Monday, August 13, 2018

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "Between the Lies" by Cynthia A. Graham, Served with Fried Okra with Spicy Sriracha-Caper Sauce

It's Monday and for the first time in nine years I headed off to work at a 'regular' job. I've been freelancing as an HR and training consultant and working from home, clients' offices, and my satellite office in my neighborhood coffee shop, but I decided I wanted to work with a team again and work for a regular paycheck. I just took a position in training and development for a local company and I am excited about it, but I will miss the loss of freedom in scheduling and I know it will take some adjusting. Things, like book reviews and blog posts may not happen on time or as regularly, so please bear with me as I adjust. 

Speaking of book reviews, I am excited to be on the TLC Book Tour for Between the Lies by Cynthia A. Graham, the third book in the Hick Blackburn series, a historical mystery series set in Arkansas in 1954. Accompanying my review is some tasty Fried Okra with Spicy Sriracha-Caper Sauce, inspired by my reading.


Publisher's Blurb:

When the corrupt sheriff of Broken Creek, Arkansas detains a young black boy on charges of accidental homicide, his sister asks Hick Blackburn, Sheriff of Cherokee Crossing, to investigate. Hick is reluctant at first. Not only is Broken Creek out of his jurisdiction, but Hick and Sheriff Brewster have a history, and Hick knows Brewster won’t look kindly on his interference. But Hick quickly realizes the boy couldn’t have committed the crime. With the aid of a New York attorney trying to make a name for herself and a shy new deputy who knows the boy’s family, Hick uncovers a conspiracy that goes to the heart of local corruption, nepotism, and racism. But while Hick is working to free an innocent child in Broken Creek, his beloved Maggie, pregnant with their third child, faces challenges of her own back home. This time, will Hick’s dedication to justice extract too high a price?

Paperback: 220 pages
Publisher: Blank Slate Press (March 27, 2018)

My Review:

I am always amazed at the amount of story that Cynthia Graham fits into these short (220-ish pages) books, that satisfies but leaves me wanting more. Hick Blackburn is such a great character, a good, but not perfect man--sheriff, husband, father, friend, and WWII veteran, still troubled by the damages of war. Hick tries his best to do the right thing--even when it means sticking his nose into the policing going on in the next rural town when a corrupt sheriff (who Hick has dealt with before) is railroading a young black boy into a guilty plea for a murder he did not commit. I like Hick so much that I do want to knock the cigarettes he is constantly smoking out of his hands. ;-) The mystery in this third installment is as good as the first two books--there are twists and turns in the story and some tough issues--like racism, sexism, greed, and corruption that hit awfully close to today's headlines and had me shaking my head at how far we have not come. I did not love the ending and I won't say why for fear of spoilers--although there was enough foreshadowing that I had an idea what was coming and I so wanted to be wrong. I am interested to see what transpires in the next book and how it impacts the story and especially Hick's character. If you love good mysteries with well-drawn characters, southern-set books, and historical fiction and mysteries, do give this series a try and start with the first book, Beneath Still Waters (my review is here), you won't be disappointed.

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Author Notes: Cynthia A. Graham was born in St. Louis, Missouri. As a child she spent every weekend and vacation in the cotton belt of Missouri where she grew to love the mystery and beauty of the stark, Delta Plain. Cynthia graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Missouri – St. Louis with a B.A. in English. She has won several awards for her short stories and has been published in a number of anthologies. Between the Lies follows the first two books in her historical mystery series featuring Sheriff Hick Blackburn, Beneath Still Water and Behind Every Door, which both won IPPY and MIPA awards.

Connect with Cynthia via her website or on Twitter

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Food Inspiration:

These are short books that revolve around the solving of a crime so there isn't what I would call a lot of food in them. Still, I was able to find some food and beverage mentions including a chicken leg, oatmeal, pork and beans, barbecued pork, diner coffee, moonshine, fried eggs and bacon, watermelon, potatoes, iced tea, fried chicken, fried okra, a tomato juice-based hangover cure, pork chops, cheese sandwiches, scrambled eggs and Cornflakes.


