Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "One Step Too Far" by Tina Seskis, Served with Diana Henry's "Crazy Salad"

An intense mystery and psychological drama One Step Too Far: A Novel by Tina Seskis, is what is on today's TLC Book Tour. Since things get a little crazy in this book and it kept me guessing to the final page--which made me a little crazy, I made a variation of Diana Henry's Crazy Salad to accompany it. 


Publisher's Blurb:

The #1 international bestseller reminiscent of After I’m Gone, Sister, Before I Go to Sleep, and The Silent Wife—an intricately plotted, thoroughly addictive thriller that introduces a major new voice in suspense fiction—a mesmerizing and powerful novel that will keep you guessing to the very end. 

No one has ever guessed Emily’s secret. Will you? 

A happy marriage. A beautiful family. A lovely home. So what makes Emily Coleman get up one morning and walk right out of her life—to start again as someone new?

Now, Emily has become Cat, working at a hip advertising agency in London and living on the edge with her inseparable new friend, Angel. Cat’s buried any trace of her old self so well, no one knows how to find her. But she can’t bury the past—or her own memories. 

And soon, she’ll have to face the truth of what she’s done—a shocking revelation that may push her one step too far. . . .

Hardcover: 320 pages 
Publisher: William Morrow (January 27, 2015)

One Step Too Far starts with Emily stepping away from her life, leaving her family and on her way to a new life. We don't know why. We know she is conflicted about leaving and that something has happened to cause her to leave, but not much more. Next, we go back 30 years or so, to Emily's birth--and find out that she has a twin, born after Emily and a surprise (and not a happy one) to her mother and father who were expecting one baby and don't want a second. Whether from nature or nurture, the temperaments of these two sisters are very different--Emily is the happy golden child and her sister Caroline is rejected, bitter, and takes out her anger on her twin, her family and the world. From there we go back and forth through past and present, hearing mostly from Emily but also from the points of view of her husband Ben, Caroline, her parents, and her friend Angel. The story unfolds in bits and pieces as Emily becomes Cat and the reader tries to guess what terrible event, what dark secrets, led her to run away from what seemed to be a happy life. I can't say much more about the book than that or the story would be spoiled.  

One Step Too Far is a definite page-turner with so many twists and turns, I found myself tied up in anxious knots. It's not a happy book with happy people--Emily as Cat is self-destructive and makes some truly bad choices. She was hard to like as Cat. I knew I should feel sympathetic towards her and that there was going to be a reason for her actions--but I struggled to truly connect with her. With the behaviors of her sister and parents, the only character I really liked was Ben--the husband left behind. But, luckily I didn't have like all of the characters to be intrigued by the story and the mystery. I love to guess the ending in books like this and author Seskis kept me hopping--so many things in this book are not what they seem or what the reader is led to believe, that things were a surprise up to the end. Several times I was tempted to read ahead just to know what happened but I resisted and let it all unfold. Once secrets were revealed, I had to go back and re-read certain parts to see whether I missed something or if I was deliberately misled by the author (if you were wondering it was a bit of both). If you like your books to lean on the darker side of human emotion, enjoy psychological thrillers, and like to be kept guessing as suspense steadily builds, you should like this one.   
 


Author Notes: Tina Seskis grew up in Hampshire, England, and after graduating from the University of Bath spent more than twenty years working in marketing and advertising. One Step Too Far is her debut novel, and was first published independently in the UK, where it shot to the #1 spot on the bestseller list. Her second novel is forthcoming. She lives in North London with her husband and son. Find out more about Tina at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.


Sometimes the ideas for the usual dish inspired by the book that accompanies my reviews comes easily--other time it is more of a struggle. For One Step Too Far, it was the later, nothing came to mind immediately. Food mentions in the book are limited--take-out curry and Chinese is mentioned a few times, there are a couple of restaurant breakfasts, lots of coffee (and alcohol and cocaine), a marketing industry dinner of fillet of steak in cream and champagne sauce (or pumpkin and ricotta filo parcels for the vegetarian option) and lemon tart, that Cat passes out into. But nothing captured the mood especially.


I was looking through a Diana Henry cookbook and remembered a recipe for Crazy Salad that I had been wanting to try and I realized that crazy salad actually captured my feelings about the book--the coming together of the different perspectives, time periods and 'hints' thrown out by the author, that seemed disjointed but came together in the end--much like the many ingredients in this salad that may seem somewhat random, but ultimately come together and taste great. A little crazy, but in the end--very good.


Diana Henry says, "This is one of my favorite dishes in the book. I wanted to come up with a salad, especially one that would be good in the colder months, that was robust, really healthy, and irresistible ("accidentally healthy"). When I served this the kids said "Crazy mom," because they said it was hippy salad reborn. I wasn't sure whether that was a criticism or a compliment, and then sat back and watched them eat platefuls of it.

This recipe is a starting point. Cook other grains... add peas, cucumber, feta cheese, and mint, other beans, black or red lentils instead of Puy, blueberries or chopped apples instead of pomegranates. There are all kinds of things you can do if you start off with a cooked grain as a salad base."


I made several changes to Diana's recipe based on personal preferences and what I had on hand. They are noted in red below. 

