Sunday, March 31, 2024

Lucy Knisley's "Mom's Pesto" Cream Tortellini for Cook The Books Feb/March Pick, Relish: My Life in the Kitchen

It's Cook the Books time again. For February/March, we read Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley hosted by Simona of briciole.

Publisher's Blurb:

Lucy Knisley loves food. The daughter of a chef and a gourmet, this talented young cartoonist comes by her obsession honestly. In her forthright, thoughtful, and funny memoir, Lucy traces key episodes in her life thus far, framed by what she was eating at the time and lessons learned about food, cooking, and life. Each chapter is bookended with an illustrated recipe―many of them treasured family dishes, and a few of them Lucy's original inventions. 

A welcome read for anyone who ever felt more passion for a sandwich than is strictly speaking proper, 
Relish is a graphic novel for our time: it invites the reader to celebrate food as a connection to our bodies and a connection to the earth, rather than an enemy, a compulsion, or a consumer product.

(April 2013)

This was a reread for me but it had been about seven years, so it was nice to catch up with this fun foodie graphic novel. I love Knisley's illustrations--they really capture the essence of the food and the colors are so appealing. I think her memories growing up are easily relatable whether cooking and eating with family, friends, or while during travel. It's not to be read on an empty stomach! Although I read graphic novels on occasion and enjoy this format, I find Relish especially accessible if you are new to the genre or it isn't a favorite. 

This book is a about foodie inspiration from cookies to mushrooms, Sangria to sushi rolls, there's a little something in the book for all appetites. 

I have been craving pesto so I decided to make her "Mom's Pesto" recipe in the book. Knisley gives a host of ideas for using the pesto but I decided to make it into a slightly creamy sauce for cheese tortellini and add grape tomatoes, fresh basil leaves, grated parmesan, and my new favorite thing, Boursin Garlic & Fine Herbs Cheese Bites (little round pieces of Boursin cheese). 

I used the recipe sketch in the book as a guide even though pesto is pretty common and easy to make. I don't usually use both Romano and parmesan cheese in my pesto and I often switch out pine nuts for other nuts. To me, getting the balance of salt and olive oil right and using the freshest basil possible is what makes for good pesto. 

To Make the Dish:

Once I had the pesto made, I cooked my tortellini (from the refrigerated section of my local grocery store) while I made the cream sauce by adding a little butter to a small sauce pan and then about 3/4 cup of heavy whipping cream. and heat until hot but not boiling. Stir in about 1/3 cup of the pesto, reduce heat and simmer about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add about 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese and about 2 Tbsp of the pasta cooking water and stir until smooth. Add the drained tortellini and place in a serving bowl. Sprinkle cherry tomatoes, Boursin bites, another sprinkle of parmesan and small fresh basil leaves. Season with salt and pepper to taste and enjoy warm, so the pasta slightly melts the Boursin and parmesan. Enjoy!

Notes/Results: I really loved the pesto in the cream sauce and I am happy I have pesto left over for toast and salad dressing too. 

The deadline for this round is today (surprise, surprise) but if you like food and books, and foodie books, join us for April/May when we will be reading Mastering the Art of French Murder (An American in Paris Mystery #1) by Colleen Cambridge hosted by yours truly!

Happy Reading, Cooking & Eating!

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Persian "Adassi" Lentil Stew (Not Really For) Cooked the Books: December/January Selection: Undercooked by Dan Adhoot

So big confession, I am currently failing at life. I could go on and on, but it seems like I am always whining about being busy or being sick, so I won't belabor it here. On the plus side, I did finish (and enjoy) Undercooked: How I Let Food Become My Life Navigator and How Maybe That's a Dumb Way to Live by Dan Ahdoot, our December/January Cook the Books selection (hosted by Debra of Eliot's Eats)  last week but on the downside, I got bronchitis and never made it to the kitchen. With better timing of my life, I would have read the book earlier and not while ill, but procrastination is my middle name (actually it's Ann, but you get the idea.) I started feeling somewhat better yesterday, but I had no plan in place so the options were: 1) Sit out this round 2) Try to run to the grocery store after work and cook something tonight and get a very late post in (not that appealing) or 3) Repost a Persian dish from the ones on my blog. We are going with 3) and hoping I am not drummed out of the club! 

