Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween!


Work procrastination can sometimes lead to imagining what your cat would look like as a zombie...

Max says Happy Halloween and wants you to know that this was done with PicMonkey photo editor and he was not bothered during the making of this photo. (There is no way he would put up with crap like this in real life!) ;-)

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "The Moonlight Palace" by Liz Rosenburg Served with Singapore-Style Rice Noodles with Veggies

Today's TLC Book Tour features the second book set in Singapore that I have recently read and reviewed. The first, Aunty Lee's Deadly Specials, was set in current times but  "The Moonlight Palace" by Liz Rosenburg goes back to 1920s Singapore, a time of great political and economic change. It's a short and sweet novel about a palace (Istana Kampong Glam-- also known as Sultan’s Palace), and the last of the sultan's family, centering around plucky, young Agnes Hussein, determined to help her family and save their home. Today I am serving up Singapore-Style Rice Noodles with Veggies, a vegetarian take on a hawker curried noodle dish, along with the review.

Publisher's Blurb:
Agnes Hussein, descendant of the last sultan of Singapore and the last surviving member of her immediate family, has grown up among her eccentric relatives in the crumbling Kampong Glam palace, a once-opulent relic given to her family in exchange for handing over Singapore to the British.

Now Agnes is seventeen and her family has fallen into genteel poverty, surviving on her grandfather’s pension and the meager income they receive from a varied cast of boarders. As outside forces conspire to steal the palace out from under them, Agnes struggles to save her family and finds bravery, love, and loyalty in the most unexpected places. The Moonlight Palace is a coming-of-age tale rich with historical detail and unforgettable characters set against the backdrop of dazzling 1920s Singapore.

Paperback: 174 pages
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (October 1, 2014)

The Moonlight Palace is a quick read and a charming story. Agnes, the main character is young, loyal, stubborn, and easy to like. I grew very fond of her and her eccentric relatives--Nei-Nei Down (her maternal grandmother) and British Grandfather, her (great) Uncle Chachi, and the servants who take care of them--grumpy old Sanang and little Danai. The characters were quite well developed--especially for a shorter book. Having spent time in Singapore, it was interesting to read about life there in the 1920s, and I liked that there actually was a palace Kampong Glam and the relatives of Sultan Hussein did live there. (You can read more about the palace here.) The Moonlight Palace is an interesting blend of history and family drama, and it's a beautiful coming-of-age story as Agnes matures and learns what is truly important in life. I wish that the story went on longer so that I could spend more time with Agnes and her family as well as the palace, which was almost another character in the novel. This is the first book I have read by this author, and I plan to look into some of her other works.

Author Notes: Liz Rosenberg is the author of more than thirty award-winning books, including novels and nonfiction for adults, poetry collections, and books for young readers. She has been the recipient of numerous prizes, including the Paterson Prize, the Bank Street Award, the Center for the Book Award, and a Fulbright fellowship in Northern Ireland in 2014. She is a professor of English and creative writing at Binghamton University, in upstate New York, where she has received the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. She has guest-taught all over the United States and abroad, and has written a book column for the Boston Globe for the past twenty-five years. Her previous novels, Home Repair and The Laws of Gravity, have been bestsellers in the United States, Europe, and Canada.


Not a foodie book, but there were certainly more than a few mentions of food in the story. Since the family has fallen on hard times, they economize by buying the cheapest cuts of meat and living on mostly rice, and the vegetables they grow at the back of the palace. The most mentioned dish in the book was Nei-Nei Down's famous chicken rice--a family favorite that is met with very different reactions from the two young men that intrigue Agnes. Pompous Brit Geoffrey Brown looks upon the dish with disdain saying he "never saw the point" of eating chicken rice, while American Adrian James devours three bowls in one sitting. I thought about making a "greasy, hot, spicy, and comforting" bowl of noodle soup like the one Agnes and her friend and palace border Dawid eat at their favorite cafe but decided to do a stir-fry curry noodle dish instead--a veggie version of a dish one might find at a hawker's stall.

I made a few changes to the recipe noted in red below--primarily supplementing the expensive shiitake mushrooms with white mushrooms (1/3 of the price per lb--I am cheap like that!) ;-) I also tossed in peanuts to add a bit of protein and crunch.

