Sunday, November 30, 2014

Sweet Potato Curry Chili for Cook the Books "That Old Ace in the Hole" by Annie Proulx and for Souper (Soup, Salad, and Sammie) Sundays

A vegan chili chock full of veggies, beans, sweet potato and tofu and seasoned with curry and garam masala might seem a little quirky or odd but it tastes fantastic. It also fits the mood of our October/November Cook the Books selection, That Old Ace in the Hole, a novel by Annie Proulx, hosted by Simona at briciole. Set in the Texas Panhandle, (the rectangular area in Texas that's bordered by New Mexico to the west and Oklahoma to the north and east and made up of the northernmost 26 counties in the state), the story centers around Bob Dollar, working undercover for Global Pork Rind, seeking property that can be developed into industrial hog farms. Bob winds up in the tiny, dusty town of Woolybucket where he meets the quirky people that make up the area and learns their stories while trying to buy up their land.

I will confess that I had a bit of a struggle getting into this book and it sat for several weeks as I picked up my Book Tour review books and several books on my to-be-read stack, and virtually any other reading material rather than That Old Ace in Hole. I had not read anything from Annie Proulx before--including her acclaimed The Shipping News (although I did see the movie and found it kind of dull--probably why I never picked up the book), and I just couldn't seem to drum up enthusiasm for Bob Dollar and the other characters. I hate not finishing a book though and so I finally picked it up and resolved to read at least 50 pages a night until I finished it. I am not exactly sure when or why it happened, but Proulx and Bob Dollar won me over somewhere in the middle of the book and instead of a chore to finish, it became a book I was eagerly reading. The author paints a vivid picture of the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma, the people who live there, and their love of and pride in the land--despite all of the rough conditions. It's not an area I know much of anything about and she made it come to life. I grew attached to Bob Dollar and the interesting people he encounters and befriends and enjoyed the humor that Proulx infuses the novel with. I am glad Simona picked this book as it isn't something I would have picked up on my own, and I am glad I stuck with it.

On first glimpse, That Old Ace in the Hole doesn't seem like a foodie novel, but there is a surprising amount of food mentions--both classic and quirky. I wanted to visit the Old Dog Cafe and try some of Cy Frease's cooking--loving his every-other Saturday trip into Austin to shop at Whole Foods because "Cowboys deserve to eat wholesome too." I took my inspiration for my dish from a couple of places--first, the curry and Indian spices that "crazy Dutchman" Habakuk van Melkebeek's cousin brought from Java for a rijstafel (a Dutch word that translates to "rice table"--an elaborate meal of many courses) that was served by angry cowboys. A few months after the dinner and its legendary spicy sambal, "tins of curry powder and jars of mango chutney appeared on the shelf behind the counter at Steddy's store and several ranch cooks made it their business to use both liberally, the beginnings of the famed Woolybucket curry chile, always served at the Barbwire festival, the recipe jealously guarded." I knew I had to make a curry chili and the addition of the sweet potatoes came about from the mention of a small bag of yams that pioneer Martin Merton Fronk took with him on his journey from Kansas to Woolybucket to find dry air and a doctor to cure his breathing issues. I happened to have a large sweet potato on hand and thought it would compliment the curry flavors well.

Sweet Potato Curry Chili
by Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Serves 6)

2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1 large onion, diced
1 medium carrot, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 1/2 Tbsp curry powder of choice, or to taste
2 tsp garam masala
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chile powder, or to taste
1 large sweet potato, about 2 1/2 cups, diced
1 can diced fire roasted tomatoes
1 small can medium green chilies
2 cups low-sodium veggie broth or water
1 can low-sodium black beans
1 can low-sodium pinto beans
1 can low-sodium kidney beans 
12 oz firm tofu, frozen, thawed, drained, pressed and crumbled
salt and pepper to taste 
To serve (optional): avocado, mango chutney, cilantro, yogurt

Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add onions, carrot, celery, and red pepper and saute for 6-7 minutes until veggies are softened and onions translucent. Add garlic and spices and cook for anther minute or two. Add sweet potatoes, tomatoes, chilies, broth, and beans and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 20-25 minutes, until veggies have softened.

