Showing posts with label salads. Show all posts
Showing posts with label salads. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Book Tour Stops Here: "Delicious" A Novel by Ruth Reichl (+ Book Giveaway!) with a Massaged Kale Salad with Currants, Pine Nuts & Parmesan

Well written food descriptions are what gets my heart (and my salivary glands) going--just as much if not more than a beautiful photo or an enticing aroma. I gravitate most towards cookbooks or online posts that talk about the recipes--the background, the history, the details that make it special. Ruth Reichl, food critic, author, former editor-and-chief of the much-missed Gourmet magazine is the master of writing inspiring descriptions of food, whether it be for a cookbook, a memoir or now in her new novel, Delicious. In this novel, Ruth spins the story of Billie, a lapsed cook and wanna-be food writer with an amazing palate, exploring New York City and a foodie mystery she stumbles upon involving a WWII correspondence between famed chef and author James Beard and Lulu, a precocious young girl.     

Publisher's Blurb:
"In her New York Times bestselling memoirs Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me with Apples, Ruth Reichl has brilliantly illuminated how food defines us. Now she celebrates this theme in her dazzling fiction debut—a novel of sisters, family ties, and a young woman who must find the courage to let go of the past in order to embrace her own true gifts.

Billie Breslin has traveled far from her California home to take a job at Delicious!, the most iconic food magazine in New York and, thus, the world. When the publication is summarily shut down, the colorful staff, who have become an extended family for Billie, must pick up their lives and move on. Not Billie, though. She is offered a new job: staying behind in the magazine’s deserted downtown mansion offices to uphold the “Delicious Guarantee” –a public relations hotline for complaints and recipe inquiries–until further notice. What she doesn’t know is that this boring, lonely job will be the portal to a life-changing discovery." 

Delicious is an apt title for this novel, Reichl's vivid writing makes food front and center of this book, but it also has a sweet and interesting story to go along with it. There is a lot going on in the story. Along with the food, food writing, and the folding food magazine, there is the mystery around the files and letters Billie stumbles across in a hidden room in the magazine's locked library, what war time was like for a young girl, and Billie's own struggles to find her way in the world and come out from behind the shadow of her 'perfect' older sister. There are plenty of eccentric characters to keep track of, a romance, American history, and even some architectural facts and tidbits about old New York thrown in. It is ambitious, but Reichl manages to keep it all together and to create characters that were likable and easy to root for (even if I was a bit jealous about Billie's amazing palate and her ability to guess the obscure ingredients in every dish). Lulu's letters were a joy to read and I also especially liked Billie's 'adventures' manning the complaint line for the magazine (funny) and learning about the treatment and discrimination of Italian-Americans during WWII (sad, and something I had never really heard or thought about before). Reichl mentions in the afterward of the book that she spent a long time writing it and you can see the amount of research she put into this novel. A Reichl fan already, I found myself charmed by the story and looking forward to her next book--in any genre she wants to write it in. My fellow Reichl fans, foodies, and lovers of foodie fiction and history will enjoy this book (And you can enter to win a copy of your own below!)

Author Notes: Ruth Reichl was born and raised in Greenwich Village. She wrote her first cookbook at twenty-one, and went on to be the restaurant critic of both the Los Angeles Times  and The New York Times.  She was editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine for ten years. She now lives with her husband in upstate New York.

Obviously finding food inspiration for a dish representing the book was not difficult--there is a constant parade of mouthwatering dishes and interesting ingredients. From Billie's Gingerbread Cake (the recipe is included at the back of the book) to Sal's meats and cheeses and Rosalie homemade mozzarella at Fontanari's, to the Italian food and wartime ration-friendly recipes described in Lulu's letters, to the various concoctions Billie's friends and Delicious co-workers whip up, food is like its own character in this book. In the end, I went with a simple kale salad, made by Thursday at The Pig, a hangout for Billie and the others after reading the description. 

"Maggie had eaten most of the oysters, and now she moved on to the salad, one of Thursday's more inspired creations. She'd shredded kale into confetti and tossed it with sweet little currants and richly toasted pine nuts. Mixed with lemon juice and oil, and laced with grated Parmesan, it was an incredible concoction. Maggie put a forkful in her mouth and paused to appreciate it."  --Delicious, Ruth Reichl  

I love a good kale salad and this one sounded like an excellent combination. It didn't say that Thursday 'massaged' her kale, but to me it is what turns a good kale salad into a great one--working the dressing into the kale, softening the harder leaves and filling them with flavor. My take on Thursday's kale salad is below. 

