Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "300 Days of Sun" by Deborah Lawrenson, Served with Fried Tuna with Tomatoes & Onions and Potatoes with Coarse Sea Salt & Rosemary

We are escaping today with a review of 300 Days of Sun by Deborah Lawrenson, a novel that will take you to Portugal, transport you between present day and World War II, and wrap you up in an intriguing mystery. On today's TLC Book Tour stop, to make the journey complete I am accompanying my review with recipes for Fried Tuna with Tomatoes and  Onions and Potatoes with Coarse Sea Salt and Rosemary--sure to make you feel the seaside breezes and the warm sun on your face. 

Publisher's Blurb:

A mesmerizing novel that transports readers to a sunny Portuguese town with a shadowy past—where two women, decades apart, are drawn into a dark game of truth and lies that still haunts the shifting sea marshes.

Traveling to Faro, Portugal, journalist Joanna Millard hopes to escape an unsatisfying relationship and a stalled career; Faro is an enchanting town, and the seaside views are enhanced by the company of Nathan Emberlin, a charismatic younger man. But Joanna soon realizes that behind the crumbling facades of Moorish buildings Faro has a seedy underbelly, its economy compromised by corruption and wartime spoils. And Nathan has an ulterior motive for seeking her company: he is determined to discover the truth involving a child’s kidnapping that may have taken place on this dramatic coastline more than two decades ago.

Joanna’s subsequent search leads her to Ian Rylands, an English expat who cryptically suggests she will find answers in The Alliance, a novel written by American Esta Hartford. The book recounts an American couple’s experience in Portugal during World War II, and their entanglements both personal and professional with their German enemies. Only Rylands insists the book isn’t fiction, and as Joanna reads deeper into The Alliance, she begins to suspect that Esta Hartford’s story and Nathan Emberlin’s may indeed converge in Faro—where the past not only casts a long shadow but still exerts a very present danger.

Paperback: 384 pages  
Publisher: Harper Paperbacks (April 12, 2016)

My Review: 

There are things that I expect from a Deborah Lawrenson book after discovering her through TLC Book Tours of her first two books, The Lantern (set in Provence) and The Sea Garden, (set on a Mediterranean Island off the French Coast). When describing her writing, I always fall back on the word "lush." There are the beautiful and lush locations she writes about and the lush way she describes them that makes a reader feel as though there is a touch of sun on their face and they are smelling the sea air, hearing the cries of the birds, seeing the local flowers and foliage, and tasting the delicious food. There is also that Gothic literature feeling that her writing evokes--knowing that beneath all that beauty, especially in the crumbling corners of old buildings and ruins, there lurk secrets, mystery and menace. 300 Days of Sun does not disappoint, in fact I found it to be more of a pulse pounder than the first two books and it had me turning the pages with a sense of anticipation and dread to learn the secrets of tiny seaside Faro, Portugal--both in World War II and those carried on to present day--and find out just how it was all woven together. 
The story goes back and forth from present day Faro, where recently-unemployed journalist Joanna is staying while completing a Portuguese language course and meets Nathan, a younger man with a mystery that he seeks her help in solving. As she begins to investigate, a British expat she meets suggests that she read a novel written by an American woman about her experiences in Faro and nearby Lisbon during World War II. At first Joanna doesn't see a connection between the book and Nathan's mystery, but the probing that she and Nathan do into the past seems to be digging up trouble, danger and even murder. The back and forth in time and the story within a story work well here as it kept me guessing and wondering throughout the book. I am a fan of wartime fiction, particularly World War II, and as in The Sea Garden, Lawrenson has taken a country where I didn't know much about the effects of the war on the citizens and expats that lived there and given an interesting perspective with her detailed research of the political issues, spying, and intrigue that occurred. But, even if you are not typically a fan of historical fiction don't shy away from 300 Days of Sun as it is a excellent mix of mystery and romance, modern day and history, and she tosses in some travel writing to wrap it all in a setting that will make you carry it outside to your lanai, just to feel the sun on your face and to warm any goosebumps that might pop up as the tension builds. 

Author Notes: Deborah Lawrenson studied English at Cambridge University and worked as a journalist in London. She is married with a daughter, and lives in Kent, England. Deborah’s previous novels include The Lantern and The Sea Garden.
Find out more about Deborah at her website, read more at her blog, and connect with her on Facebook and Instagram.


Although not a food-centered book, it would be hard not to visit a seaside town in Portugal without food playing a role and Lawrenson writes food with as much lush detail as in the scenes she sets. Whether reading about the "aromatic cloud of strong coffee" at the local cafe, or how "the air was heavy with orange dust from the Sahara that fell like a sprinkling of paprika powder over the town's white sills and ledges," I found I was frequently hungry while reading. There were mentions of tiny almond pastries and custard tarts, fried donuts on the beach, plates of cubed white cheese and olives, carafes of Vinho Verde, tosta (toast with cheese), pizza, imported biscuits, whiskey, stollen, cakes and marzipan in wartime Lisbon, sweet sticky carob and honey-and-almond cakes, piri-piri chicken, omelette, oranges and orange trees, a pomegranate, dried figs, and apricots, cherry liqueur, flakes of white sea salt raked by a salt panner, and of course the seafood--clams, octopus, dried cod,"sardines grilling on charcoal fires" and other"delicate fish dishes."

When choosing a book-inspired dish, I was drawn to the description of a wartime fish dinner in Faro from the novel within the story, cooked by a fisherman's wife and consisting of white fish with preserved pimento and potato. Although I couldn't quite find a recipe that sounded like it online, I opened the pages of my favorite (OK, maybe only, ... but still favorite) Portuguese cookbook, Piri Piri Starfish by the amazing Tessa Kiros. (If this review has you wanting an armchair trip to Portugal and some of the delicious food, I recommend you go to Amazon, order 300 Days of Summer and then toss in a copy of the gorgeous Piri Piri Starfish--you will be swept away!) ;-) 

I have been wanting to make the fried tuna recipe from Piri Piri Starfish for quite a while now and found some nice local tombo ahi (white ahi)--see fish sourcing notes below. Since I am not eating gluten at the moment and did not have GF breadcrumbs, I toasted and ground sliced almonds and coated my tuna lightly with them for the crust. To get potatoes into the mix, I picked Tessa's boiled potatoes tossed with olive oil and coarse salt--thinking of Alva in the book within a book, who stops to watch a man raking white crystals on the beach and he gives her a taste to show her it is sea salt.  

Fried Tuna with Tomatoes & Onions
Adapted from Piri Piri Starfish by Tessa Kiros (and at the L.A. Times)
(Serves 4)

about 5 Tbsp olive oil, divided
2 garlic cloves, peeled and slightly squashed1 (14 oz) can good chopped tomatoes or 4 ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped
salt and pepper
2 onions, thinly sliced (I used local sweet Maui onions)
3 Tbsp white wine vinegar
2 thick tuna steaks, halved crosswise
dry breadcrumbs (I used sliced almonds, toasted and ground)
chopped parsley

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a pan, add the garlic and cook until aromatic. Add the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Simmer 5 to 10 minutes until the tomatoes are tender and release their juices. If necessary, add a few tablespoons of water to thin out the sauce slightly so it isn't too thick (there should still be rustic lumps of tomatoes in it). Remove the garlic, taste and adjust seasoning as needed and set aside, covered, in a warm place

In a large frying pan, heat the remaining oil over medium heat and sauté the onions. Season and cook until soft and golden, turning with a wooden spoon occasionally to ensure none are burning. Add the vinegar and simmer until it is just absorbed. Tilt the pan, keeping the onion-flavored oil to one side (you'll use this to cook the tuna). Lift out the onions with a slotted spoon, set aside and keep warm.

Rinse the tuna and pat dry with paper towels. Season with a bit of salt. Place the breadcrumbs (or ground almonds) on a plate then coat the tuna on both sides. Add a little more oil, if needed, to the onion oil in the pan and place over medium-high heat. When hot, add the tuna and fry until a deep golden brown crust has formed underneath. Flip the tuna and cook the other side. (I like my tuna on the rare-in-the-center side so I should have cooked it about 1 and 1/4 minutes per side and ended up about 2 min per side.)

Divide the onions evenly among plates; place a piece of tuna on top of each. Top with the tomato sauce. Scatter with parsley; serve with crispy fried or boiled potatoes.

Potatoes with Coarse Sea Salt & Rosemary
From Piri Piri Starfish by Tessa Kiros
(Adapted to Serve 2-4)

2 lbs new potatoes/baby potatoes, scrubbed, skins on, halved if large
2 Tbsp roughly chopped rosemary leaves + extra to garnish
1 large red or white onion, roughly chopped
1 heaped tsp coarse sea salt
black pepper
about 1/4 cup good olive oil

Bring the potatoes, rosemary, and onions to the boil in a large, unsalted pot of water. Lower the heat slightly and cook until potatoes are soft but not falling apart and rosemary is tender.

Drain potatoes into a bowl and scatter with the salt, black pepper to taste and olive oil. Mix gently so the potatoes don't break up too much. Garnish with a couple of sprigs of rosemary. Serve warm or cold. 

Notes/Results: Two fabulous Tess Kiros recipes! The tuna dish had such excellent flavor with the sweetness of the lightly caramelized onions and tomato sauce, contrasting with the acidity of the vinegar--it just popped in the mouth. I will admit to getting the tuna a shade past done to my liking. (I prefer the outside seared and the inside bright pink--aka mostly raw) but with the browning of the almond crusts I was about 45 seconds too long on each side and my fish center was lightly pink. Still, the fish was moist and tender and I enjoyed every bite. The potatoes were also perfectly tender and the bits of salt (I used a mix of fleur de sol and a pink Hawaiian alaea salt), rosemary, and olive oil were just right and great with the tuna. This is probably one of my favorite book/inspired dish pairings of late! I would happily make both dishes again.

Fish Sourcing Notes: I try to eat fish a couple of times a week and I try to buy as much locally sourced and sustainable fish as possible--but it is hard to be sure just what you are getting, the quality, and the effect on the waters being fished. I got an opportunity to sit in on the practice runs of a new Waikiki restaurant, Mahina & Suns at the new Surfjack Hotel & Swimclub. Lucky me! I mention it because Mahina & Suns is Chef Ed Kenney's fourth eatery on Oahu. If you don't know Ed Kenney, you have not been reading your food media recently as his eclectic restaurants and local first, organic whenever possible, with aloha always” mantra seem to be everywhere these days with the increasing popularity of Hawaiian cuisine. My entire meal was delicious (you can see the rest of the meal and cocktails on my Instagram page) but the standout was the 'Ahi Palaha'--white tombo ahi on a 12-grain rice salad with shaved cucumber and carrot, pickled mushrooms, pistachios and an amazing limu (seaweed) salsa verde (shown in the upper right corner of the picture collage below).

My server Max gave me a Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch pocket guide for Hawaii and mentioned that all four of Kenney's restaurants are certified as "good choice restaurants" for fish they serve. Makes me feel good about my dinner and renews my commitment to sustainable and responsible buying choices. My tuna for this post is local tombo from Pacific waters although I am not sure if it was pole and line (excellent choice) or longline (good choice) but either way, I can feel good about my home-cooked dinner too. (And I am definitely going back for more Ahi Pahala!)

I am linking this post up at I Heart Cooking Clubs where it is Potluck Week! Our chance to make any dish from current featured chef Curtis Stone, or any dish from one of the previous IHCC featured chefs like Tessa Kiros. You can see what dishes and chefs everyone chose by checking out the picture links on the post. 

And, I'm also 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 "300 Days of Sun" 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, April 27, 2016

Omurice (Japanese Rice Omelette) for Food 'N Flix April Pick: Tampopo {#FoodnFlix}

April's Food 'N Flix pick is the 1985 Japanese 'noodle' or 'ramen' western--Tampopo, hosted by Heather of All Roads Lead to the Kitchen, Food 'N Flix's founder. (See her announcement post here.) I had seem this movie several years ago but had forgotten much about it (other than remembering it was a bit of a farce in style) so a re-watching was due. I ordered the movie from Netflix early in the month but once again the month with its competing work project deadlines and house guests got the best of me and I am ducking under the wire with my entry as usual.

It's hard to explain Tampopo's plot(s) too much beyond the basics. A truck driver (Gorō) and his sidekick are on delivery and stop at a small family-run noodle shop and they save the owner's son from bullies. When the widowed owner Tampopo asks Goro for feedback on her ramen and he tells her it isn't good, she asks him to teach her and he decides to help the floundering business. Goro takes Tampopo to sample various competitors and brings in the "old master" to help with the broth, along with others who help remake her restaurant. The main story is mixed in with different vignettes about the relationship of love, sex, death, and food including a white-suited gangster who is VERY passionate about it. Similar to French comedy and farces, but with a mix of spaghetti western and Japanese humor, it is funny at times and bawdy at times, and it is subtitled, which means it won't likely be everyone's cup of tea but for the most part I really enjoyed it--both the original viewing and the re-watch, and it certainly does inspire thoughts of food and cooking. Truly a foodie feast for the senses.

There is actually plenty of food inspiration in Tampopo outside of the obvious (but crave-worthy) ramen. Sometimes there is a bit too much, especially if you look at the food and sex obsessed gangster and his woman who get a bit kinky with ingredients and who in the process did make me reconsider making an egg dish for this round...but oh well... ;-). At first I was going to make a simple veg-friendly garlic ramen, but I'm avoiding wheat at present and not wanting to substitute veggie or gluten-free noodles, I turned instead to a simple Japanese rice omelette (omurice) requested by the little boy (Tabo)--as in the picture in the bottom-left corner of the collage. It was a cute scene where a homeless man sneaks him into a kitchen to make him his request and I decided that I needed to give omurice a try.

Popular home cooking in Japan and even in some restaurants, Omurice is basically a Western-style dish and a merging of rice + ketchup + eggs into one. There are different ways of making it (it often includes chicken or other meats) but I decided to go with a meat-free variation of the omurice with inspiration from a few recipes, especially at Japanese Cooking 101 and Washoku*Guide. According to the different sites I looked at, you can either wrap the rice within the omelette or lay the omelette on top of the rice as they did in the film. I am not a big ketchup fan but if I do use it, I like a good curry ketchup so I used this recipe to flavor my rice.

Omurice (Japanese Rice Omelette)
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen, With Much Inspiration & Tips from these recipes at Japanese Cooking 101 and Washoku*Guide
(Makes 1 Omurice)

1 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp sweet onion, finely diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup cooked white or brown rice
1 1/2 Tbsp ketchup (I used curry ketchup)
1/4 cup frozen peas
salt and pepper to taste

Egg Crepe:
1 tsp olive oil
2 eggs
salt and pepper to taste 
parsley & extra curry ketchup to garnish

Heat oil in a small frying pan over medium heat and cook onion until translucent (about 2-3 minutes). Add garlic and cooked rice, mixing it into onion and cooking 1 to 2 minutes, until warmed through. Scoot rice to side of pan and add ketchup, cooking ketchup for a couple of minutes until it cooks down. 

Mix rice into ketchup well. Add frozen peas and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Place rice on serving plate (mound into oval) and set aside. Wipe out pan if using for egg crepe.

Whisk eggs, salt and pepper together until well mixed. Heat small frying pan with oil. When hot, pour egg mixture onto pan and make a crepe-like thin round egg sheet or if desired, stir egg a bit with a chopstick to make it fluffy instead. Cover molded rice with flat egg sheet or fold egg and place on top of rice. Garnish with fresh parsley and extra curry ketchup. 

Notes/Results: Maybe not the prettiest dish I have made for Food 'N Flix and more than a little quirky (it fits the movie) but my first attempt at omurice is actually not too bad. Well, except for the unfortunate "curry ketchup belching incident" on top when the particular squeeze bottle I was using spit out too much ketchup mixed with air and smudged my design. Grr... I did try to pretty it up with parsley and some of my Japanese kitchen/dinnerware collected from numerous trips--where surprisingly, I never tried omurice. ;-) For me the curry in the ketchup and the garlic, onion and peas in the rice help the flavor considerably and keep it from tasting too much like white rice in ketchup. I chose to place my egg on top on my rice rather than wrap it, as in the movie because I thought the color on the plate with the rice and peas would be better than a mound of yellow egg that invariably I would not get looking too perfect anyway. This was easy to make, fun to try, and heck, if I have curry ketchup in the fridge, leftover rice, and I am between grocery shopping days, I would make it again!

The deadline for this month's Food 'N Flix event is tomorrow, Thursday, April 28th. Heather will be rounding up the entries shortly after on her blog. If you missed this month but like food, films and foodie films, join us for May when Coffee and Casseroles will be hosting The Witches of Eastwick. (I feel devil's food and cherry inspiration coming on...) ;-)

And, I'm also 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.


Sunday, April 24, 2016

Spicy Black Bean Soup with Cashew Cream, Red Pepper & Avocado for Souper Sundays and IHCC

This week at I Heart Cooking Clubs our theme is "Something to Eat on the Sofa"--Curtis Stone recipes suitable for couch eating. In my mind (and life), there are few things that I don't or won't eat on the sofa ;-) so this theme is pretty wide open. Having had house guests all week, I was looking for an easy and quick-to-make soup and Curtis did not let me down. I was going to make his quick curry noodles but since I had made kalua pork tacos for my sister and brother-in-law while they were visiting, I had leftover taco fixings and I thought they would make excellent additions to Curtis's Spicy Black Bean Soup

I made a few small changes to make this soup dairy-free and vegan and to use what I had on hand. (My changes are noted in red below.)

Spicy Black Bean Soup with Crème Fraîche
Adapted Slightly from
(Serves 4)

1 Tbsp olive oil (I used coconut oil)
1 shallot, coarsely chopped (I used 1/2 small sweet onion)
1 garlic clove, coarsely chopped
1 red jalapeño chile, seeded, chopped
1/2 tsp ground cumin (I used 3/4 tsp)
2 cups cooked black beans (I used 2 cans + 1/3 cup separated)
2 cups chicken stock (I used veggie stock)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup crème fraîche (I used cashew cream with a pinch of salt and lime juice added)
1/2 small red bell pepper, seeded, finely diced
2 Tbsp chopped cilantro
(I added diced avocado, lime slices and corn tortillas toasted on the gas stove to garnish)
Heat a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the oil and shallot and sauté for 1 minute, or until tender. Add the garlic, jalapeño, and cumin and sauté for 1 minute, or until the garlic softens. Add the beans and stock and bring to the simmer. Simmer for 5 minutes to blend the flavors. 

In a blender, working in batches, puree the soup until smooth. Transfer the pureed soup to a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. (I added in 1/3 cup of cooked black beans here for texture.) Season the soup to taste with salt, pepper, and lime juice.

Ladle the soup into serving bowls, drizzle some crème fraîche (cashew cream) over the soup, garnish with the red bell pepper and cilantro (and other toppings as desired), and serve.

Notes/Results: A nice, simple black bean soup with just a hint of heat. I liked it the way it turned out but if you want something with more kick, I would add more jalapeño or add cayenne to the mix. I did add extra cumin because I love it. Since the base is so simple, I thin the toppings make the soup a bit more special. I liked the contrast of the sweet crunchy red bell pepper in the recipe and the bites of rich, creamy avocado that I added. Along with the cilantro and cashew cream (or crème fraîche from the recipe) and the grilled corn tortillas, it made for a satisfying couch dinner. I would make it again.

This post is linking up to the "Something to Eat on the Sofa" theme post at IHCC. You can see what couch-friendly dishes everyone made by checking out the picture links on the post.

Tina of Squirrel Head Manor joined me with an Orzo Salad with Tomato, Feta, and Basil for Souper (Soup, Salad, & Sammie) Sundays this week. She says, "There is something about a salad chock full of carbs, leafy greens, tangy feta cheese and fat grape tomatoes that commands attention. Here is another of Curtis Stone's recipes that we loved."

Yep, if you hadn't noticed, 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 then a recap of (some, OK usually all of...) the entries on the following week  (If you are not familiar with Souper Sundays, you can read about of the origins of it here.)
Thanks to Tina  for linking up this past 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 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!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "Aunty Lee's Chilled Revenge" by Ovidia Yu, Served with a Recipe for Chilled Soy Pudding with Fresh Mango Chunks

Aunty Lee is back! I'm happy to be a stop today on the TLC Book Tour for Aunty Lee's Chilled Revenge, the third book in the Singaporean foodie mystery series by Ovidia Yu. Accompanying my review is a recipe for Soya Bean Curd (Soy Pudding) with Fresh Mango Chunks inspired by the book. 

Publisher's Blurb:

Rosie “Aunty” Lee—feisty widow, amateur sleuth and proprietor of Singapore’s best-loved home cooking restaurant—is back in another delectable, witty mystery set in Singapore.

Slightly hobbled by a twisted ankle, crime-solving restaurateur Aunty Lee begrudgingly agrees to take a rest from running her famous café, Aunty Lee’s Delights, and turns over operations to her friend and new business partner Cherril.

The café serves as a meeting place for an animal rescue society that Cherril once supported. They were forced to dissolve three years earlier after a British expat killed the puppy she’d adopted, sparking a firestorm of scandal. The expat, Allison Fitzgerald, left Singapore in disgrace, but has returned with an ax to grind (and a lawsuit). At the café one afternoon, Cherril receives word that Allison has been found dead in her hotel—and foul play is suspected. When a veterinarian, who was also involved in the scandal, is found dead, suspicion soon falls on the animal activists. What started with an internet witch hunt has ended in murder—and in a tightly knit, law-and-order society like Singapore, everyone is on edge.

Before anyone else gets hurt—and to save her business—Aunty Lee must get to the bottom of what really happened three years earlier, and figure out who is to be trusted in this tangled web of scandal and lies.

Paperback: 368 pages  
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (April 5, 2016)

My Review:
Aunty Lee is a fun and likable lead character, even with her being so "kaypoh" (always minding the business of others), she comes from a good place--wanting to nurture, feed and solve problems for friends and family. Not that she doesn't love gossip and takes a healthy dose of pride at being a few steps ahead of the police in her crime-solving efforts. In this book, an injured ankle has sidelined Aunty Lee from running her café and she is relying on her assistant/domestic helper Nina and business partner Cherril to run things, with lots of unsolicited opinions and input from Selina (Aunty Lee calls her Silly-Nah--I love that!), her step-daughter-in-law. When a mystery pops up involving the murder of American ex-pat demonized for putting down a puppy she adopted from an animal rescue society that Cherril was a part of, Aunty Lee is all too happy to step in, taking the dead woman's sister home with her in hopes that she will be able to discover secrets she might hold and solve the crime. A couple more deaths pile up but Aunty Lee, working with and around the local police, is there to assemble all of the ingredients, put the recipe together and solve the mystery.

As I pretty much do with all series, I recommend that you read the first two books before this one. It is possible to catch up and know what is going on without doing so but you will miss out on the backstory, the introduction of all of the characters and how the relationships have evolved within Aunty Lee's inner circle--Nina, Cherril and her husband Mycroft, stepson Mark and Silly-nah, Police Inspector Salim, and Commissioner Raja. The big mystery here is pretty easy to figure--out even the twists, as they often are in cozy mysteries, but there is good entertainment in getting there. For me the focus and pleasure of this series is in the food and the descriptions of life in Singapore, a place I spent time in several years ago for work. It's great fun to read the names of places that I visited and the foods I enjoyed, but even if you haven't had the chance to visit, Ovidia Lee's descriptions will make you feel like you have. Her descriptions of the food will make you hungry--it is impossible to read an Aunty Lee story without developing a craving for at least a few of the many meals cooked in the café or at Aunty Lee's home. If you love cozy mysteries, yummy food, and taking armchair trips with your reading, you will enjoy this series. I am looking forward to future books and more delicious foodie adventures with Aunty Lee. 


Author Notes: Ovidia Yu is one of Singapore’s best-known and most acclaimed writers. She has had more than thirty plays produced and is also the author of a number of mysteries. She received a Fulbright Fellowship to the University of Iowa’s International Writers Program and has been a writing fellow at the National University of Singapore.

Connect with her through Facebook or follow her on Twitter.

Food Inspiration:

Of course there is plenty of food to be found around Aunty Lee and her Peranakan café, Aunty Lee's Delights, especially Singaporean and Malaysian delicacies like her famous achar (pickles) and sambals (chili-based condiments), fried prawns and spicy mutton, nasi lemak (rice cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaf), prata (a roti-like pancake or flatbread),  juicy shrimp wontons, seafood noodles in lemongrass and garlic sauce, chee cheong fun (rice paste noodles rolled around shrimp and scallops and steamed), crispy youtiao (dough fritters) and moon cakes, just to name some of the tempting dishes

This series has inspired some delicious time in the kitchen for me already with a (still crave-worthy) bowl of Coconut and Salmon Laksa from the first book:

and Cherril's Ginger Lemongrass Doctail inspired by the second:
So, since we have had an entree and a beverage, it seemed like a good plan to make a dessert. I decided I should give soya pudding and mango a try. Described in the book as a "warm bowl of milky, sweetened bean curd and a dish of mango chunks..." and then later as a "delicate, sweetened tofu pudding." I did want to make a chilled version of soya beancurd instead of the warm one as I had a not-so-great experience with sweet warm beancurd in Singapore. In retrospect, I do think there were contributing factors to why I disliked it so much--I was there working long hours to certify a new training manager, running training classes all day, and I will admit, slightly (OK, really) hungover one morning from WAY too much beer and spicy chili crab at a dinner with some co-workers. A very nice partner brought me "breakfast"--a Styrofoam cup full of a warm, sweet syrupy liquid and chunks of tofu/bean curd mixed in with pieces of sweet canned fruit. I tried it, being polite and appreciating the gesture and then felt bad and pretended to eat and enjoy it when honestly, it made me gaggy between the warmth, texture, and cloying sweetness. (Side-note: A good rule of thumb if you really don't like something is not to pretend to like it too much lest you get it brought to you the next two mornings because of how much you enjoyed it!)

I am stubborn about retrying things I dislike and finding a way to prepare them so that I will enjoy them (and tastes do evolve), so reading online about a chilled version of soy pudding made me decide to make it as my book-inspired dish. A chilled version also makes sense with the title of the book and its namesake dish--Aunty Lee's Chilled Revenge, her newest creation, named because "People say revenge is a dish best served cold..." Aunty's Lee's Chilled Revenge used gelatin in a savory way, making a "tom-yam-flavored spicy seafood jelly made in her largest lotus flower mold and turned out onto a bed of watercress and surrounded by chunks of pineapple. Suspended in the cold blossom's savory pale yellow gel were chunks of crabmeat, prawns, scallops, and red, green, and orange filaments of sweet peppers, baby asparagus, and carrots." 
I used my gelatin in this simple 4-ingredient recipe for  sweet Soya Beancurd/Soy Pudding from It's as Aunty Lee says, "Sometimes getting successful results isn't a matter of stirring and applying heat all the time. Sometimes you have to step back and sit down and let things get cold enough for their true nature to show."

Soya Bean Curd (Soy Pudding)
From Yvonne Ruperti  via
(Yields Four 3/4-cup Servings)

3 cups good soy milk, divided
1 packet gelatin (about 2/12 tsp)
sugar or sweetener to taste (I used maple syrup)
1 tsp vanilla extract

Place 1 1/2 cups soy milk in medium saucepan. Sprinkle gelatin over top and let sit 5 minutes to allow gelatin to soften.

Heat soy milk over medium heat, stirring, just until gelatin dissolves (do not boil soy milk). Stir in remaining 1 1/2 cups soy milk and vanilla. Sweeten to taste. Pour into serving bowls and chill until set and very cold, 3 to 4 hours.

Soy Milk/Sweetener: The recipe notes to use your favorite soy milk and sweeten to taste based on how sweet it is. I used a locally-made organic soy milk that is a little thicker (I thought it would be good for pudding) and has a natural sweetness to it. I used about a tablespoon of maple syrup and it was plenty.

Notes/Results: A slightly sweet and very mild creamy pudding, a bit like a posset or pots de crème. Probably not enough flavor for me to love on its own, but quite nice with fresh fruit like the cold mango, or perhaps some berries or bananas. I definitely think for this type of pudding, chilled works best for me rather than the warm soya bean curd described in the book. Overall I liked it and would try it again--maybe with some different flavorings to jazz it up a bit more. 

Aunty Lee's Chilled Revenge is my seventh entry for the Foodies Read 2016 event. You can check out the April Foodies Read linkup, hosted by Heather at Based on a True Story, to see what foodie books that everyone is reading this month.

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 "Aunty Lee's Chilled Revenge" 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.