Sunday, January 29, 2017

Simplest Tomato Soup for Cook the Books: "Stir" by Jessica Fechtor and for Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

Nothing comforts like a bowl of tomato soup. Today I am pairing it with a comforting read, the current selection for Cook the Books: Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home by Jessica Fechtor. (I'm the host for this round and you can see my announcement post here.)

About the book: Jessica Fechtor was on a treadmill in a hotel gym at a graduate student conference when an aneurysm burst in her brain. Jessica was 28, newly married, and healthy when she collapsed and nearly died. Luckily, she was quickly rushed to a hospital but between the aneurysm and a subsequent infection she lost her sense of smell, the sight in her left eye, had to have numerous surgeries, and needed to wear a helmet to protect her head for nearly two years. The impact on her career and her life was devastating as you can imagine but with the support of her family and friends along with the healing power of the food and cooking, Jessica found her way back.

I first came across the audio of this book after reading a review of it on a favorite book blog (Beth Fish Reads) and checking it out from the library. Listening to Jessica's story and her wit and warmth in telling it made me a fan and I wanted to share it with Cook the Books. Although the subject matter is serious and Jessica's story often heart-wrenching and moving, for me there is enough humor and inspiration to lift it up, rather than bog it down in sadness. I bought the book so I could read the words this time and also see the twenty-seven recipes that are woven in through the book.

With 27 recipes, plus all of the food mentions, the challenge just became narrowing down what to make. When I first listened to the audio book I made Julia's Sesame Noodles from the included recipes and it was delicious enough that I have made it several times since. But, since soup to me is the ultimate "bring you home" and ground you dish, I decided to pick one of Jessica's soup recipes. I was intrigued by her Simplest Tomato Soup because it is different than my usual tomato with the addition of red wine vinegar, flour and baking soda. Plus, once tomato soup was in my head I found myself craving it and having just made a big-batch of Jacques Pépin's Fromage Fort (cheese spread) I thought it would be the perfect accompaniment on a windy, cool weekend.

Simplest Tomato Soup
From Stir by Jessica Fechtor
(Makes 8 Servings)

Jessica says, "When I was newly patched up but feeling broken still that fall, I made a lot of soup. One big batch on the weekends to stretch for as many lunches and dinners as I could manage. This simple tomato soup figured heavily in the rotation then. It’s smooth, bold, and improves with age. I ate it all the time, after long hours in the library and runs along the river."

1 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar, divided
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp tomato paste
2 (28-oz) cans whole tomatoes, preferably Muir Glen
pinch of baking soda
1 cup water
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
(I added 1 tsp sugar)
1 bay leaf
1 cup whole milk, warmed (but not boiled) (I used coconut milk)
good-tasting olive oil, to serve (optional)

In a large heavy pot, melt the butter over medium heat. When it foams, add the onion, and sauté until it softens, goes translucent, and browns a little around the edges. Add 1 tablespoon of the vinegar to deglaze the pot, scrape up the brown bits with a wooden spoon or spatula, and turn down the heat to medium-low.

Add the flour and the tomato paste, and stir to incorporate. Add the remaining tablespoon of vinegar to deglaze once again, and scrape up any flour or tomato paste that may be sticking to the pot.

Dump in the 2 cans of tomatoes and their juices and break them up a bit with a wooden spoon. (Watch out, they squirt.) Stir in the baking soda and water, season lightly with salt and pepper, add the bay leaf, partially cover, and simmer gently for about 30 minutes. Turn off the heat, remove the bay leaf, and use an immersion blender to purée the soup. (You can also carefully purée it in batches in a stand blender. (Remember to fill the blender only one-half to three-quarters of the way full with each batch. Return the puréed soup to the pot.)

Add the warmed milk very slowly, stirring constantly, just before serving. Top each bowl with a drizzle of olive oil, if you’d like, and a grind or two of black pepper.

Notes/Results: I have yet to meet a homemade creamy tomato soup that I don't like and this one is no exception. It is different from my normal soups as it have a more tangy, piquant taste due to the red wine vinegar. After tasting it, I felt that it needed a bit of sugar to round out the flavors and that worked nicely for me. Overall, it was a rich-tasting and creamy soup that worked well for dunking my fromage fort-spread bread and made a delicious lunch and I am sure a grilled cheese would be equally at home here. I would make it again.

The deadline for this Cook the Books round is this Tuesday, January 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 February/March  when my fellow Hawaii blogger Claudia of Honey from Rock will be hosting with the foodie memoir, Dinner with Edward: A Story of an Unexpected Friendship by Isabel Vincent. Hope you join us!

We have good friends in the Souper Sundays kitchen who shared some delicious dishes last week--let's have a look!

Vicki of I'd Rather Be At the Beach brought Paula Deen's Crock Pot Potato Soup. She said, "I wondered how the ingredients would work since I’ve never used cream cheese, chicken broth, or cream of chicken soup. It was easier than easy to make, and the ingredients didn’t cost much. The soup was good, but I think I’ll stick with my mom’s recipe most of the time, and use this for when I’m not feeling like peeling a bunch of potatoes."

Tina of Squirrel Head Manor made Homemade Vegetable Soup and said, "Rainy and gloomy. Rainy days seem to be meant for soup, don't you think so? This is my throw together soup, trying to halfway decipher a French cookbook, using up bits and leftovers from the fridge. This is different ( not by a lot but it is different) from the Fall River Soup I made last week. I didn't use wine this time and there were different veggies - but any time you can use up veggies on hand, soup is the answer. Zero-Waste week."

Shaheen of Allotment2Kitchen shared a pasta salad, this Italian Fiorelli Pasta with Fennel and  Green Peppers. She said, "I loved the intense flavour combination in the final dish, lots of layers of flavours, from the garlic, the parsley, the peppers, the fennel
and then piquancy from the sun dried tomatoes and black peppers and the pasta acted as a brilliant foil to hold all those flavours.

Debra of Eliot's Eats shares two salads this week, first is this Red Rice Salad (Loaded with Veggies). Debra said, "I really enjoyed this salad and it was a nice change from our warm rice bowls. Although the raisins added a different texture and a bit of sweetness, I think the next time I make this I will add dried tomatoes instead. This salad definitely gets better the longer it sets. Any grain will work for this dish as well like the Dorie called-for couscous or quinoa."

Debra's second salad is this Sesame Noodles with Broccoli that can be enjoyed hot or cold, She said, "I did swap out the sugar and added honey and threw in some broccoli for a healthier meal. ... I  made this dish to take to a work-related pot luck meal.  (This recipe makes a lot of noodles.) ... I ate the leftovers the rest of the week as a cold salad which is how I prefer this dish."

Mahalo to everyone who joined 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!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Fromage Fort: "Strong Cheese" Spread for Food 'n Flix January: French Kiss {#foodnflix}

Friday is finally here. To celebrate the end of the week, I pick cheese. Lots of cheese, mixed together and slathered over baguette slices and crackers, enjoyed with a glass of white wine and sweet red grapes. Have it for a snack, eat it for dinner, or even breakfast. It's a quick trip to the French countryside, as is our Food 'n Flix film for January, the 1995 rom-com French Kiss, starring Meg Ryan and Kevin Kline. This month's movie is hosted by Heather of All Roads Lead to the Kitchen (and the founder of Food 'n Flix) at the Food 'n Flix site. (See her announcement post here.)

I have to confess that I only vaguely remembered watching this movie years ago, strange for me because I love both Meg Ryan and Kevin Kline. But, luckily it was on one of my cable channel's on demand movies this month, so I settled in last weekend and gave it a watch.

 Photo from

If you haven't seen it, here's a quick summary; Kate (Meg Ryan), a somewhat neurotic and rigid teacher follows her fiance (Timothy Hutton) to France to get him back when he falls in love with a French woman. En route, she meets Luc (Kevin Kline), a French thief. Although they clash at first and he hides something stolen in her travel bag, they are pushed together traveling the French countryside and an attraction forms. I won't say more than that--it's a rom-com, you get the picture. It's fluffy, but fun and has some great scenery. (Not including Kline, who I normally find quite appealing but in my opinion, needs a serious haircut and a shave in this film.

Food-wise, I wouldn't call it plentiful--but there is enough to inspire. Food inspiration that I noted included: Kate's "Paris in the springtime" mantra--conjures up fresh French spring foods, pizza with no cheese, Kate's Canadian citizenship--maybe a Canadian dish?, dinner with some kind of amazing sauce that Kate said was probably used to cover up horse-meat, ;-) fresh vegetables being chopped (it looked like fennel, endive and carrots were included), vodka and mini airplane bottles of alcohol, grapes and grapevines and the vineyard, cheese and baguettes, coffee, mention of French cheeses and a cheeseburger, a scent kit for wine tasting with rosemary, mushroom, cassis/currant, mint and lavender, a tray of cakes and frosting, a sea breeze cocktail and a vegetable plate with carrots on the beach

My inspiration comes from the scene on the train where Kate is gazing out at the French countryside while eating cheese and baguette. As Kate is lactose intolerant ("The mucus!") her pleasure at the cheese won't last long, but she has the following conversation with Luc:

Kate: "Did you know that there are 452 official government cheeses in this country? Don't you think that's incredible? To come up with 452 ways of classifying what is basically a bacterial process?"

Luc: "You would prefer one cheese? One cheeseburger to put it on and one restaurant to eat it in?"

Kate: "I'm saying I like the cheese. God!"

I'm with Kate, I like the cheese--probably too much for my own good. I decided to celebrate cheese and make Fromage Fort as my film-inspired dish. Fromage Fort means strong cheese in French and it's nothing more taxing that gathering up any and all bits and bobs of leftover cheese you have sitting around (Is there such a thing as leftover cheese?) and popping it into the food processor with white wine, garlic and black pepper.

In my case, I did have some blue cheese crumbles, a small square of Parmesan-Reggiano, and a new pack of goat cheese in my fridge. I supplemented from my local grocery store gourmet section where they have a basket of wrapped ends and chunks of different cheeses and so a square of Valbresso French Sheep's Milk Cheese and some of my favorite double-cream Fromage D'Affinois jumped into my basket. Because I had some sharper cheese flavors with the blue, feta and goat and I assumed Kate was eating Brie, I bought 3 oz of Guilloteau St. Angel Triple Cream Brie to round things out and I had my 8-ish (OK, probably closer to 10) ounces of cheese. For a recipe, I went with the Master, Chef Jacques Pépin, who had recipes for this classic spread from his childhood in several magazines, including Food & Wine 

Food & Wine says, "Fromage fort is the ultimate way of using leftover cheese. Jacques Pepin's father used to combine pieces of Camembert, Brie, Swiss, blue cheese and goat cheese together with his mother's leek broth, some white wine and crushed garlic. These ingredients marinated in a cold cellar for a week to a week-and-a-half (he liked it really strong). Now Pepin's wife, Gloria, makes a milder version in a food processor that takes only seconds. It is delicious with crackers or melted onto toasts. It also freezes well."
Fromage Fort
Recipe from Jacques Pepin via Food &
(Serves 4 or More)

1/2 lb cheese pieces
1 garlic clove  

1/4 cup dry white wine  
black pepper 
Put about 1/2 pound of cheese pieces in the bowl of a food processor, add 1 garlic clove, about 1/4 cup of dry white wine and a big grinding of black pepper. Salt is usually not needed, but taste the mixture and add some if it is. Process for 30 seconds or so, until the mixture is creamy but not too soft, and then pack it into small containers. 

The fromage fort is ready to use now, either served cold or spread on bread and broiled for a few minutes. Broiling will brown the cheese and make it wonderfully fragrant.

Notes/Results: If you like strong cheese you will love fromage fort. The beauty of it is that it is so forgiving and adjustable to tastes. You can put in your favorite cheeses and wine, adjust the garlic and black pepper, and have something a bit different and wonderful each time. The challenge of it is stopping slathering it on bread, crackers, apple slices, a spoon, sticks... anything you can find really.. and eating it. I loved my mix--I got the pungency of the garlic and the blue and goat cheeses, but it was mellowed by the creamy, nutty, softer cheeses. It takes almost no effort to put together--a little grating of harder cheese like the Parmesan, but otherwise just processing and tasting. 

I served mine with a seeded baguette, rosemary-flavored wafer crackers, and sweet grapes to cut the richness of the cheese.  I divided my fromage fort between a ramekin, a small jar, and a tiny espresso cup and think all of them are fun serving ideas. I read that Pépin's wife makes up batches and freezes them to thaw out later, but I fear mine will not last that long! Especially because I plan on putting some under the broiler tonight. ;-) I will definitely make this again. 

I'm linking up this post at I Heart Cooking Clubs where it is Potluck this coming week, our chance to make any recipe from our current, or any of our past featured chefs. You can see what everyone made by checking out the picture links on the post.

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

The deadline for this round of Food 'n Flix is Sunday, January 29th and Heather will be rounding up all the dishes on the Food 'n Flix website. If you missed this round and like food, films and foodie films, join us for February when the film pick is Pan's Labyrinth, hosted by Pretty Cake Machine. 

Happy Aloha Friday!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "Lift And Separate" by Marilyn Simon Rothstein, Served with a Recipe for (Cape Cod) Potato Chip-Crusted Cod (+ a Giveaway!)

Happy Wednesday! On today's TLC Book Tour stop I'm reviewing Lift And Separate, a funny and moving novel about a woman on her own by Marilyn Simon. Accompanying my review is a recipe for Potato Chip-Crusted Cod, made with Cape Cod Potato Chips and served with a Cape Cod mock-tail, inspired by my reading. And, at the end of the post, there's a giveaway for a chance to win a copy of the book!

Publisher's Blurb: 

Marcy Hammer’s life has been turned upside down. Her husband, the head of a global brassiere empire, didn’t think twice about leaving her after thirty-three years of marriage for a 32DD lingerie model. Now Harvey the Home-Wrecker is missing in action, but Marcy’s through thinking about what a cliché he is. What she needs now is a party-size bag of potato chips, a good support system, and a new dress.
Striking out on her own is difficult at first, but Marcy manages to find traces of humor in her heartbreak. Even while devastated by Harvey’s departure, she still has her indomitable spirit and her self-respect. She has no intention of falling apart, either, even when her adult children drop a few bombshells of their own and she discovers a secret about her new, once-in-a-lifetime friend. Life may be full of setbacks, but by lifting herself up by her own lacy straps, Marcy just may be able to handle them all.

Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (December 1, 2016)

My Review:

A witty and wise look at a woman who gets the rug pulled out from under her--more than once, but finds the strength, courage, and humor to get her life together. Lift And Separate is the story of Marcy Hammer, an early 50's wife and mother, married to the cheating head of a lingerie company and facing life on her own with her children having left the nest and her marriage seemingly over. Lift And Separate wasn't quite what I was expecting but it was an enjoyable read. Although the book blurbs on the back cover call it funny and moving, I was anticipating more laughs than touching moments but instead of just being a comedy, those heartfelt moments make it a richer and smarter book. The humor is certainly still there of course, with a good amount of snark to Marcy and some of the supporting characters that I really liked. Although at times feeling beaten down by her husband's betrayal and life events, Marcy manages to keep her wit and rise above it all and that made me root for her. Even though we are of the same generation, Marcy and I don't share a lot in common life-wise, but that didn't matter--I was firmly on her side. Her friends, Dana and Candy and her three grown children were likable characters too and I liked the interplay each had with Marcy. I found myself caught up in the story and its resolution and sad to see it end. This is the author's first book but hopefully it won't be her last!

Author Notes: For more than twenty-five years, Marilyn Simon Rothstein owned an advertising agency in Connecticut. She grew up in New York City, earned a degree in journalism from New York University, began her writing career at Seventeen magazine, and married a man she met in an elevator.  Lift And Separate is her debut novel.

Connect with Marilyn via Facebook.

Food Inspiration:

There was food to be found in Lift And Separate like spinach shakes and egg-white omelets, lots of junk food including a Sara Lee pound cake and a party-size bag of Cape Cod potato chips, a family-sized bag of sour cream and onion chips, Nestle’s Crunch bar, Hostess Cupcakes, and Godiva chocolate. There was ice cream--a chocolate ice cream soda, a Fribble milk shake and a Cone Head Sundae (an upside down cone on a scoop of ice cream made to look like a clown), a small vanilla scoop with a drop of butterscotch syrup, and a Jim Dandy (a kitchen sink sundae with three kinds of ice cream and three kinds of toppings) and a favorite banana cake with chocolate icing and sprinkles, cranberry juice with vodka in it, fat pumpkin muffins stuffed with cream cheese, salami slices and sandwiches--chunky chicken salad, tuna salad, and a turkey club, a dinner of steak charred with a pink center with hot sauce on-the-side, coleslaw, and rice and a Chinese food buffet with American food worked in, brisket and noodle pudding warm with apples, egg scrambled with sweet red onions and a toasted bialy, lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs and meatball pizza, casserole, Caprese salad, cannoli, corn chowder, Chilean sea bass, Moroccan lamb stew, a chocolate and cherry marzipan cake and haddock chowder. Drinks included cranberry juice with vodka and in a can, coffee, Starbucks coffee, ginger ale, Diet Coke, and chamomile tea,

So plenty of food to choose from, but I decided to go with fish--specifically cod for my book-inspired dish. There is a scene in the seafood department of the grocery store where Marcy is contemplating buying fish in her local grocery store and a woman in front of her is buying swordfish. "She was wearing red pants adorned with minuscule pink whales, a canvas belt with dolphins, and a pink polo shirt with a goldfish logo. Personally, I thought, when I'm dressing, I never mix fish."  

All that fish got Marcy thinking back about the memories of cod--an inside joke with her husband.

"Thinking of cod made my eyes well up. I put on the sunglasses and the tears ran down my face. About a year after my wedding, Harvey and I went fishing and brought home an ocean of cod. Each evening for weeks, we had cod for dinner, and before I prepared it he would say, “What’s for dinner?” and I would respond, “We haven’t had cod yet today.” It was an endless inside joke, and the joke always made us feel closer."

I also wanted to give a nod to Marcy's junk food diet and all of the Cape Cod potato chips she ate, so I decided to make a Potato Chip-Crusted Cod. Plus, with the book's New England setting, the whole cod and Cape Cod thing was fun--so I also added a Cape Cod-ish mocktail to the mix.

It would have been healthier to bake the fillets, but sometimes you just want fried fish. I accompanied my fish with tarter sauce, lemon, micro greens and a few extra chips.  

(Cape Cod) Potato Chip-Crusted Cod
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Serves 2)

flour for dredging (about 1/3 cup or more if needed)
salt, pepper, and Old Bay Seasoning to taste
2 eggs, well beaten
1 bag Cape Cod Potato Chips (I used Original)
1 1/2 lbs wild cod fillets, not too thick, cut into 5-6 oz pieces
vegetable of sunflower oil for frying (enough to fill pan & begin to cover sides of fish)
lemon wedges, tarter sauce to serve

Prepare Dredging/Coating: Place the flour into a shallow plate or container. Season flour with salt (not too much because your chips are salted), pepper and Old Bay Seasoning if desired. In a second container, beat the eggs until well mixed. Place 3-4 large handfuls of chips into a plastic bag and crush them well with your hands--you want small pieces of the chips still visible but small enough to stick well. Pour crushed chips into a third plate or container.

Prepare Pan: Heat oil in a large skillet over medium. Use enough oil to cover the skillet and come up about half-way up the sides of your cod fillets.  

Coat Fish: Pat fish dry with a paper towel and one at a time, dredge each fillet in the seasoned flour, covering it completely and shaking off any excess. Next dip the flour-coated fillet into the egg mixture to coat, gently shaking off any excess, then place the fillet into the crushed potato chips, gently but firmly pressing the crushed chips into the fish on all sides. Set fillet aside on a plate and repeat with remaining fish. 

Cook Fish: Check oil temp by dropping a chip crumb into it and if it sizzles lightly and bubbles gently it is ready. If it appears to be too hot--chip turning color rapidly and hissing/popping, turn down the temp and allow to cool before frying fish. 

Carefully place your fillets in the oil and cook for about 2 minutes--carefully watching to make sure it is not browning too quickly. Check them and if bottom is golden brown, gently turn each fillet over and cook another 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, until golden brown. You may have to adjust the time depending on the thickness of your fillets. If too thick, you may want to reduce the oil temp and cook for longer to ensure fish is cooked through.

Serve: When fillets are done, gently lift them out with a long, slotted fish turner or spatula and place on a plate covered with paper towels. Serve hot with lemon wedges and tarter sauce if desired. Enjoy!

Notes/Results: This worked out perfectly. I loved the crisp, light coating of the crushed chips. It gave both texture and flavor to the cod. I actually think the kettle chip style worked better than rippled or ridged chips would have since they are so light. Overall, the coating stayed on the fish pretty well--you just have to make sure to press it on gently but firmly and handle it gently once it is coated. I made a simple pantry tarter sauce--veggie mayo, capers, garlic, dried dill and black pepper which was good both with the fish and the extra chips. ;-) I was going to make a Cape Cod cocktail (vodka and cranberry juice) but I'm still on two kinds of asthma meds that say to stay away from alcohol so I just combined my cranberry juice with Ginger Ale for a mocktail version. Not a healthy dinner but you can't beat the occasional fish fry, so worth the indulgence. I would happily make this again.

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 "Lift And Separate" was provided to me by the publisher 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.

***Book Giveaway***

The publisher is generously providing a copy of Lift And Separate to giveaway (U.S. and Canada addresses, please) here at Kahakai Kitchen.

To enter the Rafflecopter Giveaway below, leave a comment please (Because I like to read them!) ;-) telling me about your favorite junk/snack food or why you would like to win a copy of the book

There are a couple of other optional ways to get more entries to win: 1) Tweet about this giveaway or 2) follow me on Twitter (@DebinHawaii)
(Note: You can still get extra entries even if you already follow me on Twitter.)

Deadline for entry is Monday, February 6th. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Good Luck!