Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Bamia (Okra Stew) for Cook the Books: "Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots"

Okra will probably never make my list of favorite foods but I am learning to appreciate it more and more. I like it especially when it is flavored with plenty of spices, like in this Bamia, a Middle Eastern okra stew. The recipe comes from Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots a novel by Jessica Soffer and our Cook the Books October/November pick, hosted by Simona of Briciole.

Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots is an interesting book--on one hand I loved it for the food descriptions and imagery that filled it, but I also found myself very slow at working my way through it, as the story made me sad--there is so much loneliness, pain and loss captured in its pages. Lorca is a 14-year-old girl who is desperate to gain the love and attention of her very distant (to the point of being cruel) mother. Her mother is a chef and Lorca tries to show and earn love through food and cooking and caring for this cold woman. (Can you tell I desperately did not like this woman!?) Lorca deals with her pain and abandonment (her father, who her mother left back in New Hampshire is a piece of work as well) by cutting and other ways of self-harm and when she is discovered injuring herself in a school bathroom stall by a classmate and suspended, her mother decides to send her to boarding school. Lorca is desperate and hopes that by recreating, Masgouf, a special Iraqi fish dish from a restaurant that her mother declared was the most delicious food she had tasted, her mother will allow her to stay. Searching out the restaurant and recipe leads Lorca to Victoria, who along with her husband, owned the restaurant where Lorca's mother ate the Masgouf. Victoria is dealing with the very recent death of her husband and some big secrets from her past and she and Lorca are drawn together as Victoria teaches her how to make the dish and other Iraqi specialties.  

The book is full of food and food references, lovingly described by the author and I liked how these two women, generations apart, bonded over cooking and ingredients. I found the descriptions of the cutting and Lorca's emotional pain very difficult to read--at one moment I would be tempted by the descriptions of a dish and the next I would find my stomach turning with a description of the self-mutilation, which threw of the rhythm of the book for me. There were also some plot points and twists that didn't quite hold up for me and I wanted more from the ending. Still, I hold out hope that the title of the book (taken from an Arabic saying "Bukra fil mish mish") comes true and tomorrow, apricots may bloom for Lorca and Victoria.

In addition to many dishes, French, Iraqi, simple and complex, there are a handful of recipes in the book: Wild Mushroom Quiche with Wood Thyme Stem, Date Spread, Chicken in Half Mourning, the coveted Masgouf, and Bamia, the okra stew that Victoria teaches Lorca to make and feeds her and that Lorca gives to her friend Blot. Since I can buy locally-grown okra and I loved the combination of spices, I decided to make the Bamia and serve it with rice and some naan bread I had sitting about to soak up the flavorful tomato juices.

Bamia (Okra Stew)
Adapted from Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots by Jessica Soffer
(Serves 2)

2 tsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 tsp garlic, grated
2 cups stewed tomatoes (I used 1 14.5 oz can fire-roasted diced tomatoes)
3/4 tsp each: cardamom, curry powder, ground ginger
1/2 tsp each: paprika, red pepper flakes, celery seeds
1 1/2 lbs fresh okra, washed and chopped into inch-long pieces
lemon juice, salt, and black pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Sauté onions until translucent and add garlic and sauté until fragrant.

Add spices and tomatoes and continue cooking for five minutes, stirring consistently. Add the okra and cook for 12-15 minutes or until okra is soft, stirring very infrequently. Season with lemon juice, salt, and pepper to taste. Serve with long grain rice.

Notes/Results: Such delicious and exotic flavor from the mix of spices (curry, paprika, celery seed, cardamom, ground ginger and red pepper flakes) that it compensates for the natural sliminess of the okra. I did try to limit it as I could by not stirring it very much as it cooks but there is still a fair amount. It is less noticeable with the rice and I enjoyed both the serving I ate freshly made and the leftovers reheated. I also liked the brightness that the lemon juice added to the mix. Online there are several recipes for bamia with meat, but this recipe is vegan and when served with the rice and flatbread, it is a satisfying dish. I would make it again. 

Because it is a stew, I am linking my Bamia up to this week's Souper Sundays, hosted weekly here at Kahakai Kitchen. If you aren't familiar, Souper Sundays is my weekly soup tribute that includes sandwiches, and salads and is open to anyone and everyone who wants to share a soup, salad, or sandwich post that week. You can see the details for joining in on the current weekly post here--we would love to have you!

Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots is my sixteenth foodie book entry for the Foodies Read 2016 event. You can check out the November 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 today, November 30th and Simona 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 December/January  when I will be hosting with the foodie memoir, Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home. Hope you join us!


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "Grape, Olive, Pig" by Matt Goulding, Served with a Merienda of Toast with Olive Oil, Chocolate & Sea Salt

Are you hungry? Well you will be after checking out my review of the gorgeous and inspiring Grape, Olive, Pig: Deep Travels Through Spain's Food Culture by Matt Goulding. Accompanying my review is a merienda (afternoon snack) of Toast with Olive Oil, Chocolate & Sea Salt, along with sweet red wine and some Marcona almonds.

Publisher's Blurb:

The author of Rice, Noodle, Fish now celebrates the delectable and sensuous culture and cuisine of Spain with this beautifully illustrated food-driven travel guide filled with masterful narration, insider advice, and nearly 200 full-color photos.
Grape, Olive, Pig is a deeply personal exploration of Spain, a country where eating and living are inextricably linked. Crafted in the “refreshing” (Associated Press), “inspirational” (Publishers Weekly) and “impeccably observed” ( style of the acclaimed Rice, Noodle, Fish, and written with the same evocative voice of the award-winning magazine Roads & Kingdoms, this magnificent gastronomic travel companion takes you through the key regions of Spain as you’ve never seen them before.
Matt Goulding introduces you to the sprawling culinary and geographical landscape of his adoptive home, and offers an intimate portrait of this multifaceted country, its remarkable people, and its complex history. Fall in love with Barcelona’s tiny tapas bars and modernist culinary temples. Explore the movable feast of small plates and late nights in Madrid. Join the three-thousand-year-old hunt for Bluefin tuna off the coast of Cadiz, then continue your seafood journey north to meet three sisters who risk their lives foraging the gooseneck barnacle, one of Spain’s most treasured ingredients. Delight in some of the world’s most innovative and avant-garde edible creations in San Sebastian, and then wash them down with cider from neighboring Asturias. Sample the world’s finest acorn-fed ham in Salamanca, share in the traditions of cave-dwelling shepherds in the mountains beyond Granada, and debate what constitutes truly authentic paella in Valencia.
Grape, Olive, Pig reveals hidden gems and enduring delicacies from across this extraordinary country, contextualizing each meal with the stories behind the food in a cultural narrative complemented by stunning color photography. Whether you’ve visited Spain or have only dreamed of bellying up to its tapas bars, Grape, Olive, Pig will wake your imagination, rouse your hunger, and capture your heart.

Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: Harper Wave/Anthony Bourdain (November 15, 2016)

My Review:

There are people who can tell you about a restaurant or dinner they went to and you think, "that sounds good." Then there are passionate food lovers who can describe what they saw, smelled, ate and tasted in such exquisite detail that you are convinced that you must have whatever it is that they are describing, or you simply cannot go on living. Matt Goulding is the second kind of person. There is no way to walk away from Grape, Olive, Pig without craving the food and drink of Spain and longing to be there. It is clear that Goulding is in love with Spain and his passion for the history, the people, and of course the food pour out of every page.

The book is set up mostly by geography, beginning in Barcelona where Goulding met, pursued and eventually won the heart of his wife. It meanders on through Salamanca, Valencia, Basque Country, Cadiz, Asturias, Galicia, Madrid and Granada. Within each region, he covers the specialties of the cuisine like jambon and cured meats, paella, and the pan con tomate, cheeses, wines, cocktail, tapas, and seafood; uncovering the details and origins of the food and drink and introducing the reader to the purveyors large and small, known and unknown. Along the way he throws in tips for things to know before you go, how to eat and drink like a Spaniard, the rules of a good tapas "crawl" and my favorite "Amazing Shit in the Middle of Nowhere." The fascinating stories and tempting food descriptions are accompanied by beautiful black and white photographs that capture the mood, people and food of Spain.

I initially signed up for this book tour thinking Grape, Olive, Pig was a cookbook and it definitely isn't--although if you love to cook it will have you looking online or running to your cookbook shelves, the library, or a bookstore for recipes to recreate the dishes you read about. Grape, Olive, Pig is a more of a travelogue, reference book and a bit of a love story to a country--capturing both the magic and the realities of travel. Spain was near the top of places I want to visit and this book may have just moved it to the top. (Having extensively visited Japan, I will definitely be checking out Goulding's first book Rice, Noodle, Fish as well). If you are planning a trip to Spain or just want to feel like you went there, add this book to your TBR pile--just don't read it on an empty stomach! 


Author Notes: Matt Goulding is editor and cofounder of Roads & Kingdoms, the former food editor of Men’s Health, and the coauthor of the New York Times bestselling series Eat This, Not That! He is a James Beard Award winner and has also written for Harper’s Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Food & Wine Magazine, and Time magazine. He divides his time between the tapas bars of Barcelona and the barbecue pits of North Carolina.
Follow Matt on Twitter.


Food Inspiration: 

There is nothing but food inspiration in Grape, Olive, Pig--all of it described in passionate detail from canned fish and seafood to the different cuts and types of meat from the Ibérico pig, to the delicious cheeses and the twists of crisp churros dipped in chocolate or little plates of patatas bravas or a simple slow-simmered pot of pork and beans. I don't think you can look at a page of this book without wanting to eat.

For a dish inspired by my reading, I decided to go with a merienda, an afternoon snack or light meal in the afternoon in Spain and other European countries. Goulding says a merienda might meal toast with olive oil and chocolate and since that has long been a favorite snack of mine ever since a trip to New York where I was served baguette with olive oil, chocolate and sea salt (see this post from early in my blog in 2008). Rounding out my merienda is a small glass of sweet Spanish red wine and a small bowl of Marcona almonds (with truffle salt from Trader Joes).

You don't really need a recipe for this one, but here is one from famous Spanish chef Ferran Adrià from Food & Wine.

Toasted Bread & Bittersweet Chocolate
Adapted from Ferran Adrià via Food&
(Makes 4 Servings)

16 thin baguette slices  
4-oz bar of good bittersweet (or dark chocolate), cut into 16 pieces
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil  

coarse or flaky sea salt for sprinkling

Preheat the broiler and position a rack 8 inches from the heat. 

Spread the baguette slices on a baking sheet and broil until toasted, about 30 seconds. 

Turn the slices over and set a square of chocolate on each one. Broil just until the bread is golden and the chocolate is beginning to melt--about 30 seconds. (Spread the chocolate evenly over the toast if desired.)

Transfer the chocolate toasts to plates and drizzle with the olive oil. Lightly sprinkle sea salt on the chocolate and serve right away.

Notes/Results: If you have never tried the combination of good dark or bittersweet chocolate, olive oil and sea salt, you must. It is delicious, rich and decadent. It went perfectly with the sweet red wine and salty Marcona almonds in this case. Because you are using a few ingredients, in a simple preparation, use the best ones you have or can find. I usually enjoy this treat as dessert, but I think I should make a chocolate toast merienda a habit! I will definitely make this again.

Grape, Olive, Pig is my fifteenth foodie book entry for the Foodies Read 2016 event. You can check out the November Foodies Read linkup, hosted by Heather at Based on a True Story, to see what everyone is reading this month.  

I'm also linking this post up 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 "Grape, Olive, Pig" was provided to me by the publisher, Harper Collins and TLC Book Tours. 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 TLC Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.


Sunday, November 27, 2016

Lemongrass Miso Soup with Soba Noodles and Poached Egg for Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

After a long holiday week and weekend when rich foods seems to rule the day, it's nice to take a break and give your body something soothing, restorative and simple. Miso soup never fails to restore me and when I have nothing in the house to eat, or more likely, that I want to eat, it is easy enough to heat some broth and stir in miso and whatever bits of vegetables or leftovers I have sitting about.

I liked the ingredients in Heidi Swanson's Lemongrass Miso Soup Broth from her blog 101 Cookbooks. She calls it a perfect light summer soup broth, but I think it is perfect year round. I made a couple of small changes based on my preferences and what I had on hand in both the broth and the resulting soup--taking some of Heidi's suggestions and adding in a few ideas of my own. My changes are noted in red below. 

Lemongrass Miso Soup Broth
Slightly adapted from Heidi Swanson via 101 Cookbooks
(Makes 8 Cups)

8 cups of water
1 Tbsp olive oil
5 lemongrass stalks, tender insides chopped
1 tsp coriander seeds

(I added 2 whole star anise)
5 medium shallots, peeled and sliced (I used 1 large leek, white & light green parts, cleaned and sliced)
5 medium garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
3 slices fresh ginger, sliced (I used 5 slices of ginger)
2 yellow tomatoes, cut into chunks (I omitted)
2-4 Tbsp miso, or to taste

Bring the water to a boil in a large pot. While the water is heating, prep the rest of the ingredients and add the olive oil, lemongrass, coriander, shallots, garlic, ginger, and tomatoes as they're ready. Simmer for twenty minutes or so, or until the broth is to your liking. The longer you leave it to simmer, the stronger it will be. 

Strain the broth into a large bowl, pressing on the solids to collect as much liquid as possible. Add a splash of the broth to the miso and stir until the miso thins. Add the miso mixture to the broth and stir well. If the flavors don't pop at this point, your broth is likely under salted (miso pastes vary in saltiness). You can either add more miso, or salt to taste with salt or soy sauce. 

Enjoy on its own, or over anything from noodles, to poached eggs, rice, or dumplings.
I used sautéed leek, wilted baby kale, buckwheat soba noodles, a poached egg, toasted sesame seeds and a bit of chili oil in mine. 

Notes/Results: This was a restorative and satisfying bowl of soup with great flavor from the broth and the different components. The fragrant broth with its lemony, floral and ginger notes is complimented by the salty miso, the slight bitterness of the baby kale, the sweetness of the leek, and the nuttiness of the toasted sesame seeds and buckwheat noodles. When you add the richness of the egg and the spice of a few drops of chili oil and it takes it to over-the-top good. It is a marvelous broth to change up depending on your mood or eating style--add marinated tofu, different veggies or even some cooked protein in choice. You can let people prepare their bowls, then have the hot miso stock ready to pour into the bowl (like I did in the sake bottle in the photo above). I reserved my extra broth, just adding miso to what I was going to use today, so the miso retains its health benefits. This was the perfect lunch for a cool, windy Sunday, after a holiday week. I will happily make it again.

I'm linking up this soup to I Heart Cooking Clubs where this week's theme is "Let's Give Thanks"--Heidi Swanson dishes that we are thankful for and this soup definitely counts. You can see what dishes everyone is thankful for by checking out the picture links on the post.
We have some good friends in the Souper Sundays kitchen who shared some delicious dishes last week--let's have a look!

Shaheen from Allotment2Kitchen made this Aloo Tikki Bagel and said, "I am constantly amazed at how much i eat is accidentally vegan. Aloo Tikki is a South Asian snack made from spicy oniony mashed potatoes (aloo) that is shaped into cutlets or burger shapes, then coated in a spicy blend of chickpea batter and deep fried.  It important to eat it whilst it is still hot as that is when it is at its most deliciousness.

Janet of The Taste Space shares Slow Cooker Black Bean and Plantain Chili and said, "Who else is a fan of plantains? They might seem like an exotic ingredient, but even here in Toronto, they are usually very reasonably priced and less expensive than sweet potatoes. However, unlike sweet potatoes, their shelf life is not as stable, as they can only last a few weeks until they turn all brown. I never buy them with a plan, other than panfry in coconut oil, but this recipe was excellent, and I’ll probably buy more plantains just to make it again, it was that good."

Here at Kahakai Kitchen, I made a classic soup and sandwich combo into a cocktail party treat with these Tomato-Vodka Soup Shooters with Mini Grilled Cheese Sandwiches.  The zesty soup and buttery/cheesy sandwiches were the perfect combination of fun and delicious.

Mahalo to Shaheen and Janet for joining in this week! 

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 the entries the following week.)

(If you aren't familiar with Souper Sundays, you can read about of the origins of it here.

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!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Pistachio-Crusted Seared Ahi Tuna on Burnt Eggplant with Feta and Pomegranate Couscous (and PLENTY of Self-Respect!) for Food 'n Flix November Pick: "Burnt" | #FoodnFlix

November's Food 'n Flix pick is Burnt (hosted by Caroline of Caroline Makes--see her announcement post here). 

Burnt is the 2015 film about a chef, played by Bradley Cooper, who self-destructs thanks to drug, alcohol, perfectionism and a bad temper and who burns out, leaving a path of destruction through his own career and those of his co-workers and friends. After a couple of years of sobering up and a self-imposed penance of shucking a million oysters in New Orleans, he heads to London to rebuild his career and attempt a coveted third Michelin star.

I saw this film on when it hit Netflix last year and couldn't help but be pulled in by the cooking and restaurant scenes--especially having seen Bradley Cooper and his co-stars Sienna Miller and Matthew Rhys talk about the training and practice they did to appear professional in the cooking scenes. The film is full of food inspiration and delicious-looking dishes and it was good to watch it again with my food goggles firmly in place. 

My inspiration comes from an insult given by Adam Jones (Cooper) to Tony the maître d'hôtel of his friend's restaurant Tony (Daniel Brühl). who now manages his father’s hotel.“You’re serving seared tuna. What happened to your self respect?" I assume the comment is because of the frequency that seared tuna, especially crusted in sesame seeds or another Asian-inspired preparation appears on restaurant menus, that it lacks originality. Well, I don't care how 'tired' seared tuna may feel to Adam Jones, I am always happy to find a well-prepared seared tuna on the menu, I make it myself at home, and I decided it would be my dish for the film--served with PLENTY of self-respect!

When thinking of how I wanted to prepare my tuna, I was also thinking about some of my favorite "burnt" foods, and Yotam Ottolenghi's Burnt Eggplant came to mind. I love how he blistered the eggplant, scooped out the flesh and made a sort of salad with it, so I decided to make a variation of his recipe, changing the quantities of some of the ingredients and adding in feta cheese, mint and lemon. 

Since I was going with those more Mediterranean or Middle Eastern flavors and ingredients, I wanted to take my seared ahi there too, and to crust it with pistachio nuts to add a pop of color. It turns out Ottolenghi has a pistachio crusted tuna recipe and I used his idea for a mustard sauce (adding some additional spices to mine) to adhere the nuts to the fish and add flavor. 

Finally, wanting even more color on the plate I added one of my favorite simple couscous dishes, Diana Henry's Pomegranate Couscous--a salad of pearled couscous, pomegranate seeds, toasted pine nuts, lemon and herbs.

Pistachio-Crusted Seared Ahi Tuna
Adapted from Ottolenghi, The Cookbook via The Washington Post
(Serves 2)

2 pieces of fresh ahi tuna loin (about 6-oz each)
2 Tbsp olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup roasted unsalted pistachios
3 Tbsp Dijon-style mustard
1 tsp sumac
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

Heat a grill pan or large cast-iron skillet over high heat.

Brush tuna pieces all over with the olive oil, then season with salt and pepper to taste. When the pan is very hot, add tuna to the pan or skillet and sear on each side, for a total of no more than 2 to 3 minutes; the tuna should be rare at the center and just cooked on the edges (a 1/2-inch margin or so). Transfer to a plate and refrigerate until well chilled (about 30 minutes).

Chop the roasted pistachios, preferably in a food processor, to the consistency of fine crumbs. Scatter them on a rimmed baking sheet and mix with the lemon zest. Mix mustard, sumac, cumin and cayenne together in a small bowl.  Lay 2 or 3 good-size pieces of plastic wrap on the work surface.

Place a piece of the cooled seared tuna loin on one piece of plastic wrap. Brush with some of the mustard mixture on the three visible sides, then invert and transfer to the crushed pistachios. Press gently to completely coat on the three sides. Brush the top of the tuna with mustard, then invert to coat the fourth side, pressing gently so the mixture adheres. Transfer to a piece of plastic wrap; wrap tightly and refrigerate. Repeat with the remaining tuna pieces, mustard and coating. Chill for several hours and up to overnight.

To serve, unwrap the tuna and cut it crosswise into 3/4-inch slices. 


Burnt Eggplant 
Adapted from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

2 medium eggplant (about 1 2/3 lb)
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 Tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 Tbsp fresh mint
2 Tbsp crumbled feta 
zest of 1 lemon + 1 Tbsp of the juice
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Either char eggplant over a gas range, rotating sides for 15-18 minutes, or broil in the oven for one hour--turning to get all sides. Allow eggplant to cool, scoop out flesh and drain flesh in a colander for at least 1 hour. Once flesh well drained, coarsely chop it and combine in a bowl with the yogurt, garlic parsley and salt and pepper to taste.


Pomegranate Couscous 
Adapted From Crazy Water Pickled Lemon by Diana Henry
(Serves 4)

1 1/4 cups pearled couscous
2 1/2 cups water
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup pomegranate seeds
2 oz pine nuts, toasted
3 Tbsp each chopped flat-leaf parsley and mint
lemon juice to taste
sea salt and black pepper to taste

Cook the pearled couscous to package instructions. Drain well and while warm, mix the couscous with the olive oil, pine nuts, pomegranate seeds, herbs, and lemon juice, and check the seasoning. Add a squeeze more lemon if you think the dish needs it and sea salt and black pepper to taste.


To plate: Place a scoop of the Burnt Eggplant and one of the Pomegranate Couscous on a small plate. Place the sliced Pistachio-Crusted Seared Ahi Tuna on top. Garnish with mint and preserved lemon if desired. Serve with warm grilled pita or naan bread.

Notes/Results: This was a delicious plate--the flavors work so well together and my self-respect is fully intact with each bite of the perfectly seared and tasty ahi tuna! ;-) The couscous with its pomegranate and pine nuts and the firm tuna add texture to the softer burnt eggplant and the bread allows for dipping and scooping. I kept the tuna slices thick to enable the pistachios to stay in place and it mad for wonderful bites of the rich and meaty tuna. All of these recipes are simple to make but do require a bit of prep and hold time--although once you have the three components ready, it goes together very quickly. Although I know I "overplate" a bit according to restaurant standards (there should be a small scattering of couscous and some smears of the burnt eggplant I suppose), I think it is a pretty plate of food. I would happily make this again.

The deadline for this round of Food 'n Flix is November 30 and Caroline will be rounding up all the dishes on her blog shortly after. If you missed this round and like food, films and foodie films, join us for December when Food 'n Flix's founder, Heather of All Roads Lead to the Kitchen will be hosting that heartwarming holiday classic (NOT!) Krampus

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "Inheriting Edith" by Zoe Fishman, Served with Creamy Tomato-Vodka Soup Shooters with Mini Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

It's Tuesday and one day closer to the holiday weekend! On today's TLC Book Tour stop, I am reviewing Inheriting Edith by Zoe Fishman and I am pairing my review with a spin on a classic sandwich and soup combination that is perfect for a holiday party; Tomato-Vodka Soup Shooters with Mini Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, inspired by my reading. 

Publisher's Blurb:

For years, Maggie Sheets has been an invisible hand in the glittering homes of wealthy New York City clients, scrubbing, dusting, mopping, and doing all she can to keep her head above water as a single mother. Everything changes when a former employer dies leaving Maggie a staggering inheritance. A house in Sag Harbor. The catch? It comes with an inhabitant: The deceased’s eighty-two-year old mother Edith.
Edith has Alzheimer’s—or so the doctors tell her—but she remembers exactly how her daughter Liza could light up a room, or bring dark clouds in her wake. And now Liza’s gone, by her own hand, and Edith has been left—like a chaise or strand of pearls—to a poorly dressed young woman with a toddler in tow.
Maggie and Edith are both certain this arrangement will be an utter disaster. But as summer days wane, a tenuous bond forms, and Edith, who feels the urgency of her diagnosis, shares a secret that she’s held close for five decades, launching Maggie on a mission that might just lead them each to what they are looking for.

Paperback: 320 pages  
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (October 18, 2016) 

My Review:

The premise of Inheriting Edith is an interesting one, especially for anyone who has dealt with loss or seeing a parent in failing health. In this case, it's different because the parent in question, is "inherited" by a single mother with a toddler, along with a life-changing opportunity and a house in upscale Sag Harbor. The opportunity for Maggie to get her daughter out of the city, have time to spend with her and not have to worry about scrambling to get by is overwhelming, but not as overwhelming as being saddled with the house's occupant--Edith, an 82-year-old curmudgeon diagnosed with Alzheimers. For Edith, it seems like yet another betrayal by her daughter, a bi-polar writer with depression, who committed suicide. Does it sound depressing so far? Surprisingly, for a novel that touches on some very difficult subjects like Alzheimers, depression, and suicide, it manages to be poignant without being maudlin and to inspire humor and hope in with the heavy realities.  

Maggie is an easy character to root for, although not always easy to understand. She has her own demons--a mother who had her own battles with depression and a father that she felt abandoned her quickly after her mother's death, remarrying and starting a new family. Being a single mother to Lucy, a precocious toddler, isn't easy and since she didn't tell Lucy's father about her, she is doing it on her own. Her friendship with Liza, an author and client of her housekeeping services has gone sour over a betrayal, so the fact that Liza leaves her an inheritance catches Maggie by surprise. The biggest part of that surprise is Edith, Liza's mother, who Maggie met only once and who didn't make a great impression. Edith is angry about a lot of things and having her house given to and taken over by Maggie and Lucy is only slightly better than the assisted living facility she will have to move into if Liza's plan doesn't work out. She is tougher to like, but easy to feel sympathy for as her disease progresses.  

Adding levity to the situation is Esther, Edith's best friend who butts in to everything, dispensing advice, humor, and help and also Lucy, who is sweet but stubborn and definitely in that terrorizing toddler stage. These characters were my favorites. It was hard to get a handle on Sam, a potential love interest for Maggie and of course Liza, whose death brings these people together. And, as you can guess from the book's synopsis above, this group does come together and begins to form their own kind of family. There may be a few triggers in the book for anyone who has dealt with Alzheimers or dementia, the failing health of parents, and depression or suicide in their lives. A couple of parts made me a bit sad, but overall, Inheriting Edith is an engaging story about friendship, love, and family that touches the heart in a positive way. Although this is my first book from Zoe Fishman, it is unlikely to be my last. 


Author Notes:  Zoe Fishman is the author of Driving Lessons, Saving Ruth, and Balancing Acts. Her books have been translated into German, Italian, Dutch and Polish. She’s the recipient of many awards, including Target’s Breakout and Emerging Author Picks, a New York Post Pick, and has been featured on NBC’s “Atlanta & Co.” as well as in Publishers Weekly and The Huffington Post. She is currently at work on her next novel, as well as teaching writing at The Callanwolde Fine Arts Center. Zoe lives in Atlanta with her husband and two sons.
Find out more about Zoe at her website, follow her on Twitter, and connect with her on Facebook.


Food Inspiration:

There was actually a good amount of food mentioned in Inheriting Edith, although not all was particularly inspiring. There was Liza's snack of florescent orange peanut butter crackers and diet coke, leftover Danish and soggy pasta salad, Peruvian and Chinese restaurants, Challah bread, "gelatinous casseroles and lopsided cakes," whiskey, cheese, and crackers, the thought of "tiny strawberry jam hand prints" all over, and snacks for Lucy like Graham crackers, tiny goldfish crackers, bananas and red apples, coffee, dried smears of hummus, a block of cheddar and Ritz crackers, pre-made sandwiches, bialys, cookies, peanut butter and jelly, chicken cacciatore, hotdogs, burgers and French fries, a turkey and cheese sandwich, warm bread at a restaurant, an omelet, chocolate, a gyro, prosciutto and melon, crackers and hummus, cornichons and olives, fried chicken and coleslaw, potato salad and collard greens, a tiny loaf of cornbread and peach cobbler and ice cream.  There was also a pretzel, lemon cake, scrambled eggs, Oreos, deviled eggs, mention of a party with a sushi station, champagne, bruschetta, and shrimp, waffles, scotch with ice tea, brandy, vermouth, and vodka with lemonade, hamburgers and onion rings, pancakes with syrup, pineapple slices, a seafood restaurant with lobster in butter, pizza, cake and ice cream, a bagel with cream cheese and donuts.

It was three different mentions of grilled cheese sandwiches that ended up catching my eye. It seemed to be a favorite for little Lucy--having it at home and at a restaurant with fries and Edith recalled an important phone call she got while making tomato soup and flipping a grilled cheese to go along with it. Grilled cheese, especially when paired with tomato soup, is the ultimate comfort food and something I am always in the mood for. Since I make it so often and just posted a pairing earlier this month, I wanted to change things up a bit. 

Thinking of the party that Esther's daughter gives and Edith and Maggie attend, I thought it would be fun to make an appetizer version and put the cocktail in it by adding vodka to the soup. I love a good sushi station--which Esther says her daughter Barbie has, along with the band, catering, and an open bar--"the works"--but give me a glass or cup of hot, delicious tomato soup with a bit of vodka and some mini sandwich dunkers--oozing with melty cheese and that my friends is a party!   

I am not the first to come up with tomato and vodka soup or grilled cheese croutons or mini sandwiches for parties, but below is my spin on it. I took one of my favorite quick tomato soup recipes and added a little kick from crushed red pepper and the vodka. For the sandwiches, I used little brioche rolls, with American and Munster cheese for the gooey factor, spread with butter, pressed in my Foreman grill, ends trimmed (samples for the chef) and cut in half. Although the vodka burns off in the making, leave it out of the soup for children and you have a great kids' party snack. 

Tomato-Vodka Soup
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes about 5 cups of soup total--about 10 1/2 cup servings)

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 sweet onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped finely
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp dried basil
large pinch of crushed red pepper or to taste
1 Tbsp tomato paste
3/4 cup vodka
1 (28 oz) can or (750 g) box of chopped tomatoes with juices
1 cup veggie or chicken stock
1 cup coconut milk or heavy cream
sea salt and black pepper to taste
fresh basil to garnish, optional

In a heavy bottomed saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat and add the onion and carrot and saute for about 5 minutes until the onion has softened. Add the garlic, dried basil, crushed red pepper, and tomato paste and cook another minute or two until spices are mixed in and releasing their fragrances. Add in the vodka, de-glazing the pan with it and allow it to reduce down for 2 to 3 minutes.
Add the canned tomatoes and their juices and the stock. Heat until just at a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 15-20 minutes to reduce and blend flavors. Using an immersion blender in the pan, or a regular blender (carefully in batches), puree soup until smooth. Return to pan and stir in the coconut milk or heavy cream. Gently heat through and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot in small, wide glasses or cups (for dipping room) with mini grilled cheese sandwiches for dunking. Enjoy!

Notes/Results: You just can't argue with tomato soup and grilled cheese--it is delicious comfort food whether served full-sized or in its miniature form. This one is no exception. The soup is creamy and full of flavor--with a little flavor kick from the red pepper and vodka that makes the simple and cheesy sandwiches perfect to dip in and enjoy and enjoying. I was going to use small shot glasses but I like the wider rims of these juice glasses for optimum dunking. You could also use coffee mugs or cups (you want about 1/2 cup of soup per serving), or make your sandwiches smaller. You can make the soup ahead of time and get the sandwiches built and ready to grill before a party, leaving you to just heat up the soup and toast the sandwiches right before serving. These were both delicious and fun, I will definitely make them again.

Because this dish is both soup and sandwich, I am linking it up to this week's Souper Sundays, hosted weekly here at Kahakai Kitchen. If you aren't familiar, Souper Sundays is my weekly soup tribute that includes sandwiches, and salads and is open to anyone and everyone who wants to share a soup, salad, or sandwich post that week. You can see the details for joining in on the current weekly post here--we would love to have you!

I'm linking this post up 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 "Inheriting Edith" was provided to me by the publisher, Harper Collins and TLC Book Tours. 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 TLC Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.