Massaged Kale Salad with Currants, Pine Nuts & Parmesan
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen Inspired/Adapted from Delicious by Ruth Reichel
(Serves 2--or 1 person who can't stop eating it!)

2 medium bunches kale (I used 1 bunch local lacinato kale + a small bag of baby kale), washed, dried, leaves stripped from stems and cut into thin ribbons
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced/crushed
a pinch of sea salt and black pepper to taste
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/4 cup currants 
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded

Place kale ribbons in a large bowl. Mix together olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt & pepper and pour over kale. Using clean hands, gently but firmly massage and crush the greens to work in the dressing for about 5 minutes or until the volume of the kale is reduced by about half and greens are dark and shiny. Toss massaged kale with toasted pine nuts, currants and cheese. Serve and enjoy!

Notes/Results: This was just a scrumptious salad--tender ribbons of massaged kale with little bursts of the sweet currants, the buttery crunch of the pine nuts, and the slightly salty Parmesan shreds. To tell you how much I liked it, I intended to eat just a serving with a leftover slice of spinach-mushroom-garlic pizza leftover from lunch but instead, I ended up eating a big bowl of the salad and ignoring the pizza. This one is a keeper--I'll definitely make it again.  

***Book Giveaway!***

The only thing better than reading a great foodie book is being able to give a copy to someone else to enjoy! The publisher is giving me the opportunity to give a copy of Delicious to one lucky reader.

To enter to win--just leave a comment on this post telling me about your favorite (or a favorite) spice and why you love it. Leave your comment (+ a way to contact you please) no later than 11:59 PM (Hawaii Time) on Tuesday, May 6th. One winner will be drawn from all applicable entries and announced on this blog. You must be in the U.S. or Canada to win.  

(Update: The giveaway is now closed and the winner is Debra of Eliot's Eats. Congrats Debra!)

Note: A review copy of "Delicious" and a copy to give away to one of my blog readers were provided 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 readers thought about the book here.


Monday, April 28, 2014

Noodly Veggie Rolls with Spicy 'Sacred Peach' Dipping Sauce for Food 'N Flix April: "Kung Fu Panda"

This month our Food 'N Flix pick is the 2008 animated film Kung Fu Panda, hosted by the events founder, Heather of girlichef. Our option was to watch the original movie and/or it's sequel. With time tight this month, I went back and watched the original film which I had seen before, but I do plan to go back and watch the second one some day. 

It had been a while since I watched this movie and I forgot how fun and how foodie it is. Set in China, the film centers around Po, a rather portly panda who has a dream to be a kung fu master like his idols, the Furious Five—Tigress, Monkey, Mantis, Viper, and Crane. It seems like this will only be a fantasy and Po will follow his adopted father's path (running the family noodle shop), until he is unexpectedly chosen by Master Oogway to become the famed Dragon Warrior. Po will have to dig deep to find the courage and skill needed to defeat the evil villain and save The Valley of Peace.

With Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen and the rest of the cast adding their voices and humor, this animated film is sweet and funny. With the noodle shop and Po's emotional eating issues, there is plenty of food inspiration to be found. I took mine from a scene where Master Oogway, finds Po having a midnight snack of peaches from the "Sacred Peach Tree of Heavenly Wisdom."

Master Oogway: "I see you have found the Sacred Peach Tree of Heavenly Wisdom."

Po: "Is that what this is? Sorry. I thought it was just a regular peach tree." 

Master Oogway: "I understand. You eat when you are upset."

Po: "Upset? I'm not upset! What makes you think I'm upset?"

Master Oogway: "So why are you upset?"

Po: "I probably sucked more today than anyone in the history of kung fu. In the history of China.In the history of sucking!" 

Master Oogway: "Probably."

Originally, I was going to go with the more traditional Chinese-style small, fried spring roll but I decided that neither Po or I really needed all the frying. I decided instead to do a vegetarian Vietnamese-style rice paper roll filled with noodles for Po, herbs, and crisp veggies. For dipping sauce, we have a quick and easy Spicy 'Sacred Peach Dipping Sauce' made with peach jam and chile sauce. I am going to tell you right now that these aren't my prettiest rolls and best rolling work ever but, even not so pretty, they tasted great. ;-)

I am not going to go through making salad rolls with you--as you can see from my work, there are plenty of people and sites that teach it much better. ;-) My rolls included cooked and chilled rice noodles, Thai basil, cilantro, mint, chives, carrot, cucumber, and purple cabbage. The beauty of veggie rolls is that you can add in whatever ingredients you like. I prefer mine extra 'herby' and dipped in a sauce that is combination of sweet-spicy-savory-tangy.  

Here is the recipe I put together for the dipping sauce: 

Spicy 'Sacred Peach' Dipping Sauce
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes about a scant cup)

1/2 cup chunky peach jam or preserves (chunky is good)
1/4 cup sweet chili paste
2 - 4 Tbsp Sriracha or other hot chili paste--to taste
1- 2 tsp hot Chinese mustard--to taste
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1/3 cup rice wine vinegar

In a small sauce pan, place jam, sweet chili paste, spicy chili paste, hot mustard and soy sauce. Cook over low for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until jam thins out a bit. Remove from heat, stir in sesame oil and rice wine vinegar and let cool. Taste for additional heat/seasoning and add as desired.

Notes/Results: Don't try to roll when you are late for a post and in a hurry/and or trying to take phone calls and shove peanut butter toast in your mouth because you were running late to and from a meeting and didn't get lunch! (Or just don't procrastinate until the end of the month and then mess up on the post due date!) ;-) I freely admit I slapped these together and it shows. That being said, the flavor was great. The rolls were crisp and slightly chewy (in a good way) from the noodles with plenty of flavor from the herbs and the dipping sauce. I liked the spicy peach dipping sauce--it was a good balance of tastes and the right amount of heat (a slow burn at the end) for me. The peach flavor was present and I enjoyed it, but another jam like apricot or current would also work well. (It took me four stores last week to find a good chunky peach jam/preserves.) I will use the leftover sauce for the veggie pot stickers currently in my freezer. 

I am sliding this one in a bit after the deadline today (Thanks Heather!) but if you missed out on this month and you like food, films and foodie films, you can join us for May when Cheap Ethnic Eatz will be hosting the girl-power comedy, Bridesmaids.  


Friday, April 25, 2014

A Spring Salad of Baby Lettuce, Green Olives and Lemon Oil (with Chickpeas & Spiced Almonds)

Sometimes spring calls for a simple salad--preferably enjoyed outside. I was going to take this little salad, adapted from a recipe sketch from Nigel Slater, down to the beach for a proper outdoor "picnic" shot but it has been so breezy the last couple of weeks that I feared that the sand would have been a plentiful but unwelcome addition. I decided to photograph it in my backyard instead and this afternoon while warm, was drab, grey and still a bit too windy for anything not held down by a chickpea or olive chunk. ;-) So, I set up a woven green plastic place mat, used my picnic-ready plastic plate, and took the photos indoors. You gotta do what you gotta do, even when you live in paradise...

I took Nigel's basic ingredients, and to make it more of a meal than a side salad, added canned chickpeas to the mix and spiced almonds for a little crunch. Served with toasted bread spread with some of this fabulous leftover Spicy Feta & Red Pepper Dip and a favorite bottled lemonade, it made even a house picnic lunch a pleasure.

Baby Lettuce, Green Olives and Lemon Oil (with Chickpeas & Spiced Almonds)
Adapted from Nigel Slater via The Guardian 
"Little Gem, Green Olives and Lemon Oil 
Buy small, stoned green olives. Marinate them for an hour or so in lemon olive oil (sold in good delicatessens, this is olive oil that has had fresh lemons thrown into the pressing), coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley, and salt and black pepper. (I added canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed to the mix and wanting more lemon flavor than my lemon olive order provided, I added a couple of squeezes of lemon juice and it's zest.) Separate the salad leaves, then toss with the marinated olives. (I topped it with spiced sliced almonds.) Great with grilled sardines."

Notes/Results: A simple little salad with good flavors and texture--satisfying but not heavy. The lemon olive oil adds a light flavor to the chickpeas and local baby lettuce that matches well with the briny olives. Since the pitted olives I found were large, I quartered them before letting them sit in the oil with the chickpeas and chopped parsley. I used a good amount of freshly ground black pepper but just a light touch of sea salt--there were enough olives to make it salty. A fork is polite but to be honest, I mostly used it to push all the goodies onto the little lettuce leaves and ate them by hand. It was a picnic remember! ;-) I felt like the changes I made gave it more of the taste I was looking for (especially the extra lemon) and it all blended well together. I would make it again.  

This week's I Heart Cooking Clubs theme is What's In Your Picnic Basket?--featuring more portable Nigel Slater recipes to be enjoyed in your favorite indoor or outdoor picnic spot. You can see what dishes everyone made by checking out the picture links on the post.

Happy Aloha Friday!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Book Tour Stops Here: "Two Sisters" by Mary Hogan with a Salad Plate of Asparagus Bruschetta with Spiced Almonds, Along With Mini Tomatoes & Pear

All families have at least a little dysfunction and drama. The Sullivant family has it in spades and youngest daughter Muriel bears the brunt of it in Two Sisters, a Novel by Mary Hogan. Muriel is the fifth wheel in her family. Perfect Pia, her older sister, is the apple of her mother's eye. Brother Logan, was born to give her distant father a son. Unfortunately Muriel, was an accident--unplanned, not wanted, and made aware of that fact her entire life. Now in her early 20's, Muriel does her best to stay away from her family and their many blows to her self esteem, until her sister shows up with a secret that forces Muriel to face her past and determine what her future will hold. 

Publisher's Burb: 

"One family, two sisters, a lifetime of secrets . . .

The third child in a family that wanted only two, Muriel Sullivant has always been an outsider. Short, dark-haired, and round, she worships her beautiful blond sister, Pia, and envies the close bond she shares with their mother, Lidia. Growing up in their shadow, Muriel believes that if she keeps all their secrets—and she knows plenty, outsiders always do—they will love her, too.

But that was a long time ago. Now an adult, Muriel has accepted the disappointments in her life. With her fourth-floor walk-up apartment and entry-level New York City job, she never will measure up to Pia and her wealthy husband, their daughter, and their suburban Connecticut dream home. Muriel would like nothing better than to avoid her judgmental family altogether. One thing she does quite well.

Until the day Pia shows up to visit and share devastating news that Muriel knows she cannot tell—a secret that will force her to come to terms with the past and help her see her life and her family in unexpected new ways.

Two Sisters is a powerful and poignant debut novel about two sisters—opposites in every way—as well as their mother and the secrets and lies that define them all."

Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (March 4, 2014)

I found myself engrossed in the book rather quickly, wanting to learn the secrets of the family and anxiously turning the pages as they were revealed. The story moves along well, going back and forth between the current happenings, back to Muriel's childhood, and even farther back to the meeting and subsequent marriage of her parents. Two Sisters isn't always an easy read. With the exception of Muriel, the Sullivant family is hard to like and connect with. Lidia the mother is selfish and cruel. Owen, the father is emotionally absent from the entire family. Logan, distanced himself with his artistic pursuits and left home at an early age--avoiding his family even more than Muriel, and Pia mistreated her younger sister growing up and when they 'talk' as adults, it's mostly Pia talking disparagingly to Muriel about her life choices. Muriel is likeable and sympathetic in a kicked-puppy kind of way. She (understandably) lacks any sort of confidence and is emotionally needy--wanting love and acceptance, but still manages to have a sense of humor. Some of the self-talk in her head had me chuckling--a nice relief from the more tragic, poignant moments in the story and the angst they caused me. I rooted for Muriel and was pleased to see her emotional growth--most of which comes in the last third of the book. In that vein, I did feel that the ending came too quickly--with all of the emotions this book raises, I would have liked a longer, more drawn out and detailed resolution. In the end, Two Sisters is an absorbing, well-written story about family and its dynamics. It will make you think, probably shed tears--and, if you happen to have wonderful, loving and supportive older sisters like mine, you'll want to hug them and thank your lucky stars. ;-)

Author Notes: Mary Hogan is the NAPPA Award-winning author of seven young-adult books. Two Sisters is her first novel for adults. She lives in New York City with her husband, Bob, and their dog, Lucy. Find out more about Mary at her website, follow her on Twitter, and connect with her on Facebook.

Where there is family (dysfunctional or not), there is usually food and there are many food mentions throughout Two Sisters--starting with the huge tin of Garrett's Popcorn--half CheeseCorn, half CaramelCrisp--that Muriel is noshing on at the start of the book while watching a Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives Marathon. I had the chance to try Garrett's Chicago mix a couple of years ago when traveling and the combination of the caramel and cheese corn is pretty amazing--and messy. There are mentions of various lunches, dinners and snacks--including some pretty unhealthy road food, that the various characters consume. For my usual dish inspired by the book, I decided on a salad plate made up of ingredients that Muriel runs out and buys when her sister calls her to tell her she is dropping by. 

"Dressed in dark-wash Levi's and a black tee, Muriel pulled open the glass door to the corner market at the Broadway end of her block. She lifted a green shopping basket out of the stack and hung it on her arm, maneuvering in a zigzag fashion through the narrow aisles of the small gourmet store. To be on the safe side, she chose a liter of club soda and enough limes to flavor a pitcher of margaritas. Pears too, though they were ridiculously expensive, plus heirloom cherry tomatoes, asparagus spears, a baguette, and spiced almonds. All items she'd once read about in a magazine article on effortless, yet elegant, entertaining. "Crud," she muttered to herself. Why hadn't she ripped out that page so she'd know what to do with the classy ingredients once she got them home? Does one serve mini tomatoes raw on a plate next to uncooked asparagus? Wouldn't that look too much like an exclamation point to be considered "elegant" in any way? And surely there must be some sort of dip involved? In the checkout line, she considered asking the girl at the register, but the unruly state of her ponytail dissuaded her."  
--Two Sisters by Mary Hogan

I was amused by Muriel's list and her attempts to get her sister to eat what she bought by randomly offering her the items, "Club Soda?" Muriel asked her sister. "With lime?" ..."Spiced almonds? A pear?" ..."Baguette? Asparagus spear?"... I thought it would be fun to take her list of 'classy ingredients' (sans the soda with lime) and put them together into one dish. I added a few more ingredients--goat cheese, arugula and a balsamic vinaigrette, and ended up with a Salad Plate of Asparagus Bruschetta with Spiced Almonds, Along With Mini Tomatoes & Pear. It's a little random and scattered and I think it suits Muriel well. ;-) Pears are still in the market and the more spring-like ingredients like asparagus, arugula and tomatoes are locally produced here most of the year. 

Recipe Outline: (You could as Muriel did, buy the spiced almonds (and the vinaigrette too), but I have included the recipes I used below if you prefer to make them yourself.)  

Prepare baguette and asparagus by lightly brushing pieces with olive oil. Heat a grill pan over high heat until very hot. Place long slices of baguette in pan and toast until  browned and crisp, turning once. Remove bread and set aside. Add asparagus and grill for a few minutes--until tender-crisp--turning with tongs to sear all sides. 

To Plate: 
    • Top individual serving plates with a thin layer of arugula and drizzle with vinaigrette. 
    • Spread goat cheese on grilled baguette slices, top with asparagus spears and sprinkle with spiced almonds. Arrange bruschetta on top of arugula.
    • Halve cherry tomatoes and slice pear thinly and add to plate, drizzling with more vinaigrette as desired.

Simple Vinaigrette
by Deb, Kahakai Kitchen 
(Makes about 1/2 cup)
1 Tbsp strong Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

6 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil 
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine ingredients in a bowl or glass jar. Stir or shake gently until blended. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.  Store extra in refrigerator. 


Spiced Almonds
by Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes 1/2 cup

1/2 cup sliced almonds
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper 

In a small bowl, mix almonds with olive oil until evenly coated. Sprinkle with spices and stir, ensuring spices are blended and almonds coated. 

Place coated almonds in a small pan and heat over medium. Toast until lightly browned, stirring or shaking pan as needed, being careful not to burn nuts. Remove from heat, spread out into single layer and let cool. Store cooled nuts in an airtight container.  

 Notes/Results: There is a lot going on with this plate but thankfully, it all works together. The crisp and toasty baguette with tangy goat cheese compliments the asparagus and spiced nuts and the pear, and the little tomatoes add a nice sweetness that contrasts well with the peppery arugula. Serve it with a knife and fork--it's a little messy (or be like me and pick up the bruschetta with your fingers and enjoy it).

Note: A review copy of "Two Sisters" 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 readers thought here.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Spice-Grilled Salmon with Tzatziki Salad

I picked this recipe from Simple Dinners by Donna Hay because of the Tzatziki Salad. I love tzatziki--that refreshing blend of yogurt, cucumber, mint and dill. In the book the salad is served next to Spice-Baked Chicken and since I don't eat meat or poultry, I thought the spices (cumin, chili flakes, thyme and lemon zest) would be equally delicious on salmon. 

Instead of baking or roasting the piece of (King) salmon, I did a nice pan grill. Obviously I didn't taste the chicken breast version but with the moist, tender salmon with its nice heat combined with the cool, crisp salad, I think this one would be hard to beat! 

Donna says, "I've borrowed the traditional ingredients of a cooling tzatziki and turned them into a refreshing salad for this spicy chicken salmon.

Spice-Grilled Salmon with Tzatziki Salad
Adapted from Simple Dinners by Donna Hay
(Serves 4)

*Note: The ingredients are the same (sans chicken of course) but I re-wrote the recipe directions for pan-grilling the salmon. 

1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp dried chili flakes
1 Tbsp thyme leaves
1 Tbsp shredded lemon zest
1 Tbsp olive oil
4 (6-7oz) salmon fillets
(I added a little salt and black pepper to salmon)

Tzatziki Salad:
1/2 cup thick plain yogurt
2 Tbsp lemon juice
sea salt
4 small cucumbers, sliced thinly lengthwise with a vegetable peeler
1 cup mint leaves
1/2 cup chopped dill leaves
(I added freshly ground black pepper to serve)

Combine cumin, chili flakes, thyme, lemon zest, (salt and black pepper to taste) and oil in a shallow bowl. Add salmon and toss to coat. Set salmon aside for 20 minutes to sit with spices.

Make the salad dressing by combining yogurt, lemon juice and salt in a small bowl.  

Heat pan over medium-high on stove-top. When pan is hot, add salmon skin-side down and cook for 5 minutes. Turn and cook another 2-3 minutes or until salmon is cooked to your liking. Remove from heat. 

Divide the cucumber, mint and dill between plates and spoon over the dressing. Add the cooked salmon to the plate, sprinkle with freshly ground pepper and serve.

Notes/Results: This was fabulous. Donna and I do salmon really well together. ;-) The salad is crisp and light--the cucumber ribbons and fresh herbs keep it from being heavy but, the thick lemony yogurt makes it satisfying. It does cool down the heat from the chili flakes on the salmon nicely. The salmon had great flavor and was perfectly moist and juicy. Quick, easy, healthy and tastes great--I would definitely make this again. 

It's a week of "Getting Saucy--Sauces, dressings & condiments & the dishes that love them!" at I Heart Cooking Clubs. You can see just how saucy the other participants got by checking out the picture links on the post. 


Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Book Tour Stops Here: 'The Dancing Master' by Julie Klassen with a Grilled Romaine Salad with Fried Egg & Caper Vinaigrette

There is something cozy about curling up on rainy day with a sweet regency romance and a cup of tea. In the novel "The Dancing Master" by Julie Klassen, it is a journey to a gentler, more refined time when ladies needed to be accomplished in all of the social graces to make a good match and dancing masters were the means to do that.

Publisher's Book Blurb: 
"Finding himself the man of the family, London dancing master Alec Valcourt moves his mother and sister to remote Devonshire, hoping to start over. But he is stunned to learn the village matriarch has prohibited all dancing, for reasons buried deep in her past.
Alec finds an unlikely ally in the matriarch’s daughter. Though he’s initially wary of Julia Midwinter’s reckless flirtation, he comes to realize her bold exterior disguises a vulnerable soul–and hidden sorrows of her own.

Julia is quickly attracted to the handsome dancing master–a man her mother would never approve of–but she cannot imagine why Mr. Valcourt would leave London, or why he evades questions about his past. With Alec’s help, can Julia uncover old secrets and restore life to her somber village…and to her mother’s tattered heart?"

Paperback / 432 pages
Publisher: Bethany House Publishers (January 7, 2014)

I volunteered to be on the TLC Book Tour for "The Dancing Master" based on my fondness for Jane Austen's novels and their variations and the fact that it was described as having a "Jane Austen-feel." I wasn't familiar with author Julie Klassen's writing and didn't pay much attention to the 'inspirational fiction' tag--to be honest, I generally prefer my books to have a little sizzle and grit. Still, I ended up enjoying the book--it's a sweet romance and I really liked Klassen's attention to detail regarding the customs of the regency period. There are  several twists and turns (some obvious, some not) to the story and unraveling mysteries behind the different characters that help keep it interesting. The characters are not perfect--Julia, the heroine is immature and somewhat spoiled and Alec, the dancing master, is a little timid and tentative in his actions. At first I didn't feel the chemistry between them but, their characters grew and changed through the book and they ended up growing on me. Since it is inspirational fiction, religion does play a role--most prominently towards the end of the book, but it doesn't smack the reader over the head and it fits with the story. 

The most fun and intriguing thing about "The Dancing Master" is that rather than conjuring up 'Pride and Prejudice' or 'Emma,' this book kept the songs of the movie Footloose running through my mind. Yep, it's Regency Footloose. Well, not exactly the same story but with many definite parallels. We have a small country town where dancing (and general merry-making) isn't allowed, a mysterious outsider who loves to dance moves in and catches the eye of the rebellious, anxious to get out of town, daughter of the main person preventing the dancing. There are past hurts and tragedy, friends who want to dance and bullies who want to prevent it, disapproving townspeople, young people sneaking out to attend a dance (ball) in another town, and there is even a slightly clod-ish local who befriends the dancing newcomer and has no grace or dancing ability whatsoever. There's a scene in the book where Alec finds a new way to help Walter connect with the dance steps that reminds me of Kevin Bacon and Chris Penn in the movie and I swear that I could not get "Let's Hear It For the Boy" out of my head for hours! Now, I love Footloose, have seen it about a bazillion times over the years and I saw no good reason why they remade it a couple of years ago (Kevin Bacon rules!), so I was pleasantly surprised that this case the Footloose vibes worked and increased my enjoyment in the story.   

Those who enjoy mild regency romance, historical fiction and/or inspirational fiction (and appreciate Footloose) and fans of the author's other work are sure to enjoy this one.

Author Notes: Julie Klassen loves all things Jane–Jane Eyre and Jane Austen. A graduate of the University of Illinois, Julie worked in publishing for sixteen years and now writes full time. She has won the Christy Award: Historical Romance for The Silent Governess (2010) and The Girl in the Gatehouse (2011) which also won the 2010 Midwest Book Award for Genre Fiction. Julie and her husband have two sons and live in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota.

This is not a foodie book although there are brief mentions of food throughout the story--like bakery owner Mrs. Tickle's famous pastry and cake creations, the usual tea, a few dinners and gifts of rose-hip jam and sweets. I was a little stuck on what dish I wanted to make to represent the book and I finally ended up with a salad. 

Thinking about the Valcourt family's French origins, I wanted to make a classic vinaigrette dressing but add some capers to it--a nod to 'caper merchant'--one of the derogatory terms used to describe dancing masters that I learned from the book. (Apparently it comes from a French term, marchand des capriolles that translates to something like 'cut papers' or to leap or jump in dancing. Hmm...) ;-) I decided to use that lovely dressing in a simple but wonderful salad that combines two of my very favorite things (next to capers)--grilled romaine and fried eggs with runny yolks.

For the salad, I kept it simple--halving and grilling my romaine heart on a stove-top grill pan and frying a local egg in a bit of olive oil. I placed the pieces cut side up on a plate, drizzled them with the caper vinaigrette (recipe below), sprinkling extra capers on and sliding the fried egg on top.

Classic Vinaigrette with Capers
Adapted from The French Market Cookbook by Clotilde Dusoulier
(Makes About 1/2 Cup Dressing)

1 Tbsp strong Dijon mustard (I used a mix of Dijon and stone-ground mustard)
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
6 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil 
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp capers, drained and finely chopped

In a bowl or jam jar, combine vinegar and salt. Add minced garlic and let sit in vinegar for 20-30 minutes to soften the edge.

Add mustard and stir until blended. Add a generous grind of black pepper, then pour in olive oil in a slow stream, whisking to emulsify. Add the capers and stir--or cap jar and shake gently to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning to taste. 

Notes/Results: This salad definitely tastes much better than the pictures might suggest. It is pretty freaking fantastic in fact--the warm, slightly sweetened lettuce, the tangy dressing and capers mix together well with the runny yolk. Pure bliss on a plate in my book and a salad that really satisfies. The reason for the not so pretty pictures--I just wanted to puncture that yolk and eat the salad while everything was warm. I am thankful that I doubled the dressing recipe and bought the big Costco pack of romaine hearts because I have a feeling I am going to be eating this salad a lot this week. If for some strange reason you don't 'do' runny eggs (I do feel sorry for you--oh, what you are missing!), bust out your grill or pan anyway and make it without the egg--the grilled romaine and dressing are worth it.  

Note: A review copy of "The Dancing Master" 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


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Dried Tomato Pesto on Pan-Grilled Kampachi with 'Nalo Greens and Fennel Salad for Cook The Books: "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle"

When it comes to eating locally grown and produced food, I would probably give myself a B- or maybe a C+. I do choose local whenever possible, I make extra efforts to seek it out, and usually pay more for the local choices I make. I try to note my local ingredient choices and the longer Hawaii growing 'seasons' in my blog posts so readers understand why I might have an asparagus recipe in February. Intentions don't always turn into actions however and about the only thing I grow myself are herbs, the dehydrator I bought several years ago to put away food doesn't get used often enough, and, as plentiful as the tropical fruit and other produce is here, sometimes I just *need* a Honeycrisp apple, Rainier cherries or a scoop of organic blueberries for my morning cereal--food miles be damned. I could definitely do more, grow more, and make better choices. Having done a few week-long eat local challenges, I know I could not last an entire year of eating as locally as the Kingsolver family does in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver, our current Cook the Books selection, hosted by Rachel, The Crispy Cook.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle follows the Kingsolver family as they commit to consciously eating food they have produced/raised or food from "so close to home, we'd know the person who grew it"--leaving Arizona for a farm on a piece of land in the southern Appalachians. It's a family project involving Barbara, her husband Steven, college-bound daughter Camille, and pre-teen Lily. The charm of the family and their adventures are what make the book entertaining as well as enlightening--managing to get through a lot of detail on things like carbon footprinting, oil consumption, environmental impacts, etc., while weaving in personal anecdotes and family recipes. The book flows well with the family starting the challenge in late March and highlighting the lessons each month and season bring. 

I first read the book when it came out in 2007, in the midst of a foodie non-fiction frenzy--working my way through a pile of books on food politics and local eating including The Omnivore's Dilemma, How To Pick a Peach, Plenty: Eating Locally on the 100 Mile Diet, What To Eat, etc. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle stood out to me because it simultaneously made me think and made me hungry! ;-) The pages where daughter Camille, then nineteen, shares her experiences and then some seasonal recipes are my favorite parts. I love the humor and passion around the Kingsolver's tale and I was happy to open it up again for Cook the Books.

For my dish inspired by the book, I wanted to of course make something using as many local ingredients as possible. As I mentioned, I have a food dehydrator sitting about that was only used twice this summer--once for a plethora of organic blueberries on sale at Whole Foods for $1.99 a pint, and a couple of months later when I bought a bunch of small local Roma tomatoes at the farmers market and wasn't using them fast enough. I decided tomato dehydrating was pretty doable (and tasty), bought even more small local tomatoes and ended up with a couple of sandwich-sized Ziplocs full of dried tomatoes that I had not decided what to do with yet (code for "forgot about" in my pantry). 

In the book, there is a mention of dried tomatoes and a recipe for Dried Tomato Pesto and I thought it would be fun to use my tomatoes and localize what I could of the other ingredients--like changing the olive oil for a locally-produced macadamia nut oil, and swapping the walnuts out for macadamia nuts from The Big Island. The recipe called for dried basil, but I used some fresh basil from my herb pots. It seemed like it would be perfect on a piece of fish, so I grabbed some kampachi--a fish I have not cooked much with but that gets good marks in the sustainability arena.

Kampachi (aka Almaco Jack) is in the yellowtail and amberjack family. It is rich, dense and flaky with a mild flavor and a high fat and Omega-3 content. The kapachi is responsibly farmed in the water off of The Big Island and I thought it would be a good canvas for the sun-dried tomato pesto. 

I did a simple preparation of my kampachi--grilling it in a pan lightly coated with macadamia nut oil and seasoned with Hawaiian sea salt. I served the fish with a scoop of pesto on top of a simple salad comprised of 'Nalo greens (a local mix of baby lettuces) and shaved local baby fennel, with a squirt of (a giant!) local Meyer lemon. It's the kind of light and full-of-flavor dish that I most like to eat and with the exception of a couple of the pesto ingredients (the garlic--couldn't find any local this week, and the balsamic vinegar), it is all locally grown or produced.      
Dried Tomato Pesto
Adapted & Made "Hawaii Style" from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
(Makes about 2 1/2 cups)

2 cups dried tomatoes
1 cup, macadamia nuts
1/2 cup macadamia nut oil
1/4 cup chopped basil
4 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp Hawaiian salt

In a food processor, puree all ingredients until smooth. Add a little water if needed but, keep thick enough to spread or dollop. 

Notes/Results: The pesto was rich and full of tomato flavor--tasting slightly sweet with a warm 'sunshine-like' vibe. It was a good counterpart to the fish and the fresh salad with baby greens, fennel and lemon keep things nicely balanced. The original pesto recipe called for walnuts and Parmesan but, since mac nuts are so much richer and more buttery than walnuts, I didn't feel the cheese was necessary and I didn't miss it at all. I have not eaten a lot of kampachi (it's not one of my go-to local fish choices) and I really enjoyed it--it wasn't too fishy and was tender and moist. It will be making more appearances in my kitchen going forward. The shaved fennel and lemon in the salad added to the Mediterranean flavor of the dish. I would make it again for sure. And, I plan to pick up some locally made bread at the farmers market to spread the rest of that yummy pesto on. ;-)

There's not much time left join in the Cook the Books fun for this round as the deadline is Monday, November 25. But if you like food, books and foodie books, join us for our December/January round where I will be hosting and taking us to Rwanda with the novel Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin.