Monday, March 28, 2016

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "Reader, I Married Him" Served with a Recipe for Simple Dark Chocolate Hearts with Assorted Fillings

Today's TLC Book Tour stop features a review of Reader, I Married Him: Stories Inspired by Jane Eyre, Edited by Tracy Chevalier. Accompanying my review is a recipe for easy Dark Chocolate Hearts with Assorted Fillings. Nothing makes a Monday more bearable than chocolate--especially when there are treasures like fresh raspberries, nuts, and sea salt tucked inside.

Publisher's Blurb:

This collection of original stories by today’s finest women writers takes inspiration from the famous line in Charlotte Brontë’s most beloved novel, Jane Eyre.

A fixture in the literary canon, Charlotte Brontë is revered by readers all over the world. Her books featuring unforgettable, strong heroines still resonate with millions today. And who could forget one of literatures’ best-known lines: “Reader, I married him” from her classic novel Jane Eyre?

Part of a remarkable family that produced three acclaimed female writers at a time in 19th-century Britain when few women wrote, and fewer were published, Brontë has become a great source of inspiration to writers, especially women, ever since. Now in Reader, I Married Him, twenty of today’s most celebrated women authors have spun original stories, using the opening line from Jane Eyre as a springboard for their own flights of imagination.

Paperback: 304 pages  
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (March 22, 2016)

My Review:

I first came to Jane Eyre in high school, again in a women's lit class in college, and finally a re-read a several years ago just before the 2011 movie release. I would say it is a strong like for me, rather than the love that I feel for Jane Austen's work, but I liked the Gothic feel and admired plucky and prickly orphan Jane--although I never quite understood her love for Mr. Rochester based on his abundant baggage, constant subterfuge, and treatment of her through most of the book. Still, the heart wants what the heart wants, so more power to her. Edited by Tracy Chevalier, Reader, I Married Him is a tribute to Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë, and that epic line, by twenty-one female authors, each penning a short story based on how their imagination was sparked. 

Like most anthologies, I found some stories drew me in immediately and stayed in my thoughts, others I sped through to get to the next and they didn't quite hit the mark. Regardless of how much I personally liked or didn't like the story, it is fascinating to see the differences in them--tone, setting, time period, etc. It was clear what inspired many stories--especially those that were more of a continuation of Brontë's tale like the 'testimony' from a very dark and creepy Grace Poole and the afterthoughts of Edward Rochester, and Jane herself--who finds after her marriage that history may be repeating itself. Others dealt with a friendship between two 'exchange orphans' (named Helen and Jane) during and after a war and a modern transference of feelings for a therapist. Feelings of isolation, relationships, marriage, and love in all of its different pairings and forms were other common themes. Because I constantly wonder why an author took a certain path, I would have loved a short forward or afterword from each author on where they took their inspiration. There is a short "Notes on the Contributors" section in the back where some of the different author's favorite scenes are mentioned, which I enjoyed reading. 

If you are a Jane Eyre or Charlotte Brontë fan you will likely enjoy Reader, I Married Him, but the stories are varied enough that it isn't necessary to be--there is plenty of great writing to be found even without the connection. I was only familiar with a handful of the contributing authors and it made me write down several names to explore further. I often liken short story collections to a box of chocolates--there are treasures to be found, savored, and to want more of and there are other choices that may be less appealing based on personal taste--but in the end it is just fun to delve into, explore, and see what you like. Reader, I Married Him is a worthy collection, best explored with a cup of tea and a few pieces of delicious chocolate

Author Notes: Edited and including a story from Tracy Chevalier, Reader, I Married Him features the following authors and you can learn more about them and connect via their respective websites, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts listed here. 

Tracy Chevalier - Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
Sarah Hall - Website | Facebook
Helen Dunmore - Website | Twitter
Kirsty Gunn - Website | Facebook
Joanna Briscoe - Website | Twitter
Emma Donoghue - Website | Facebook | Twitter
Susan Hill - Website | Facebook | Twitter
Elif Shafak - Website | Facebook | Twitter
Evie Wyld - Website | Facebook | Twitter
Patricia Park - Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
Salley Vickers - Website | Twitter
Nadifa Mohamed - Twitter
Esther Freud - Website
Linda Grant - Website | Twitter
Lionel Shriver - Facebook
Audrey Niffenegger - Website | Facebook | Twitter
Namwali Serpell - Website | Twitter
Elizabeth McCracken - Website | Facebook | Twitter


Food Inspiration: 

The book is not particularity full of inspiring food references. There was the appearance of muesli and muesli base and apples in a couple of the stories, homemade mead, curries and fruit crumbles, eggs and toast, custard, Korean bulgogi, mandu, and kimchi, fruit, steak and Malbec, porridge, and other assorted mentions.  

For my book inspired dish for Reader, I Married Him, I went back to my theory of story collections being much like a box of chocolates and decided to make an assortment of dark chocolates, filled with different pantry goodies like dried cherries, cashews, hazelnuts, dry-roasted peanuts, Hawaiian seat salt, and fresh raspberries. I found some silicon heart molds at the local thrift store for .50 cents each. I bought them initially for ice cubes but thought that the hearts were apropos of the romance of Jane Eyre and the stories in this collection. 

Dark Chocolate Hearts with Assorted Fillings
By, Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes about 2 Dozen filled chocolates--depending on the size of your molds)

12 oz dark chocolate (I used Waialua Estate 70% cacao from Whole Foods), chopped
1 tbsp coconut oil
assorted fillings: fresh raspberries, hazelnuts, dry-roasted peanuts, cashews, dried tart cherries, Hawaiian seat salt.   
chocolate molds or silicon molds--clean and completely dry

Place chopped chocolate and coconut oil into a microwave safe bowl or microwave safe large glass measuring cup and heat for about 45 seconds. Stir carefully and repeat heating in 20 second increments, stirring in between until chocolate is completely melted and smooth. (Alternatively you can melt the chocolate in a double boiler on the stove top.)

Once chocolate is melted, carefully pour a small amount into the bottom of your molds (fill about about 1/3 to 1/2 of the mold--depending on the size). Carefully tap your mold on the counter a few times to make sure the chocolate covers the bottom part completely and there are no air bubbles.

Place your desired fillings into the molds--using a toothpick to push them down towards the bottom if needed. (I used one raspberry and hazelnut in a mold, or two to three of the peanuts, cashews, or dried cherries in a mold. For the coarse salt, I sprinkled a small pinch in and carefully stirred it with a toothpick to blend it through the chocolate.)

Using a small spoon, carefully add the remaining chocolate to each mold, covering the filling. Once all chocolates are filled and covered, carefully tap the mold against the counter a few times again, allowing the chocolate to settle and completely cover the filling with no air bubbles. If chocolate settles, add additional chocolate as needed to ensure each mold is filled to the top evenly. Carefully tap the mold a couple few more times. The melted chocolate should spread itself out fairly smoothly with the tapping, put you can smooth it out with the back of your spoon if needed.    

Place in your refrigerator for about an hour for chocolate to harden. Once chocolates are completely firm, carefully remove from molds and serve. The chocolate pops out pretty easily from the silicon molds; you may have to sharply tap plastic chocolate molds on the counter to loosen the chocolates.  

Store chocolates, tightly covered in the fridge. Note: chocolates containing fresh berries will keep best for a couple of days, chocolates containing dried fruit, nuts and salt can keep for a couple of weeks if they last that long.  

Notes/Results: Rich dark chocolate with different filling tastes and textures inside, what's not to like? My favorites were the ones with the fresh raspberry inside for the sweet burst of fruit with the dark chocolate, but the ones with just the sea salt and the ones with the salty dry-roasted peanuts were excellent too. Oh, who am I kidding?! I like them all. ;-) Use a good chocolate that you like eating for these--it makes them a little more spendy but well worth it and still less expensive than buying them from a chocolate shop. They are rich enough that one will satisfy as an after dinner or before bed treat. I will happily make them again.

I will be linking up this review and recipe to the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly 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 "Reader, I Married Him" 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, March 27, 2016

Tomato & Fennel Soup with Fennel Frond Pesto and Creamy Polenta for Cook The Books: The Unprejudiced Palate and for Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

Our Cook the Books February/March 2016 pick is The Unprejudiced Palate: Classic Thoughts on Food and the Good Life, by Angelo Pellegrini and hosted by Simona of briciole.The Unprejudiced Palate was first written in 1948 by Pellegrini--cook, author, professor of English Literature at the University of Washington and a man in possessing no shortage of opinions on cooking, wine, growing food and eating seasonally and locally.

