegar
Vermont Maple Syrup
1 Pint Raspberries
Chicken Stock (at least 16-oz.)
Canola Oil (The previous four ingredients are for the Raspberry Vinaigrette that accompanies the salad, but you can save yourself a lot of bother by simply buying a respectable bottle of dressing at the market. There’ll be more money for wine.)
One 8-oz. stick of Paula Dean’s Congealed Sweat (AKA butter)
Herbes de Provence (Non-negotiable. Really. I mean it. If you are especially lucky a Magical Empress will send you Druid Salt, as well, but you won’t be so lucky, so forget about that.)
Okay, the first thing I did was prepare the prawn-stock that was intended to form a base for my white wine crème-sauce, and this required only the cleaning of the 8 Mexican prawns. It was great to get it out of the way — I set the prawns aside in a salt, pepper, Extra Virgin Olive Oil & Herbes de Provence marinade, and put the prawn shells, tails, and legs into a little saucepan with about a cup and a half – two cups of fresh water. Place the saucepan over medium-high heat and let it reduce by at least 3/4 for 20-25 minutes. Be sure to have the exhaust-fan on or else your living room will start to attract stray cats. When the prawn liquid has reduced sufficiently, put it through a reasonably fine strainer (or some old mosquito netting you brought back from that Kenyan safari) and set the amber liquid aside at room-temp for use in the sauce later on.
Next, I peeled and boiled the potatoes. These take the longest and they are annoying to make so it’s best to get those out of the way once everything else starts coming together, and once you get ready to make the sauce for this meal, things come together relatively quickly.
Wash the kale thoroughly and chop coarsely. Many people like to eat their kale raw in a salad, but I prefer mine lightly braised in a bit of olive oil. Whatever your preference, get your kale ready and set it aside in a mixing bowl.
I used the same sauté-pan used to braise the kale for the pancetta bacon. Mince one of the large shallots and cut the pancetta into thin strips and then cross-cut the strips into pieces. Sauté the shallot first in the pan until soft and translucent (don’t let it burn or get too brown) and then add the pancetta. Saute until flavors are blended and bacon is relatively crisp, but still moist and al dente. Set pancetta and shallot aside, separate from the braised kale. Peel, core and cut into matchstick-sized slices the two Granny Smith apples. Set those aside as well but be sure to toss them in a fair amount of raw lemon juice to keep them from turning brown.
Start working on the sauce while your salmon filets/prawns are marinating in crushed garlic, salt, pepper, and EV Olive Oil.
Over medium high heat, sauté 5-oz. of butter, 5 cloves of crushed or minced garlic, and one whole shallot (chopped or minced). Make sure the butter does not brown, and that the garlic and shallot remain translucent and supple. Stir fairly frequently. If you’re drunk by this time, it might be a good idea to turn the heat down to medium, just to be on the safe side. Yeah. Turn it down.
The salmon and prawns are going to require only eight minutes to prepare (with the prawns going on the grill for only three minutes, tops) so gauge the progress of your sauce accordingly. Meanwhile, your potatoes should be boiled, so drain them, strain them, and then mash them in a stainless steel bowl along with 4-oz of butter, 4 tablespoons of sour cream, and a half-cup of chicken-stock that has been heated to at least room-temperature. When smooth, creamy, and perfect, put a tight-fitting cover or a piece of aluminum foil over the stainless steel bowl of ‘taters and set them aside on a heated surface of some sort. I used my wood stove in this instance, but any warm surface will do. If you time things correctly the mashed potatoes will easily retain their heat until dinner is served.
With the temperature just above medium, add the prawn stock, the juice of one lemon, and the white wine to your sauté-pan and let the mixture reduce by half–no more and no less. This will take about 10-15 minutes, depending upon how sauced you are. Right about the time you stumble out to grill the salmon and the prawns, add a quarter-cup of heavy cream to the sauce, as long as the liquid has reduced by half. Turn the heat down to low and stir constantly (or as often as you can get away from monitoring the grilling seafood). Add a few pinches of corn-starch or flour to the wine sauce to form a roux, if you wish, but you really don’t have to do so–the sauce should end-up with enough body to cling admirably to the salmon and, ideally, it is not meant to be gravy-like in consistency. You want to be able to see the nice grilled salmon and prawns on your plate.
Toss the kale with the apples, the pancetta & shallot mixture, and almond slivers (or pecans) with a raspberry vinaigrette, or homemade vinaigrette made with Vermont maple syrup, canola oil, and white wine vinegar. Do NOT use balsamic vinegar. You want a sweet dressing to offset the tartness of the apples and the earthiness of the braised kale.
When finished, bring it all together on a plate, like the one below, tear yourself away from the rat-race, light a couple of candles, pour MORE wine, and savor this delectable goodness I have bestowed upon you by virtue of my incomparably versatile talent and enviable instinct. Oh, yeah: make sure a comfortable chair is prepared before a single bite is consumed, preferably within crawling distance. Enjoy. Eat your little hearts out and thank me later, if you want. Get back to your “world-building” tomorrow.
Jonathan Kieran’s new novel is slated for release in late Spring 2014. Look for news about the release here and at Amazon.com in the coming weeks and months.
Jonathan is also the author of the classically appointed Rowan Blaize series of modern fairy-tales and novels. Visit Jonathan Kieran’s Official Facebook Page and give it a “Like,” if you are so inclined. Meanwhile …
Escape the Imminent Collapse of Civilization, if only for a few hours. A sweeping modern fairy-tale is born with the Rowan Blaize series of books. Click on the book covers to the right or have a look below …
Watch the Rowan Blaize Book Trailer HERE.
Book One = The magical cornerstone – a lavishly illustrated epic narrative poem … a genuine “spell” for the young and young-at-heart to treasure for a lifetime, telling the story of sorcerer Rowan Blaize’s battle to regain his magic powers. (Think Beowulf-meets-Dr.Seuss or an epic story-in-verse of a scope similar to Tolkien’s soon-to-be-released The Fall of Arthur, only contemporary.)
Book Two = The rip-roaring novel that continues the adventures of Rowan Blaize and introduces the three hilarious witches of the Ancient City, along with its dysfunctional werewolves, wraiths, ghosts, vampires, dryads, banshees and a beauty pageant brat that just might destroy the world.
Book Three = The next novel that finds Rowan trapped by a spell in another world, caught between a faery-squashing sorceress who’ll stop at nothing to conquer the kingdom … and a feisty teenage prince who’s determined to get it back.
Click here to purchase the Kindle e-books and watch a video of Jonathan discussing his work.
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Rowan Blaize Official Website