Since I don't eat meat or poultry, most of the food mentioned isn't something I wanted to make but the fried okra, served at a Sunday family dinner at Hick's was something I could get behind. I have made fried okra before (check out this vegan version here) but I didn't have any wheat flour and cornmeal in my pantry. I was going to buy some when I saw McCormick's Cajun Seafood Fry Mix that I have used before and it was cheaper and faster than restocking my pantry with items I don't use a lot. I added some Old Bay Seasoning and cayenne to the mix and dredged the okra pieces in beaten egg before frying them in canola oil until light brown and crispy. I did make the dipping sauce myself. It's not southern or traditional, but it is delicious.


Spicy Sriracha-Caper Sauce
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes 1/2 cup)

1/2 cup mayonaise, yogurt or a combination of the two
1 1/2 Tbsp Sriracha, or to taste
1 Tbsp capers, drained + 2 tsp caper brine
1 tsp garlic powder (I use roasted garlic powder)
1/2 tsp Old Bay Seasoning 
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl. Use as a dip for okra.


Notes/Results: I confess that I find okra's sliminess to be a bit off-putting but I do like it fried or pickled as both preparations temper the sliminess. This okra had a great blend of flavor and just enough heat with the cayenne and Old Bay I added to the fry mix. The dipping sauce adds both flavor and an extra kick that makes popping these little fried morsels a pleasure. I will happily make both the sauce and the okra again.


I'm sharing this post with the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.



Note: A review copy of "Between the Lies" 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 what other reviewers thought about the book here.
 

 

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Giada's Italian Vichyssoise for Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

There's only so many days of summer left so time to get out those last cold soups of summer like this Italian Vichyssoise by Giada De Laurentiis from Food Network. 


I like the addition of the arugula to the vichyssoise and the mascarpone, but since I didn't have mascarpone readily available, I decided to use Tofutti Better Than Sour Cream, that is also thick and creamy and since I subbed in veggie stock too, it makes this creamy soup vegan. I also used watercress in place of the arugula--it looked fresher. I didn't make the croutons in Giada's recipe as I am currently avoiding bread, but did keep the grape tomatoes to garnish. Finally, I only pureed about 2/3 of the soup to leave a little texture. My changes to the recipe are in red below.
  

Italian Vichyssoise
Slightly Adpated from Giada De Laurentiis via FoodNetwork.com
(Serves 4)

3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil (I used 2 Tbsp)
2 large or 4 small shallots, thinly sliced
3/4 tsp salt (or to taste--I used less)
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper, plus extra for seasoning
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 lbs (about 2 medium) russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth (I used veggie broth)
1 cup arugula (I used watercress)
1/2 cup mascarpone, at room temperature (I used Tofutti Better Than Sour Cream)

Croutons:
2 (1/2-inch thick) slices sourdough or multi-grain bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp kosher salt
8 cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered

For the Soup: In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until tender, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Add the potatoes, chicken broth, and arugula. Bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until the potatoes are very tender, about 15 minutes. In batches, ladle the mixture into a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. (Note: I blended about 2/3 of the soup rather than all of it.) Return the soup to the saucepan and whisk in the cheese, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Let the soup cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour until ready to serve. Before serving, adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, to taste.
  
For the Croutons: Place an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

In a small bowl, toss together the bread, oil, and salt until coated. Spread in a single layer on a small baking sheet. Bake until golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes.

To serve: Ladle the soup into small bowls. Garnish with croutons and cherry tomatoes.
 

Notes/Results: A simple potato soup that works hot or cold and is elevated by the peppery flavor of the watercress and the richness of the mascarpone--or in this case, tofu-based sour cream. I like the changes I made to the recipe but I am sure Giada's version is great too. I ate a small bowl of it warm and then a second bowl after it chilled and liked it both ways. I would make it again.
  

Linking up at I Heart Cooking Clubs where this week's theme is our August Monthly Ingredient/Dish Challenge--Chilly Delights--cold and tasty recipes recipes from our current or previous IHCC chefs.  

 
Lets take a look into the Souper Sundays kitchen and see who is here.



Tina of Squirrel Head Manor shared her lunch of Turkey Guacamole Salad and said, "When Doug travels I usually eat lunch in my office and read. This isn't the best photo and I wish I'd taken a snap prior to mixing it all up so you could see the yummy bits.  We have butter lettuce, fresh tomatoes, red onion, cucumbers, hard boiled egg, blue cheese crumbles, turkey and guacamole.  It's a hearty enough lunch and I can sit and read on my Kindle instead of fielding questions about why I'm eating alone in the break room."