I made (and modified) this Persian Adassi (Lentil Stew) back in May 2018 from the gorgeous cookbook, Sirocco by Sabrina Ghayour. It was tasty and warming and if I were to run to the grocery store and cook something to get away from my current chicken noodle soup and toast diet, it would be a soup like this. 

Publisher: ‎Crown (March 21, 2023)
Hardcover: ‎240 pages

My Thoughts on the Book: I had not heard of actor, writer, and comedian Dan Ahdoot before reading Undercooked (I got my copy through the library as an e-book) but found his story interesting. I think he's a good storyteller and I enjoyed his humorous essays. He's a very bad boyfriend and I don't think I would want to hang out with him (he seems both judgey and needy and very high pressure to go to a restaurant with) but I did start following him on Instagram and plan to check out his podcast and Food Network show, and he's pretty funny overall. I enjoyed the tie-in to food and family and loss and comfort that food always seems to bring. That part was extremely relatable. I didn't like the hunting stories--I still lean vegetarian overall but the learning he got about himself and others when he joined in with Meals on Wheels was endearing. Overall, it was an engaging read and I enjoyed it. 

From undercooked risotto to fusion fine restaurant dining, plus French food, offal to both Jewish and Persian cooking, there was plenty of food inspiration in Undercooked. I love a good falafel and I have made a lot of great Persian food over the years. My old roommate's uncle was from Iran and an excellent cook and made a similar Persian rice recipe like he got from his mother (at the end of the book--probably the part I laughed the most at!) with chicken and fava (or often lima beans in Oregon)  and served it with yogurt. It was amazing and I still think about it--even though I have never gotten the recipe quite right. 

As mentioned above, I picked a recipe I made a few years ago from one of the several Persian cookbooks I own. It's a simple soup but if you search Persian in my blog search bar you can find other dishes and recipes.  

I can't vouch for how authentic this soup is as the recipe is written, and I, of course, added my own touches (coconut milk for creaminess) but here you go! 

Persian (Adassi) Lentil Stew 
Slightly Adapted from Sirocco by Sabrina Ghayour
(Serves 4)

3 Tbsp vegetable oil (I used coconut oil)
1 large onion, finely diced
1 1/3 cups Puy lentils
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 heaping Tbsp medium curry powder
flaky sea salt
1 1/2 quarts or so hot water from a kettle
(I added I can coconut milk)
(I added 1/2 tsp Aleppo pepper)

Heat a saucepan over medium-low heat (or medium heat, if you are cooking on an electric stove). add the oil and fry the onion until translucent. Add the lentils and stir for 1 minutes. then stir in the tomato paste and curry powder, season with salt, and add a couple of tablespoons of water to hydrate the mixture (spices absorb moisture quickly). Stir well for about a minute, until the ingredients are evenly mixed in. 

Then, in stages, stir in a few ladlefuls of hot water at a time, stirring well and allowing each ladleful of water to be thoroughly absorbed by the lentils before adding the next. Once all the water has been absorbed, taste the lentils to check you are happy with the texture and that they are cooked thoroughly. If not, add another 1-2 ladlefuls of water until you are satisfied. (At this point I stirred in a can of coconut milk and seasoned with a bit of extra salt and some Aleppo pepper.)

What I Said: Notes/Results: A simple soup, but great flavor from the curry and another demonstration of why Puy lentils are my favorite for soups. I love the texture and body they give it--staying firm rather than melting into the liquid or getting mushy, like other lentils do. I really didn't notice what gradually adding the liquid to the lentils did or didn't do for the soup--I'll have to look into it more. Since there are few ingredients and a good amount of curry, use a curry you really like for it as the flavor stands out. The one I use the most is on the milder side of medium, so I added a bit of Aleppo pepper for a little kick. In the end, I liked it as it was but felt it would be even better with coconut milk added to make it creamy. I thought it made it even better, but you can certainly leave it out. I served my soup with a prantha--Indian flatbread I stock in my freezer but think it would pair well with any bread or flatbread or rice, I would happily make it again.

