Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Book Tour Stops Here: "Delicious" A Novel by Ruth Reichl (+ Book Giveaway!) with a Massaged Kale Salad with Currants, Pine Nuts & Parmesan

Well written food descriptions are what gets my heart (and my salivary glands) going--just as much if not more than a beautiful photo or an enticing aroma. I gravitate most towards cookbooks or online posts that talk about the recipes--the background, the history, the details that make it special. Ruth Reichl, food critic, author, former editor-and-chief of the much-missed Gourmet magazine is the master of writing inspiring descriptions of food, whether it be for a cookbook, a memoir or now in her new novel, Delicious. In this novel, Ruth spins the story of Billie, a lapsed cook and wanna-be food writer with an amazing palate, exploring New York City and a foodie mystery she stumbles upon involving a WWII correspondence between famed chef and author James Beard and Lulu, a precocious young girl.     

Publisher's Blurb:
"In her New York Times bestselling memoirs Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me with Apples, Ruth Reichl has brilliantly illuminated how food defines us. Now she celebrates this theme in her dazzling fiction debut—a novel of sisters, family ties, and a young woman who must find the courage to let go of the past in order to embrace her own true gifts.

Billie Breslin has traveled far from her California home to take a job at Delicious!, the most iconic food magazine in New York and, thus, the world. When the publication is summarily shut down, the colorful staff, who have become an extended family for Billie, must pick up their lives and move on. Not Billie, though. She is offered a new job: staying behind in the magazine’s deserted downtown mansion offices to uphold the “Delicious Guarantee” –a public relations hotline for complaints and recipe inquiries–until further notice. What she doesn’t know is that this boring, lonely job will be the portal to a life-changing discovery." 

Delicious is an apt title for this novel, Reichl's vivid writing makes food front and center of this book, but it also has a sweet and interesting story to go along with it. There is a lot going on in the story. Along with the food, food writing, and the folding food magazine, there is the mystery around the files and letters Billie stumbles across in a hidden room in the magazine's locked library, what war time was like for a young girl, and Billie's own struggles to find her way in the world and come out from behind the shadow of her 'perfect' older sister. There are plenty of eccentric characters to keep track of, a romance, American history, and even some architectural facts and tidbits about old New York thrown in. It is ambitious, but Reichl manages to keep it all together and to create characters that were likable and easy to root for (even if I was a bit jealous about Billie's amazing palate and her ability to guess the obscure ingredients in every dish). Lulu's letters were a joy to read and I also especially liked Billie's 'adventures' manning the complaint line for the magazine (funny) and learning about the treatment and discrimination of Italian-Americans during WWII (sad, and something I had never really heard or thought about before). Reichl mentions in the afterward of the book that she spent a long time writing it and you can see the amount of research she put into this novel. A Reichl fan already, I found myself charmed by the story and looking forward to her next book--in any genre she wants to write it in. My fellow Reichl fans, foodies, and lovers of foodie fiction and history will enjoy this book (And you can enter to win a copy of your own below!)

Author Notes: Ruth Reichl was born and raised in Greenwich Village. She wrote her first cookbook at twenty-one, and went on to be the restaurant critic of both the Los Angeles Times  and The New York Times.  She was editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine for ten years. She now lives with her husband in upstate New York.

Obviously finding food inspiration for a dish representing the book was not difficult--there is a constant parade of mouthwatering dishes and interesting ingredients. From Billie's Gingerbread Cake (the recipe is included at the back of the book) to Sal's meats and cheeses and Rosalie homemade mozzarella at Fontanari's, to the Italian food and wartime ration-friendly recipes described in Lulu's letters, to the various concoctions Billie's friends and Delicious co-workers whip up, food is like its own character in this book. In the end, I went with a simple kale salad, made by Thursday at The Pig, a hangout for Billie and the others after reading the description. 

"Maggie had eaten most of the oysters, and now she moved on to the salad, one of Thursday's more inspired creations. She'd shredded kale into confetti and tossed it with sweet little currants and richly toasted pine nuts. Mixed with lemon juice and oil, and laced with grated Parmesan, it was an incredible concoction. Maggie put a forkful in her mouth and paused to appreciate it."  --Delicious, Ruth Reichl  

I love a good kale salad and this one sounded like an excellent combination. It didn't say that Thursday 'massaged' her kale, but to me it is what turns a good kale salad into a great one--working the dressing into the kale, softening the harder leaves and filling them with flavor. My take on Thursday's kale salad is below. 

