Friday, January 29, 2016

Thai-Style Mahi Mahi in Coconut-Curry Broth with Spinach and Turnip "Noodles"

I have been craving Thai food lately, particularly curries, so a long-tagged recipe for Ellie Krieger's Thai-Style Halibut with Coconut Curry Broth made it to the top of the "to-make" list. I was going to replace the halibut with salmon from my freezer but since local mahi mahi was on sale, it ended up my fish of choice

Ellie serves the curry and spinach with brown rice but I wanted something noodly and just bought a new kitchen toy to replace my tiny spiralizer. The Inspiralizer has four different settings so I could make a linguine--style noodle which I thought would go well in the recipe. After seeing a salmon red curry dish with turnip noodles, I chose it as my veggie for this dish. Beyond the fish and the turnip noodles, I made some other small changes to the recipe, noted in red below--mainly looking to add more broth and toss in some extra favorite Thai flavors.

Thai-Style Mahi-Mahi in Coconut Curry Broth with Spinach and Turnip *Noodles*
Adapted from Ellie Krieger: The Food You Crave and via Food Network
(Serves 4)

5 cups baby spinach
2 tsp vegetable oil (I used coconut oil)
4 shallots, finely chopped (about 3/4 cup) (I used 2/3 of a sweet Maui onion)
2 1/2 tsp red curry paste or 2 tsp curry powder (I used 1 Tbsp red curry paste)
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth (I used low-sodium veggie broth, diluted w/ water)
1/2 cup light coconut milk (I used 1 cup)
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus 1/4 teaspoon, plus more for seasoning (I used 1/2 tsp total)
4 (6-oz) pieces halibut fillet, skin removed (I used mahi mahi fillets)

1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves (I used half cilantro/half Thai basil)
2 scallions, green part only, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (I used 3 Tbsp + lime slices to garnish)

(I added 3 kaffir lime leaves)
Freshly ground black pepper

(I added 1 turnip--spiralized into fettuccine-style noodles)

Steam or microwave 5 cups of washed baby spinach for 2 minutes, drain and set aside

In a large saute pan, heat the oil over moderate heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the curry paste and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the chicken broth, coconut milk, 1/2 teaspoon salt and simmer until reduced to 2 cups, about 5 minutes.

Season the halibut with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Arrange the fish in the pan and gently shake the pan so the fish is coated with the sauce. Cover and cook until the fish flakes easily with a fork, about 7 minutes.

Arrange a pile of steamed spinach in the bottom of 4 soup plates. Top with the fish fillets. Stir the cilantro, scallions, and lime juice into the sauce and season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Ladle the sauce over the fish and serve with rice.

Notes/Results: This was just fabulous--quick and easy to make and full of flavor. It really hit the spot for my curry noodle cravings. Speaking of the noodles, turnip noodles are my new favorite thing. They absorb the flavor of the broth and soften nicely--not as soft as a pasta noodle of course, but I like the little bite of texture they have. I don't know when I last had a turnip before this but I have a feeling there will be more in my future. ;-) I buy kaffir lime leaves when I see them and store them in my freezer to add to curries and such. There is such a lovely fragrance when they hit the pan and along with the Thai basil I had on hand, help add extra flavor to this dish. I used Thai Kitchen red curry paste, as it has no artificial ingredients. I find it medium-spicy, so depending on the spice level of your red curry and your tolerance, taste and adjust accordingly. One of those dishes that looks impressive on the plate but goes together in a snap--I will definitely make it again.

It's Potluck week at I Heart Cooking Clubs--our chance to make any recipe by current IHCC chef Ellie Krieger or any of our previous IHCC chefs. You can see the chef and dishes that everyone picked by checking out the picture links on the post. 


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "The Evening Spider" by Emily Arsenault, Served with Apple, Fennel & Cabbage Slaw with Cranberries and Apple Cider Vinaigrette

Today's TLC Book Tour stop brings The Evening Spider, a novel by Emily Arsenault; the spooky story of two women living in the same old house, centuries apart. Accompanying my review is a recipe for Apple, Fennel, and Cabbage Slaw with Dried Cranberries  and Apple Cider Vinaigrette inspired by the book. How does a veggie slaw relate to a ghostly tale?  You'll just have to read the post to find out. ;-) 

Publisher's Blurb:

A gripping blend of psychological suspense and historical true crime, this riveting novel—inspired by a sensational real-life murder from the 1800s—by critically acclaimed author Emily Arsenault delivers a heart-stopping mystery linking two young mothers from different centuries.

Frances Barnett and Abby Bernacki are two haunted young mothers living in the same house in two different centuries.

1885: Frances Barnett is in the Northampton Lunatic Hospital, telling her story to a visitor. She has come to distrust her own memories, and believes that her pregnancy, birth, and early days of motherhood may have impaired her sanity.

During the earliest months of her baby’s life, Frances eagerly followed the famous murder trial of Mary Stannard—that captivated New Englanders with its salacious details and expert forensic testimony. Following—and even attending—this trial, Frances found an escape from the monotony of new motherhood. But as her story unfolds, Frances must admit that her obsession with the details of the murder were not entirely innocent.

Present day: Abby has been adjusting to motherhood smoothly—until recently, when odd sensations and dreams have begun to unsettle her while home alone with her baby. When she starts to question the house’s history, she is given the diary of Frances Barnett, who lived in the house 125 years earlier. Abby finds the diary disturbing, and researches the Barnett family’s history. The more Abby learns, the more she wonders about a negative—possibly supernatural—influence in her house. She becomes convinced that when she sleeps, she leaves her daughter vulnerable—and then vows not to sleep until she can determine the cause of her eerie experiences.

Frances Barnett might not be the only new mother to lose her mind in this house. And like Frances, Abby discovers that by trying to uncover another’s secrets, she risks awakening some of her own.

Paperback: 400 pages  
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (January 26, 2016)

My Review:  

I adore a good ghost story, spooky and atmospheric and The Evening Spider certainly delivers. You have the old historic house, the bleak and snowy winter setting, a lunatic asylum in 1885, the centuries-old murder of a young girl with details of the forensics involved at that time, an exhausted new mother--mostly alone with her baby (who has mysterious bruising), a ghostly voice shushing an infant... and it all comes together into a smart and creepy story with a quiet build up of tension. The back and forth perspectives of Abby's present-day experiences, Abby reading Frances's journal, and Frances telling her story to her brother from the asylum make for a disjointed and slightly jarring reading experience which works to build the suspense and a deep sense of foreboding. It's hard to discern what is real and what is imagined by both Abby and Francis. Is Baby Lucy in danger? Is the presence in the house Francis and did she do something horrible to her own child that got her sent to the asylum? Is Francis really speaking to her brother or is she telling her tale in her head? How are the past secrets of Abby and Francis connected to what is happening in the house?  

This is the second of Arsenault's books that I have read, the first being In Search of the Rose Notes which also had parallel timelines and a narrative of past and present from dual perspectives. I think The Evening Spider does it even better. I find it interesting that what sparked Arsenault to write the book was an actual experience that she had, hearing her baby fussing over the baby monitor and then hearing a voice softly shushing her. The scene is replayed in the book and if that isn't creepy enough, there is the inclusion of a true crime case from 1878 Connecticut where a young farm girl is murdered that Frances is obsessed with (I love true events in my fiction). The Evening Spider successfully blends history, mystery, suspense, and paranormal elements into an absorbing story--perfect for adding a few goosebumps on a stormy evening.


Author Notes: Emily Arsenault is also the author of The Broken Teaglass, In Search of the Rose Notes, and Miss Me When I’m Gone. She lives in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, with her husband and daughter.

Find out more about Emily at her website and connect with her on Facebook.


Food Inspiration:

Food does not play a big role in the book but it is present--particularly in the journal that Abby obtains chronicling Frances's life. In it Frances talks about making dinners for her family and baking--in particular her mother's Cider Loaves. Frances doesn't have a passion for baking--seeing it as something she should do as a "normal" housewife and growing up was more interested in the scientific aspects of baking "...with its measurements and proportions and chemical reactions." In addition to the cider loaves, there are mentions of Molasses Biscuits, Saturday Spice Cake, sponge cakes, spice cake, plum pudding, gingerbread and ginger snaps, pumpkin pie, squash pie, and an less successful carrot pie, Baked Apple Pudding, soup, buttered bread and milk, roast chicken, and a Thanksgiving dinner including cornbread, turkey and oyster stuffing.  

With all of the baked goods mentioned, I could have taken my inspiration there, but I am not a big fan of baking and I am currently cutting wheat, dairy, and processed sugar out of my diet for a few weeks. Instead, I decided to take loose inspiration from the cider loaves (thinking apples and apple cider vinegar) and cabbages, as a man that figures into Frances's past, sells or trades pumpkins and cabbages and at one point brings Frances and her husband three whole cabbages that she complains about in her diary (the smell of boiling cabbages makes her nauseous). 

Having very recently purchasing an Inspiralizer and having all kinds of fun slicing every applicable produce item in my kitchen into spirals, I was trawling the Inspiralized website and saw an Apple, Fennel and Celeriac Slaw with a dressing of Apple Cider Vinaigrette. Since celeriac isn't as easy to find (or prep!) as cabbage, I switched up the recipe a bit. (Changes are in red below.)  I liked the pale, mostly white color of this winter salad as it reminded me of the snowy setting of the story, but (and not to be graphic but it's part of the inspiration...) Frances has an interest in science and forensic details and an obsession with blood and "corpuscles" from the murder trial, so I thought that adding some bright red dried cranberries would be a nod to that, as well as add some color and flavor interest to the salad. You can now forget the fact of why they are in the salad and just enjoy them. ;-) 
Apple, Fennel, and Cabbage Slaw with Dried Cranberries and Apple Cider Vinaigrette
Slightly adapted from Inspiralized
(Serves 4)

1 small head of cabbage (replacing the celeriac in the recipe)
1.5 Tbsp minced parsley (I used fennel fronds)
1 Granny Smith apples (I used 2 apples)
1 fennel bulb
(I added 1/3 cup dried cranberries)

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon honey (I added an extra tsp)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (I used grainy mustard)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (I reduced to 2 Tbsp)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
salt and pepper, to taste

Whisk together all of the ingredients for the dressing into a small bowl. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, add  cabbage, apple, fennel. Pour the dressing over and toss thoroughly to combine. Serve.

Notes/Results: Crisp, refreshing and a nice blend of sweet and tangy. I added extra apple and when making again, I will add another fennel bulb, as it's one of my favorite vegetables. The slaw partnered really well with a piece of seasoned and pan fried cod and was even better the next day. The spiralizer made quick work of shredding the cabbage and slicing the fennel and apple but you could also cut it all by hand and still enjoy the flavors in you don't have one. (If you do have a spiralizer, there is direction on the different blade settings to use on the site.) Easy, healthy, and delicious, I would happily make it again.

I am linking this book review and food pairing up at the Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking Event, an event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post 

Note: A review copy of "The Evening Spider" 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.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Creamy (Vegan) Chocolate Mousse for Cook The Books: 'A Place at the Table' By Susan Rebecca White {#Foodies Read}

Our Cook the Books December/January selection is A Place at the Table, a novel by Susan Rebecca White, hosted by Debra of Eliot's Eats. I confess that I ordered the book and received it in early December but put it down after I read the prologue, set in 1929 North Carolina, where racial tension and discrimination result in a teen boy being sent away from his family. I found it depressing and was trying to keep up my spirits during the holidays so I avoided reading it until mid-way through January when I picked it up determined to be more planful this year and not post my entries on the day of the CTB deadline. Once I got into the book and especially the story of Bobby, a young gay man growing up in Georgia who moves to New York and becomes a chef, I found that I really enjoyed it. Much of the story is told by Bobby, with two other characters--Alice, a well-known African-American chef modeled after the famous Edna Lewis, and Amelia, a woman facing the breakup of her marriage. The characters intersect in the book, brought together in part by Café Andres, a quirky restaurant set in a townhouse in Manhattan. Bobby's time at the café and in New York City in the 1980-90s was my favorite part of the book and the most engaging with the many mouthwatering food descriptions. Less satisfying are Alice's story, as we hear little from her viewpoint and Amelia who comes in at the end--a bit to late to the party for me to connect much with her. As I was reading Amelia's chapters I found myself wanting to hear from Alice instead. There are some tough subjects in the book such as prejudice--both racial and sexual orientation, the AIDs crisis of the 80's, death, and divorce, but they don't overwhelm the book and there is solace and healing to be found, often through food and cooking. Overall, a warm and satisfying foodie read.

