Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "Whistling Women" by Kelly Romo, Served with the Ultimate Breakfast Sandwich: Grilled Cheese Egg In A Hole

Today's TLC Book Tour stop serves up a review of the very unique historical fiction novel Whistling Women by Kelly Romo. It's got the 1935 world's fair in San Diego, a nudist colony, dark secrets, and plenty of sister and family drama all wrapped together in one utterly enjoyable book. Accompanying my review is the "ultimate breakfast sandwich"--a Grilled Cheese Egg in a Hole, that was inspired by my reading.

Publisher's Blurb:

A buried secret keeps two sisters apart.

Life went terribly wrong for Addie Bates in San Diego, and she’s been running from those memories ever since. For fifteen years, the Sleepy Valley Nudist Colony has provided a safe haven for Addie to hide from the crime she committed. But when the residents pack up to go on exhibit at the 1935 world’s fair in San Diego, Addie returns and must face the thrilling yet terrifying prospect of reuniting with her estranged sister, Wavey.

Addie isn’t the only one interested in a reunion. When her niece, Rumor, discovers she has an aunt, Rumor is determined to bring her family together. But it’s not so easy when the women are forced to confront family secrets, past and present.

Set against the backdrop of the 1935 world’s fair, Whistling Women explores the complex relationships between sisters, the sacrifices required to protect family, and the lasting consequences of a single impulsive act.

Paperback: 414 pages
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (November 17, 2015)

"A whistling woman  and a crowing hen always come to some bad end" 

My Review:  I was pulled to Whistling Women for several reasons--the bonds between sisters and nieces, the backdrop of the world's fair and exposition, a glimpse a life in a nudist colony in the 1930s--it all intrigued me and immediately captured my imagination and heart, holding on tight throughout each page. The story is told from the points of view of Addie, shifting back and forth from her present to her past, and her niece Rumor. These are the characters we get to know the best and are the most likable and enjoyable. Addie is easy to root for from the start--she had a tough childhood and young adulthood that continues to impact her, causing her to hide away in the controlled life of the nudist colony. Rumor is what you might expect from a fifteen-year-old, impulsive, rebellious, passionate, and stubborn--caught between childhood and adulthood. The main supporting characters are harder to get to know and to connect with through most of the book. Rumor's eighteen-year-old sister Mary comes across as shallow and puts on airs with her habit of calling everyone "darling"--although the love and bond the sisters have for each other is touching. The least likable of the four women is their mother, (Addie's sister) Wavey, with her drinking and other lifestyle choices and her often lackadaisical treatment of her daughters. As the story unfolds the reasons behind her actions and temperament are revealed, along with the secrets she has been hiding, and it is then that Wavey becomes more sympathetic. Addie's friends in the nudist colony are colorful and interesting and the world's fair and its Balboa Park setting, primarily the Eden-like Zoro Gardens Nudist Colony exhibit, almost seem characters as well.

The exact nature of the dark family secrets are revealed gradually, although they are hinted at enough that the reader can predict what is coming--this does not take away from the story however, and there are still details and surprises to learn. It's not always an easy or happy read as there is domestic and childhood sexual abuse and its lingering effects, as well as some violence that happens, but the story is a good one and although poignant, it doesn't dwell in the sadness, remains hopeful in tone, and has some very funny moments mixed in too. I find the whole nudist colony experience intriguing for some reason--especially back in the 1930s when it was even more of a social taboo. Getting a glimpse at that life and finding out how Addie ended up there for so long was interesting. (Although just in case you were wondering, I will not be packing my bags for life in a nudist colony.) ;-)

Really the only thing missing for me in this Whistling Women (and what I love, love, love in historical fiction that is based on real events) is an afterword about the book, including the research the author did and where the story idea came from and what interested her in the subject. That extra info always fascinates me and hooks me even more and I usually end up looking online for further details. It was a slight disappointment not to find anything in the book or much on the author's website other than a mention that the book came from her love of San Diego and Balboa Park. When I did look online, I found many key elements of the book such as the 1935 California Internal Exposition in San Diego, the Zoro Gardens Nudist Colony Exhibit there, and celebrity evangelist "Sister Aimee"--Aimee Semple McPherson were all real. It was fascinating to read more information and to look at some of the pictures that exist from that era as it was exactly as I was seeing it in my head from the author's words. It's such a special book (with a gorgeous cover too) that an afterword and perhaps a reader's guide with discussion questions would have made it even better and satisfied my geeky need for background details

Putting that minor disappointment aside, Whistling Women was a truly engaging and enjoyable read; one of my favorites for the year. If you like family and coming-of-age dramas with strong female characters, have sisters and nieces, and enjoy historical fiction (or even if you think you don't like historical fiction--this novel may change your mind), give this book a try. 


Author Notes: Kelly A. Romo currently lives in Oregon with her three children where she teaches writing, literature, and social studies. She loves the outdoors; hiking, kayaking, and camping. Kelly grew up in California running around with all her thrill-seeking cousins and siblings; jumping off cliffs into the Colorado River, exploring caves on the beaches of Mexico, riding dirt bikes, water skiing, and snow skiing. 

Connect with Kelly on her website, Facebook, or Twitter


Food Inspiration:

It's not a foodie book, but there was food inspiration to be found in Whistling Women. Much of it is the simple fare cooked by Wavey, Mary or Rumor--toast, fried eggs cooked in butter, soup and crackers, bean soup with vegetables and homemade noodles, shredded wheat cereal, a ham sandwich and a glass of milk, iced tea and lemonade. There is also lots of fair and boardwalk food like ice cream, candied apples, popcorn, scones, and cotton candy. The members of the Sleepy Valley Nudist Colony are expected to be vegetarian from their founder/leader Henrich's golden rule of no meat, so they eat a lot of fruit, oats, breads and jams, although Addie "longed for bacon, a chicken leg, or a single slice of ham." A celebration dinner for the colony at a restaurant included "everything on the menu that didn't include meat"--like "cantaloupe with fruit, sliced tomato salad fantasie, cauliflower persillé, potato garbure, sauteed mushrooms, cheese enchiladas, and native beans."

Life in the colony included meals so Addie did not have much experience cooking and when she began to practice it was on eggs, so I wanted to include them in my dish. Rumor shows her how to make a grilled cheese sandwich and since I am always craving them myself, I decided to make my book inspired dish from a combination of the eggs and grilled cheese. I pinned a recipe for what was called "the ultimate breakfast sandwich" recently and really wanted to make it. It takes one of my favorite childhood breakfasts "egg in a hole"--which we called ding-dong eggs at my house, and puts it into a grilled cheese sandwich. Yum! 

I feel a little bit bad because I made egg in a hole inspired by sisters for a book review last month and don't like to repeat myself, but this one is different enough I think and definitely crave-worthy enough to merit trying. ;-)  I made a slight change to the preparation of the recipe--which has you leave a cheese-free area in the center of the sandwich where you cut out the hole for the egg. I wondered why wouldn't you have the cheese in there so that instead of a fried bread "topper"--you get a little round grilled cheese sandwich to dip into the yolk? I left the cheese in. 

The recipe author says, "For this recipe, I use a pro-tip I learned from Five Guys: use mayonnaise instead of butter on the outside of the grilled cheese. It's way more spreadable and adds just a little oomph of flavor to the sandwich."

Grilled Cheese Egg in a Hole
Slightly adapted from The Cooking of Joy via Food 52
(Serves 1)

2 slices soft bread, like white or potato
1 to 2 teaspoons mayonnaise
1 to 2 slices sharp white cheddar cheese or your favorite melty cheese (I used Muenster and sharp cheddar but probably more than I should have!--see Notes/Results below)
1 large egg
freshly ground pepper
sea salt

Old Bay Seasoning (optional) 

Start heating a non-stick pan on medium-low. Spread a thin layer of mayonnaise on one slice of bread and place the bread mayonnaise-side down in the pan. 

Cut the cheese into thirds. Place one-third on each side of the bread in the pan. Cut the remaining third in half and fill in the top and bottom of the gap between the other slices of cheese, leaving a cheese-less square in the middle. [Editors' note: You want to cover the entire slice of bread except for the square in the center where you'll be cutting a hole through the sandwich.] {Deb's note: I covered my entire piece of bread with cheese to get a mini sandwich rather than just the grilled bread for dipping.}

Spread a thin layer of mayonnaise on the other slice of bread and place it on top of the cheese, mayonnaise-side up. Cook the sandwich for a few minutes until the bottom is golden brown. 

Flip the sandwich over. Using a cookie cutter or a drinking glass, cut out a hole in the middle of the sandwich about 2 1/2- to 2 3/4-inches wide. Remove the circle of bread (you can continue grilling this on the side of the pan) and crack the egg into the hole. Cover and cook until the egg is set to your liking. 

Slide the sandwich onto a plate. Season the egg with freshly ground pepper and sea salt. (I also shook on a little Old Bay Seasoning--which I love with eggs.) Serve with tomato soup, if you like.

Notes/Results: My execution of this dish suffered a bit because (Say it isn't so! Can it really be done?!) I "over-cheesed" my sandwich. I would normally question the concept that you can have too much cheese but in this case, where you should see an egg yolk peeking out from the white, it got covered by the cheese oozing out. You see I couldn't decide between Muenster and sharp cheddar so I used a layer of both and it was oozy, gooey, and delicious but it challenged me in both the appearance and in making a deeper well for the egg, resulting in difficulty cooking the egg white through to my liking while keeping it as yolky as I like. In the end it was still fabulous and I had enough yolk for dipping. I did love my mini round grilled cheese lid and recommend keeping that step. Also, I tried the tip of using mayo instead of butter on the outer bread but used the garlic vegan mayo I had on hand and it was fabulous--much easier to spread than butter and you get the same crisp outer crust. I will add that tip to my grilled cheese sandwich making from now on.

Is it easier to just slide a fried egg on top of a grilled cheese? Yes it is ...but, much like food in miniature sizes or food on sticks, an egg in a hole is just more fun. ;-) Good for breakfast, or any time at all, this sandwich would be excellent dipped in good, creamy tomato soup as the recipe author suggests. I will decrease the amount of cheese and happily make it again. 

Note: A review copy of "Whistling Women" was provided to me by the publisher and TLC Book Tours in return for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review and as always my thoughts and opinions are my own.

You can see the stops for the rest of this Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.


Friday, November 20, 2015

Ellie Kreiger's Healthier Creamed Spinach (A Dairy-Free Version)

I adore creamed spinach. I love it as a side dish. I can eat it as an entree. Shortly after I stopped eating meat and poultry a few years back a friend of mine celebrated his birthday at a steak house. There was a fish entree and some seafood on the menu too, but I wasn't really in the mood for that and instead I ordered a side of creamed spinach and a side of mushrooms for my entree. At first, my friend kept apologizing for the restaurant pick but I think it became apparent that I was completely content with my dinner choices. ;-)

The only thing I don't love about creamed spinach is the amount of fat and calories it contains--making it most suitable as a occasional indulgence. This week's theme at I Heart Cooking Clubs is side dishes and I knew wanted to try Ellie Krieger's healthier Creamed Spinach from her So Easy cookbook since I've had it tagged to make for ages. To make it a true side dish, I served the spinach with some wild King salmon--simply seasoned with salt, pepper, and a little Old Bay Seasoning, seared or blackened on all sides over high heat (and a bit of coconut oil) and then cooked until just past translucent inside.  

I made some changes to the recipe based both on what I had on hand and to pump up the flavor a bit as I noticed it had mixed reviews on Food Network. I don't keep milk on hand since dairy makes me stuffy (I try to save my dairy-eating for good cheese indulgences), and so I used non-dairy unsweetened coconut milk instead of low-fat milk and unflavored coconut creamer in place of the evaporated milk. For flavor, I added 1/4 cup more of shallots--taking some extra time to caramelize them, and added four cloves of garlic. I am not a big nutmeg fan so I subbed in sweet paprika, added a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes and used a good amount of cracked black pepper. My changes are in red below, as are a few cooking tips that helped with flavor and texture.

Creamed Spinach
Adapted from So Easy by Ellie Krieger  or at FoodNetwork.com
(Makes 8 Servings)

2 10-oz packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed
2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 small shallots, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup) (I used about 3/4 cup)

(I added 4 cloves of garlic, minced)
4 tsp all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups low-fat (1%) milk (I used So Delicious unsweetened coconut milk)
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth (I used homemade no-salt veggie stock)
2 Tbsp evaporated milk
(I used coconut milk creamer)
pinch of ground nutmeg (I used a large pinch of sweet paprika) 
(I added a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes)
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Squeeze all of the water from the spinach. In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the flour to the pan and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add the low-fat milk and broth and cook, scraping up any bits from the bottom of the pan. Bring to a simmer and cook 2 minutes.

Add the spinach and simmer until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the evaporated milk and nutmeg, and season with salt and pepper.

Deb's Cooking Tips for this recipe: I think the key to making this dish its best is to give it some extra time and love. Ellie notes to squeeze all the water from the spinach and it needs to be as dry as possible--whatever your method for draining spinach. (I use my TofuXpress, defrosting the spinach completely in a colander first, then putting it in the press using the heavier spring. I pour the pressed liquid out every 15 minutes or so for the first hour, then loosen the press, stir the spinach, and press again, leaving it overnight in the fridge. When I am ready to use it, I dump any remaining liquid and remove the spinach from the dress onto a clean kitchen towel. I take a few minutes to "fluff" out the spinach, separating it so that it is easier to stir into the cream.) I cooked the shallots longer than the 2 minutes in the recipe--about 8-10 minutes, until they begin to color and caramelize a bit, then add the garlic and continued to saute another 2-3 minutes. It takes a bit longer but is well worth it in terms of taste. Texture-wise, I made sure to cook the flour well and gradually stirred in the broth first, whisking until completely smooth before adding the (coconut) milk. I then simmered the cream sauce for 5 minutes, until it was nice and thick, before stirring in the spinach and cooking until tender. Taking this extra time and effort yielded ultra creamy spinach.

Notes/Results: Nothing completely takes the place of a butter, cream, and cheese-filled creamed spinach, but this was a great substitute. It's still rich, creamy and flavorful and so much healthier and less guilt-inducing. In case you were worried, it doesn't taste like coconut and using it in place of dairy milk adds a bit more fat, but less calories. I would be happy eating it as my entree but it was delicious with the salmon. I have plenty leftover and it may end up as breakfast tomorrow, warmed and with a fried egg on top. I would definitely make it again when I get a craving--with the changes I mentioned above. 
You can see what Ellie Krieger recipes everyone cooked for our Scentsational Sides theme at I Heart Cooking Clubs by checking out the picture links on the post. 


Monday, November 16, 2015

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "Trigger Warning" by Neil Gaiman, Served with Roasted Red Pepper & Feta Hummus

On today's TLC Book Tour stop I am reviewing Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman. Along with my review comes a recipe for a scrumptious Roasted Red Pepper & Feta Hummus inspired by the book. How does a fantasy fiction anthology inspire hummus? You'll just have to read the post to find out.

Publisher's Blurb:

From one of the most critically acclaimed and beloved storytellers of our time comes a major new collection of stories and verse.

“We each have our little triggers . . . things that wait for us in the dark corridors of our lives.” So says Neil Gaiman in his introduction to Trigger Warning, a remarkable compendium of twenty-five stories and poems that explore the transformative power of imagination.

In “Adventure Story”—a thematic companion to the #1 New York Times bestselling novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane—Gaiman ponders death and the ways in which people take their stories with them when they die. “A Calendar of Tales” is comprised of short pieces about the months of the year—stories of pirates and March winds, an igloo made of books, and a Mother’s Day card that portends disturbances in the universe. Gaiman offers his own ingenious spin on Sherlock Holmes in his award-nominated mystery tale “The Case of Death and Honey.” Also included is “Nothing O’Clock,” a very special Doctor Who story that was written for the beloved series in 2013, as well as the never-before-published “Black Dog,” a haunting new tale that revisits the world of American Gods as Shadow Moon stops in at a village pub on his way back to America.

Gaiman, a sophisticated writer whose creative genius is unparalleled, entrances with his literary alchemy and transports us deep into an undiscovered country where the fantastical becomes real and the everyday is incandescent. Replete with wonder and terror, surprises and amusements, Trigger Warning is a treasury of literary delights that engage the mind, stir the heart, and shake the soul.

Paperback: 368 pages  
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (October 27, 2015)

My Review:  

I have not read a lot of Neil Gaiman's work outside of Coraline, his young adult fantasy/horror tale, and the assorted short story by him in other collections. I was intrigued by the description of Trigger Warning and having good luck lately with short story collections, I thought that it was a great way to get better acquainted with Gaiman's writing. If you spend any time browsing books and looking at reviews on Amazon you are familiar with trigger warnings--statements that warn a reader that a book contains material that may trigger reactions in certain readers based on past experiences or things that make them uncomfortable. It makes a great title for a book and I liked what Gaiman said in the introduction; "There are things in this book, as in life, that might upset you. There is death and pain in here, tears and discomfort, violence of all kinds, cruelty, even abuse. There is kindness, too, I hope, sometimes. Even a handful of happy endings. (Few stories end unhappily for all participants, after all.)" 

I love that Gaiman included the inspiration for, or something about the background of each story and poem in his introduction. I did not read the story intros ahead of time but found myself going back to them after I completed each piece to learn more about what I read. This was especially helpful for his A Calendar of Tales, with short bites for each month of the year. I was trying to figure out how the stories were related before reading his intro and finding out that they were written in response to a social media experiment, based on replies to questions he tweeted out. Now it made sense. Some month's tales were stronger than others, but I thought the whole concept was very cool. My favorite piece in the book was the very short, but deliciously creepy Click-Clack the Rattlebag. It has all the scary triggers--large old house, intense precocious child, dark night with the lights going out, and especially Click-Clacks, who according to the child "are the best monsters ever" and much scarier than vampires. Perfect! I also really enjoyed Orange (Third Subject's Response to Investigator's Written Questionnaire) which was unique in its format, as well as darkly humorous. Other standouts for me included The Thing About Cassandra which had an interesting take on an imaginary teen-age girlfriend coming to life years later and Black Dog (which apparently is based on a character from his book American Gods but stands on its own) where an American traveler stops in a rural British pub and makes some interesting acquaintances. The quirky And Weep, Like Alexander was fun with its "un-inventor" Obediah Polknghorn, and I liked the imagery of the scarlet mulberries and the clocks that "whispered time" in Witch Work, one of the handful of poems in the book. Finally, I found The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury (written by Gaiman for the late author's ninetieth-birthday) about a man who is losing his memory, to be especially poignant. In addition to the Bradbury story there are other pieces based on well-known names; Sherlock Holmes in The Case of Death and Honey and Dr. Who in Nothing O'Clock. Although I am not a huge reader or watcher of either character, the stories involving them were interesting and well-written. I am sure true fans of both will be pleased.    

There are 24 stories or poems in the book, and as always happens in collections like this, some were hits for me and some were misses--but each story, regardless of how much I liked it made me stop and wonder a bit and sometimes scratch my head. Trigger Warning is a great book to delve into, a story or two at a time. Maybe it's not bedside reading if you have a lot of triggers or don't like thinking about things that are often creepy and slightly disturbing before you go to sleep, but nonetheless, it's a little box full of odd  treasures to savor. I really enjoyed it and will continue to explore more of Gaiman's writing. 


Author Notes: Neil Gaiman is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than twenty books, and is the recipient of numerous literary honors. Originally from England, he now lives in America.
Find out more about Neil at his website, find all his books at his online bookstore, and follow him on Facebooktumblr, and his blog.


Food Inspiration:

So, as you can imagine, this anthology is not at all food focused--although there were some mentions--like rosemary bushes in a labyrinth, that when burned were reminiscent of roasted lamb, or oat porridge, trout and whiskey. There was mention of unpleasant breakfasts of "oily eggs, leathery sausages, a baked orange sludge of beans" and Stuffed Muffins--including "The Complete Turkey Dinner Christmas Stuffed Muffin" and hot cocoa and Marmite and cucumber sandwiches, and a recipe for old-fashioned cheesecake that appears in a dream.

But it was the mentions of a Mediterranean mezze plate with dolmades and hummus in Cassandra, and then more hummus (made for a genie) in the October Tale of The Calendar of Tales that ultimately became my book-inspired dish. I like to make a batch of hummus on the weekend so I can pull it out to nosh on during the week--just like having Trigger Warning on my nightstand, ready to pull out and read a story or poem when I was hungry for something a little different. 

I make a lot of hummus. Usually my basic hummus, or sometimes adding some Old Bay Seasoning to change things up. For this version, I wanted something different from my norm to match this collection of unique stories and poems. I also wanted to use up some leftover feta and roasted red peppers I had on hand, so I blended it all together.

Roasted Red Pepper & Feta Hummus
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes About 4 cups of Hummus)

About 3 cups cooked chickpeas, drained
1 cup lightly packed roasted red peppers (drain well if using jarred red pepper)
3 Tbsp tahini
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese + some for garnish
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika + more to garnish
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, or to taste
juice from 1 1/2 lemons (or about 6 Tbsp), or to taste
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tsp toasted sesame oil (optional)
cold water as needed
sea salt and black pepper to taste

Put chickpeas, red pepper, feta, tahini, garlic, spices, lemon juice, olive oil and sesame oil into the food processor. Blend the mixture until smooth, adding small amounts of cold water if/as needed to thin out the texture to desired consistency. Season to taste with salt and black pepper as desired. 

Place in serving bowl and top with extra feta and a sprinkle of smoked paprika. Serve with veggies of choice, crackers and/or bread.

Notes/Results: Creamy, cheesy hummusy goodness, this hummus has great flavor with the salty feta, slightly sweet red pepper, and the bright acidity from the lemon. (I like the bright color too.) ;-) Lately I have been adding a touch of sesame oil to my hummus along with the tahini--I think it adds another layer of flavor. This was good with the crunchy green veggies and the rosemary wafers I paired it with. A good addition to my hummus repertoire, I will make it again. 

Note: A review copy of "Trigger Warning" was provided to me by the publisher and TLC Book Tours in return for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review and as always my thoughts and opinions are my own.

You can see the stops for the rest of this Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.


Saturday, November 14, 2015

Mark Bittman's Beans, Shrimp & Fennel

As a special monthly feature at I Heart Cooking Clubs we are cooking through the recipes of our past twelve IHCC chefs. Our second chef is a big favorite of mine, Mark Bittman. I cook with Bittman often--before, during and after the time we featured him at IHCC; loving his often healthy, quick, and very adaptable recipe style. I have most all of his cookbooks except for the newest Mark Bittman's Kitchen Matrix--which I am sure I will eventually get even though I have drastically cut down on my cookbook buying. Probably the Bittman book I cook the most from is his Kitchen Express with it's seasonally-arranged recipe sketches that make it easy to cook from the pantry and adapt to what you have on hand. 

There is a recipe in Bittman's The VB6 Cookbook that I have been meaning to make and had not gotten around to yet--Beans, Shrimp and Fennel. Three of my favorite ingredients in one simple dish.  The VB6 cookbook came out in May of 2014 as a companion to his health book: VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health... for Good

Bittman says, "If you've never tried this combination, do. Like now. Beans with seafood is not only just as classic but also just as tasty as beans with pork. (And it's faster.) You control the texture here: the main recipe results in creamy beans in a thick broth; but see the variations for a drier stir-fry and a tomato, shrimp, and bean stew."  

I made a couple of very slight changes to the recipe--reducing the oil and the salt as I used a low-sodium mock chicken stock that still has plenty of salt. Changes are noted in red below.

Beans, Shrimp & Fennel
The VB6 Cookbook by Mark Bittman
(Serves 4)

4 cups cooked or canned white beans
3 Tbsp olive oil (I used about 1 1/2 Tbsp)
1 onion, halved and sliced
1 tsp salt (or to taste) (You may need less if you use stock or bean water is salted)
1/2 tsp black pepper (or to taste)
1 lb fennel, bulb trimmed and thinly sliced
1 Tbsp minced garlic
2 bay leaves
2 cups vegetable or chicken stock (low-sodium) or water, plus more as needed
1 lb peeled shrimp
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp chopped fresh oregano or marjoram 

Drain beans. If you made them yourself, reserve the cooking liquid to use with stock; if canned, discard liquid and rinse beans well.  

Put the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the onion, sprinkling with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until it softens and turns golden--about 5 minutes. Add the fennel, garlic, and bay leaves, continue cooking and stirring until fragrant, 1 or 2 minutes more.

Add the beans, along with 2 cups of liquid, either the bean-cooking liquid, stock, water or a combination. Bring mixture to a boil, then lower heat so it bubbles steadily and cook, stirring occasionally until the beans and vegetables become quite tender, 10 to 15 minutes. If you'd like, mash some of the beans with a spoon to help thicken the sauce; add more liquid if the mixture ever looks too dry.

When the beans and veggies are the texture you like, add the shrimp and cover the pot. Cook, stirring once or twice, just until the shrimp turn opaque, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the lemon juice and fresh herbs (use some of the fennel fronds chopped too if desired). Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed, and serve.     

Notes/Results: There is so much to love about this besides how very good it is--it's a one pan meal, can be on the table in about 30 minutes, and it balances a homey stew or cassoulet feel while still being elegant enough for company. As with most Bittman recipes, he provides a couple of variations to the base dish--a drier, stir-fry-ish version as well as a bouillabaisse version with tomato and leek. But to me, this one with its brothy goodness is pretty wonderful. The shrimp are pink and plump, the broth flavorful from the fennel, lemon and oregano (perfect to serve with bread for sopping), and the beans make it satisfying. I will happily make this again.    

Three other favorite Mark Bittman recipes that I highly recommend:

Spanish-Style Pasta e Fagioli from How to Cook Everything Fast

 Tomato-Freekeh Soup from The Food Matters Cookbook.

Apple Cider & White Wine Slushies from Mark Bittman's Kitchen Express. (Note: I've made these with Riesling as the recipe suggests and Calvados (apple brandy) and both were delicious.)
You can see what Mark Bittman dishes everyone made by checking out the picture links on the IHCC post