Singapore-Style Rice Noodles with Veggies
Adapted from Vegetarian Times (April/May 2012), online here
(Serves 6)

1 (8 oz) pkg. rice vermicelli
3/4 cup low-sodium vegetable broth (I used a mushroom stock)
3 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce (I used my homemade vegan fish sauce)
2 Tbsp Chinese cooking wine or sherry (I used a combo of Japanese mirin and sherry)
1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp canola or peanut oil
1/2 lb shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and thinly sliced (about 5 cups) (I used 1/3 shiitake and 2/3 white mushrooms)
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
1 green bell pepper, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
1/2 onion, thinly sliced (about 1/2 cup)
4 cups thinly sliced napa cabbage (I used savoy cabbage)
2 cloves garlic, minced (about 2 tsp)
2 Tbsp curry powder
4 green onions, chopped (about 1/2 cup)

(I added 1/3 cup roasted peanuts)

Soak rice noodles in hot water 15 minutes, or until softened. Drain, and set aside.

Whisk together broth, soy sauce, wine, and brown sugar in bowl. Set aside.

Heat wok over high heat, until water droplets evaporate within 1 second. Add oil, and swirl to coat wok. Add mushrooms, bell peppers, and onion; stir-fry 2 to 3 minutes, or until vegetables are softened. Add cabbage, garlic, and curry powder, and cook 1 to 2 minutes more. Add broth mixture, and toss with vegetables; add noodles, and toss to combine. Stir-fry 2 to 3 minutes, or until noodles absorb some of sauce and soften. Remove from heat, and stir in green onions (and peanuts if using).

Notes/Results: Sometimes you just can't beat a big bowl of noodles and still-crisp veggies spiced with curry for a comfort food dinner. This is an easy recipe and like all stir-fry dishes--really quick to make once you get through all of the chopping. The peanuts were a nice addition and I didn't mind the much less expensive white mushrooms and their meatier texture as compared to the shiitake. I could have used just a tad more curry flavor and spice but otherwise I really liked this dish and would make it again.

Note: A review copy of "The Moonlight Palace" was 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 TLC Book Tours and Reviews here.


Monday, October 27, 2014

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of 'Bird in Hand' by Christina Baker Kline Served with Pasta with Watercress Pesto & Fried Egg

The decisions we make, even the ones that seem small, can change our lives in an instant. The decision to attend a party for her semi-estranged friend's book launch, going alone while her husband watches the children, accepting more than one 'blue' martini, driving on a rainy night, and not stopping or turning around when she finds herself lost, contribute to a tragic accident that changes Alison's life forever. As Alison reevaluates her marriage and the life she leads, the fallout of the accident illuminates her decisions and the choices of her husband and their longtime friends and effects them all in Bird in Hand: A Novel by Christina Baker Kline.


Publisher's Blurb:

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Orphan Train comes a novel about the choices we make, how they shape our lives, and how they can change them forever.

Four people, two marriages, one lifelong friendship: Everything is about to change.

It was dark. It was raining.  It was just an accident.  On the drive home from a rare evening out, Alison collides with another car running a stop sign, and—just like that—her life turns upside down.

When she calls her husband from the police station, his accusatory tone reveals cracks in their relationship she’d never noticed were there. Now she notices everything. And she begins to realize that the life she carefully constructed for herself is as tenuous as a house of cards. Exquisitely written, powerful, and thrilling, Bird in Hand is a novel about love and friendship and betrayal, and about the secrets we tell ourselves and each other.

Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (October 14, 2014)

Bird in Hand: A Novel by Christina Baker Kline is the fourth and final book in the reissued titles of the author's books on TLC Book Tour this fall. (You can read my reviews and see the recipes inspired by her other books; Sweet Water, Desire Lines, and The Way Life Should Be by following the title links.) Bird in Hand is about the relationships between two couples--Alison and Charlie, and Claire and her husband Ben. Alison and Claire are childhood friends who have had a recent falling out. Ben and Claire befriend Charlie in graduate school and introduce him to Alison. The foursome are close, at least on the surface, until cracks in the relationships occur and deepen from the strain of keeping the affair Charlie and Claire are engaging in a secret. The story goes back and forth from present day to scenes of the 10-years of history the two couples have and shift with the perspectives of each of the four characters.