 
Judee of Gluten Free A-Z Blog shared this tasty Spiralized Vegetable Salad with Zucchini and Beets and said, "Looking for a creative way to serve your vegetables?  Spiralize them and make them into a salad. I spiralized zucchini and beets for this colorful salad and placed them over fresh spinach leaves. The flavors mingled beautifully, and it was light and easy to eat."

 
Mahalo, Tina and Judee--for joining in this week!
 
About Souper Sundays:

Souper Sundays (going since 2008) now has a format of a picture link each week where anyone interested can post their soups, salads, or sandwiches at any time during the week and I post a recap of the entries the following week.

(If you aren't familiar with Souper Sundays, you can read about of the origins of it here.
 

If you would like to join in Souper (Soup, Salad, and Sammie) Sundays, I would love to have you! Here's how...

To join in this week's Souper Sunday's linkup with your soup, salad or sandwich:


  • Link up your soup (stew, chili, soupy curries, etc. are fine), salad, or sandwich dish, (preferably one from the current week or month--but we'll take older posts too) on the picture link below and leave a comment on this post so I am sure not to miss you. Also please see below for what to do on your blog post that you link up her in order to be included in the weekly round-up.
and 

On your entry post (on your blog):
  • Mention Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammies) Sundays at Kahakai Kitchen and link back to this post. (Not to be a pain but it's polite and only fair to link back to events you link up at--so if you link a post up here without linking back to it on your post, it will be removed.)
  • You are welcome to add the Souper Sundays logo to your post and/or blog (optional).




Have a happy, healthy week!
 

Friday, August 10, 2018

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "The Daisy Children" by Sofia Grant, Served with a Recipe for (Addicting) Pimento Cheese Deviled Eggs

It's Friday and if that isn't reason enough to be happy, I have a book review and a tasty appetizer/snack to share with you. I'm today's stop on the TLC Book Tour for The Daisy Children by Sofia Grant. Accompanying my review is a recipe for some tasty Pimento Cheese Deviled Eggs that were inspired by my reading.


Publisher's Blurb: 

Inspired by true events, in Sofia Grant’s powerfully moving new novel a young woman peels back the layers of her family’s history, discovering a tragedy in the past that explains so much of the present. This unforgettable story is one of hope, healing, and the discovery of truth.

Sometimes the untold stories of the past are the ones we need to hear…

When Katie Garrett gets the unexpected news that she’s received an inheritance from the grandmother she hardly knew, it couldn’t have come at a better time. She flees Boston—and her increasingly estranged husband—and travels to rural Texas.

There, she’s greeted by her distant cousin Scarlett. Friendly, flamboyant, eternally optimistic, Scarlett couldn’t be more different from sensible Katie. And as they begin the task of sorting through their grandmother’s possessions, they discover letters and photographs that uncover the hidden truths about their shared history, and the long-forgotten tragedy of the New London school explosion of 1937 that binds them.

Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (August 7, 2018)


My Review:

I had not heard of the the New London School explosion, the incident that sparked Sofia Grant to write this book and real life incident that occurred in 1937 when a gas leak caused an explosion in a school in New London, Texas where more than 295 children and teachers died. The explosion serves as a backdrop to The Daisy Children, told from primarily two points of view--Margaret Pierson, born after the explosion and one of the "Daisy Children" (a group of children conceived after their parents lost a child--or lost children--in the school explosion and assuaged their grief by having more children) and Katie Garrett, Margaret's granddaughter. Margaret's chapters start in 1948 and continue throughout her life and Katie's chapters are set in present day, after she learns Margaret has left her something in her will and ventures from Boston to Texas to find out about her inheritance. Katie is facing challenges in her personal life--trying to have a child, losing her job, and growing apart from her husband, Liam. Surprised at receiving something from a grandmother she met only once, Katie plans to find out what Margaret left her and then spend some time with her mother, Caroline. Instead, big bumps in her travel plans have her looking up a cousin she has never met on Facebook and Scarlett (sort of) comes to her rescue. Katie and Scarlett start building a family relationship while sorting the contents of Margaret's house and finding some long-buried family secrets. 

This is my first book by Sofia Grant, although her first novel The Dress in the Window is on my TBR list. I enjoyed how she wove a lessor known/remembered and tragic part of American history into a story about family--mother and daughters, secrets, drama, estrangement and relationships. Margaret has a contentious relationship with her mother, Caroline and then an even worse one with her daughter Georgina, (Katie's mom) and Georgina and Katie's relationship is often tense. Katie and Scarlett are likable, thankfully because Margaret, Caroline, and Georgina are mostly...not...although as the stories unfold, I gained some understanding and sympathy towards them. Imagine being Margaret and feeling like you will never be loved as much as the sister who was killed and that you replaced. In addition to the family drama there is some romance--which seemed a bit quick to me given the circumstances--but did have its charms. Although I preferred Katie and Scarlett as characters, Margaret's story and the story of the explosion and the aftermath were interesting and absorbing and kept me turning the pages--as well as had me searching online for more about the history of the tragic event. To lose so many people, especially children, in what is the deadliest school disaster in American history is unimaginable--but even though it is a key part of the book, it doesn't bring down the ultimately hopeful tone of The Daisy Children. I found the book enjoyable and engaging and if you like historical fiction, women's fiction, and books about family drama and secrets, you will likely enjoy it too.

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Author Notes: Sofia Grant has the heart of a homemaker, the curiosity of a cat, and the keen eye of a scout. She works from an urban aerie in Oakland, California.
 
Find out more about Sofia at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.





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Food Inspiration: 

There was a fair amount of food to be found in The Daisy Children including Thai food (mee krob--crisp noodles), sizzling rice soup, shortbread, bourbon, Gorgonzola mini quiches, shrimp, deviled eggs, onions rings, whiskey and mulled wine, potato salad, casserole, sheet cake, lemonade, sandwiches and cookies, chiffon cake, Texas Punch in a bottle, Starbucks, salad, a chicken sandwich, stew, orange blossom tea, a junk food assortment of Men's Health Nuts, Flamin' Hot Cheetos and Cheese and Peanut Butter Crackers, Lays Chips, and rainbow sherbet, Big Red Soda, iced tea, American cheese, apples, Cliff Bars and fried chicken, buttermilk cake, beans and cornbread, omelets, breakfast quesadillas of sausage and bacon and egg, chestnut dressing, roast, taffy apples, ribs and hamburgers, vodka, brisket, fish sticks and frozen mixed vegetables, Chicken Divan with Mornay sauce, ginger ale, Burmese food, beer, olives and Triscuits, gruel, a cocktail called a "Bend Over Shirley" (raspberry vodka, Sprite and Grenadine), bacon, lobster, a martini, pimento cheese sandwiches with the crusts not cut off, iced petits fours, broccoli and cheese quiches, a dish called Thrifty Tetrazzini, pimentos, chips, pizza, Sloppy Joes, salad and brownies, cinnamon rolls and fruit, and all you can eat crawdads.


For my book-inspired dish I thought about trying to create the Bend Over Shirley cocktail for fun, but instead I started thinking about the deviled eggs, mentioned as being popular at a party and pimento cheese (mentioned in sandwiches at another party). I didn't want sandwiches and started thinking about putting pimento cheese in deviled eggs. Apparently I am not the first as I Googled it and several recipes came up. I blended one from Good Housekeeping magazine with a pimento cheese recipe from Quick Fix Southern that is simple and I like to use it when I want pimento cheese for things like this and this and added a few of my own touches. I just made six eggs worth although I put the recipe for 12 eggs below.


Pimento Cheese Deviled Eggs
Inspired by Good Housekeeping 
(Yields 12)

12 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and sliced in half, length-wise, yolks removed
2 heaping tablespoons pimentos, drained well and coarsely chopped
1 green onion, white & green parts finely chopped (reserve some to garnish)
1/2 cup extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1/3 cup mayonnaise or drained yogurt
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp Tabasco, or to taste
1/4 tsp smoked paprika or Old Bay Seasoning + more to garnish
sea salt and black pepper to taste

In a medium mixing bowl, mash egg yolks and add pimentos, green onion, cheese,  mayonnaise, Worcestershire, Tabasco, and paprika and gently mix together. Season to taste with sea salt and black pepper. 

Spoon into egg whites and garnish with a little green onion and a sprinkling of smoked paprika or Old Bay seasoning. Serve and enjoy.