The deadline for this round is today (surprise, surprise) but if you like food and books, and foodie books, join us for February/March when we will be reading the graphic novel, Relish by Lucy Knisley (hosted by Simona at briciole

It's a reread for me and I am going to attempt to have my act together! 


Thursday, November 30, 2023

Creamy Potato and Spinach Soup for Cook The Books October/November Pick: The City Baker's Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller

It's Cook the Books time again and for October/November, we read The City Baker's Guide to Country Louise Miller, hosted by Claudia of Honey From Rock. It's a foodie/baked goods-friendly novel, although I don't bake and chose to make a warming Creamy Potato and Spinach Soup as my book-inspired dish. 

Publisher's Blurb:

When Olivia Rawlings—pastry chef extraordinaire for an exclusive Boston dinner club—sets not just her flambéed dessert but the entire building alight, she escapes to the most comforting place she can think of—the idyllic town of Guthrie, Vermont, home of Bag Balm, the country’s longest-running contra dance, and her best friend Hannah. But the getaway turns into something more lasting when Margaret Hurley, the cantankerous, sweater-set-wearing owner of the Sugar Maple Inn, offers Livvy a job. Broke and knowing that her days at the club are numbered, Livvy accepts.

Livvy moves with her larger-than-life, uberenthusiastic dog, Salty, into a sugarhouse on the inn’s property and begins creating her mouthwatering desserts for the residents of Guthrie. She soon uncovers the real reason she has been hired—to help Margaret reclaim the inn’s blue ribbon status at the annual county fair apple pie contest.
With the joys of a fragrant kitchen, the sound of banjos and fiddles being tuned in a barn, and the crisp scent of the orchard just outside the front door, Livvy soon finds herself immersed in small town life. And when she meets Martin McCracken, the Guthrie native who has returned from Seattle to tend his ailing father, Livvy comes to understand that she may not be as alone in this world as she once thought.
But then another new arrival takes the community by surprise, and Livvy must decide whether to do what she does best and flee—or stay and finally discover what it means to belong. Olivia Rawlings may finally find out that the life you want may not be the one you expected—it could be even bet

  • Publisher: ‎Penguin Books; 
  • Paperback: 352 pages

My Thoughts:

Overall, I enjoyed this story as books where starting over in a small town/community or starting over, in general, are my jam, especially where food is involved. I do admit to not liking Olivia much when the book started, but she grew on me as the story continued. The town of Guthrie with all its quirky residents and small-town politics grew on me as well. Although I fear I could never warm up there--the blood things after 22+ years in a tropical climate, the book definitely made me want to go for an extended visit. And Salty the dog was perhaps my favorite character. In the end, it's a good rom-com that had me smiling and tearing up a few times and a good story to cozy up with. 

There is food galore in the book from apple pie (there's the contest of course) to muffins and scones, cookies (macaroons, butter cookies, sugar cookies, peanut butter cookies, and pecan sandies) to locally-made cheeses, and all manner of breads. There were desserts aplenty, but also a harvest dinner with corn consommé, a fancy salad, prime rib, mushroom risotto, popovers, a cheese course, and even a Thanksgiving dinner. I was going to do the riff on the risotto as it's a favorite and then I switched to a corn soup (heartier than consommé), but at the end of the day, I was craving a simple potato soup, so that's what I made..Is it in the book? Not at all. Would I have wanted it if I was staying in a sugaring house in Vermont in the fall and winter? Absolutely!

Creamy Potato and Spinach Soup
By Deb,  Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes about 4 Large Servings)

2 Tbsp butter

1 onion, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

½ tsp paprika

½ tsp celery seeds

½ teaspoon thyme

1.5 lb potatoes of your choice, cubed

2 1/2 cup low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth

1 cup whole milk or milk of choice

¼ cup all-purpose flour

1 bag (8oz-ish) baby spinach washed & chopped

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Melt butter in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the diced onion and celery and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened. Add the garlic and herbs, and cook for an extra minute or two, until the onion is coated and smells good. Stir in the cubed potatoes and broth, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer, cover with a lid and cook for about 15-20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, whisk together the milk and flour in a cup. When potatoes are tender, add the flour and milk slurry and stir until the liquid in the pot comes back up to a simmer and starts to thicken (it should take about 2-3 minutes).

Add the spinach to the pot and cook stirring for about 3-4 minutes until the spinach is wilted. Taste and add salt and pepper, adjusting the seasoning to your liking. 

Serve hot and enjoy!

Notes/Results: Sometimes it's the really simple things in life that taste the best and this soup is an example of that. Heartly, creamy, warming, and delicious, it was perfect for our starting to get a bit cooler at night, weather. I only wish I'd made a bigger batch. 

The deadline for this round is today (surprise, surprise) but if you like food and books, and foodie books, join us for December/January, when we'll be reading I’m hosting for December/January when Debra of Eliot's Eats is hosting with Undercooked: How I Let Food Become My Life Navigator and How Maybe That’s a Dumb Way to Live by Dan Ahdoot.   

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Partial Review of The Secrets of Still Waters Chasm, Served with Penne with Roasted Eggplant Puree

Last year I was on the TLC Book Tour for The Secrets of Ohnita Harbor by Patricia Crisafulli, the first book in the Ohnita Harbor Mystery Series and today, I am happy to be a stop on the tour for book two, The Secrets of Still Waters Chasm. This will be a partial review as I was having challenges with my e-book ARC and it's taking me longer than I expected to read it. So, I'll just post my initial thoughts along with a recipe inspired by my reading. 

Publisher's Blurb:

On a beautiful September afternoon, a hike through the pristine wild of Still Waters Chasm become a path of mystery and deadly danger for Gabriela Domenici and her boyfriend, Daniel Red Deer. First, they take a side trail to an inexplicable construction site in the middle of the woods, where every tree has been cut down and a huge truck bearing strange-looking equipment is parked in the middle. As they continue their hike to the lake, they find a man convulsing with his last breaths, not far from the lifeless body of a woman. After going for help, Gabriela and Daniel return to the scene—only to find the two people and their canoe and gear are gone. It seems impossible that two bodies could revive and leave on their own, but there is no other explanation. 

When she conducts a library outreach program in the rural Town of Livery, near Still Waters Chasm, Gabriela discovers a community that is both curious and suspicious. There, she meets Lucinda Nanz, an herbalist whose encyclopedic knowledge of plants for help and harm is both fascinating and troubling, and Wendy Haughton, a young woman who desperately wants to sell an old drawing of unknown origin so she can escape her abusive husband. Despite the state police's warnings to stay out of the investigation, and Daniel's urging to not get involved, Gabriela cannot stay away from Livery and Still Waters Chasm—which puts her on a collision course with yet another murder and people who will stop at nothing to prevent her from getting too close to the truth that could destroy chasm. 

Publisher: Woodhall Press (September 5, 2023)
Paperback: 220 pages

My Thoughts So Far:

I am at about 35% of the book and find myself caught up in the story. Gabriela is suffering from PTSD from the first book when she was nearly killed. (I won't say more due to spoilers and I do always recommend starting at the beginning of a series even if there is enough info given to catch you up on what happened in the second book.) Being a book lover, I like that Gabriela is a Director of Circulation and Head of Programing of the Ohnita Harbor Library (which is in a castle-like building in town). In this book she is trying too create can outreach program in a local community in nearby Still Waters Chasm but some mysterious goings on and a couple of murders are getting in the way. I will come back and give my full review soon as I think, even though it's a challenge with the ARC format, I really want to know what happens. 

Food Inspiration: 

Even at 35% in, there is plenty of food in this book. Gabriela and her Italian mother cook frequently so there is mention of eggplant parmigiana, pasta, salad, steak, meatballs, cookies, lemonade, fruit punch, tea, berries, maple syrup, salmon, eggs, bread, pies, preserves, potatoes, apples, honey, zucchini, chard, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, carrots, bananas, yogurt, milk, popcorn, fried perch, Cobb salad, fish sandwich and fries, beer and red wine so far. 

For my bookish dish, I decided on pasta with eggplant as Gabriela's mother, Agnese, says Gabriela's son eats too much pasta when she finds out she is serving leftover eggplant farm to her boyfriend for dinner and planning to feed Ben Can there be such a thing?

Giada's Penne with Roasted Eggplant Puree is an old favorite. I posted this recipe in 2011.

Penne with Roasted Eggplant Puree
Adapted from "Giada's Kitchen" by Giada De Laurentiis
(4 to 6 Servings)

1 medium eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 pint cherry tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, whole (I used 5 cloves)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1 pound penne pasta
1/4 cup torn fresh mint leaves
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan (I used feta cheese)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl combine the eggplant, cherry tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, and red

pepper flakes. Spread the vegetables out in an even layer on the baking sheet. Roast in the oven until the vegetables are tender and the eggplant is golden, about 35 minutes.

While the vegetables are roasting, place the pine nuts in a small baking dish. Place in the oven on the rack below the vegetables. Roast until golden, about 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and reserve.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain pasta into a large bowl and reserve 1 1/2 cups of the cooking liquid.

Transfer the roasted vegetables to a food processor. Add the torn mint leaves and extra-virgin olive oil. Puree the vegetables.

Transfer the pureed vegetables to the bowl with the pasta and add the Parmesan. Stir to combine, adding the pasta cooking liquid 1/2 cup at a time until the pasta is saucy. Sprinkle the pine nuts over the top and serve.

My Notes/Results: This makes a nice chunky sauce with good flavor. I like the combination of the roasted veggies with the coolness of the mint and the slight kick from the red pepper. I used 5 large cloves of garlic in mine and liked the extra flavor--since it roasts along with the eggplant and tomato it doesn't overpower. I think the Parmesan called for in the recipe would have been good too, but I couldn't resist adding the feta--which I needed to use up anyway, and it went nicely with the mint and pine nuts. I used a multi-grain penne pasta to get a little more fiber in and the thick sauce held up well to it. This is a great hearty vegetarian dish, although adding a little sausage certainly would be delicious too. 


Note: A review copy of "The Secrets of Still Waters Chasm" was provided to me by the author and the publisher via TLC Book Tours. I was not compensated for this review and as always, my thoughts and opinions are my own.  

You can see the stops for the rest of this TLC Book Tour and learn what other reviewers thought about the book below.

Thursday, September 28th: @donasbooks
Thursday, September 28th: @subakka.bookstuff and Subakka.bookstuff
Friday, September 29th: @strandedinchaos9438
Monday, October 2nd: @aimeedarsreads
Wednesday, October 
Friday, October 6th: @fashionablyfifty
Monday, October 9th: Bookchickdi
Wednesday, October 11th:  Kahakai Kitchen
Thursday, October 12th: @kristens.reading.nook
Sunday, October 15th@literally_lit_in_miami 
Monday, October 16th: What is That Book About
Wednesday, October 18thGirl Who Reads
Thursday, October 19th@always_reading1
Friday, October 20th: @chicagobooklover 
Monday, October 23rd: Books Cooks Looks
Friday, November 3rd: @welovebigbooksandwecannotlie
TBD: Friday, September 29thLaura’s Reviews


Saturday, September 30, 2023

Potato, Cauliflower & Pea Curry (Aloo Gobi Matar) for Cook the Books August/September Pick: Love & Saffron

It's Cook the Books time again. (OK, it's a bit past but I'm hosting so...). As usual, work is keeping me massively busy and likely will for the next bit as I hit six months in my new company and new role. It's all good, just not much time and energy leftover, which is why I am happy I selected Love & Saffron: A Novel of Friendship, Food & Love by Kim Fay for our Cook the Books August/September pick. It's a quick and delightful read, full of delicious food and engaging characters. 