Meanwhile, heat remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Take prepared crumbled tofu and add to pan. Stir-fry tofu crumbles about 6-7 minutes until slightly browned. 

Gently stir tofu into chili mixture and cook another 10 minutes to allow flavors to meld. Taste chili for seasoning, adding salt and black pepper, or more spice to taste.

Serve warm garnished with avocado, and/or cilantro, mango chutney or yogurt. You can also serve with basmati rice if more starch is desired.  

Notes/Results: I am sure nothing compares to the famed Woolybucket curry chile but this turned out to be a great bowl of not-so-traditional chili. It has a subtle heat and you get the curry flavor at the end. The sweet potatoes add a hearty touch and their sweetness is a nice contrast to the heat of the spices. The tofu, while not necessary, adds extra protein and gives it that ground meat texture (traditional-style Texas chile is usually without beans and just ground meat), especially when you freeze and defrost/drain it well, then press it before cooking. I was planning on topping my chile with mango chutney or serving it alongside but unfortunately my jar of chutney was a bit older than I thought and tucked away in the fridge, it had developed a layer of fuzzy mold (whoops!) and I was too lazy to go to the store. The avocado added a creamy texture and made a nice color contrast so it made a good replacement. You could also top with some cooling yogurt or sour cream and cilantro would be nice. Like all good chili, it tastes even better reheated the next day. A happy experiment, I would make it again. 

The deadline for publishing your post inspired by That Old Ace in the Hole is Tuesday, December 2nd. Simona will be rounding up the entries on the Cook the Books site soon after. If you missed this round, please join us for December/January when we will be reading Sustenance and Desire: A Food Lover's Anthology of Sensuality and Humor by Bascove, hosted by Rachel, The Crispy Cook.

It's Thanksgiving weekend so the Souper Sundays kitchen is pretty quiet but the lovely Janet is here with a salad to share. 

Janet of The Taste Space made this hearty and healthy Caramelized Leek and Flageolet Bean Salad. She says, "So, how are you faring with the first blast of winter? Turns out my furnace was not up to the increased stress and stopped working. Twice. For the past two nights, we have woken up to a fairly frigid home. At least we have warm blankets, so you don’t really notice until you escape for breakfast. ... I thought, perhaps my salad days were over, too. But this is a delightful salad warm or cold. A bunch of leeks are caramelized and added to creamy flageolet beans and coated in a simple lemon-mustard sauce."

Thanks to Janet for joining me 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, November 28, 2014

Baby Pears Poached in Earl Grey Tea with Greek Yogurt

When I saw some baby pears at the grocery store, I couldn't resist buying a few. This Diana Henry recipe for Pears Poached in Earl Grey seemed like a fun way to use them. This is a great light dessert if you have over-indulged over the Thanksgiving holiday, served with thick Greek yogurt and mint and orange zest scattered on top.

Diana says, "These pears end up a wonderful rich toffee color and, if you are able to leave them sitting in the reduced syrup overnight before serving, they will absorb more of the subtly smoky tea flavor. serve them with Greek Yogurt."

Pears Poached in Earl Grey
Adapted from A Change of Appetite by Diana Henry
(Serves 4)

4 Earl Grey tea bags
3/4 cup granulated sugar (I used 1/2 cup raw cane sugar)
juice of 2 lemons, plus two wide strips of lemon zest 
2 wide strips of orange zest
4 pears, peeled, halved, and cored

Put three of the tea bags into a heatproof bowl with 4 cups of boiling water and let brew. Discard the tea bags and pour the tea into a saucepan wide enough to take all of the pear halves in a single layer. Add the sugar.

