Friday, March 6, 2015

Greek Yogurt with Honeyed-Orange Flower & Saffron Syrup, Apricot Compote, and Toasted Almonds {One-Photo Friday}

Smells like heaven, looks and tastes like sunshine. This is a simple Diana Henry recipe from A Change of Appetite. I have had it tagged to make since first seeing the stunning colors in the photo in the book. Zosia made it a couple of months ago and that sealed the deal. So beautifully fragrant while it's cooking with the scents of citrus, cardamom, saffron, orange flower water, warm toasted almonds, and honey wafting through the kitchen. Diana suggests it as a dessert but I ate mine first as an afternoon snack, then again the next morning, for breakfast.  

Diana Henry says, "A really simple dessert that looks beautiful. If you don't usually like saffron, try it anyway--it's quite subtle and provides much of the visual impact."

Yogurt with Honeyed Saffron Syrup, Apricot Compote, & Toasted Almonds 
Adapted from A Change of Appetite by Diana Henry
(Serves 6)

For the Compote:
2 cups dried apricot
1/3 cup apple juice
juice of 1 lemon
wide strip of lemon zest
wide strip of orange zest
1/4 cup agave syrup
crushed seeds of 8 cardamom pods

For the Honeyed Syrup:
good pinch of saffron stamens
1/2 cup honey (preferably orange blossom) (I used a local "rainbow blossom" honey)
2-3 tsp orange flower water, or taste

To Serve:
1 cup Greek Yogurt (I increased the yogurt amount to about 1/2 cup per serving)
2 Tbsp toasted slivered almonds

The night before you want to eat it, put all of the ingredients for the apricot compote into a small saucepan along with a generous 1 cup of water and bring slowly to a boil. Reduce the heat immediately to a simmer  and cook for 10-15 minutes. It's important that you keep an eye on them because some dried apricots are softer than others and you don't want them to fall apart (although it's fine if some do). Sometimes it takes 10 minutes for them to soften and plump up, sometimes a lot longer. You want to end up with fat apricots in a syrup. If the syrup is too thin (it depends on how long the apricots have cooked), remove them with a slotted spoon and boil the juices until they get thicker before returning the apricots. Let them cool in the syrup, then put it into a bowl, cover, and let stand overnight (remove the strips of zest before serving). You can keep the apricots, covered, in the refrigerator for a week. 

It's best to prepare the honey syrup the day before, too, because the saffron continues to flavor it. Put two tablespoons of boiling water into a teacup or coffee mug and add the saffron. Stir well to release the saffron's color and flavor, then add to the honey along with the orange flower water. Mix together, then cover, and let stand overnight. 

To serve, put the apricot compote into little glasses or bowls, top with some of the yogurt, then spoon the saffron honey over the top. Sprinkle with almonds and serve. 
The Honeyed-Orange Flower and Saffron Syrup was too pretty not to snap a picture 
of--so I suppose that it is another Two-Photo Friday

Notes/Results: Such a fabulous combination of flavors--the sweet syrup and compote--full of exotic flavor, contrast nicely with the tartness of the Greek yogurt and the toasted almonds. The floral notes and saffron are clearly present but don't overpower the other ingredients. I didn't have orange blossom honey so I used a local blend called Rainbow Blossom which is a mix of different flowering trees from organic farms and rainforest sites including Mango, Avocado, Lychee, & Passion Fruit. Diana Henry says that this recipe serves six, but I think it's more like four--and that is with adding extra yogurt. So pretty to look at and enjoyable as a dessert, snack, or breakfast, I would happily make it again.

This post is linking up to I Heart Cooking Clubs where this week's theme is Heaven Scent--those aromatic and heavenly-smelling Diana Henry dishes. You can see what everyone made by checking out the picture links on the post at IHCC.

{One-Photo Friday: Since I normally drag out my big camera and gear, take a bunch of photos of my recipes, and then spend time obsessing over them--I decided that for Fridays, I'll simplify by posting a recipe or something interesting and then just take (usually) one photo of it with my iPhone--no muss/no fuss.} 

Happy Aloha Friday!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "The Daughter" A Novel by Jane Shemilt, Served with Curried Coconut Fish & Potato Stew

Today's TLC Book Tour stop dives deep into drama, the trauma of a missing child, and how secrets can break a family apart. The Daughter by Jane Shemilt, is a psychological mystery novel that asks the question, "How well do you really know your family?" It is served up today with a recipe for a mild-but-flavorful Curried Coconut Fish & Potato Stew inspired by the book. 

Publisher's Blurb:

Jenny is a successful family doctor, the mother of three great teenagers, married to a celebrated neurosurgeon.

But when her youngest child, fifteen-year-old Naomi, doesn’t come home after her school play, Jenny’s seemingly ideal life begins to crumble. The authorities launch a nationwide search with no success. Naomi has vanished, and her family is broken.

As the months pass, the worst-case scenarios—kidnapping, murder—seem less plausible. The trail has gone cold. Yet, for a desperate Jenny, the search has barely begun. More than a year after her daughter’s disappearance, she’s still digging for answers—and what she finds disturbs her. Everyone she’s trusted, everyone she thought she knew, has been keeping secrets, especially Naomi. Piecing together the traces her daughter left behind, Jenny discovers a very different Naomi from the girl she thought she’d raised.

Jenny knows she’ll never be able to find Naomi unless she uncovers the whole truth about her daughter—a twisting, painful journey into the past that will lead to an almost unthinkable revelation.

Print Length: 352 pages  
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (March 3, 2015)

I liked The Daughter but I didn't love it. I think it had to do with the characters and the pacing. As sympathetic as I was to Jenny's circumstances--the loss of a daughter, the worry of wondering what happened and if Naomi was still alive, and the disintegration of her marriage and the family unit, it was hard to attach to her. The story is told from Jenny's point of view and moves back and forth from the days before and after Naomi's disappearance to a year later, as Jenny has taken refuge in her family's cabin--trying to simultaneously distance herself from her pain, while working to uncover what happened to her daughter. Because the book is so centered on Jenny's experience, the other characters don't make much of an impact, and even as secrets unfold, it was hard to know the rest of the characters and their motivation in any substantial way. I felt that the book started off strong but that the tension that was built so well at the beginning faltered through the middle of the book. That tension picked back up at towards the end as Jenny and Michael, the detective assigned to the case (and who she has developed a personal relationship with), begin to put the clues together, but then the ending left me somewhat dissatisfied. I can't say much about the end--as it would be a spoiler, but it left more questions than answers. I suppose that since real life is never wrapped up in a neat package, it makes sense--but I expected more of a 'big bang' with the ultimate revelation and it just wasn't there. This is the author's debut novel and I do think she captured the daily life and family drama well, and delved into the mind of a mother who thinks that everything is going well in the lives of her family, then comes to the realization that she has missed the many signs that things are not at all as they seem. I just wish I had felt more of a connection.   

Author Notes: While working full time as a physician, Jane Shemilt received an M.A. in creative writing. She was shortlisted for the Janklow and Nesbit award and the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize for The Daughter, her first novel. She and her husband, a professor of neurosurgery, have five children and live in Bristol, England.

Follow Jane on Twitter, @janeshemilt.

There is food in The Daughter although it doesn't play a strong role. There are descriptions of meals eaten both before and after Naomi's disappearance--sandwiches, meat casserole, and apple cake. The day before, Jenny scrubs and peels potatoes for a gratin dauphinois. The night of Naomi's play opening Jenny makes a curry with coconut milk for a celebratory dinner, served with naan bread. Later, after the holidays she makes a turkey curry. Jenny's elderly neighbor gifts her eggs that she eats boiled and folded into slices of bread. There is roast chicken and a holiday dinner with corn bread, cranberries and stuffing and Christmas cake. At the family's cabin in coastal Dorset, there are mentions of fish and chips consumed at the local pub. Since no one thing stood out to me, I decided to combine the potatoes, coconut curry, and fish into a simple Curried Coconut Fish & Potato Stew from one of my favorite quick-fix Indian cookbooks, 5 Spices, 50 Dishes by Ruta Kahate.

I liked the idea of the vinegar added at the end of the cooking--both to see what it did to the flavor of the curry as well as the small nod to fish and chips consumed in the book. This is a mild curry, but that works well with the flavors. The author recommends thicker cuts of catfish or cod, I like to go local when possible and used a lovely Opah (moonfish) fillet. It is so tender and almost sweet in flavor that it is perfect for a fish stew.   

Ruta Kahate says, "The addition of the vinegar at the very end of cooking helps to round off and balance all the flavors in the curry."

Curried Coconut Fish & Potato Stew
Adapted from 5 Spices, 50 Dishes by Ruta Kahate
(Serves 4)

2 Tbsp olive oil
about 1 cup diced onion or shallot
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp curry powder
2 serrano chiles, cut lengthwise into quarters
3 large cloves of garlic thinly sliced
2 tsp finely minced ginger
2 medium russet potatoes, chopped
1 cup water
1/2 tsp salt, divided, or to taste
1 1/4 lbs white fish fillets (at least 1-inch thick) I used local Opah (moonfish)
one (15 oz) can coconut milk
2 tsp apple cider or rice vinegar
2 Tbsp chopped cilantro to garnish, optional 

Heat oil in a large pan over medium-high heat and saute onion until golden. Add turmeric, curry powder, chiles, garlic, and ginger and stir. Add potatoes and stir until they are well-coated with the oil and spices, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add water and 1/4 tsp of the salt and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer until potatoes are tender--about 15 minutes. 

Add the coconut milk, fish and remaining salt and simmer until fish is opaque and cooked through but still springy to the touch, about 5 minutes. Stir in the vinegar and let sit for 5 minutes. Taste for seasoning and serve, garnished with cilantro if desired. 

Notes/Results: The beauty of fish stew or curry is in how quick and simple they are to make and this one was no exception. I cut the potatoes slightly smaller than suggested which sped up the cooking time a bit more. The potatoes and coconut milk give it a very creamy texture and make the gravy wonderful for soaking up rice or naan. The opah was perfectly tender and juicy and although generally mild, there is a touch of heat in the end notes from the serrano chiles. Although you don't taste the vinegar, (and I actually added more than the recipe stated) it does add that brightness that gives an extra dimension to the flavor. I also added the curry powder to the turmeric in the recipe because I did want a bit more curry flavor. I served it with plain basmati rice and garlic naan, grilled on my grill pan, as there was plenty of extra sauce to soak it up. It made for an easy weeknight dinner, particularly appreciated on a cool, rainy evening. I would make this again. 

Note: A review copy of "The Daughter" 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 1, 2015

Coffee Black Bean Chili: Cooking with (Fundamental) Coffee for Souper (Soup, Salad, & Sammie) Sundays

 "Soup must be eaten boiling hot and coffee drunk piping hot."
Grimod de la Reynière

And, if you are making soup, or rather chili, with your coffee--then serve it nice and hot as well. I have been craving chili and had been wanting to make Mark Bittman's Espresso Black Bean Chili from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. Cooking with coffee is like cooking with wine--you should use a good quality one, that you like to drink--because if you don't like it in the cup, you won't like it in the dish you put it in. Fresh, roasted well, and brewed properly--really great coffee is a beautiful thing and what's exclusively in my coffee cup lately (and now my chili) is from Fundamental Coffee Company

Started last year by two friends and former co-workers of mine, Scott McMartin and Tim Kern, Fundamental Coffee Company is based out of Seattle. With over 50 years of coffee experience--sourcing, roasting, blending and spreading the power of great coffee, these guys taught me much of what I know about the bean with lots of laughter and good sarcasm along the way--because while they take their coffee seriously, it is about the only thing. It's cool to watch good friends do well--the coffee is amazing and they roast, package, and ship it very fresh and economically--even to Hawaii. Sadly, Tim passed away unexpectedly in late October and is sorely missed, but Scott is keeping the vision and the great coffee going. 

I am working my way through the line up. Right now my favorite is  the refined Guatemala Antigua Acate, followed closely by their complex but balanced Winter Solstice Blend, and the creamy and smooth Humbucker Blend. Although when I am in the mood for iced coffee, you can't beat the bright and juicy Single Coil Blend. Ah hell, it's all amazing!  Do yourself a favor and order some. If you live in Seattle or plan on visiting, you can pick it up on Fundamental Fridays at their roastery and get to drink great coffee, geek out, and have fun getting your pressing coffee questions answered. If you aren't lucky enough to be in Seattle, they will ship it quickly and maybe even throw in a cool Fundamental Coffee Company button or two. Find them here or on Facebook.

Besides Scott's coffee chops, he has a great palate so when deciding which of my Fundamental coffees to grace this black bean chili, I asked the master and we decided on their Papua New Guinea from Waghi Valley. Scott felt that with its great depth of flavor it would marry well with the bold spices in the chili and accompany it without pushing for "top billing." It was a great choice--I brewed up some to drink and some to cook with and started simmering.

Bittman says, "This deep, richly flavored chili has enough caffeine to keep you awake—literally. (Bear this in mind when you’re serving it; use decaffeinated espresso if you or your guests are caffeine sensitive or reserve it for lunch or early dinner.) Serve this with rice, a stack of warm tortillas, or tortilla chips, some crumbled queso fresco or sour cream, and parsley or cilantro. Other beans you can use: Earthy-flavored beans that can stand up to the other flavors—pinto, kidney, or dried soybeans—work best."

Espresso Black Bean Chili
Adapted from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman
(Serves 6)

2 Tbsp neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn
2 onions, chopped
2 Tbsp minced garlic
3 cups chopped ripe tomato (about 1.5 lbs whole; canned is fine; don’t bother to drain)
1/2 to 1 cup freshly brewed espresso, 1 to 2 cups brewed coffee, or 2 Tbsp espresso powder
2 Tbsp chili powder (I used ancho chili powder)

(I added 1 Tbsp cumin)
1/4 cup dark brown sugar or 3 Tbsp molasses
One 3-inch cinnamon stick
1 lb dried black beans, washed, picked over, and soaked if you like
Salt and freshly ground black pepper 

Put the oil in a large pot with a tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat. When hot, add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.

Stir in the tomato, espresso, chili powder, brown sugar, cinnamon, and beans and add water to cover. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat so the liquid bubbles steadily but not violently. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans are beginning to soften, 30 to 40 minutes. Add a good pinch of salt and pepper.

Continue cooking until the beans are tender, anywhere from another 45 minutes to 11/2 hours. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more sugar, salt, or pepper. Serve or store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Notes/Results: The coffee flavor comes through in this chili and it is as rich and as well balanced as the coffee. The slight herbal and fruit notes of Fundamental Coffee Company's PNG coffee play off well with the cinnamon and the subtle sweetness works well with the hint of smoky spice from the ancho chili powder (and added cumin). It also smells outrageously good while simmering on the stove. Do make enough coffee to enjoy a cup or two while it cooks--the intense aroma will have you craving it, so best be prepared. I topped my chili with crumbly feta-like Cotija cheese and cilantro. Avocado would have been lovely too but the one I had was bad. Served with warm corn tortillas and lime wedges, it was a satisfying bowl. Coffee enough for coffee lovers but not overpowering, I would 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 this Mark Bittman chili there. You can see what everyone else made for Potluck by checking out the picture links on the post.

Let's look into the Souper Sundays kitchen and see who is here and what dishes they brought. 

Janet of The Taste Space offers up Bengali Squash with Black Chickpeas and says, "Around this time of year, it is probably a good idea for us to go through our pantries and cold rooms. Please tell me I am not the only one with winter squashes that always seem to linger throughout the winter. No better time to use the winter squash along with a new variety of bean. Especially in curry form. Susan gifted me these black chickpeas awhile back and I will admit, I prefer regular chickpeas. However, this curry was spectacular. There were a multitude of spices, added at different times to the curry, which created a rather optimally spiced dish. The fennel and panch phoran make this Bengali-inspired and a bit different from our typical curries. The black chickpeas made for a beautiful visual contrast but regular chickpeas could work, too."

Heather of girlichef shares Rhode Island Clam Chowder this week and says, "So, did you know that Rhode Island Clam Chowder was a thing? Until recently, I didn't. You see, lately I've been in the mood for seafood. Well, okay—I'm almost always in the mood for seafood. So how let's just say that I'm craving it even more than usual. This leads to me scouring my bookshelves and the internet for ideas and inspiration. It was on one of these missions that I happened across an article by Sam Sifton called The Clam Chowder Wars, and in turn, Rhode Island Clam Chowder. ... Upon looking at the simple ingredient list, one might assume it was boring or drab. It's actually just the opposite. It seems to be the version that tastes (dare I say) the purest. It's broth is clear, and tastes like ocean air...salty...clammy. It has some underlying heat from a healthy dose of black pepper, as well."

Judee of Gluten Free A-Z Blog is back this week with this Taco Salad Appetizer Dip and says, "If you enjoy Nachos or Tacos, you will love this layered Mexican Salad that is my sister in law Amy's party go to !. She made it this year for her neighbor's Super bowl Party , and as usual there was not a morsel left over! It's kind of her signature dish, and I always look for it when ever she has a party! It's easy to assemble, tastes fabulous, and is made from real food including fresh chopped tomatoes and scallions.! And I love that it simply requires assembling, not cooking. If you have unexpected company drop by, you can whip this chopped salad  up in 15 minutes."

Thanks to Janet, Heather, and Judee for joining 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! 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Donna Hay's Deconstructed Tiramisu for Food 'N Flix February Movie: 'Lady and the Tramp'

We have gone to the dogs this month at Food 'N Flix with the 1955 Disney classic, Lady and the Tramp, hosted by Elizabeth of The Lawyer's Cookbook. In truth when it comes to Disney animated dog movies, I was always the bigger fan of 101 Dalmatians, but I have seen Lady and the Tramp many times over the years and I think it might have inspired a love for cocker spaniels in me as a child. I am going to assume that if you haven't seen the movie, you at least know the story but if not, you can read the plot here. A family-fun pick that still holds its charm after sixty years.

It's always fun to re-watch a classic for the food inspiration and there is food to be found in Lady and the Tramp, even beyond the romantic shared spaghetti and meatballs scene (although that one is very inspiring). As I watch each month's film, I always take notes--sometimes jotted on paper and sometimes captured electronically. 

Here's my Lady and the Tramp list below copied directly from the notes on my iPhone:

Coffee & donuts--Lady fed at breakfast 
Bones--Jock (maybe shortbread for Jock/ southern for Trusty?) 
Restaurants--Tramp: grill, French pastries, Tony's Italian: pizza/bones
Watermelon & chop suet*--Darling preg cravings (Note: that was meant to be chop suey--darned auto correct
Wiener schnitzel / corned beef--Tramp neighborhood meals
Spaghetti & meatballs dinner, breadsticks
Thai food?--Siamese cat twins

I had wanted to make a veg-friendly chop suey, one of Darling's pre-baby cravings, but then as usual I was late to the party and Heather at girlichef made a too-perfect-to-compete-with chop suey. ;-) So I put my thinking cap on and decided on a tiramisu--not in the film but what you might expect after a romantic Italian dinner, and it uses lady finger biscuits--in honor of Lady. 

When looking for a non-chocolate version (we are talking dogs that shouldn't be eating chocolate here), I came across Donna Hay's Deconstructed Tiramisu recipe and decided it was perfect because it also conjured up thoughts of the breakfast scene where Jim Dear pours a cup of milky-looking coffee into Lady's bowl and gives her a doughnut to daintily dunk into it. I can picture a romantic dunk and nibble dessert scene after dinner for Lady and Tramp. ;-) 

Here's a video demo of Donna making the recipe and you can find the recipe here too. If you aren't serving a favorite canine couple, I think that a small bowl of finely-grated dark chocolate is a nice addition.

Deconstructed Tiramisu
Adapted from Donna Hay via Fast, Fresh, Simple
(Serves 2--dogs or adults) ;-)

2 Tbsp espresso coffee
1 Tbsp caster (superfine) sugar
2 Tbsp coffee liqueur (I used
Kahlua Hazelnut)
1/4 cup (60g) mascarpone
1/4 cup (60ml) singe (pouring) cream
2 tsp icing (confectioner’s) sugar, sifted
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
6 small sponge lady finger biscuits

(I added 2 Tbsp finely-grated dark chocolate--optional)

Place the espresso and sugar in a saucepan over low heat and stir until the sugar dissolves.  Simmer very slowly for 1 minute. Remove from heat, add the liqueur and chill.

Place the mascarpone, cream, icing sugar and vanilla in a bowl and whisk until soft peaks form.

To serve, divide the coffee mixture between 2 small serving glasses. Spoon the mascarpone mixture into 2 separate small serving glasses. (Add a small bowl with grated ch0colate if desired.)

Place the glasses on serving plates and serve with the biscuits.

Notes/Results: I love this idea from Donna Hay--it totally calls to my lazy girl side--very low effort. To illustrate how truly low effort I was feeling today, I was working out of my satellite office (aka: my neighborhood coffeehouse) this morning and as I was leaving I asked them for a couple of shots in a to-go cup. A 5-minute trip home and I immediately put it into a pot and heated it with the sugar to make my coffee mixture to chill. It saved dragging out my stovetop espresso maker, grinding the coffee, heating it up, etc. ;-) Yep, lazy! And, it's much more fun to eat than tiramisu--dipping is always entertaining. Since each person gets their own, double-dipping is totally allowed. You can vary the flavor of coffee liqueur you use (I like hazelnut) or do a fun version for kids with drinking chocolate instead of the coffee and coffee liqueur. Child or adult, I think the grated chocolate addition is a nice touch. 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 Donna's dipping tiramisu there. You can see what everyone else made for Potluck by checking out the picture links on the post.

Despite my best intentions, I am flying in under the wire for this month's Food 'N Flix deadline which is today, Thursday, February 26th. Elizabeth will be rounding up the entries on her blog in the next couple of days so check out the Lady and the Tramp-inspired dishes everyone made. If you missed out this round and like food, films, and foodie films, join us for March with the John Wayne classic, The Quiet Man, hosted by Joanne at What's On the List?   


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Book Review & Recipe: "Those Rosy Hours at Mazandaran" by Marion Grace Woolley with Creamy Pistachio & Feta Dip

Last week our TLC Book Tour stop of Scent of Butterflies gave us the culture and customs of Iran in the 1970s-1990s. This week we are back, but this time we head a couple of centuries earlier, to the 1850s of Northern Iran or Persia and the dark, lush historical novel Those Rosy Hours at Mazandaran by Marion Grace Woolley. Accompanying my review is a recipe for a creamy and exotic Pistachio & Feta Dip inspired by the book.

Publisher's Blurb:

It begins with a rumour, an exciting whisper. Anything to break the tedium of the harem for the Shah’s eldest daughter. People speak of a man with a face so vile it would make a hangman faint, but a voice as sweet as an angel’s kiss. A master of illusion and stealth. A masked performer, known only as Vachon. For once, the truth will outshine the tales. 

On her eleventh birthday, Afsar’s uncle tries to molest her, and her father, the Shah, gifts her a circus. With the circus comes a man who will change everything. Inspired by Gaston LeRoux’s The Phantom of the Opera, Marion Grace Woolley takes us on forbidden adventures through a time that has been written out of history books.

Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Ghostwoods Books (February 14, 2015)

Afsar is the first daughter of the Shah, raised in luxury in the palace, she is indulged and adored. Whether or not this privilege and the unapologetic violence of the times nurtures the darkness inside her, it is clear she has a very cruel and sadistic side--even at the age of eleven. When the circus performer Vachon with his masked face and clever tricks appears to perform on her birthday, those proclivities are developed even further, the violence escalates, and Afsar's life begins to change. Those Rosy Hours of Mazandaran is an absorbing if not entirely comfortable read. It's made up of a cast of characters almost impossible to like. Any sympathy for Asfar's youth, loneliness, and lack of control for her future, or Vachon's disfigurement and the life he must have led, quickly dissipates due to the disturbing pleasure they take in killing. The story is told from Asfar's viewpoint and her lack of remorse for most of her actions is chilling but hard to look away from. Coupled with the author's ability to craft a visual feast for the senses when describing their world--the sounds, the colors, the aromas, flavors, and textures are fully brought to life--it makes for an enthralling and dark story. I had to keep turning the pages to see if Asfar and Vachon's love would redeem them or ultimately destroy them and those around them. This book may not be for everyone but if you like dark, exotic novels with a gothic feel and historical leaning, you will likely find it fascinating. 

Author Notes: Marion Grace Woolley is the author of three previous novels and a collection of short stories. In 2009, she was shortlisted for the Luke Bitmead Bursary for New Writers. She balances her creative impulses with a career in International Development; she has worked and traveled across Africa, Australia, Armenia, and a few other places beginning with ‘A’. She is an associate member of the Society of Authors, and is currently at work on her fifth novel. Follow Marion on Twitter @AuthorMGW

There is definitely a food presence in Those Rosy Hours at Mazandaran--especially with life at the palace. Some inspiring mentions were the city market smells of fresh fish and crispy fried squid, saffron-spiked yogurt, and rice boiling in sweet milk, a breakfast of goat cheese, quince jam and sweet tea, refreshing cantaloupe juice, sesame halva, bowls of dried fruit and nuts (especially the ubiquitous handfuls of salted almonds everyone seemed to snack on), apples and honeyed dates, sweet 'baghlava (baklava) sprinkled with almonds and pistachio, dripping with honey,' sweet cardamom toffee, and vegetable ash (soup).

With all of the salted almonds being consumed, I originally thought I might do some sort of Persian-spiced nut blend to represent this book. Looking through my Middle Eastern cookbooks for inspiration, a recipe for Pistachio & Feta Dip in Persiana by Sabrina Ghayour kept catching my eye. (BTW--Persiana is a gorgeous cookbook that I will be coming back to again and again I am sure.) Persiana author Ghayour says she stumbled across the spread in a butcher shop/cafe in a back alley of Istanbul and recreated it from taste and memory. So it's not a direct inspiration from the novel but the heart wants what the heart wants, and I think it captures the sumptuousness of the book and some of the flavors and ingredients of Persia.

I made a couple of small changes to the recipe--increasing the garlic and lemon and mostly de-seeding the chili. The author recommends serving with 'hunks of pillowy bread' which would have been wonderful had I not forgotten to buy some. I did have a bag of my newest chip obsession on hand--Primizie Thick-Cut Crispbreads--gourmet pita-like chips. I served the Simply Salted version with this dip although I find that I am most enamoured with the Smoked Dutch Gouda and Garlic flavor for eating out-of-hand. 

Pistachio & Feta Dip
Slightly Adapted from Persiana by Sabrina Ghayour
(Serves 8 as Appetizer)

3 1/2 oz (100 g) shelled pistachios
generous 1/4 cup olive oil
10 1/2 oz (300 g) feta cheese
handful of dill, leaves picked and coarsely chopped
2 handfuls of cilantro, leaves picked and coarsely chopped
1 garlic clove chopped (I used 2 cloves)
1 long red chili (of medium heat), seeded and roughly chopped
3 heaping Tbsp Greek yogurt
zest and juice of 1/2 lemon (I used the juice of a whole lemon)
sea salt to taste

Blitz the pistachios and olive oil in a food processor for about 30 seconds. Add the other ingredients and process for about a minute or until the mixture has a nice, slightly coarse and rustic texture. Taste and season with a bit of sea salt if needed.

Top with a bit of additional feta and chopped pistachios and a sprinkle of smoked paprika if desired. Serve with bread, crackers, and veggies. 

Notes/Results: Salty, tangy, cheesy, herby, nutty, this is a fabulous dip, with a rich and elegant flavor and a little kick of spice at the end. It also works wonderfully as a sandwich spread--try it with tomato, red pepper and cucumber on pita. I may even try it with pasta, if it lasts that long. The ground nut texture gives it a pesto-like quality--although the feta and yogurt make it creamier than your average pesto. I like the pretty green color from the nuts and the herbs too. I will definitely make it again.

Note: A review copy of "Those Rosy Hours at Mazandaran" 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, February 22, 2015

Vegan Avgolemono (Creamy Lemon-Rice Soup) for Souper (Soup, Salad, & Sammie) Sundays

Wanting to finish up the last of a bag of basmati rice, I made a large batch. The leftover rice got me thinking about Avogolemono Soup (or egg-lemon soup). I have a few versions on the blog already, including one with mini meatballs (from my meat-eating days), a vegetarian version, and Terry Hope Romero's vegan version that gets its creaminess from white beans. I have had another vegan version sitting in my magazine "to-make" stack, from Shape magazine (March 2014). This one comes from Gena of
and uses miso and tahini for the creaminess. 

Gena says, "I’ve searched for vegan avgolemono for a long time, and none of the recipes I’ve seen blown me away. I wanted something quick, simple, tart, and very much like the creamy soup I remember, sans egg (which is the traditional thickener). ...It’s tangy from the lemon, creamy from miso and tahini, and full of nutritious, grounding brown basmati rice. Who needs meat when you have vegetables and grains?"

I made a couple of small changes to the recipe using my previously cooked basmati rice and blending the nutritional yeast (and dill) into the soup rather than topping with it. My changes are noted in red below.  

Vegan Avgolemono (Creamy Lemony-Rice Soup)
Adapted from Gena of Choosing Raw via
(Serves 4)

2 small shallots, diced
1 cup diced carrots
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp olive oil
5 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1 cup brown rice (I used 2 cups cooked white basmati rice)
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 Tbsp miso
2 Tbsp tahini
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
2 heaping Tbsp dried dill or 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill (I used fresh)

Saute shallots, carrots, and garlic in oil until shallots are translucent, about 7 to 10 minutes. Add broth, rice, and salt, and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and cook 30 to 35 minutes until rice is cooked through. (Note: Since I was using previously cooked rice and fresh dill, I cooked the veggies in the broth for about 15 minutes, then added my cooked basmati rice and about half of my dill and simmered it about 10 minutes more to heat everything through and blend flavors.)

Whisk together miso, tahini, and lemon juice. Add mixture to soup, whisking, until blended. Top with nutritional yeast and dill. (Note: I blended the miso, tahini, lemon juice and nutritional yeast in the blender before whisking it into the soup with the fresh dill.)

Notes/Results: I think that the recipe creator Gena is right, this soup is amazingly similar in both texture and taste to the non-veg version at my local Greek restaurant. Creamy and lightly tart and very good. I had wondered if either or both the miso and tahini would be noticeable in flavor but they truly were not--they only show up (in a good way) in the texture. The recipe calls for the nutritional yeast and dill to be added on top at the end but I felt like I would enjoy it more if they were mixed into the soup so that's what I did. (See the notes on the recipe above.) This soup is so aromatic with the shallots, garlic, lemon, dill and the basmati rice. I am a bit under the weather this weekend with a lingering sinus congestion and cough and it was just the thing I needed to feel better--I wish I made a double batch. ;-) I served it with corn and edamame bread from a local bakery. It would also be great with hummus and pita. I will make it again.  

Anthropologie FINALLY opened this month in Oahu. This could be very bad for my budget as I can get lost in their kitchenware for hours but I am usually limited to whatever I can pack into a suitcase and get safely back home. The bowl, plate and print cloth above are among my first purchases. Not the greatest pictures using them today--see above mention about feeling under the weather--so not in the mood for taking photos today. Ah, well... They deserve and will get better shots (and whiter/lighter backgrounds.) ;-) I had to buy these beauties as they match the color and look of a set of tea cups and saucers I have had for ages. Makes me happy! 

Let's see who is in the Souper Sundays kitchen this week:

My pal Heather of girlichef is celebrating her 6-year blogging anniversary by remaking the dish on her first post, Manhattan Clam Chowder. Heather says, "The very first recipe I shared was for Manhattan Clam Chowder. I wrote a short, two sentence introduction proclaiming how much I loved soup. The sentiment holds true today, but I like to think I've come a long way since I those days in my tiny kitchen, snapping photos under artificial light with my little pink camera. ... This Manhattan Clam Chowder is laden with clams and chunks of potato nestled in a tomato-based broth with a hint of underlying heat, and a bit of smokiness lent by the addition of bacon." Happy Blogoversary Heather!

Mireille of Chef Mireille's East West Realm is back this week with Tomato Chayote (aka Christophene) Soup. She says, "Chayote is a vegetable that has many different names even in English, depending on what country you are in. Most Americans and Mexicans call it chayote, Jamaicans cal it cho-cho, Africans and Caribbeans call it christopene and in New Orleans it is called mirliton. Whatever you call it, it is one of my favorite vegetables to include in soups. It is a member of the squash family and will absorb other flavors rapidly. This is a very brothy soup, perfect for those winter days when you are stuck inside with a bad cold and not a lot of energy for chewing."

Janet of The Taste Space shares this fresh and pretty Kale Fennel Salad with Grapefruit Vinaigrette. Janet says, "I used to eat a grapefruit every.single.morning. Now, I can’t even remember the last time I ate a grapefruit. Perhaps in Houston. Suffice it to say, it has been a while. I probably should have spent more time devouring citrus while in Texas because ripe and sweet grapefruits are delicious. Sometimes you are lucky to find them in Canada, too. In this case, I went with something more unique and added it to a kale salad. I also experimented with raw fennel, which was a touch bitter for me (especially paired with the grapefruit), so add that to taste.  A bit of coconut was reminiscent of the Caribbean. The flageolet beans, perfect for adding to salads, was a way for me to make this a complete meals instead of a side salad."

Thanks to Janet, Mireille and Heather for joining 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!