Saturday, October 31, 2015

Ellie Krieger's Honey Harvest Quinoa (A Healthy and Warm Breakfast!)

I am not a good breakfast eater--especially on weekdays. Typically I grab a banana and a Luna bar and call it good, or if I am feeling ambitious, I go through periodic overnight oats and smoothie phases where I have things ready to go the night before so I don't have to deal with much in the morning. Even when I am working from home I tend to get up, work for a bit, then grab something quick rather than take the time to cook something. Still, there is something about a warm and nourishing breakfast that makes the day start better, especially on a semi-lazy weekend day. Ellie Krieger's recipe for Honey Harvest Quinoa can be on the breakfast table in 20 minutes, easily setting you up for a great day. 

I eat my share of quinoa but had not tried cooking it for breakfast before. I think I was a bit biased from doing a yoga seminar and cleanse weekend a few years ago where we were served quinoa flakes (pressed quinoa that has an instant oatmeal texture) for three days. I am not a mushy and warm breakfast cereal person so I was not a fan of the flakes but figured that since I like the firmer texture of actual quinoa, I might like it better in my breakfast bowl. I made a couple of small changes to Ellie's recipe, noted in red below and I used the quinoa I had on hand which was a blend of white, red and black quinoa. Plain quinoa might have been a better contrast in the bowl with the toppings but I think this blend looks pretty for fall. ;-)

Ellie says, "I always thought of quinoa as a savory side dish until my Peruvian friend told me that there they eat it for breakfast cooked with apples and honey. So I tried it, tossing in some chewy dried cranberries and crunchy pecans for good measure, and discovered my new favorite hot breakfast cereal.

Honey Harvest Quinoa
Adapted Slightly from So Easy by Ellie Krieger
(Makes 4 Servings)

1 1/3 cups quinoa
2 2/3 cups water
1 small golden delicious apple, cored and cut into chunks
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup pecans
1/2 cup low-fat milk, plus more for serving (I used unsweetened vanilla coconut milk)
2 Tbsp honey, plus more for serving
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (I used 1 tsp)

4 tsp unsalted butter (optional)
Add the quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer and rinse under the tap; put the rinsed quinoa in a saucepan with the water. Bring to a boil, then decrease heat to a simmer; cover and cook for 5 minutes. Add the apple chunks and cranberries and continue to cook, covered over low heat, until the water is absorbed, about 10 minutes. (I saved out some of my apple pieces to use as topping.)

In the meantime, toast the pecans in a dry skillet over med-high heat, stirring often, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Let cool, then coarsely chop.

When the quinoa is cooked, stir in 1/2 cup of milk, 2 tablespoons honey, and the cinnamon; cook until the milk is heated through, about 1 more minute.

Spoon the cereal into serving bowls and top with the toasted pecans and butter, if using.
Serve with additional honey and milk to taste. (I added my reserved chopped apples and a sprinkle of cinnamon to the topping)

Nutritional Info: (Per 1 1/4 cup Serving): Calories: 380, Total Fat 14g, Sat. Fat 5g, Mono Fat 6.5g, Poly Fat 5g, Protein 10g, Carb 57g, Fiber 6g, Cholesterol 0mg, Sodium 25mg.
Excellent Source of copper, fiber, folate, magnesium, manganese, protein, thiamin.
Good Source of iron, potassium, riboflavin, vitamin B6, zinc.  

Notes/Results:  A nice belly and soul-warming morning bowl. The sweet cinnamon and honey flavor says breakfast and since I don't like mushy cereal, the slightly chewy texture of the quinoa is a nice change. I liked the contrast in textures of the soft apples--and the crunchy ones I left out to scatter on top, the toasted pecans and the chewy tart bites of cranberry. A very adaptable recipe--milk, toppings and flavorings (I feel a tropical version with mac nuts, coconut chips and pineapple coming soon), it's an easy warm breakfast that satisfies with plenty of protein, fiber and healthy fats. I will make this again.

It's Potluck week at I Heart Cooking Clubs--our chance to cook any recipe from current IHCC chef Ellie Krieger, or any recipes from one of our previous twelve featured chefs. You can see what recipes everyone made and what chefs they cooked from by checking out the picture links on the post. 

 Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "Food Whore" by Jessica Tom, Served Up With Blistered Berbere Chickpeas with Kale & Fried Egg

Pretty sure that this is the first time I have had the word whore on my blog and it's in the post title no less, so it may make for some interesting search results. ;-) A food whore, according to the Urban Dictionary, is "a person who will do anything for food" or "someone that is always around where food is." And, Food Whore: A Novel of Dining and Deceit, is a debut book by Jessica Tom that I am reviewing on today's TLC Book Tour stop. Served with my review is a fabulous recipe inspired by the book--Blistered Berbere Chickpeas with Kale and Fried Egg.

Publisher's Blurb:

food whore (n.): a person who will do anything for food.

Fresh out of college, Tia Monroe has every intention of taking the New York City restaurant scene by storm. But after a coveted internship goes up in smoke, Tia’s suddenly just another food lover in the big city.

Everything changes when Michael Saltz, a legendary New York Times restaurant critic, lets Tia in on a career-ending secret: he’s lost his sense of taste. Now he wants Tia to serve as his palate, ghostwriting his reviews. In return he promises her lavish meals, a boundless supply of designer clothing, and the opportunity of a lifetime. With nothing to lose and everything to gain, Tia agrees.

Within weeks, Tia’s world transforms into one of glamour and luxury: four-star dinners, sexy celebrity chefs, and an unlimited expense account at Bergdorf Goodman. Tia loves every minute of it . . . until she sees her words in print and Michael Saltz taking all the credit. As the veneer of extravagance wears thin and her secret identity begins to crumble, Tia is faced with what it means to truly succeed. In a city where “making it” is the ultimate goal, she will have to decide: how far is she willing to go for the life she craves?

Paperback: 352 pages  
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (October 27, 2015)

My Review: 

A new grad student in NYU's food studies program, Tia is aiming for a coveted internship with a famed and beloved cookbook author. However, she doesn't get a chance to impress Helen Lansky (who I kept picturing as Ruth Reichl in my head) with a container of her labor-intensive Dacqouise Drops, "a creation born of love" for her grandfather, because her path crosses with current New York Times food critic Michael Saltz. Saltz is notorious and altogether slimy, but he offers Tia a tempting proposition of ghostwriting his reviews. Of course when something sounds too good to be true, it almost always is, which is something Tia is not unaware of when she makes her deal with the devil, but the offer would tempt the strongest of characters. It's the chance to eat at the best and trendiest restaurants in NYC for free, an expense account at Bergdorfs with unending designer clothes and accessories, and seeing her thoughts and words in print. But, since Tia is keeping the secret of a famed food critic who can no longer taste what he is eating, no one can learn she is behind the reviews and soon keeping secrets and balancing her life becomes impossible. From the start it is pretty clear that things will not end well and Tia's life becomes like a train wreck that you just can't look away from. I did find it hard to drum up a ton of sympathy for Tia as she isn't the most likable person through most of the book. Yes, she is young at 22, and that is the time we are *supposed to* (and often do) make our worst decisions, but it bugged me that Tia made virtually everything about herself and her wants and needs. This meant her family, relationships, friends, and co-workers become a bit like road kill on her fast track to success, fame and everything she wants. Tia does have some growth during the book, but I did want to smack her much of the time. 

Although I didn't love Tia, I adored the food. The food descriptions are what pulled me into Food Whore and kept me going when my frustrations with Tia ran high. If you have a love for fine dining, fashion, New York City, and learning behind-the-scenes secrets of restaurants and food critics, you can't help but be caught up in this book. Author Jessica Tom is a passionate foodie and has a strong culinary background (including reviewing restaurants for Yale University) and that comes through in her writing. The food leaps off the page--so vividly that I could picture each dish she described--and almost smell and taste them too. Food Whore is a fun insider's peek at a fascinating world and reads like you are dishing with your most in-the-know foodie friend over a cocktail at the newest hot spot. There is romance, drama, intrigue, and plenty of glamour and glamorous food--just don't read it on an empty stomach! 


Author Notes: Jessica Tom is a writer and food blogger living in Brooklyn. She has worked on initiatives with restaurants, hospitality startups, food trucks, and citywide culinary programs. She graduated from Yale University with a concentration in fiction writing and wrote the restaurant review for the Yale Daily News Magazine. Food Whore is her first novel.
Find out more about Jessica at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter. See what she’s pinning on Pinterest, and follow her photos on Instagram.


Food Inspiration:

Often times in my TLC Book Tour reviews it is a challenge to come up with a dish inspired by the book. With Food Whore, the pages of my copy are peppered with turned-down corners and tape flags marking all of the delectable food descriptions, so it was a challenge to pick just one dish. Jessica Tom's blog even has recipes inspired by the book, including a creamy Cauliflower Soup with Balsamic-Olive Oil "Caviar" (little molecular gastronomy pearls made with agar-agar) that I know I will try someday, or a version of the delectable-sounding Dacquoise Drops that helped give Tia her first 15-minutes of fame. But, it was a brief mention of a breakfast of "poached eggs in a bed of kale and blistered berbere chickpeas" a few pages from the end of the book that caught my eye. 

If you read my blog on a regular basis you will see a lot of dishes that have a yolky egg perched on top--it's my favorite way to add protein since I don't eat meat or poultry and fish gets spendy. I also adore both kale and chickpeas and have a berbere seasoning blend from Whole Foods in my pantry. I liked the idea of the fried/blistered chickpeas and so I put together my interpretation of this dish based on that one line of description. (You may notice that the book mentioned poached eggs and I love them, but prefer to just break out a frying pan and do a sunny-side up egg instead--quicker, easier, and usually it looks better in pictures than my poached eggs.)

Berbere is a popular Ethiopian seasoning mix that includes fenugreek, cardamom, cinnamon, chiles and other spices. You can find it at spice stores, well-stocked spice sections of some grocery and specialty stores, or it is easy enough to make your own. Chef Marcus Samuelsson has a good recipe here. It is pretty spicy, so add the amount you like to this dish to get it to your desired heat level.

Blistered Berbere Chickpeas with Kale and Fried Egg
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen, Inspired by Food Whore by Jessica Tom
(Serves 2)

2 Tbsp coconut oil or high heat cooking oil of choice
1/2 sweet onion, chopped
3 cloves minced garlic
1 large bunch kale, center stems removed, chopped or torn into bite-sized pieces
2 cups canned or cooked chickpeas, well drained and patted dry
1 1/2 tsp berbere spice mix, or to taste 
squeeze of fresh lemon juice
salt and black pepper to taste
2 to 4 eggs (depending on your hunger level), poached or fried sunny-side-up

Heat 1 tablespoon coconut oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook until they are golden-brown (about 8-10 minutes). Add garlic and kale and cook, stirring, until kale wilts--about 4 minutes. Transfer mixture to plate or bowl and set aside.

Turn heat to high and add the remaining tablespoon of coconut oil to pan. Once pan and oil are hot, add chickpeas, spreading them out into a single layer. Cook until blistered, stir, and spread them out again. Repeat until the chickpeas are browned and blistered all over. (Note: Chickpeas may pop as they heat and the skins split and blister. I found it worked well to cover the pan and shake it every couple of minutes so no hot chickpeas popped out.) ;-)

Reduce heat to medium, add the berbere spice and the lemon juice to the blistered chickpeas and cook for a minute or so. Add the kale mixture and gently stir to mix together with the chickpeas. Add salt and black pepper to taste. 

Divide mixture into bowls and top with poached or fried eggs and a dusting of smoked paprika or more berbere mix. Serve immediately. 

Notes/Results: OK, I just might have a new favorite easy dinner, or breakfast, or lunch. This was SO GOOD! The slightly bitter kale, the crisp-on-the outside-but-tender-within chickpeas, the hint of acidity from the lemon, and the wonderful spicy, slightly sweet kick of the berbere--then, all of that yolky goodness stirred into the mix. Perfectly easy, perfectly delicious, perfectly satisfying. This was my first blistering (or probably more frying) of chickpeas and I didn't realize that they would pop so much from the heat and oil--like little burning spheres in my saute pan. Adding a lid and shaking the pan helped and although I won't claim that these are truly "blistered" and blackened, the skins were splitting and crisping, and they were wonderfully toothsome to eat. I kept picking them out of the pan and popping them into my mouth before I could plate the dish. If I don't happen to have kale or greens around, I would be happy just opening a can of chickpeas, frying them up and enjoying them with the berbere spice mix. This dish would also work well with harissa, or if you don't like as much heat, sumac or ras el hanout would also be lovely. I will definitely be making this again. 

Note: A review copy of "Food Whore" 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 this Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Bubbling Cauldron Popcorn (Cheezy Kale & Nori-Dusted) with a few Mozzarella 'Dead Man's Toes' for Food 'N Flix October: Hocus Pocus

This month's Food 'N Flix selection is Hocus Pocus, hosted by Elizabeth at The Lawyer's Cookbook. (You can see her announcement post here.) Although not particularly food-filled, it is the classic Halloween movie and a perfect choice for October.

I had not seen the full movie in years so it was a pleasure to put on the DVD, grab some popcorn, and head to Salem Massachusetts. If you don't know the film, the Sanderson Sisters (Winifred, Mary and Sarah) are three witches who back in 1693, lured young Emily Binx away from her home as part of a spell to regain their youth. Her brother, Thackery Binx, tries to stop them and save Emily but fails. Emily dies and Thackery is turned into a cat--forced to live forever with his guilt and sorrow. The witchy sisters are caught and hanged, but a spell is cast that will bring them back if a virgin lights their black flame candle. Three hundred years later, the Dennison Family is new to Salem and teenage Max and his little sister Dani go to the Sanderson's cottage--a derelict museum--with Alison, the girl Max likes. Max (a virgin) lights the candle which brings the sisters to life and they promptly set out to finish casting their youth spell using Dani and the children of the town. Of course much mayhem ensues. ;-) It's fun, has a pretty good family vibe, and a great cast--especially the sisters played by Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker.     

I took my food inspiration from the Sanderson Sister's bubbling witch's cauldron which glowed green from the spell Winifred cast. There are so many sweet treats around for Halloween that are hard to say no to and so I was craving something on the savory snacking side instead. I decided to fill my witch's cauldron with green-ish popcorn to mimic the bubbling. To keep it on the healthy side, there were a few different options to consider for coloring and flavor like matcha (green tea) and spirulina (blue green algae), but then I saw a popcorn post that used powdered kale (from ground up kale chips) and I was hooked. A nice way to work some greens into a favorite snack food. ;-) Since the spell included a dead man's toe (a 'fleshy" one), I made a few edible toes from mozzarella string cheese and sliced almonds to add that Halloween gross-out factor. (I had some superball eyeballs in my Halloween stash and added them to the photos because if you were a witch you might happen to have a few eyeballs sitting around with your stash of dead man's toes just in case! And, they filled in space and got me out of sacrificing more than one string cheese to ugly toes...) 

This popcorn is as easy as making your own kale chips in the oven, or buying a bag at your favorite grocery or natural food store and grinding them up in the blender or food processor. Since kale on its own would be a bit boring, I added nutritional yeast to mellow the slight bitterness from the kale and to give the popcorn a cheezy flavor, and toasted nori seaweed for umami. There are various ways to make popcorn--microwave, kettle, popcorn maker. I have an air popper than I like to drag out now and then for movie nights. Since the air popper doesn't use any oil, I sprayed my popcorn lightly with coconut oil spray to help the seasoning stick.

Witch's Cauldron Kale-Dusted Popcorn
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen, Inspired by Organic Authority
(Makes about 8-10 cups of popcorn)

1 1/2 cup *kale chips
2 large square sheets of nori (like the kind you would roll sushi in), torn into pieces
1/3 cup nutritional yeast
sea salt and black pepper to taste
pinch red pepper flakes
8-10 cups popped popcorn (plain), warm
coconut oil spray (I use a pump oil spray mister similar to this one)

Pulverize kale chips and torn nori sheets in the bowl of a food processor, until finely ground. Add nutritional yeast, a pinch of sea salt, and pepper (to taste), and a pinch of red pepper flakes and pulse a few times until thoroughly mixed together. 

Put warm popped popcorn into a very large bowl. Lightly spray the popcorn with the coconut oil spray and gently toss to ensure it is distributed. Sprinkle on the seasoning powder and carefully keep tossing until the popcorn is evenly coated with the seasoning mixture. Serve and enjoy!

*Kale Chips: You can either buy a package of kale chips (faster, simpler) and grind them or make your own (cheaper, better) and grind them. For this popcorn, I am having a busy week so I used about 1 1/2 cups store-bought kale chips. (When I make my own have found Oh She Glows recipe to work the best for me as it always generates crispy chips--you can find it here. I usually get about 1 1/2 cups of chips from one large bunch of kale.)

For my dead man's toes: I used string cheese, slicing it into thirds, flattening it out slightly and shaving a little indentation off of one end for the sliced almond toenail to rest in. For the slight decay and blood look--and to hold the almond in better, I used a combination of a little black food coloring and harissa paste (you could use tomato paste if you prefer) drawn on with a toothpick.

Notes/Results: I really love this popcorn as it has layers of great flavor; it's nicely savory, slightly cheezy, has a little salty brine from the nori, and just a hint of spice from the red pepper flakes. Definitely moreish. With just a little coconut oil, it's pretty healthy too, with lots of nutrients and minerals. It's not quite as green as I was originally going for with the yellow nutritional yeast, but there is a slight green tinge that you can see better up close than you can in the pictures. The mozzarella dead man's toes are more for effect but are also edible. For the toes, I had an open tube of spicy harissa paste, so I used it for a spicy kick but you could just use tomato paste or even ketchup. (As mentioned, the eyeballs are fake and just added for fun.) Pretty quick and easy fun and great for snacking when you have had too much candy. I will happily make this popcorn again--Halloween or not. 

The deadline for this month's Food 'N Flix event is tomorrow, Thursday, October 28th. Elizabeth will be rounding up all of the entries on her blog shortly after. If you missed this month and love food, films and foodie films, join us for November when Culinary Adventures with Camilla will be hosting The Hundred-Foot Journey. (Bonus! Camilla and I are doing a optional tie-in between Food 'N Flix and Cook the Books, where our October/November book pick is the novel on which the movie is based. Come join the fun--film, book, or both!


Saturday, October 24, 2015

Mango-Coconut Chia Puddings

October is a month that is made for the color orange, so this week's I Heart Cooking Clubs theme is Think Orange!--Ellie Krieger recipes featuring orange-hued ingredients. There are plenty of orange ingredients I thought about using--salmon, sweet potatoes, shrimp, and cheddar cheese to name a few--but then Ellie Krieger's Mango-Coconut Chia Pudding caught my eye. I make chia pudding sometimes, with coconut milk and blueberries, or pineapple, or occasionally a chocolate version, but for some reason never with mango. I like how Ellie both blended my favorite orange-ish colored fruit into the pudding and then topped it with the mango chunks. 

Ellie says this about chia seeds: "Chia seeds are certainly impressive nutritionally. They are the highest plant source of omega-3s and fiber and they are rich in protein and antioxidants. Almost all of the fiber in chia seeds is the soluble type, like that found in oatmeal, which is why they gel when mixed with liquid. Besides making them useful in recipes, that gel-able fiber is credited for chia’s ability to help control hunger, manage blood sugar levels and prevent heart disease. While further research still needs to be done to fully support these claims, there are plenty of healthy reasons to enjoy chia. With only 55 calories in each tablespoon plus 2g of protein and 6g of fiber, they are certainly worth a try." (See more about chia seeds here at

Mango-Coconut Chia Pudding
Ellie Krieger via
(Makes 4 (1 Cup) Servings)

3 cups mango chunks, thawed if frozen
1 cup light, unsweetened coconut milk
1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
4 tablespoons chia seeds
2 tablespoons coconut flakes (I used unsweetened, toasted coconut chips)

Place 1 1/2 cups of the mango, the coconut milk, honey and the lime juice in a blender and blend until smooth. 

Divide the mixture evenly among four 8-ounce jars or glasses and stir 1 tablespoon of the chia seeds into each. After a few minutes stir again to insure the seeds are evenly dispersed. Cover, and place in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or up to 4 days. 

(Deb's Note: Rather than stir the chia seeds into each individual glass, I put all four tablespoons into the blender jar with the blended mango-coconut mixture and pulsed it a couple of times, then poured it into the serving glasses. I find it is faster and less messy on the edges of the glass.) 

Top each serving with the remaining mango chunks and sprinkle with coconut flakes.

Nutritional Info: Per Serving: Calories 271; Total Fat 10g (Sat Fat 5g, Mono Fat 0.43g, Poly Fat 3.37g); Protein 4g; Carb 47g; Fiber 8g; Cholesterol 0mg; Sodium 18mg
Excellent source of: Vitamin C Good source of: Vitamin A, Thiamin, Vitamin B6, Calcium, Manganese, Phosphorus.

Notes/Results: Love the touch of lime juice for the tartness and the tropical combination with the mango and coconut. The coconut chips on top (I used unsweetened, toasted coconut chips) adds a nice crunch to the pudding, as do the chia seeds. ;-) These creamy, fruity puddings make a great breakfast, healthy and filling snack, or a yummy dessert. I will happily make them again.

You can see what orange ingredients and dishes everyone made by checking out the picture links on the Think Orange post at the IHCC website. 


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "Carrying Albert Home" by Homer Hickam, Served Up with Fried Potato Pancakes and Old Bay Boiled Shrimp

Most of us have at least one good road trip story in our history but most of us probably didn't make that journey with a pet alligator and a mysterious rooster along for the ride. Today's TLC Book Tour stop takes us on an epic and fantastical road trip with Carrying Albert Home: The Somewhat True Story of a Man, His Wife, and her Alligator by Homer Hickam. Served up with my review is a plate of Fried Potato Pancakes and Old Bay Boiled Shrimp inspired by the book.

Publisher's Blurb:

The long-awaited prequel to the #1 New York Times bestselling memoir Rocket Boys—the basis for the movie October Sky...

Elsie Lavender and Homer Hickam Sr.—the future parents of Homer Hickam Jr.—were high school classmates in the West Virginia coalfields, graduating just as the Great Depression began. When Homer asked for her hand, Elsie instead headed to Orlando where she sparked with a dancing actor named Buddy Ebsen (yes, that Buddy Ebsen). But when Buddy headed for New York, Elsie’s dreams of a life with him were crushed and eventually she found herself back in the coalfields, married to Homer.