Massaged Kale Salad with Currants, Pine Nuts & Parmesan
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen Inspired/Adapted from Delicious by Ruth Reichel
(Serves 2--or 1 person who can't stop eating it!)

2 medium bunches kale (I used 1 bunch local lacinato kale + a small bag of baby kale), washed, dried, leaves stripped from stems and cut into thin ribbons
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced/crushed
a pinch of sea salt and black pepper to taste
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/4 cup currants 
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded

Place kale ribbons in a large bowl. Mix together olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt & pepper and pour over kale. Using clean hands, gently but firmly massage and crush the greens to work in the dressing for about 5 minutes or until the volume of the kale is reduced by about half and greens are dark and shiny. Toss massaged kale with toasted pine nuts, currants and cheese. Serve and enjoy!

Notes/Results: This was just a scrumptious salad--tender ribbons of massaged kale with little bursts of the sweet currants, the buttery crunch of the pine nuts, and the slightly salty Parmesan shreds. To tell you how much I liked it, I intended to eat just a serving with a leftover slice of spinach-mushroom-garlic pizza leftover from lunch but instead, I ended up eating a big bowl of the salad and ignoring the pizza. This one is a keeper--I'll definitely make it again.  

***Book Giveaway!***

The only thing better than reading a great foodie book is being able to give a copy to someone else to enjoy! The publisher is giving me the opportunity to give a copy of Delicious to one lucky reader.

To enter to win--just leave a comment on this post telling me about your favorite (or a favorite) spice and why you love it. Leave your comment (+ a way to contact you please) no later than 11:59 PM (Hawaii Time) on Tuesday, May 6th. One winner will be drawn from all applicable entries and announced on this blog. You must be in the U.S. or Canada to win.  

(Update: The giveaway is now closed and the winner is Debra of Eliot's Eats. Congrats Debra!)

Note: A review copy of "Delicious" and a copy to give away to one of my blog readers were provided 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 the Book Tour and what other readers thought about the book here.


Monday, April 28, 2014

Noodly Veggie Rolls with Spicy 'Sacred Peach' Dipping Sauce for Food 'N Flix April: "Kung Fu Panda"

This month our Food 'N Flix pick is the 2008 animated film Kung Fu Panda, hosted by the events founder, Heather of girlichef. Our option was to watch the original movie and/or it's sequel. With time tight this month, I went back and watched the original film which I had seen before, but I do plan to go back and watch the second one some day. 

It had been a while since I watched this movie and I forgot how fun and how foodie it is. Set in China, the film centers around Po, a rather portly panda who has a dream to be a kung fu master like his idols, the Furious Five—Tigress, Monkey, Mantis, Viper, and Crane. It seems like this will only be a fantasy and Po will follow his adopted father's path (running the family noodle shop), until he is unexpectedly chosen by Master Oogway to become the famed Dragon Warrior. Po will have to dig deep to find the courage and skill needed to defeat the evil villain and save The Valley of Peace.

With Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen and the rest of the cast adding their voices and humor, this animated film is sweet and funny. With the noodle shop and Po's emotional eating issues, there is plenty of food inspiration to be found. I took mine from a scene where Master Oogway, finds Po having a midnight snack of peaches from the "Sacred Peach Tree of Heavenly Wisdom."

Master Oogway: "I see you have found the Sacred Peach Tree of Heavenly Wisdom."

Po: "Is that what this is? Sorry. I thought it was just a regular peach tree." 

Master Oogway: "I understand. You eat when you are upset."

Po: "Upset? I'm not upset! What makes you think I'm upset?"

Master Oogway: "So why are you upset?"

Po: "I probably sucked more today than anyone in the history of kung fu. In the history of China.In the history of sucking!" 

Master Oogway: "Probably."

Originally, I was going to go with the more traditional Chinese-style small, fried spring roll but I decided that neither Po or I really needed all the frying. I decided instead to do a vegetarian Vietnamese-style rice paper roll filled with noodles for Po, herbs, and crisp veggies. For dipping sauce, we have a quick and easy Spicy 'Sacred Peach Dipping Sauce' made with peach jam and chile sauce. I am going to tell you right now that these aren't my prettiest rolls and best rolling work ever but, even not so pretty, they tasted great. ;-)

I am not going to go through making salad rolls with you--as you can see from my work, there are plenty of people and sites that teach it much better. ;-) My rolls included cooked and chilled rice noodles, Thai basil, cilantro, mint, chives, carrot, cucumber, and purple cabbage. The beauty of veggie rolls is that you can add in whatever ingredients you like. I prefer mine extra 'herby' and dipped in a sauce that is combination of sweet-spicy-savory-tangy.  

Here is the recipe I put together for the dipping sauce: 

Spicy 'Sacred Peach' Dipping Sauce
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes about a scant cup)

1/2 cup chunky peach jam or preserves (chunky is good)
1/4 cup sweet chili paste
2 - 4 Tbsp Sriracha or other hot chili paste--to taste
1- 2 tsp hot Chinese mustard--to taste
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1/3 cup rice wine vinegar

In a small sauce pan, place jam, sweet chili paste, spicy chili paste, hot mustard and soy sauce. Cook over low for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until jam thins out a bit. Remove from heat, stir in sesame oil and rice wine vinegar and let cool. Taste for additional heat/seasoning and add as desired.

Notes/Results: Don't try to roll when you are late for a post and in a hurry/and or trying to take phone calls and shove peanut butter toast in your mouth because you were running late to and from a meeting and didn't get lunch! (Or just don't procrastinate until the end of the month and then mess up on the post due date!) ;-) I freely admit I slapped these together and it shows. That being said, the flavor was great. The rolls were crisp and slightly chewy (in a good way) from the noodles with plenty of flavor from the herbs and the dipping sauce. I liked the spicy peach dipping sauce--it was a good balance of tastes and the right amount of heat (a slow burn at the end) for me. The peach flavor was present and I enjoyed it, but another jam like apricot or current would also work well. (It took me four stores last week to find a good chunky peach jam/preserves.) I will use the leftover sauce for the veggie pot stickers currently in my freezer. 

I am sliding this one in a bit after the deadline today (Thanks Heather!) but if you missed out on this month and you like food, films and foodie films, you can join us for May when Cheap Ethnic Eatz will be hosting the girl-power comedy, Bridesmaids.  


Sunday, April 27, 2014

Potato, Leek & Parmesan Soup (+ Baby Arugula) for Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

People always ask me what my favorite soup is and I don't have a proper answer. It depends on my mood and what I am hungry for. But, put down a bowl of potato & leek soup in front of me and I am not going to turn it down. It never fails to satisfy, whatever mood I might be in, and you'll find several variations on the blog over the years. 

Although I vowed last week to take a break from Nigel Slater recipes featuring cheese or have a cheeservention, it was a short break because I saw his potato soup recipe featuring Parmesan cheese and its flavorful rinds and I couldn't resist. Like Nigel, I save my Parmesan rinds and toss them into soup when I have them and I just happened to have a couple tucked away. I cut down the butter a bit and added baby arugula to the soup. Personally, I love the combination of a peppery or bitter green and the potatoes and Parmesan and the green makes it have more a spring feel. My changes are noted in red below. 

Nigel says, "I never throw away Parmesan rinds, no matter how dry they look. They are full of intense, cheesy flavour. To get the full, soothingly velvet texture of this soup you will need a couple of large hunks of rind, about 5cm or 6cm long. If the fridge is bare, then ask at your local deli - they may let you have them for little or nothing.

Potato, Leek and Parmesan Soup (+ Baby Arugula)
Adapted from Nigel Slater, via The Guardian
(Serves 6)

3 good-sized leeks
a thick slice, about 40g (3 Tbsp), butter (I reduced to 1 Tbsp)
3 medium potatoes (I used 6 small/med Yukon Gold)
Parmesan rinds
1.5 litres of light stock or water (about 6 cups) (I used 1/2 low-sodium veggie stock & 1/2 water)

(I added 3 cups of baby arugula)
6 Tbsp grated Parmesan

Trim the leeks, slice them into thick rings, then wash thoroughly under running cold water. Melt the butter in a heavy-based pan - I use a cast-iron casserole - then tip in the washed leeks and let them soften slowly, covered with a lid, over a low to moderate heat. After about 20 minutes and with some occasional stirring, they should be silkily tender.

While they are softening, peel the potatoes and cut them into chunks. Add them to the leeks when they are soft and let them cook for 5 minutes or so, before dropping in the cheese rinds then pouring in the stock. Season, then partially cover and leave to simmer for a good 40 minutes. (I added 3 cups of baby arugula and let it wilt through for 2 or 3 minutes.)

Remove and discard the cheese rinds, scraping off any cheesy goo into the soup as you go, then blitz the soup in a blender. Check the seasoning, add salt and/or black pepper to taste, then bring briefly to the boil. Serve piping hot with the grated Parmesan. 

Notes/Results: A simple but lovely soup with lots of flavor. The Parmesan rinds add a layer of taste without making the soup cheesy, which keeps it lighter and the arugula adds a happy little bite to it. I did cut the butter down to 1 tablespoon, instead of 3. If you keep the pan heat relatively low and give them periodic stirring, I find they don't stick and still brown nicely. Using a microplane zester for the cheese on top makes it airy and light and is a great way to get more cheese flavor with less calories. I blended half and pulsed the rest for texture but you could blend it all, or leave it unblended--whatever suits your fancy. This soup really hit the spot, I will happily make it again.

This soup will be linked to I Heart Cooking Clubs for the Rootie Patootie theme this next week--celebrating our favorite root vegetables with Nigel Slater recipes. You can see what everyone made by checking out the picture links on the post.

We have some fabulous friends and their dishes waiting in the Souper Sundays kitchen, let's have a look. 

Janet of The Taste Space brings this creamy Roasted Cauliflower and Leek Soup with Vegan Bacon Chickpea Croutons and says, "Keeping things a bit more texturally complex, I ran with bacon-flavoured roasted chickpea croutons! Because I was going to use the oven to roast my chickpeas, I roasted my vegetables, too. It helped to free up a coveted soup pot and oven burner, too. Light and fluffy yet still filling, the soup was as easy as blending together roasted vegetables with some spices. The bacon chickpeas added a salty-savoury topping that contrasted the soup wonderfully."

It's always lovely to have Johanna of Green Gourmet Giraffe here at Souper Sundays. This visit she shares a creation from her homemade plum jam, Tomato, White Bean and Plum Soup. She says, "I gobbled up the leftover tempeh bacon easily but was not sure about how to use the sauce.  Then again fate presented me with ageing tomatoes to use and a surplus of white beans in the freezer.  I blended them together with some extra seasoning and served it with cheese on toast.  It was pretty good.  I enjoyed the leftovers even more when I stirred in yoghurt, smoked paprika and black pepper.  It is more an idea than a completed recipe but again I wanted to record it because you never know when I will need ideas for leftover plum sauce."

A pretty and light salad from Pam at Sidewalk Shoes. She says, "I mentioned that I subscribed to Cooking Light again. I am really enjoying it.  I love paging through the magazine and I especially love the tablet version with the extra recipes. One of the recipes that caught my eye was the Salmon Salad on Arugula. It sounded deliciously simple. A perfect, light weeknight meal. The only thing was that the arugula portion of the salad was just arugula with sliced red onions. Raw onions.  Yep, this is the recipe I talked about Monday, when I shared the Quick Pickled Onions recipe.  This was what I originally used them for. They were amazing in this recipe!"  

Foodycat says, "Not that you'd know it right now this minute, but the weather has been quite salady of late. Sunny, longer evenings, quite warm. All things that make a woman feel like eating sprightly vegetables with zingy dressings." She made these fun Tuna Taco Salad Bowls saying "I filled the bowls with a layer of refried beans, then a big pile of leaves, avocado cubes, sliced red onion and tomatoes, dressed in a vinaigrette flavoured with a little mayonnaise and chipotle paste. Then I scattered on some pumpkin seeds and topped each bowl with a lightly fried tuna steak. I have been encouraged to make this meal again."

My friend Sue of Couscous & Consciousness shares this fabulous portable Mushroom, Basil and Lemon Salad and says, "This salad gets plenty of flavour from loads of basil, parsley, and lemon, a nice bit of extra texture from crunchy coriander seeds, and a good kick of heat from some chilli.  I used a small, hot chilli with the seeds left in, but if you prefer just a whisper of heat choose a milder chilli and remove the seeds - it's totally up to you.  This would be a great salad alongside some cold chicken or smoked salmon, or something as simple as a crusty baguette to mop up all the salad juices.  It would also be great to take along to a barbeque - it won't mind sitting around, and would be delicious with grilled meats, vegetables or fish."

And it was a salad kind of week here at Kahakai Kitchen where I made this spring salad of Baby Lettuce, Green Olives and Lemon Oil (with Chickpeas & Spiced Almonds). A simple recipe from Nigel Slater, I added the chickpeas and the almonds to make it a bit more satisfying for lunch. This is a salad with bright flavor and good texture, and I served it with toasted bread slices, spread with Spicy Feta and Red Pepper Dip.

Finally, I love lettuce wraps for their combination of salad and sammie-style goodness, Judee of Gluten Free A-Z Blog shares her healthy Vegan Chinese Lettuce Wraps this week and says, "I used small brown lentils for the protein, but it's the fresh ginger and garlic that really make this recipe rock! It not only tastes great, it's easy to make, nutritious, cuts down on carbohydrates by wrapping the lentil salad in lettuce, and adds some healthy greens to your menu.  Perfect for part of a vegetarian/vegan dinner or a starter for any type of dinner. Of course the recipe is gluten free.

Thanks to everyone who joined in this week. If you have a soup, or sandwich or salad that you would like to share, just click on the Souper Sundays logo on my side bar for all of the details.

Have a happy, healthy week!

Friday, April 25, 2014

A Spring Salad of Baby Lettuce, Green Olives and Lemon Oil (with Chickpeas & Spiced Almonds)

Sometimes spring calls for a simple salad--preferably enjoyed outside. I was going to take this little salad, adapted from a recipe sketch from Nigel Slater, down to the beach for a proper outdoor "picnic" shot but it has been so breezy the last couple of weeks that I feared that the sand would have been a plentiful but unwelcome addition. I decided to photograph it in my backyard instead and this afternoon while warm, was drab, grey and still a bit too windy for anything not held down by a chickpea or olive chunk. ;-) So, I set up a woven green plastic place mat, used my picnic-ready plastic plate, and took the photos indoors. You gotta do what you gotta do, even when you live in paradise...

I took Nigel's basic ingredients, and to make it more of a meal than a side salad, added canned chickpeas to the mix and spiced almonds for a little crunch. Served with toasted bread spread with some of this fabulous leftover Spicy Feta & Red Pepper Dip and a favorite bottled lemonade, it made even a house picnic lunch a pleasure.

Baby Lettuce, Green Olives and Lemon Oil (with Chickpeas & Spiced Almonds)
Adapted from Nigel Slater via The Guardian 
"Little Gem, Green Olives and Lemon Oil 
Buy small, stoned green olives. Marinate them for an hour or so in lemon olive oil (sold in good delicatessens, this is olive oil that has had fresh lemons thrown into the pressing), coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley, and salt and black pepper. (I added canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed to the mix and wanting more lemon flavor than my lemon olive order provided, I added a couple of squeezes of lemon juice and it's zest.) Separate the salad leaves, then toss with the marinated olives. (I topped it with spiced sliced almonds.) Great with grilled sardines."

Notes/Results: A simple little salad with good flavors and texture--satisfying but not heavy. The lemon olive oil adds a light flavor to the chickpeas and local baby lettuce that matches well with the briny olives. Since the pitted olives I found were large, I quartered them before letting them sit in the oil with the chickpeas and chopped parsley. I used a good amount of freshly ground black pepper but just a light touch of sea salt--there were enough olives to make it salty. A fork is polite but to be honest, I mostly used it to push all the goodies onto the little lettuce leaves and ate them by hand. It was a picnic remember! ;-) I felt like the changes I made gave it more of the taste I was looking for (especially the extra lemon) and it all blended well together. I would make it again.  

This week's I Heart Cooking Clubs theme is What's In Your Picnic Basket?--featuring more portable Nigel Slater recipes to be enjoyed in your favorite indoor or outdoor picnic spot. You can see what dishes everyone made by checking out the picture links on the post.

Happy Aloha Friday!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Book Tour Stops Here: "When the Cypress Whispers" by Yvette Manessis Corporon with a Mezedes Plate Featuring Spicy Feta & Red Pepper Dip

If you aren't in the position to personally travel to a gorgeous Greek isle but long for the beauty and magic of such a place, you can take the trip through the pages of When the Cypress Whispers by Yvette Manessis Corporon. This beautifully-written novel is full of family, love, growth, history, mouth-watering food, and a magical place where if you take the time to really stop, open your mind and listen, the cypress trees may whisper to you.

Publisher's Blurb:
"On a beautiful Greek island, myths, magic, and a colorful cast of mortals come together in a lushly atmospheric debut celebrating the powerful bond between an American woman and her Greek grandmother.

The daughter of Greek immigrants, Daphne has been brought up to believe in the American dream. When her husband dies in a car accident, leaving her with an inconsolable baby and stacks of bills, she channels everything she has into opening her own Greek restaurant. Now an acclaimed chef and restaurateur, she has also found a second chance at love with her wealthy, handsome fiancé.

Although American by birth, Daphne spent many blissful childhood summers on the magical Greek island of Erikousa, which her grandmother still calls home. At her Yia-yia’s side, she discovered her passion for cooking and absorbed the vibrant rhythms of island life, infused with ancient myths and legends lovingly passed down through generations. Somehow her beloved grandmother could always read her deepest thoughts, and despite the miles between them Daphne knows Yia-yia is the one person who can look beyond Daphne’s storybook life of seeming perfection to help her stay grounded. With her wedding day fast approaching, Daphne returns to Erikousa and to Yia-yia’s embrace.

The past and the present beautifully entwine in this glorious, heartfelt story about a woman trapped between the siren call of old-world traditions and the demands of a modern career and relationship. When Daphne arrives on Erikousa with her daughter, Evie, in tow, nothing is the way she recalls it, and she worries that her elderly Yia-yia is losing her grip on reality. But as the two of them spend time together on the magical island once again, her grandmother opens up to share remarkable memories of her life there—including moving stories of bravery and loyalty in the face of death during World War II—and Daphne remembers why she returned. Yia-yia has more than one lesson to teach her: that security is not the same as love, that her life can be filled with meaning again, and that the most important magic to believe in is the magic of herself."

Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: Harper (April 1, 2014)

I really enjoyed this book. Greece with its many islands is a place I have long wanted to visit and Yvette Manessis Corporon writes about them so descriptively, it made me feel as if I could actually see them. A dear friend and onetime roommate's mother was Greek and she made the most fabulous food, all of the classics, so Greek food remains one of my all-time favorite cuisines. The author's passion for food and obvious love for the island of Erikousa (a real-life place she spent childhood summers in) comes shinning through in the story, so easy to get caught up in. I liked the generations of female characters--strong, loving, not perfect. Not having grown up with living grandparents, I would have loved to have a relationship like Daphne's with her yia-yia. There are no big surprises in terms of plot, but the writing still absorbed me. The history of the island and its role in World War II and the stories of the experiences of Greek Jews during wartime were new to me and both fascinating and haunting to read. I was sorry to have the story end. Readers who like to get swept away by women's fiction, foodie travel fiction, Greece, family relationships and romance will like this novel. 

Author Notes: Yvette Manessis Corporon is an Emmy Award-winning writer, producer, and author. She is currently a senior producer with the syndicated entertainment news show Extra. In addition to her Emmy Award, Yvette has received a Silurian Award for Excellence in Journalism, and the New York City Comptroller and City Council’s Award for Greek Heritage and Culture. She is married to award-winning photojournalist David Corporon. They have two children and live in New York.

Vivid descriptions of the food permeate the book, making choosing a dish to make inspired by it both easy and yet difficult. Daphne is a chef and she learned the heart of her cooking from her yia-yia's simple and delicious food. Icy cold frappe, perfectly crisp fries, fried eggs with fresh tomatoes and beautiful basil, saganaki--thin slices of fried kasseri cheese with freshly squeezed lemon juice, simply grilled fish, good crusty bread, salty, briny olives and creamy homemade feta... the list, and my drooling, went on and on. In the end, I was craving a simple mezze or mezedes plate, using mostly purchased items and featuring a tangy feta dip with red bell pepper and red chilies. Not mentioned in the book but something I could see on the table at yia-yia's house or at island local Nitsa's hotel patio. (Plus doesn't the dip color go well with the cover?!) ;-)

OK, I should probably call my adaptation of this recipe from Modern Greek--Spicy Red Pepper & Feta Dip because I ended up switching the amounts of the ingredients around and the red pepper is more prominent. I had decided to make a half batch of the dip--so 8 oz. of feta instead of 16 oz of cheese. Since I had gone ahead and sauteed my whole pepper and bought 2 red chilies, I decided to put them all in. I don't look at this as a bad thing--it ups the Vitamin C and cuts down on the sodium, fat and calories (I subtracted calories and fat by reducing the oil too, BTW) and the dip is still rich, creamy and very good. (Plus it's cheaper to make!) A win in my book. My changes are noted in red below. 
Spicy Feta & Red Pepper Dip (Ktipiti)
Adapted from Modern Greek by Andy Harris
(Serves 6-8) (Makes about 2 cups)

3 Tbsp olive oil (I used 1 Tbsp)
1 red bell pepper, seeds & membranes removed, cit into strips
2 red chiles, seeds & membranes removed, cut into strips
1 lb feta cheese, crumbled (I used 1/2 lb feta)
3-4 Tbsp yogurt 
(I added 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice)

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat and saute the pepper and chilies for 10-15 minutes, or until softened. Allow to cool slightly.

In a food processor, blend the oil, pepper and chile mixture with the feta and yogurt until smooth. Cover and refrigerate until required.  

Notes/Results: A creamy dip that is full of bright flavor with just a hint of a spicy bite at the end. Much as I like feta, I didn't miss the extra I left out at all. I liked it with both the toasted bread and with the veggies (in my case two of my favorite dippers--raw cucumber and sugar snap peas) and I think it would make a great sandwich spread or even a pasta sauce, thinned out a bit. Rounding out the mezedes plate were some kalamata olives and some deli-bought dolmades (stuffed grape leaves). With a glass of crisp white wine, it made for a wonderful light supper. I would make this dip again--with the changes I made to lighten it up. 

Note: A review copy of "When the Cypress Whispers" 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 the Book Tour and what other readers thought here

Sunday, April 20, 2014

South Indian Rice and Seafood Soup: Creamy, Coconut & Curry for Souper (Soup, Salad, & Sammie) Sundays

It occurred to me that I have not cooked along with Jamie Oliver for quite a while so I was flipping through Jamie's Dinners this week and came across his South Indian Rice and Seafood Soup. Craving something coconut and curry-flavored, this soup looked full of flavor and a good reason to open up the spice cabinet.

I did make some changes to the recipe--noted in red below. I cut the oil down by more than half and switched to light coconut milk to reduce the fat, switched to brown basmati for a bit more fiber and protein and added more garam masala spice and lime juice. Finally, I added carrot, celery and chopped baby spinach to increase the nutrients.

Jamie says, "This soup was first cooked for me by Das, my friend who runs the southern Indian restaurants in London called Rasa. I've based mine around his original recipe, and what's fantastic about it is that it's so easy to make. It only takes about 30 minutes, and the other great thing is that the ingredients are not particularly expensive, so it's economical. However, if you want to spend a little more and make it a bit luxurious using something like crab, then you can. The soup is just as good with frozen prawns and flaky white fish though. Use any selection of fish that you fancy – I like to use a good mixture of fresh-looking fish (John Dory, cod, haddock or red mullet all work well). Get it skinned and filleted, then all you have to do is chop it up. If you can find any coconut oil, use that, otherwise vegetable and sunflower oil are fine to use. This really is one of my favourite soups. It's not too hot, but as you eat it you can pick out the individual flavours. And there's something about having rice in a soup that makes it really scrumptious.

South Indian Rice & Seafood Soup
Adapted from Jamie's Dinners by Jamie Oliver
(Serves 4)

5 Tbsp vegetable or sunflower oil (I reduced to 2 Tbsp of coconut oil)
Tbsp brown mustard seeds
1 handful fresh curry leaves, picked off their stalks
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp garam masala (I used 2 tsp)
1 1/2 tsp chilli powder, or to taste
2 tsp turmeric
3 red chillies, de-seeded and finely sliced
2 large thumb-sized pieces fresh ginger, peeled and grated
6 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 onions, peeled and finely chopped

(I added 1 carrot and 1 large celery stalk, diced)
2 handfuls basmati rice (I used brown basmati rice, cooked separately)

2 1/2 cups (565ml) water
1 lb 6 oz (600g) fish, from sustainable sources, skinned, filleted and cut into 2-3 inch chunks (I used frozen salmon & shrimp + fresh local kajiki/blue marlin)
2 (14 oz) cans (about 400 ml) coconut milk

(I added about 5 cups coarsely chopped baby spinach)
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 limes, juice of (I added another lime + extra wedges to serve)
1 handful fresh coriander, roughly chopped
3 Tbsp freshly grated coconut (I used unsweetened coconut from the bulk bin)

Get yourself a big pan and heat up your oil, then add the mustard seeds, curry leaves, cumin seeds, garam masala, chilli powder and turmeric. Cook for a few minutes and you'll get the most amazing smells filling the room from all these spices. Then add the chillies, the ginger, the garlic and the onions. Continue cooking slowly until the garlic and onions are soft. Then add the rice and the water. (Note: Since I was using brown basmati rice which takes longer to cook, I cooked the rice separately, then added in about 5 minutes before I added the coconut milk and fish/shrimp.)

Bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer gently for 15 minutes. Add your fish and the coconut milk with a little more water and a pinch of salt. Put the lid on the pan and simmer for a further 7 to 8 minutes, then stir well to break up the pieces of fish. (I added the chopped baby spinach about 2 minutes before it finished cooking.)

Taste and correct the seasoning with salt and pepper, then just before you serve it squeeze in the lime juice and stir in half the coriander. Serve in warmed bowls, sprinkle over some freshly grated coconut, if you have it, and rip over the rest of the coriander.

Notes/Results: A satisfying bowl of highly-flavored soup. Creamy, tangy and aromatic, with a healthy nudge of heat from the chillies, there is a lot going on in this bowl. The ginger and garlic come through, as does the garam masala (the extra helps) and the lime adds the bright notes at the end. I bought a kajiki (local blue marlin) fillet and intended to add it to the frozen cod and salmon in my freezer--then realized I had no cod. I subbed with some large prawns. The seafood was a good mix of textures--the shrimp firm, the kajiki, mild and a bit more flaky, and the salmon, moist and stronger flavored. The sprinkle of coconut on top is a fun textural touch. Probably my only 'complaint' was the amount of curry leaves--they don't really soften up so much so I felt like I was constantly eating around them or pulling them out of my mouth (kind of like the kaffir lime leaves in Thai soups). I think they do add another layer of flavor but, if you don't like them or can't find them, you could certainly leave them out and likely no one would notice. This soup is so thick with the rice and fish, plus the extra veggies, it makes for a filling but not too heavy meal. I would make it again.   

This is Potluck week at I Heart Cooking Clubs--the chance to make any Nigel Slater recipe or any recipe from a previous IHCC chef. You can see what everyone made by checking out the picture links on the post.

It's a quiet Easter Sunday in the Souper Sundays kitchen but we do have both a soup and a salad to share. Let's take a look.

Mireille of Chef Mireille's East West Realm explores India and shares this regional Mizo Chicken Vegetable Soup. She says, "While recipes for Mizo cuisine were hard to come by, I came across many descriptions of the food and I developed my own version of their Chicken Vegetable Soup. It is flavored with a local herb pardi, with a flavor similar to celery as well as other green leaf vegetables, particular to the region. This adapted version of the soup uses ingredients that I was able to locate here in NYC . Mizoram cuisine is characterized by being a low fat cuisine that utilizes little oil and is simply flavored with onions, garlic, ginger and chiles."

Corina of Searching for Spice made this pretty Halloumi, Vegetable and Pomegranate Molasses Salad and says, "Now, a girl can’t just live on salad, especially not when 38 weeks pregnant, and luckily I had some halloumi in the fridge. Halloumi is quite salty but because of that it goes really well with the sweetness of the pomegranate molasses and the sourness of the lemon juice.  In fact, my husband always says it reminds him of bacon! If you haven’t had pomegranate molasses before, it is quite sweet so you may want to add a little less than I did and then add more to taste afterwards. If I’d had a pomegrante at home, a few seeds sprinkled over the  top would have also made a nice addition. Oh well, next time."

Thanks to Mireille and Corina for joining in this week. If you have a soup, salad, or sandwich that you would like to share, just click on the Souper Sundays logo on the side bar for all of the details.
Have a happy, healthy week and Happy Easter!