Stir over medium heat to dissolve the sugar, then add the lemon juice, lemon and orange zests, and the pears. Bring the liquid to a simmer, then reduce the heat and gently cook the pears until tender. How long this takes depends on how ripe your fruit is. Keep checking, sticking the tip of a sharp knife into the flesh. Once the pears are ready, scoop them out with a slotted spoon and set them in a dish where they are not touching each other, so they can cool down and stop cooking (if you pile them up on top of each other, the heat will continue to soften them).  

Remove the zest from the poaching liquid and bring it to a boil. Add the final tea bag and simmer until the liquid is reduced to about 1 generous cup. The syrup will thicken as it cools. Let cool completely, strain, then put the pears into a serving dish  and pour over the syrup. 

Notes/Results: The syrup has so much flavor from the tea and the combination of the sweet pears and tangy yogurt with the citrus and spice of the tea is a winner. I did reduce the sugar slightly as I don't like things too sweet. Easy to make and tastes great, I would make these again. 

I am linking this recipe up to I Heart Cooking Clubs where it is Potluck week. The chance to make any Diana Henry recipe or a recipe from any previous IHCC chef. You can see what everyone made by checking out the picture links on the post.

Happy Aloha Friday! 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

However you are celebrating--enjoy the day!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Ottolenghi's Spicy Chickpea and Freekeh Soup with Herby Creamed Feta Paste: Warm and Spicy Goodness for Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

I rarely open a new cookbook and start from the beginning. Usually I immediately head for the soups--especially when it comes to Yotam Ottolenghi, who is the master of combining ingredients and flavors into truly fabulous soups. So when I received my copy of Plenty More: Vibrant Vegetable Cooking from London's Ottolenghi, I went right to the Simmer section where this Spicy Chickpea and Bulgur Soup caught my eye.

I made a couple of small changes--subbing the bulgur for freekeh (a roasted green wheat) because I have a large bag from Costco that needs using up, and swapping in Greek yogurt for the crème fraîche in the feta paste (cheaper and more protein). Otherwise, I left Ottolenghi's recipe alone and ended up with a hearty, warm, and spicy soup masterpiece.

Ottolenghi says, "This simple and soothing soup, minus the optional feta paste, can most likely be made with ingredients you already have in your cupboards and fridge (and if you don't have some celery stalks and a couple of carrots regularly lying around in your fridge, plus a jar of good harissa, I highly recommend that you do: they form a good base of some of my favorite sauces). The dairy-free soup works well without the paste, but a spoonful on top elevates a midweek supper into something pretty special."

Spicy Chickpea and Bulgur Soup
Adapted from Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi
(Serves 4-6)

2 Tbsp olive oil
2 small onions, cut into 3/8-inch/1-cm dice
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 3/8-inch/1-cm dice
4 celery stalks, cut into 3/8-inch/1-cm dice
2 Tbsp harissa paste, or to taste
1 tsp freshly ground cumin
1 tsp freshly ground coriander
1 1/2 tsp whole caraway seeds
2 1/2 cups/500 g drained cooked chickpeas (canned are fine)
5 cups vegetable stock
3/4 cup/100 g coarse bulgur wheat (I used freekeh)
salt and black pepper

Creamed Feta Paste:
3 1/2 oz/100 g feta, broken into large chunks
1/4 cup/60 g crème fraîche (I used Greek yogurt)
1 cup/15 g cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup/15 g mint leaves
salt (omitted)

Put the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring from time to time, until translucent. Add the garlic, carrots, and celery and continue cooking for another 8 minutes. Add the harissa, cumin, coriander, and caraway seeds and cook for a further 2 minutes, stirring well. Gently mix the chickpeas into the vegetable mixture--you don't want them to break down--along with salt and plenty of black pepper. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes or until veggies are cooked through.

Meanwhile, rinse the bulgur, put in a small saucepan, and cover generously with cold water. Bring to a boil and immediately remove from the heat. Drain, refresh under cold water, drain again and set aside.

To make the feta paste, put the feta, crème fraîche, cilantro, mint, and 1/8 teaspoon salt in the bowl of a small food processor and blitz for a couple of minutes, until a smooth, creamy paste forms. Keep in the fridge until needed.

