Sunday, March 29, 2015

Pea and Cilantro Soup with Red Chili Cream (and Fried Tortilla Strips) for Souper (Soup, Salad, & Sammie) Sundays

Pea soups can be a little bland sometimes but this Pea and Cilantro Soup from Diana Henry's Plenty adds a little something different to pea soup with the blend of cumin and cilantro and by topping it with a Red Chili Cream. I added some strips of tortilla, crisped up in oil to add some welcome crunch. 

Pea and Cilantro Soup with Red Chili Cream
Adapted from Plenty by Diana Henry 
(Serves 6-8)

For the Soup:
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp butter
1 onion, coarsely chopped
1 potato, chopped
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
large bunch of cilantro
2 lbs frozen green peas
4 cups chicken or veggie stock
lemon juice to taste

For the Cream:
1 1/2 tsp olive oil
2 fresh red chilies, seeded and sliced
1/2 cup whipping cream
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper
pinch of superfine sugar (optional)

Heat the oil and butter in a heavy pan. Add the onion and potato and stir. Add the cumin and stir for a minute to release the aroma. Chop the cilantro stems (reserve the leaves) and add them as well, stir, add a splash of water and cover. Sweat for about 20 minutes, adding a splash of water every so often to prevent it sticking on the bottom of the pan. 

Add the peas, stock, cilantro leaves, and seasoning and bring to a boil. Simmer for 3 minutes, then leave to cool. When at room temperature, puree in a blender and add lemon juice to taste. 

To make the cream, heat the olive oil and saute the chilies until soft. Put into a blender and add the cream, lemon juice, and a bit of salt. Blend briefly until broken down. Add a little water to thin it out (It should be able to float on the soup but not be in thick blobs). Check the seasoning. You might think it needs the tiniest pinch of sugar. Reheat the soup before serving (or serve cold) and garnish with the cream. 

Notes/Results: The cumin and cilantro add good flavor to this creamy soup but it is the red chili cream that makes it special. Slightly sweet (I did add the pinch of sugar), slightly tangy, and with a little bit of heat, it is a nice foil to the peas. I had coconut milk creamer in the house, so I used that instead of heavy cream. If you do that and leave out the butter, you can make it vegan. I really like having the strips of deep-fried tortilla to add a crunchy texture to the soup--tortilla chips would work well too. Quick and easy to make, it would be a good starter to a Mexican-themed meal and it works either hot or cold. I would make this again.  

I am going to link this post up with Potluck Week at IHCC--a chance to make any recipe from Diana Henry or any of our previous IHCC chefs. You can see what everyone else made for Potluck by checking out the picture links on the post.

We have a couple of good friends hanging out with me in the Souper Sundays kitchen this week. Let's see what they brought!  

Alicia of Foodycat made Garlic Soup with Gruyere Croutons inspired by Ruth Reichl's Comfort Me With Apples and a soup she enjoyed years ago. She says, "The mention of garlic soup reminded me of the delicious, pungently wine-flavoured garlic soup we'd had in Switzerland, back in 2007 when I was but a baby blogger. I've tried a couple of different versions but I've never quite nailed the combination of fresh-tasting but cooked garlic and dry wine that I remember. This time I tried a version from one of my favourite defunct food blogs, FX Cuisine. Such a great blog but no activity since 2009. Anyway, in his version you roast the garlic with quite a lot of oil, then use that garlic and oil to make a roux before adding stock to make the soup. He also adds noodles to it. I used some dry white wine as well as the chicken stock, and used sourdough olive bread croutes (nothing says "San Francisco" to me like sourdough!) smothered with gruyere cheese to make it substantial enough to be a meal. It was completely delicious, but still nothing like the one we had in Wengen."

Tina of Squirrel Head Manor and Novel Meals shares a classic Lentil Soup inspired by a review of The Soup Club Cookbook. She says, "There are many recipes in this book and not all of them are soups or stews. There are also side dishes and breads. The very cool thing about the recipes are the stories that accompany them. The back stories of these women and their families make it extra special. It started with four friends, women who didn't know each other before they moved to New York City. They became friends & eventually decided to start a soup club. ... With so many intriguing recipes I am selecting a favorite of mine - lentil soup. The quantities of ingredients have been cut back tremendously and I am a "little bit of this, little bit of that" type measurer so....I will just include the recipe in it's original format."


Joanne from Green Gourmet Giraffe is sharing these yummy-looking open-faced sandwiches and says, "I made myself Cheesey Peas on Toast for lunch. "I heated and mashed some green peas.  I mixed them with a spoonful of cream cheese and a little grated cheese.  It was very nice with a grinding of black pepper and some time under the grill.  However the peas were quite sweet so perhaps some spring onions in the mix would give the bite it needed.  A nice easy lunch that I would be happy to eat often."

Thanks to Foodycat, Tina and Joanne for joining me this 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!    

Friday, March 27, 2015

Ruth Reichl's (Very Comforting) Sunny Buttery Saffron Rice Pudding (Sholeh Zard) for Cook the Books: "Comfort Me With Apples"

I am hosting the February/March round of Cook The Books, our bi-monthly virtual foodie book club with Comfort Me With Apples: More Adventures at the Table by Ruth Reichl. Comfort Me With Apples covers Ruth's life from 1978 through the late 1980s and her journey from chef to food writer and restaurant critic.

It's a memoir that balances Ruth's passion for food and describing it in vivid detail, with tales of her (at times almost soap-opera-ish) life. It is her incredible food writing that pulls me into her books--although I greatly admire her ability to write so directly about her personal life and drama with such honesty--despite how it might make her come across. I was at a writing workshop last weekend and the author who instructed the afternoon creative non-fiction session said that her editor once told her that in writing her memoir, she should write "like everyone you know is dead"--as if it's 100 years from now, so you can be completely and brutally honest. That to me describes Ruth Reichl's style to a T. While never deliberately unkind to herself and others--whether reviewing a chef/restaurant or describing family or a lover, she doesn't pull any punches. Coupled with her ability to put food to words in such a way that you feel as if you are dining with her, as well as including some of the recipes most meaningful to her experiences at end of each chapter, it makes for an engrossing read.     

One would think that being the host, having selected the book ages ago and having finished (re-reading) it last month, that I could manage to be early with this Cook the Books round but no. It hasn't been an easy couple of months for a variety of reasons and time just seems to slip away, so I find myself slinking in a few days before the deadline as usual. That doesn't mean I haven't been thinking about my entry though. As I was going through the book, none of the recipes or mentions called to me particularly, or if they did, someone else had already made them. I definitely wanted comfort food. Had I not already made it last year for a book review, Ruth's Matzoh Brei would have certainly been a contender. There's also the Massaged Kale Salad with Currants, Pine Nuts & Parmesan inspired by a mention in Ruth's novel Delicious! that has become a healthy-ish comfort dish for me as I make it on a regular basis. 

Wanting to try a different Ruth recipe, I went to her blog. I get my fix of Ruth's writing by periodically cruising through Ruth's Words on her website where she reviews restaurants and talks about dinner parties, various dishes she cooks, and other foodie things. I definitely go there for her words and not the food photography which always makes me smile because well..., it just isn't great. But, do you know what? She is Ruth freaken Reichl!--her words paint the picture of what she eats better than any picture could. ;-) I found a few recipes that I intend on making someday, but it was the recipe for Persian Rice Pudding or Sholeh Zard that most called to me. I agree with Ruth that rice pudding is the ultimate in comfort food (OK, maybe right next to soup), so it seemed perfect for the book.    

Ruth's recipe serves twelve and although I have been in need of serious comfort lately, I didn't need that many servings of sweet rice pudding. I made a small batch--about three servings worth, by adjusting and (mostly) quartering the recipe quantities. I have written the recipe as I have adjusted it below. If you are feeding a crowd, follow the link to the original recipe. 

Ruth says, "Rice pudding is the chicken soup of desserts. Ultimate comfort food, it's an international dish that changes its style as it travels the world. Once again perusing my stack of Time-Life books I came upon another recipe I couldn’t resist: sholeh-zard, or Persian saffron rice pudding. A goldenrod smear on the page suggests I once made this, but I have no memory of it. Intrigued by the saffron - and the fact that this rice pudding contains no milk - I decided to try it. Unlike the two previous recipes I’ve written about here, this one was so sweet and so strongly redolent of rose water that I made a few serious modifications. Trolling around on the internet I found that sholeh-zard is traditionally incredibly sweet; one recipe I found called for three cups of sugar to one cup of rice. And the classic version is so strongly perfumed with rosewater that some recipes call for as much as a cup. But I've made this to my own taste, so it's less sweet and less perfumed. It is also, in my opinion, very delicious." 

Sunny Buttery Saffron Rice Pudding (Sholeh Zard)
Adapted from Ruth  
(Ruth's Recipe Serves 12 -- Reduced Below to Serve 3)
2 cups water
1/4 cup basmati rice, rinsed and soaked
pinch of salt
1/4 cup sugar
2 Tbsp butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 pinch saffron threads, pulverized with a mortar and pestle or the back of a spoon, and dissolved in 1 Tbsp water
1 scant Tbsp rose water, or to taste
2 Tbsp slivered blanched almonds
1 Tbsp slivered or finely chopped unsalted pistachios
1 tsp cinnamon (garnish)

In a heavy saucepan, bring the water to a boil over high heat. Pour in the rice and salt and stir. Reduce the heat to the lowest possible point and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes. The rice will still be quite watery. Stir in the sugar, then add the butter and the saffron mixture and continue stirring over low heat until the sugar has dissolved, the butter has melted, and the rice is bright yellow. 

Stir in the slivered almonds, and about 1/2 tablespoon of the pistachios and, stirring occasionally, cook for 30 minutes longer until the mixture is thick enough to hold its shape almost solidly in the spoon.

Stir in the rose water according to taste. Ladle into a bowl or several small ramekins. Let cool at room temperature, and then refrigerate for at least two hours. 

Traditionally, this pudding is decorated with lines of cinnamon and nuts laid out in your own personal design.

Notes/Results: Besides not needing the sugar, butter and calories from twelve servings of sholeh zard, I also was concerned that it might be too aromatic, sweet and floral for my tastes however, Ruth's tastes mirrored my own and I really enjoyed the flavor. It was just about right in terms of sweetness, rose and saffron flavor and is really quite delicious. A bit more "solid" and less creamy than some rice puddings I have made (the no-milk aspect, non-dairy if you use a butter alternative) and the nuts add a nice little crunch. I think some dried fruit would be great in here as well. Since it's a cold rice pudding, it would be a fabulous summer dessert--although the bright sunny color does make it warm up a dark and dreary day. Noting that Ruth said sholeh zard is traditionally decorated with lines of cinnamon and nuts in designs and patterns, I looked it up in Google Images and it was fun to see the different and very creative variations. Since I was serving mine in ramekins and I like things simple, I just made a single flower pattern to top the small bowls. A great way to use some exotic pantry items I had stocked up on, pretty, and delicious, this was a fun recipe to add to my rice pudding collection. (I think this is #7 on the blog according to the rice pudding label on my sidebar.) I will happily make it again.

I'll be rounding up all of the dishes that Comfort Me with Apples inspired shortly after the deadline on the Cook the Books site. If you missed out this round and like food, books and foodie books, consider joining us for April/May with our pick; The Feast Nearby: How I Lost my Job, Buried a Marriage, and Found My Way by Keeping Chickens, Foraging, Preserving, Bartering, and Eating Locally (All on Forty Dollars a Week) by Robin Mather, hosted by Deborah of Eliot's Eats


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "The Precious One" by Marisa de los Santos, Served with Giada's (Very Addictive) Pizza Popcorn

Today's TLC Book Tour stop is The Precious One: A Novel by Marisa de los Santos. It's a sweet read about relationships and the bonds between those we love--our family and our friends. At times moving, at times funny, it is a story that is easy to get caught up and lose track of time while reading. I have partnered it with a recipe for Pizza Popcorn, inspired by a scene in the book. Fitting, because it is a dish that is easy to get caught up in (some might call it addicting) and lose track of how just much popcorn you have consumed. 

Publisher's Blurb:

From the New York Times bestselling author of Belong to Me, Love Walked In, and Falling Together comes a captivating novel about friendship, family, second chances, and the redemptive power of love.

In all her life, Eustacia “Taisy” Cleary has given her heart to only three men: her first love, Ben Ransom; her twin brother, Marcus; and Wilson Cleary—professor, inventor, philanderer, self-made millionaire, brilliant man, breathtaking jerk: her father.

Seventeen years ago, Wilson ditched his first family for Caroline, a beautiful young sculptor. In all that time, Taisy’s family has seen Wilson, Caroline, and their daughter, Willow, only once.

Why then, is Wilson calling Taisy now, inviting her for an extended visit, encouraging her to meet her pretty sister—a teenager who views her with jealousy, mistrust, and grudging admiration? Why, now, does Wilson want Taisy to help him write his memoir?

Told in alternating voices—Taisy’s strong, unsparing observations and Willow’s naive, heartbreakingly earnest yearnings—The Precious One is an unforgettable novel of family secrets, lost love, and dangerous obsession, a captivating tale with the deep characterization, piercing emotional resonance, and heartfelt insight that are the hallmarks of Marisa de los Santos’s beloved works.

Print Length: 368 pages  
Publisher: William Morrow (March 24, 2015)

I really loved Marisa de los Santos's first two novels; Love Walked In and the followup, Belong to Me. I wasn't quite as fond of Falling Together, her third novel that came out in 2012, feeling as though I didn't connect as much with the three characters in a friendship triangle. The Precious One may just be my favorite of all of the author's work. It is the story of family, centered around two half-sisters Taisy and Willow, who have spent the past sixteen years forming opinions and resentments about the other until they are thrust into each other's lives when their father 'summons' Taisy to come visit. The story is told from the viewpoint of both sisters. Taisy, at 35, has been estranged from her father since he cheated on her mother and started his new family with young wife Caro and daughter Willow. She has spent her life longing for some sign of affection and love from him. Willow, is 16 but not in any way a typical teenager, having been isolated (and in his mind protected) by her father. In many ways she is naive, in other ways much older than her years from the high expectations of her father and the need to take care of her distracted and somnambulist (sleepwalker) mother. Willow has no intention of sharing her place as daughter with Taisy. The author wrote both characters well, with clear and distinct voices and their relationship is the heart of the book, making the romance(s) secondary. 

Marisa de los Santos excels at writing about women and families (those we are born into and those we create) with humor, heart, and great affection. I did miss getting to know the supporting characters more--even Wilson, the father, who was a complete ass without much redemption in my opinion, even once his secrets were revealed. I especially wanted to spend more time with Caro--Willow's mother, and Marcus--Taisy's brother and Willow's half-brother, to understand and appreciate their stories. Hopefully this won't be the last we see of some of these characters. Here's to Marisa de los Santos revisiting them in a followup, like Belong to Me was for Love Walked In. If she does, sign me up please. The Precious One was a good escape that flew by and left me feeling happy at the end.

Author Notes: Marisa de los Santos has published three New York Times bestselling novels for adults, including Love Walked In and Belong to Me, while David Teague is the author of the picture books Franklin’s Big Dreams and Billy Hightower. Saving Lucas Biggs is their first joint venture. Married for over twenty years, Marisa and David live with their two children, Charles and Annabel, and their Yorkies, Finn and Huxley, in Wilmington, Delaware.
Connect with Marisa on Facebook and Twitter.

Marisa de los Santos's books usually have at least some elements of food in them and The Precious One certainly did. Dishes like as 'fancy' store-bought salads including one made of artichoke hearts, chickpeas, arugula and feta cheese, a coffee cake thick with apple chunks, espresso in tiny black cups and lemon ricotta cookies on square black plates, butternut soup with mushrooms from the neighborhood grocery, pizza and fries for sisterly bonding, a plethora of pies for an awkward Thanksgiving dinner, and some after-the-dance bacon pancakes were all appealing. I was leaning toward the salad or the apple cake but then I got inspired by one of my favorite parts of the book--when Taisy and Willow's mother Caro help her get ready for her first date and first school dance including watching the 80's classic Pretty in Pink while eating pizza and popcorn and drinking grapefruit soda.   

"But I stood firm, and they gave up after minimal hounding, probably because I submitted to the rest: hair, dress, nails, shoes, jewelry, makeup, the crash courses on popular music and how to pin a boutonniere (both taught by Taisy of course), and a pool house viewing of a film called Pretty in Pink during which popcorn, pizza, and fancy grapefruit soda (my first soda experience!) flowed like milk and honey." 
Willow, The Precious One by Marisa de los Santos.

So, popcorn and pizza on the mind, I started thinking about pizza-flavored popcorn. I had seen a couple of popcorn recipes from Giada de Laurentiis, made in a covered kettle and that featured cheese and herbs that I knew I could make pizza-ish. Then, I got smart and simply typed in Giada Pizza Popcorn and... she actually had a recipe for a version on Food Network. Love that! ;-) The recipe sounded good to me and I had everything I needed to make it--always a win. In addition to owning a copy of Pretty in Pink, I also happen to frequently stockpile LaCroix sparkling water in Pamplemousse (aka grapefruit), so the fancy grapefruit soda part of the scene was covered. 

I did change the quantity of many ingredients up a bit (noted in red below) and remembered my sun-dried tomatoes were in fact, oven-dried and not in oil which led to a 'chunkier' texture when coupled with using my mini-chopper to blend instead of dragging out my larger food processor and locating the small bowl insert that I almost never use. I hesitate to call it a 'failing' because I actually like the little pieces of sun-dried tomato mixed into the popcorn however, if you desire, you can get the paste smoother and bits smaller if you do it properly to Giada's suggestions. ;-)

Pizza Popcorn 
Adapted from Giada de Laurentiis via
(Makes 4 Servings)

4 Tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature (used salted Kerrygold Butter)
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained well (used sun-dried not in oil-see notes below)
1 clove garlic, smashed (I used 2 cloves)
1/3 cup popcorn kernels
1 Tbsp grapeseed oil
2 Tbsp grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (used 3 Tbsp very finely-grated + extra to top)
3/4 tsp dried oregano (used 1 tsp)
1/2 tsp kosher salt (omitted as butter was salted)

In a food processor, puree the butter, tomatoes and garlic until it forms a smooth paste. Heat a small saute pan over medium heat and add the butter mixture. Heat the butter until melted down and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Keep warm.

Heat a large saucepan over high heat. Once hot, add the popcorn kernels and oil, and shake the pan to coat the kernels in the oil. Cover and continue to cook over high heat until the kernels begin to pop. Shake the pan once again and reduce the heat to medium-high. Continue to cook until the popping slows dramatically, 1 to 2 minutes.

Pour the popped popcorn into a large bowl. While still warm, add the flavored butter, cheese, oregano and salt. Toss to coat, and then serve.

Notes/Results: This pizza popcorn is pretty delectable and is very well addicting. (Says the girl who grazed her way through at least three of the four servings while writing this review post.) I don't think it is really in my defense to say that it was my dinner. ;-) With the garlic, cheese, oregano and tomato, it does have a very pizza-ish taste. I am sure you could adapt it to include some pepperoni in that compound butter, or some crushed red pepper flakes if you are a fan. I am even going to play around with a vegan version using nutritional yeast and vegan 'butter.' It is quite easy to make popcorn in the covered kettle/Dutch oven, just make sure to shake it periodically so that it doesn't burn. I also have an air popper, or if you are really lazy, you could use a plain, microwave popcorn or put some unpopped kernels in a brown paper bag and pop your corn that way before mixing in the toppings. A bit messy to eat, but well worth it when you want to jazz up movie night. I will happily make this again. 

It's Potluck week at I Heart Cooking Clubs--a chance to make any recipe from any of our previous IHCC chefs, so I am linking up Giada's Pizza Popcorn there. You can see what everyone else made for Potluck by checking out the picture links on the post.

Note: A review copy of "The Precious One" 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.


Sunday, March 22, 2015

Lemony White Bean & Pearled Couscous Soup: Quick & Satisfying for Souper (Soup, Salad, and Sammie) Sundays

This Lemony White Bean & Pearled Couscous Soup came from the desire to use up part of the bags of Israeli or pearl couscous I bought on a closeout sale. I wanted some spring flavors, so lemon, baby fennel, lemon thyme, and some locally grown chervil (an herb I almost never stumble across) joined the party. I added beans for satisfaction and protein--mixing canned chickpeas and small white beans to vary the texture. Finally, a quick purging of the fridge veggie drawer yielded carrot, celery and part of a small bunch of kale. Put together, it was a fairly quick to make soup that is satisfying and wonderful in its simplicity. A little spring kitchen magic in a bowl.  

This is a pantry use-it-up soup so you could certainly adjust the ingredients to fit what you have on hand. For example, I had lemon thyme and chervil and the remains of a small bunch of kale I wanted to use up so I tossed them in. A can of low-sodium garbanzo beans plus a can of navy beans were mixed together and I went heavy on the peal couscous. If you wanted a gluten free soup, you could replace the couscous with quinoa or a gluten free pasta, or even some rice cauliflower would be nice. Adjust the fresh lemon juice to your taste preferences. 

Lemony White Bean & Pearled Couscous Soup
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Serves 4)

! Tbsp olive oil
1 sweet or yellow onion, diced
1 large carrot, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 large or 2 small fennel bulbs, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves (I used lemon thyme)
6 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
3 cups cooked white beans
1 heaping cup Israeli / pearl couscous
2 cups kale, center stems removed and leaves cut into very thin shreds
juice of 1 lemon or to taste
salt and pepper to taste
garnish with fresh parsley or chervil, and a bit of chopped fennel frond. 

In a large , saute onion, carrots, celery, and fennel in olive oil for about 10 minutes. Add garlic and saute another about 5 more minutes. Add the bay leaves, thyme, and vegetable stock, and bring to a simmer. Simmer for about 10 minutes, until vegetables are almost. soft.

Bring broth back to a low boil and add beans, pearl couscous and kale. Cook about 10 minutes, until couscous is cooked and kale is tender. Stir in fresh lemon juice and season to taste with salt and black pepper. Enjoy!

Notes/Results: Just  a great little soup--good soft lemony flavor, filling without being heavy and pleasing in that everything is bite-sized and easy to spoon up. As mentioned, I went a little heavy on the pearl couscous but I like how it absorbs the broth and thickens the soup to make it more of a meal. If you don't like a stew-like soup, you can add extra broth and/or reduce the amount of couscous down to 1/2 or 3/4 cup. If you don't care whether it is vegan or dairy-free, a little grated Parmesan or even Greek Myzithera would be lovely grated on the top. Serve with a piece of toast topped with hummus or avocado 
if you like. I would happily make this again.

Judee of Gluten Free A-Z Blog is here with Lebanese Roasted Eggplant Salad and says, "Roasted tangy eggplant salads, like this one, have been popular in Middle Eastern countries for centuries. I think they taste fabulous, are easy to make AND are really healthy too. This recipe is actually my cousin Elaine's recipe who is an experienced and authentic Middle Eastern cook. She invited us for brunch and served a number of memorable dishes. Although everything was very good, her tangy roasted eggplant was my favorite. Mixed with lemon, garlic, and other herbs and spices, the eggplant salad was superb."

Thanks to Judee for joining me this 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!    

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "The Kill Shot" by Nichole Christoff, Served with a Recipe for Creamy Vegan Dark Chocolate Truffles (+ E-Book/E-Gift Card Giveaway!)

What's more addicting than a mystery/thriller? That would be chocolate--especially creamy, decadent truffles. On today's TLC Book Tour stop, I am bringing you both--with a review of the "The Kill Shot: A Jamie Sinclair Novel" by Nichole Christoff, paired with a recipe for some dark chocolate truffles (dairy-free). There's also a giveaway for a chance to win a copy of the e-book and a $25 e-gift card to help fill up your e-reader at the bottom of this post--talk about feeding your addictions!

Publisher's Blurb:

In an explosive thriller for readers of Lee Child, Alex Berenson, and Brad Taylor, P.I. and security specialist Jamie Sinclair finds herself caught in a dangerous game of international cat-and-mouse.

Jamie Sinclair’s father has never asked her for a favor in her life. The former two-star general turned senator is more in the habit of giving his only child orders. So when he requests Jamie’s expertise as a security specialist, she can’t refuse—even though it means slamming the brakes on her burgeoning relationship with military police officer Adam Barrett. Just like that, Jamie hops aboard a flight to London with a U.S. State Department courier carrying a diplomatic pouch in an iron grip.
Jamie doesn’t have to wait long to put her unique skills to good use. When she and the courier are jumped by goons outside the Heathrow terminal, Jamie fights them off—but the incident puts her on high alert. Someone’s willing to kill for the contents of the bag. Then a would-be assassin opens fire in crowded Covent Garden, and Jamie is stunned to spot a familiar face: Adam Barrett, who saves her life with a single shot and calmly slips away. Jamie’s head—and her heart—tell her that something is very wrong. But she’s come way too far to turn back now.

On Sale: March 17, 2015
E-Book: Pages: 282
Published by : Alibi

My Review: Although The Kill Shot could work as a standalone, I have a *thing* about starting with the first book in a mystery series so I requested the first book, The Kill List, and read it before The Kill Shot. (You can read my The Kill List Goodreads review here.) I think the first book did a great job in setting up Jamie Sinclair's character and giving her back story, as well as introducing us to Adam Barrett--her military police officer romantic interest.

There are many things I liked about The Kill Shot starting with Jamie herself--she is smart, driven, holds her own in a male-dominated career, and has a sense of humor. She's not perfect and has plenty of issues--some deeply buried and some readily apparent. I also like Barrett, who although strong and no-nonsense, also has a soft side and unlike her ex-husband and father, is pretty supportive of Jamie and her skills. I think the pacing of the book was good--I like a lot of action and tension in my mystery thrillers and The Kill Shot provided it. London is a vibrant and intense city and most of the action in this book was set there. Author Christoff did a great job of bringing the city to life.

Here's where I get picky. There were a few things in The Kill Shot that I disliked and that drove me a bit crazy. The first, for all of Jamie's reported skills as a security specialist, she seemed to lose a lot of ground in this second book. She made more mistakes than I would think someone with her experience would in keeping both herself and her clients safe and undetected, and she missed a whole lot of (pretty glaring in my opinion) clues. I like twists in my thrillers where I get at least a bit of a surprise at the end and while action-packed, this book did not have that. I spent at least half the book screaming at Jamie in my mind (OK, maybe a few times out loud too) about why she wasn't listening to/observing what was going on around her and without going into much plot-spoiling detail, who not to trust and who the 'bad guys' were. It just seemed pretty obvious. Also, while I get the huge back story about the relationship with her father and need for his approval that was set up in the first book, the way Jamie seems to completely roll over to gain that approval bothered me. Finally, I am very sure about at least two things in this series--Jamie has square-framed/rimmed glasses and Barrett is built like a boxer. Why am I so sure of these things? The author kept repeating them to the point that it annoyed me. Maybe it was reading both books back-to-back but Jamie seemed to be always shoving her square-framed glasses higher on her nose. If they were not square-rimmed or framed, they were 'geeky' or 'brainiac' or 'nerdy' glasses. OK, I get it. Barrett was introduced as having a boxer's body (which is apparently 'broad through the chest and strong in the shoulder') then she kept mentioning his 'boxer's build' throughout both books. I am all for detailed descriptions but the books are told from Jamie's account and I don't know many people that think 'my square-framed glasses' every time they push them higher on their face or pick them up. Yes, as I mentioned, I know am being a bit picky here but it would pull me out of the story to roll my eyes--plus someone with that attention to detail when describing herself or her lover should not have missed the clues around her as much as Jamie seemed to in this second book. 

Whew! Now, that those petty grievances are off my chest, overall I did actually enjoy both books--The Kill List, more than The Kill Shot as Jamie seemed more on her game in the first book. The writing and the combination of the mystery/spy/military angles held my interest and kept me turning the pages. I can appreciate Jamie's penchant for designer shoes, chocolates and Barrett's chocolate brown eyes. (Maybe I can relate to that better than boxer's build so that repeated description didn't annoy me!) I will definitely seek out the next book in the series with high hopes that the relationship with Jamie and Barrett progresses but that Jamie gets her head back in the game of security and crime solving.

Author Notes: Nichole Christoff is a writer, broadcaster, and military spouse who has worked on air and behind the scenes producing and promoting content for radio, television news, and the public relations industry across the United States and Canada. Christoff is a lifetime member of Sisters in Crime and the Jane Austen Society of North America. She also belongs to Private Eye Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, Mystery Writers of America, Romance Writers of America, and three of RWA’s local chapters where she’s served as an officer and a member of the board. In Christoff’s first year as a member of RWA, her first manuscript won the Golden Heart for Best Novel with Strong Romantic Elements. Her second manuscript won a Helen McCloy Scholarship from Mystery Writers of America. Her last manuscript was a finalist for the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense. Her latest novel, The Kill Shot, is a 2014 Killer Nashville Claymore Dagger finalist.

There was actually a fair amount of food and drink to be inspired by in The Kill Shot. Jamie's love for good chocolate (cake and truffles) was mentioned in the first book and carries over into the second when she bids on a Waterford box of handcrafted truffles and a year of designer chocolates at a charity dinner/auction and dreams of going home to the chocolates and a bottle of champagne instead of the wilted salad dressed with too much vinegar served at the dinner. In London there is regional lager and English cheese, crackers and fruit, French onion soup and roast beef sandwiches, and a dinner at a Persian restaurant with pita, baba ganoush, and tabbouleh, then an English breakfast of tea, bacon, croissants, and strawberry jam. And, back stateside, there's a barbecue dinner of smoked meats and pulled pork. Since Jamie and I share a chocolate addiction, I opted to make some dark chocolate truffles as my dish representing the book.  

I wanted a decadent truffle but had some extra creamy coconut milk to use up so I looked for a vegan truffle using coconut milk. I found a recipe online for The Ultimate Dark Chocolate Vegan Truffles from Feed Your Awesome Machine that sounded like the creamy decadence I was looking for. (Note: Not all dark chocolate is vegan so check if you want your truffles dairy-free.) I basically halved the recipe as I didn't want to over-indulge and I changed up the toppings a bit to have some variety. In addition to the dark cocoa powder and shredded unsweetened coconut, I used pistachios and a mix of ground pink peppercorns with a hint of Himalayan pink sea salt.  

Creamy Vegan Dark Chocolate Truffles
From Melanie Stephens, Feed Your Awesome Machine
(Makes about 2 dozen small truffles)

150 g (about 5.3 oz) high quality dark vegan chocolate (70% coco solids minimum)
1/8 tsp sea salt 

1 Tbsp virgin coconut oil
108 ml (about 3.65 oz) canned coconut milk 

To garnish: things like desiccated/unsweetened shredded coconut, dark 100% cocoa powder, finely chopped nuts (I like pistachios), crushed pink peppercorns, cacao nibs, finely shaved chocolate, chia seeds, matcha, very finely chopped dried fruit or ground freeze-dried fruit (like strawberries), espresso powder, etc. 

The Night Before / Several Hours Before:
Break chocolate into small pieces and place in a medium-sized bowl along with the salt and coconut oil. Heat coconut milk in a small pan on stove until it is just about to boil.  Remove from heat and pour immediately over the chocolate and stir until completely mixed and you have a thick, smooth ganache. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and place in fridge overnight or for 4-6 hours.

To Make Truffles:
Prepare toppings of choice by placing them into individual shallow bowls--making sure there is enough of the topping to roll truffles into. Cover a plate or line a storage container with parchment paper for completed truffles.

Make sure hands are clean and dry. Using a small scoop or spoon, scoop a small amount of ganache out of the bowl and quickly roll it into a small ball with your hands. Roll formed truffle into one of your toppings until it is completely covered and place on parchment covered plate. Working quickly, repeat until you have rolled all of the ganache into balls and coated them with your topping choices. Cover plate/container gently with spring wrap and place in the fridge until firm. Scrape any remaining ganache from the bowl and lick the spoon as desired! ;-)

Some Truffle-Making Notes: This is a little bit messy but it's chocolate so who cares? Just have hand washing water and paper towels ready. I find that the toppings stick best if you roll the truffles into them immediately after forming them. If you do this you may need to wash and dry your hands a few times in between. Depending on the coconut milk you use, the density of your ganache may vary. If your ganche is too hard/solid to form balls, let sit for 15 minutes or more, until it is more pliable. If your ganache softens too much as you are rolling, put it back in the fridge to firm up again. If you have not made truffles before or worked much with chocolate ganache, check out the original recipe post (linked to above) for some great truffle-making tips and trouble-shooting ideas. 

Keep tightly covered in fridge for up to four days.

Notes/Results: OK, these dark chocolate truffles are little bites of heaven. Ultra-creamy, decadent and just sweet enough. They do not have a coconut flavor--they just taste like rich dark chocolate. I halved the recipe and got 24 (approximately 1 & 1/2-inch) truffles so I am guessing I made mine smaller than the original recipe. I like a one-to-two bite morsel when it comes to truffles. I think more than that is too much and, if I want more, I'll have another--maybe a different flavor topping. Out of the toppings my favorites were the coconut and pistachio, although the pink peppercorn and touch of salt mixture was fun too. Pink peppercorns are actually a berry and although peppery, it is a sweeter, milder pepper taste so not too overpowering. Texture-wise I could have ground the peppercorns a just a tad more. My rolling isn't perfect and consistent but I will just claim that it adds to the artisanal, rustic charm of the truffles. ;-) Totally worth a little mess. i will happily make these again. 


The publisher, Alibi, has generously included a Rafflecopter giveaway for The Kill Shot book tour. Enter below for chances to win a $25 eGift card to the eBook Retailer of your choice + an eBook copy of THE KILL SHOT. Good Luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway  
Note: A review copy of "The Kill Shot" as well as a copy of The Kill List were 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.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Diana Henry's Cabbage (+ Kale) and Leek Colcannon for Food 'N Flix March: "The Quiet Man"

It's St. Patrick's Day and here at Kahakai Kitchen we are doing our wearing of the green with some Irish comfort food inspired by March's Food 'N Flix pick, The Quiet Man, hosted by Joanne of What's On the List? (You can see her announcement post here.)

The Quiet Man was made in 1952 and stars John Wayne, Maureen O'Hara, and Barry Fitzgerald. It won director John Ford an Oscar, as well as took home one for the Cinematography for the vibrant scenes of Irish country life. John Wayne plays Sean Thornton, born in the quaint village of Innisfree, but raised in America. He's back to claim his family's cottage and immediately falls for Mary Katherine Danaher--and of course her fiery red hair is matched by a fiery temper. Her brother also wanted the land so he aims to keep them apart and, when they do get together, he refuses to give Mary Kate her "fortune"--the dowry she is promised. For good reasons of his own, Sean refuses to fight him for it, causing all kinds of relationship woes for the couple. For more detail than that, you need to watch it. 

This was my first viewing which surprises me a little since I am a big watcher of classic movies. It is a bit of a silly film and John Wayne spends much of it looking uncomfortable but it has its charms--particularly the meddling villagers, including Barry Fitzgerald (Going My Way, Bringing Up Baby) as Michaeleen Flynn. I am a Maureen O'Hara fan from some of my favorite classic films--The Parent Trap, Miracle on 34th Street (the originals!), Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation with Jimmy Stewart, and as John Candy's mother, in the 90's film (and I think her last film role) Only the Lonely. She's 94, if you can believe it and has had a truly amazing career. So overall a fun, although not particularly foodie film for March.  

So, food is not the star of this film by any means. I would say that top billing after John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara is given to alcohol (primarily beer and whiskey) and cigarettes. There is talk of fishing--both trout and salmon, some meal scenes at the table where it is hard to see what is being eaten beyond potatoes, bread and what looked like a stew. When Sean plants roses in the garden, Mary Kate chides him saying that he should be planting turnips, cabbage, and potatoes. Since it is March and today is St. Patrick's Day, I decided to combine the staples of potatoes and cabbage into a classic Irish dish, Colcannon. Colcannon comes from the Irish ál ceannann, meaning "white-headed cabbage" and it mainly consists of mashed potatoes combined with kale or cabbage. 

I used Diana Henry's recipe for Savoy Cabbage and Leek Colcannon from Plenty and decided to add some locally-grown kale to her recipe. Mainly because of color (and the extra nutrients of course). Both the potatoes and the cabbage (and even the leeks) are lightly colored and I thought the pop of darker green kale would look better on the plate. (Savoy cabbage isn't readily found here but I can get locally grown Napa cabbage and they are both mild in taste, so I subbed in that as well.) Not that using kale makes this a health-food dish--there is way too much butter (in this case Irish Kerrygold butter) for that, but all that fluffy, buttery mashed potato-goodness is an excellent way to get some greens in. 

Traditionally colcannon is eaten with boiled ham or Irish bacon but to be honest, I ate mine in a bowl, sitting on the couch and watching The Voice--and, I enjoyed every bite. ;-) I think some of the leftovers are destined for colcannon cakes with the extra smoked salmon I had after making this chowder
Cabbage (+ Kale) and Leek Colcannon
Adapted from Plenty by Diana Henry
(Serves 4)

1 3/4 lb baking potatoes
4 leeks
1/3 cup + 2 Tbsp butter
8 oz Savoy or other cabbage (I used 6 oz Napa cabbage + 6 oz kale), shredded
2/3 cup milk (I used coconut milk)
salt and black pepper

Cube baking potatoes and cook in boiling water until soft and mashable. Meanwhile trim leeks and slice thinly. Melt 1/3 cup butter in a heavy saucepan. Stir in the leeks, add a splash of water, season and cover pan. Let sweat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, then stir in shredded cabbage (and kale), add another splash of water, and cover. Let sweat for 5 minutes, or until soft and buttery. 

Drain the potatoes, return them to saucepan and set a clean cloth towel on top. Cover and set over low heat for 4 minutes to "dry out" the potatoes and give a better mash. Heat 2/3 cup milk and gradually add it to the potatoes, mashing until there are no lumps. Finally add the cabbage and leeks with their juices, plus another 2 tablespoons butter. Season really well and serve immediately. 

Notes/Results: Potatoes, cabbage and kale may not sound very glamorous or appealing but this is one very yummy bowl of masked potatoes. They were super creamy, wonderfully buttery, and the leeks added a nice sweetness that blended well with the slightly bitter bites of the greens. Really yummy and perfect if you want to be a couch potato with some mashed potatoes at the end of a hard day. I will happily make this again.

Like the potato cabbage combination? Nigel Slater's Goat Cheese Bubble & Squeak is another great recipe. 

These fancy mashed potatoes are the perfect couch potato dish and I am linking them to I Heart Cooking Clubs where this week's theme is Suitable for the Screen, Diana Henry dishes perfect for watching a movie or parking yourself in front of the television. 

The deadline for this month's Food 'N Flix is Saturday, March 28th. Joanne will be rounding up the entries shortly after so check out the film-inspired dishes that everyone made. If you missed out this round and like food, films, and foodie films, join us for April with the Chef, hosted by Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!