Thursday, May 29, 2014

Raspberry-Cinnamon-Cream Croissant French Toast for Food 'N Flix May: Bridesmaids

If you are trying to eat healthy or diet I urge you to look away. This decadent Raspberry-Cinnamon-Cream Croissant French Toast is not the way to go. Sure, it contains eggs, yogurt and fresh fruit but that is not enough to off-set the butter and cream. Between it and the indulgent and boozy Kahlúa Latte Milkshake posted earlier this week, the 'mostly healthy' tagline on my blog is taking a beating. (Lucky for my arteries I made single portions of both) ;-) 

Still, if you want to treat yourself, this croissant, made into the flakiest of French toast, both sides spread lightly with raspberry preserves, the bottom piece topped with a cloud of spiced whipped cream and yogurt and a sprinkle of fresh raspberries, then crowned with the croissant top and another poof of the cream will do it. Quick and easy, but still special enough for a party or even a fancy Paris-themed bridal shower like the one in the movie Bridesmaids, our Food 'N Flix May selection hosted by at Evelyne at Cheap Ethnic Eatz.

I saw Bridesmaids when it came out and have since caught parts of it on TV (although a lot gets edited or cut when it isn't on cable), so it was fun to get it from Netflix and watch the whole thing again. Kristen Wigg is hilarious as Annie--her life heading quickly toward bottom with the closure of her bakery, her strange British roommates, and her not emotionally satisfying love life--featuring booty calls with a good-looking but jerky guy (John Hamm). She wants to be happy for her longtime and very best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) when she gets engaged and asks Annie to be her maid of honor, but it's hard, especially when a new friend to Lillian and one of the bridesmaids, Helen (Rose Byrne), wants to take her place in the wedding and in Lillian's heart. The humor is pretty crude at times but often laugh-out-loud funny--how can it not be with Wigg, Rudolph, Melissa McCarthy, Ellie Kemper and the rest of the cast? Still, while raunchy on the outside, at its heart it's a movie about friendship and pulling yourself back up when life has you down. If you haven't seen it, Bridesmaids is a great film to watch when you need a good girl-power chuckle. Just be prepared to have it's 'anthem' of Hold On by Wilson Phillips stuck in your head for the next few days.

For food inspiration, it was pretty clear that the Brazilian restaurant and the subsequent bridesmaid dress shopping with food poisoning didn't make me feel like cooking or eating. Annie is a baker so I was going to go that route but then I decided to make something that might be served at the lavish bridal shower brunch that wealthy Helen hosts, stealing Annie's Paris-theme idea and taking it completely over-the-top. I thought of French toast and wanted to make a fruit-stuffed version, then I started thinking of making it with croissants, raspberries, and a version of the fabulous mix of spices and whipped yogurt, cream and mascarpone that accompanied Yotam Ottolenghi's Fruit Crumble Cream.

Raspberry-Cinnamon-Cream Croissant French Toast
by Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Serves 2, easily increased to serve more)

2 croissants, each split carefully into 2
2 eggs
splash of cream
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp almond or vanilla extract
pinch of salt
maple syrup to taste (or sugar or other sweetener of choice)
butter to cook with

good, thick raspberry jam or preserves
Spiced Cream (recipe below)
fresh raspberries, rinsed gently and well drained/dried
In a large shallow pan or bowl, beat eggs until thoroughly mixed. Add a splash of cream, cinnamon, extract, a pinch of salt and maple syrup to taste and stir together until blended. Heat a large pan over medium-low and add butter. Dip each croissant half into the egg mixture until coated--turning to get both sides covered. Let excess egg mixture drip off and once pan is ready, add croissant halves, cut side down. Cook 3-4 minutes (taking care that they don't brown too quickly or too darkly) and when nicely browned, turn over and cook the other side 3-4 minutes or until brown and croissant is warmed through. Set aside for a few minutes--you want they warm but not piping hot to assemble.

To Assemble: Spread each cut side of croissant lightly with raspberry preserves. Place bottom half of croissant on plate. Spoon spiced cream mixture on top in a nice cloud. Top cream with fresh raspberries. Gently place the top of the croissant (already spread with the jam) on top at a slight angle to make it pretty. Top with a final small scoop of the cream and garnish with fresh berries. Serve and enjoy!


Spiced Cream
Adapted from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi 
(Makes a heaping cup+)

1/3 cup heavy cream
4 Tbsp thick Greek yogurt
4 Tbsp cream cheese (Ottolenghi's recipe used mascarpone, I went cheaper) ;-)
1 tsp super-fine sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 ground cardamom 

Place all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and whisk to soft peaks, taking care not to over-whip (it is quite thick to begin with, show it shouldn't take more than 30 seconds or so).

Notes/Results: Yep, this one is a keeper with all of the wonderful flavors and textures going on. It's good combination of sweet and tangy--the whipped cream is not too sweet and the cinnamon in the French toast plus the cinnamon and cardamom in the whipped cream add flavor complexity. A bite with each component coming together and topped with a fresh raspberry is pretty heavenly. I would happily make this again when I'm in the mood for an indulgent brunch treat. 

Of course I am right at the wire for the Food 'N Flix deadline (today)! But, if you missed out this month and you love food, movies and foodie movies, come join us for June when we will be watching Cher and Nicolas Cage in Moonstruck, hosted by the wonderful Debra of Eliot's Eats.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Book Tour Stops Here: "The Book of You" by Claire Kendal with a Kahlúa Latte Milkshake

Imagine that every breath you take, every move you make, every step you take, someone is watching you. Not just part of the lyrics in the classic song by The Police, this is the reality for one in six women in the U.S. who have been stalked by someone according to a report by the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In The Book of You, a chilling new novel by Claire Kendal, Clarissa, a secretary at a university, is being stalked, harassed and terrorized by a co-worker--someone she had a brief encounter with, and who now won't leave her alone.  

Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: Harper (May 6, 2014)

Publisher's Blurb:

"A mesmerizing tale of psychological suspense about a woman who must fight to escape an expert manipulator determined to possess her, Claire Kendal’s debut novel is a sophisticated and disturbing portrait of compulsion, control, and terror that will appeal to fans of Before I Go to Sleep, The Silent Wife, and Into the Darkest Corner.

His name is Rafe, and he is everywhere Clarissa turns. At the university where she works. Her favorite sewing shop. The train station. Outside her apartment. His messages choke her voice mail; his gifts litter her mailbox. Since that one regrettable night, his obsession with her has grown, becoming more terrifying with each passing day. And as Rafe has made clear, he will never let her go.

Clarissa’s only escape from this harrowing nightmare is inside a courtroom—where she is a juror on a trial involving a victim whose experiences eerily parallel her own. There she finds some peace and even makes new friends, including an attractive widower named Robert, whose caring attentions make her feel desired and safe. But as a disturbingly violent crime unfolds in the courtroom, Clarissa realizes that to survive she must expose Rafe herself. Conceiving a plan, she begins collecting the evidence of Rafe’s madness to use against him—a record of terror that will force her to relive every excruciating moment she desperately wants to forget. Proof that will reveal the twisted, macabre fairy tale that Rafe has spun around them . . . with an ending more horrifying than her darkest fears.

Masterfully constructed, filled with exquisite tension and a pervasive sense of menace, The Book of You explores the lines between love and compulsion, fantasy and reality, and offers a heart-stopping portrait of a woman determined to survive. Claire Kendal’s extraordinary debut will haunt readers long after it reaches its terrifying, breathtaking conclusion."

 Check out the book trailer:

It's always so much more frightening when the monster in a book is someone who you could easily encounter in your life--a coworker, a neighbor, an acquaintance--someone who outwardly seems mostly normal but is very far from it. Although I don't know anyone who has faced the intensity of Clarissa's situation, I, and so many others I know, have experienced some sort of issue where someone has made us feel at the least uncomfortable, at the worst extremely frightened, by their unwanted attentions. It is easy to feel empathy for Clarissa, any of us could so easily be Clarissa and you realize just how little recourse she has to get this man out of her life.  

The story unfolds in two ways--Clarissa's little black notebook, filled with detailed entries of her encounters with Rafe, recommended to help build a case against him from the safety leaflets she has received from the helplines she has called. (This is 'The Book of You' from the title.) Interwoven is the third person observation of Clarissa's daily experiences and the recaps of the trial she is sitting in on as a juror. Although her jury duty and the courtroom act as a 'sanctuary' for Clarissa to escape Rafe for the time she is there, the lifestyle and actions of the victim in the trial are being questioned and harshly judged, which doesn't help Clarissa's thoughts and guilt about whether any of her own actions caused or escalated her situation with Rafe. The book is set in the U.K. but the 'stalker laws' and court system are similar enough to the U.S. that it is easy to understand and relate to.  

Author Kendal has crafted an intense read that builds up the suspense page by page. I had to stop myself several times from going to the end of the book to see if it ended if not 'happily'--at least in a way I could tolerate. Throughout, I had that creepy-crawly feeling that made me want a shower and maybe a blanket to hide beneath after Clarissa's encounters with Rafe. It is disturbing for sure due to the subject matter and its realism but, if you like a good psychological drama and can stand the suspense, The Book of You is well worth the creepy feeling it will leave you with.

Author Notes: Claire Kendal lives in England, where she lectures in English Literature and Creative Writing. The Book of You is her first novel, and will be translated into over a dozen languages.

Being that this is primarily a food blog, I almost always include a recipe inspired by the book with my reviews. I tend to boast that I can do this for any book--food focused or not, but some books are more difficult than others. It's not that there wasn't food in The Book of You, but it is pretty hard to feel inspired by and passionate about food and eating with Clarissa's growing terror and Rafe's escalation of his stalking. I was going to do a mezze platter to represent a sense of freedom and joy Clarissa felt, shopping at a farmers market after being notified Rafe has received a restraining order and being told that she should be 'watchful and careful but optimistic' that Rafe will leave her alone:

"She bought bright red tulips, the first of the season, and olives and oak-roasted-tomatoes and ricotta-stuffed peppers and sweet dark rye bread and handmade halloumi cheese and a bottle of her favorite amarone. From the French chocolatier she bought pralines  and truffles and cocoa-dusted almonds. She bought the ingredients for her mother's beef casserole too."       
--The Book of You, Claire Kendall

But, as I read that passage my mind was screaming "It's not over Clarissa!!!" (Cue loud foreboding music in head.) Instead, I used the lattes that Clarissa is constantly drinking to combat her lack of sleep and the sleeping pills and anti-anxiety medications she takes to deal with her situation. It's been a bit humid these past couple of days and rather than make something warm, I thought about iced coffees and lattes which lead to coffee-flavored ice cream, which ultimately lead to a milkshake which fit because the book was so chilling to read. And since this book is so nail-bitingly stressful, I thought that some alcohol running counterpoint to the caffeine would be appropriate and so, this Kahlúa Latte Milkshake was born. 

Kahlúa Latte Milkshake
by Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes 1 large milkshake)

1 1/2 oz Kahlúa Coffee Liqueur 
1/3 cup brewed dark roast coffee, chilled
1 1/2 cups of your favorite vanilla ice cream
whipped cream and cinnamon to garnish (optional)

Combine ingredients in blender and blend at medium speed until just combined. Avoid over-blending--milkshake should be thick and creamy. 

Pour into glasses and top with whipped cream and cinnamon if desired.  

Notes/Results: Sweet, cold, creamy and boozy with a pleasing coffee flavor--this is one scrumptious adult milkshake indulgence. I wanted a latte feel so I used vanilla ice cream but, if you want it to be more coffee forward, use a coffee ice cream, or chocolate ice cream for a mocha milkshake. I will neither confirm or deny that I devoured drank this for lunch. (#its5oclocksomewhere, #advantagestoworkingfromhome) This one is a keeper for those times when you need a little indulging. ;-)

Note: A review copy of "The Book of You" 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 about the book here

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Persian-Inspired Chickpea & Herb Soup with Eggplant for Cook The Books April/May: "Funny in Farsi" and Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

A quick clue to the authenticity of my ethnic cuisine recipes is if I call something "inspired" by a cuisine. That means that I have tinkered around enough with the recipe to make me uncomfortable claiming it as an authentic representation. 'Inspired by' is usually the way I cook by the time I take out the meat, reduce the saturated fat, and change up the ingredients to fit what I like and what I have on hand. Case in point, this Persian-Inspired Chickpea and Herb Soup with Eggplant adapted from a couple of different recipes and my dish inspired by the warm and humorous Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America by Firoozeh Dumas. Funny in Farsi is the April/May selection for our virtual foodie book club, Cook the Books, hosted this round by Rachel, The Crispy Cook.   

I first read this book when it was published in 2003, drawn to it for the humor and another glimpse into a culture that I had a small amount of experience with. My first roommate after college is half Iranian and before we got an apartment together, she lived with her Iranian-born aunt and uncle and their family. I spent time there and was always intrigued by the mix of Iranian and American culture in their house--which mostly looked like the average American household except for the ornate hookah (water pipe) in the corner of the dinning room and the constant aroma of saffron in the kitchen. They were a big family with their young-adult children mostly born and raised in the U.S. and there was usually much 'discussion' about their actions and ideas versus what their parents wanted and expected.

Funny in Farsi is the author's stories of arriving in Southern California from Iran with her family in 1972 at age seven, through her adulthood and married life with a French national. It is a wonderful blend of laugh-out-loud stories (often involving her father) and more poignant moments as the family tries to assimilate into the culture with varying degrees of ease and success. Dumas' writing is warm and chatty, and she clearly writes with love about her family. It's a quick read, easy to relate to regardless of what your background is. If you have a family that you love but that sometimes embarrasses you, you have traveled or spent time in/with another culture or country, or even if you just grew up in America, you'll recognize and connect with the author's experiences and enjoy this book.  

Of course food plays a key role in Dumas' stories--both traditional Persian food as well as the American dishes the family was introduced do--some of the most engaging parts of the book. I loved reading about the 'cafeteria food tastes' Dumas' father developed and his 'going to lunch' with his brother which turned out to be hitting the sampling tables at the regional big-box, warehouse store. (Maybe that is also a generational thing as I tease my own mom about making a meal from in-store sampling.) ;-) I love Persian food, having developed a taste from the dinners with my roommate's family. My favorite dish was one her uncle often made, a mix of rice, lima beans and dill with chunks of chicken breast called baghali polo. Appreciating the fact that I liked his cooking, he would often send a container-full home with us--topped with plenty of tahdig--the crispy layer of rice that develops at the bottom of the pot while it cooks. My roommate was lucky to get a few bites as I would devour every bit of it that I could get away with. 

For my book-inspired dish, I turned to Persian Cooking: A Table of Exotic Delights by Nesta Ramazani to find an eggplant stew, mentioned a few times in the book. The book notes that there are three basic types of Persian or Iranian soups; meat-based (ab goosht), vegetable-based (ash) which can also contain meat, and finally a thin soup that resembles a French soup (soup). Back in my meat-eating days, I made the Ab-Goosht or Persian Lamb Shank Soup from this book which was hearty and good. It turns out most of the soup recipes in the book, particularly those with eggplant contained lamb or other meat so I decided to pick a recipe (Chickpea & Herb Soup or Ash-e Shol Ghalamacar), replace the lamb with eggplant, then add a few aspects/ingredients from a couple of the other recipes to turn it into a hearty vegan soup/stew. The Ash-e Shol Ghalamacar recipe is below with my changes noted in red.

Persian-Inspired Chickpea & Herb Soup with Eggplant 
(Ash-e Shol Ghalamacar Bademjan)
Adapted From Persian Cooking by Nesta Ramazani
(Serves 8-10)

1/2 lb chickpeas
1/2 lb beans (navy, pinto or kidney)
2 large onions, chopped or sliced
2 Tbsp butter or shortening (I used 1 Tbsp olive oil)
1 tsp turmeric 
2 lbs lamb shank (I replaced with eggplant)
1/2 lb lentils (I used split yellow peas)
(I added 3 cups vegetable broth + water) 
3 tsp salt 
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 1/2 cups rice (I used basmati)
3 lbs mixed greens (such as scallions, parsley, dill, coriander, spinach), chopped (I used about 1 lb mostly spinach, with mint, dill, parsley and coriander)
(I garnished with extra fresh herbs and a pomegranate balsamic glaze)

Soak chickpeas and beans for several hours. Saute the onion in the butter or shortening olive oil until golden brown. Add the turmeric. Add the meat, soaked beans, lentils, salt and pepper and enough water to cover. I added a combination of water and vegetable broth. Simmer gently, covered, for 1 hour. Add the rice and chopped greens. Cook another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. (I browned the eggplant in a pan with a bit of olive oil and added it to the soup with the rice. Then I added in the spinach and herbs about 10 minutes before the soup was finished cooking.) 

Notes/Results: So, perhaps not the most traditional of Persian soups but quite good if I do say so myself. I like the color and texture of all of the ingredients and it makes for a satisfying but not heavy or oily bowl of soup. It's actually thick enough to be more of a stew with the beans, eggplant, rice, and yellow split peas absorbing much of the broth--so don't put in the rice or have more liquid on hand to add if you like a brothier soup. Since it's not a strongly-spiced soup, it became even better with a drizzle of a pomegranate balsamic glaze. Good comfort food for a drab, slightly rainy, mid-70's temp Sunday. I would make it again. 

The deadline for this round of Cook the Books is Sunday, June 1st and Rachel will be rounding up the entries on the CTB site shortly after. If you can't make it for this round, consider joining us for our June/July selection when I'll be hosting The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen, a memoir by Jacques Pépin here at Kahakai Kitchen.

We have a Corina and Janet waiting in the Souper Sundays kitchen with a soup and a salad to share--let's take a look. 

Corina of Searching for Spice brings Carrot and Ginger Soup with Marmite Croutons and says, "I often think carrot soup can be difficult to get right.  What it needs is something spicy, sour, bitter or salty to offset the sweetness of the carrots. Otherwise I feel like I’ve had enough after just a few spoonfuls. ...  I love ginger and ginger does go so well with carrot.   It was supposed to serve 4 but it only served me, twice. What I also loved about this was the discovery of the Marmite croutons.  They were strongly flavoured, crispy and salty – a perfect match for the carrot.  In fact, it was probably those Marmite croutons that made me love the soup so much in the end."

Janet of The Taste Space offers up this Asian Kale Slad with Edamame. She says, "Instead of tackling all the leeks and my new produce, I decided to dig through my vegetable bins to find the older vegetables. Finish off the snap peas, carrots and bell peppers, and the last of the scraggly cilantro and scallions. For protein, I quick-thawed some edamame. This combination reminded me of my vegetable buddha salad bowl but since we’re low on miso, I went with a dressing more reminiscent of my (other) raw Asian kale salad with edamame. With so many colourful vegetables and an Asian dressing, how could you go wrong?"

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

Have a happy, healthy Memorial Day Weekend and week!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Spanish-Style Chickpea Dip with Carrots: A Healthy Mark Bittman Snack

I am a hummus fan and a homemade hummus addict. Homemade hummus and other bean dips just taste so much better than store-bought. Although I favor my own classic hummus with plenty of garlic, cumin and lemon, for noshing, I like to try new flavor combinations. This hummus-like Spanish-Style Chickpea Dip is from Mark Bittman's The VB6 Cookbook: More Than 350 Recipes for Healthy Vegan Meals All Day and Delicious Flexitarian Dinner at Night (companion to his VB6 book). The recipe is one of the variations listed to the Southwestern Bean Dip with Peppers and in addition to having all of the components to make it in my pantry, I was drawn to the twist of the Spanish flavors. 

Bittman says, "Commercial bean dips generally aren't too bad, but when you make them yourself with fresh, real ingredients, they become healthy snacks that are still loads of fun."
Spanish-Style Chickpea Dip with Carrots
Adapted from VB6 by Mark Bittman
(Makes 4 Servings)

3 cups cooked or canned chickpeas
1 small white onion, quartered
1 garlic clove, smashed
1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves
1 Tbsp sherry vinegar
2 tsp smoked paprika
salt and black pepper to taste
(I added 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice)

Drain beans. (Reserve cooking liquid if home cooked, discard and rinse liquid if canned.) Put all ingredients into food processor and puree, adding water (or reserved cooking liquid) as needed to make dip smooth but not watery. Or, if you wanted a lumpier texture, mash the beans by hand and then mince and stir in other ingredients.

Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve at room temperature, refrigerate until cold or warm in a small pot over medium-low or the microwave. Garnish with sliced or chopped almonds and serve with carrot sticks. 

Notes/Results: Slightly smoky and with good flavor, this is a great addition to my hummus/bean dip repertoire. Without a tahini-like binder or olive oil, the consistency is a little less creamy than a hummus, but it tastes great and is a healthy choice in terms of fat--especially when served with carrots or other vegetables to dip (although it is pretty wonderful on warm bread) ;-) After tasting the dip for seasoning, I wanted a bit more brightness and instead of adding more sherry vinegar, I added lemon juice--I think if you don't have sherry vinegar on hand, lemon juice would be a fine substitute. I will make this again.

I am linking this dip up at I Heart Cooking Clubs--where it is Potluck Week--the chance to cook any Nigel Slater dish or a dish from any previous IHCC chef like Mark Bittman. You can see what everyone made by checking out the picture links on the post. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Lemon-Tarragon Salmon with Pan-Grilled Asparagus

One of my favorite musicals is the classic A Chorus Line. Simply staged with songs that stick in your head. The last time I saw it was on Broadway, several years ago where day-of TKTS discount tickets found us sitting in the front row at the side of the stage. Especially memorable because Mario Lopez was playing the director Zach, and he spent part of the show in front of our side of the stage with his tight and toned backside at eye level and temptingly within grabbing distance. We refrained, but it might have been touch-and-go there for a bit. ;-) 

What does A Chorus Line have to do with Nigel Slater's Lemon Tarragon Cod Salmon? It reminds me of a song in the show-- "Dance: Ten; Looks: Three" --where the character Val isn't getting jobs and swipes her audition card to see that while her dancing rates her a ten, her looks only get a three. That's my score for this dish--the fabulous flavor rates a ten but the appearance of the curdled sauce gives it a two or three in looks. (The reason why you aren't getting a lot of pictures of it.) It's not really Nigel's fault, he mentions that the sauce naturally curdles slightly in the directions and I most certainly helped it along by being cheap thrifty and using the Greek yogurt I had on had to thicken the sauce instead of buying the crème fraîche called for. I think it would have curdled less with the crème fraîche or even plain heavy cream. Still, the salmon (I replaced the cod with it), was mouthwateringly moist, tender, and flavorful cooked in the butter, lemon and tarragon and the sauce slightly tangy, rich and perfect for both the fish and the pan-grilled asparagus I added to it.   
Nigel says, "A mild and gentle fish supper for a summer's day."

Lemon-Tarragon Salmon
Adapted From Nigel Slater via
(Serves 2)

The Recipe: Put 350g (about 12 oz) of cod fillet (I used salmon), cut from the thick end of the fish, into a large, shallow pan with the juice of two lemons, 40g of butter (1.4 oz) (I used about 1 tablespoon) and half a small bunch of tarragon, chopped. Add a bay leaf and six black peppercorns, then bring to the boil, lower the heat, cover with a lid and simmer for about 10 minutes until the fish is opaque. Remove the fish with a fish slice and keep it warm. Add the remaining half-bunch of tarragon, chopped, a teaspoonful of capers (I doubled the capers) and three tablespoons of crème fraîche. (I used Greek yogurt)

The Trick: Check the texture of the fish constantly. It is ready when a large flake of fish can be easily prized away from the next, but should remain firm and snow white. The sauce naturally curdles slightly.

The Twist: Try the same recipe but use salmon instead of cod, and use a bunch of chervil instead of tarragon. Gurnard is also a possibility, as is haddock, and keep it plain and simple by using flat-leaf parsley.

Notes/Results: Nigel suggests the tarragon with cod and matching chervil with the salmon but I can never find chervil here and I love tarragon with any fish. The tarragon gives the sauce such great flavor and of course, I always love my capers and tossed in extra. ;-) I did reduce the butter to about a tablespoon just because I didn't feel I needed the additional fat and calories. Although the appearance of the sauce was not great, the texture was fine. As mentioned above, the salmon was sublime and my pieces took about 12 minutes. You can see how moist it was in the photo. I may continue to pan steam/poach my salmon with a lemon, tarragon, bit of butter mixture, as even without the sauce, it was yummy.

It's Potluck week at I Heart Cooking Clubs--a chance to cook any Nigel Slater dish or a dish from any previous IHCC chef. You can see what everyone made by checking out the picture links on the post. 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Curried Cream of Celery Soup, Unique and Flavorful for Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

Whenever I end up with an excess of an ingredient to use up, I look for a soup to put it in. So much better than tossing it away and wasting it. I bought a big bunch of celery for  tuna pasta salad and then realized I already had a bunch in fridge. Looking for a celery-based soup, I came across this vegan (and dairy-free and gluten-free) Curried Cream of Celery Soup. I liked the variety of ingredients, was craving curry, and it got a lot of good reviews--so I decided to give it a try.

Curried Cream of Celery Soup
Vegetarian Times (April/May 2012)
(Serves 8)

1/4 cup sliced almonds
2 Tbsp olive oil
6 celery stalks, diced (3 1/2 cups)
1 large leek, white part halved lengthwise & thinly sliced (2 cups)
3/4 tsp salt
2 apples, peeled, cored, and diced (2 cups)
1 Tbsp curry powder, such as Madras
1 14-oz. can light coconut milk
2 Tbsp rice
2 1/2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1 Tbsp lime juice
1/4 cup coarsely chopped celery leaves, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spread almonds on baking sheet, and toast 8 to 10 minutes, or until golden. Cool.

Heat oil in large pot over medium heat. Add celery, leek, and salt; cook 5 minutes, or until vegetables start to soften. Stir in apples and curry powder; cook 2 minutes. Add coconut milk, rice, broth, and 21/2 cups water. Bring soup to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 15 minutes, or until vegetables are soft when pierced with a fork.

Purée soup in blender until smooth. Return to pot, and stir in lime juice. Season with salt and pepper, if desired. Ladle soup into bowls, and sprinkle celery leaves and almonds on top. 

Nutritional Info: Calories: 146, Protein: 2g, Total Fat: 10g, Sat. Fat: 3g, Carbs: 14g, Cholesterol: 0mg, Sodium: 307 mg, Fiber 3g, Sugars: 5g

Notes/Results: Velvety smooth and great flavor, this is a simple but elegant little soup. The curry is the predominant flavor, although it isn't overpowering and there is a slight sweetness from the apple and coconut milk, and a bit of acidity from the lime juice. The texture of the celery leaves and toasted almonds on top is a nice contrast to the puréed soup. Since I was using un-waxed organic green apples, I left the skin on for the extra fiber and nutrients. This soup isn't heavy and also tastes good cold, making it good for any type of weather. An easy soup that would be a unique starter for an Indian dinner, I would make this again.  


We have some good friends and their dishes waiting in the Souper Sundays kitchen--let's have a look. 

Tigerfish of Teczcape - An Escape to Food shares this Easy Rasam Soup and says, "Rasam soup is a soup that can be enjoyed throughout the year, in my opinion. The warmth and spice is elevating in the cool hibernating temperatures of winter but the sourish-factor can be very appetizing when the weather gets too hot causing a loss in appetite. This is an easy Rasam Soup that does not take much effort to make. It might not be the most authentic Indian Rasam Soup recipe but for a quick-fix, definitely worth a try."

Janet of The Taste Space brings a salad that she liked even better as salad rolls. ;-) Janet says, "It started out as a Thai Kale Salad with Chickpeas and a Peanut Dressing. I made it, I ate it. However, the next day, I thought rice paper rolls would be better.  So I wrapped them up… and decided I didn’t want to bother with new photographs and munched away. Of course, the wrap was better. There is something sensational when all the components of the dish hit your palate at the exact same time: the lemony kale, the sweet red pepper, the crunchy carrots and the chickpeas are not rolling around everywhere…. and how could I forget the delicious peanut sauce? It is light, thinned with vinegar but flavourful with the ginger and orange.

My friend and fellow co-host of I Heart Cooking Clubs, Sue of Couscous & Consciousness made Nigel Slater's Spinach, Orange & Goat Cheese Salad. She says, "Of this dish, Nigel says, "A favourite salad of mine is one where the spinach leaves are matched with oranges and feta.  Lush, salty, refreshing, I use it to lift the spirits."  And he's right.  It is all of those things, and the "sunny" burst of tangy orange slices amongst the velvety spinach leaves, spiked with sharp, salty goats' feta, cannot fail to be uplifting on a gloomy late autumn day. This salad of course would make a great side to just about anything you can think of, but it can just as easily make a meal on its own."

Finally, we have The Best Ever Breakfast Sandwich from Foodycat who says. "I don't think there is anything else I make this regularly, with so little variation, and that is because this is simple perfection. This sandwich is a vegan's nightmare, but strangely (for me) contains no bacon. Seriously, this is sheer perfection that needs no pork products. The combination of toasted brioche, chilli relish, cheese and a fried egg forms a mystical union far greater than the sum of its parts. Creamy, sweet, salty, sharp, hot and pungent in perfect balance. It's so good that it is genuinely worth making the chilli relish while you have your first cup of coffee so that you can have your sandwich with the second cup."

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

Have a happy, healthy week!

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Book Tour Stops Here: "The Garden Plot" by Marty Wingate with Orecchiette with Goat Cheese, Artichokes, & Olives (+ Giftcard/Books Giveaway!)

Sometimes I like a dark, creepy mystery/thriller to get my pulse pounding. Other times I am in the mood for a cozy mystery--a gentler, more fun story that provides entertainment without as much of the violence and scare factor. Although I tend to read cozy mysteries that have a foodie focus, today we are taking it outdoors and into the garden. The Garden Plot by Marty Wingate is a cozy little mystery with a likable heroine who happens to be a 50-ish Texas-born master gardener trying to build a new life in London and who stumbles across a murder and a mystery. 

Publisher's Blurb:

"An an entirely appealing mystery debut, Marty Wingate introduces readers to a curious Texas ex-pat whose English gardening expertise on occasion leads her to unearth murderous goings-on.
Pru Parke always dreamed of living in England. And after the Dallas native follows an impulse and moves to London, she can’t imagine ever leaving—though she has yet to find a plum position as a head gardener. Now, as the sublet on her flat nears its end, the threat of forced departure looms. Determined to stay in her beloved adopted country, Pru takes small, private gardening jobs throughout the city.

On one such gig in Chelsea, she makes an extraordinary find. Digging in the soil of a potting shed, Pru uncovers an ancient Roman mosaic. But enthusiasm over her discovery is soon dampened when, two days later, she finds in the same spot a man’s bludgeoned corpse. As the London police swarm her worksite, ever inquisitive Pru can’t quite manage to distance herself from the investigation—much to the dismay of stern Detective Chief Inspector Christopher Pearse. It seems that, much as he tries, even handsome DCI Pearse can’t keep Pru safe from a brutal killer who thinks she’s already dug up too much."

Publisher: Alibi (May 6, 2014)
Sold by: Random House LLC

The Garden Plot is a great little book to curl up and enjoy with a cup of tea--or, if your weather is as humid as it has been here, enjoy with a big glass of fruit iced tea out on your porch or lanai. The lead character, Pru, is smart, charming, and easy to relate to--a loyal friend and someone you could easily hang out with. I rooted for her to succeed and find the perfect head gardener position she was looking for, and I felt for her each time she received a rejection letter. At times her decisions towards the investigation were a bit questionable, but that is pretty par for the course in these mysteries where the main character isn't a professional crime solver. DCI Christopher Pearse was a good match for her--his mostly by-the-book style, a good foil. Hopefully they will continue to solve mysteries together in upcoming books. The setting of the book in London and the surrounding area was fun and the gardening detail interesting and not over-done, even for a mostly brown-thumb person like me. This is a light and breezy read, no big surprises in terms of the whodunit, but a good way to travel across the pond via a book and immerse yourself in Pru's world for a while. I look forward to the next book in the series. 

Author Notes:  Marty Wingate is a regular contributor to Country Gardens as well as other magazines. She also leads gardening tours throughout England, Scotland, Ireland, France, and North America. The Garden Plot is her first novel. More Potting Shed mysteries are planned.

Although a garden-based mystery, there was plenty of foodie inspiration in The Garden Plot. Lots of tea and various pastries, pub food, sandwiches, homey dinners, sticky toffee pudding, curry and plenty of pasta as Pru's favorite neighborhood restaurant is Gasparetti's, an Italian eatery. Since living on a budget while looking for her dream job, Pru mostly fills up on owner/chef Riccardo's minestrone soup and bread, with an occasional small plate of pasta. I knew I wanted to go with some sort of pasta dish and something green to celebrate the garden. I found my dish in an article about Nigel Slater's 10 most popular recipes in the U.K.'s The Guardian online. Orecchiette with Goat Cheese, Artichokes, & Olives may not be in the book or on Gasparetti's menu but, it is from a beloved British chef, full of green ingredients in varying shades and, being a room-temperature dish, it is the perfect pasta to enjoy on the patio or garden on a warm spring evening. 

Nigel says, "Of all the quick pasta suppers I have up my sleeve, this is probably the one I turn to most often. The original version contained thin shavings of Parmesan but I now find a goat's or sheep's cheese perks the whole thing up."

Orecchiette with Goat Cheese and Artichokes
Adapted from Nigel Slater via (April 2005/May 2011) 
(Serves 2) (Deb says serves 3, 4 with a salad)

8.75 oz (250g) preserved artichokes
lemon 1 large, finely grated zest and juice
olive oil
small bunch fresh parsley
5.35 oz (150g) orecchiette pasta
5.35 oz (150g) goat cheese
about 20 green olives (I halved mine)

Put a large pan of water on to boil for the pasta. 

Cut the artichokes in thick slices and drop them into a bowl with the olives. Add the grated lemon zest and juice. Stir in four tablespoons of olive oil and a seasoning of salt and pepper. (Note: watch the amount of salt with the cheese, olives and marinated artichokes--you won't need as much.) Chop or tear the parsley leaves and add to the artichokes and olives.

Salt the boiling water, add the pasta, then cook till tender (about 9 minutes). Drain the pasta and toss with the artichoke mixture.

Divide between two bowls and serve with thin slices of cheese.

Notes/Results: This pasta makes me happy--al dente orecchiette pasta combined with the briny olives and little artichoke hearts in a slightly lemony dressing--then those luscious bites of creamy goat cheese--which gets sort of soft and melty from the warm pasta and nestles nicely in the little 'ears' of the orecchiette. Pretty heavenly in my book. This is one of those few-ingredient-recipes that rely on good quality--so use your best olive oil, cheese, artichokes and olives. I found a jar of baby grilled artichokes--about $1.50 more than the equivalent amount of regular jarred artichokes but well worth it for their compact size and better flavor. As with most Nigel recipes this makes hearty servings, at least three good size or four smaller servings with a green salad. This goes together in the time it takes the pasta to cook so it makes for an easy weeknight dinner, but worthy enough to entertain with. I will definitely make it again.  

This pasta dish is being linked up at I Heart Cooking Clubs for this week's "A Little Cheese, Please!" theme. You can see the cheesy dishes that everyone made by checking out the picture links on the post.

Note: A review copy of "The Garden Plot" 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 about the book here.

***E-Giftcard/Books Giveaway!!!***

Kahakai Kitchen is joining in on the Rafflecopter giveaway for The Garden Plot's TLC Book Tour. The publisher is giving away a $30 e-giftcard to the e-book retailer of the winner's choice, and a First Prize Mystery Prize Pack of three mystery mass market paperbacks and a gardening title from Random House! Enter to win below. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Happy Aloha Friday!