Notes/Results: OK, pimento cheese is one of those guilty pleasure things that you think you should not like (cheese & mayo with pimento?!) but in practice is delicious and only gets better when it fills a deviled egg. I made a half batch of these which was probably a good thing because all I wanted to do was eat them. I think they would be easily addicting. I used a smoked sharp cheddar and that made them even better with the smoky edge. I am all for a classic deviled egg, but experimenting is fun--so if you like to shake up your deviled egg game too, definitely try these. I will happily make them  again.


I'm sharing this post with the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.


Note: A review copy of "The Last Thing I Told You" was provided to me by the author and the publisher, Harper Collins, 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 what other reviewers thought about the book here.
 

  Happy Aloha Friday!
 

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Red Curry Vegetable & Cauliflower Rice Soup with Crispy Hoisin-Sesame Tofu for Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

Sometimes soup inspiration just strikes. I made this delicious Bengali Fish Curry earlier in week. I was heating up the leftovers and decided to dump the remains of a can of coconut milk into it. As I was enjoying the soupy curry with cauliflower rice, I thought about what a great soup it would make. 


At first I decided to make a vegan chicken cauliflower rice soup, but then I decided to use up some red curry paste and a bunch of summer veggies (zucchini, red pepper, tomatoes, eggplant, carrot, onion and snow peas) lurking in my fridge. Wanting to add protein, I made a variation to Chloe Coscarelli's Crispy Hoisin Tofu from her Vegan Ramen Bowl, and thus my Red Curry Vegetable & Cauliflower Rice Soup with Crispy Hoisin-Seasame Tofu was born.


Red Curry Vegetable & Cauliflower Rice Soup with Crispy Hoisin-Seasame Tofu
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Serve 4 to 5

1 Tbsp coconut oil or oil of choice
3 Tbsp red curry paste, or to taste 
2 lemongrass stalks, stalks trimmed and bruised
4 to 5 kaffir lime leaves, torn
1/2 sweet onion, sliced thinly
1 red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1 medium zucchini, chopped
1 Japanese eggplant, halved and sliced
1 carrot, thinly sliced 
1 red jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely diced
1/2 Tbsp ginger, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups low-sodium vegetable stock of choice
2 tsp low-sodium tamari or soy sauce, or to taste

3-4 cups riced cauliflower
1 large handful snow peas, ends trimmed and cut into thirds
2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 can (15 oz) coconut milk
fresh lime juice

To Serve: Crispy Hoisin-Sesame Tofu (recipe below), pea shoots, chopped green onion, Thai basil leaves, and lime wedges, as desired  

Heat a large soup pot over medium high heat and add coconut oil and red curry paste, cooking for a couple of minutes to release the flavors. Add the lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and onions and saute for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the red bell pepper, zucchini, eggplant, carrot, ginger, and garlic and saute for another 3 to 4 minutes.

Add the broth and tamari and bring soup to a slow roiling boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the riced cauliflower, snow peas and coconut milk and simmer about 5 minutes until snow peas are tender crisp. Taste and add salt, or other seasoning (such as lime juice) as needed or desired.

To Serve: Ladle Soup into large bowls and top with Crispy Hoisin-Sesame Tofu, green onion, pea shoots, and Thai basil leaves as desired and serve with fresh lime wedges. Enjoy!

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Crispy Hoisin-Sesame Tofu 
Slightly Adapted from by Chloe Flavor by Chloe Coscarelli
(Serves 4)

2 Tbsp coconut oil
1 (16 oz) package extra-firm tofu, pressed (see note below) and cubed
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
1 Tbsp low-sodium tamari or soy sauce
1 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds

Heat \the oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil shimmers, add the tofu and sear for about 3 minutes per side, until it turns golden and crispy. (Chloe says the key to crispy tofu it not to flip them over too soon--to let them get nicely brown before turning them over.) Add more oil as needed if the pan looks dry. Add the hoisin sauce, tamari, and sesame seeds, reduce the heat to low and turn the tofu to coat it evenly.