Before serving, add the cooked bulgur to the soup and bring to a gentle simmer. Divide the soup among bowls, add a spoonful of feta paste to each bowl, and serve at once.

Notes/Results: So good! This is a bowl of just-rightly-spiced soup with wonderful flavor. It tastes great on its own with the slightly smoky heat, then when the cooling, herby, creamed feta paste mixes in, it elevates the soup to another level.The caraway seed is a (pleasant) surprise in this soup. Harissa paste often includes caraway, but when you get a small burst of flavor from a caraway seed, it adds a different, unexpected flavor. I started with 1 1/2 tablespoons of harissa but after tasting it, I added the other 1/2 tablespoon finding it just spicy enough for me--I feel the heat but it doesn't overwhelm. The freekeh or bulgur, along with the chickpeas, make this soup satisfying. If you don't plan on serving all of the soup at once, I recommend keeping the grain separate and adding it in when you warm the soup to keep the texture. A truly wonderful soup--simple but special, I will make it again. 

This delicious soup is being linked to I Heart Cooking Clubs where this coming week is November Potluck--the time to make any Diana Henry dish or any recipe from one of our previous IHCC chefs. You can see what dishes everyone made by checking out the picture links when the post goes live.

Let's have a look into the Souper Sundays kitchen and see who is here and what they brought.

Janet of The Taste Space shares hearty Sweet Potato and Coconut Curry and says, "And like that, winter arrived. The snow dropped in full force and actually stuck around a bit. I had a few short weeks for biking. My broken leg meant I was not fit for biking earlier this fall but it was nice while it lasted. And what is better during the cold weather than a warm bowl of curry? To keep things simple in the kitchen, I have resorted to remaking some favourites and making twice as much. ... So, please, grab yourself a huge sweet potato and make a double batch. It freezes well should you want to save it until a colder day."

Judee of Gluten Free A-Z Blog is here with her Flu Fighting Soup and says, "Our temperatures hit 22 degrees F this week in Bucks County, PA and everyone is sneezing and hacking. I made a new soup. It's really a cabbage vegetable soup, but it's so rich in antioxidants, I'm calling it a flu fighting soup! ... You don't have to have the flu to enjoy a bowl of this delicious soup. However because cold and flu season are upon us,  we can help boost our immunity with the antioxidants in soups like this."

Debbie of The Friday Friends brings Spanish Style Split Pea Soup (Potage de Guisantes Barcelona) this week and says, "I love split pea soup. I especially love the smokey flavor from the ham or ham hocks it cooks with, but this soup from the Dairy Hollow House Soup and Bread, has a pea soup made with no meat. Perfect for vegetarians OR anyone who wants a good soup! I loved the addition of caramelized onions and tomatoes."

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! 


Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "Prism" by Roland Allnach, Served with Dark Chocolate Bark with Almonds & Smoked Sea Salt

Deep, gritty, eclectic glimpses of life and humanity--a short story collection that encompass multiple genres set in the present, the past and the future, is Prism by Roland Allnach. Kahakai Kitchen is a stop on the TLC Book Tour for Prism (and my guess is this is the only blog pairing the review with a recipe), so I'm serving it up with some shards of Dark Chocolate Bark with Almonds & Smoked Sea Salt--rich, dark and fractured like the stories themselves.     

Publisher's Blurb:

Prism presents the best of Roland Allnach’s newest stories together with his most acclaimed published short fiction. These selected stories fracture the reader’s perceptions among a dazzling array of genres and styles to illuminate the mysterious aspects of the human experience. Roland Allnach has been described as a ‘star on the rise’ (ForeWord Clarion), ‘a master storyteller with a powerful pen’ (Cynthia Brian, NY Times Bestselling author), with writing that is ‘smart, elegant, and addicting’ (San Francisco Review).
Prism collects seventeen stories into one volume, following a trail of diverse genres and narrative forms. From literary fiction to speculative fiction, from humor to horror, from tragedy to mythical poetry, Prism represents a wide ranging journey united by contemplations on the human condition. Including Allnach’s award winning published fiction (“Conquest’s End” and “The City of Never”), a Pushcart Prize nominated story (“Creep”), Prism also consists of the previously unpublished pieces “Titalis” (a tragedy along the lines of Shakespeare and Greek theatre), “Of Typhon and Aerina” (a tribute to epic verse), “Tumbleweed” (a humorous ditty), and “Dissociated”, a surreal short to cap off the collection.

