Chicken Tetrazzini and the Red Velvet Cupcake Murder

Just finished another in the charming Hannah Swensen Mystery series by Joanne Fluke - The Red Velvet Cupcake Murder. I'm a sucker for Joanne Fluke books.  If you weren't hungry when you started reading, it wouldn't take long to get there.  A bit of mystery, some romance, and a whole lot of food!  Lots of good recipes are included.  This one is number 16 in her series.  I did review another one of her books, The Blueberry Muffin Murder. several years ago.  Some of us enjoy a long series, when the books are well done, and especially if there's plenty of  food inspiration. Light reading, nothing too deep here.

The Publishers have this to say: 
"This summer has been warmer than usual in Lake Eden, Minnesota, and Hannah Swensen is trying to beat the heat both in and out of her bakery kitchen. But she’s about to find out the hard way that nothing cools off a hot day like a cold-blooded murder. At the grand opening of a local hotel, a police department employee nearly dies falling from a penthouse—and then another woman, with whom Hannah has a less-than-friendly relationship, winds up dead. Hannah is the prime suspect—and to clear her own name, she’s got to find out who iced the victim…
Features cookie and dessert recipes from The Cookie Jar, including Red Velvet Surprise Cupcakes and Chocolate Covered Peanut Cookies!"

“Culinary cozies don't get any tastier than this winning series.”—Library Journal

So, for my food inspiration, this recipe is right from the book, Chicken Tetrazzini.  The name just stuck in my brain.   You've got to love the Italian sound of it, and so it went right onto our dinner menu schedule.  After roasting a nice chicken, a few days earlier, these leftovers were on my mind the whole time. 

Chicken Tetrazzini

Starting off with a nicely roasted chicken, seasoned liberally with minced rosemary and garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper., I chopped up some of the remaining chicken.

Serves 4 (more like 6)

1 and 1/2.cups cooked chicken, cut up in cubes

1 1/4 cups spaghetti (1/2 lb)

1/4 cup diced, canned pimento (about 1 small jar)

1/4 of a green bell pepper, diced

1 small onion, diced

dash of sherry (optional)

1 can cream of condensed  mushroom soup

1/2 cup chicken broth

1/2 teas. salt

1/8 teas. freshly ground pepper or to taste

2-3 cups grated cheddar cheese (or grated Italian cheeses)

1 clove garlic, finely minced

1/2 cup sliced black olives, drained

1 small can Ortega diced green chilies, drained

Break the spaghetti into pieces approximately 4 inches long.  Cook the spaghetti in boiling, salted water according to package directions.  Drain and rinse.

Place the cooked spaghetti, cubed chicken, pimento, green pepper, onion and remaining ingredients (except half of the cheese) in a large bowl.  Lightly toss everything together with a fork and large spoon.  Spray a 1 1/2 quart casserole dish with cooking oil.  Set it on a drip pan, just in case.  

Transfer the contents of your mixing bowl to the casserole dish.  Sprinkle the remaining shredded cheese on top.

Bake at 350F for 45 minutes.

This photo before going into the oven.  I was thinking a larger casserole dish should have been suggested, but it was fine, barely fit the dish, but didn't go overboard.  The flavors, as it turned out, were spot on.  Really fantastic if I do say so.

I'll be sharing all this goodness over at Weekend Cooking, hosted by the Intrepid Reader, Marge, and with Heather for her December Foodie Reads Challenge. I hope you'll visit both and check out all the good food and book suggestions.


Homegrown Truffles for A Paris Tea Shop

My book of the week is Vanessa Yu's Magical Paris Tea Shop, by Roselle Lim.  After reading her debut novel, Natalie Tan's Book of Luck & Fortune, which I very much enjoyed, her sequel was next on my list.  As in her earlier book there are sprinklings of clairvoyance, coming to terms with who we are and what we can be, romance and of course, lots of really good food.  Heck,  she goes to Paris, so of course!   Not too deep, but not shallow either.

Vanessa has had the gift, some call it second sight, since she was a child, but is definitely looking that horse in the mouth.  Doesn't want it, can't seem to be rid of it and at the same time is being hounded by her well-meaning family to marry, and get on with her life.  Unfortunately that idea has been  held up by the inconvenient truths she blurts out on dates, which sends them running.

From the Publishers: 

"Vanessa Yu never wanted to see people's fortunes—or misfortunes—in tealeaves.

Ever since she can remember, Vanessa has been able to see people's fortunes at the bottom of their teacups. To avoid blurting out their fortunes, she converts to coffee, but somehow fortunes escape and find a way to complicate her life and the ones of those around her. To add to this plight, her romance life is so nonexistent that her parents enlist the services of a matchmaking expert from Shanghai.

After her matchmaking appointment, Vanessa sees death for the first time. She decides that she can't truly live until she can find a way to get rid of her uncanny abilities. When her eccentric Aunt Evelyn shows up with a tempting offer to whisk her away, Vanessa says au revoir to California and bonjour to Paris. There, Vanessa learns more about herself and the root of her gifts and realizes one thing to be true: knowing one's destiny isn't a curse, but being unable to change it is."

I thought a nice batch of truffles would be a fine accompaniment to the beverages at Aunt Evelyn's new Tea Shop, Promesse de The. Plus, I found out it's National Chocolate Day!  This recipe is a simpler way of using my cacao nibs than the long and involved process of making finished chocolate.  See this post for that step by step illustration. I still haven't bought myself a moulanger, and have been using my nephew's. But for this, no need.  

My Truffles

2 1/2 cups roasted cacao nibs, ground fine (liquefied in my Sumeet Grinder)
1 tablespoon lecithin (added at the end of the cacao grinding - optional)
1/2 cup toasted almonds, roughly chopped
1 cup dates or figs, seeded, chopped (I used 1/2 cup dried pineapple for this batch)
1./2 cup honey or agave nectar, add more if you like things sweeter
1/3 cup peanut butter (or almond, cashew, etc.)
1/4 teas. almond extract

Mix all well and then form into balls on parchment paper.  Chill until firm, then wrap in cling wrap. Enjoy! So, now I won't have to purchase chocolate bars for awhile.  My fix is waiting.  No special excuse is needed, they're good any time of the day.  I brought one in for my granddaughter and she had it for breakfast.  Well, she did have a smoothie too. Personally, I like mine with a glass of wine. A good book on the side.

This post will go over to Weekend Cooking, hosted by Marge the Intrepid Reader, and to Heather for her October Foodies Read Challenge. Be sure to stop by for a visit at these sites for some good food and book recommendations.


Peanut Butter Chocolate Scones for The Secret Book & Scone Society

The Secret, Book & Scone Society is our current bi-monthly pick at Cook the Books Club, hosted this time by Simona of Briciole. In my opinion this is a delightful novel, featuring not only tempting food, secrets and some magic (or call it inspired intuition), but healing and a bit of romance as well. On top of all that the new found friends solve a mystery.  From the Publishers:

"A quirky club in small-town North Carolina holds the keys to health, happiness, friendship—and even solving a murder—all to be found within the pages of the right book…

Strangers flock to Miracle Springs hoping the natural hot springs, five-star cuisine, and renowned spa can cure their ills. If none of that works, they often find their way to Miracle Books, where, over a fresh-baked “comfort” scone, they exchange their stories with owner Nora Pennington in return for a carefully chosen book. That’s Nora’s special talent—prescribing the perfect novel to ease a person’s deepest pain. So when a visiting businessman reaches out for guidance, Nora knows exactly how to help. But before he can keep their appointment, he’s found dead on the train tracks.

Stunned, Nora forms the Secret, Book, and Scone Society, a group of damaged souls yearning to earn redemption by helping others. To join, members must divulge their darkest secret—the terrible truth that brought each of them to Miracle Springs in the first place. Now, determined to uncover the truth behind the businessman’s demise, the women meet in Nora’s cozy bookstore. And as they untangle a web of corruption, they also discover their own courage, purpose, and a sisterhood that will carry them through every challenge—proving it’s never too late to turn the page and start over..."


Death Below Stairs with Soup

I do believe Jennifer Ashley, a bestselling author with a few other series, has a hit with this new debut, Death Below Stairs.  I think we all love discovering a new author with an exciting, new series.  Then, many of us would add to that a good new recipe for even more enjoyment.  

In this tale reminiscent of the old Upstairs, Downstairs TV show, a youthful, though excellent chef, in Victorian London, finds herself stretched to her limits with cooking, shopping, (earning enough to support her little girl) all while helping solve the murder of her young assistant. I thought the ambitious and feisty cook was an engaging and well-drawn character.  From the Publishers:

"Highly sought-after young cook Kat Holloway takes a position in a Mayfair mansion and soon finds herself immersed in the odd household of Lord Rankin. Kat is unbothered by the family’s eccentricities as long as they stay away from her kitchen, but trouble finds its way below stairs when her young Irish assistant is murdered. 


An Old Style Recipe for A Perfect Wife

This was our August/September Cook the Books Club selection, hosted by Debra of Eliot's Eats.  And, yes you read that right. Recipe for A Perfect Wife by Karma Brown.  When I first heard the title I was dumbfounded.  What??  But, after all this is the year of strange happenings, 2020, and we are not in a time machine.  Well, Karma Brown does take us on a little time switch, moving back and forth from the 50's to present with her main characters and their lives. She takes a look at the parallels between life as a wife in both eras. I especially loved her exhumation of some old recipes, harking back to my own childhood, and my mom's and mother-in-law's cooking.  Vintage cuisine I guess you could call it. And, an enjoyable, very worthwhile read.  In spite of which, truthfully, I didn't care all that much for the modern character, Alice.  A bit on the discontented whiney side. And she lies way too much for no really good reason.

From the Publishers:
"In this captivating dual narrative novel, a modern-day woman finds inspiration in hidden notes left by her home’s previous owner, a quintessential 1950s housewife. As she discovers remarkable parallels between this woman’s life and her own, it causes her to question the foundation of her own relationship with her husband--and what it means to be a wife fighting for her place in a patriarchal society. 


Spicy Cold Noodles with Beef Slivers for Kitchen Chinese

We, at Cook the Books Club, are currently reading and getting inspired by Kitchen Chinese, a delicious, little debut novel by Ann Mah. Fairly light weight, but I very much enjoyed it, both for the storyline and an up close look at a country headlining the news lately, mostly in a negative way.

 Our protagonist, Isabelle, has come to a standstill in her life, with loss of job, no romance in sight and craving some new horizons.  She decides to explore the family connections in China, where her sister is working as an attorney in Beijing. One drawback being that her knowledge of the language is limited to a bit of "kitchen Chinese" picked up watching and helping her mother cook while growing up.

However, once there, Isabelle manages to land a job at a magazine for the expatriate community in Beijing and connect with a small circle of friends. The relationship with her high powered sister is not so smooth, and they circle one another warily at first.

From the Publishers: "Kitchen Chinese, Ann Mah’s funny and poignant first novel about a young Chinese-American woman who travels to Beijing to discover food, family, and herself is a delight—complete with mouth-watering descriptions of Asian culinary delicacies, from Peking duck and Mongolian hot pot to the colorful, lesser known Ants in a Tree that will delight foodies everywhere. Reminiscent of Elizabeth Gilbert’s runaway bestseller Eat, Pray, Love, Mah’s tale of clashing cultures, rival siblings, and fine dining is an unforgettable, unexpectedly sensual reading experience—the story of one woman’s search for identity and purpose in an exotic and faraway land."


A New Sort of Monkey Bread

I'm going to share a recent read, The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister, and a recent food creation, with a very loose          connection. Well, maybe connections would be that the ingredients in the Monkey Bread were all essential, and that both the book and the recipe were delicious. I loved them both.  And, I just noticed that this is actually book 1 of a series, so looking forward to reading her next, The Lost art of Mixing.

The novel is about a basically self taught chef and restaurant owner who opens up her premises once a month, on Mondays, the day the restaurant is closed, to a small group cooking school.  Of course, all of the students, in the manner of a Maeve Binchy story, are revealed in their unique characters and situations, and come together, helped by the learning experience and the creating of good food.

From the Publisher's Weekly:

"In this remarkable debut, Bauermeister creates a captivating world where the pleasures and particulars of sophisticated food come to mean much more than simple epicurean indulgence. Respected chef and restaurateur Lillian has spent much of her 30-something years in the kitchen, looking for meaning and satisfaction in evocative, delicious combinations of ingredients. Endeavoring to instill that love and know-how in others, Lillian holds a season of Monday evening cooking classes in her restaurant. The novel takes up the story of each of her students, navigating readers through the personal dramas, memories and musings stirred up as the characters handle, slice, chop, blend, smell and taste. Each student's affecting story--painful transitions, difficult choices--is rendered in vivid prose and woven together with confidence. Delivering memorable story lines and characters while seducing the senses, Bauermeister's tale of food and hope is certain to satisfy. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved"


A Blue Zones Kitchen in June

I was happy to finally arrive at the top of our library's list for The Blue Zones Kitchen, by Dan Buettner, having been curious as to what that sort of cooking would involve.  The recipes presented, from each zone are all very simple and easily prepared.  No fancy cooking involved here.  A back to the elemental basics, plain food.  So far, I've made three of the recipes, was quite happy with them all, and am looking forward to trying a few more before the book goes back.  A summary from the Publishers:

"Building on decades of research, longevity expert Dan Buettner has gathered 100 recipes inspired by the Blue Zones, home to the healthiest and happiest communities in the world. Each dish-- uses ingredients and cooking methods proven to increase longevity, wellness, and mental health. Complemented by mouthwatering photography, the recipes also include lifestyle tips (including the best times to eat dinner and proper portion sizes), all gleaned from countries as far away as Japan and as near as Blue Zones project cities in Texas and Hawaii.. Innovative, easy to follow, and delicious, these healthy living recipes make the Blue Zones lifestyle even more attainable, thereby improving your health, extending your life, and filling your kitchen with happiness."


Fat Cakes for Precious and Grace

 I have posted twice on the books of Alexander McCall Smith, both times from his 44 Scotland St. series, here: The Bertie Project, and here: A Time of Love and Tartan.  However, McCall Smith is really best known for his wonderful African, Botswana set series, featuring The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency, headed up by Precious Ramotswe.  In them we clearly see his deep and abiding love for the country where he spent so much of his life.

This novel, and my most recent read in the series, Precious and Grace, has inspired a long overdue review.  Smith is a writer, unafraid to take his time, sometimes meandering, with deep thoughts and insightful meditations on the times, the people and morality, serious, yet with humor throughout.  His main character, especially true in this book, is often way more patient and understanding than I would be in a given situation.  A very good prod for my soul.  And his novel is particularly apt in our current National crisis - on forgiveness - so needed for healing.  Coincidentally, it was our Pastor's sermon topic last Sunday.  From the Publishers:
"Forgiveness is often the solution," observes Precious Ramotswe toward the end of Smith's warmhearted, humane 17th No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency novel. Mma Ramotswe is referring to the book's main case, which involves a Canadian woman in her late 30s, Susan, who spent her childhood years in Botswana and now wants to find Rosie, the nursemaid largely responsible for raising her. Mma Ramotswe places an ad in a Gaborone newspaper, which brings a woman who claims to be Rosie to the detective agency. Grace Makutsi, the agency's prickly co-director, suspects this Rosie is a fraud, while Mma Ramotswe senses something not quite right about Susan's quest. Meanwhile, the ladies deal with a couple of minor cases: their assistant Fanwell rescues a stray dog that needs a home, and Mr. Polepetsi, their sometime helper, becomes an unwitting pawn in a pyramid scheme involving cattle. As ever, Smith adroitly mixes gentle humor with important life lessons."


May Highlights In My Kitchen

 I left you with the brining  ham last time, so here it is cooked up

The highlights of May. My version of In My Kitchen! Sprinkled through the various meals I fixed are a few books, and I read some very good ones in May; several on my new Kindle and a couple from our newly re-opened public library.  Actually the ones I got through Kindle were via the public library Overdrive program. We now book an appointment at the library, then go to the front doors, wearing a mask, to collect our books.:)  These last two months have been just hilarious. Ha ha.

 A Roots Soup, which was absolutely delicious!

I read a couple of Martha Grimes' novels, her books are always enjoyable, several by C.S. Harris with her Sebastian St. Cyr, English Regency period mysteries, and a new favorite author, Donna Andrews, who has an iron-mongering artist sleuth, with a totally hysterical family, whose Crouching Buzzard Leaping Loon was my most recently read. I heartily recommend these for any of you who want less angst and dread in your lives, to be replaced by humor. 


Hippie Food and Me

Our current selection from Cook the Books Club, is being hosted by fellow Hawaiian, Deb of Kahakai Kitchen. Much of this well researched tome, Hippie Food by Jonathan Kauffman, echos my own history.  I lived this darn book, some of it anyway.  Caught up in the world directly around us as we were, much of what Kauffman recorded was part of the "Mainland" story or only hearsay.  We were hippies, Bob and I, of a sort, back-to-the-landers (if you can go back to where you never were in the first place) in rural Hawaii.  Building a basic, simple home, planting trees, a garden and etc. However, we were under no illusions about supporting ourselves solely by farming, and had no inclination to live off the State.  So, day jobs. Me with commercial art and raising our daughter.  Bob in Real Estate.  Also, coming to know Jesus was a large factor in our staying together and staying sane through it all.  Plus, setting aside some unhealthy drugs was a big help with that too.

As far as food goes, Kauffman focuses mainly on the vegetarian aspect of "hippie food", which I don't think really merited all that emphasis.  We had a very short period of interest in vegetarianism while backpacking in Southeast Asia, China and Japan, before acquiring our parcel of land in Hawaii.  So would agree with what he said (page 198) about the counterculture taking up "the idea of eating as a political act and converted millions of people to vegetarianism, at least for a year or two."  But, helping at our food c-op, making home cooked meals, granola, and bread, cutting out processed foods, and trying to stay with organically raised produce, was definitely a priority for us then and remains so. I have researched the subject, and would encourage everyone to do that.  Find out for yourself why eating organically raised, less processed food is so important.


Making Chocolate From Beans to Bars

Continuing on with the goal of making more from and using what we have!  I made a large batch of chocolate from our cacao this past week.  Of course, if you start the timing from picking the fruit, and cutting open, then letting it ferment a week in a big pot, next drying on trays for about a week, then roasting, husking and grinding, the time can be spread out quite a bit. For more in depth instructions, see the Chocolate Alchemist's video series.

I usually let the beans sit in containers after the initial drying stage.  They keep quite well and we can let them accumulate until there's enough to make a chocolate production worthwhile, instead of (as per usual) just using the ground, roasted nibs for my cocoa drink in the morning.  As you might notice, our cacao tree, below, has no fruit at the moment.  Though we have a few other trees, they're not yet producing.  More on the process here, from an earlier post.


Tapioca - Not Pudding, but Fritters and Pizza!

Going along with the concept of less shopping and more eating what we have, I've recently been posting on and using various staples from our tropical garden, a living, growing pantry.  Thus we showcase Tapioca here, AKA manioc, yucca, cassava, pia, (Hawaiian) or ubi kayu (Malay).  So many names for this very useful plant because it's in use all over the world.  Well, the warmer, zones at any rate. It's a pretty garden plant, and when you think it might be ready, dig it up and use the root.


Hola! Heart of A Peach Palm

Sometimes when looking up recipe ideas, and following various trails on the internet, I lose track of what got the process started.  I believe in this case it was a mention of Costa Rican Ceviche Salad, utilizing heart of palm. But the most important thing mentioned on that recipe site (for me anyway) was that Peach Palms are clonal - i.e. clumping.  At that point a little light bulb flashed in my brain. I jumped up from the computer and ran downstairs, out to the garden, to inspect my Peach Palm. It had been planted a number of years ago with the idea of providing us heart of palm, as an alternative to cutting down a coconut palm for its heart, which is the growing tip at the very top of a palm, inside the bark.  Not that I would.  When one of my brothers was a tree trimmer, in his youth, he brought us some.  However, in the years following, always in the back of my mind, I had the idea that cutting the peach palm down for a salad would be wasteful, and then there would be no more. So it remained untouched.

But, clonal means that the palm should be making little ones, known here in Hawaii as keikis.  Sure enough, that tall palm had a friend, right in back of it, which I hadn't noticed - so there were two tall ones.  And, at the base were new sprouts coming up, next to where a load of mulch had just been dumped. Oh boy, one of my happy dances ensued!  Right before chopping down a palm (yes, with some delegating). Now we can look at the palms as a sort of pantry, in which are now included various coconut palms here and there, which have sprouted from dropped coconuts, and were about to be uprooted and tossed.  Oh no!


Our Big Fat Jackfruit Adventure

My first experience, face to face, with a jackfruit.  People grow them here, but you don't generally see them in the market.   Well, occasionally in the farmer's market, cut up and wrapped in saran.  This all started when I went to a local vegetarian restaurant with a friend, wanting to try the now almost cult fruit, prepared like pulled pork.  The owner said she didn't use jackfruit for that purpose, just ripe ones in smoothies.  So I managed to talk her into selling me a whole, unripe specimen.  Luckily she had just taken delivery on a bunch of them, so I was able to stagger out, with one of the staff helping me to carry it. This is a fruit you don't want falling on your head out in the orchard.

Me negotiating said purchase. The next job was researching how to cut it open, prepare for cooking and use in some recipes. Verizon has told me I'm down to 10% due to excessive data usage.


History and Some Wee Oatcakes for St. Pat's

Call me nuts, but I'm thrilled when I come across a new book series (new to me anyway) that is absolutely terrific, full of fascinating history, great characters, a mystery to be solved, well written and even with some humor and romance.  Lots of wonderful books yet to be read. Well, watch me do a little happy dance!

I'm doing it now for Peter Tremayne a Celtic scholar who has written such a series - Mysteries of Ancient Ireland!  This one, Shroud for the Archbishop, featured today, is the second in said series. Absolution by Murder being the first. They're also called the Sister Fidelma Mysteries.  She is the protagonist, an Irish advocate and judge who is called upon to investigate a tricky and politically sensitive murder, while on an assignment in Rome.  Here's what the Publishers have on this one:

"Wighard, Archbishop designate of Canterbury, has been found dead, garrotted in his chambers in Rome's Lateran Palace in the autumn of A.D. 664. His murderer seems apparent to all, since an Irish religieux was arrested by the palace guards as he fled Wighard's chamber, but the monk denies responsibility for the crime, and the treasures missing from Wighard's chambers are nowhere to be found.

The bishop in charge of affairs at the Lateran Palace suspects a political motive and is wary of charging someone without independent evidence. So he asks Sister Fidelma of the Celtic Church to look into Wighard's death. Fidelma (an advocate of the Brehon Court), working with Brother Eadulf of the Roman Church, quickly finds herself with very few clues, too many motives, a trail strewn with bodies--and very little time before the killer strikes again."


Crispy Treats, Peacocks and Co-Dependency

Define co-dependence?  Okay, Wikipedia says "Codependency is a behavioral condition in a relationship where one person enables another person's addiction, poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility, or under-achievement. Among the core characteristics of codependency is an excessive reliance on other people for approval and a sense of identity."

You can also see this phenomenon  in action, if you haven't already encountered it in life.  Just read Murder with Peacocks, by Donna Andrews.  This is her first novel, and I'm hoping she will tame the tendency in Meg, her protagonist, by the next one.  Because I will be reading at least one more of her works.  There was enough humor, laugh out loud type, good character development with some truly outrageous relatives, and hilarious situations to keep me reading, despite frequently wanting to take Meg by the shoulders and give her a good shake, yelling "Are you Serious??"

She has taken on wedding planning, Maid of Honor duties for three summer weddings, her mother's, brother's, and best friend's. None of whom are being at all helpful, far from it in fact.  Besides which, she is not a wedding planner.   Two of the couples she doesn't even want to see married, at least not to the horrid people they've picked.  So there you have it - Co-Dependency with murder.


Fiddle Head Ferns and Fennel Salad, With a Mystery

Sheila Connolly has several "cozy mystery" series out and I've enjoyed her writing thus far.  This newest series, the Victorian Village Mysteries, is outstanding already.  A real winner, judging from the debut, Murder at the Mansion.  I especially loved her blend of history, including little known background on Clara Barton, a bit of romance, an interesting premise - can a dying town be saved, and an unusual solve. It's the girl grows up, leaves town in a hurry and unwillingly comes back to help someone scenario, with a few fun twists. Connolly is an entertaining and witty writer.

Kate has a great job, managing day-to-day operations for a high-end boutique hotel on the Baltimore waterfront, when her high school best friend comes seeking help for their hometown.

Here's what the Publishers and a few Reviewers have to say:

"Welcome to Asheboro, Maryland, where the homes are to die for. . .

Katherine Hamilton never wanted to return to her dead-end hometown. But when she is called in to help save Asheboro from going bankrupt, Kate can’t refuse. The town has issued its last available funds to buy a local Victorian mansion. It’s a plan that Kate would be happy to help get off the ground. . .if only she didn’t have such bad memories associated with that mansion. Is Kate ready to do business―or is this job too personal for her own good?


Kuku Sabzi - and I Don't Mean Crazy

We are currently reading Pomegranate Soup for our Cook the Books Club, hosted this round by Simona of Briciole fame. This novel by Marsha Mehran is the tale of three young women who made their escape from the revolution in Iran, and have come to live and open a cafe in a small village in Ireland. A bit of culture shock going on here.  More so on the part of some unsympathetic Irish villagers.  However enough of the residents are willing to try the strange food on offer, and come back for more.

I did enjoy the story as a whole, though I thought Mehran's tale got off to a bad start with her prologue. All about the evil villain of the piece, Thomas McGuire.  He is so over-the-top nasty that it strains credibility.  This negativity continues through her first 5 or so chapters, carried into descriptions of  Irish villagers, police, the town, even the country side. Such as, on a remote mountain road: "the big man puffed his way along the rocky mile and a half to the cottage on foot, coughing on vapors of cow dung and pig fat that hung in the air." Truly?  Doesn't mesh with the remoteness of the spot, or "beauty of the surrounding verdant valleys."


A Super Pesto - With Moringa!

Okay, all right, I do realize that most of you won't be harvesting Moringa any time soon.  However, (should be in caps) it was such a thrill making this pesto that I'm posting it anyway, especially since it turned out so darned good! The moringa itself has a lovely nutty flavor, just a hint of bitter, with the basil adding it's sharp herbal notes and citrus offsetting the unctuousness of toasted walnuts, Parmesan and olive oil. 

YOU CAN ALSO make it with moringa powder.  Add 1 Tablespoon of the powder to your pesto recipe, and increase the amount of basil and parsley if you wish. As shown on the Dr. Oz show apparently.  I started a project some time ago, determined to find more ways of incorporating this very healthful plant into our diets.  And, pesto is a great addition for sure.  See above post link.

                                     Moringa Basil Pesto
                                                         A Variation of Pesto Genovese
1 cup fresh basil, divided
1/3 cup toasted walnuts
2/3 cup finely grated parmesan
2 large cloves raw garlic, chopped
1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped
2 cups fresh Moringa leaves
4 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil  (adjust to desired consistency)
1/2 lemon or lime, juiced
Salt to taste

Place half the basil leaves along with the garlic cloves, cheese, and walnuts into a high speed blender. Blend continuously until finely chopped and evenly dispersed.

Add lemon juice, remaining basil, parsley leaves and the fresh Moringa leaves. Blend, scraping down sides of the blender jar intermittently until adequately chopped and incorporated.

Drizzle in oil while blending. Adjust to desired consistency. (Note: More oil will produce a thinner pesto that works well for sauces. Less oil will produce pesto better equipped for spreading.)

Spritz in extra lemon or lime juice as needed. Sprinkle in salt. Add/adjust ingredients (garlic, walnuts, cheese, lime, salt) to taste.

If keeping, coat the top with a bit of olive oil and store in a small air tight container.

For our Valentine's Dinner we had Tagliatelle with Pesto Genovese and Tenderloin steaks.  Blueberry Upside down Cake to follow.

We really enjoyed this mixture of pasta and potatoes with the pesto sauce. From a favorite cookbook of mine, Great Italian Cooking, edited by Michael Sonino.

Another useful moringa discovery was the trick of putting a good sized bunch of leaves into a big paper bag for drying.  A few days in a sunny spot or in the oven with just a pilot light.  Then you can easily pull out the bigger stems and keep your dried herb in a mason jar for tea.  Especially good with ginger and lemon grass.

All will be shared over at Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking event.  Check out some good suggestions, both for cooking and reading.


Escapism Cooking, In One Sense

When I got The Art of Escapism Cooking by Mandy Lee, from our library (this is not a book you want to buy without checking it out first) I thought, my word, what amazing looking recipes!  What wonderful photography!

Then, I realized that these recipes were for very involved, not to mention strange, concoctions.  Pages of instruction and hard to come by ingredients, many incorporating unique sauces, which needed to be created first, before using, in meals entitled for instance, Spelt Jianbing with Kettle Cooked Potato Chips, Clams Over Oatmeal, Chewy Layered Paratha, Korean Pork Belly Tacos with Pear on Sticky Rice Tortillas, and Semi-Instant Risotto with Pork Fat Crispy Rice Cereal.
This is not merely fusion cooking people, but more like Double Extreme Fusion!  And Lee gives her readers a few tirades on that subject, for example her rant on pizza: 
"Pizza has the potential to be Italy's ramen, a democratic arena of creativity, progressivism, and tolerance, if only the Italians could just chill the fuck out about it.  Is it really pizza?  Who says so, and who cares?  Neither the tomato itself nor baking stuff on top of a fermented dough was an original Italian idea, and if the Italians from a few hundred years ago were dumb enough to give a shit about that, then there wouldn't even be such a thing as pizza today.  All the dishes we eat today were fusion at some point in history.  And to say that this progression should stop and freeze at an arbitrary point for the sake of national pride is both dangerous and dumb-sounding."


Pistachio Dusted Cream of Cauliflower Soup from The Knowledge

Many of you may be familiar with Martha Grimes' series featuring Scotland Yard Detective Superintendent, Richard Jury, and her clever pub name titles.  The Knowledge  is one of those, her latest effort in the series.. Jury and his occasionally strange cohorts/friends are always fun.  I'd recommend starting at the beginning however, unless you already have.

From the Publishers:
"With their signature wit, sly plotting, and gloriously offbeat characters, Martha Grimes’s New York Times bestselling Richard Jury mysteries are “utterly unlike anyone else’s detective novels” (Washington Post). In the latest series outing, The Knowledge, the Scotland Yard detective nearly meets his match in a Baker Street Irregulars-like gang of kids and a homicide case that reaches into east Africa.

Robbie Parsons is one of London’s finest, a black cab driver who knows every street, every theater, every landmark in the city by heart. In his backseat is a man with a gun in his hand—a man who brazenly committed a crime in front of the Artemis Club, a rarefied art gallery-cum-casino, then jumped in and ordered Parsons to drive. As the criminal eventually escapes to Nairobi, Detective Superintendent Richard Jury comes across the case in the Saturday paper.

Two days previously, Jury had met and instantly connected with one of the victims of the crime, a professor of astrophysics at Columbia and an expert gambler. Feeling personally affronted, Jury soon enlists Melrose Plant, Marshall Trueblood, and his whole gang of merry characters to contend with a case that takes unexpected turns into Tanzanian gem mines, a closed casino in Reno, Nevada, and a pub that only London’s black cabbies, those who have “the knowledge,” can find. The Knowledge is prime fare from “one of the most fascinating mystery writers today” (Houston Chronicle)."


Happy New Year's Jook

The downside to embarking upon a terrific new mystery series, when you've just finished the debut novel, is the wait for a follow up!  Singapore Sapphire, by .A. M. Stuart, has it all - an intrepid heroine, in an exotic locale, fascinating history and really splendid writing. I want to read her next one now!

I would only take exception to the cover.  Who is supposed to be represented here?  Certainly not our brave heroine, Harriet Gordon, an Englishwoman, raised in India.  More from the Publishers:

"Early twentieth-century Singapore is a place where a person can disappear, and Harriet Gordon hopes to make a new life for herself there, leaving her tragic memories behind her--but murder gets in the way.

Singapore, 1910--Desperate for a fresh start, Harriet Gordon finds herself living with her brother, a reverend and headmaster of a school for boys, in Singapore at the height of colonial rule. Hoping to gain some financial independence, she advertises her services as a personal secretary. It is unfortunate that she should discover her first client, Sir Oswald Newbold--explorer, mine magnate and president of the exclusive Explorers and Geographers Club--dead with a knife in his throat.

When Inspector Robert Curran is put on the case, he realizes that he has an unusual witness in Harriet. Harriet's keen eye for detail and strong sense of duty interests him, as does her distrust of the police and her traumatic past, which she is at pains to keep secret from the gossips of Singapore society.

When another body is dragged from the canal, Harriet feels compelled to help with the case. She and Curran are soon drawn into a murderous web of treachery and deceit and find themselves face-to-face with a ruthless cabal that has no qualms about killing again to protect its secrets."