Notes/Results: This bowl of soup with its Asian-inspired flavors really hit the spot. The cauliflower rice is a great, lower calorie and carb substitute to real rice and the tofu adds the right amount of chewy, meaty texture and flavor. I made this one vegan with veggies I had on hand and like, but you can adjust it easily with whatever you like--adding fewer or more ingredients and a different protein if you like. The red curry paste I use has a medium spice and with the jalapeno, it was the right heat level for me, but you can add more heat to the soup--or serve it with chili paste or sriracha if you like a bigger kick of spice. One note about the tofu--it is REALLY good and so I recommend making extra as like me, you may find your self noshing on it as you cook. I will happily make this soup again and will experiment with more cauliflower rice in soups. 


Lets take a look into the Souper Sundays kitchen.


Debra of Eliot's Eats is here with Raw Butternut Squash Salad with Ginger & Raisins, She says, "I bragged during last month’s “In My Kitchen” about my beautiful squash plant and how it was loaded with lovely butternuts. Seriously, it wasn’t two days after that post that the entire vine withered away and died. (Squash bugs, perhaps?) Anywhoo, I was able to salvage half a dozen squashes. When I think of butternut squash, I think of fall….nice gratins, creamy soups, delicious pies and muffins. Definitely not salads. I wondered if you could eat it raw and after a couple of searches I came across some delicious sounding recipes: Raw Butternut Squash Salad with Ginger and Raisins by Mark Bittman and Fresh Butternut Squash Salad with prosciutto, Parmesan and walnuts by Marc Meyer.  Although I have to admit that the latter one sounded more delicious, I had everything to make the former one. So, Raw Butternut Squash Salad with Ginger it was."
 
 
Mahalo, Debra--for joining in this week!
 
About Souper Sundays:

Souper Sundays (going since 2008) now has a format of a picture link each week where anyone interested can post their soups, salads, or sandwiches at any time during the week and I post a recap of the entries the following week.

(If you aren't familiar with Souper Sundays, you can read about of the origins of it here.
 

If you would like to join in Souper (Soup, Salad, and Sammie) Sundays, I would love to have you! Here's how...

To join in this week's Souper Sunday's linkup with your soup, salad or sandwich:

  • Link up your soup (stew, chili, soupy curries, etc. are fine), salad, or sandwich dish, (preferably one from the current week or month--but we'll take older posts too) on the picture link below and leave a comment on this post so I am sure not to miss you. Also please see below for what to do on your blog post that you link up her in order to be included in the weekly round-up.
and 

On your entry post (on your blog):
  • Mention Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammies) Sundays at Kahakai Kitchen and link back to this post. (Not to be a pain but it's polite and only fair to link back to events you link up at--so if you link a post up here without linking back to it on your post, it will be removed.)
  • You are welcome to add the Souper Sundays logo to your post and/or blog (optional).

 
Have a happy, healthy week!




Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "America for Beginners" by Leah Franqui, Served with a Recipe for Bengali Fish Curry

Happy Wednesday and August 1st. Where did July go?! I swear it just started. To kick off August on a bright note, I'm very happy to be today's TLC Book Tour stop for America for Beginners, a new debut novel by Leah Franqui. Accompanying my review is a recipe for a simple and tasty Bengali Fish Curry that was inspired by the book.  


Publisher's Blurb:

Recalling contemporary classics such as Americanah, Behold the Dreamers, and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, a funny, poignant, and insightful debut novel that explores the complexities of family, immigration, prejudice, and the American Dream through meaningful and unlikely friendships forged in unusual circumstances.

Pival Sengupta has done something she never expected: she has booked a trip with the First Class India USA Destination Vacation Tour Company. But unlike other upper-class Indians on a foreign holiday, the recently widowed Pival is not interested in sightseeing. She is traveling thousands of miles from Kolkota to New York on a cross-country journey to California, where she hopes to uncover the truth about her beloved son, Rahi. A year ago Rahi devastated his very traditional parents when he told them he was gay. Then, Pival’s husband, Ram, told her that their son had died suddenly—heartbreaking news she still refuses to accept. Now, with Ram gone, she is going to America to find Rahi, alive and whole or dead and gone, and come to terms with her own life.

Arriving in New York, the tour proves to be more complicated than anticipated. Planned by the company’s indefatigable owner, Ronnie Munshi—a hard-working immigrant and entrepreneur hungry for his own taste of the American dream—it is a work of haphazard improvisation. Pival’s guide is the company’s new hire, the guileless and wonderfully resourceful Satya, who has been in America for one year—and has never actually left the five boroughs. For modesty’s sake Pival and Satya will be accompanied by Rebecca Elliot, an aspiring young actress. Eager for a paying gig, she’s along for the ride, because how hard can a two-week “working” vacation traveling across America be?

Slowly making her way from coast to coast with her unlikely companions, Pival finds that her understanding of her son—and her hopes of a reunion with him—are challenged by her growing knowledge of his adoptive country. As the bonds between this odd trio deepens, Pival, Satya, and Rebecca learn to see America—and themselves—in different and profound new ways.

A bittersweet and bighearted tale of forgiveness, hope, and acceptance, America for Beginners illuminates the unexpected enchantments life can hold, and reminds us that our most precious connections aren’t always the ones we seek.

Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: William Morrow (July 24, 2018)


My Review: 

I'll just start with how much I enjoyed this book and Franqui's writing. It's her debut novel which left me a bit surprised at how skillfully she introduced, and had me quickly caring about its three quirky characters. Pival Sengupta recently lost her husband Ram, and is experiencing a bit of freedom from her bad marriage and cruel and verbally abusive husband with a journey from Kolkata, India to New York. Pival's trip is to find out what happened with her son, Rahi, who her husband disowned when he moved to America and then came out as gay. A phone call before his death has Ram abruptly telling Pival that their son has died, and she doesn't quite believe him. She intends to travel cross-country from New York to Los Angeles to find out--if he's alive, she'll bring him back to India and get him back on track, if he is dead, she will join him. Of course Pival doesn't state her reason for coming to America when she books the tour with Ronnie, a Bangladeshi immigrant whose company caters to rich Indians while hiding his background and ethnicity from them. Pival's guide for her trip is Satya, a young Bangladeshi immigrant working for the tour company, who has secrets of his own. For propriety, Ronnie hires a young actress, Rebecca (working several jobs while awaiting her big acting break), to travel with Pival and Satya. The trio goes from New York and Niagara Falls to Philadelphia, Washington DC, New Orleans, Phoenix, Las Vegas and finally, Los Angeles as Pival builds her courage to confront her son and/or the man who "corrupted" him. The trip challenges this unlikely trio in different ways, opening their eyes not just to America but to their own lives, thoughts, assumptions and prejudices. 

The book alternates the three main characters telling their stories with the story of Pival's son and his partner, and also tour company owner Ronnie's perspective. That Franqui manages these shifting perspectives in a smooth way that allows each character to shine, makes America for Beginners a pleasure to read. It had me smiling, chuckling, shaking my head, and tearing up at this unusual road trip story and I was sorry to see it end. A favorite for July and for the year.

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Author Notes: Leah Franqui is a graduate of Yale University and received an MFA at NYU-Tisch. She is a playwright and the recipient of the 2013 Goldberg Playwriting Award, and also wrote a web series for which she received the Alfred Sloan Foundation Screenwriting award (aftereverafterwebseries.com). A Puerto Rican-Jewish Philadelphia native, Franqui lives with her Kolkata-born husband in Mumbai. America for Beginners is her first novel.

Find out more about Franqui at her website, and connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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Food Inspiration:

Although much of the food consumed in America for Beginners seems to be mediocre American and/or Bangladeshi-American versions of Indian dishes, there was plenty of food to be found including fish curries, coconut mutton chops, kebabs, dal, naan and roti breads, butter chicken, yogurt, papaya salad, tea and biscuits, Chinese food--including moo shou chicken, sweet bean buns and pork dishes from a noodle house, cheesecake, hot dogs, chicken and rice, popcorn, egg sandwiches with turkey bacon, and "authentic" New York pizza. There was also sushi and tempura, Mexican takeout, chai, Alphonso mangoes, a Thai food dinner of red curry with tofu, veggie spring rolls and veggie pad Thai and white wine, aloo gobi, chicken tikka, omelet with green chiles and garlic, tandori chicken, pasta with cheese, eggs scrambled with lentils, beignets in New Orleans, samosas, rice, oolong tea, croissants, coffee and scones, sag paneer, chana masala, gumbo, spicy corn and mushroom tacos, cold brew coffee, kombucha, and fish baked in mustard. 


Plenty of dishes would have matched well for the book, but there were several mentions of Bengali fish curries like those that Pival's cook made for her at home in Kolkata--the capital of West Bengal. The description of the mustard-scented fish and the mustard oil used had me intrigued and hungry, so I decided to make a Bengali Fish Curry for my book-inspired dish. Timing being what it was, I looked online for recipes rather than consulting my Indian cookbooks and found one that sounded both easy and good from the BBC Food website from a show called The Hairy Bikers. How could I resist that show title? Plus, it utilized ingredients I had and didn't make me drive into town for mustard oil from the Indian market--something I just didn't have time for this week. So I won't speculate on how authentic and traditional this recipe is, but it served my purpose well. Speaking of not authentic, I replaced the traditional rice with cauliflower rice--quick and easy from the microwave.   


The Hairy Bikers say, "This recipe is traditionally made with mustard oil but we’ve found that a combination of mustard seeds and English mustard powder brings just the right level of heat and flavour to this simple dish." {Deb says, I made a couple of small changes to the recipe--using local Kajiki fish (Hawaiian blue marlin which is firm and mild and looked good at the fish counter), seeding my green chilies (I like mild to medium spice), and using all yellow/brown mustard seeds & black cumin seeds as I had them on hand. My changes are in red below.}  
 

Bengali Fish Curry
Slightly Adapted from The Hairy Bikers via BBCFood.com
(Serves 2)

2 sea bass or sea bream fillets (each about 7oz), scales removed but skin on (I used skinless Kajiki--Hawaiian Blue Marlin)
1 tsp flaked sea salt, plus extra to season
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 1/2 tsp English mustard powder
freshly ground black pepper
4 Tbsp sunflower oil (I used coconut oil)
1 heaped tsp yellow mustard seeds
3/4 tsp black mustard seeds
3/4 tsp cumin seeds
1 medium onion, finely sliced
2 long green chillies, stalk trimmed and cut in half without deseeding (I deseeded mine)
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp garam masala
5 1/2 oz ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
rice (I used cauliflower rice) to serve

Cut the fish fillets into roughly 7cm/3in wide strips. Put in a bowl and toss with the salt, cayenne pepper, half a teaspoon of the mustard powder and lots of freshly ground black pepper.

Mix the remaining mustard powder with 300ml/10fl oz water, adding it gradually and stirring constantly until you have thin yellow liquid. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan and fry the fish over a high heat, skin-side down for a minute, or until the skin begins to crisp. Carefully turn over and cook on the other side for a further minute. Take the fish out of the pan and put on a plate. (Don’t let the fish get crowded in the pan or they will be difficult to turn. If your pan isn’t large enough, cook the fish in two batches instead. It’s nice to have the skin on the fish but you can easily remove it after frying if you prefer.)

As soon as the fish is cooked, return the pan to the heat and add both the mustard seeds and cumin seeds. Cook for a few seconds, stirring constantly. Add the sliced onion, chillies and bay leaf. Cook for about five minutes, stirring constantly, until the onion is softened and pale golden-brown. Make sure you cook with the extractor on full-speed as the spices could make you sneeze! Sprinkle over the turmeric and garam masala, add the chopped tomatoes and cook for two minutes more, stirring constantly.

Stir in the reserved mustard liquid and bring to a simmer. Cook for three minutes, or until the sauce has thickened and the volume of liquid has reduced by approximately one-third. The spices should have mellowed and the sauce should coat the back of a spoon. Return the fish to the pan and warm through in the bubbling sauce for two minutes until hot.
 
Cooking Notes: This is a light tasting curry but don’t reduce the amount of oil in the recipe as you need it to help thicken the sauce. Any fish fillets can be used or make it with fish steaks instead – as they often do in India - but you’ll need to increase the cooking time accordingly.


Notes/Results: I really enjoyed this curry--it was spicy but not alarmingly so (I am glad I de-seeded my chili peppers), with lots of flavor and freshness. I liked the mustard flavor in it and how it worked with the cayenne, turmeric and garam masala to make this curry different from many others I have tried. The fish is fried and then warmed back up in the curry before serving--which worked well with the firm kajiki that I used. The fish curry went well with the herbed cauliflower rice for a pretty quick and simple dinner. I'm glad I have another serving for tonight and I will happily make this again.


I'm sharing this post with the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.

Note: A review copy of "America for Beginners" was provided to me by the author and the publisher, Harper Collins, 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 what other reviewers thought about the book here.