From the Publisher's blurb:

"Two strangers. One recipe. A friendship for the ages.

Creamy risotto alla Milanese. Mussels in a hot, buttery broth. Chicken spiced with cinnamon and cloves. Joan Bergstrom and Imogen Fortier understand the key to a savored life—delicious food. Young Joan is just discovering herself as a foodwriter in bustling Los Angeles, while experienced columnist Imogen is settled in her decades-long marriage on Camano Island outside Seattle. When Joan sends a fan letter to Imogen with an enclosed packet of saffron and a recipe, their journey of culinary exploration and soul-deep friendship begins. 

A long-lost flavor surfaces buried memories, and a quest to make carne asada opens the doors of a sheltered life. Into this beautiful, intimate world comes the ultimate test of their friendship, and of their belief that food and love can sustain us during our darkest hours."

I loved this book! The letters that chronicled the friendship between Joan and Imogen were wonderful. Set in the 1960s, when "snail mail" was the option for penpals, they moved from strangers to a solid friendship over the years. It made me both smile and brought me to tears as both women faced challenges in their lives and were there for each other during them. I loved that Immy lived in Seattle (my old stomping grounds) and the mentions of Frederick & Nelson department store and Frango Mints as I worked there in the late 80s and the mints are still an occasional treat from Macy's. The fact that an earlier Cook the Books pick, The Unprejudiced Palate was mentioned and its author Angelo Pellegrini was a secondary character was also fun. But mainly I loved watching a friendship forged in delicious food unfold. 

There was so much food packed in the pages from risotto to hamburgers and hot dogs, Hungarian chicken, homemade blackberry jam, omelettes with saffron and herbs de Provence, cottage cheese and salmon mold, tamales, grilled crab, chile rellenos, meatloaf, jerk chicken, pesto, teriyaki and tempura, ceviche, Aplets & Cotlets (another Pacific Northwest tradition), coq au vin, clam chowder, aebleskivers, homemade sausage in Milanese stew, heart of palm salad, muffins, and apple butter--just to name some of it. 

For my book inspired dish, I ended up going with curry. Joan wrote, "At Stanford I was drawn to students from India because they cooked up little pots of curry in their rooms." I too am drawn to the smells of a delicious curry and I love how easy it is to knock one together. I decided on an old favorite, Aloo Gobi Matar which is simple potatoes, cauliflower and peas in a dryish simple tomato curry, served with rice. 

Potato, Cauliflower & Pea Curry (Aloo Gobi Matar)
Slightly Adapted from Food & Wine Magazine
(Makes 4-5 servings)

1/4 cup ghee or olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
1 Tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp finely chopped ginger 
1 Tbsp finely chopped garlic 
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp chile powder or to taste
1.5 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and chopped/quartered depending on size
salt to taste
1 bag (12-oz) frozen cauliflower florets, thawed
1 (14-oz) can crushed tomatoes
3/4 cup coconut milk, water or broth
1 cup frozen green sweet peas, thawed
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Heat oil or ghee over medium heat in a large heavy-bottom pan. Add onion, ginger, garlic, and chile; cook, stirring often, until soft, about 4 minutes. Stir in coriander, cumin, garam masala, turmeric, and chile powder and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add cauliflower, potatoes, and salt and cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables begin to soften, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes, coconut milk or broth and peas and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer about 15-20 minutes or until the potatoes are fork-tender. Stir in cilantro and season to taste with more salt as needed. Serve with basmati rice. 

Notes/Results: Just a good simple curry--hearty and good. You can change around the spices, add more chile, or liquid if desired. This hit the spot as I was craving curry and I'd happily make it again. 

I'll be rounding up the dishes from this round of Cook the Books shortly on the site. If you missed this round and love food, books and foodie book, join us for our October/November round, hosted by Claudia of Honey From Rock. We'll be reading The City Baker's Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller