Sunday, May 29, 2016

'All-Afternoon Bean Soup' with Greens & Carrot-Fennel Top Pesto for Cook the Books: "Burnt Toast Makes Your Sing Good" and Souper (Soup, Salad, & Sammie) Sundays

I'm hosting this round of Cook the Books and my pick for April/May is the foodie memoir, Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good: A Memoir with Recipes From An American Family by Kathleen Flinn. I am a fan of the author's other two books, The Sharper Your Knife The Less You Cry (about attending Le Cordon Blue in Paris) and The Kitchen Counter Cooking School (her experiences teaching a group of novice cooks how to make good healthy meals on a tight budget), so I was excited to read this book and learn more about her growing up years.

I really enjoy Flinn's story-telling skills, whether talking about food or recounting family stories, she has the ability to settle the reader in and make you feel like you are right there with her. Although Flinn and I grew up in different places, we were born in the same era and share being the youngest girl in a large family without a lot of money, so I could relate to many of her stories. One particular story that made me laugh was when her father splurged and bought a variety pack of single-serving cereals. When the sibling's battles over the coveted Corn Pops and Fruit Loops went on too long, her Dad scooped the boxes up and threw them outside, into the snow and then warned them not to go get them. For the rest of the winter, she says that they "...would cup our hands next to our faces on the living room's bay window and stare at the boxes. None of us dared to go after them." I can totally relate to getting those little boxes of cereal only as a special treat (for us it was road/camping trips) and batting for the "good ones"--no one wanted to be stuck with the Special K or Raisin Bran. When I was growing up packaged foods and eating out were luxuries as well, given as treats for special occasions. I always longed for single serving packages of my own--a small bag of Doritos or Lays, rather than a plastic baggie full of chips from the "big bag" doled out for occasional sack lunches. Times like when my aunt and uncle would drive up in their camper, having stopped at The Pop Shoppe and I could have my own red bottle of Lime Ricky, or New Year's Eve when we each got to select our own flavor of chips or crackers were the height of excitement. It makes me laugh thinking of how much I don't eat those foods now, but how much I wanted them back then. Flinn also talks about the small token gifts given for birthdays in a cash-strapped family and the "real" present of being able to "order" your birthday meal and we had a similar custom. My pick was almost always my mom's Chicken Fricassee, mashed potatoes and a "Lincoln Log" cake--what we called a chocolate roll cake at our house. Reading Flinn's family stories brought back happy memories for me and made me smile.

The book has its sad and touching moments too. Flinn lost her father at an early age, and although I had mine for much longer, the pain of that loss and the more recent loss of my mom made me tear up many times throughout the book. I love how Flinn puts the influence our families have on us, "...I'm pieces of my parents, siblings, grandparents, and great grandparents."  ... "Burnt toast makes you sing good. Be thankful; no matter how little you've got, someone's always worse off than you. You can't give anything away, it always comes back. They handed down these simple life lessons to me as surely as they did their recipes. Although her first two books will remain my favorites, as her time at Le Cordon Blue fascinates me and teaching people to cook is something I love to do, Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good was an enjoyable journey and helped cement Kathleen Flinn as one of my favorite foodie writers. I hope she has many books ahead of her--I will be waiting to read them. 

For food inspiration, there are many family recipes woven throughout the book--about 30 in total, so there were plenty to cook from. It's simple, homey, family fare like chili, clam chowder, goulash, oven-fried chicken, jam, pickles, coffee cake, apple crisp, pan-fried fish with almonds, biscuits and farmer's eggs.

Although tempted by several of the dishes, I chose to adapt the "All-Afternoon Bean Soup"--the first meal Flinn's mother made when they moved from California to the farm on Coldwater Road in Michigan. Made with dried beans, it gets its name from the hours it takes to simmer away. I made a meat-free, vegan, slow-cooker version of the soup--adding some healthy dark greens and fennel (because I love it in everything lately), and in a nod to frugal cooking and because I dearly love pesto stirred into my bean and veggie soups, I used the carrot tops and fennel fronds to make pesto. 

I have been eating a lot of fennel frond pesto lately (I might just be buying all of the fennel to make and enjoy the fennel pesto!) and I thought the bright green carrot tops from the local carrots I bought would pair well with the fennel fronds. I also added some sorrel I picked up in the herb section thinking that its slightly sharp and sour taste would be interesting. It was! With the lemon juice, oil and almonds, this a a bright and tangy pesto that livens up a simple soup.

Flinn notes, "Midwest budget cooking at its finest, this basic recipe offers potentially endless options. Just swap out the type of beans you're using, the flavoring meat, and the seasonings..."

"All-Afternoon Bean Soup"
Slightly Adapted from Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good by Kathleen Flinn
(Makes 8-10 Servings)

1 lb of dried mixed beans
2 1/2 to 3 quarts liquid, any combination of broth or water
1 bouillon cube (vegetable or chicken( (optional--I omitted)
1 large onion, chopped (about 2 1/2 cups)
5 stalks celery, chopped (about 2 cups)
3 large carrots, peeled and chopped (about 2 cups)
(I added 2 small fennel bulbs, chopped)
3 garlic cloves, chopped (I used 4 cloves)
about 6 oz flavoring meat (optional) (omitted)
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce (I used coconut aminos)
1 Tbsp dried thyme (I used the leaves from 3 sprigs of fresh thyme)
2 tsp celery seed (I used 1 Tbsp)
2 tsp garlic powder (I used 1 Tbsp)
(I added 2 tsp smoked paprika)
1 bay leaf
one (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes (I used fire-roasted)
(I added 4 cups chopped mixed greens--collards, chard, & turnip greens) 
2 tsp salt, or to taste
1/2 tsp ground black pepper or cayenne pepper, or to taste
hot sauce, optional
Fennel-Carrot Top Pesto to garnish, recipe below

Put the dried beans in a pot with enough water to allow 3 inches of water above them. You can either leave the beans to soak overnight or do a 'quick soak.' (Boil for 2 minutes, remove from the heat, cover, and let stand for an hour.) Either way, drain the beans and rinse with cold water before proceeding. 

Combine the beans with 2 quarts of the liquid, the bouillon cube (if using), vegetables, garlic, and flavoring and spices in a large soup pot. Bring to a gentle boil. Lower the heat, partially cover, and simmer for about 2 hours, occasionally skimming off foam or excess fat as it collects on the surface. 

At this point, the soup should be quite thick. Add the tomatoes with their liquid and another 2 to 3 cups of water or broth. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. (If you have used ham hocks or bacon, it might not be needed.) Simmer for an additional hour, or until the beans are tender. Check every so often to assure there's enough liquid to cover the beans by at least an inch.

Before serving, discard the bay leaf. If using ham bones, hocks or other bones, pull it from the soup. Chop any meat clinging to the bone into bite-sized pieces and return to the soup. Check the seasonings again and finish with a few shakes of hot sauce if desired.

Once chilled, leftover should be stored in an airtight container for 5 days in the fridge or for up to 2 months in the freezer. When reheating, you may need to add extra liquid, as the soup will thicken while it is stored. 

(Deb's Note: I went the slow cooker route with this soup, adding the ingredients (except the tomatoes) into the slow cooker with 3 quarts of veggie stop and cooking it on high for 2 hours to get it started, then on low for 6.  I added the canned tomatoes and about 4 cups of chopped mixed green to the slow cooker for the last hour of cooking.)

Carrot-Fennel Top Pesto
By Deb, with inspiration from The New York Times
(Makes about 1 1/2 Cups Pesto) 

1 1/2 cups green carrot tops, cleaned well and coarsely chopped

1 1/2 cups green fennel fronds, cleaned well and roughly chopped
1/2 cup herb of choice (I used sorrel)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup nuts of choice (I used slivered almonds) 

3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice, or to taste
1/2 tsp sea salt, or to taste

1/4 tsp black pepper
1/3 cup walnut, mac nut or olive oil + more if needed

Combine the carrot tops, fennel fronds, herbs, garlic, nuts, lemon juice, salt and pepper n a food processor or blender and pulse until the mixture is chopped up. Drizzle in the 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: A simple but flavorful bean soup that satisfies without the meat. This soup is tasty on its own--I don't use a lot of celery seed as a rule and liked the flavor it added, along with the garlic powder, thyme, and coconut aminos (my replacement for Worcestershire sauce). For a little smokiness like you would get from bacon or ham hocks, I used smoked paprika. The soup gets even better once the bright green pesto is stirred in. I like to add a little vinegar or lemon to bean/pulse soups for the acidity and the pesto adds that bright finish, elevating the flavor. Lucky I like it--I used my large slow cooker and made the full recipe so I am freezing portions to enjoy later. I would make this again. (And, I know I keep saying it but... fennel pesto (and/or fennel & carrot top pesto) is THE BEST! Try it!) ;-) 

The deadline for this Cook the Books round is this Tuesday, May 31st, and I will be rounding up the delicious 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 June/July when my fellow Hawaiian-Island dweller, Claudia of Honey from Rock will be hosting with Scarlet Feather by Maeve Binchy. Hope you join us!

Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good is my ninth entry for the Foodies Read 2016 event. You can check out the May 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 any time during the week and I post a recap of some (or all) 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 a salad she enjoyed from a recent road trip to Georgia, saying "Here is my Santa Fe Chicken Salad. If you want a packed salad, this is one of those offered and I liked it very much. Doug ordered Quiche which came with a mini muffin and fruit. Unfortunately, the quiche portion was very small so, I don't think he will ever get that again. I wouldn't.


Flour.ish.en Test Kitchen made Ottolenghi's Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with Hazelnut and Spinach Pesto, stating "If there is one thing I would change about this dish from Ottolenghi's NOPI, it is that I wish I have made a double portion. I served the soup to my family for dinner on a gray and rainy spring day. A warm creamy vegetable soup was just what we needed to perk us up."  

Pam of Sidewalk Shoes made Chicken Salad in Lettuce Cups and says, "I found this easy Chicken Salad in Lettuce Cups at Cooking Light. It’s super easy and what intrigued me were the dried cherries!  They really added a tart sweetness to the salad. This makes a lovely lunch or even a light dinner with a glass of chardonnay."  

Finally at Kahakai Kitchen, I found my new favorite summer salad from Ellie Kriger. This Tender Green Salad with Strawberries, Cucumber, Pistachios and Cucumber was a wonderful combination of flavors and some of my favorite ingredients--and so pretty on the plate too. 

Thanks to everyone for linking 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 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!


  1. I need to read that book!

    1. I think you would like it Pam--she writes food so well! ;-)

  2. It looks so good! I wanted to read the book and even borrowed it from the library, but I've been in a reading/blogging slump and haven't been doing much of either. I hope to join for May's Cook The Books read though.

    1. Sorry that you missed this round Vicki but hopefully you can join us for May/June with Maeve Binchy. ;-)

  3. It sounds like this book is bringing up a lot of memories for people. I haven't read any of her books but I need to fix that.

    1. I hope you do Heather--with your enjoyment of foodie books I think you would enjoy them! ;-)

  4. I loved this selection Deb, and I am intrigued by the pesto you created. Sounds wonderful.

  5. I did make that delicious pesto, and now the addition of carrot fronds must be tried as well. Looks like the dollop of green piquant favor add just the right zing to that bean soup.

  6. Deb,
    Your meatless soup looks hearty and nourishing , and the pesto puts it over the edge for me. Sounds delicious!

  7. Do you know, and I am ashamed to say, I checked that book uot of the library and just didn't get to it. It sounds like a great book but I had some stacks I was committed to....before you knew it, the book was due back.

    I linked up to Souper Sunday.

  8. Thanks for the nostalgia. I, too, though not growing up in the upper Midwest, could relate to a lot in the book, including coveting sugary sweet unhealthy cereals.

  9. And, I'll try to reemerge to link up tomorrow with my sammie

  10. I love the pesto you added to the soup! It sounds heavenly!

  11. I never thought about fennel pesto, and I love fennel. The soup looks perfect for the coming fall season.

  12. Wow, the color of that pesto is amazing. I must try making it once fennel is available at the market (though we do have wild fennel around here). I also had my eyes on the bean soup, since I have a nice variety of locally grown beans, but these days I am the only one eating beans and making a large pot of soup felt overwhelming. I would have also added leafy greens to it. Thank you again for hosting!

    P.S. It's bad habit ;-) The other day I needed to write some notes in a book but didin't have a pencil. Between writing the notes in pen and not writing them, I chose the latter.


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