Friday, December 15, 2017

Ina's Peanut Rocky Road Chocolate Bark + 7 Other Favorite Chocolate and/or Vanilla Recipes

Chocolate bark is one of those great candy recipes--it's easy with quick preparation time, it tastes fantastic, it can be customized to your preferences, and it looks pretty on a plate or in little gift bags for a holiday treat. 


I have posted a couple of variations of bark on the blog (Dark Chocolate Pretzel Bark, Dark Chocolate Bark with Almonds and Sea Salt) and Ina Garten has a few different recipes, but once I saw her Peanut Rocky Road Bark, I was pulled in by the combination of flavors and the fact that I had leftover vanilla vegan mini marshmallows and a can of cocktail peanuts in my pantry. 


Peanut Rocky Road Bark
From Ina Garten, via FoodNetwork.com
(Yields Abut 16 Pieces)

12 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/3 cup salted peanuts
1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips (I used mini chips)
1/2 cup mini marshmallows (I used these)
2 oz good white chocolate, finely chopped

Using a pencil, draw an 8 x 11-inch rectangle on a piece of parchment paper. Turn the parchment paper over so the pencil mark doesn't get onto the chocolate and place it on a sheet pan.

Place three-quarters of the bittersweet chocolate in a heatproof glass bowl and put it in the microwave on high for 30 seconds. (Time it carefully.) Stir the chocolate with a rubber spatula, return it to the microwave for another 30 seconds, then stir again. Continue to heat and stir in 30-second intervals until the chocolate is just melted. Immediately stir in the remaining bittersweet chocolate and allow it to sit at room temperature, stirring often, until it's completely smooth. (If you need to heat it a little more, place it in the microwave for another 15 seconds.)

Pour the melted chocolate onto the parchment paper and spread it lightly to fill the drawn rectangle. Sprinkle the top evenly with the peanuts, chocolate chips and marshmallows. Press them lightly so they will set in the chocolate.

Place the white chocolate in a small, heatproof glass bowl and microwave it for 30 seconds. Stir with a rubber spatula and return to the microwave for 15 seconds, then stir again. Continue to heat and stir in 15-second intervals until the chocolate is just melted.

Using a spoon, drizzle the white chocolate onto the bark in straight lines.


Set aside for at least 3 hours until very firm. (Note: It's still pretty warm and humid here for chocolate to set, so I covered it well and popped it in the fridge for 20 minutes to set up. I will have to store it there too, so I keep it well wrapped with paper towels on top on the container to keep any condensation away from the chocolate.)

Cut or break the bark in 16 pieces and serve at room temperature.
 

Notes/Results: If you love Rocky Road and/or its components, you will love this chocolate bark. It is rich and decadent and the contrast of the sweeter vanilla marshmallows and white chocolate drizzle, combined with the bittersweet chocolate and salty peanuts is really tasty. Because I like a salty-sweet combination, next time I would sprinkle some flaked sea salt on top too, but that is the only real change I would make--other than using a bigger pan. I used my half-pan and my bark was a bit thick. Nothing wrong with that but a thinner bark would be nice too. I would happily make this bark again.


This post is for our Monthly Featured Ingredient Challenge at I Heart Cooking Clubs. December's ingredients are chocolate and/or vanilla. Besides making a dish with the ingredients from our current or past IHCC chefs, it's always fun to go back and highlight favorite recipes with those ingredients from our IHCC chefs. 

I only had two recipes that featured vanilla from IHCC chefs that stood out to me:

Nigella Lawson's Doughnut French Toast


Ellie Krieger's Very Vanilla Rice Pudding


When it came to recipes featuring chocolate, I had picked my third Donna Hay recipe and just decided to just go with her for my favorites--so here are five. Her recipes are always so quick and good--she does chocolate simply and she does it well.

Donna Hay's Deconstructed Tiramisu:

Donna Hay's White Chocolate Candy Cane Truffles

Donna Hay's Cheat's Chocolate Hazelnut Mousse


Donna Hay's Chocolate French Toast "Sandwiches"

 Donna Hay's Caramelized Pineapple Skewers with Dark Chocolate Dipping Sauce

I'm linking this post up with I Heart Cooking Clubs  You can see what chocolate and/or vanilla dishes everyone made by checking out the picture links on the post. 

 
I'm also sharing this post with 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.


