Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Book Tour Stops Here: "The Gods of Heavenly Punishment" by Jennifer Cody Epstein and Miso Soup with Tofu, Oyster Mushroom & Baby Kale

There are books I read and that I like but that don't stay with me once I have finished them. Then, there are books that I read that flatly refuse to leave me and stay in my mind for days, even weeks afterward. "The Gods of Heavenly Punishment" a novel by Jennifer Cody Epstein is firmly in that second category. If given one word to describe it, I would choose haunting. It is a beautiful book--moving, tragic, and with characters and prose that linger long after the last page is turned.

Set in the before, during, and the after of Word War II, the book centers around the firebombing of Tokyo in March of 1945, a horrific event that doesn't really get that much WW2 attention or mention especially when compared to the events of the attack on Pearl Harbor and the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is particularly amazing because of the enormity of the damage--close to 16 miles around the city burned to ash and between 80,000 and 130,000 Japanese citizens killed. The story spans almost three decades--beginning in 1935 and wrapping up in 1962 and it is told from the perspectives of people on both sides of the Pacific--citizens, ex-pats and military--some who played a key role in the carnage of war and others who were trapped by it. Its heart is Yoshi Kobayashi, a young girl seeking to survive, understand her past and find her future while her life is drastically impacted by the war and the choices of those around her.

Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (January 13, 2014)

An excerpt from the book: 

"Now she stared out at the Pacific, the flat blue line of sea and sky, as empty of emotion as space itself. This is it, she thought. This is what started it all. This is what they'd all been fighting over: a silk-smooth stretch of ocean between California and Yokohama. It seemed strange that something so serene, so intrinsically peaceful could have incited so much bloodlust; could cause fathers to kill husbands and pilots to kill mothers and young men to let babies fall down wells. Why does it happen? she asked herself. Why do we do it? What have we learned when it is done?
--The Gods of Heavenly Punishment 
For me this book wasn't an easy read. Although not at all maudlin or excessively graphic, it is incredibly painful to read about the suffering of so many who were lost or lost their homes, family and friends in such a brutal war. I read much of it with a lump in my throat and as page-turning as it was, I had to put it down a few times to go find my 'happy place.' Did you ever see the episode of Friends where Joey and Rachel read each others favorite books? Rachel reads The Shining and is freaked out, putting the book in the freezer to get away from it because she can't take how scary it is. Joey reads Little Women and finding out just how sick and near death Beth is, gets upset and wants to put his book in the freezer too. I didn't put "The Gods of Heavenly Punishment" in the freezer but I might have been close a few times. ;-) Although there are many jumps between time and character perspective, the author weaves it together well and gets her characters deeply ingrained in the reader's heart. 

"The Gods of Heavenly Punishment" is a rich and absorbing novel that captures an important piece of history and paints it into an amazing and compelling story that makes close to 400 hundred pages fly by (even with a few time-outs). It touched me. Historical fiction fans, those looking for a different perspective of World War II, and those who like powerful storytelling will enjoy this one. 

Author Notes: Jennifer Cody Epstein is the author of The Gods of Heavenly Punishment and the international bestseller The Painter from Shanghai. She has written for The Wall Street Journal, The Asian Wall Street Journal, Self, Mademoiselle and NBC,  and has worked in Hong Kong, Japan and Bangkok, Thailand. Jennifer lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband, two daughters and especially needy Springer Spaniel.

"The Gods of Heavenly Punishment" is not a foodie book, although food is mentioned here and there. As most of the action takes place in wartime, the dishes mentioned were most often simple and usually meager. For my customary dish inspired by the book, I looked to miso soup--warming comfort food that I became semi-addicted to when regularly traveling to Japan for business several years ago. Since the hotel we stayed in was always freezing, even in the midst of summer as they jacked up the air conditioning to full blast, I took to consuming a bowl or two of miso soup from the morning buffet as part of my breakfast. Even now, when the weather is cool, I have the sniffles, or I just need some comfort, I make a simple miso soup for breakfast--it puts me in a good place, nourishes and fills the belly. 

Miso is also the little black dress of soups--classic, basic and you can dress it up with whatever you like so it always looks a little bit different. I usually toss in pressed tofu and whatever greens are on hand, sometimes egg or seaweed, mushrooms when I think to buy them. I make up a batch of the dashi base ahead of time and pull it out to heat up with what I am adding, and stir in the miso paste at the last minute so as not to boil or cook out the nutrients. Done in a flash and the perfect way to comfort yourself when what you are reading gets to be a bit too intense. 