There were plenty of food scenes and references to inspire a dish from the book. I was torn between the sweet and buttery Carmelita bars and Meemaw's pound cakes from Bobby's childhood, some of the dishes from his mother's 'Lacy Lovehart luncheon (crab dip, jello salad with bing cherries and pecans, crudites with curry dipping sauce, and a "fluffy frozen" lemon dessert), the sunchokes roasted in butter that Bobby makes in his apartment in NYC, roast duck with green olives and crawfish spread on toast points from the Café Andres menu, Bobby's luncheon for Alice with fried catfish and tarter sauce, red beans and rice, red cabbage coleslaw and hush puppies, and especially his banana pudding with toasted pound cake and vanilla custard. But, in the end it was the famous chocolate mousse at Café Andres that called to me the most:  " light I can see the air pockets when I spoon into it, and yet the taste is as intense as a cup of espresso."

Café Andres sounded like exactly the kind of place I would love to hang out in. I became entranced by the chocolate mousse and a mention of how when the cafe first opened they served the mousse "French-style in big bowls, passed around the table along with softly whipped cream. You simply scooped out what you wanted. It was divine." I needed some chocolate mousse!

My challenge to making chocolate mousse is that I am thick in the middle of eliminating wheat/gluten, dairy, and added processed sugar in an attempt to help clear my lungs and reset my system. A more traditional chocolate mousse with cream or butter was out, but I had been wanting to try whipping coconut milk in place of cream and had a vegan chocolate mousse recipe tagged in Chloe's Vegan Desserts that I hadn't gotten around to making yet. I figured I could make a couple of small changes to the recipe and get it to (mostly) fit into my current eating plan. 

The changes I made are pretty subtle--since the recipe called for 1/2 cup powdered sugar, I decided to use a small amount of the more natural stevia instead, up the espresso powder slightly and add some vanilla. My changes to the recipe are noted in red below. Chloe serves her mousse in homemade chocolate cups with raspberry sauce and Café Andres serves their version with whipped cream. I decided to keep mine in a larger bowl for scooping, top it with mini vegan chocolate chips, cacao nibs, and shaved coconut, and serve it with berries. 

Chocolate Mousse
Slightly Adapted from Chloe's Vegan Desserts by Chloe Coscarelli
(Serves 4-5)*

Chloe notes that "The Chocolate Mousse will need to chill in the refrigerator for 8 hours or overnight before serving."

1/2 cup soy, almond or other non-dairy milk (I used cashew milk)
1 1/2 tsp instant espresso powder
(I added 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract)
1 cup semi-sweet vegan chocolate chips 
1 (13.5 oz) can of coconut milk (not lite), preferably Thai Kitchen or Whole Foods 365 brand, chilled, not stirred
1/3 cup powdered sugar (I subbed 2g--about 1 tsp of stevia)
(Shaved coconut, vegan mini chocolate chips & cacao nibs to serve)

Chill the bowl and whisk of a stand mixer in the freezer for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk nondairy milk  and espresso powder (+stevia) in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Once espresso is incorporated, add chocolate chips (+ vanilla) and whisk over low heat until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Pour the mixture into a large bowl, let cool, then chill in the refrigerator until cool to the touch, about 15 minutes. (The chocolate should still be soft and pliable, if it has chilled and hardened, let it sit at room temperature for a few minutes until softened.)

Skim the solidified coconut cream from the chilled coconut milk and transfer the solids to the bowl of the stand mixture. Do not include any of the coconut water, even if you have to leave behind a little margin of coconut cream (even a little bit of coconut water can harm your results).

Add powdered sugar and Beat for 1 to 2 minutes until fluffy. Add the cooled chocolate mixture and beat until incorporated. Let chill, covered, in the refrigerator for 8 hours or overnight. Place in serving bowls and garnish as desired.

Notes/Results: This mousse was fabulous! Ultra creamy, rich, and not too sweet--perfect with the berries. Now granted I have had no chocolate or sweets for three weeks, but I LOVED this--it was hard not to sit down with the larger bowl. ;-) Although it requires forethought and patience, as you have to chill the coconut milk thoroughly in order to get a good layer of solidified coconut cream to whip and then you need to wait 8 hours or more for the mousse to firm up, it is surprisingly easy to make. Chloe recommends either Thai Kitchen or Whole Foods 365 Brand coconut milk and I tried a can of each just to see (aka: in case I messed one up). The 365 brand had a larger layer of cream--at least another inch-and-a-half so I preferred it to Thai Kitchen, but I am sure I will play around with it some more and try them both again. The leftover coconut water at the bottom can be used in smoothies or curries so it isn't a waste. I may try this mousse again with some cocoa powder added in for a darker chocolate version (as it seemed the Café Andres mousse was) but this was perfectly satisfying as it was. I will happily make it again.