Paperback: 282 pages  
Publisher: All Things That Matter Press (July 3, 2014)

I have read a few short story collections over the past months and I find it is a genre that I increasing like for the chance to drop into different worlds for a brief time. Prism is such a diversity of stories (seventeen in all), dipping into horror, tragedy, dark humor, science fiction, mythology, and even poetry, and it is impressive to see an author so talented in the different genres. With the broad assortment, it is understandable that not every story will resonate with a reader and so I found myself extremely enjoying the first half of the book and bored and impatient in the second half. Part of it was me getting behind this month and trying to read the book in a couple of days--I think this book is best delved into a couple of stories at a time. Part of it might have been the ordering of the stories. The first half of the book felt crisp, several of the stories appealing to my enjoyment of being slightly creeped out like "11"-- where a man has been terrorized by someone who has been lurking after him most of his life. "Creep"--was a story about a little boy who wakes up thirsty and is afraid of what might happen as he leaves his bed to head to the bathroom for water. I loved "Flowers for Colleen”--where two serial killers meet accidentally and end up having coffee and scones. (Who knew serial killers feel isolated and long for a bit of community?) I started to drag with Titalis”--a well-written story with a Shakespearean tragedy feel to it and the longest story in the book by far. It was followed by a truly epic poem "Typhon and Aerina" that just didn't seem to end--and the formatting in my ARC e-book was wonky which made it disjointed to read. I will confess that poetry is usually hit or miss for me and then that the epic poem was then followed by another poem about a 'well-endowed gunslinger' that just did not seem to fit the mood of the rest of the book and fell a bit flat. Although the entire book wasn't a match for me, based on the first half of Prism I would definitely read more from this author. His writing is strong, smart and witty, as well as being slightly twisted (in a good way), and the beauty of this collection is that others will probably really enjoy the parts that I didn't like as much.

Author Notes: Roland Allnach, after working twenty years on the night shift in a hospital, has witnessed life from a slightly different angle. He has been working to develop his writing career, drawing creatively from literary classics, history, and mythology. His short stories, one of which was nominated for the Pushcart Prize, have appeared in many publications. His first anthology, Remnant, blending science fiction and speculative fiction, saw publication in 2010. Remnant was followed in 2012 by Oddities & Entities, a collection spanning horror, supernatural, paranormal, and speculative genres. Both books have received unanimous critical praise and have been honored with a combined total of twelve national book awards, including honors from National Indie Excellence, Foreword Reviews, and Readers’ Favorite. Prism marks Roland’s third stand alone publication.

When not immersed in his imagination, Roland can be found at his website,, along with a wealth of information about his stories and experiences as an author. Writing aside, his joy in life is the time he spends with his family. You can also find Roland on Facebook.

Not a book that inspires foodie thoughts--a few of the stories are downright appetite suppressing in fact. I decided that my favorite stories in Prism called for something dark, seductive--maybe something slightly nutty? Dark Chocolate Bark with Almonds & Smoked Sea Salt broken into jagged pieces seemed appropriate to fit the mood of the book.

Dark Chocolate Bark with Almonds & Smoked Sea Salt
Adapted from It's All Good by Gwyneth Paltrow
(Makes About 6 Servings)

7 oz good quality dark chocolate (70% cacao or more)
1/4 cup sliced almonds
coarse smoked sea salt to taste 

Line a small baking pan with parchment paper.

Break chocolate into small pieces and melt (either in microwave or using double-boiler on stove), stirring until completely melted.

