Monday, September 22, 2014

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "The Angel of Losses" by Stephanie Feldman Served with Matzoh Brei

Jewish folklore, history, sisterly relationships and family secrets come together in the mystical novel, The Angel of Losses by Stephanie Feldman. I am happy to be reviewing it today and serve it up with a breakfast of Matzoh Brei, a dish inspired by my reading as a stop on the TLC Book Tour.

Publisher's Blurb:

The Tiger’s Wife meets A History of Love in this inventive, lushly imagined debut novel that explores the intersections of family secrets, Jewish myths, the legacy of war and history, and the bonds between sisters.

When Eli Burke dies, he leaves behind a mysterious notebook full of stories about a magical figure named The White Rebbe, a miracle worker in league with the enigmatic Angel of Losses, protector of things gone astray, and guardian of the lost letter of the alphabet, which completes the secret name of God.

When his granddaughter, Marjorie, discovers Eli’s notebook, everything she thought she knew about her grandfather—and her family—comes undone. To find the truth about Eli’s origins and unlock the secrets he kept, she embarks on an odyssey that takes her deep into the past, from 18th century Europe to Nazi-occupied Lithuania, and back to the present, to New York City and her estranged sister Holly, whom she must save from the consequences of Eli’s past.

Interweaving history, theology, and both real and imagined Jewish folktales, The Angel of Losses is a family story of what lasts, and of what we can—and cannot—escape.

Hardcover: 288 pages  
Publisher: Ecco (July 29, 2014)

I grew up without a strong cultural or religious identity so I have fascination for stories or books that give me a glimpse into a these worlds. The Angel of Losses is steeped in religion, history and Jewish culture and moves back and forth between current day and the past. The book starts with a grandfather telling a story to his granddaughters  about the White Magician--a story that results in nightmares for Holly, the younger sister, and frustrates Marjorie, the older one. Forward to current day, a grownup Marjorie is earning her PhD  and writing her dissertation on The Wandering Jew, a traveling sorcerer. Holly has married, converted to Orthodox Judiasm and is heavily pregnant. The once close sisters are now vastly different and have grown apart. When Marjorie comes across one of her grandfathers notebooks with a story of the White Magician, or White Rebbe, she becomes obsessed with finding the rest of his notebooks, uncovering her grandfather's and her family's secrets and helping her sister and repairing their relationship.  

This book is not what I would call an easy read--it takes some time to dive in and some effort to keep all of the details straight. I had a slow start with it because I tend to do the bulk of my reading at night before going to sleep and I have had a crazy few weeks where I have been mentally exhausted writing a workshop and prepping for a trip next week to facilitate it. A sleepy Deb and this book were not a good match--I kept getting confused on what was past, what was present, what was real, what was a story, a fantasy, or a dream, and even who all of the characters were. When I finally got my materials turned in this past weekend and could focus (and sleep), I found myself totally absorbed in the story. It still made me scratch my head a few times but the stories that Eli told were beautiful and the relationship between Marjorie and Holly seemed very real. A book to sink deeply into if you like folklore, religion, cultural heritage and family dramas.

Author Notes: 
Stephanie Feldman is a graduate of Barnard College. She lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and her daughter. 

You can connect with her on her website.

In looking for a dish to represent the book, I actually went to a dish I having been wanting to make ever since seeing Ruth Reichel's recipe for it. Matzo Brei (which translates to 'fried matzah'), doesn't have much to do with the story--other than being a Jewish comfort food dish, although Grandpa Eli did take Marjorie and Holly out for breakfast regularly when they were young, and there were a few mentions of eggs in the story. But, when Ruth Reichel calls something "one of life's perfect foods"--you know you should give it a try. 

Ruth Reichl's Matzo Brei
Adapted from Gourmet, July 2004 via 
(Serves 4)
4 matzos
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste (I reduced slightly)
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter (I reduced to about 1/2) 

(I added freshly ground black pepper)

Crumble matzos into a large sieve placed over a bowl to catch crumbs, then hold sieve under running cold water until matzos are moist and softened but not completely disintegrated, about 15 seconds. Transfer to bowl with crumbs, then add eggs and salt and mix gently with a fork. 

Heat butter in a 10- to 12-inch skillet over moderately high heat until foam subsides. Add matzo mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until eggs are scrambled and matzo has begun to crisp, about 3 minutes.

Notes/Results: Simple but pretty darn tasty, I can see matzoh brei becoming a regular thing on my breakfast rotation--at least until the box of maztoh is gone. ;-) I really liked the chewy/crispy pieces of matzoh in the scrambled eggs. Reading the reviews for Reichel's matzoh brei online, there are many variations of preparation and family recipes with additions like onion, apples, raisins, cinnamon, sugar, etc. For me, black pepper is a must with eggs but I liked this simple version--not sure if a sweeter variation would appeal to me. I made two servings and halved the butter and reduced the salt--as no one 'needs' that much butter and sodium. ;-) I might not classify it as one of life's perfect foods but certainly a good one. 

Note: A review copy of "The Angel of Losses" was 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 TLC Book Tours and Reviews here


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Nigel Slater's Quick Fish & Corn Chowder: A Gorgeous Bowl of Comfort for Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

This Quick Fish and Corn Chowder is subtitled as "a soup to warm the cockles of your heart." With the seemingly endless hot and humid weather we have been having, the cockles of my heart, or any other part of me are not in any need of warming. Still, there is something oh-so-comforting about a fish chowder, studded with new potatoes and fresh corn, regardless of the weather outside. Nigel Slater has quite a few chowder-ish recipes, but I liked this one for its simplicity.

Nigel's recipes are always easy to adapt and a good starting place to jump off from. My additions / changes to his recipe sketch are noted in red below.

Quick Fish & Corn Chowder
Adapted from Nigel Slater via The Guardian/Observer online
(Serves 4)

The Recipe:
Scrub 400g (14 oz) of new potatoes, then halve or quarter them depending on their size. Peel and roughly chop an onion, put it in a large deep pan, then add 500ml (17 oz) of water and 500ml (17 oz) of milk. Bring to the boil, with a coarse grinding of pepper and a couple of bay leaves. Lower the heat so the liquid simmers and, when the onion is soft, introduce 400g (14 oz) of mixed fish, such as salmon, cod and smoked haddock cut into large cubes, and continue to cook on a low heat for 10 minutes.

Slice the kernels from a head of sweetcorn and drop them into the pan. Roughly chop two spring onions and a small bunch of parsley, and stir them into the soup carefully, without breaking up the fish, then serve as soon as the corn is tender.
The Trick:
You could use one of the ready-prepared assortments of fish meant for fish pie if it is more convenient. The soup is a calming, delicate version, but sustaining enough to be a light main dish. It is important not to stir the chowder too much as it cooks, which would result in the fish breaking up.

The Twist:
I sometimes like to add a handful of mussels or clams to the soup once the fish has almost reached tenderness. Finely sliced leeks can work well instead of the onion. To give the soup a sweeter note, cook the onion or leek in a little butter and oil until it is soft, before adding the milk. You could stir in a little tarragon or dill, finely chopped, into the soup near the end of the cooking time.

(Deb's Changes: I made my base leeks, a bit of leftover red onion and a couple of celery stalks that I softened in a dab of butter and olive oil before adding the potatoes. I used about 2+lbs of potatoes--a mix of red new and small Yukon Gold. To the black pepper and bay leaves I added a teaspoon of Old Bay Seasoning because I am very into it lately. ;-) My mix of fish was two kinds of salmon from my freezer, local opah (moonfish) and a sprinkling of hot smoked salmon--added at the end with the fresh corn. I omitted the spring onions and topped the soup with the chopped parsley and tarragon (also an obsession lately), stirred in at the end with a touch more to garnish.)

Notes/Results: Simple but still chowder nirvana in my book--flavorful and indulgent. I like my chowder served in a big deep bowl to spoon down into and accompanied by a couple of slices of baguette to soak up the broth. And this broth is rich and velvety and very soak-up-able and the smoky spice of the Old Bay Seasoning just peeks through. I love the different textures of the fish--the salmon is silky, the Opah, firmer, and the little pieces of smoked salmon slightly chewy and bursting with flavor. The veggie base is good with the firmer celery and corn, with the onions and leek softer and smoother. The pop of flavor from the tarragon works well too. Yep, this bowl of chowder made me very happy--quick, simple, gorgeous to look at and a taste that makes you want to lick the bowl. I would definitely make it again.  

This bowlful of goodness is being linked up to I Heart Cooking Clubs this coming week for the Ladle It Up! theme--featuring soups, stews, curries, etc. You can see what everyone put into their bowls by checking out the picture links on the post.

We have soups and salads and good friends waiting in the Souper Sundays kitchen, let's have a look. 

Janet of The Taste Space shares this made-with-oats bowl of Mushroom Ginger Congee and says, "Traditionally congee is made with rice to make a porridge-like consistency and flavoured and garnished with as much or as little as you want. I noticed Kate Lewis’ photo in the book had additional mushrooms and green onions as garnishes, so I added that to mine. Not merely photogenic, it added a nice depth of flavour, too. I think a bit of toasted sesame oil would be lovely, too. I was never super convinced oats could hold savoury flavours so well, but this was delicious.

It is always a treat to have my friend Kat of Our Adventures in Japan pay a visit to Souper Sundays. She made "Using Up the Veggies in the Fridge (and Lanai) Soup." Kat says, "Last week, I had wanted to use up all the veggies in my fridge. ... Envisioning fried renkon (lotus root) chips, I fried thinly sliced pieces. Unfortunately, I drained them on a paper towel and they kind of steamed, so they weren't too crispy. After setting aside the renkon, I sauteed some kale from the lanai with some red bell pepper in some olive oil. I ladled a bowl of the pumpkin soup and then topped it with the renkon, kale, red bell and then sliced some okra. Dinner was served."

Mireille of Chef Mireille's East West Realm has a soup and salads from Burma/Myanmar to share this week. First, this Burmese Chickpea Soup. She says, "It is a taste bud tantalizing explosion of flavors. ... Soups and salads form the backbone of Burmese cuisine. On a recent repeat episode of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations, it was interesting to note the variety of salads and sauces served with soups and curries. A variety of pickled and fresh salads were added to curries and soups to give Burmese food their complexity of flavors. Up to a dozen different salads and condiments is not uncommon to accompany meals."

Topping Mireille's soup are two Burmese salads--Long Bean Salad and Grated Carrot Salad and some traditional condiments. She says, "While Burmese soups and curries for which they are known are flavorful, what gives them their umami is the large variety of condiments and salads that their foods are topped with. Here are just a few to give your food the umami achieved with the cuisine from the republic of Myanmar. These were very familiar to me as many of these are also used in Indonesian cooking which I am familiar with due to my Indonesian family and I enjoyed this meal thoroughly."

Joanne of yummyvege is back this week with a healthy and satisfying Fruity Quinoa Salad with Tempeh. She says, "I know you’re all getting into the autumn thing and eating pumpkin and thinking about taking your jumpers out of the cupboard, but here it’s still roasting hot, so I’m still eating summery food. Salads, things that require as little cooking as possible, there’ll be plenty of stews and baking in due course but for now I have another salad for you. This one is a great mix of sweet and savoury and it’s a complete meal. Both the quinoa and the tempeh contain protein and there are healthy fats in the avocado. The sweetness comes from the dates, the orange and the concentrated apple juice. And the best part is that it all comes together in about half an hour if you don’t count the marinading time."

Pam of Sidewalk Shoes brings us two salads this week. First, this hearty Broccoli Quinoa Salad and also shares her formula for a great grain salad saying, "It is composed of a grain, a veggie, greens, fruit, and nuts.  So you could have a quinoa, broccoli salad with spinach, grapes and pumpkin seeds – like I have here.  Or you could have a barley, carrot salad with kale, apples and sunflower seeds.  See, how easy it is!  For my dressing I use my standard juice of one lemon mixed with equal parts olive oil.  But you could even vary that, substituting orange juice, or any type of vinegar for the acid.  You could even change up the oil and use a nut oil, or sesame oil.  The possibilities are endless!"

Pam's second dish is a fall-ready Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Pears Salad. She says, "With my last CSA pickup, we received a couple of handfuls of brussels sprouts. Not enough to make a Brussels sprouts recipe. Since they looked so fall to me, I decided to mix them with another fall item – pears. I thought that the flavors might complement each other – and they did. I realize that I called this a salad and you are looking at what looks like just some roasted pieces on parchment paper. What I had envisioned was then tossing these roasted Brussels sprouts and pears with some romaine lettuce and adding some dried cranberries and a light vinaigrette. I got lazy. I still think the salad would be yummy, but I just served these straight off the baking sheet and they were so good!"

Thanks to everyone who joined 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 sidebar for all of the details.

Have a happy, healthy week! 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Book Tour Stops Here: Review of "A Brief Moment of Weightlessness"--Stories by Victoria Fish Served with Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs with Capers and Dill

I used to shy away from short story collections, finding more satisfaction in digging deep into characters and their lives in the pages of novels. But lately, as I have been reading and reviewing more short stories and novellas, I have come to appreciate the beauty in a finely-crafted story and the brief glimpses of lives that they reveal. A Brief Moment of Weightlessness, Stories by Victoria Fish is a well-written collection of these slices of life and I am happy to be today's stop on the TLC Book Tour, reviewing the book and making a recipe inspired by it.

Publisher's Blurb:

A Brief Moment of Weightlessness is a collection of short stories that illuminate the beauty and extraordinariness of “ordinary” lives. Each explores the human desire for connectedness and grace.  The stories range from large upheavals such as how a marriage shifts when a spouse loses a limb or how a girl reconfigures her world when her father goes to jail, to smaller moments such as when a woman experiences wonder again on a visit to a nursing home with her child and their dog, or when a man finds redemption in the midst of tragedy after being bitten by his dying dog. 

These illuminating, heartbreaking, poignant, astute stories take on serious issues of death/dying, injury, infidelity, aftermath of war, estrangement and more, but without a sense of gloom that could overwhelm them. They often, though not always, find that glimmer of hope or opportunity, and they are told in a voice that can cut to the quick of a character or conflict, with endings that don’t always resolve neatly. These stories explore, dissect and celebrate those small moments within the larger events that make all of our lives extraordinary.

Publisher: Mayapple Press, June 2014
Short stories: 132 pages

Size-wise, A Brief Moment of Weightlessness is a quick read with the eleven stories clocking in at just 126 pages. The simple beauty and tranquility of Victoria Fish's writing slows down the pace and makes you want to savor each one. The characters in these stories could be your neighbors, friends, or family, they feel very real. With heavy subjects--grief, aging, death, illness, marital and relationship issues, there is a touch of melancholy to most of the stories, but there are glimpses of light and humor tucked in too. There were stories I preferred, that captured me more than others but each one established the character, pulled me into their life and then left me wanting more--the mark of a good story. This is Fish's debut book and hopefully she will be sharing more of her talent in future collections. 

Author Notes: In addition to writing short stories, Victoria Fish is pursuing her Masters of Social Work. Her stories have appeared in numerous literary magazines, including Hunger Mountain, Slow Trains, Wild River Review, and Literary Mama. She lives with her husband and three boys in the hills of Vermont. A Brief Moment of Weightlessness is her first book.

Connect with her on her website,

There is food sprinkled here and there throughout the book such as a peanut butter and fluff sandwich shared with some determined ants, grilled trout and corn-on-the cob at a lake house, chocolate chip pancakes swirled with mountains of whipped cream for a boy battling cancer while his parents wait to find out how his treatment is progressing, a Thanksgiving dinner interrupted by a trip to the emergency room. One of the characters is a caterer and baker who takes an angel food cake with raspberry amaretto sauce to her glamorous new neighbor--which did sound very tempting, but it is way too hot and humid for baking this week.

Sometimes I choose a book-inspired dish for what I am craving as much as the book itself--very much the case here. Two stories mentioned boiling eggs. In Sari, a moving story where an American girl on an exchange program in India grieves for her mother, and in Phantom Pain, where a woman adjusts to life after her husband loses his leg in an accident after they argue. Boiled eggs make me think of deviled eggs and although often just a simple deviled egg is what I crave, I was in the mood for something a little more special. From D'Lish Deviled Eggs by Kathy Casey (a great little cookbook for us deviled egg fans), the recipe for Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs with Sour Cream & Chives caught my eye. I made a few changes based on what I had on hand--dill instead of chives, yogurt in place of sour cream, and what I like--how can you have smoked salmon and red onion without tossing in capers? (My changes to the recipe are noted in red below.