Unfulfilled as a miner’s wife, Elsie was reminded of her carefree days in Florida every day because of Buddy’s unusual wedding gift: an alligator named Albert who lived in the only bathroom in their little house. Eventually Homer gave Elsie an ultimatum: “Me or the alligator!” After giving it some thought, Elsie concluded there was only one thing to do—carry Albert home.

Carrying Albert Home tells the sweet, funny, and sometimes heartbreaking tale of a young couple and their special pet on a crazy 1,000-mile journey. Told with the warmth and down-home charm that made Rocket Boys a beloved bestseller, Homer Hickam’s rollicking novel is truly a testament to that strange and marvelous emotion we call love.

Hardcover: 432 pages  
Publisher: William Morrow (October 13, 2015)

My Review:

This is the first book from Homer Hickam that I have read but I intend to read more. Carrying Albert Home is a fun read and has a good bit of the madcap to it with the many, often outlandish, adventures that Homer and Elsie have. I happen to love the screwball comedy films of the 1930s and 1940s and the story felt like a cross between two of my favorites--It Happened One Night (zany road trip romance) and Bringing Up Baby (the challenges of an exotic 'pet'--although Baby was a leopard). I have never found alligators to be particularly appealing before, but Albert was downright lovable--laying on his back to have his belly scratched, his frequent grins, and the happy yeah-yeah-yeah sound he made. He and the unnamed rooster (who showed at the first stop and stayed throughout the trip) were my favorite characters in the book. Homer Sr. is likable, although I got frustrated with how much he kowtowed to, and put up with Elsie. I struggled with Elsie throughout the book, not liking how she treated Homer and how much she seemed to resent him although she pretty much knew what she was signing up for when she married a coal miner. I found her most redeeming feature to be her love for Albert, but as she softened toward Homer as the book progressed and started treating him better, I began to like her more and to admire her spirit. 

There is a sweet earnestness to Carrying Albert Home and it is easy to get caught up in the storytelling. Since it is billed as similar to Big Fish and some of the stories are pretty crazy, you aren't sure just how much of it is true and how much is "tall tales"--but you find yourself suspending disbelief, happily climbing in the backseat of the Hickam's Buick touring car with Albert (and the rooster), and just going along for the ride--and what a wild ride it is. Unique and entertaining, it made me chuckle and it managed to make me tear up a few times too.

Author Notes: Homer Hickam (also known as Homer H. Hickam Jr.) is the bestselling and award-winning author of many books, including the #1 New York Times memoir Rocket Boys, which was adapted into the popular film October Sky. A writer since grade school, he is also a Vietnam veteran, a former coal miner, a scuba instructor, an avid amateur paleontologist, and a retired engineer. He lives in Alabama and the Virgin Islands.

Find out more about Homer at his website, and connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.


Food Inspiration:

It's 1935, six years into the great depression, and the story takes place mostly on the road--so most of the food mentioned in Carrying Albert Home is simple fare--sandwiches, chicken for Albert, eggs, fruit, baked bread, veggies, and home-canned goods from Elsie's mother. Two meals caught my eye (or stomach); a dinner with Ernest Hemingway consisting of succulent dolphin fish, spiced beans, rice, and cornbread, and Elsie frying up potato pancakes and stirring a big, bubbling pot of shrimp at Captain Oscar's Boarding House in South Carolina.

Having some Yukon Gold potatoes on hand and frozen wild shrimp in the freezer, I decided to make potato cakes and to steam/boil a few shrimp in Old Bay seasoning. Most of the Southern-style potato cake mentions and recipes I found online were made from mashed potatoes so that's what I used. (Also the book mentions Elsie "spooning a dollop of grease in a frying pan" with a lumpy slurry in a nearby bowl that made the author suspect that she was making her 'famous fried potato cakes' for supper. Sounds like mashed potato cakes to me.) For the shrimp, I just followed the recipe on the back of the Old Bay Seasoning container--beer, vinegar, and Old Bay. I added a bit of Old Bay to my potato cakes as well for a little extra flavor.

Fried Potato Pancakes
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes 9 Potato Cakes)

2 cups mashed potatoes (I used Yukon Gold potatoes)
1 1/2 cups breadcrumbs (panko preferred), separated
1 egg, beaten
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp Old Bay Seasoning 
salt and black pepper to taste
canola oil for frying

In a bowl, combine mashed potatoes, 1 cup of the breadcrumbs, the beaten egg, garlic, Old Bay and salt and black pepper (to taste--depending on the seasoning in your mashed potatoes). 

Place the remaining 1/2 cup of panko on a plate. Form the potatoes mixture into 3-inch-ish patties and dredge in the panko--ensuring the cakes are covered well.   