Happy Aloha Friday!
 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Vegan Cheesy Loaded Baked Potato Soup with Tempeh "Bacon" Crumbles for Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

I was craving a baked potato soup, fully loaded of course with those all-important toppings, but I wanted a healthier and preferably vegan version so I put this one together. I used both russet and Yukon gold potatoes and leeks and combined frozen cauliflower, coconut milk and nutritional yeast--blended up with some of the soup to thicken it and to give it a cheesy vibe. 


For toppings, I went with non-dairy sour cream, Diaya cheese-style shreds, green onions, and bacon, or rather 'fake-on' crumbles. I have been wanting to experiment with making my own vegan bacon crumbles and was torn between tempeh (a fermented soy product) and coconut flakes, but tempeh won out in the end.


Cheesy Loaded Baked Potato Soup
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Serves 6)

2 Tbsp olive oil
3 medium leeks, white and green parts only, cleaned and sliced
1 small bunch green onions, white parts separated from green
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp dried parsley
1  tsp celery salt
1 bay leaf
2 large russet potatoes, peeled and diced
2 to 3 Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced
4 cups vegetable broth of choice (I used Better Than Bouillon non-chicken paste)
1 package frozen cauliflower, cooked
1 can coconut milk
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
1 Tbsp lemon juice
sea salt and black pepper to taste

To Serve: sliced green onion tops, vegan sour cream, vegan cheese, tempeh bacon crumbles (recipe below)

Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium heat. Add leeks and saute for about 10 minutes--until leeks are soft. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the dried parsley, celery salt, bay leaf, potatoes and broth. Bring the mixture to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, covered, for 15 to 20 or until the potatoes are tender. Remove the bay leaf. 

Take two ladles of the soup and puree in a blender with the cooked cauliflower, coconut milk, nutritional yeast and coconut milk until smooth. Add the blended mixture back to the soup and cook on medium-low for 5 minutes until heated through. Season to taste with sea salt and black pepper.

Serve garnished with the non-dairy cheese, non-dairy sour cream, green onions and tempeh bacon crumbles. Enjoy!


Tempeh Bacon Crumbles
Inspiration from from this recipe and this recipe

1 (8 oz) package plain organic tempeh (I used Lightlife brand)
1/3 cup low-sodium tamari or soy sauce
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp roasted garlic powder
1/2 tsp liquid smoke
1 scant Tbsp maple syrup
1/4 tsp black pepper

Slice the block of tempeh in half lengthwise, then into thin strips and then into small cubes, crumbling slightly with your fingers and them place in a gallon-sized Ziploc bag. Mix the other ingredients together and pour into the bag. Gently shake and 'massage" the bag so the tempeh is evenly coated with the marinade.  Allow the tempeh to marinate for several hours.

When ready to cook, drain the tempeh with a colander and pat dry with paper towels. Heat a large skillet over medium high, add crumbles and cook, stirring often for about 10 minutes until the pieces get crispy around the edges. 

Use warm or allow to cool and keep stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.

Notes/Results: I liked this soup--thick and velvety with a definitely cheesy vibe going on. I liked the different textures of the two kinds of potatoes and using the cauliflower to add nutrients, flavor and thickening. I think it has good flavor on its own, but add those toppings and we are in business. I need to experiment a bit more with the tempeh bacon. Flavor-wise I thought it was fairly spot on but I would have liked a crisper texture. I actually fried it a second time and that helped a bit but I may try to get the tempeh a bit drier the next time (why I recommend draining and patting it dry in the recipe notes.) I plan to play around with it and also try a coconut flake version to see if I like the texture better. But overall a success and it definitely hit the spot for my baked potato craving. 

Obviously I liked it! ;-)

We have some great people and dishes awaiting in the Souper Sundays kitchen--let's have a look.

The Bearded Hiker joins us at Souper Sundays this week with Chili Cheese Dog Chili and said, "My wife was on Pinterest, looking at food. Typical. She spots this slow cooker chili cheese dog chili from 4sonrus.com. Hot dogs are not her number one food. Not even her #1000 food, but she knows how I love hot dogs. She shows it to me, reads the ingredients, and I’m so down. Let’s do this. So yeah, the original recipe is done in the slow cooker. Perfect! Just not for me, not on this day. I wanted it and I wanted it now!“No worries,” she says. “I’m gonna throw it in the pressure cooker and see what happens.” Rock on, so that’s what we did."



Kim of Stirring the Pot tried Ina's 16 Bean Pasta e Fagioli but didn't have a great result. She said, "This soup takes forethought, quite a bit of work, and results in lots of dirty dishes. No problem, right? After all, I love all the ingredients and this soup is definitely going to be great. Wrong. So wrong. I wish I didn't have to say this, but my soup was really mild. Way too mild. In fact, my husband's comment was "this has no flavor at all." I had to agree with him. ...this recipe is a no go for us. Don't be afraid to give it a try though because I know a few others who have really enjoyed it! But, do me a favor, soak your beans overnight!"



Tina of Squirrel Head Manor made Eggplant Sliders and said, "The lunch was meant to be eggplant sliders but I didn't' get to the grocery store for Hawaiian rolls. Those little things are so good. (Putting it on the list to look for a copycat recipe) We usually take our lunch as it's preferable to fighting lunch time crowds and also it's cost effective. Plus there are crazy holiday shoppers out there now and the traffic is maddening. Our workplace break rooms are blissfully quiet and empty this time of year."

 
Mahalo to everyone who joined me at Souper Sundays 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 Souper Sunday'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. Also please see below for what to do on the post you link up to be included.
and 

On your entry post (on your blog):
  • Mention Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammies) Sundays at Kahakai Kitchen and link back to this post. (Not to be a pain but it's polite and only fair to link back to events you link up at--so if you link a post up here without linking back on your post, it will be removed.)
  • You are welcome to add the Souper Sundays logo to your post and/or blog (optional).



Have a happy, healthy week!
 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "A Hundred Small Lessons" by Ashley Hay, Served with Herb-Grilled Prawns with Green Goddess Dressing (+ a Giveaway!)

I'm happy to be on the TLC Book Tour for A Hundred Small Lessons, a novel by Australian author Ashley Hay. Accompanying my review are some recipes inspired by my reading for Ina Garten's Herb-Grilled Prawns paired with her Green Goddess Dressing. There's also a chance to a win a copy of this book for your own at the end of this post.


Publisher's Blurb:

From the author of the highly acclaimed The Railwayman’s Wife, called a “literary and literate gem” by Psychology Today, comes an emotionally resonant and profound new novel of two families, interconnected through the house that bears witness to their lives.
 
When Elsie Gormley leaves the Brisbane house in which she has lived for more than sixty years, Lucy Kiss and her family move in, eager to establish their new life. As they settle in, Lucy and her husband Ben struggle to navigate their transformation from adventurous lovers to new parents, taking comfort in memories of their vibrant past as they begin to unearth who their future selves might be. But the house has secrets of its own, and the rooms seem to share recollections of Elsie’s life with Lucy.
 
In her nearby nursing home, Elsie traces the span of her life—the moments she can’t bear to let go and the places to which she dreams of returning. Her beloved former house is at the heart of her memories of marriage, motherhood, love, and death, and the boundary between present and past becomes increasingly porous for both her and Lucy.

Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Atria Books (November 28, 2017)


My Review:

A Hundred Small Lessons is a character-driven book about life's journeys--both the beginnings and the ends. It's about two women and their families who occupy the same Brisbane house at different times. After a fall, elderly Elsie is moved by her children from her home to a nearby care facility while Lucy and her husband Ben buy the house and settle in with their toddler son, Tom. The story alternates primarily between Elsie and Lucy with much of Elsie's story looking back at her life and Lucy's more focused on the present day as her life moves forward and she adjusts to the changes that motherhood brings. Lucy feels a connection with Elsie, finding photos, a teacup and other possessions that belonged to her. She also feels Elsie's presence in the house, something her husband discounts and adding to tension brewing between them. Elsie is finding it hard to let go of her house, the memories of her beloved husband who died decades ago, and the regrets she has about her life--especially her strained relationship with her daughter.

The writing is quietly and deeply beautiful. There are no big moments or huge bursts of drama here, but the way that Hay writes about the small moments, the ones we often take for granted, gives them a resonance and an importance and made me want to keep reading. On the other hand, I was a bit unprepared for how much Elsie would make me think of my own mom and her end of life, so there were times when I would have to set the book down and walk away from it. In the end, I enjoyed this glimpse at two lives, separate but connected, and the lyrical way the author tells their stories. This is my first book by Ashley Hay but I will definitely explore her writing more.