A little something ordinary made extraordinary--it seems fitting for these stories.

Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs with Capers and Dill
Adapted from D'Lish Deviled Eggs by Kathy Casey
(Makes 24)

1 dozen hard-cooked eggs

3 Tbsp mayonnaise
3 Tbsp regular or low-fat sour cream (I used Greek yogurt)
1/2 tsp Dijon Mustard (I used Gulden's spicy mustard)
1 tsp minced fresh garlic
1/4 tsp salt
(I added ground black pepper)
2 Tbsp thinly sliced fresh chives (I used fresh dill)
2 oz (1/4 cup) smoked salmon, hot or cold-smoked, minced
(I added 1 Tbsp capers, drained)

3 Tbsp thinly sliced fresh chives (I used fresh dill)
3 Tbsp finely minced red onion
1 Tbsp seasoned rice vinegar
(I added 1 Tbsp capers, drained)
(I added 1 oz smoked salmon, chopped)

Halve boiled eggs lengthwise and place yolks into a mixing bowl.

With a fork, mask yolks until smooth. Add mayo, sour cream (yogurt), mustard, garlic,  salt, and pepper, and mix until smooth. Stir in chives (dill), salmon and capers until evenly mixed in. Taste and season accordingly.

Using a pastry bag or spoon, fill the eggs, dividing the filling evenly. Mix the topping in a small bowl and top each egg with a small amount of the mixture.

Notes/Results: These are tasty little bites--or rather tasty little 'two-bites' with their combination of flavors and textures. The sour cream (yogurt in my case) keeps them ultra creamy and the little pieces of salmon and the capers I added, give them a great smoky-briny taste. I let my red onion soak for a bit in the vinegar to take the edge off, and that quick pickling worked really well as they didn't overpower the other ingredients as red onions can sometimes do. When you want something a little fancier than your standard deviled egg, these are a great choice. I would make them again. 

Note: A review copy of "A Brief Moment of Weightlessness" was 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 TLC Book Tours and Reviews here.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Chilled Red Pepper Soup with Yogurt and Herbs by Ottolenghi for Souper (Soup, Salad and Sammie) Sundays

Yotam Ottolenghi's recipes always intrigue me with their combination of ingredients. I love sage and I love cumin but I wouldn't think to partner them in a red pepper soup, add some heat with chilli flakes, then top it with a mix of chopped basil and parsley. It all works together though and it is especially nice to eat slightly chilled in the unending humid weather we have been having.  

Chilled Red Pepper Soup
Adapted from
(Serves 4)

1 large onion
3 Tbsp olive oil, plus extra to finish (I used 2 Tbsp)
8 sage leaves, finely chopped
4 large red peppers
2 bay leaves
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp caster sugar (I used agave)
pinch of dried chilli flakes
500ml (16.9 oz) chicken or vegetable stock
1 celery stick, cut into 1.5cm dice
grated zest of 1/2 lemon
1 garlic clove, crushed (I used 2 small cloves, adding them with the peppers)
25g (.88 oz) basil leaves, roughly chopped
10g (.35 oz) (flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
100g (3.5 oz) soured cream (I used Greek Yogurt)

Peel the onion and chop it roughly. Heat up the oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion and sage and sauté on medium heat for 5 minutes or until the onion is translucent.

While the onion is cooking, halve the peppers lengthways. Take a half of one pepper, remove the seeds and white flesh and cut it into 1.5cm dice. Keep it for later.
Remove the seeds from the rest of the peppers, roughly chop them and stir into the saucepan with the onions. Add 3/4 a teaspoon of salt, bay leaves, ground cumin, sugar and chilli. Sauté for another 5 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a light simmer. Cover the pot and cook on a very low heat for 15 minutes.

Once the peppers are soft, remove the bay leaves from the soup. While still hot, use a liquidiser or a hand stick blender to pulverise the soup until it is totally smooth. This may take a few minutes. Leave to cool down a little. Once the soup is just warm, stir in the celery, diced red pepper, lemon zest and garlic. Leave until it comes to room temperature and then refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.

Remove the soup from the fridge half an hour before serving. Stir well, taste and adjust the seasoning. Divide into serving bowls, sprinkle over a generous amount of chopped basil and parsley, add a spoonful of sour cream per portion and finish with a drizzle of olive oil.

Notes/Results: I love all of the layers of flavor in this soup--it starts out savory and slightly smoky from the cumin, then there is a touch of sweetness, the refreshing bite of the herbs kicks in, and finally the slow heat from the chilli flakes--yum! Love the creaminess that stirring in the sour cream (or yogurt in my case) gives it, but the soup is perfectly good without too if you are eliminating the dairy (or you could use a non-dairy sour cream). I also like the crisp small bites of celery and red pepper mixed into to contrast all of that creaminess. I pretty much followed Ottolenghi's recipe--just reduced the oil slightly, swapped out a couple ingredients and I added my garlic with the red peppers to take the "edge" off instead of at the end. I tasted this warm, right from the fridge, and set out a half hour before eating which Ottolenghi recommends and although it was good at all temperatures, I think he has the right idea--the flavors come out more when it is chilled but not too cold. Gorgeous color, great taste, full of vitamin C and a host of other nutrients, I would definitely make this again.  

This coming week is Potluck at I Heart Cooking Clubs--the chance to make any recipe from our current chef Nigel Slater or any of our previous chefs. This Yotam Ottolenghi soup will be linked there once the post goes live.

Soups and salads await in the Souper Sundays kitchen this week--let's see who is here.

It's a three-soup week for Mireille of Chef Mireille's East West Realm starting with this Laotian Chicken Noodle Soup. She says, "Serve with lime wedges and  fish sauce on the side for each person to add, as desired. Fish sauce is used to add salt, when needed so fish sauce is always on a Laotian table. Squeeze the lime juice inside and enjoy - I LOVED this soup and this will be my new way of making Chicken Noodle Soup. It's a mixture of varying flavors and textures that Southeast Asian cuisine is known for."

Mireille's second bowl is this hearty Curried Red Lentil Soup. She says, "This switch on the average lentil soup is taken from Maddur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian cookbook. This makes a Vegan thick and creamy soup. It is so thick it can be even used as a warm dip. If you find it too thick, simply add some more water or broth. The soup was complemented by these Flax Wheat Rolls."

Her final soup is a Jordanian Freekeh Soup and Mireille says, "This grain is a staple of the Middle East and is not new to them in any way. Here is a simple soup with this grain that's wonderful to enjoy on cold winter days. Usually, fine or crushed freekeh is used in soups and the whole grain is reserved for pilaf style preparations. However, I only had the whole grain so used that one and just cooked the soup for a little longer until they were tender."

Janet of The Taste Space shares this gloriously green and healthy Lemon-Cilantro Broccoli and Chickpea Salad. She says, "One of my more popular salads is my spin on Whole Foods’ Detox Salad. I used lime and cilantro to complement the riced vegetables. I named mine “Broccoli and Cauliflower Salad with Lime and Cilantro” because I cringe when I hear the name “Detox Salad”.

Pam of Sidewalk Shoes brings another gorgeously green salad, this Three-Bean Salad with Cilantro-Chile Dressing. She says, "Well, it wouldn’t be a picnic without a three bean salad!  But this is not your mother’s three bean salad!  This includes edamame, chickpeas and cilantro, ingredients my mother probably has never used, even today.  This was such a refreshing change of pace from the usual bean salads.  I love the blend of the different beans and the cilantro dressing really freshens it up."

Thanks to everyone who joined 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 my side bar for all of the details.

Have a happy, healthy week!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Hot Green Lentils with Mint Vinaigrette

A simple little Nigel Slater from-the-pantry dish that pairs nutty lentils with a minty, slightly tangy dressing. Good for a crazy week when you don't want to put a lot of time and effort into dinner but still want something that satisfies.

Hot Brown Green Lentils with Mint Vinaigrette 
Adapted from Real Fast Food by Nigel Slater
(For 2)

1 heaped cup brown lentils (I used French green lentils)
1 bay leaf
a sprig of fresh mint
(I added 2 1/2 cups veggie broth)
leaves from 2 sprigs fresh mint, chopped
freshly ground black pepper
1 shallot, minced
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
6 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil 

Rinse the lentils in a strainer under running water. Cook them (there is no need to soak them) in boiling slated water with the bay leaf and mint sprig until tender, about 20minutes. (I cooked my green lentils about 25 minutes.)

Meanwhile, make the dressing. Crush the mint leaves with a little salt in a small bowl. Add the minced shallot and pour in the vinegar. Mix in the oil with a fork. Season with pepper.

Drain the lentils and pour the dressing over them while they are still warm.

Notes/Results: Like most lentil dishes--not the prettiest of recipes but this one has great flavor--mint and lentils make an excellent match. I think cooking the lentils in a good low-salt veggie stock gave them even more of a taste boost. I used puy, or French green lentils because I like their slightly more toothsome texture and the way they hold their shape. They take an extra five minutes or so of cooking time but this is still an easy dish to get to the table in 30 minutes. I garnished with extra fresh mint for color and paired it with a piece of hot, honey-smoked salmon. These could easily be eaten on their own or would be great paired with sausages, lamb or chicken for you meat eaters out there. I would make this again. 

This week's theme at I Heart Cooking Clubs is "Lentils, Legumes, and Pulses, Oh My!" Celebrating those versatile and healthy pantry all-stars. You can see what everyone made by checking out the picture links on the IHCC post.


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "I Shall Be Near To You" by Erin Lindsay McCabe--Served with Johnnycakes with Maple Syrup

"And then I see the map, still on the bedside stand. I sit on the edge of the bed and unfold it carefully. Jeremiah has made a heart at Flat Creek and a star at Herkimer. But in the Nebraska Territory he has written, I shall always be near to you."  

It's those words scrawled by her husband on the map he left when he went to fight with the Union army, a feeling of never quite belonging in her family and community, and her deep love for her husband, that moves Rosetta Wakefield to join the army herself, disguised as a man. "I Shall Be Near To You" by Erin Lindsay McCabe is an amazing and moving story based on real life events and Kahakai Kitchen is today's stop on the TLC Book Tour for this intriguing Civil War drama.   

Publisher's Blurb:

In I SHALL BE NEAR TO YOU, McCabe introduces us to newlywed Rosetta Wakefield. More accustomed to working as her father’s farmhand and happiest doing what others might call “man’s work,” Rosetta struggles with how to be a good wife to her childhood beau and new husband, Jeremiah. When Jeremiah leaves home to join the Union army, Rosetta finds the only way she can honor Jeremiah is to be with her husband—no matter what..

Cutting off her hair and donning men’s clothing, Rosetta enlists in the army as Private Ross Stone so that she might stand beside her husband. Joining, however, is the easy part, and now Rosetta must not only live and train with her male counterparts as they prepare for imminent battle, but she must also deal with Jeremiah, who is struggling with his “fighting” wife’s presence, not to mention the constant threat of discovery..

In brilliant detail, inspired by the letters of the real Rosetta Wakeman, McCabe offers a riveting look at the day-to-day lives of these secret women fighters as they defied conventions and made their personal contributions to history. Both a tender love story and a hard look at war, I SHALL BE NEAR TO YOU offers a unique exploration of marriage, societal expectations, and the role of women in the Civil War through the lens of a beautifully written novel.

Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Broadway Books (September 2, 2014)

My Review: 

What a wonderful and engrossing book--one of my favorites for the year for sure. Civil War era historical fiction is not a category I normally gravitate to but I was intrigued by the story and I am glad I gave it a try. I had no idea that at least 200 women were documented as having fought in the Civil War, dressed and acting as male soldiers. I Shall Be Near To You is based on these women--one in particular, Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, a New York woman who fought for the Union Army as Pvt. Lyons Wakeman. (Read more about Wakeman here). The courage and fortitude of these women was fascinating to me.

I Shall Be Near To You is beautifully written and told through Rosetta's point of view. With this strong first person narrative, Rosetta really comes alive--her spirit, her stubbornness, her determination and grit. Seen through her eyes, the horrors of the war and especially the battlefield are chillingly portrayed. Although it is a love story (and what a love Jeremiah and Rosetta have for each other), the book doesn't bog itself down in the romance and reads more as an adventure story. I love it when a book makes me shiver, makes me smile, makes me cry, warms my heart, has me biting my nails, and sweeps me away to a different time and place--and this one did it all.

I was sad to have this book end--I wanted more time with Rosetta and after learning about these courageous women, I would love to know more about their lives after the war. (Hint, hint Erin Lindsay McCabe...) Lovers of adventure and strong female characters, and readers of historical and military fiction, women's fiction, and Civil War era stories will love this one. In fact, even if that doesn't describe you, do yourself a favor and pick up this book anyway--I bet you will love it too. 

Author Notes: Erin Lindsay McCabe studied literature and history at University of California, Santa Cruz, earned a teaching credential at California State University, Chico, and taught high school English for seven years. Since completing her MFA in Creative Writing at St. Mary’s College of California in 2010, Erin has taught Composition at St. Mary’s College and Butte College. A California native, Erin lives in the Sierra Foothills with her husband, son, and a small menagerie that includes one dog, four cats, two horses, numerous chickens, and three goats.

My dish inspired by the book was a bit of a challenge as food inspiration isn't always easy to come by in books where most of the action takes place in army camps or on the battlefield. In my review copy of the book was a sweet little note card from the author, who thanked me for being on the tour and hoped that I "wouldn't hold the terrible food in the book (hard tack & sow belly)" against her. I certainly don't! ;-) She offered up a ginger cake recipe that inspired Rosetta and Jeremiah's wedding cake in the story, as well as a hard tack recipe (no thank you) but I just wasn't feeling the urge to bake. There were mentions of other foods--mostly simple fare. Had I access to good fresh trout, I would have fried some up to represent a time when Rosetta and Jeremiah were young and he stood up for her against a bully and got the fish she caught back. An uncomfortable dinner for the newlyweds with Jeremiah's family included a 'feast' of lamb chops, potatoes, biscuits and canned peaches, while potatoes, eggs and various 'supper soups' were common meals. 

I finally decided to go with a simple Civil War era staple--Johnnycakes--kind of a cornmeal based flat bread/pancake/biscuit from a recipe on a Civil War site that stated "Johnnycakes were popular particularly in the Northeast but eaten across the United States since the 1600's. The recipe is very simple and fun to make.

On her second morning with the army, Rosetta, as Private Ross, cooks with rations of cornmeal and sow belly and her cornmeal biscuits sounded similar to the Johnnycake description. "I buck up and with the few things I've got I figure on making biscuits. I ain't got milk or butter, but water and sowbelly grease might do and anybody who sees fit to complain don't have to eat none."  

Unlike Rosetta, I did have milk and butter (no sowbelly grease needed), and maple syrup to douse the corn cakes in. Had Rosetta stayed at home with Jeremiah's family, she would have been "tending the sugarhouse" (women's work) instead of tapping the maple trees and collecting the syrup (men's work.) I served the Johnnycakes with coffee--also part of the soldiers' rations. 

Adapted from Civil War Recipes
(Makes about 10 small cakes)

1 cup water
1 1/2 cups ground yellow cornmeal
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk
2 Tbsp butter
syrup, molasses, or preserves for topping

Bring 1 cup of water to boil in a medium saucepan. Combine the cornmeal, salt, boiled water, and milk in a medium bowl. Stir well. Melt the  butter in a skillet or a cast iron griddle over medium heat. Pour batter into the skillet,  pancake style to cook. Cook for 4-5 minutes on each side until edges are lacy and lightly browned using a spatula to turn. Serve hot with molasses, maple syrup and butter.

Notes/Results: I am no Johnnycake expert (as you can clearly see from the pictures) and they probably won't be a go-to dish at my house, but these were better than I expected. Not too heavy, slightly chewy from the cornmeal, crispy on the edges. Of course with enough maple syrup, anything tastes good. It took me a bit to get smoothly into Johnnycake production after my first couple of misses (lower heat and smaller cakes are the way to go), but once you get going, they are quickly made and best eaten piping hot. With good strong coffee and lots of maple syrup, overall it wasn't a bad breakfast.

This review and the dish inspired by the book are being linked up at Novel Food--an event celebrating food inspired by the written word and hosted by my friend and fellow Cook the Books co-host Simona of Briciole. The deadline for this round of Novel Food ends Monday, October 6th. 

Note: A review copy of "I Shall Be Near To You" was 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 TLC Book Tours and Reviews here.