Sunday, March 30, 2014

Radish Soup & Radish Leaf-Feta Spread on Toasts for Cook The Books: "Twain's Feast" and Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

What did Mark Twain eat? Or want to eat, or yearn to enjoy after his long journeys outside of America? I can't say I ever wondered about that idea before reading Twain's Feast: Searching for America's Lost Foods in the Footsteps of Samuel Clemens by Andrew Beahrs, our Cook The Books February/March pick, but it turned out to be an interesting and entertaining subject. Our host for this round, Simona of Briciole, selected a book that is an intriguing combination of foodie history and travel (with a little biography and memoir thrown in), that will appeal to foodie nerds and literary buffs alike.  

I had not read much Twain since high school, although a copy of Mark Twain's Letters from Hawaii has been sitting on my to-read pile for quite a while. In Twain's Feast, author Beahrs takes Twain's list or fantasy menu of the American foods and dishes (about 80 items long) that Twain was missing in 1879, while at about a year into the European tour that led to his A Tramp Abroad. Beahrs then explores some of the more obscure regional ingredients to see if Americans are still consuming them today.

Twain's List:

"It has now been many months, at the present writing, since I have had a nourishing meal, but I shall soon have one — a modest, private affair, all to myself. I have selected a few dishes, and made out a little bill of fare, which will go home in the steamer that precedes me, and be hot when I arrive — as follows:

Radishes. Baked apples, with cream
Fried oysters; stewed oysters. Frogs.
American coffee, with real cream.
American butter.
Fried chicken, Southern style.
Porter-house steak.
Saratoga potatoes.
Broiled chicken, American style.
Hot biscuits, Southern style.
Hot wheat-bread, Southern style.
Hot buckwheat cakes.
American toast. Clear maple syrup.
Virginia bacon, broiled.
Blue points, on the half shell.
Cherry-stone clams.
San Francisco mussels, steamed.
Oyster soup. Clam Soup.
Philadelphia Terapin soup.
Oysters roasted in shell-Northern style.
Soft-shell crabs. Connecticut shad.
Baltimore perch.
Brook trout, from Sierra Nevadas.
Lake trout, from Tahoe.
Sheep-head and croakers, from New Orleans.
Black bass from the Mississippi.
American roast beef.
Roast turkey, Thanksgiving style.
Cranberry sauce. Celery.
Roast wild turkey. Woodcock.
Canvas-back-duck, from Baltimore.
Prairie liens, from Illinois.
Missouri partridges, broiled.

'Possum. Coon.
Boston bacon and beans.
Bacon and greens, Southern style.
Hominy. Boiled onions. Turnips.
Pumpkin. Squash. Asparagus.
Butter beans. Sweet potatoes.
Lettuce. Succotash. String beans.
Mashed potatoes. Catsup.
Boiled potatoes, in their skins.
New potatoes, minus the skins.
Early rose potatoes, roasted in the ashes, Southern style, served hot.
Sliced tomatoes, with sugar or vinegar. Stewed tomatoes.
Green corn, cut from the ear and served with butter and pepper.
Green corn, on the ear.
Hot corn-pone, with chitlings, Southern style.
Hot hoe-cake, Southern style.
Hot egg-bread, Southern style.
Hot light-bread, Southern style.
Buttermilk. Iced sweet milk.
Apple dumplings, with real cream.
Apple pie. Apple fritters.
Apple puffs, Southern style.
Peach cobbler, Southern style
Peach pie. American mince pie.
Pumpkin pie. Squash pie.
All sorts of American pastry.
Fresh American fruits of all sorts, including strawberries which are not to be doled out as if they were jewelry, but in a more liberal way.
Ice-water—not prepared in the ineffectual goblet, but in the sincere and capable refrigerator."

That's quite a list! 

Author Beahrs has a true passion for his subject that comes across in the way he researches the roots of the main food items he covers--prairie hens, 'possum and raccoon, trout, oysters and mussels, terrapin (turtle), sheep-head and croakers (fish), cranberries, and maple syrup. He then travels to the locations where Mark Twain would have eaten the ingredient, detailing both the history and the current state today. You can't help but admire his spirit and dedication--although sometimes the in-depth looks at some of the items made the non-meat eater in me a little queasy. I learned far more about the preparation and consumption of raccoon than I ever wanted to. ;-) But, Beahrs' writing, Twain's interesting life, and the focus on real regional American food and its background give this book heart and keep it moving along.

I was at a little bit of a loss as to what to make for my book-inspired dish. I wanted something local, somewhat seasonal, no meat, not fried, no pastry or baking... the list goes on... I ended up going back to the first item on Twain's list, the radish. Easy to get fresh locally and something I don't cook a lot with. In truth, I am not crazy about radishes. If I were coming back from an extended trip and listing the foods I most desired, radishes would not be on that list. I remember my dad eating radishes in the summer, spreading them with butter (actually sadly, it was probably margarine) and salt, and they always seemed too sharp and bitter to me to think of as enjoyable. 

I (mostly) agree with what Beahrs said about the radish being on Twain's list:

"And his enthusiasm is not just due to hunger. If it were, surely he'd have never have opened the menu with radishes. Radishes! I thought of a bowl of them, fresh and crisp, dipped in butter, sprinkled with salt. Peppery, refreshing radishes: wonderful, yes, but probably not the first thing most hungry men would think of."  

While I will never be a plain, raw radish lover, I have learned to appreciate them. A few years ago, inspired by a bright and beautiful bunch at the farmers market, I made three radish dishes--Roasted Radishes, ala Sarah Foster, an Asparagus and White Bean Salad with Feta and Lemon Dressing and Radish Greens with Miso Sauce from Farmer John's Cookbook: The Real Dirt on Vegetables by Farmer John Peterson and Angelic Organics. (If you can find this book it is a treasure trove of information and different veggie recipes, sometimes using the less-often consumed parts like radish leaves.) From that experience, I learned that roasted radishes are pretty yummy, feta cheese is brilliant with radishes and the peppery radish greens are really quite tasty. 

Twain and Twain's Feast author Andrew Beahrs would have consumed their radishes like my dad, raw (with American butter for Twain), but I wanted to do something more interesting. I found this pretty-in-pink Radish Soup recipe at Vegetarian Times. Wanting to use up the leaves from my local red and French Breakfast radishes and remembering that feta-radish pairing, I put together my own recipe of Radish Leaf-Feta Spread for some multigrain toasts. Using up the leaves of the radish, rather than tossing them away seems like something Twain would approve of. I even garnished with some local radish sprouts.

 Radish Soup
 Adapted from Vegetarian Times, April/May 2013
(Serves 6) 

1 lb radishes, halved (about 3 cups)
1 medium russet potato, peeled and cut into chunks
1 medium white onion, quartered
1 Tbsp unsalted butter (I used local butter with Hawaiian sea salt)

1/8 tsp white pepper
(I replaced water with light, low sodium mock-chicken stock)
1 Tbsp prepared horseradish sauce

(I added the juice of 1/2 lemon)
2 Tbsp crème fraîche, plus more for garnish, optional (I used labneh--strained sheep milk yogurt cheese)

Pulse radishes and potato in food processor until finely chopped. Transfer to bowl, wipe out food processor, and set radish mixture aside.

Pulse onion in food processor until finely chopped.

Heat butter in saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, and cook 3 minutes, or until translucent. Add radish potato mixture, white pepper, and 31/2 cups water. Bring soup to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, covered, 30 minutes.

Remove soup from heat, stir in horseradish, and purée in food processor in batches until smooth. Add crème fraîche, and purée until combined. Season with salt, if desired. Serve garnished with radish, greens, and crème fraîche (if using). (I used labneh, radish sprouts and thinly sliced radishes to garnish.)

Radish-Leaf & Feta Spread
by Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes about 2 1/2 Cups)

2 cups fresh radish leaves, washed and drained
4 fresh radishes, coarsely chopped
4 green onions, green and white, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves
1 cup labneh or thick strained yogurt cheese
6 oz feta cheese

2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
sea salt and fresh black pepper to taste
To serve: toasted multigrain baguette with radish sprouts and thinly sliced radishes to garnish

In a food processor, chop radish leaves, radishes, green onion and parsley fairly finely (think a coarse pesto). Whiz the radishes, scallions, and parsley in a food processor until finely chopped. Add feta and pulse until blended in. Place in a bowl and stir in labneh, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.

Chill for an hour or two to blend flavors. Serve on bread topped with radish slices and/or radish sprouts, or as a dip with crackers and fresh veggies. 

"The way that the things were cooked was perhaps the main splendor." --Mark Twain
Notes/Results: The soup surprised me with just how good it was. Silky smooth with a slight kick from the horseradish and just a bit tangy from the added lemon juice. The potato softens the edge of the radishes and I think adding the stock, instead of the water listed in the recipe, helped with that too. This soup would be nice as a dinner party starter or at a pink-themed party or shower. The spread was full of flavor--the radish leaves are much like watercress with their peppery taste and they paired well with the feta. You could of course use cream cheese, sour cream or plain yogurt in this spread, but the thickened yogurt labneh gives it great texture. I loved it spread on the toasted baguette slices and it went well with the soup. I would make both of these again. Don't toss those radish greens! ;-) (But, do make sure you use them while they are still green and fresh)

The deadline for this round of Cook the Books is tomorrow, March 31st. Simona will be rounding up the entries at the Cook the Books site. If you missed this round, join us for April/May when we will be reading and taking cooking inspiration from Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America by Firoozeh Dumas, hosted by Rachel, The Crispy Cook.  

Janet of The Taste Space is here for Souper Sundays--so let's look at her fabulous Mango Chana Masala. She says, "We tend to keep the mangoes plain and unadorned (at least I do, Rob adds it to his breakfast granola) but used some frozen mangoes for this fun twist on chana masala. It kind of a combination of my Mango BBQ Beans combined with Indian flavours. While I have used amchoor powder (raw mango powder) to make a nice chana masala, this was a fun twist since it was hot and sweet, too. The heat came from our newest infatuation: roasted hatch chiles. The flavours complemented each other nicely, especially with the tang from the tomatoes and the earthy tones from the cumin, mustard seeds and garam masala, too. Not too overly spiced. Rob actually made a double batch of this and we shared it with friends. We told them to give an honest opinion of the dish. It was the first time we tried it, so we could handle their feedback. Like us, they loved it! And I hope you do, too."

Thanks for keeping me company this week Janet. ;-) If you have a soup, salad, or sandwich that you would like to share, just click on the Souper Sundays logo on the side bar for all of the details. 

Have a happy, healthy week!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Prawn & Ginger Dumplings (+ My Dozen Donna Hay Favorite Recipes Recap)

It's scary just how fast time flies. It's hard to fathom that we have been cooking along with Donna Hay at I Heart Cooking Clubs for the past 6 months. Our weekly Donna time comes to an end as we switch to our new chef, Nigel Slater next week, but I am sure I will keep cooking her always simple and tasty recipes and continue to utilize my big collection of her books and magazines. 

To send Donna off in style, I went to my first Donna Hay book, purchased in 2001, Flavours--it's the book that introduced me to her and her fabulous food styling. Since I had a craving for dumplings and shrimp in the freezer, I made these easy Prawn & Ginger Dumplings. 

I did make a couple of changes to the recipe, noted in red below.

Prawn & Ginger Dumplings
Adapted from Flavours by Donna Hay
(Serves 4 as a starter)

300 g (10 oz) raw shrimp meat, finely chopped
1 Tbsp grated ginger
1 Tbsp lemon juice
(I added 1 Tbsp finely chopped cilantro + a bit more to garnish)
1 tsp sesame oil
20 dumpling or wonton wrappers
2 cups (16 oz) fish or shrimp stock 

Dipping Sauce:
1/4 cup (2 fl oz) fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp chili sauce (I used sweet chili sauce)
1 Tbsp sugar (I omitted the sugar and added 1 Tbsp mirin--Japanese rice wine)

Place the shrimp meat, ginger, lemon juice and sesame oil in a bowl and mix to combine. Place a tablespoon of the mixture onto a dumpling or wonton wrapper and brush the edge with water. Press the edges firmly to seal.

To cook the dumplings, place the stock in a saucepan over medium heat and allow to rapidly simmer. Place a few dumplings into the stock and cook for 3 minutes or until the dumplings are cooked through. Set aside and keep warm while you cook the remaining dumplings. 

To make dipping sauce, combine lemon juice, chili sauce and sugar and serve in a small bowl wit the warm dumplings.

Notes/Results: Good flavor with the ginger coming through nicely and pairing well with the sweet shrimp. These dumplings go together very easily--good for me because I hate 'futzy' recipes that take a lot of fiddling. I added the cilantro for a touch of color and because I love the flavor--chives or green onion would also work well. For the stock, I made a quick shrimp broth from the shells, a touch of mock chicken and a dash of low-sodium shoyu. Because I am not a big fan of adding extra sugar to things, I omitted it since I was using a sweet chili sauce, and then I added a tablespoon of mirin (rice wine) which has its own sweetness. I made a half batch of the filling and got about 12 dumplings out of it. I would definitely make these again for a pupu or a light dinner served with an Asian-inspired salad. 

I like to look back on my time with our IHCC chefs by recapping some of my favorite recipes. For Donna, most of my favorites were her salmon recipes and I clocked in with cooking 8 of them in the past six months. 

Here are my "many moods of Donna Hay salmon recipes" plus four non-salmon recipes that I couldn't leave out of my favorites. (Hmm... what does it say that 3 of these additional recipes involve chocolate?) ;-) All of these recipes I have made again, or will make again--follow the links for the details on each.

Mmm... salmon, whether in soup, with noodles or salad, smoked or fillets, these 8 recipes were favorites for me. From Top Left:

These are the four non-salmon recipes that stuck out as especially memorable--for their flavors, their styling ideas and their ease. From Top Left:

You can see what recipes the other IHCC participants chose to say 'Catch Ya Later Donna Hay!' with by checking out the picture links on the post.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

White Bean, Potato and Baby Arugula Soup: Use it Up Satisfaction for Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

A couple of russet potatoes getting close to the edge, some veggies in the fridge drawer not crisp enough to enjoy raw, leftover local baby arugula, rosemary from the lanai herb pots, and a plethora of canned white beans in the pantry led to this simple soup. There is something truly satisfying about making something so good out of what you have on hand before it goes to waste. Smells heavenly while bubbling away and tastes even better than it smells--perfect for a cool breezy Sunday. 

White Bean, Potato and Baby Arugula Soup
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Serves 8)

1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped,
2 stalks celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 Tbsp fresh rosemary, minced
2 russet potatoes, peeled and chopped
8 cups vegetable broth (I used mock chicken base + homemade garlic broth)
4 cups cooked white beans
2 handfuls baby arugula, coarsely chopped
salt and pepper to taste
juice from 1/2 lemon, optional
shaved Parmesan to serve, optional

In a large soup pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, carrot and celery and cook 5-6 minutes, until softened. Add garlic and fresh rosemary and cook for another minute.  

Add potatoes and stock to pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 10 minutes, then add cooked beans and cook for 10 minutes more or until vegetables are tender. Add chopped arugula and cook for another 4-5 minutes. 

Using an immersion blender, puree soup partially to thicken, or place 2-3 cups of the soup in a blender and puree, adding the blended soup back to soup pot to thicken. Add salt and black pepper to taste and a squeeze of lemon if desired.

Ladle hot soup into bowls and top with shaved Parmesan if desired.

Notes/Results: This soup makes me happy--warming the belly and the soul. Bean and veggie soups are easily adaptable to whatever you have on hand. I made this the way I like it--lots of potatoes and beans, a healthy dose of rosemary and thickened up slightly by pureeing part of it. Since I had an assortment of white beans in the pantry, I used one can each of cannellini, Great Northern and navy beans--liking the slight differences in size and texture in the soup. The lemon at the end adds a little brightness and the arugula gives it a little peppery bite, although any green would work. You can keep it vegan by omitting the Parmesan garnish but it add a nice touch. The leftovers are even better. I'd make it again. 

We have some great soups and salads waiting in the Souper Sundays kitchen--let's take a look.

Janet of The Taste Space brings filling Caramelized Cabbage Soup and says,"All.things. caramelized: caramelized cabbage, caramelized onions and caramelized leeks. If I had roasted the carrots, it may have turned into a sweetness overload. Just kidding. While you dirty a bunch of dishes, everything cooks or roasts in parallel so it doesn’t take as long as you might fear. Combining the sweet vegetables with celeriac and white beans countered with a bit of bitterness, but the broth was spiked with dill that brought everything together. I liked how the soup was made with winter vegetable staples (carrot, cabbage, celeriac, leeks) but I find fresh dill has a spring feel.

Pam of Sidewalk Shoes shares the soup that helped her sick self feel better. She says, "I didn’t feel like normal chicken noodle soup.  You know, with carrots and celery and all nice, but still a bit bland.  I wanted something to stand up and knock this cold right outta my head.  While doing my search of chicken noodle soup, through Eat Your Books, I saw it…. Mexican Chicken Noodle Soup at Food52!  ... This soup sounded like just what the doctor ordered and it was!  So good! I modified it a bit because I did it in the slow cooker, and prefer chicken meat on the bone for soups." 

It's a Sesame Broccoli Salad from Tigerfish of Teczcape - An Escape to Food. She says, "This Sesame Broccoli is inspired by one of the banchan dishes served up in one of the Korean restaurants - Jang Su Jang in Santa Clara, California. I love all their side dishes (Japchae, Kimchi, Soy Bean Sprouts Salad, Mayo Apple Salad, Sesame Broccoli - just to name a few) and the eatery is also very generous in refilling those banchan dishes. Sesame Broccoli, such a simple dish, why do I still need to get inspired? But the point is, we often forget the simplest of dishes."

My friend and fellow Cook the Books co-host Rachel, The Crispy Cook has a different take on broccoli salad inspired by her friend Nancy's recipe. About her Broccoli Salad with Sun-Dried Tomatoes Rachel says, "A few days later, I added a couple of tablespoons of the julienne-cut sun-dried tomatoes with Italian herbs to a batch of Broccoli Salad, and it added just the right notes of brightness and zing to an already delightful mix of salty, sweet and fresh flavors. My friend Nancy brought a batch of this great vegetable salad to a summer party last year and I pestered her for the recipe." (Check out her post for a chance to win a selection of Mooney Farms Sun-Dried Tomatoes.)

Thanks to everyone who joined in this week! If you have a soup, salad, or sandwich that you would like to share, just click on the Souper Sundays logo for all of the details.

Have a happy, healthy week! 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Grilled Salmon and Asparagus with Preserved Lemon Yogurt Sauce

Yep, it's another Donna Hay salmon recipe. I just can't help it--she does fish, especially salmon so well with her simple recipes that have lots of flavor. This recipe from No Time To Cook attracted me because of the preserved lemon sauce. Having salmon in the freezer and leftover local asparagus made it a done deal. This is a quick and easy dinner that shouts springtime.    

Store-bought preserved lemon isn't easy to find here so I made up a batch of Yotam Ottolenghi's Quick Pickled Lemons--low effort and just involves a day's time to pickle/preserve. I am not that big on mayonnaise-based sauces so I made mine with healthier Greek yogurt and, since chervil is not so common here, I used fresh dill (although cilantro, mint, or parsley would also work well). 

My changes are noted in red below.

Grilled Salmon and Asparagus with Preserved Lemon Yogurt Sauce 
Adapted from No Time To Cook by Donna Hay
(Serves 2)

2 (200g/7oz) salmon fillets
10 asparagus spears, trimmed
olive oil for brushing
sea salt and cracked black pepper
baby lettuce, trimmed

Preserved Lemon Mayo Yogurt Sauce:
1/2 cup (150 g) whole-egg mayonnaise (I subbed Greek yogurt)
2 Tbsp finely chopped preserved lemon (recipe here)
1 Tbsp finely chopped chervil leaves (I subbed fresh dill)

To make preserved lemon mayo yogurt, place yogurt, preserved lemon and dill in a bowl and stir to combine.

Cut salmon fillets lengthwise into 2 or 3 slices. Brush salmon and asparagus with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Preheat a grill pan or barbecue to medium high and cook salmon and asparagus 1-2 minutes per side or until salmon is cooked to your liking (mine was 3-4 minutes per side for the thicker piece) and the asparagus is crisp but tender. 

Divide lettuce between serving plates, top with salmon and asparagus and serve with preserved lemon sauce.  

Notes/Results: Since the salmon and asparagus are simply grilled with olive oil, salt and pepper, the preserved lemon sauce is the flavor star here. It's pungent lemony flavor and tartness goes well with both the salmon and the grilled asparagus. (It also makes a stellar base for a salmon salad sandwich with the leftover salmon.) Fast to make, light but satisfying, I would make this again.

This tasty dish is being linked up to I Heart Cooking Clubs where it is Potluck week--the chance to make any recipe from Donna Hay or any former IHCC chef.

 Happy Aloha Friday!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Book Tour Stops Here: "Two Sisters" by Mary Hogan with a Salad Plate of Asparagus Bruschetta with Spiced Almonds, Along With Mini Tomatoes & Pear

All families have at least a little dysfunction and drama. The Sullivant family has it in spades and youngest daughter Muriel bears the brunt of it in Two Sisters, a Novel by Mary Hogan. Muriel is the fifth wheel in her family. Perfect Pia, her older sister, is the apple of her mother's eye. Brother Logan, was born to give her distant father a son. Unfortunately Muriel, was an accident--unplanned, not wanted, and made aware of that fact her entire life. Now in her early 20's, Muriel does her best to stay away from her family and their many blows to her self esteem, until her sister shows up with a secret that forces Muriel to face her past and determine what her future will hold. 

Publisher's Burb: 

"One family, two sisters, a lifetime of secrets . . .

The third child in a family that wanted only two, Muriel Sullivant has always been an outsider. Short, dark-haired, and round, she worships her beautiful blond sister, Pia, and envies the close bond she shares with their mother, Lidia. Growing up in their shadow, Muriel believes that if she keeps all their secrets—and she knows plenty, outsiders always do—they will love her, too.

But that was a long time ago. Now an adult, Muriel has accepted the disappointments in her life. With her fourth-floor walk-up apartment and entry-level New York City job, she never will measure up to Pia and her wealthy husband, their daughter, and their suburban Connecticut dream home. Muriel would like nothing better than to avoid her judgmental family altogether. One thing she does quite well.

Until the day Pia shows up to visit and share devastating news that Muriel knows she cannot tell—a secret that will force her to come to terms with the past and help her see her life and her family in unexpected new ways.

Two Sisters is a powerful and poignant debut novel about two sisters—opposites in every way—as well as their mother and the secrets and lies that define them all."

Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (March 4, 2014)

I found myself engrossed in the book rather quickly, wanting to learn the secrets of the family and anxiously turning the pages as they were revealed. The story moves along well, going back and forth between the current happenings, back to Muriel's childhood, and even farther back to the meeting and subsequent marriage of her parents. Two Sisters isn't always an easy read. With the exception of Muriel, the Sullivant family is hard to like and connect with. Lidia the mother is selfish and cruel. Owen, the father is emotionally absent from the entire family. Logan, distanced himself with his artistic pursuits and left home at an early age--avoiding his family even more than Muriel, and Pia mistreated her younger sister growing up and when they 'talk' as adults, it's mostly Pia talking disparagingly to Muriel about her life choices. Muriel is likeable and sympathetic in a kicked-puppy kind of way. She (understandably) lacks any sort of confidence and is emotionally needy--wanting love and acceptance, but still manages to have a sense of humor. Some of the self-talk in her head had me chuckling--a nice relief from the more tragic, poignant moments in the story and the angst they caused me. I rooted for Muriel and was pleased to see her emotional growth--most of which comes in the last third of the book. In that vein, I did feel that the ending came too quickly--with all of the emotions this book raises, I would have liked a longer, more drawn out and detailed resolution. In the end, Two Sisters is an absorbing, well-written story about family and its dynamics. It will make you think, probably shed tears--and, if you happen to have wonderful, loving and supportive older sisters like mine, you'll want to hug them and thank your lucky stars. ;-)

Author Notes: Mary Hogan is the NAPPA Award-winning author of seven young-adult books. Two Sisters is her first novel for adults. She lives in New York City with her husband, Bob, and their dog, Lucy. Find out more about Mary at her website, follow her on Twitter, and connect with her on Facebook.

Where there is family (dysfunctional or not), there is usually food and there are many food mentions throughout Two Sisters--starting with the huge tin of Garrett's Popcorn--half CheeseCorn, half CaramelCrisp--that Muriel is noshing on at the start of the book while watching a Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives Marathon. I had the chance to try Garrett's Chicago mix a couple of years ago when traveling and the combination of the caramel and cheese corn is pretty amazing--and messy. There are mentions of various lunches, dinners and snacks--including some pretty unhealthy road food, that the various characters consume. For my usual dish inspired by the book, I decided on a salad plate made up of ingredients that Muriel runs out and buys when her sister calls her to tell her she is dropping by. 

"Dressed in dark-wash Levi's and a black tee, Muriel pulled open the glass door to the corner market at the Broadway end of her block. She lifted a green shopping basket out of the stack and hung it on her arm, maneuvering in a zigzag fashion through the narrow aisles of the small gourmet store. To be on the safe side, she chose a liter of club soda and enough limes to flavor a pitcher of margaritas. Pears too, though they were ridiculously expensive, plus heirloom cherry tomatoes, asparagus spears, a baguette, and spiced almonds. All items she'd once read about in a magazine article on effortless, yet elegant, entertaining. "Crud," she muttered to herself. Why hadn't she ripped out that page so she'd know what to do with the classy ingredients once she got them home? Does one serve mini tomatoes raw on a plate next to uncooked asparagus? Wouldn't that look too much like an exclamation point to be considered "elegant" in any way? And surely there must be some sort of dip involved? In the checkout line, she considered asking the girl at the register, but the unruly state of her ponytail dissuaded her."  
--Two Sisters by Mary Hogan

I was amused by Muriel's list and her attempts to get her sister to eat what she bought by randomly offering her the items, "Club Soda?" Muriel asked her sister. "With lime?" ..."Spiced almonds? A pear?" ..."Baguette? Asparagus spear?"... I thought it would be fun to take her list of 'classy ingredients' (sans the soda with lime) and put them together into one dish. I added a few more ingredients--goat cheese, arugula and a balsamic vinaigrette, and ended up with a Salad Plate of Asparagus Bruschetta with Spiced Almonds, Along With Mini Tomatoes & Pear. It's a little random and scattered and I think it suits Muriel well. ;-) Pears are still in the market and the more spring-like ingredients like asparagus, arugula and tomatoes are locally produced here most of the year. 

Recipe Outline: (You could as Muriel did, buy the spiced almonds (and the vinaigrette too), but I have included the recipes I used below if you prefer to make them yourself.)  

Prepare baguette and asparagus by lightly brushing pieces with olive oil. Heat a grill pan over high heat until very hot. Place long slices of baguette in pan and toast until  browned and crisp, turning once. Remove bread and set aside. Add asparagus and grill for a few minutes--until tender-crisp--turning with tongs to sear all sides. 

To Plate: 
    • Top individual serving plates with a thin layer of arugula and drizzle with vinaigrette. 
    • Spread goat cheese on grilled baguette slices, top with asparagus spears and sprinkle with spiced almonds. Arrange bruschetta on top of arugula.
    • Halve cherry tomatoes and slice pear thinly and add to plate, drizzling with more vinaigrette as desired.

Simple Vinaigrette
by Deb, Kahakai Kitchen 
(Makes about 1/2 cup)
1 Tbsp strong Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

6 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil 
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine ingredients in a bowl or glass jar. Stir or shake gently until blended. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.  Store extra in refrigerator. 


Spiced Almonds
by Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes 1/2 cup

1/2 cup sliced almonds
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper 

In a small bowl, mix almonds with olive oil until evenly coated. Sprinkle with spices and stir, ensuring spices are blended and almonds coated. 

Place coated almonds in a small pan and heat over medium. Toast until lightly browned, stirring or shaking pan as needed, being careful not to burn nuts. Remove from heat, spread out into single layer and let cool. Store cooled nuts in an airtight container.  

 Notes/Results: There is a lot going on with this plate but thankfully, it all works together. The crisp and toasty baguette with tangy goat cheese compliments the asparagus and spiced nuts and the pear, and the little tomatoes add a nice sweetness that contrasts well with the peppery arugula. Serve it with a knife and fork--it's a little messy (or be like me and pick up the bruschetta with your fingers and enjoy it).

Note: A review copy of "Two Sisters" 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 the Book Tour and what other readers thought here.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Vermicelli Soup with Lemon & Butter (+ Mint & Mizithra): Simple Noodle Soup for Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

To come up with a soup to make every week, I keep an ongoing list of the ones I come across and want to try. I had this simple Vermicelli Soup with Lemon & Butter from Tessa Kiros tagged with "when feeling puny" as it seemed like the perfect soup when you are not feeling well or are out of sorts. Heavy, blustery winds have not been a friend to my allergies this weekend and since my snuffly self was craving something brothy and noodley and since this soup is both--and also very quickly cooked, it seemed like the right time to make it.  

I made a few changes to the recipe--adding some garlic, more noodles and changing out the recommended cheese to one of my favorites--Greek Mizithra. 

Tessa says, "Here is a version of vermicelli soup that they tend to make in Greece or Cyprus. If you have a light chicken, fish or meat stock, then use that, but I love this even just with water... a soup in moments. You can leave out the mint, if you'd prefer.

Vermicelli Soup with Lemon & Butter
Adapted from Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros
(Serves 4 to 6)

7 cups water or broth (I used mock chicken stock base)
(I added 2 cloves of garlic, minced)
juice of half a lemon
2 to 3 Tbsp butter (I used 2 Tbsp)
salt to taste, optional--dependent on broth
4 oz vermicelli or angel hair pasta broken up (I used about 6 oz angel hair)
finely grated haloumi or Parmesan cheese to serve (I subbed mizithra)
black pepper to serve
3-4 mint leaves torn, or crumbled dried mint to serve

Put the broth/water, lemon juice and butter in a pan and add salt (salt may be unnecessary if using broth). Bring to a boil, then simmer over low heat for 6 to 7 minutes before adding the pasta. Cook the pasta until a few seconds before the package says it should be ready (it will continue cooking in the hot broth) and immediately remove the pan from the heat. Ladle out into bowls, sprinkle with cheese and give a good grinding of black pepper and a scattering of mint. Serve immediately. 

Notes/Results: Simple can be really good. This soup is comforting, satisfying, and a good combination of flavors. The butter adds a richness to the lemony broth and the toppings of mizithra and mint make it more interesting. With very little prep, this soup cooks quickly and is ready to go in not much longer than it would take to open and heat a can, making it great for when you don't feel like making an effort but still want something homemade and good. This hit the spot and I would make it again. 

This soup is also being linked to I Heart Cooking Clubs where Potluck week starts tomorrow. It's the chance to make any recipe of the current chef (Donna Hay) or any of the previous chef's like Tessa Kiros.  

We have a couple of good friends waiting in the Souper Sundays kitchen--let's take a look at what they brought. 

Janet of The Taste Space shares this Chickpea & Kabocha Squash Lemongrass Curry and says, "I am sure I am not the only one with winter squashes on my counter (right?). It happens every year to me. Houston-time, included. Winter squash may not still be on your radar but with the last winter blast, a warming stew is hard to turn down. (I am not playing with you, Houston does get cold. I had pants on last week). Unlike most curries, this one has NO CUMIN. Blasted! A bit more sweet with the kabocha squash which worked well with the aromatics like cardamom and coriander, but still tempered by ginger, mustard and chile with a luscious coconut-infused broth spiked with lemongrass."

Joyce of Kitchen Flavours is here with a tasty Crispy Honey Mustard Bacon Salad and says, "Eating of the Green", our theme for this week at I Heart Cooking Clubs (IHCC), where we are cooking from Donna Hay's recipes. This week is all about greens and I've made this easy and fuss-free salad, which takes just minutes to prepare! Just before serving, toss the cherry tomatoes, lettuce and cannellini beans with some of the mustard dressing. Scatter the crumbled crispy bacon over the top and drizzle with more of the mustard dressing. We had this salad with some baked chicken drumsticks."

Thanks to Janet and Joyce for joining me this week. If you have a soup, salad or sandwich that you would like to share, just click on the Souper Sundays logo on my side bar for all of the details. 

Have a happy, healthy week!