Evenly pour chocolate onto parchment-lined pan. Sprinkle sliced almonds on top of chocolate and sprinkle salt evenly over. Place pan in the refrigerator until chocolate sets completely--about 1-2 hours. 

Break the chocolate into pieces and serve. Keep in a airtight container in the refrigerator or in a cool dark place as the chocolate melts easily.  

Notes/Results: An easy and great way to liven up plain dark chocolate and make it something a bit special. It's been a while since I made chocolate bark and I happened to see a variation of this one (the original recipe included coconut) and started craving the sweet and salty combination. I have a grinder of smoked sea salt from Trader Joe's that I used to impart a bit of smoky flavor. Next time I will grind it coarser so you can see the crystals on the chocolate but the flavor of this was spot on. It's rich enough that a piece or two satisfies. I will make it again.

Note: A review copy of "Prism" 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 reviewer thought about the book here.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Sicilian Tuna in Stemperata Sauce (Sicilian Sweet & Sour 'Salsa') with Zucchini Noodles

Local ahi tuna steaks seared with a touch of balsamic glaze, served with sweet and sour Sicilian stemperata sauce--chunky like a salsa. This is a quick-to-make dinner with great flavors. I wanted pasta but didn't want all the calories and extra carbs so I kept it fresh with some spiralized zucchini noodles (we get local zucchini year-round here), sauteed with a touch of olive oil and oregano to match the sauce.

Diana says, "Sicily is tuna heaven. The fish is served in hundreds of ways--in countless tomato sauces, with almonds, with oranges, with vinegar and onions, raw, marinated, with pasta and without. Many of the dishes, like this one, are sweet and sour, showing the island's Arab legacy. This sauce is a cinch to make , can be prepared in advance, and tastes great.

Sicilian Tuna in Stemperata Sauce
Adapted from Crazy Water Pickled Lemons by Diana Henry
(Serves 4)

4 thick tuna loin steaks
olive oil
salt and pepper
balsamic vinegar

extra virgin olive oil to serve

For the Sauce:
4 celery sticks plus the leaves, finely chopped

1/2 red onion, finely chopped
2 Tbsp olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
5 1/2 oz pitted green olives, some halved, some coarsely chopped
6 oz capers, rinsed
3 oz raisins, plumped in hot water and drained
3 Tbsp white wine vinegar

1 Tbsp fresh oregano, finely chopped
freshly ground black pepper

For the sauce, heat the olive oil in a heavy-based frying pan and fry the onion and celery until soft and just beginning to turn golden. Add the garlic, olives, capers and raisins and cook for another couple of minutes. Add the oregano and vinegar and cook until the vinegar is evaporated.
When you want to serve, rub olive oil, salt, and freshly ground pepper on each side of the fish and heat a ridged griddle or frying pan until very hot. Cook the tuna for 1-1 1/2 minutes on each side. This will give you tuna which is like a rare steak – charred on the outside, pink and melting inside. In the final few seconds splash in some balsamic vinegar and let it bubble away, turning the tuna over once in the vinegar. It gives a wonderful glow.

Serve the tuna immediately with the stemperata sauce and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.

Notes/Results:If you are a caper fanatic and olive fan like I am, you will like this dish. The sweet/sour combination and crispness of the sauce is a wonderful contrast for the creaminess of the seared ahi tuna. It worked well on the zucchini noodles too. I was a little leery of putting the balsamic vinegar on the tuna as sometimes the taste overpowers everything, but the small splash (I used a just a bit of a lighter-flavored sundried tomato balsamic) livened it up without competing with the other ingredients. Such wonderful  flavors for a really fast-to-the-table meal. I will make this again. 

This dish is being linked to I Heart Coking Clubs for this week's "Sweet Cloves and Liquid Gold" theme--celebrating the joys of garlic and olive oil. It from the chapter of the same name in Crazy Water Pickled Lemons by current IHCC chef Diana Henry. You can check out what everyone makes by checking out the picture links on the post. 