A Place at the Table is my third entry for the Foodies Read 2016 event. You can check out the January Foodies Read linkup, hosted by Heather at Based on a True Story, to see what everyone is reading this month.  

The deadline for this Cook the Books round is January 31, and Debra will be rounding up the entries at the CTB site shortly after. If you missed out on this round and like books, food, and foodie books, consider joining us for February/March when our pick is The Unprejudiced Palate: Classic Thoughts on Food and the Good Life, by Angelo Pellegrini, hosted by Simona, of briciole. Hope you join us.


Saturday, January 23, 2016

Lemony Lentil Soup with Greens (It's The Year of the Pulse!) From Ellie Krieger

Did you know that the United Nations has declared 2016 to be the "International Year of the Pulse?"  It's for good reason because pulses--dried beans, peas, chickpeas and lentils--are high in protein, fiber, and other key nutrients, are relatively inexpensive, and their growth and production is easier on the environment than meat and other protein-rich foods and takes far less water than many other crops.

Since I am always in need of plan-based proteins to supplement my diet, I like preparing lentils in many different ways, with lentil soups, being my favorite way to enjoy them They are easy to prepare and can be made ahead--in fact they are usually better reheated the next day or several days after being made, and they keep well both in the fridge and the freezer.  

Ellie Krieger's Lemony Lentil Soup with Greens is both healthy and delicious. I made a few changes--omitting the chicken broth and using veggie stock (and half the amount), adding a potato and some of my new obsession Ras El Hanout (a North African spice mix), increasing the amounts of the veggies and lemon, reducing the sodium, and cooking my kale less. I prefer my kale to be fresh, not too cooked or mushy, and slightly 'toothsome' in texture so I put it in for about the last 10 minutes of cooking time, or when reheating the soup. My changes are in red and explained in the Notes/Results below

Lemony Lentil Soup with Greens
Adapted From So Easy by Ellie Krieger 
(Makes Six--2 cup servings)

2 tsp canola oil (I used coconut oil)
1 small onion, chopped (I used 1 large sweet onion)
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped (I used 2 medium carrots)
2 stalks celery, chopped (I used 3 large stalks)
2 cloves garlic, minced (I used 4 cloves)

(I added 1 large Yukon Gold potato)
16 oz green or brown lentils
12 cups low-sodium broth, plus more as needed (I used 6 cups low-sodium veggie broth + 5 1/2 cups water + 1/2 cup carrot juice)
1 tsp dried basil (I omitted and used Ras El Hanout)
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp sea salt (I used about 1/2 tsp salt)
8 cups chopped kale leaves (about 6 oz)
3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice (I used 4 1/2 Tbsp)

(I added 1 Tbsp sherry vinegar)
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest (+ more to garnish)

Heat the oil in 6-quart soup pot over medium- high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until softened and translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the carrot, celery, and garlic and cook, covered, stirring occasionally until the carrots are softened, about 5 minutes. Add 12 cups of the broth, the lentils, basil ras el hanout, thyme and salt, and bring to a boil. 

Reduce the heat to low, add the kale, and cook until the lentils are tender, 30 to 35 minutes, adding more broth if necessary. Add the kale about 10 minutes before soup is done. Stir in the lemon juice, sherry vinegar, and zest and taste, seasoning with sea salt and black pepper as needed. Serve.  

Nutritional Info: Ellie's Recipe--2 cup Serving: 410 calories, 7 g fat (1 g sat fat), 600 mg sodium, 0 mg cholesterol. Deb's Changes--2 cup Serving: 378 calories, 3g fat, (2.8 sat fat), 403 mg sodium, 0 mg cholesterol, 26.9g fiber.