Miso Soup with Tofu, Oyster Mushroom & Baby Kale
by Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes 1-2 Servings)

2 cups dashi (recipe below) or light vegetable broth
a small handful each of: 
     -mushroom, thinly sliced (I used oyster mushrooms for this one)  
     -firm tofu (pressed to drain liquid), cut into small pieces 
     -greens of choice (I used baby curly kale
2 Tbsp white miso paste
a sprinkle of green onions, thinly sliced

Bring the dashi broth to a boil in a small pot. Add in mushrooms and cook for 2-3 minutes. Meanwhile, place tofu and greens into individual bowl(s).

Ladle about 1/2 cup of the hot dashi broth into a cup or bowl and add the miso paste--stirring gently with a fork until blended. Pour the mixture into the dashi pot and stir gently. 

Ladle hot soup and mushroom into bowls, topping the greens and tofu. Sprinkle with green onions and serve immediately.

Before the broth and mushrooms are ladled on top

Basic Dashi Stock (Ichiban Dashi)
(Makes about 4 cups)

1 small piece of dried kombu seaweed
1/2 cup of bonito flakes
4 cups water

Soak the dried kombu seaweed piece in the cold water for about 15-20 minutes. Bring the water to the boil and add bonito. Turn off burner and let sit for 5-7 minutes. Strain mixture through a sieve, making sure to press out all the good flavor. Store covered in the fridge for 3-4 days. 

Notes/Results: Good flavor, light but satisfying. You can of course cook the greens (and tofu with the mushrooms but I like spinach and baby greens like this curly kale just barely wilted and the tofu just warmed by the hot broth. You can also use other misos--red, barley, etc., but I prefer the lightness of white miso paste. If you have the dashi made or use veggie broth, making miso soup for breakfast (or any meal) only takes about as much time as it does to make oatmeal or cook an egg. Depending on what you add to it, it is filling enough to get you to lunch. Delish.

Note: A review copy of "The Gods of Heavenly Punishment" 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, January 28, 2014

Caramelized Pineapple Skewers with Dark Chocolate Dipping Sauce

If you have never tasted the heaven that is grilled, caramelized pineapple paired with dark chocolate, you really should. The grilling gives the pineapple a sweeter, deeper flavor that works so well with the rich, dark chocolate. 

I was attracted to the photo of Caramelised Pineapple on where the pineapple skewers were served in small glasses with a small pool of chocolate to dip in. I usually grill the pineapple and serve it on plates drizzled with the chocolate. Food on sticks and your own dipping sauce (where you can double-dip to your heart's content without anyone glaring) is always more fun. ;-) I did change the recipe slightly--using honey mixed with water to glaze my pineapple wedges instead of brown sugar before placing them on the grill pan. 

Caramelised Pineapple
Adapted from
(Serves 6)

1/4 cup (45g) brown sugar (I subbed 1 Tbsp of honey)
1/4 cup (60ml) water (I used 1 Tbsp of water)
1 pineapple, peeled and sliced

Place the sugar and water in a bowl and stir until dissolved. Heat a char-grill pan or barbecue over high heat. Thread the pineapple onto skewers and brush with the sugar mixture. (I just brushed my pineapple wedges lightly with honey water.) 

Char-grill or barbecue for 2 minutes each side or until golden. Brush with the remaining sugar mixture to serve. (I melted 1/2 cup of vegan mini chips in the microwave then poured into individual glasses and served with the pineapple wedges.)

Notes/Results: Yum! Although I make this pairing often, these skewers are fun to eat and taste delicious--juicy and sweet but refreshing too. Chocolate-covered strawberries have nothing on grilled pineapple with chocolate. And, when compared to other desserts it's a healthier choice (antioxidants, vitamin C, manganese, digestive benefits, etc.) which is nice. Using a very light brush of honey-water instead of the brown-sugar water still lets the fruit caramelize but cuts the sugar down, and the pineapple is plenty sweet without the second brushing of the sugar-water before serving. I will definitely serve it again this way. 