Coat a large frying pan with the canola oil and heat over medium-high. When pan is hot, add about half of the cakes, making sure not to crowd them. Cook cakes about 2 1/2 to 3 minutes per side, until browned and warmed through. Repeat until all potato cakes are cooked. Sprinkle with a little more black pepper and serve hot. 

Notes/Results: Crispy on the outside, creamy mashed potatoes inside, these are delicious little cakes, homey and comforting. I was happy with my Yukon gold mashed potatoes and the garlic and a touch of Old Bay seasoning gave them even more flavor. I liked them with the peel-and-eat shrimp, but they were also pretty wonderful topped with shredded cheddar cheese for breakfast the next day. ;-) Quick, easy, and a great way to use up mashed potatoes, I would happily make them again.

Note: A review copy of "Carrying Albert Home" 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 this Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.


Sunday, October 18, 2015

Nigella Lawson's "Doughnut" French Toast--When Your Inner Child (or Inner Donut Lover) Needs a Hug

The sugar patrol will get me for this one. French toast with plenty of vanilla, dredged in sugar for a donut-like experience. It's the ultimate comforting breakfast or midnight snack that is the epitome of Nigella Lawson recipes--simple food that is comforting, decadent and calls to my inner child. Since we have a new monthly feature at I Heart Cooking Clubs where we make a dish from one of our previous IHCC chefs and my inner child was in serious need of a hug this week, it seemed like the perfect pick.

Nigella was the fist official IHCC chef and I made many memorable dishes both when we cooked with her and after. Too many to mention properly) but you can see them by checking out the Nigella tab on my side bar labels list. (And, if you are looking for a savory version of true Nigella decadent comfort you should check out her Cheddar Cheese Risotto--I still think about this one!)

But I digress, so back to the Doughnut French Toast... I went to Nigella's website to find a recipe for this week and saw this French Toast--which I remembered from Nigella Express--and immediately got a craving for it. I only really get a craving for a doughnut a couple of times a year but something about this sugary breakfast treat called to my inner child. I had some bread getting slightly stale, local eggs, Maui cane sugar, and some homemade vanilla from my sweet friend Kat. Nigella mentions that you can make a strawberry sauce to serve with the toast but I served mine with fresh raspberries.

Nigella says, "My weaknesses are mainly savoury - think salt and vinegar crisps or cheese and biscuits - but there are times when only a doughnut will do. This craving can get desperate late at night when the shops are shut, and even if they weren't, none of them sells the kind of doughnuts I dream of. This is my way of assuaging my appetite, appeasing my need or, perhaps more accurately, feeding my addiction. Hot chocolate on the side is always worth considering, but just - just! - by itself this is sublime succour."

Doughnut French Toast 
From Nigella Express and
(Serves 2)
2 large eggs
4 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup whole milk
4 slices white bread (from small loaf or 2 slices from large loaf) each slice cut in half
2 Tbsp butter
1 drop vegetable oil for frying
1/4 cup superfine sugar

Beat the eggs with the milk and vanilla in a wide, shallow bowl.

Soak the bread halves in the eggy mixture for 5 minutes a side.

Heat the butter and oil in a frying pan, and fry the egg-soaked bread until golden and scorched in parts on both sides.

Put the sugar on a plate and then dip the cooked bread in it until coated like a sugared doughnut.

Notes/Results: Oh yeah, this is a tasty one and so easy that I fear that I may be pulling this recipe out more often than I should. I cut off the crusts of my sourdough bread and trimmed down the size a bit, and it made each piece soak up the egg/milk mixture completely while still staying crisp on the outside. I didn't have milk on hand so I used some non-dairy almond milk creamer which worked fine. I love how prominent the vanilla flavor was in this French Toast. (Mahalo Kat for my bottle of homemade vanilla extract--it was well-used here!) I had this for breakfast but I could easily see pulling a Nigella and sneaking out to the kitchen at midnight to make this (along with her suggestion of hot chocolate on the side) as it is so simple and so easily made from the pantry. ;-)

Ellie Krieger is our current IHCC chef--so back to some healthier fare next week. If you want to see what Nigella recipes everyone made this week, just check out the picture links on the post.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review "Pretty Girls" by Karin Slaughter, Served with "Egg Bread" or Eggs in a Hole

There are books that are roller coasters and there are books that are like the carnival ride, The Zipper--books that toss you around unpredictably, giving you chills and thrills, and a slightly queasy stomach. Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter is The Zipper--a wild ride that makes the pulse pound and the head slightly dizzy--in all of the best ways. On today's TLC Book Tour stop, I am reviewing this twisty (and twisted) mystery-thriller and, once the stomach settles a bit, serving it up with a comforting egg and bread recipe inspired by the book.

Publisher's Blurb:

Sisters. Strangers. Survivors.
More than twenty years ago, Claire and Lydia’s teenaged sister Julia vanished without a trace. The two women have not spoken since, and now their lives could not be more different. Claire is the glamorous trophy wife of an Atlanta millionaire. Lydia, a single mother, dates an ex-con and struggles to make ends meet. But neither has recovered from the horror and heartbreak of their shared loss—a devastating wound that’s cruelly ripped open when Claire’s husband is killed.

The disappearance of a teenage girl and the murder of a middle-aged man, almost a quarter-century apart: what could connect them? Forming a wary truce, the surviving sisters look to the past to find the truth, unearthing the secrets that destroyed their family all those years ago . . . and uncovering the possibility of redemption, and revenge, where they least expect it.
Powerful, poignant, and utterly gripping, packed with indelible characters and unforgettable twists, Pretty Girls is a masterful novel from one of the finest writers working today.

Hardcover: 416 pages  
Publisher: William Morrow (September 29, 2015)

My Review: If I had three words to describe Pretty Girls they would be: dark, twisted, and chilling. For some reason this is my first Karin Slaughter book and based on this one, it won't be my last. The story is told both in present day through the voices of sisters Lydia and Claire, and the past through excerpts of the journals that their father wrote to their missing sister Julia. Julia's disappearance had an understandably huge impact on her family, each member dealing (or not dealing) with their grief in different ways. Lydia, the middle sister is a recovering addict, raising a daughter and working for every penny, while Claire, the baby, married into money, volunteers, and mostly lets her husband take care of her. The sisters are estranged and it isn't until Claire's husband is brutally murdered and she starts discovering the terrible secrets that he kept hidden, that the sisters come back together to figure out the truth. I don't want to go into a lot of detail about the plot because there are so many great twists and revelations, you owe it to yourself to let them unfold. And unfold Pretty Girls does--at a very rapid pace--especially the second half, which shocks and disturbs and makes the book pretty impossible to put down. 

Pretty Girls is about a family, and how grief and a terrible unknown so drastically changes both the individual members and the family dynamics. It is also a complex and well crafted thriller that describes with vivid detail some horrible crimes committed against young women. If that is a trigger point for you, or you can't/don't read books that spend a lot of time on the dark side, it is not the novel for you. If you can look to the story behind the crime, it is a book that is worth every cringe it causes. Just don't read it late at night, when you are feeling vulnerable, or especially when you have something you need to do, because you won't want to stop reading. 

A Quick Note: I realized after I read the book and went to the author's website, that there is a short story prequel to Pretty Girls called Blond Hair, Blue Eyes available. It's the story of Julia Carroll and what happened the day of her disappearance; setting the stage for the novel. I read it last night and it was an interesting and compelling accompaniment to the novel that you can read before or after you read the book. 


Author Notes: Karin Slaughter is the #1 internationally bestselling author of more than a dozen novels, including the Will Trent and Grant County series and the instant New York Times bestseller Cop Town. There are more than 30 million copies of her books in print around the world.
Find out more about Karin at her website and connect with her on Facebook.


Food Inspiration: There is little about this book that makes one think or want to think of food--other than stress-eating when the action and tension ratchet up. ;-) There were a couple of food mentions though--mainly pancakes that the Carrolls ate as a family, a chicken and biscuit sandwich that Claire's mom got for her along with coffee in the midst of the action, and finally the "egg bread" that Lydia makes for Claire. 

In the book, egg bread was something from their childhood and Lydia's lazy way of cooking eggs without having to whisk them--simply dropping bread in a pan of oil and then cracking eggs on the top, stirring them around with the spatula and cooking them 'until the shininess was gone.' I didn't think that would make for the most appealing photo so I made a variation of eggs in a hole--something that was called ding-dong eggs at my house and that I ate frequently as a child on Saturday mornings. Still no whisking, it looks better in pictures, and you get the benefit of runny yolk to dip the fried bread in. 

No real recipe needed here. I make a hole in the center of a slice of bread (or use a fun cookie cutter shape), heat a drizzle or two of oil in a frying pan over medium heat and lightly toast my bread (both frame and cutout) on one side. Then, I turn the bread over, lower the heat slightly, crack an egg into the frame, and sprinkle it with a little salt, black pepper and smoked paprika for color. I usually pop a lid on the pan so the steam cooks the egg white (runny egg yolk good, runny egg white bad!) for a minute or two so the yolk is still bread-dipping friendly. Carefully lift from the pan onto serving plate and serve with the toast cutout.

Notes/Results: Yum! Enough said. ;-)

Note: A review copy of "Pretty Girls" 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 this Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.