Alison seemed like she could be anyone I know, a few wrong choices that in a brief moment of time lead to such terrible consequences--the death of a child. Although judged to not be at fault for the accident (the choice of the parents in the other car to hold a fussy child up front instead of safely buckled in their car seat in the back, and for the father to run through a stop sign on a residential street caused the death), Alison's actions did make her a contributing factor and the guilt is overwhelming. I had mixed emotions about the characters--immediately drawn to and sympathetic towards Alison and Ben and strongly disliking Charlie and Claire--for the cheating and their selfish choices. But, as the story unfolded, I felt a bit more understanding for Charlie and Claire--do you remain with someone you care for but the relationship isn't satisfying, or do you reach out for something you truly want at the risk of hurting others? (I didn't end up liking them any better but I felt some understanding). ;-) 

Although I am usually not that interested in novels about marital drama and infidelity, Bird in Hand managed to draw me into the story. I wanted to see what the future held for the characters and the almost 300 pages went quickly. Out of the four re-issue novels, The Way Life Should Be was my favorite--probably due to the foodie aspects, but they were all enjoyable reads and one of these days I will pick up Christina Baker Kline's bestselling Orphan Train. ;-)  Readers of contemporary women's fiction, domestic life and relationships should like this one.

Author Notes: Christina Baker Kline was born in England and raised in Maine. The author of five novels, including the runaway bestseller Orphan Train, Kline has taught literature and creative writing at Yale, New York University, and Fordham. She lives outside of New York City.
Find out more about Kline at her website, connect with her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

There was not a lot of inspiration coming from food in the book. I could have made the infamous blue martinis on the cover of Claire's book that proved to be Alison's downfall but that didn't seem right with the consequences of the accident. There is mention of food here and there--banana bread baked by a concerned neighbor, a meal of salad, snails and pan-fried trout in a cornmeal crust in the early days of relationships, a stir-fry of organic veggies, a trip through the gourmet section of the grocery store, Chinese food for a family meal including chow fun and sesame noodles, pancakes in the shape of hearts and dinosaurs, and fish sticks from the toaster oven and microwaved frozen peas--none of it really captured the book for me.  

Instead I chose a dish consisting of a nest of peppery watercress pesto-covered pasta with a fried egg nestled gently on top--in a reference to the book's title. The author notes that she chose Bird in Hand because of the quote; "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush"--thinking of the choices her characters had to make--sticking with what you have and playing it safe, or reaching for something more that may escape you. I suppose there should have been two eggs on top of the pasta, but you get the idea. The recipe is a variation of a kale pesto in Change of Appetite by Diana Henry. Henry had a poached egg on top in her recipe but I find fried eggs quicker and less fuss to make.

Watercress Pesto with Whole Wheat Linguine & Fried Egg
Adapted from Change of Appetite by Diana Henry
(Serves 4)

1 lb whole wheat linguine or pasta of choice
sea salt
2 cups watercress 
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley or basil leaves
1/4 cup grated pecorino
1 garlic clove
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts (or sweeter cashews)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt, pepper, red pepper flakes (optional) to taste
4 eggs

Cook pasta according to package instructions--until cooked but still al dente. (Reserve some of the cooking water.)

Wash watercress well and remove larger stems. Place watercress in food processor with other ingredients and pulse blend until pureed but still slightly chunky. Taste for seasoning.

Poach (or fry) 4 eggs so whites are set and yolks are runny.

Place drain, still warm pasta back in pan with a little of its cooking water. Mix in pesto.

Place in individual pasta bowls or on plates and serve immediately with an egg on top.

Notes/Results: A very simple dish that is full of flavor. I am a fan of the slightly bitter, peppery bite of watercress which is still present, although mellowed by the pine nuts and cheese in the pesto. The whole grain fettuccine stands up well to the strongly-flavored pesto sauce, and the egg with its runny yolk gives it all a sweet creaminess. If you aren't a watercress fan or it is hard to get where you live, I imagine any dark green would work in this recipe. A bowl of this for dinner made me happy and satisfied and I will happily made it again. 

This pasta and egg dish is linking up to "What Came First? ... The Chicken or the Egg?" --this week's theme at I Heart Cooking Clubs. You can see the chicken or egg dishes everyone made by checking out the picture links on the post.