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Author Notes: Ashley Hay is the internationally acclaimed author of the novels The Body in the Clouds and The Railwayman’s Wife, which was honored with the Colin Roderick Award by the Foundation for Australian Literary Studies and longlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award, the most prestigious literary prize in Australia, among numerous other accolades. She has also written four nonfiction books. She lives in Brisbane, Australia.

You can connect with Ashley via her website or Facebook

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Food Inspiration:

It's not the foodiest of books but there was food to be found in A Hundred Small Lessons including breakfast, morning tea, chicken, biscuits (homemade peanut butter cookies and store-bought biscuits), champagne, Moscow Mules, cake, fried egg, a red frankfurter, beer, homemade bread with jam and honey, lamb, steak, wine, peanut butter and hard-boiled egg sandwiches, lime pickle, Duchess potatoes, gravy, cheese, ice cream, fig trees, a "rich, seafoody thing," brandy, soup, sausages, egg, sultans, raisin toast and milk, and seafood.


For my book-inspired dish I took inspiration from a lunch prepared by an artist, Ida, who Elsie sits for and who thinks they need a celebration at the finishing of her portrait of Elsie. 

"So she sat at the wide green kitchen table, and she ate the luxurious prawns, and the fresh sweet tomato, and the thick slices of bread. And she let the size of the artist's words wash over her one last time--let them soak into all the chinks and crevices of herself she hadn't known before this work began."

Prawns sounded good--especially grilled prawns and so I found a recipe from Ina Garten for Herb Grilled Shrimp. Ina accompanies it with Mango Salsa but I wasn't really feeling the fruit and seafood combination so instead I made the Green Goddess Dressing she has paired with her roasted shrimp. I served the shrimp and dipping sauce with sweet local cherry tomatoes and slices of baguette for my take on Elsie and Ida's lunch. 

 
Get the best shrimp you can. I like to buy Kauai shrimp or other local shrimp when it is available and keep it in my freezer. When it isn't available, I usually buy my shrimp from Whole Foods as they track to ensure that both their farm-raised and wild shrimp are responsibly caught or farmed and free from preservatives among other things.

Herb Grilled Pawns
Slightly Adapted by Ina Garten via BarefootContessa.com
(Serves 6)

3 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium yellow onion, small-diced
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
1/4 cup minced fresh basil
1 tsp dry mustard
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp kosher salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup good olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
2 lbs prawns or jumbo shrimp (16 to 20 per lb), peeled, tails left on, & deveined


Combine the garlic, onion, parsley, basil, mustards, salt, pepper, olive oil, and lemon juice. Add the shrimp and allow them to marinate for 1 hour at room temperature or cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

Prepare a charcoal grill with hot coals, and brush the grilling rack with oil to prevent the shrimp from sticking. Skewer the shrimp. (Ina uses 5 or 6 shrimp on a 12-inch skewer for a dinner serving, I used 3 shrimp on a 6-inch skewer for appetizers.)

Grill the shrimp for about 1-1/2 minutes per side or until pink and just cooked through. Serve with Ina's Mango Salsa, Cocktail Sauce, or her Green Goddess Dressing (recipe below). 

-----

Green Goddess Dressing
Adapted from Ina Garten vis FoodNetwork.com
(Makes about 2 cups)

1 cup good mayonnaise (I use Just Mayo vegan mayonnaise
1 cup scallions, green & white parts chopped (about 6 to 7 scallions)
1 cup basil leaves, chopped (about 18 to 20 basil leaves)
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp anchovy paste
2 tsp kosher salt, or to taste
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 cup sour cream or yogurt

Place all ingredients except sour cream into the jar of a blender and process until smooth. Add the sour cream and process until just blended. Use immediately or refrigerate until ready to use.


Notes/Results: I had been craving good shrimp and these did not disappoint. They were plump and tender and had great flavor with the mustard and the herbs. I made just a small batch of the shrimp but made the entire Green Goddess dressing recipe--which was delicious. I like my shrimp with different sauces than the standard cocktail sauce and green goddess dressing makes an excellent partner to the sweet shrimp and I am sure I will be using it on salads the rest of this week. Together it all made for a tasty light dinner and I will happily make the shrimp and the dressing again.


I'm linking up this post to I Heart Cooking Clubs where the theme is It's Five O'Clock Somewhere!--cocktails and/or nibbles to enjoy with them--like these delicious shrimp. You can see what everyone made by checking out the picture links on the post.

 
I'm also sharing this post with 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 "A Hundred Small Lessons" was provided to me by the author and the publisher via 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 A Hundred Small Lessons to give away (U.S. & Canada addresses only, sorry) here at Kahakai Kitchen.

To enter the Rafflecopter Giveaway below, leave a comment (Because I like to read them!) and briefly tell me about a small lesson you have learned over the years or if you don't want to go that deep, tell me about a favorite cocktail or appetizer or tell me why you'd like to win a copy of A Hundred Small Lessons.

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) and/or publisher Atria Books
(@AtriaBooks). (Note: You can still get the extra entries even if you already follow these accounts.)

Deadline for entry is midnight (EST) on Saturday, December 2nd.


a Rafflecopter giveaway
Good Luck!
 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Red Curry Salmon & Vegetable Soup with Wonton Wrapper Noodles for Souper (Soup, Salad, & Sammie) Sundays

Today's soup is all about my cravings and wants--red curry, salmon, noodles, a desire for a quick and easy soup, and reading something (I cant remember exactly what or where it was but I am guessing it came into my e-mail box) about the idea of cutting up wonton or eggroll wrappers and using them as noodles in soup. It sounded like a good idea to me--especially since I had a package of them in my fridge that needed to be used up this month.


It all comes together in this easy, flavorful bowl of curry noodly goodness.


Red Curry Salmon & Vegetable Soup with Wonton Wrapper Noodles
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Serves 4 )

1 Tbsp coconut oil or oil of choice
3 Tbsp red curry paste or laksa paste, or to taste
1/2 onion, sliced thinly
1/2 Tbsp ginger, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 to 5 baby bok choy, separated--larger, harder stem pieces chopped into 1/2-inch pieces & leaves and tender stems & chopped into 2-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups shelled edamame, thawed
4 cups vegetable stock of choice
1 Tbsp fish sauce
1 Tbsp tamari or soy sauce
4 oz shiitake mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
12 oz salmon fillets, skin removed and fish cut into 1-inch pieces
12 or so fresh wonton skins/wrappers, sliced into strips
1 can (15 oz) coconut milk
fresh lime juice, optional
sesame seeds, optional

Heat a large pot over medium high heat and add coconut oil and red curry paste, cooking for a couple of minutes. Add the onions and saute for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic and baby bok choy stems and saute for another 3 minutes.

Add the edamame, broth, soy sauce, and tamari and bring soup to a slow roiling boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the shiitake mushrooms and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, then add the wonton strips, making sure to add them a few at a time and gently stirring to make sure they don't stick together. As soon as you have added all of the wonton strips, add the salmon and cook another 3 to 4 minutes, or until salmon is just cooked through and wonton noodles are tender. 

Stir in the coconut milk and bok choy leaves--stirring very gently so as not to break up the salmon and wonton noodles.Taste and add more curry paste, salt, or other seasoning (such as lime juice) as needed or desired.

Serve sprinkled with sesame seeds and with lime juice and chili oil on the side if desired and enjoy!

Notes/Results: For a quick and simple soup, this one really hit the spot for me today with a nice level of spice, great red curry flavor, lots of noodles and a silky coconut broth. It isn't heavy but the salmon, mushroom and edamame make it satisfying. I liked the size and texture of the wonton strip noodles--easily spoon-up-able. Had I been more ambitious, I might have fried up some of the strips and put them on top but I'll save that for next time. I would happily make this soup again. 


A quiet week in the Souper Sundays kitchen but my good friend Tina is hanging out with me--let's have a look at she brought!


From Squirrel Head Manor Tina shares her tasty Butternut Squash Soup and says, "I'm fairly well pleased with the little things in life....such as the abundance of butternut squash in the market. Yes!  It's so good roasted with apples and carrots and the leftovers make a fine soup. Doug grilled a beautiful fillet of Golden Tile fish so I roasted veggies to go along for a side. ...after we enjoyed the roasted veg I dropped it in a processor and blitzed away until it was nearly smooth.  Next time I will make it smoother. The taste was good, but it needed more broth. So I'll do that next time."
 

Mahalo to Tina for joining me at Souper Sundays 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 Souper Sunday'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. Also please see below for what to do on the post you link up to be included.
and 

On your entry post (on your blog):
  • Mention Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammies) Sundays at Kahakai Kitchen and link back to this post. (Not to be a pain but it's polite and only fair to link back to events you link up at--so if you link a post up here without linking back on your post, it will be removed.)
  • You are welcome to add the Souper Sundays logo to your post and/or blog (optional).




Have a happy, healthy week!
 

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "The Paris Secret" by Karen Swan, Served with a Recipe for Ratatouille with Salmon

I'm happy to be hosting today's TLC Book Tour stop for The Paris Secret by Karen Swan full of secrets and mysteries, history and a bit of romance too. Accompanying my book review is a recipe for Ratatouille, a classic French stew of vegetables and in this case, topped with a piece of grilled salmon. Both the book and the stew are perfect to curl up with as we watch November pass into December.


Publisher's Blurb:

In this glittering tale of forgotten treasures and long-held secrets, international bestseller Karen Swan explores one woman’s journey to discovering the truth behind an abandoned apartment and a family whose mysteries may be better left undiscovered.

When high-powered fine art agent Flora Sykes is called in to assess objets d’art in a Paris apartment that has been abandoned since WWII, she is skeptical at first—until she discovers that the treasure trove of paintings is myriad…and priceless. The powerful Vermeil family to whom they belong is eager to learn more and asks Flora to trace the history of each painting.

Despite a shocking announcement that has left her own family reeling, Flora finds herself thrown into the glamorous world of the Vermeils. But she soon realizes there is more to this project than first appears. As she researches the provenance of their prize Renoir, she uncovers a scandal surrounding the painting—and a secret that goes to the very heart of the family. The fallout will place Flora in the eye of a storm that carries her from London to Vienna to the glittering coast of Provence.

Xavier Vermeil, the brusque scion of the family, is determined to separate Flora from his family’s affairs in spite of their powerful attraction to one another. Just what are the secrets he is desperately trying to hide? And what price is Flora willing to pay to uncover the devastating truth…?

Paperback: 416 pages  
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (November 14, 2017)


My Review:

The Paris Secret is the second book about, or based on the discovery and opening up of the real abandoned Paris apartment which had sat untouched for 70 years after the owner fled at the outbreak of World War II. (My review for that book The Paris Time Capsule is here.) I find the subject so intriguing, the description of the book sounded different enough from the other and I was curious to see what this author would do with the inspiration and I was not disappointed. Karen Swan puts the emphasis on the art in this book and the descriptions of it and the history she imagines surrounding the apartment and its occupants easily transported me to present day Paris, as well as made me imagine what it must have been like at the dawning of the war. I liked Flora, although she is focused on her work as an art agent (which sounds fascinating), she cares for her family, especially her older brother who is facing a life-changing accusation. The family that owns the apartment and who Flora is working for is interesting, even if most of its members are not totally likable and Flora's research uncovers deep secrets and scandals that could easily topple them. These side plots add to the drama of the story of the treasures in the Paris apartment and where they came from. I enjoyed the focus on the apartment and artwork more than the romance that formed for Flora--which didn't quite click for me--but there was enough in the story that did to make me overlook it. I don't know a lot about art, other than to appreciate it, but I could follow along and I felt like I learned something about fine art and the auction world which had me checking out some things on line along the way--always a good sign of how interested I am in a subject.

With the beautiful writing and intriguing story, The Paris Secret made for a nice escape and had me not wanting to set it down as I really wanted to find out what would happen. If you like art, fashion, history, mystery and/or romance, you should enjoy this one. It's my first book from Karen Swan but I will definitely be checking out her other work.  


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Author Notes: Karen Swan worked as a fashion editor before moving into writing fiction. She is married with three children and lives in the Ashdown Forest in East Sussex, writing her books in a treehouse overlooking the South Downs. She is the author of the novels The Summer Without YouChristmas at Claridges, and The Perfect Present.

Follow Karen on Facebook and Twitter.

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Food Inspiration:

There is more detail on fashion and art than there is on food in The Paris Secret but there were some food mentions including chamomile lawns,” langoustines, tea, yoghurt, lemon mascarpone cheesecake, rosemary, figs, pomegranate, molasses, olive bread “club salad”, avocado, lime soda, jars of pickled fruits and vegetables, a tagine, tequila,  Diet Coke and jelly babies, a sushi bar with salmon nigiri and tuna maki, chicken, frappes, macaroons, apple and pear trees, champagne, potatoes, beans and carrots grown on a hidden rooftop, rib of beef, chili, pie, espresso, croissants, orange juice, truffles, a bowl of fruit, sausages, ice cream, moules (mussels), shepherd’s pie, ice wine, bowls of ratatouille, pancakes,  and vodka tonic.


The only thing that really called to me to make was the ratatouille which was served at a town “ball”—really an outside dance in a town on the coast of Provence where the crowd sat at wooden tables and the “delicious but rustic” food with bowls of ratatouille were passed down the benches. I love a good bowl of ratatouille and even though it is turning into December, I can still get good local basil, eggplant, zucchini and even tomatoes.


Since it is Potluck week at one of my blogging events—I Heart Cooking Clubs, I looked to see which of our many featured chefs had a good ratatouille recipe that I hadn’t yet tried and although there were several that tempted me, I ended up with an Ellie Krieger recipe for Ratatouille with Red Snapper. There’s no fish beyond shrimp and mussels mentioned in the book, but the heart wants what the heart wants. ;-)  There was no local snapper (onaga or opakapaka) and the other local Hawaiian fish at the market didn’t look that great so I decided to swap in salmon from my freezer instead. I also didn’t Ellie would mind if I added in a couple of my favorite veggies--fennel and red bell pepper--to her recipe. My changes are in red below.


Ratatouille with Salmon
Slightly Adapted from Ellie Krieger via FoodNetwork.com
(Serves 4)

3 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1 large eggplant (about 1 lb), trimmed & cut into small dice (about 3 cups) (I used 2 Japanese eggplant)
1 medium onion, cut into small dice (about 1 1/2 cups)  
2 cloves minced garlic (about 2 teaspoons)
2 medium zucchini (1 lb total), trimmed, cut into small dice (about 2 1/2 cups)
(I added 1 fennel bulb and 1 red bell pepper)
1 (14.5-oz) can no-salt-added diced tomatoes (I used fire-roasted)
1 tsp herbs de Provence (or 1/2 tsp dried thyme & 1/4 teaspoon each dried rosemary & dried marjoram)
3/4 tsp salt, plus more for seasoning
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves, plus more for garnish
4 (5-oz) fillets red snapper, skin on (I used 2 5-6 oz salmon fillets, skin on)
2 tsp lemon juice
2 tsp rosemary (or other herb) infused olive oil, optional (I omitted)

In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the eggplant and cook, stirring, until eggplant has softened but not completely lost its shape, about 5 minutes. Remove the eggplant from skillet. Heat another tablespoon of oil in the same skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and zucchini to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until the zucchini is soft, about 6 to 7 minutes. Return eggplant to pan and add tomatoes, herbs de Provence, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Simmer approximately 10 minutes. Season with additional salt, to taste. Stir in basil and remove from heat.

To cook fish, preheat broiler. Sprinkle fillets with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Combine the remaining tablespoon olive oil with the lemon juice and brush on fillets. Broil until fish is cooked and firm, about 7 minutes. (I added a sprinkle of herbs de Provence to the salmon along with Ellie's salt, pepper, oil  lemon) and cooked in until just done on a pan on the stovetop.)

Mound 1 cup ratatouille on 4 plates; top each mound with 1 fish fillet and drizzle with 1/2 teaspoon herb infused oil, if using. Garnish with additional basil.


Notes/Results: This is a simple and tasty ratatouille—nicely flavored with the garlic and herbs de Provence and the salmon stands up to the chunky vegetable stew quite well. I sprinkled a bit of my herbs de Provence on top of the salmon, seasoned it as per Ellie’s recipe and cooked it in a pan on the stovetop. Since I halved the recipe, I didn’t need to fire up the oven that way. Any good firm fish will work here, or you could leave off the fish and add a can of beans to the ratatouille for a veg-friendly version. Easy enough for a weeknight dinner, healthy, and delicious, I would happily make it again.


I'm linking this recipe up to Potluck at I Heart Cooking Clubs. You can see what everyone made by following the picture links on the post. 

 
I'm also sharing this post with 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 "The Paris Secret" was provided to me by the author and the publisher, Harper Collins, via 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.