The I Heart Cooking Clubs theme this week is Blondies & Brownies--bar cookies and slices of all kinds. You probably have noticed this is not a bar cookie (thank you Captain Obvious!) and you would be correct. Being without a reliable oven to bake currently and with no need for a pan of brownies in my life, I choose to think of my pineapple wedges as a "bar" of fruit--and there is chocolate of course. Donna Hay and I have made bars before--these very tasty Raspberry Jam Slices with their chewy coconut topping that I highly recommend. 

You can check out what bar cookies the other IHCC participants made by going to the post and checking out the picture links. 


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Pinto Bean & Cassava Stew with Greens: Rwandan-ish Comfort Food for Cook the Books: "Baking Cakes in Kigali" and Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

In "Baking Cakes in Kigali: A Novel" by Gaile Parkin, Angel Tungararza is a talented cake maker from Tanzania who moves with her university professor husband Pius and their five grandchildren to modern-day Rwanda. Along with baking and selling her cakes out of her busy international apartment complex, Angel dispenses advice to her customers who come from from all walks of life, listening over cups of cardamom-spiced tea as they share their stories. The stories aren't all pleasant (including Angel's own as she grieves over the deaths of both her daughter and son and the estrangement she felt from her daughter before her death) as this is Rwanda where war, poverty, abuse, genocide, and AIDS are all realities. Still, in the midst of grief and tragedy, there is an overall feeling of hope in the country and in Angel's little corner of it.

I picked up this novel in a used book store, caught by the title and interested in learning more about different African countries and their history after reading "What Tears Us Apart"--a novel by Deborah Cloyed, set in Kenya in the turmoil following the 2007 government elections. I thought it would be a great chance for our Cook the Books (the bi-monthly virtual foodie book club I co-host along with Rachel, Heather and Simona) participants to journey to Africa--somewhere we have not ventured in our reading. There is a lot going on in the book with the stories told by Angel's friends and customers. Angel is a likable character, the grandmother/older neighbor/sage friend that we would want to go to when we need counsel or just to 'spill' to someone who cares. And although Angel is a 'professional somebody' who is always looking for opportunities to grow her cake business, she is also caring--listening and helping out where she can with advice and a colorful cake. As her friend Francoise tells her, she is "someone who has ears that want to hear my story and a heart that wants to understand it." Angel seeks to understand the viewpoints and motivations of others, including her own, polishing her glasses when she feels she or someone else needs to view a situation with more clarity. I enjoyed getting to know the people and cultures that weave together to make up Angel's world. With some of the stories I would have liked to have gone a bit deeper--wanting to know more and spend more time with those characters. But, overall Baking Cakes in Kiagali gave me what I most enjoy in a book--interesting reading that immerses me in a different world for a while.

I was tempted to make cake for my dish inspired by the book but my oven is on it's last legs right now and I have not found the time to get it fixed or more likely replaced. Also, I have been trying to cut added sugar and fats from my diet lately and didn't need a tempting cake. I wanted to explore African cuisine and I actually happened upon my dish by kismet. Wandering through my local farmers market a couple of weeks ago I picked up a root-looking veggie and the vendor offered up that it was cassava (aka yucca, manioc, mandioca, tapioca-root, manioc root etc.), telling me that it is the third largest source of food carbohydrates in the tropics, after rice and maize. A new ingredient to me, I remembered it being consumed several times in the book and bought a couple of the (green-less) roots.

Cassava turns out to be a well-used ingredient in African countries. Both the greens and the root are used in a variety of dishes in Rwanda--the greens are what is most mentioned in the book. It turns out cassava grows well in marginal soil and is very drought tolerant, making it a good crop for areas without plentiful water. Cassava is a great source of carbohydrates but a poor protein source, so I zeroed in on a recipe that mixed it with beans to give it a little more of a boost as a veg-friendly meal.    

The cassava root as I bought it and peeled ready to chop. Raw, it has the texture similar to parsnips and it reminds me a bit of cooking with fresh hearts of palm--rather than peeling the outside skin with a peeler, you cut off the ends, slice through the skin and remove it by hand. Easy peasy. ;-) 

The website called this dish "a traditional Rwandan recipe for a classic vegetarian accompaniment of beans mashed with cassava flavoured with onion and celery" and recommended serving it with green veggies and a sauce like Kachumbari which is apparently like a salsa/cold salad dish of tomatoes, onion and chili peppers. I decided to serve mine more as a stew with steamed greens (kale, spinach and chard) alongside. I wanted to punch up the flavor of the stew and on some sites I read that although Rwandan food is not particularly spicy, sometimes curry or the African berbere spice mixture is used. I found a Marcus Samuelson recipe for berbere at Epicurious and did a variation of his recipe--heavy on the (smoked) paprika, using a pinch of cayenne in place of the Serrano chilies and adding a touch of cumin (because I love it so). The result while not-so-traditional, was very tasty and satisfying.  

Pinto Bean & Cassava Stew
Adapted from Celtnet Recipes: Beans with Cassava
(Serves 4-5)

1 heaping cup of dried pinto beans
about 12 oz cassava, peeled and cut into chunks
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
4 celery sticks, chopped
I Tbsp coconut oil
salt and black pepper to taste
berbere spice blend to taste, optional 

Soak the beans overnight. Rinse beans and place in a large pot with plenty of water. Bring water to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 1 1/2-2 hours, until the beans are almost soft. Add the chopped cassava and boil for another 10-15 minutes, until tender. 

Meanwhile, heat coconut oil in a large pan and saute the onions and celery together with the berbere spice blend until tender. Add to the beans, mixing everything gently but thoroughly, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with steamed or sauteed greens or veggie of choice.

Notes/Results: A thick, creamy and satisfying stew with good flavor. I am glad I added the spices--it would not have been as enjoyable and flavorful without it. The cassava is like a very starchy potato making the mixture very thick and filling so the pan-steamed greens were a nice contrast with their texture and slight bitterness. (They also add a pop of much-needed color and nutrients to the bowl!) Very fun to experiment with the cassava, I would make this again--after I get my hands on some more and make some little fritters the farmers market vendor told me about. ;-)

Bad Cook the Books host that I am, I am sliding in a day before the deadline for this round. If you missed this current round, please join us for Feb/March when Simona of briciole takes us on a foodie journey through America via Twain's Feast: Searching for America's Lost Foods in the Footsteps of Samuel Clemens by Andrew Beahrs. 

Now let's check out the Souper Sundays kitchen where some terrific soups and good friends await. 

Brittany of Brittany Cooks is back with a Creamy White Turkey Chili that she declares, "will definitely warm you up, and is incredibly satisfying." Brittany says, "Comfort food like this warms my body and soul, and will likely be what gets me through this winter. So far, the cold has already been pretty brutal, and I don't think it's going anywhere any time soon (I hear there will be another polar vortex? Say wha?). Stay warm friends, and enjoy this hearty chili!"

Janet of The Taste Space shares this warming Kabocha Squash, Coconut & Lentil Soup and says, "Soups like this also make my tummy sing. It is filled with all great things: red lentils as a solid base, kabocha squash and coconut milk for a creamy backdrop, spiced with ginger and chile flakes, tempered by tamarind and lime juice with a lemongrass twist. The flavours meld perfectly and this is a soup that will definitely warm you up during a cold front."

Sandra of Meadows Cooks made good use of abundant avocados with this Vegan Avocado and Broccoli Soup and says, "Now that I have 4 soups under my belt (I've been steadily making one a week since my resolution) I am ready to experiment. Mostly because I could not find a recipe that included avocados (at least two of them to make a dent in our ever-going-bad collection) and broccoli (another overwhelming Costco purchase of more broccoli than any human can eat in a reasonable amount of time) that I liked. So I made my own up. It came out pretty yummy. The lemon makes the dish!"

Graziana of Erbe in Cucina offers up Tex-Mex Soup with Cilantro and says, "I harvested a bunch of cilantro from my rooftop and added it to this tex-mex style recipe. It's a soup, but it can also be served as a dip. This summer I have grown some bell peppers, like the Diamond White in the picture. I had a lot of them, so I grilled, cleaned and finally frozen them for the winter. My grilled pepper sauce was a successful experiment, and I'm using it for pasta dressings, appetizers, and also for this soup."

And finally Pam of Sidewalk Shoes shares hearty chili and says, "As part of the Rancho Gordo’s Year of Beans last year, I received a bag of dried hominy.  I had no idea what to do with it.  I knew that I had only had it in a posole.So, searching the web, I found Turkey Chili Soup with Hominy at Food & Wine.  I figured I could just double the rest of the ingredients and sub my bag of dried hominy for the canned. ... The consistency of this chili was absolutely perfect for me.  I’m one of those people who adds so many crushed saltines to their chili that it can be eaten with a fork.  I don’t think that the original recipe with the canned hominy would be as thick.  The flavors were nice, it was warm and comforting and I liked the chewy bite from the hominy."

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 for all of the details.

Have a happy, healthy week!


Friday, January 24, 2014

Smoked Salmon Sushi Squares: Lunch for a 'Princess' for Food 'N Flix January: "The Breakfast Club"

"You see us as you want to see us... In the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain, and an athlete, and a basket case, a princess and a criminal..."

Ah, The Breakfast Club, one of the quintessential 80's movies and our January pick for Food 'N Flix, hosted this month by the wonderful Debra of Eliot's Eats. Sixteen Candles remains my very favorite 80's and John Hughes movie--who can resist Jake Ryan (and Long Duk Dong)? But, The Breakfast Club is definitely in my Top 10. It's not fine cinematic art but it is smart, funny, touching, and the teenage angst and feelings of never quite fitting into the world are relatable, even almost 30 years after it was made. I have to assume that you at least know the basic plot if you haven't seen it. (If not, go here.) The cast is the usual suspects--Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy and Emilio Estevez and it even has the memorable movie song--"Don't You Forget About Me" by Simple Minds--that you can't help singing along to. It's one of those movies that despite owning a copy, I stop and watch it on television if I find it when flipping the channels. 

What it isn't particularly is a foodie movie--except for the name and the lunch scenes but that's OK. I loved pulling it out, watching it from beginning to end again, and making a dish inspired by it. I took my inspiration from Claire's (Molly Ringwald) princess-worthy sushi lunch and the interaction between her and John Bender (Judd Nelson) about it--one of my favorite scenes that always makes me laugh.

Bender: [pointing to Claire's lunch] "What's that?"
Claire: "Sushi."
Bender: "Sushi?"
Claire: "Rice, raw fish, and seaweed."
Bender: "You won't accept a guy's tongue in your mouth, and you're going to eat that?"
Claire: "Can I eat?"
Bender: "I don't know. Give it a try."

I personally did not try my first sushi until after college and my second round wasn't until several years later--it took me a while to get over the whole 'raw' thing back then. Living in Seattle, traveling to Japan for work, living in Hawaii and having access to great sushi in all of those places has made it a favorite lunch or dinner for me. I don't like to make it though--too much fuss and rolling, so I have had this Donna Hay recipe for Smoked Salmon Sushi tagged to make for a while.

Everything is layered in a baking pan, then turned out and sliced into pieces. It couldn't be easier and since it's made with smoked salmon, it's a good introduction for the sushi-neophyte to the flavors and concept without having to totally go there. ;-) Served with simple edamame tossed with a smidge of sesame oil, sea salt and sesame seeds and some low-sodium soy sauce with a dollop of extra wasabi paste, it makes for a tasty lunch that makes  a long day of work (or detention) a bit more bearable. 

I made a few small changes to the recipe (in red below), cutting the sugar and salt in the sushi rice by half. With the flavorful smoked salmon on top and adding a little extra wasabi to the squares--not to mention the (low sodium) soy sauce to dip them in, it really doesn't need the extra in my opinion. And no one likes 'salt bloat!' Donna has these cut in 30 squares which I think would be great for appetizers but I used my small brownie pan and cut it into 16 rectangles as I thought it would fit the bento box better. They hold together beautifully and work well as a hand-held dipper so the larger size is still easy to eat.

Smoked Salmon Sushi Squares
Adapted from
(Makes 30) (I cut mine into 16) 

1 2/3 cups (330g) sushi rice
1 3/4 cups (435ml) water 

1/4 cup (60ml) rice wine vinegar
2 Tbsp caster (superfine) sugar (I reduced to 1 Tbsp)
2 tsp sea salt flakes (I reduced to 1 Tsp)
7 oz (200g) sliced smoked salmon
1 tsp wasabi paste (I increased to 2 Tsp)
2 sheets nori
(low sodium) soy sauce, to serve

Place the rice in a colander and rinse under cold running water for 5 minutes. Transfer to a small saucepan and add the water. Cover, bring to the boil and cook for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover, and stand for 10 minutes.

Combine the vinegar, sugar and salt. Spread the cooked rice over the base of a large flat shallow non-metallic dish and sprinkle with the vinegar mixture. Stir with a spatula for 5 minutes or until cool to touch. 

Before cutting--this is also before I trimmed the edges where my nori sheet went over.
Line a 8-inch x 12-inch (20cm x 30cm) cake pan  with plastic wrap. Line the base with smoked salmon, spread with wasabi, top with rice and press down firmly. Place nori over the sushi rice and fold over the plastic wrap to enclose. Place a piece of cardboard over the top and weigh down. Refrigerate for 1 hour. Turn out, slice and serve with soy sauce

Notes/Results: Super simple to make and fun to eat--these are great little squares. I actually put mine together the night before and unmolded and sliced them in the morning and they were perfect. Very portable and not at all messy--so in addition to a lunch box they would be great for parties or picnics too. I will definitely make them again.

It's Potluck week at I Heart Cooking Clubs (we can make any Donna Hay dish or a dish from any of the previous IHCC chefs) so I am also linking these sushi squares up there too. 

The entry date for this month's Food 'N Flix is Monday, January 27th. If you missed this round and like food, films and foodie films, join us for February when we will be watching the classic foreign foodie movie, Babette's Feast hosted by Culinary Adventures with Camilla.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Book Tour Stops Here: "Our Love Could Light the World" by Anne Leigh Parrish with Stove-Top Tuna Noodle "Casserole"

The twelve interlinking stories in "Our Love Could Light the World" by Anne Leigh Parrish explore The Dugan's--an American family. I'm not going to say an average or a typical American family, because is there really such a thing? The Dugans however are that family--the glaringly dysfunctional one we know and tend to sit in judgement of--way too many kids and issues, way too little money and care for those around them.

From the Publisher's Book Blurb:
"You know the Dugans. They’re that scrappy family down the street. Their five children run free, they never clean up after their dog, and the husband hasn’t earned a cent in years. You wouldn’t want them for neighbors, but from a distance, they’re quite entertaining."

Yes, the Dugans are entertaining. Entertaining in that way in which while you know you shouldn't stare, you just can't seem to look away--you want to see what happens next. Mother Lavina supports the family and wants out, leaving them for her well-off boss (it happens early on so not really a spoiler). Potter, the father, hasn't held down a job in years due to the pain from a back injury that he drowns out with whiskey. The Dugan children are (in order of birth) overweight and pierced teenager Angie, eldest son Timothy, the twins Marta and Maggie, and finally Foster, the youngest boy. ("The name was based on a statement Mrs. Dugan made, that if she had any more children they'd end up in foster care.") Nice! None of the characters are particularly likable--even to each other most of the time, but I found myself rooting for them and wanting to see them do well. The stories cover about a ten year span in the lives of the family--dropping in and out of their lives, sharing their different viewpoints and experiences. We hear from and about some family members more than others which meant I felt a bigger bond to some of them--Angie, Potter and Potter's sister Patty in particular. Lavina I could never warm up to--although by the end I found some sympathy for her and a slightly better understanding of her choices. 

What makes these stories and the book special is that they are all about one family and with the setting over several years, I liked how we got to see the different family members change throughout the book. For some that means growth and some self-understanding, for others it looks like just pain and setbacks. Pretty realistic, as in my experience (there were eight children on our clan), at any one given time in a large family you will almost never find everyone on an equal positive emotional footing for long--for every new job, happy relationship or positive step, someone is miserable, backsliding or having a complete meltdown. The Dugan's luck definitely skews to the downside and there are some dark moments and subjects. Author Anne Leigh Parrish makes "Our Love Could Light the World" gritty, touching, occasionally (darkly) humorous, and very readable. Fans of well-written short stories and family dramas will enjoy this one.

Author Notes: Anne Leigh Parrish’s debut novel, What is Found, What is Lost, is forthcoming in late 2014 from She Writes Press.  Her first story collection, All The Roads That Lead From Home, (Press 53, 2011) won a silver medal in the 2012 Independent Publisher Book Awards.  

"Our Love Could Light the World" is not a foodie book but there is plenty of food mentioned in it. Mostly family-style food like the dishes Lavina made and froze on her Sunday "cooking day" (before leaving the family for greener pastures and a house with a housekeeper/cook of course), "big pots of spaghetti and sauce, macaroni and cheese, tuna noodle casserole, even a nice beef stew every once in a while." Better than the hotdogs and peanut and butter and jelly sandwiches Potter gives the kids for dinner. There's pizza--black olive and onion is Angie's favorite, takeout Chinese and hamburgers on the grill (One of my favorite descriptive lines: "Lavina started slapping the burgers together in a way that suggested she'd rather be slapping someone's face."

Ultimately I went with a stove-top tuna casserole (Is it really casserole if you make it on the stove-top?) Mine is probably somewhat healthier than the Dugan family would choose and made with ingredients I don't see them enjoying like dill and capers but, I like what I like. ;-) I also made it dairy and gluten free--more from what I had on hand than anything else. I think it is a lot like the Dugan's stories and the book--not too pretty to look at but ultimately good and satisfying.   

Stove-Top Tuna "Casserole" 
by Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Serves 4-5)

8 oz pasta of choice (I used quinoa pasta)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 stalks celery, sliced thinly
3 gloves garlic, minced
8 oz crimini mushroom, washed and sliced
3 Tbsp flour of choice (I used chickpea flour)
2 cups milk (I used unsweetened almond milk)
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 6-oz cans tuna packed in water, drained
2 cup fresh or frozen petite green peas
2 Tbsp capers, drained
1 Tbsp fresh dill, finely chopped
1 Tbsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped
sea salt and black pepper to taste

Cook pasta according to package directions, drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat a large stockpot or pan over medium-high heat. Add oil and when heated, add celery and onion. Saute until onions become translucent and celery is softened, about 6-7 minutes. Add garlic and sliced mushroom and saute until mushroom are softened and cooked through, about 5-6 minutes.

Sprinkle in flour and whisk briskly. Then add in milk by whisking it in about 1/4 cup at a time until smooth. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to medium-low and whisk in Dijon. Allow sauce to simmer about 5 minutes, until sauce thickens. Stir in tuna, peas, capers, dill and parsley and simmer until heated through, then stir in cooked pasta. Season to taste with sea salt and black pepper.

Serve in bowls garnished with fried onions, breadcrumbs, sliced almonds or more fresh herbs.

Notes/Results: What can you say about tuna noodle casserole? It's not a dish that photographs well or is elegant to look at but, it is the perfect comfort food--creamy and flavorful. This one is a good mix of textures with the different veggies, capers and a sprinkle of the garlic pepper crispy onions that I am sadly becoming addicted to on top. It tastes even better the next day. ;-) I would make it again.

Note: A review copy of "Our Love Could Light the World" 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.



Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Kabocha Squash Ice Cream (Vegan, Non-Dairy) {#12WksWinterSquash}

What better way to end 12 weeks of cooking with winter squash than to go out with dessert?! In this case, it's a healthy one--a dairy-free, vegan Kabocha Squash Ice Cream from "The Fresh Energy Cookbook: Detox Recipes to Supercharge Your Life" by Natalia Rose and Doris Choi. 

I am not normally a squash sweet/dessert kind of person, a lot due to my complete aversion to the pumpkin pie spice that usually accompanies it--but, I was intrigued by this ice cream and decided to leave out the pumpkin pie spice and make a maple-cinnamon version. My changes to the recipe are in red below. 

This ice cream is a nutritional powerhouse of vitamins A & C, B6, fiber, manganese and other vitamins and minerals and so f anyone tells you that you have to eat your veggies before you eat dessert, you can tell them you are doing it at the same time. ;-)

Kabocha Squash Ice Cream
Adapted From "The Fresh Energy Cookbook" by Natalia Rose & Doris Choi
(Makes 1 quart)

2 cups coconut milk, chilled
2 cups kabocha squash puree
3/4 cup agave nectar or stevia (I subbed in 1/2 cup maple syrup)
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
1 Tbsp maple extract (omitted)
2 Tbsp pumpkin pie spice (I used 1 1/2 Tbsp ground cinnamon)
1/2 tsp salt

Combine all ingredients in a blender, then process through an ice cream maker. Can serve topped with dark chocolate  sauce if desired. (Note: I combined my cooked kabocha and all other ingredients in the blender and pureed until smooth, then chilled overnight in fridge before processing in ice cream maker.)

Notes/Results: Super-creamy, sweet and full of good cinnamon-maple flavor. I think the change to maple syrup in place of agave or stevia, and using a lesser amount was a good idea as it allowed the kabocha and cinnamon to come through. Very rich and satisfying and worth making again--maybe with some chai spices for a fun variation. 

Yikes! It's been 12 weeks! This is my last and final dish for the 12 Weeks of Winter Squash Event hosted by my friends Heather and Joanne. :-( Feel free to link up your winter squash dishes during the week at the linky below or on any one of the other participating blogs.