I can't say that I fully loved this book for as much as I admire the author's passion and his way of bringing simple, seasonal ingredients together in delicious combinations--ahead of his time in many ways, he does have a tendency to grate on the nerves because as sweetly pointed out by Alice Waters, unprejudiced he is not. 

"I have always thought that Angelo Pellegrini misnamed his charming but opinionated book. It should have been called 'The Prejudiced Palate,' because he is so absolutely sure and unwavering in his vision of how to live a beautiful and delicious life." 
--Alice Waters, owner, Chez Panisse.

Pellegrini makes many good points about food, growing, cooking and eating but his oft condescending tone and sweeping generalizations of America, amateur cooks--particularly the dreaded housewife and her "unimaginative culinary routine"--make the chapters a bit of hit or miss. The best parts of the book for me were his descriptions of an immigrants life in America and the rise of ingredients like olive oil, garlic, and pasta that we take for granted today, but were once either exotic and hard to find or unpopular in this country. Pellegrini's recipe for the now ubiquitous pesto was published in Sunset magazine in 1946, the first major publication of a pesto recipe recipe. Pretty amazing to think about that now. Although not a cookbook per se, there are so many great little recipe ideas and cooking tips tucked into the pages of this little book that it makes the frustration in getting there worth it. Pellegrini was a master, just not someone I would have wanted to hang out with. ;-)

As you may expect if you know me at all, or read this blog, I had to make a soup as my book-inspired dish. Pellegrini devotes a good section in a chapter to soup in "The Kitchen and the Soup Kettle." He believed there are two main soup categories--"those that are most adequate as an introduction to dinner and those that are most satisfactory as meals in themselves." I went for a more substantial soup, even though mine is meat free--a tomato and fennel Soup, topped with fennel frond pesto and served over creamy polenta with a scattering of Parmigiano-Reggiano and fresh basil.

Would Pellegrini have approved of my soup? Of parts I think--the use of a good homemade broth (made from Parmesan rinds), the pesto adding a layer of flavor, the lack of carrots and peas (he found them too sweet), the base of polenta--a nod to the humble peasant soup, and the reduction of waste by repurposing the fennel fronds as pesto instead  throwing them away. On the other hand, he did not seem to be a fennel fan--classifying it as a less-familiar herb--"used mainly in salads and beverages designed for people who enjoy novelty more than good food." He would have likely hated a non-basil pesto too. And, finally, I am sure this soup is too much in both ingredients and in name as Pellegrini states that "giving dishes fancy foreign names is a silly preoccupation.

This soup can be served in different ways based on your preference--as shown in the different photos. The tomato-fennel soup can be ladled over creamy polenta, or the polenta can be cooled and cut into pieces, or toasted into croutons, the polenta whisked into the soup as it reaches the end of cooking, so that it mixes in for a stew-like texture. I don't think you can go wrong here.

Tomato & Fennel Soup with Fennel Frond Pesto and Creamy Polenta
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Serves 6)

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
1 sweet onion, diced
2 medium fennel bulbs, cleaned and thinly sliced/chopped, fronds reserved for pesto
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp dried thyme
1 small pinch of crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
3 (14 oz) cans good Italian tomatoes in sauce
2 cups good broth or stock (I used this Parmesan Brodo)
pinch of sugar (optional)
sea salt and black pepper 

Fennel Frond Pesto (recipe below)
Creamy Polenta (make according to package directions) to serve
freshly-grated Parmesan to garnish
fresh basil and good olive oil to garnish
Heat olive oil and butter in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add onion and fennel and reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and cook about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender. Add garlic, fennel seeds, thyme and crushed red pepper flakes if using and cook another 2 to 3 minutes more.

Pulse tomatoes in the blender until they are a chunky sauce. Add this sauce and broth to the vegetable. Bring soup to a simmer and allow to simmer away gently for about 30 minutes so flavors can meld and soup thickens slightly. Season to taste with sea salt and black pepper. 

While soup cooks, make polenta according to package instructions and Fennel Frond Pesto (recipe below).

To Serve Layered: Place a scoop of polenta into a shallow soup bowl, flattening it out and making a indentation in the center with the back of a spoon. Ladle soup on top of polenta. Drizzle the top with Fennel Frond Pesto, a little good olive oil, and grated Parmesan cheese, and scatter some fresh basil on top. Serve immediately.