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Giada's Cranberry Soup with Curried Shredded Brussels Sprouts for Food 'N Flix November Pick: "Pieces of April" and Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

I'm hosting Food 'N Flix for November and my pick is the indie-comedy-drama "Pieces of April" starring Katie Holmes, Patricia Clarkson and Oliver Platt. (The announcement post with all of the details is here.) Since I tend to slide in my Food 'N Flix posts right under the wire, I thought as a responsible host, I would change it up and actually post a couple of weeks before the deadline. Plus, if you are tired of pumpkin and squash soups starters and having the standard cranberry sauce on your Thanksgiving plate, here's a new recipe to shake things up a bit--a variation of Giada De Laurentiis' Cranberry Soup with Curried Breadcrumbs Shredded Brussels Sprouts.  

I saw this movie when it first came out, then again last year when I caught it on cable and loved the story of April Burns, estranged from her family but looking to mend relationships--particularly the one with her difficult mother, before it is too late. A broken oven has April relying on the kindness of strangers to get dinner cooked, while her family begrudgingly makes the long trek into the city. It's got good performances, dark humor mixed with warm and poignant moments, and it's about Thanksgiving. When I re-watched the movie for Food 'N Flix, I took the time to watch the behind-the-scenes featurette about the making of the film and interviews with writer/director Peter Hedges (known for writing What's Eating Gilbert Grape the screenplay for About a Boy) and the cast. If you get the chance, watch both--the film and the extras.

So being about Thanksgiving, there is plenty of food inspiration in this movie--your basic traditional Thanksgiving foods that April tries to cook, the more gourmet dishes of neighbor Eugene and his wife Evette, Krispy Kreme donuts, even the pancakes that April likens herself to:

April:  "I'm the first pancake."
Evette: "What do you mean?"
Eugene: "She's the one you're supposed to throw out."
I knew I wanted to do something with cranberries as I liked the exchange between April and Eugene when she defends using canned cranberry sauce:
April:  "I like it from the can!"
Eugene: "Nobody likes it from the can.

April later tosses her blob of canned cranberry jelly into the trash and Evette shows her how simple it is to make sauce from fresh cranberries, encouraging her all the way. The kindness of strangers. ;-)

Rather than making cranberry sauce, I kept seeing a Giada De Lauretiis recipe for a cranberry soup with curried breadcrumbs on top that sounded interesting--one of those will-I-like-it-or-will-it be-weird?-sounding recipes. I did make a few changes--shown in red below--mainly reducing the oil and sweetener, adding a bit more smoky flavor, and swapping out the curried breadcrumbs for curried shredded Brussels sprouts. (A great way to make it gluten-free and work so more veggies in.)  

Cranberry Soup with Curried Breadcrumbs Shredded Brussels Sprouts
Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis via Natural Health Magazine & online here
(4 to 6 Servings)

3 Tbsp olive oil (I used 1 Tbsp + 1 1/2 tsp, divided)
1 onion, roughly chopped 
1 carrot, roughly chopped 
1 celery stalk, roughly chopped 
1 3/4 tsp kosher salt, divided (I used 1 1/2 tsp smoked sea salt)
1 apple, such as honeycrisp, chopped 
1 lb cranberries 
1 cup apple juice 
2 1/2 cups water 
2 star anise 
1 cinnamon stick 
3 cardamom pods 
(I added 1 tsp smoked paprika)
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs (I used shredded Brussels sprouts)
1/4 cup agave nectar, divided (I used 2 Tbsp maple syrup)
1/2 tsp curry powder
Smoked olive oil to finish (optional) (I omitted)

Heat a 3 quart sauce pan over medium heat. To the pan add the onion, carrot, celery and 1 teaspoon of salt and sauté for 4 minutes or until the vegetables are beginning to soften. Add the apple and cranberries and sauté for another 2 minutes. Deglaze with the apple juice and add the water, star anise, cinnamon stick and cardamom pods. Bring soup to a boil, and allow it to simmer for 20 minutes. Remove the star anise, cinnamon stick and cardamom pods and cool slightly.

Meanwhile, in a small sauté pan, mix together the panko, 1 tablespoon agave, the curry powder and 1/4 teaspoon salt.
(I omitted the agave or sweetened and substituted in Brussels sprouts for the panko and used 1/2 tsp of oil to pan-fry them in until the sprouts were crispy and lightly browned.) Place over medium heat and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring often, until the breadcrumbs are fragrant and golden brown. Set aside to cool.

In 2 batches, ladle the soup into the pitcher of a blender and puree until smooth. Return the pureed soup to a pan and bring to a gentle simmer. Turn off the heat and add the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 3 tablespoons of agave. Ladle into bowls and top with the curried breadcrumbs. Drizzle with a little smoked or extra virgin olive oil if desired.  

Notes/Results: I wondered if this soup would be too tangy or too fruity for my taste buds but it turned out well--a good blend of sweet and savory and a little smoky thanks to the smoked salt and paprika I added. The curried Brussels sprouts were the perfect topping--not that the panko wouldn't be great as well, but I liked the slight bitter greens flavor of the sprouts with the curry with the tangy/sweet. Plus I learned that curried Brussels sprouts are delicious and plan to make a salad/side dish with these flavors. This is a good soup to use as a starter to a meal--rich, but not too heavy and good to serve in a small bowl or cup. I would make it again.

As mentioned, I'm hosting this round of Food 'N Flix and I'll be rounding up all of this month's entries right here at Kahakai Kitchen shortly after the deadline of Sunday, November 30th so you still have plenty of time to watch the film and play along. (As host, I decided to actually to get my entry done a couple of weeks before the deadline this time--a rarity!) ;-) If you miss out this month, I TRIPLE-dog-dare ya to join us in December when we will be watching the holiday classic, A Christmas Story hosted by Food 'N Flix's founder, Heather of girlichef

Since it's also Souper Sundays, let's take a look into the kitchen and see who is here and what delicious dishes they brought.

Mireille of Chef Mireille's East West Realm shares this flavorful Ottolenghi Spinach Chickpea Soup with Roasted Carrots and says, "Rose water and raz el hanout add a Middle Eastern flavor to this healthy Vegetarian Soup. ... This is a balanced flavorful soup with the light and fresh flavors of the greens, but then the smoky deep flavors that come from the carrots and the raz el hanout. It makes a complete meal with the protein from the chickpeas."

Shaheen from Allotment2Kitchen is here with this pretty rice salad and says, "I made this Red Camargue Rice Salad last month.  It was my first time cooking and eating red camargue rice. I don't know why, but I had expected the red camargue rice to be chewy like brown rice, but it wasn't and was somewhere in between white rice and brown rice.  It did however add texture and faint colour to this very autumnal looking salad. The rice was further enhanced by the flavours of the roasted butternut squash and red peppers, I also threw in some fresh tomatoes."

Janet of The Taste Space brings Moroccan Cauliflower Rice and Date Salad and says, "This was also a fun spin on a vegetable salad: cauliflower is riced and tossed with Moroccan spices, dates and cilantro. The savoury spices (cumin and cardamom – although I think cinnamon would have been better) worked well with the sweet dates. My only complaint was that I picked a big head of cauliflower, so I needed more dressing. No fault of the author, as I guess there are truly puny cauliflowers out there."

A salad this good needs to be re-shared. At Kahakai Kitchen, I slightly adapted this Nigel Slater Pan-Fried Apple and Cheese Salad with Glazed Walnuts and fell a little bit in love. It is amazing what pan-frying the apples (I used Honeycrisp) does for them--especially when the warm, juicy apples meld with the farmhouse cheddar and soften it up. This is a perfect fall salad simple, pretty to look at and a pleasure to eat, that I will make over and over again. (Stop by and take a look and enter to win a $25 e-gift card to an online bookstore of your choice and a copy of the cozy mysteryThe Garden Plot by Marty Wingate.) 

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!