Note: A review copy of "Bird in Hand" was 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 TLC Book Tours and Reviews here.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Creamy Tomato 'Ketchup Soup' & Crackers for Food 'N Flix October Film Pick: 'The Terminal' and Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

I wouldn't normally make tomato soup out of ketchup but this Creamy Tomato 'Ketchup Soup' is in honor of October's Food 'N Flix pick of The Terminal, hosted by Evelyne of Cheap Ethnic Eats. If you haven't seen it, The Terminal is a 2004 comedy-drama directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Tom Hanks, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Stanley Tucci, 

The movie tells the story of Viktor Navorski (Hanks), who is flying to New York via the JFK airport. While trying to clear customs, Viktor finds that his passport is invalid because of a civil war breaking out in his home country of Krakozhia. Because he is currently "a citizen of nowhere"--he has to remain in the International arrivals area of the airport until further notice. He is given a pager and food vouchers that he quickly loses and is left to pretty much fend for himself while the acting head of customs (Tucci) plots ways to get rid of him.  Meanwhile Viktor makes friends with some of the airport employees and meets Amanda, a romantically-challenged flight attendant (Catherine Zeta-Jones). For some reason, I don't think I had ever seen the entire film--just caught bits and pieces of it on cable, which is a shame because it is a charming and fun film. 

"Eat to bite... bite to eat, bite to eat, bite to eat, 
--Viktor, practicing to ask Amanda to dinner 

Anyone who has ever been delayed in an airline terminal for any length of time will empathize with Viktor. They are not a fun place to be stuck for several hours, let alone several months. Most of the food inspiration in the film can be found in the food court, or on the trays of the airline meals that Enrique, a food service driver bribes Viktor with to gather information about an immigration officer that Enrique admires from afar. When broke, Viktor makes his own meals from the food court condiment bars, graduating to Burger King when he discovers that he can earn quarters from the cart return machine. 

I personally find most airport terminals to be freezing cold (with the exception of the airports here) ;-) so if I had to resort to making a meal from packaged condiments, I would choose something warm instead of the cracker 'sandwiches' that Viktor makes. But, I did start thinking about those crackers and ketchup packets and found some interesting recipes for 'ketchup soup'--made up of ketchup packets, hot water and often sugar, crackers, non-dairy creamer salt and pepper--if one is given a plentiful enough condiment bar. Apparently it is a good recipe to know if case you are a hobo or it is the Apocalypse. 

Rather than use ketchup packets, I decided to take it up a few notches by making my own ketchup, and I made it a creamy tomato soup (to diminish the intensity) with non-dairy coconut milk creamer. If I was a better person, I would have made homemade crackers but I went with some packaged saltines to keep with the theme--I chose locally-made Diamond Bakery whole wheat soda crackers. 

Sure, at the end of the day, it's really just a simple creamy tomato soup but one with a deep tomato flavor and very quick and easy to make once you have your ketchup of choice. ;-)

Easy Homemade Ketchup
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes about 2 cups)

2 (6oz) cans good quality tomato paste
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup water + more to thin if needed
2-3 Tbsp agave syrup, or to taste
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp celery salt
1/2 tsp Old Bay seasoning 

Combine ingredients in a medium-large pan, over medium-high heat and briskly whisking to combine ingredients. Bring ketchup to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer. Stir, scraping the sides of the sauce pan frequently, until it reaches the desired thickness--about 20 minutes or so. Add additional water if mixture is too thick. If you want a smoother ketchup, you can blend in the extra water with an immersion blender. Taste for seasoning and sweetness level--adding more agave if needed.

Remove from heat and let cool before transferring to a glass jar. Refrigerate.

Creamy 'Ketchup Soup'
by Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Serves 1-2)

1 cup ketchup (recipe above)
1/2 cup water
1 cup non-dairy creamer or milk
freshly ground black pepper
In a medium sauce pan, heat the ketchup and water over medium-high heat, whisking until smooth. Bring soup up to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, stir in non-dairy creamer  and whisk until smooth. Once heated through, season with black pepper and serve with crackers (or a good grilled cheese!).

Notes/Results: There is a lot of intense tomato flavor in this soup--why adding milk or cream is needed to mellow the intensity and the tangy bite of the vinegar in the ketchup. But, it is surprisingly tasty--probably due to the flavor of the homemade ketchup--I can't imagine it being very good with packaged ketchup. I liked it even more when I ate it with the crackers and some slices of Tillamook Medium Cheddar--making me think that dipping a grilled cheese sandwich into it would be marvelous. Not my favorite tomato soup ever but, I liked the homemade ketchup I threw together and it was a fun experiment. 

 The deadline for this month's Food & Flix is tomorrow, Monday, October 27th and Evelyne will be rounding up the entries on her blog shortly after. if you missed this round and like food, films and foodie films, consider joining us for November when I will be hosting the quirky, indie Thanksgiving-centered comedy-drama Pieces of April here at Kahakai Kitchen!

 Now lets take a look at who is in the Souper Sundays kitchen and what dishes they brought with them.

It's always lovely to have Corina of Searching for Spice stop by the Souper Sundays kitchen and this week she brings a good-for-you Salmon Miso Soup with Soba Noodles. Corina says, "This is the type of meal you want to make if you are trying to be super healthy. Just eating, even slurping it makes you feel good. Healthy salmon, green vegetables and brown soba noodles in a miso broth. Of course, you could use rice noodles or egg noodles instead but there’s something about brown carbs that just makes you feel virtuous – brown pasta, brown rice, chocolate cake. Sorry, not all brown carbs, not chocolate cake, chocolate biscuits or treacle tart. Or anything with caramel in come to think of it."

Judee of Gluten Free A-Z Blog shares her take on a gluten free Mushroom Barley Soup and says, "'Im still using mushrooms, but replaced the starchy  barley with a starchy dried bean. I used a baby lima bean. It works great and dried baby lima beans do not taste ANYTHING like a green lima bean.. trust me on that one. The soup is hearty and delicious, just like the soup my mother used to make. This soup is perfect for the colder weather and is extremely satisfying. I think it would also be a nice addition to a Thanksgiving meal."

Here's a colorful and Seriously Zesty Bread Salad from Ottolenghi from Joyce of Kitchen Flavours. She says, "Ooh, this is so good! The toasted bread is so crunchy and delicious. I cannot remember the name of the bread that I've made, but it has a light sweetness to it, and extremely delicious when used in this salad! All the veggies and the red onion are wonderfully crisp. This salad is zesty and tangy alright, from the lemon zest and juice, and with the red wine vinegar. And the sumac, I would not skip it! Simply wonderful with the sprinkling of sumac."

Janet of The Taste Space shares Roasted Cauliflower Salad with Fried Capers and Pickled Currants and says, "Welcome to my latest obsession: fried capers. If you have yet to try them yet, try to imagine how they would taste. Crunchy, salty little nibbles. It surprised me how much they taste like popcorn, I kid you not. Combined with the pickled currants (tart and sweet), and the avocado (creamy!), this salad was perfectly balanced. I know I say that a lot here, but this salad rises above its peers. It could possibly be my best salad of the year."  

It was a soup, salad and sandwich kind of week here at Kahakai Kitchen. This colorful and wonderfully flavored Orange & Fennel Salad with Pomegranate & Feta by Diana Henry was great on its own or a perfect partner for a piece of simply grilled salmon. I love the colors in this salad--perfect for the holidays, and the sweet, salty combination of flavors. 

I also made Isa Chandra Moskowitz's 'Chicky Tuna Salad' this week and it was fabulous-- both as a sandwich on toasted multigrain bread with creamy avocado and crisp romaine, or just enjoyed scooped onto romaine leaves. If you are looking for a protein and fiber-filled tuna alternative or just something fun and tasty for your sandwiches, give it a try.

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

Have a happy, healthy week! 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Orange & Fennel Salad with Pomegranate & Feta (Served with a Simple Grilled Salmon)

I have had fennel and orange on the brain lately and pomegranates have been popping up in the grocery store for the past few weeks, so when I saw a salad of those three ingredients combined with feta in Crazy Water Pickled Lemons by Diana Henry, I knew it was destined for my dinner plate. 

The online recipe I found differed slightly from the book (using mint instead of parsley and cilantro, omitting the cucumber and using runny honey instead of sugar in the dressing) and that is the one I used. Served with a salmon grilled with a little olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper, it was a quick dinner with wonderful flavors. 

Diana Henry says, "Salty and aniseedy with bursts of sour sweetness, this is a real palate cleanser."  

Orange & Fennel Salad with Pomegranate & Feta
Adapted from Crazy Water, Pickled Lemon by Diana Henry, or online here
(Serves 4 as Starter, 6 as Side Dish)

2 bulbs fennel
1/2 red onion, very finely sliced (Whoops--I forgot red onion & used a sweet Maui instead)
200g (7oz) feta cheese
2 small oranges, peeled and carefully sliced
seeds of 1/2 pomegranate
leaves from small bunch fresh mint, torn

For the dressing
1 1/2 tsp white wine vinegar
30ml (2 Tbsp) extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp runny honey
salt and pepper 

(I added the juice from the oranges)

Make the dressing by mixing together the vinegar, oil, honey, salt and pepper in the bottom of a shallow serving bowl.

Trim the fennel bulbs, reserving any of the little feathery fronds, and remove any tough outer leaves. Quarter the bulbs and cut out the central core. Finely slice the fennel, lengthways, and toss it into the bowl containing the dressing, with the reserved fronds. Add the onion, orange slices and mint.

Toss the salad and scatter the pomegranate seeds and feta on the top - don't add the seeds before tossing, or they will leach out their crimson juices. 

Notes/Results: This was a wonderful salad--so pretty and so good. I loved the combination of flavors and textures. The sheep's milk feta I used was perfectly salty and creamy and contrasted so well with the honey in the dressing and the sweet oranges and slightly tangy pomegranate seeds. It would have been fabulous by itself but it is the perfect salad for a good piece of fish. I will make this again.

This salad is linking up to this week's Potluck at I Heart Cooking Clubs where we are making any recipe from our current IHCC chef Diana Henry, or any recipe from one of the previous IHCC chefs.

Happy Aloha Friday!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Book Tour Stops Here: Review of "The Unforgivable Fix" by T.E. Woods Served with Chickpea 'Tuna' Salad Sandwiches

I am a fan of a good series--especially one in the mystery/thriller genre. I like getting to know the characters at a deeper level as each story unfolds. The Unforgivable Fix: by T. E. Woods is the third book in the Justice series which gets better and better with each novel. I am excited to be a stop on the TLC Book Tour for The Unforgivable Fix today, and to offer up and review and a dish inspired by the book.

Publisher's Blurb

The killer won’t come for you, you fool. He’ll come for me.

Detective Mort Grant of the Seattle PD has finally decided to sell. The home where he and his late wife raised two kids feels too large and too full of old memories. His son is married and raising a family of his own, and despite desperate efforts to find her, Mort has lost touch with his wayward daughter. That is, until the day she walks back into her childhood home and begs for his help.

For the last four years, Allie Grant has been the lover—and confidante, confessor, and counselor—of one of the world’s most powerful and deadly men. But a sudden, rash move has put Allie in the crosshairs of a ruthless Russian crime lord. Mort knows of only one place where Allie will be safe: with The Fixer.

As a hired desperado, The Fixer has killed twenty-three people—and Mort was complicit in her escape from the law. She has built an impregnable house, stocked it with state-of-the-art gear, armed it to the teeth, and locked herself away from the world. But even The Fixer may not be able to get justice for Allie when real evil comes knocking.

Publisher: Alibi (October 14, 2014)
E-Book: Pages: 320
Like any great series with well-written characters, you will want to start with the first book, The Fixer, to get the background on the characters and see how things evolve. (You can read my Book Tour review of The Fixer accompanied by an easy chocolate hazelnut mousse recipe here.) In between book tours, I caught up with the second book, The Red Hot Fix which I reviewed on Goodreads here. The Unforgivable Fix is the third book in the series and the action doesn't let up. Mort's guilt and sadness over his missing daughter Allie has been brewing and when she shows up running from her drug czar lover and the Russian that he started a war with, Mort wants to protect her--no matter how it could cost him. Stashing her with (spoiler alert--if you haven't read the first book) Lydia seems the best way to keep her alive. Lydia is immediately on guard, having someone much to close for comfort to the secrets she has hidden in her house from her time as "The Fixer"-- not to mention her dislike and distrust of Allie and her motives. Lydia seems to be slowly putting her life together, restarting her practice and working with a psychology grad student as a favor for a friend but the guilt over her past keeps creeping in. 

I love both Lydia and Mort, and their relationship--which feels real based on the ups and downs they have with each other. I like how the action is divided between both characters and it felt more equally divided in this book than the first two. There is also more than one story going on--in this case the secondary story line involves a troubling molestation case. As in the other books, the edges between 'right and wrong' are blurred, that moral ambiguity is something both Lydia and Mort struggle with. Author Woods keeps the pace fast and the twists and turns coming, making for a quick and tension-filled read. If you haven't discovered this series yet, and love taut, dark, and well-written thrillers give it a try--you'll fall for The Fixer too. I am impatiently waiting for the next book!

Author Notes: T. E. Woods is as eager as her fans to return to the thrilling world of the Justice series. She’s busy writing the next installment and is developing a new series set in Madison, Wisconsin. 

Connect with TE Woods: Facebook | Twitter

Although there are usually more bodies than meals in this series, there are certainly mentions of food throughout. Lydia is fond of lattes with honey--especially from the Olympia coffee shop of Oliver, the man she wants but cannot let herself get close to because of her past. Mort makes chili with two secrets--"The first is to use both beef and pork.The second is to add one tiny habanero pepper." Lydia cooks a simple steak, veggies and rice, and Allie makes a special beef dish she learns in the islands with veggies and beans, and a dessert of peaches broiled in a brandy sauce, served warm over vanilla ice cream. It all sounded good but in the end, I decided to take inspiration from tuna sandwiches. Allie and her mother, Mort's deceased wife Edie, used to linger over tuna salad sandwiches after shopping, and Lydia makes tuna sandwiches for lunch with the grad student she is supervising for his clinical practice.  

Although I stay away from meat and poultry, I eat fish a few times a week and I make a tasty tuna sandwich myself (capers are the key) but, I have been wanting to try the vegan Chicky Tuna Salad' Sandwiches from Isa Does It by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and this seemed like a good opportunity to make them. Also, in these books everything is not always as it seems so the mock-tuna salad is a nod to that. They aren't in Isa's recipe but I just had to add some capers to mine. ;-)

Moskowitz says, "Chickpeas have a soft meatiness and then the little pieces of sunflower seed provide some bite. Carrots and celery stud the salad with lots of fresh crunch."

'Chicky Tuna Salad Sandwiches'
Adapted from Isa Does It by Isa Chandra Moskowitz
(Makes 4-6 Sandwiches

large carrot, peeled
large rib celery, leaves removed
1/4 white onion (I used Maui sweet onion)
1 (15 oz) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained--about 1 1/2 cups
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup vegan mayo + more for bread
1 tsp apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
1 Tbsp kelp or dulse flakes (optional)
1/4 tsp salt, or to taste
freshly ground black pepper 
(I added 1 Tbsp capers, rinsed and drained)

bread of choice, toasted
lettuce, tomato, sprouts, and/or avocado to garnish

Cut carrot, celery and onion into large chunks and place in food processor. Pulse until veggies are chopped but not pureed. Pieces should range from pea-size to chickpea-size. Transfer mixture to a mixing bowl, scrapping down the sides of the food processor bowl to get as much as possible. 

Place chickpeas and sunflower seeds in the food processor and pulse until a somewhat chunky mash--with bits of whole chickpea left. Transfer to mixing bowl and combine with the veggies.

Add mayo, vinegar, seaweed flakes (if using), salt pepper and capers and mix well. 

Serve on (multigrain preferred) bread or toast with garnishes or on top of romaine leaves. Enjoy!

Notes/Results: Although they are not likely to get mistaken for tuna sandwiches, this chickpea-sunflower mixture is full of great flavor and texture. Between the dulse seaweed flakes and the capers, it definitely has an appealing briny taste. I served mine on a multigrain oat bread, toasted with romaine and sliced avocado. The creaminess of the avocado went well with the crunchier salad and toasted bread. With an apple, it made a healthy and fiber-filled lunch and the leftovers hold up well for a few days making it great to make ahead and have on-hand for weekday lunches. I will make this again. (Note: Chickpeas also make a yummy mock chicken salad--check out this Deli-Style Chickpea Salad Sandwich.)

Note: A review copy of "The Unforgivable Fix" was 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 TLC Book Tours and Reviews here.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Mark Bittman's Spanish-Style Pasta e Fagioli (Pasta & Bean Soup) for Souper (Soup, Salad, & Sammie) Sundays

Although I frequently make an oath not to buy any more cookbooks, there are times that I just can't help myself. Like when Mark Bittman comes out with a new one. Plus, since I already have How to Cook Everything and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, I felt like I needed to have How to Cook Everything Fast--Bittman's collection of 2000-ish quick cooking recipes, processes and tips too. 

I have been craving Pasta e Fagioli but I liked Bittman's Spanish-style variation because of the chickpeas and smoked paprika and wanted to try it. He didn't mention the cheese in his version but it seemed only right to replace the Parmesan with some of my favorite Manchego.

Spanish-Style Pasta e Fagioli  
Slightly Adapted from How to Cook Everything Fast by Mark Bittman
(Serves 4)

3 Tbsp olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 medium onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
salt and pepper
2 garlic cloves
2 tsp smoked paprika
(I added 1 tsp ground cumin)
14-oz can whole tomatoes
6 cups chicken or veggie stock, or water (I used 8 cups veggie broth)
2 cups (15 oz can) cooked or canned garbanzo beans (I doubled the beans)
6 oz spaghetti, broken into 1-inch pieces
1 bunch fresh parsley to garnish
(I added 4 oz Manchego cheese, about 1 cup grated)

Put 3 tablespoons oil in a large pot over low heat. Add vegetables to the pot and stir. Raise heat to medium-high, when the veggies start sizzling sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally until they soften and begin to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and smoked paprika to the pot and stir until fragrant--about 1 minute. 

Add the tomatoes and their juice, breaking them apart with a spoon and scrapping any browned bits off the bottom of the pot. Add stock or water and raise heat to high. 

When the soup begins to boil, stir in the beans and the pasta. Return to boil, then adjust heat so it simmers steadily. Test pasta after 5 minutes, it should be tender but not mushy. If pot starts to look dry, at water a bit at a time. 

When pasta is tender, turn off heat. Taste and adjust seasoning. Divide soup into four bowls. Garnish each with the parsley, 1/4 cup cheese, and drizzle with olive oil; serve.

Notes/Results: A simple and tasty little soup. The combination of the garbanzo beans and mini spaghetti noodles was fun. My sister (Yes, when you visit Hawaii, especially in the midst of a tropical storm, Deb feeds you soup) said that she really liked the flavor from the smoked paprika and felt it set it apart from the typical Italian pasta e fagioli. I think the manchego was a nice touch. Warming and satisfying for a rainy night, I would happily make this again. 

This soup will link up to this coming week's Potluck! at I Heart Cooking Clubs--the opportunity to make any Diana Henry recipe or any recipe from our past IHCC chefs. You can see what everyone made by following the links once the post goes live.

In the meantime, we have some great friends and their dishes waiting in the Souper Sundays kitchen. Let's have a look!

Janet of The Taste Space shares Three Sisters Soup (Black Bean, Corn and Squash Soup) and says, "This is a perfect end-of-summer, beginning of fall soup, as the last of the local corn arrives and the first winter squashes arrive. Or perfect for the dead of winter, too, using frozen corn kernels. This meal is simple but elevated by choice herbs and spices (cilantro, chiles, smoked paprika, garlic) with a heavy hand of lime juice. I used the full amount in the recipe and even I, the lover of all things tart, found it off-putting. Please start with less and taste as you go."  

Judee of Gluten Free A-Z Blog is here with a creamy Gluten Free Mushroom Bisque. She says, "When the weather starts to chill, I start thinking about homemade soup. This simple recipe couldn't be easier; I made it in 20 minutes start to finish. I pride myself on preparing tasty "quickie soups"  that I can complete and eat within the half hour. This gluten free favorite was light, delicious and soothing.  It was perfect for a calorie conscious, yet satisfying lunch! It's healthy too. Mushrooms contain valuable nutrients.

It's spicy Kimchi-guk (Kimchi Soup) from Joyce at Kitchen Flavours. She says, "I have made this kimchi soup many times using my homemade kimchi. I love kimchi soup and could finish a whole bowl of this soup, and slurp on every last drop! ... I have added in more hot pepper paste (gochujang), as I like the soup a little more spicy. Use less hot pepper paste for a milder soup, but if you love heat, you would probably add on more, just like I did! Delicious! With just this one dish, you would eat two bowls of rice!"

Debbie of The Friday Friends brings Mexican Chicken Soup and says, "On Tuesday I saw this on my Facebook page, was having a bad day (just tired mostly) and thought: I'm going to make this soup. This looks like COMFORT FOOD!! And I got to chop lots of vegetables. Does that sound weird? Chopping vegetables makes me happy. I don't know what it is. I think that's why I like to make soup---it has lots of vegetables that need chopping. ... This is a great soup. Good for you too. Just fresh veggies simmered in broth served over some homemade Spanish rice."

One sandwich this week, healthy Roasted Sweet Potato and Red Pepper Wraps from Shaheen of Allotment2Kitchen. Shaheen says, "I have mostly been having sandwiches for work, and I have to admit I have been getting a little bored with the plain filling, so the BBQ butter that I made recently was delightful, but sometimes its not sandwiches, its a pasta salad or today, it was Roast Sweet Potato with Red Pepper Wraps.  These were nice, but I think they would have benefited with a touch of soured cream." 

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

Have a happy, healthy week!