Monday, August 01, 2011

From exotic to EXOTIC

The newest addition to my collection
I grew up in California and I find everything about New England exotic. The other day, my mother-in-law's brother Edward gave me a copy of A Taste of the Somerset Club. He belongs to the Somerset Club. What is the Somerset Club? I had no idea, but perusing the cookbook, it became clear that the Somerset Club is exclusive, old, and the last redoubt of lobster sauce, Stilton cheese sauce and Madeira sauce ("The Club serves this classic sauce with chicken, veal, beef or pheasant.")

I love this cookbook. I own no volume quite like it.

Two nights ago, I was assigned to bring hors d'oeuvres to a family gathering at Edward's beach house.  I thought it would show my gratitude if I cooked from A Taste of the Somerset Club. There were only six hors d'oeuvre options, five of them deep-fried. The non-deep fried option: little pinwheel sandwiches of pita bread, roast beef, and curry powder. Since my brother in law Chris was making beef for dinner, and despite the fact it was miserably hot, I took a deep breath and decided to deep fry.


-coconut shrimp. Weird, enticing concept. You dredge shrimps in flour, egg, and sweetened (!) coconut, then dip them in a thick, spicy (by New England standards) batter and fry until puffy and crisp. Serve with a syrupy orange juice-horseradish sauce. I loved the idea of the sweet coconut and the sweet sauce, but it didn't quite work. A few people praised these fritters, but I think they were just being polite.

There was something on my camera lens.
-Somerset Club fishballs. Tough to say "fishballs" with a straight face. According to the Somerset Club: "Fishballs are our most favorite hors d'oeuvres and quickly disappear off the tray." To make them you saute some fish with wine, flake, and mix with vegetables and instant mashed potatoes, shape into orbs, roll in bread crumbs, and fry. Serve with Dijon mustard. As promised, they quickly disappeared off the tray. I preferred them to the coconut shrimp.

That said, my favorite appetizer was the onion soup dip that used up the rest of box of Lipton onion soup mix I bought to make dip a week ago. Am I insulting people when I serve this dip? I think it's irresistible, but maybe I'm oblivious to sighing and eye rolling.

They should serve THIS at the Somerset Club.
Anyway, the party was fun. And exotic. Sometimes, when my in laws have big family parties, I feel like I've stepped into a Ralph Lauren commercial. Lanky blond youths play touch football on a grassy knoll overlooking a glittering bay as elders repose in wicker chairs and sip gin and tonics. Only in this setting, do I and my children appear swarthy.

Polo, by Ralph Lauren
Owen and I are in the airport now, about to leave for Africa. There we will appear as we actually are: very, very white.


  1. I despise coconut shrimp. I love onion soup dip.

    I wish you had a webcam on your head while you are in Africa.

  2. Bon Voyage Tipsy! I can't wait to read about your trip!

  3. great post, thank, TB.

  4. I love cocnut shrimp. I have a recipe for coconut chicken, which also comes with a sweet sauce. The sauce is 1/2 cup each mayo and honey and a tsp of poppyseeds. Interestingly this combination is a green color with the seeds suspended in it like little bugs. The first time I made it was for a party and I did not have time to decide if this was a good thing or not, I just had to put it out! But it actually tasted great.

  5. I love fried appetizers...there, I said it. Be careful in Africa! Remember there is not enough quinine in a gin &tonic to prevent malaria :)

  6. When I was in high school, I used to say that the three requirements for a good party were onion soup dip, peanut M&Ms and napkins. (You can see what a geek I was -- it didn't even occur to me to mention beer.) Anyway, I've dropped the M&Ms but still believe wholeheartedly in Lipton onion soup dip.

  7. I just want to say how much I enjoy your blog and hope you can find a way to get back to it. I have pre-ordered your book, and I can only imagine what having to deal with that, plus the death of your mother and attendant house clearing must have been. Your posts are always so honest, so well written, so natural, so full of the real stuff of family that I wish for a new post everyday. The photos too are charming. I really still love your original concept, of cooking thru the books and posting. Hope you will continue. Also would love to have a copy of your personal folder of saved recipes!

  8. I've been in Boston for four years and have never heard of the Somerset Club. And we both reside on the same street! (ahem, miles apart)

  9. Having just returned from the Cape, the Vineyard, and other parts of Massachusetts, I loved these posts -- spot on. I am in awe of your leaving the Cape or Marion to drive to Boston -- Isabel is a trooper! I'm happy to be back in CA -- no bugs, no humidity, no thunderstorms. And at any party with onion soup dip, I can be found stationed next to said dip. Love it.

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