Notes/Results: Great flavor, nicely lemony and bright on the palate with the lemon, lemon zest and splash of sherry vinegar I added. As written, I felt the sodium level was slightly high at 600 mg per serving. Granted, it isn't bad if you were to compare it with canned soup which can run 600-800 mg or more for a 3/4 or 1 cup serving and here you get 2 cups, but I am always looking for ways to add flavor but keep sodium low. Using homemade low-salt broth or reducing the amount of stock you use is a great start. I used veggie stock to make this soup vegan and reduced it by half (that way the soup doesn't taste like veggie broth), adding an equal amount of water plus some carrot juice for color and flavor. I then added extra veggies and aromatics, onion, garlic, lemon, and ras el hanout (it's my new obsession but you could also use curry) to pump up that flavor. I also wait to add any additional salt until I taste the soup at the end rather than just dump a teaspoon (2,325 mg) in. With my changes and flavor boosters, I found I only needed about 1/2 a teaspoon added salt, resulting in cutting about 200 mg sodium per serving.

Deb's Make Ahead Tip: If you are going to prepare this soup ahead and freeze it or keep it in the fridge, I recommend that you leave out the kale until you are ready to eat the soup and just put in the right amount for what you are serving (there is about 1 cup kale per serving) when you are warming it up. That way the kale stays fresh and green and doesn't get soggy, discolor the broth, or make it bitter. I prep my kale and store it separately until I am heating my soup, so it is ready to go and doesn't take extra time.   

We are celebrating Ellie's new make-ahead cookbook with our You Have It Made! theme at IHCC this week. You can see the make-ahead dishes everyone made by following the picture links on the post. 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Cajun Shrimp Lettuce Wrap Tacos with Rémoulade for Food 'N Flix January: Failure to Launch

This month's Food 'N Flix pick is the rom-com Failure to Launch  hosted by the fabulous Amy of Amy's Cooking Adventures, who is hosting for the first time. (You can see her announcement post here.)

I saw Failure to Launch when it came out in 2006 (I am guessing on Netflix) and since then have caught various bits and chunks of it while flipping channels. I didn't want to buy a copy and since it was on cable, I scheduled it to record so I could watch it again, this time for food inspiration.

If you haven't yet seen it, Failure to Launch is definitely a chick-flick (not that there is anything wrong with that) ;-) with the pairing of Matthew McConaughey and Sarah Jessica Parker, supported by Zooey Deschanel, Bradley Cooper, Justin Bartha, Kathy Bates, and Terry Bradshaw. McConaughey is Tripp, a mid-30's guy, still living at home with his parents (Bates and Bradshaw). It's a common problem among their peer group and when they learn that one couple's son has "launched" out of the house due to the work of Paula (Sarah Jessica Parker), they quickly hire her to get Tripp to move on with his life. Although Paula does this professionally, she and Tripp soon start developing feelings for each other--something neither one deals with well. Cooper and Bartha are Tripp's friends and Deschanel is Paula's roommate Kit. It's a bit silly, but good fun. (And, even if it wasn't fun, watching Bradley Cooper and Matthew McConaughey is no real hardship.

I have to explain about my dish inspiration and how I should know not to be guided by Wikipedia... ;-) I found Failure to Launch scheduled for DVR on January 12th. Meanwhile, while waiting to view it in order to do some actual planning this month (and not come in the day of the deadline), I wanted to refresh myself on the movie's setting. I looked at the film's summary on Wikipedia where it clearly states, "Tripp (Matthew McConaughey), a 35-year-old man, is still living with his parents Al (Terry Bradshaw) and Sue (Kathy Bates), in New Orleans." In thinking about the movie, I didn't really remember New Orleans or Creole/Cajun-style food being a big part of the film (which I thought was a shame given the setting), but it had been so long since I had seen or paid attention to it that it didn't concern me too much. I started thinking of Cajun food and seafood, given the whole "failure to launch" theme, and remembering that there was water and boats/sailing. So I had it in my head to make some Cajun-style shrimp and remoulade sauce unless something else really inspired me in my watching. 

Flash forward to viewing the film this weekend... it opens with a city view that although I didn't recognize it, just didn't seem like New Orleans from photos I had seen. OK, still not an issue. Then, I saw the scene where Tripp and friends are eating tacos and thought it would be fun to do a taco-fusion with my Cajun shrimp, using the remoulade as a taco sauce. Since I am cutting out grains (OK, gluten mainly), dairy, and sugar for a bit to test how it clears my lungs, and didn't want to make the effort to get gluten-free tortillas, I decided to use lettuce leaves for the shells. Dish done and decided in my head before the first fifteen minutes of the movie--which as it turns out never really names a setting at all but seems pretty clearly not New Orleans. Additional research said that it was set in Maryland and that scenes were filmed in "Annapolis; New Castle, Del.; Cape Henlopen State Park, Lewes, Del; Leesburg, Ala.; and New Orleans, La" and a publicist for the film is quoted as saying, "although most of the filming will be in New Orleans the town the movie is set in is not identified and neither are the scenes that are shot locally" and "It's not set in New Orleans and it is not set in Alabama," it's kind of a generic Anytown USA."  So... very long story short--don't trust Wikipedia and then pretty much decide on your dish before sitting down to watch the actual movie.

Since my stomach was already set on Cajun-shrimp taco lettuce wraps and my stomach is usually a bully once it makes up its mind, we will just call my inspiration the New Orleans filming locations of the movie + the taco-eating scene and just enjoy these delicious and healthy wraps. ;-)  

Speaking of food inspiration, if I hadn't have been so decided, there was actually a surprising amount of food in the film to pick from, such as breakfasts of pancakes, eggs, bacon and oatmeal, the aforementioned tacos (with margaritas and guac), a barbecue with a "Guava Smasher" cocktail, inspired by a vacation in Hawaii, Starbucks and a plethora of cafe pastries, carrots and Power Bars ("Everybody loves chocolate."--except maybe chipmunks...), sushi and other dishes at a Japanese restaurant, Kahlúa and cream ("Guys who drink Kahlúa and cream are not power guys."), chips, a crab boil, beer, wine, and champagne, ice cream, sandwiches, the list goes on and on...

I kept these fusion taco wraps colorful and light with the base a combination of ingredients that you would find in/on a taco; lettuce (baby romaine and butter), purple cabbage, red pepper, avocado, and lime; topped with the Cajun-spiced shrimp and a creamy-tangy-slightly spicy rémoulade sauce to drizzle on top. I tossed the shrimp into an equal mix of Creole-spice mix, smoked paprika, white pepper and garlic powder, then quickly fried them in a little coconut oil, over high heat, until pink and cooked through. I like my rémoulade sauce with capers in it, but since I was using a squeeze bottle, I used the caper juice in the sauce and sprinkled the capers on top of the tacos as garnish. 

Rémoulade Sauce for Drizzling
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes about 1/2 cup of sauce)

1/3 cup mayonnaise or yogurt (I use Mayo vegan mayonnaise--usually the garlic one)
2 Tbsp creole mustard (or a good grainy mustard)
1 Tbsp ketchup
1 Tsp horseradish
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp celery salt
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice, plus more to taste
1 Tbsp caper juice (or pickle juice)
2 Tbsp almond milk or water + extra to thin 
Tabasco or hot sauce to taste
salt and pepper to taste

Place all ingredients through caper juice into a blender and blend until smooth, adding enough milk or water to get it to a drizzling consistency. Taste and add Tabasco and salt and pepper as desired.

Notes/Results: Although the moral of my story is to not rely on Wikipedia for my movie info, I am really happy I did because these taco wraps were delicious! Like tacos and Cajun-shrimp had a baby. ;-) Lots of flavor--the warm, nicely spicy shrimp and sauce contrasting with the cool crisp veggies and creamy avocado. The tang of the rémoulade and the little bursts of briny caper and lime juice were the perfect compliment. Although I over-filled my lettuce leaves and they were ultra messy, they were well worth the napkins. Quick to make, colorful on the plate, healthy, and delicious, I will happily make these again.

But the best thing about re-watching Failure to Launch so closely for food inspiration? I never realized that I have the same pillow cover pattern as Paula and Kit (who do have one of the best movie apartments ever.) The movie set design in the top photo was done by Jeremy Conway Design. For my couch pillows (shown in the two bottom photos--notice Max posing in the corner), I had a designer locally, Isla Schmidt, who picked out a eclectic mix of patterns for my living room including this one. Fun huh?! ;-) 

The deadline for this Food 'N Flix is Thursday, January 28th and Amy will be rounding up all of the posts on her blog shortly after. If you missed this round and love food, films and foodie films, join us for February when we will be viewing the foreign foodie film The Lunch Box, hosted by Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla.

***Giveaway Reminder***

If you are a book lover I have two Rafflecopter Giveaways going on right now--open to US and Canada addresses. 

Click on the links below to see my reviews and enter either or both!
The Restaurant Critic's Wife by Elizabeth LaBan (fun foodie fictionEnds: 1/25/16

Beside Myself by Ann Morgan (creepy psychological thriller about twins)  Ends 2/1/16