Crazy Salad
Adapted from A Change of Appetite by Diana Henry
(Serves 6 as a Side Dish, 3-4 as A Main Dish)

For the Salad:
1/2-cup semi-pearl farro or pearl spelt (I used pearl spelt and pearl barley)
1/4 cup Puy or green lentils (I used 1/2 cup French green lentils)
2 carrots cup into matchsticks (omitted)
(I added 2 small-ish fennel bulbs, very thinly sliced)
(I added 2 mini cucumbers, very thinly sliced) 
(I added 1/2 cup green peas)
2/3 cup drained and rinsed cooked chickpeas (I used 1 cup)
2 Tbsp mixed seeds of choice (I used pumpkin and sunflower seeds)
seeds from 1/2 pomegranate
(I added 2/3 cup fresh organic blueberries)
a handful of water cress, coarse stem removed
(I added a couple of handfuls of baby romaine lettuce, chopped)
(I added about 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves)
(I added about 4 oz of local Naked Cow Dairy farm cheese studded with pink Hawaiian peppercorn)

For Dressing:
1 Tbsp white balsamic vinegar, or to taste (I used about 2 Tbsp)
1/2 to 1 tsp harissa, or to taste (I used about 3 tsp)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2-1 tsp honey (I used 2 tsp local honey)
3/4 Tbsp pomegranate molasses (I used 1 Tbsp)
sea salt and black pepper to taste

Cook grains in a saucepan with plenty of water until grain is cooked but still has a nutty bite. Time will depend on type of grains used--at least 25-35 minutes. Cook lentils at the same time, in water until tender--20-35 minutes depending on the age of the lentils. 

Meanwhile, make the dressing by mixing all of the ingredients together, seasoning well. Drain the grains and lentils, run clod water through them to cool them down. Shake strainer vigorously to get rid of as much water as possible. Transfer to a serving bowl, season and stir in half of the dressing. 

Toss in all of the other ingredients. If assembling salad ahead of time, don't add the watercress/lettuce until just before serving. (I also would refrain from adding the seeds and cheese until ready to serve.) Add the rest of the dressing. Taste for seasoning and add more as needed.


Notes/Results: It occurred to me a few times as I was gleefully opening my fridge and pulling out all kinds of ingredients that I might be overdoing this crazy salad and taking it to an insane level with too many different things in it. Was I taking it "one step too far?!" (Note the cheesy book title tie-in there!) ;-) I need not have worried--this was a fabulous salad full of goodies and like a little treasure hunt to eat--"ooh there's a chickpea," "here's a chewy bite of barley and spelt," "mmm... a little burst of flavor from the blueberry..." It really all worked together, as did the dressing. I did, as you can see from the recipe notes, pump up the spice, tang, and sweetness of the dressing with extra harissa, white balsamic pomegranate molasses and honey. I liked the extra punch of flavor. I think a lot depends on the harissa brand you have--I don't think the jar of paste I currently have on hand is as spicy as others I have tried or made. I would suggest tasting as you go and adding the amount that makes sense for you. I also found the dressing just a little flat until I added in the extra quantities but after my additions, I really liked it and it added that extra flavor you want in a grain salad. I would definitely add the mint and fennel too, if making this again--they bring a cooling feel to the mix. Leave off the cheese for a vegan salad--but it is pretty yummy. Diana recommended feta but I had sampled a local farmer cheese studded with pink peppercorns the other day and loved it, and it was the cheese I had on hand. Goat cheese would be nice too. This is a substantial enough salad to make a light meal but it also paired well with grilled fish as a side dish. All in all, a very tasty salad, satisfying, colorful and full of great textures and flavors--I would make it again. 


This post is linking up to I Heart Cooking Clubs where this week's theme is Veggie Variations--Diana Henry recipes that are meat free and full of vegetable goodness . You can see what veg-filled dishes everyone made by checking out the picture links on the post.


Note: A review copy of "One Step Too Far" was provided to me by the publisher and TLC Book Tours in return for a fair and honest review. 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 the Book Tour and what other reviewer thought about the book here.


 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Leek and Potato Soup with Beans and Barley: A Hearty Soup Mash-Up for Souper (Soup, Salad and Sammie) Sundays

My Libra tendencies often present themselves in my difficulty in making certain decisions--especially when there is more than one good choice. It's not that I can't make a decision, it's just that sometimes I simply don't want to choose. This week I couldn't decide whether I wanted a bean and barley soup, or if leek and potato soup was what I craved. So I decided to put them together and thus this Leek and Potato Soup with Beans and Barley was born. Sometimes it's good to not choose...


A soup mash-up, Rachael Ray would call it a 'stroup' but I would just say it's a very hearty thick soup that eats like a stew, or with all of the beans, maybe a bit like a veg-friendly cassoulet. It's not at all fancy soup, but studded with rosemary and thyme--two of my favorite herbs for both beans and potatoes, it is full of good flavor and makes a satisfying supper on a rainy evening.  


Leek and Potato Soup with Beans and Barley
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Serves 8-10)

2 Tbsp olive oil
2-3 large leeks, white and light green parts, rinsed well, quartered and sliced
1 large carrot, large dice
2 celery stalks, large dice
3 gloves garlic, minced
4 sprigs of thyme
2 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
3 cups mixed beans, soaked overnight, rinsed and drained
6 cups low-sodium vegetable broth, + 4 cups water (+ more if needed/desired)
3-4 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into small cubes
1 1/4 cups quick cooking pearl barley
salt and pepper to taste

In a large soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat. When hot, add the leeks, carrots and celery and saute for 5-6 minutes until vegetables soften and leeks start to turn golden. Add garlic, thyme sprigs and rosemary and cook for another couple of minutes. 

Add bay leaf, beans, broth and water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a good simmer and cook 1-1 1/2 hours--until beans are cooked to your liking, stirring occasionally along the way and checking the progress of the beans. Stir in potatoes and quick-cooking barley (see barley note below) and cook another 20 minutes until potatoes are soft and barley is cooked. Remove bay leaves and thyme stems.

Season with salt and black pepper and add additional broth or water if you want a thinner soup. If you aren't eliminating dairy or care if it is vegan, a grating of good Parmesan is nice to serve. Enjoy with a green salad and good bread.

(Barley notes: My mom always cooks her barley separately and adds it to her barley soups. I am lazy and like a thicker, stew-like soup so I don't bother--especially when I use quick coking pearl barley. For hulled or whole-wheat barley that takes longer to cook and absorbs more liquid, I would cook it separately and add the cooked barley to the soup at the end.)  


Notes/Results: Hearty and so good--thick and almost creamy. It has all the flavor of a potato-leek soup and all the wonderful texture of bean and barley. Mixed beans are fun--you get so many different types of 'bites' with the various sizes and types. Mine was a simple grocery store 15-bean variety with a (very scary in my mind) 'ham flavoring' packet that immediately went in the trash. ;-) I was pretty happy with this soup as it is but you could of course work in some leafy greens or if you prefer meat in your soup, some slices of organic chicken sausages would be nice. Using this recipe it clocks in at a healthy 270 calories per bowl with 12.6 grams of protein, 21.8 grams of fiber, and 31 grams of iron so not too shabby. I would definitely make it again. 



Janet of The Taste Space is here with me today in the Souper Sundays kitchen with a recovery-worthy Japanese Tomato Miso Soup. She says, "Sick in bed, possibly from influenza, or whatever virus/bacteria/etc has me bedridden, with itchy eyes that I don’t even want to open and pretty darn sleepy from the sleepless nights and possibly the nyquil side effects. ... Rob was great trying to keep me full of tea and soup (making my favourite Lemon Ginger Miso Soup with some added parsnips which he associates with healing soups) and eventually the flu subsided. But guys, it was a doozy. Tis a shame the vaccine didn’t work this year. I get the vaccine every year but it reminded exactly what I was trying to avoid each and every year."


 
Thanks to Janet for joining in this week. If you have a soup, salad, or sandwich that you would like to share, just click on the Souper Sundays logo on the sidebar for all of the details.

Have a happy, healthy week! 

 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Seared Tuna with Avocado and Wasabi Puree and Brown Rice-Quinoa Blend with Chia & Hemp Seeds {One Photo Friday}

Easy and healthy dinners that taste great are my favorite way to end the week. I have had my eye on this Diana Henry recipe from A Change of Appetite for a while now because of the simplicity and the combination of the ahi tuna and the guacamole with a punch of wasabi. I recently ate lunch at a restaurant that had what they called "Rich Rice"--a blend of quinoa, brown rice and chia seeds. It was good and added more nutrients to regular rice so I made my own version (adding hemp seeds to the mix) to serve with the tuna.


Diana says, "Ready in minutes, filling, zingy ... everything you could possibly want."

Seared Tuna with Avocado and Wasabi Puree
Adapted from A Change of Appetite by Diana Henry
(Serves 4)

For the tuna:
2 Tbsp olive oil
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1/4 cup soy sauce (I used low-sodium soy sauce)
back pepper
4 (6 oz) tuna steaks
pickled ginger to serve

For the puree:
2 completely ripe avocados
1 tsp wasabi paste, or to taste (I used 2 tsp)
juice of 1 lime, or to taste
sea salt

Mix the olive oil, garlic, soy sauce, and black pepper. Put the tuna steaks in a dish and pour the marinade over them, turning to coat. Let marinate for 30 minutes.

To make the puree, halve and pit the avocados and scoop out the flesh with a spoon. Mash with the wasabi and lime juice, add salt, and taste. Add more seasoning as needed.

Heat a ridged grill pan until it's really hot. Lift the tuna out of the marinade, gently shaking off any excess. Grill tuna for about one minute per side (this gives you a moist interior that is raw in the center).

Serve the tuna with the avocado puree, with pickled ginger on the side. Offer brown rice as well, if you like.  

Recipe Note: For the brown rice-quinoa blend, I put a cup of each into the rice cooker with about 3 cups of water, crushed ginger and garlic. When it finished cooking I stirred in 1 1/2 tablespoons each of chia seeds and hemp seeds and a touch of sea salt.  

Notes/Results: Lots to love with this dinner. The ahi gets just the right amount of flavor from the soy and garlic marinade and goes well with the avocado puree. I added extra wasabi to mine--I just didn't taste enough wasabi with the one teaspoon in the recipe. When you add the pickled ginger to the mix (one of these days I am going to get around to trying Diana's recipe for pickled ginger) along with the rice blend, it made a terrific light and healthy dinner. I would make it again. 


This post is linking up to I Heart Cooking Clubs where it is Potluck week. The chance to make any Diana Henry recipe or a recipe from any previous IHCC chef. You can see what everyone made by checking out the picture links on the post.

{One-Photo Friday: Since I normally drag out my big camera and gear, take a bunch of photos of my recipes, and then spend time obsessing over them--I decided that for Fridays, I'll simplify by posting a recipe or something interesting and then just take one photo of it with my iPhone--no muss/no fuss.}

Happy Aloha Friday! 
 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Curried Deviled Eggs for Food 'N Flix January: Bridget Jones's Diary (And Trying Out "Steam-Boiled" Eggs)

How many times have I seen Bridget Jones's Diary? I actually have no idea. But, time to spill my geekiness here... I read the book, saw the film when it came out in 2001, bought the DVD, later upgraded and bought the 'collector's edition' DVD, and have caught countless random pieces of it on cable because it always makes me smile. It's one of those movies that I can watch over and over and just enjoy its silliness and its heart. So I was beyond excited that Evelyne of Cheap Ethnic Eatz picked it as our January Food 'N Flix selection. (You can see her announcement post here.)


Traditionally, I view my copy each year sometime around the weekend closest to New Year's since in the film, "It all began on New Year's day in the 32nd year of my being single..." It's sort of like Bridget's Mum's annual turkey curry buffet for me--something I just have to do. My fondness of it probably has much to do with the Pride & Prejudice storyline including my passion for Colin Firth. (It should be noted that the BBC version of P&P {THE BEST P&P} starring Firth gets viewed at least once a year at my house--mainly when I am feeling under-the-weather and want to do nothing more than lie on the couch for a few hours.) Watching Colin Firth as Mark Darcy cast sexy longing looks at Bridget is a big part of the appeal. Renée Zellweger, often annoying to me in other movies, captures Bridget perfectly and Hugh Grant, usually cast as the bumbling, slightly awkward nice guy, portrays an excellent sleazy/sexy bad boy in Daniel Cleaver. It's one of those few cases that for me, the movie is much better than the book. (And it should have stopped there both for the book and film and not gone on to Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, but I digress--thankfully we are talking about BJD and not the sequel.)


I am not sure I should even admit this but since I am letting my geek flag fly, while looking for pictures of my food inspiration, I stumbled across "The Hardest Bridget Jones's Diary Quiz You'll Ever Take" and scored 27/29-- (missing just the cereal she was eating and the name of the cab company near her house) and earning "We like you just the way you are! You’ve watched Bridget Jones’s Diary so many times you should be in her gaggle of friends, swigging wine and swearing to your heart’s content. You’re a Bridget Jones expert through and through and would totes win Mark Darcy’s heart." In my defense, although I often forget important details and sometimes lose my car in parking lots, I have an pretty large capacity to retain random favorite book and film trivia and usually kick ass in trivia games--and when given multiple choices, I am a pretty good guesser. ;-)  If you are a fan of the movie and have seen it several times, try the quiz. If you haven't seen the film, go watch it--although not everyone has the love for it I do, most people that I encounter do think that it's fun and watchable.


This year thanks to Evelyne, I watched it more for the food. There is actually plenty of it in the film--scary or not. There's the turkey curry buffet--including gherkins on toothpicks, and gravy that might or might not need sieving. There are plenty of cocktails and some pupus (appetizers) enjoyed with Bridget's friends, random dinners, 'tarts and vicars' party fare, Greek food from the restaurant fight between Darcy and Daniel Cleaver, and of course Bridget's failed attempt at cooking her birthday dinner for her friends with some sexy Mark Darcy help. 


Many times I waffle back and forth with what to make for Food 'N Flix but I had my dish in my head almost immediately for this pick. I took my inspiration from the silliness of Pamela Jones, Bridget Jone's mum. Bridget says, "My mum, a strange creature from the time when pickles on toothpicks were still the height of sophistication." I took the curry from the infamous turkey curry buffet and blended it with the hard-boiled eggs from Pamela's graphic department store demonstration of the Wise Crack Egg Peeler with its wonderful tagline on the box "Have it Ouef."

 
Pamela Jones: "Ah, anyone else want to have it ouef? Ha ha.Don't be shy, madame. Ha ha. ...French. Have it oeuf. Ha ha! With the Wise Crack Egg Peeler. Now, nice firm grip. [demonstrating] Put it in the hole. And...up, down, up, down. And off it comes in your hand.
Oh! Mind the over-spray. Sorry.
"


I love me some deviled eggs and certainly the Wise Crack Egg Peeler would be helpful in making them in large batches for your next party or to add to the dishes accompanying a turkey curry buffet. Since I am not lucky enough to own one, ;-) I decided to try 'steaming' my eggs as it seems to be popular lately and is supposed to be somewhat fool-proof for easy peeling. I used the steps in this post from Bewitching Kitchen which links to this Serious Eats post that she used. Basically you put your eggs into a steamer basket over boiling water, cover and let them steam away over the boiling water for 6 minutes--softboiled, 11-12 minutes--hardboiled. Then, if using them cold, you dunk them into very cold water for about 15 minutes before peeling. 


The eggs are supposed to end up perfectly cooked and easy to peel. Although I cooked my eggs 12 minutes, the yolks could have probably used another minute and one egg cracked in the pan--the eggs overall were tender and not rubbery, the yolks had no gray oxidation, and most importantly--the peels slipped off easily leaving me smooth exteriors with little effort to 'have it oeuf.' Maybe not 'perfect eggs' but pretty close in my book for the ease of shelling. I will definitely steam my next batch and play with the timing some more.  


Curry and eggs is always a good pairing and changes it up from the regular deviled eggs. These have a combination of curry and garam masala with a touch of cayenne, held together with both garlic mayonnaise and Greek yogurt--the mayo has the creamy factor and the yogurt makes them a wee-bit healthier by reducing some of the fat. I topped them with a dab of jarred tomato chutney for a hit of sweet-tart-spice notes and chopped cilantro.    

Curried Deviled Eggs
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes 12 Deviled Egg Halves

6 large eggs--hard-boiled or steamed and peeled
2 Tbsp mayonnaise (I used a garlic mayo)
3 Tbsp non-fat Greek yogurt
2 tsp stone ground mustard
1/2 Tbsp curry powder, or to taste
1/2 Tbsp garam masala, or to taste 
large pinch of cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 tsp fresh lime juice
sea salt and black pepper

To garnish: tomato or mango chutney, chopped cilantro. You could also garnish with a little piece of spicy Indian pickles and chopped toasted peanut or cashews. 

Cut each egg in half lengthwise and gently remove the yolks. In a small bowl, mash the yolks with a fork and add mayonnaise, Greek yogurt, mustard, curry powder, garam masala, cayenne and lime juice. Stir until blended, smooth and creamy. Taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as needed.  

Fill eggs with equal amounts of filling--using either a small spoon or a pastry bag with a large tip. Garnish each egg with a small dollop of chutney and a sprinkle of cilantro.


Notes/Results: Generally when it comes to deviled eggs,I usually prefer them simple--just a touch of mustard, salt, and pepper, but if you are a curry fan these eggs are pretty appealing. They are creamy with the flavorful spices, a hint of heat, and then that extra pop of the tomato chutney--slightly spicy, sweet and sour. You could just go full curry with them but I like the warmer notes that the garam masala adds to the mix. You can also dial pack the curry but I like the flavors to stand out. When I tasted it after mixing, I wanted a bit of acidity, even before the chutney topping so I squeezed in a bit of lime and it was just right. I will happily make them again.    


The deadline for this round of Food 'N Flix is Wednesday, January 28th and Evelyne will be rounding up the entries on her blog soon after.  If you missed this round and like food, films and foodie films, consider joining us for February when we will be watching the animated classic Lady and the Tramp, hosted by Elizabeth at The Lawyer's Cookbook
 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Ottolenghi's Thai Red Lentil Soup with Aromatic Chile Oil & Sugar Snap Peas for Souper (Soup, Salad, & Sammie) Sundays


It's always a joy to cook the recipes of Yotam Ottolenghi, especially his soups which always have layers of flavor and unique toppings that set them off so well. This Thai Red Lentil Soup with Aromatic Chile Oil (from Plenty More: Vibrant Vegetable Cooking From London's Ottolenghi) is a classic Ottolenghi recipe where the different components come together into soup perfection. Creamy, spicy Thai flavored soup, topped with the pleasing crunch and sweetness of sliced sugar snap peas and accented by a spicy and very aromatic chili oil.


*I made just a few small changes noted in red below.

Thai Red Lentil Soup with Aromatic Chile Oil
Slightly Adapted from Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi

(Serves 4)
4 oz/120 g sugar snap peas
3 Tbsp sunflower oil (I used 2 Tbsp grapeseed oil)
1 medium onion, thinly sliced (1 1/2 cups/160 g)

1 1/2 Tbsp vegetarian red curry paste (I used 2 Tbsp as I increased liquid) 2 lemongrass stalks, gently bashed with a rolling pin 
4 fresh Kaffir lime leaves (or 12 dried)
1 1/4 cups/250 g red lentils
1 cup/250 ml coconut milk (I used an extra 3/4 cup coconut milk)
1 1/2 Tbsp lime juice

1 1/2 Tbsp soy sauce (I used tamari)
1 cup/15 g cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
salt
 

Chile-Infused Oil
3/4 cup/180 ml sunflower oil
1 banana shallot, or 2 regular shallots, coarsely chopped (1/2 cup/50 g)
1 clove garlic, coarsely chopped
1 tsp peeled and coarsely chopped fresh ginger
1/2 red chile, coarsely chopped

1/2 star anise pod
2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp tomato paste
grated zest of 1/2 small lemon

 
First make the chile oil. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a small saucepan. Add the shallot, garlic, ginger, chile, star anise, and curry powder and fry over low heat for 5 minutes, stirring from time to time, until the shallot is soft. Add the tomato paste and cook gently for 2 minutes. Stir in the remaining oil and the lemon zest and simmer very gently for 30 minutes. Leave to cool and then strain through a cheesecloth-lined sieve.


For the soup, bring a small pan of water to boil and throw in the sugar snap peas. Cook for 90 seconds, drain, refresh under cold water, and set aside to dry. Once cool, cut them on the diagonal into slices 1/16-inch/2-mm thick.
 
Heat the sunflower oil in a large pot and add the onion. Cook over low heat, with a lid on, for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring once or twice, until the onion is completely soft and sweet. Stir in the red curry paste and cook for 1 minute. Add the lemongrass, lime leaves, red lentils, and 3 cups/700 ml water. (I used 4 cups water) Bring to a boil, turn down the heat to low, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until the lentils are completely soft.
 
Remove the soup from the heat and take out and discard the lemongrass and lime leaves. Use a blender to process the soup until it is completely smooth. Add the coconut milk, lime juice, soy sauce, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and stir. Return the soup to medium heat, and once the soup is almost boiling, ladle into bowls. Scatter the snap peas on top, sprinkle with cilantro, and finish with 1/2 teaspoon chile oil drizzled over each portion.


Notes/Results: Soup love! The creamy lentil base is just slightly spicy--a warm back of the throat, red curry heat. I slightly increased the amount of red curry I used because I increased the liquid in the lentil and added a little extra coconut milk to thin things out a bit. The chili-infused oil packs more heat, allowing you to spice things up to your taste. I was amazed by how just a half of a star anise pod added such pronounced star anise flavor to the oil. With the curry, ginger and garlic, it is a robust and complex chili oil and I look forward to drizzling onto other things (eggs come to mind). There are a couple of extra steps to making this soup with the chili oil and the sugar snap pea topping but otherwise it goes together quickly. I made my oil ahead of time--it keeps for a month in a sealed jar in the fridge, and I sliced my peas while finishing up a movie--easy peasy. This is a vegan soup that is perfect for anyone who likes good flavor--meat eater or not. The lentils make it satisfying. I would make it again.


This delicious soup is being linked to I Heart Cooking Clubs where this coming week is January Potluck--the time to make any Diana Henry dish or any recipe from one of our previous IHCC chefs--like Ottolenghi. You can see what dishes everyone made by checking out the picture links when the post goes live.


We have a couple of good friends and their dishes waiting in the Souper Sundays kitchen, let's have a look. 


Two soups from my pal Heather at girlichef. First this Yellow Split Pea and Smoked Turkey Soup. Heather says, "Although there is a cup of pureed pumpkin in this soup, it doesn't taste like pumpkin. It adds color, it adds nutrients, but it's content with a supporting role alongside the other veggies in the cast. This soup is really all about the earthy split peas, all gussied-up in a smoky wardrobe. Add some steaming flatbread hot from the oven, and this made a rib-sticking meal on a frigid afternoon. Delicious, hearty, even enticing enough to look forward to leftovers the next day."



Next Heather made Crockpot Black Bean Soup and says, "But tell me, do you ever let your slow cooker work its magic while you're nestled snugly in your warm bed? It's a whole 'nother level of happiness. The scent sort of envelopes the quiet house in a comforting blanket, and invokes good dreams. ... Just waking up to the smell of love (yes, homemade soup smells like love, people) is enough to put you in a good mood for the entire day. Today I offer you love in the form of black beans infused with the flavor of ham and sherry. Go forth and prosper!"



Janet from The Taste Space shares spicy Jamaican Jerk Plantain Soup and says, "...here is another bowl of a warm, vibrant soup/stew. Jamaican jerk inspired with allspice and thyme (and also cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg) with colourful red bell peppers, yellow plantains and chickpeas with a sprinkle of green onions swimming in a fragrant coconut broth. This is not a hot and spicy soup (like most things jerk), so add as much heat as you like. Are you already longing for the summer?" 

 

It's Chicken Waldorf Salad from Pam at Sidewalk Shoes made with her weekly rotisserie roast chicken. Pam says, "When I opened up the produce drawer and saw some grapes left in a bag from a previous recipe, I immediately settled on a Waldorf Salad.  I always have apples and I had some leftover candied walnuts from my Vanilla Yogurt Panna Cotta with Candied Walnuts.  If you don’t have any candied walnuts, you can use regular walnuts, but the candied were so good!  I think my chicken salad Sundays started off right….any suggestions for next Sunday??"


Thanks to everyone who joined in this week. If you have a soup, salad, or sandwich that you would like to share, just click on the Souper Sundays logo on the sidebar for all of the details.

Have a happy, healthy week! 

 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Simple Goan Fish Curry: Exotic Spicy, Sweet and Sour 'Curry in a Hurry'

My apologies to the wonderful Diana Henry as my version of her Simple Goan Fish Curry is not the golden blondish-brown color in this picture accompanying the online recipe. I made the mistake of answering the phone while cooking and because I was cooking from my iPhone--at least that's where I pulled up the recipe--while talking to a client with a question, I was not doing a good job of reading the recipe. Hence the one tablespoon palm sugar, two teaspoons of tamarind paste ended up going in the pan as one teaspoon palm sugar, two TABLESPOONS of tamarind paste. Yikes--that's 3x more tamarind than called for! Just as I was lowering the second tablespoon into the coconut milk mixture, I thought 'Wow! That seems like a lot of tamarind...' and pulled back before the entire second spoonful went in. I'd say slightly more than double the amount called for still ended up in the pan and it showed in the absolutely unappealing dull brown color of the curry. It wasn't pretty. I probably should have taken a picture of it so you could truly see how ugly it was. Instead (as soon as I got off the phone), I went into recovery mode. 


Since I didn't have enough of some of the ingredients (or the inclination) to completely start over, I ladled out part of the ugly brown coconut milk and replaced with fresh. I also added a bit more of the cumin-coriander-turmeric mix. Better but still not great--about the color of dry hot chocolate mix. So as not to dilute flavor and spice too much, I added about 3/4-cup of canned diced tomatoes pureéd with a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste in the blender and I upped the palm sugar by another 1/2 tablespoon to compensate for the extra sourness of the tamarind. A much better color, and the flavor reminded me (positively) of the tamarind sauce on a fish dish I used to get from a local Malaysian restaurant. So, while not the dish that Diana and I had in mind, it was still an excellent curry and full of great flavor. Moral of the story--don't cook and answer complicated questions at the same time--at least not from the same smartphone! ;-)


Diana Henry says that this dish is "an aromatic fish curry that really is quick to make" and that any firm white  fish in season is suitable. I used a combination of local Mahi and Ono. I am printing the original recipe below with some small changes (reducing oil, adding green peas and topping with toasted coconut chips for texture) I made before the 'great tamarind incident'--noted in red below.  

Simple Goan Fish Curry
Adapted from Diana Henry via The Telegraph
(Serves 4)

4 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
4 dried red chilli peppers

a 2cm sq (3/4-inch) piece root ginger, peeled and grated
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp turmeric
2 Tbsp sunflower or rapeseed oil (I used 1 Tbsp used coconut oil)
1 onion, finely chopped
1 large plum tomato, finely chopped
1 (400ml/14 oz) tin coconut milk
1 Tbsp palm sugar (or soft light-brown sugar)
2 tsp tamarind paste
1 green chilli, halved, deseeded and finely sliced 

(I added 1 cup frozen green peas)
500g (1lb 2oz) firm white fish fillets, skin removed, cut into 3cm (1 1/4-inch)
chunks 
2 tbsp chopped coriander
(I added 2 Tbsp lightly toasted coconut pieces/chips)

Toast the coriander seeds, cumin and dried chilli peppers in a dry frying-pan for about a minute. Grind in a mini food processor or pestle and mortar, then mix in the ginger, garlic, turmeric and 1 tsp salt.

Heat the oil in a sauté pan over a medium heat, then add the onion and fry until soft and golden. Stir in the spice mix. Cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes, then add the tomato and cook until it has lost most of its moisture.

Add the coconut milk, sugar, tamarind and green chilli and bring to just under the boil. Immediately turn down the heat and simmer for about five minutes, until the sauce has thickened slightly. Taste for seasoning. Season the fish with salt, then add it to the sauce and simmer gently for about four minutes until the fish is cooked through. Check again for seasoning. Add the coriander and serve. 


Notes/Results: For the initial tamarind error and with all I did to try to fix the color and reduce some of the tangy tamarind taste, I was a little surprised that I liked this curry so much. Certainly the tamarind flavor is pronounced but I like it and the tomato puree added to the creaminess of the curry which was nice. The peas were a fast way to add a bit of color and sneak a veggie in there, and the coconut chips gave a little crunch--some chopped cashews or peanuts would be nice too. The local fish I used was firm but moist and the basmati rice I served with it was great for soaking up the spicy-sweet-sour curry sauce. Although I may still go back and try the recipe as Diana intended it at some point, I ended up happy with my dish.  


This post is linking up to I Heart Cooking Clubs where this week's theme is Along the Spice Trail--recipes that use exotic and aromatic spices. You can see what spice-filled dishes everyone made by checking out the picture links on the post.

 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "The Divorce Diet" by Ellen Hawley, Served with a Fried Egg Sandwich on Garlic Naan with Homemade Curry Ketchup

January, with all of those pesky resolutions means that everywhere you turn you see articles and television segments on the latest diets and eating plans. Luckily, "The Divorce Diet" is not a new diet or lifestyle book to add to the pile--it's a fun, foodie-friendly new novel by Ellen Hawley. I'm reviewing it today as a stop on the TLC Book Tour and serving it up with a scrumptious Fried Egg Sandwich on Garlic Naan and and recipe for Homemade Curry Ketchup.


Publisher's Blurb

The Divorce Diet is dedicated to every woman who ever walked away from a relationship—or a diet. 

Abigail, an inspired cook and stay-at-home mother, decides to repair the problems in her marriage with a diet book for herself and an elaborate birthday dinner for her husband. But over dinner her husband announces that the whole marriage thing just doesn’t work for him. Reeling, she packs up her baby, her cookbooks, and her single estate extra virgin olive oil and moves in with her parents while she looks for work and child care. 

Floundering and broke in this life she didn’t choose, she turns for guidance and emotional support to the internalized voice of her diet book, and it becomes her invisible guru. While she struggles to reconcile the joy she takes in cooking with the book’s joyless and increasingly bizarre recipes and her native good sense with its advice, she works her way from one underpaid job to the next, eats everything but what her diet book recommends, and swears to get her life in order before her daughter’s old enough to create long-term memories. 

Her diet book has promised to help her become the person she wants to be, but it’s only when she strikes out on her own that she figures out who that is.

Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Kensington (December 30, 2014)

It was a bad day to start a diet. When Thad, her jerk of a husband, tells her he doesn't want to be married Abigail takes baby Rosie and moves back home with her mom and dad. (Although personally I thought she should have ejected Thad from the house.) Abigail is twenty-five and without much job experience or marketable skills beyond the underground dinner party business she quit when she got married, so she pretty much hits rock bottom--financially and emotionally. The Divorce Diet follows Abigail's attempts to claw her way back up and out. The story is told in a diary-ish format, a mostly day-by-day account of Abigail's struggles with her new reality, her food and exercise journal, and her 'conversations' with her imaginary diet coach and weight-loss guru. I liked these little imaginary talks, they made me laugh--especially her snarky observations about food and dieting which were my favorite parts of the book. 