Fennel Frond Pesto
Slightly Adapted from The New York Times
(Makes about 2/3 Cup) 

1 heaping cup fennel fronds, roughly chopped
2 3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp slivered almonds
(I added 2 Tbsp lemon juice)
1/2 tsp sea salt
(I added 1/2 tsp black  pepper)
1/4-1/3 cup olive oil

Combine the fennel fronds, garlic, almonds, lemon juice and salt in a food processor or blender and pulse until the mixture is chopped up. Drizzle in the olive oil until the mixture reaches desired consistency, scraping the sides of the blender or food processor as needed.   

Serve pesto at once, store in the fridge for up to a week or freeze up to one month.   

Notes/Results: I am such a fennel fan and this soup makes the most of the flavor with the seeds, the bulb and the fronds all adding texture and flavor. I find the pairing of tomato and fennel to be one of my favorites with the tomato's sweetness a great contrast to the cooling fennel. Definitely save your fronds and make pesto--it was delicious and would be great with fish, pasta, or thinned out as a salad dressing. So good! I don't know that this is my prettiest soup but it was delicious and I would happily make it again.

The deadline for this Cook the Books round is this Thursday, March 31st, and Simona 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 April/May when I will be hosting with my pick, the fun foodie memoir; Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good by Kathleen Flinn. Hope you join us!

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

Here's a recap of the delicious dishes from last week's Souper (Soup, Salad, & Sammie) Sundays roundup. Yep, Souper Sundays is  back with a new format of a picture link each week where anyone interested can post their soups, salads or sandwiches and a recap of some of the entries the following week. (If you are not familiar with Souper Sundays, you can read about of the origins of it here.)

Tina of Squirrel Head Manor shared Minestrone Soup and says, "You'll notice the soup doesn't have the identifiable macaroni noodles floating around. There is a reason for that and I learned another lesson in the kitchen through cooking with gluten free noodles. When I make mac and cheese using gluten free noodles the product stays intact. But dumping a handful into a slow cooker breaks then down to their basic elements - rice flour and corn. It looks like white grits with all the usual Minestrone ingredients. It was still delicious and we've had it twice this week for work lunches. The texture was a surprise though."

Sue of Couscous & Consciousness made a delectable Shaved Sprout Salad with Figs and Hazelnuts noting, "Actually this was the first time I'd ever eaten brussels sprouts raw - won't be the last!  This salad packed plenty of great flavours, and lots of interesting textures - certainly delivers enough on both fronts to potentially get this one past even those who claim to hate sprouts.  I was very happy to make a meal out of this and would certainly make it again.  The other great thing about this salad, unlike a lettuce salad, is that it's not going to go all "wilty" on you, making this perfect to pack up and take outdoors for a picnic or barbecue."

Kim of Stirring the Pot made Ellie Krieger's Tuscan Lentil and Macaroni Salad saying, "Whole-grain pasta and green lentils are the heart of this salad. Whisk up a light and refreshing Dijon vinaigrette; toss in some carrots, artichokes, and tomatoes and you will have one delightful pasta salad that is perfect for picnics and/or packing in mason jars for your lunch. I think this salad would be equally delicious with white beans in place of lentils.  I also think some black olives would make a nice addition."

Joyce of Joy 'N' Escapade shared this Roast Chickpeas & Vegetables Salad and says, "After braving through last week's doom and gloom, I'm feeling super ambitious this week! I want to cook a dish that can satisfy the requirements of four blog hops. Yes, FOUR! Hahaha!" She served her salad with Honey Roasted Chicken and called the meal "an explosion of colors, tastes, and textures.

Thanks to everyone who linked up last week!

If you would like to join in Souper (Soup, Salad, and Sammie) Sundays I would love to have you! Here's how...

To join in this week's linkup with your soup, salad or sandwich:

  • Link up your soup (stew, chili, soupy curries, etc. are fine), salad, or sandwich dish, (preferably one from the current week or month but we'll take older posts too.) on the picture link below (for the current week) and leave a comment on this post so I am sure not to miss you.
On your entry post (on your blog):
  • please mention Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammies) Sundays at Kahakai Kitchen and link back to this post.
  • you are welcome to add the wonderful Souper Sundays logo (created by Ivy at Kopiaste) to your post and/or blog (optional).

Have a happy, healthy week!