It did take me most of the book to warm up to Abigail as her immaturity drove me a bit nuts. Twenty-five is young, but not that young, and although I sympathized with Abigail and her plight (her husband truly was an ass), I wanted her to grow up. Her habit of needing to physically put her hand in front of her mouth to stop from interrupting when someone else was talking might be fine for a 5 to 8-year-old, but in an adult, it is darned annoying. It was about two-thirds of the way through the book that she began to look outside herself, gain some maturity, and start becoming appreciative of the good support she had in her parents and friend/daycare provider Dell. That's when she (stopped being that acquaintance that you try to avoid asking how they are doing because they will tell you in great detail and it's never good and) became truly likable. I did enjoy Abigail's relationship with her baby daughter Rosie and how much she cared about her throughout the story, and I liked her sense of humor--when she wasn't in the midst of her meltdowns or hand-over-mouth moments. The Divorce Diet is sometimes sad, often funny, and has a good heart. The last third of the story is what hooked me and had me rooting for Abigail. Readers of chick-lit, contemporary women's fiction fans, those fed up with dieting, and foodies with a sense of humor should enjoy it.

Author Notes: Ellen Hawley has published two previous novels, Open Line (Coffee House Press, 2008) and Trip Sheets (Milkweed Editions, 1998). She has worked as an editor and copy editor, a creative writing teacher, a talk show host, a cab driver, a waitress, an assembler, a janitor, a file clerk, and for four panic-filled hours a receptionist. She lived in Minnesota for forty years and now lives in Cornwall, where she feeds a blog—as well as two cats, one dog, one partner, and any friends who stop by. Awards include a Writer’s Voice Capricorn Award, a Minnesota State Arts Board Grant, and a Loft-McKnight Award.


There was plenty of food inspiration in the book--not all of it good. The diet meals in the Abigail's weight loss book are bad even before she puts her sarcastic spin on them. 

"For lunch I'm supposed to eat a "Skinnie Minnie' sandwich. This is a low calorie hot-dog bun filled with a half a cup of shredded zucchini and carrots, one slice of low-fat luncheon meat, and two ounces of shredded plastic, and topped with half a tablespoon of nonfat mayonnaise, half a tablespoon of nonfat plain yogurt, one set of quotation marks, and dashes of lemon juice, pepper, onion powder, and airplane glue. For dessert, I get one medium apple stem." 

There are the family dinners--stuffed pork chops, stew, pasta, etc. that she cooks for her parents, pancakes with blueberries, Thanksgiving dinner, and the recipes that Abigail develops for people who can't cook. A few actual recipes are given in the back of the book for readers who want to cook along--the Day 1 Chocolate Cake with crème de cassis and raspberry jam and garnished with white chocolate leaves and fresh raspberries, the Real Meatloaf with Ham and Cheese that Abigail makes for her parents, Chocolate Pie and Pavlova--with variations for simpler versions included. 
 

So many choices, but it was actually the mention of fried egg sandwiches with ketchup--"because what could be hipper than truck-stop food and irony?" that caught my eye. I don't think that I (or the world for that matter) eat enough fried egg sandwiches--so perfect when you don't have a lot of time to cook or lots of fancy ingredients sitting around the house. Since the only bread I had on hand was a leftover piece of garlic naan, I decided to go Indian-inspired with my sandwich and make some very simple curry ketchup for it. 

I am actually not a huge ketchup fan and if I am going to eat it I prefer it to be homemade. The curried ketchup below is adapted from a basic ketchup recipe from an agave cookbook I reviewed several years ago--quick to make and easily adapted to your tastes. I happen to love it with curry and garam masala. Beyond that, I simply toasted the naan in my grill pan, fried two eggs over easy in olive oil (sprinkling them with salt, pepper and a bit of Old Bay Seasoning), spread the curry ketchup on the naan, slid the eggs on top and sprinkled on a bit of fresh cilantro. Flavor and comfort. Messy to eat if you leave the yolks runny (a must in my book!) but well worth it. Make sure to dip/wipe up the extra yolk on the plate with the edges of the naan. ;-)


Curry Ketchup Recipe
Adapted from 'Delicious Meets Nutritious' Xagave Cookbook by Stephan Richards
(Makes about 1 1/2 cups)

2 (6 oz) cans natural tomato paste
1/2 cup water
2 Tbsp agave
2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
4 Tbsp white wine vinegar
sea salt to taste

Mix all ingredients in a blender jar and puree until smooth. Taste and season with salt if needed. Store, tightly covered in refrigerator--ketchup will keep for several weeks.


Notes/Results: A really great sandwich that will have to be added to my quick, comfort food meal rotation. The eggs were perfectly cooked--just runny enough--and the curry ketchup had the right amount of flavor and spice. You could certainly toss some veggies or greens on there if you have some, or serve with a salad or raw veggies. It made me happy---I'll make it again. ;-)


Note: A review copy of "The Divorce Diet" was provided to me by the publisher and TLC Book Tours in return for a fair and honest review. 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 the Book Tour and what other reviewer thought about the book here.