Friday, November 17, 2017

Ina's Roasted (Or Pan-Seared) Salmon Tacos with Cabbage-Cucumber Slaw & Mashed Avocado

I was craving tacos and salmon and Ina Garten has a recipe the combines both and sounded great for an easy Friday night dinner. I made a few small changes to the recipe, including reducing the quantities and pan-searing the salmon as I didn't want to bother with turning on the oven for a couple of pieces of fish.

Roasted Salmon Tacos
Slightly Adapted from Cooking For Jeffrey by Ina Garten &
(Serves 6)

Ingredients for the slaw:
3/4 lb green cabbage, cored and finely shredded
1/2 seedless cucumber, unpeeled, halved lengthwise, seeds removed & very thinly sliced
1/4 cup good white wine vinegar
3 Tbsp minced fresh dill 

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 

Ingredients for the salmon
olive oil, for greasing the pan
1 3/4 lbs center-cut fresh salmon fillet, skin removed
2 tsp chipotle chile powder (I used a chipotle-garlic spice blend)
1 tsp grated lime zest 

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 Tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice, divided
12 (6-inch) corn tortillas
4 ripe Hass avocados, seeded and peeled
3/4 tsp Sriracha


At least an hour before you plan to serve the tacos, toss the cabbage, cucumber, vinegar, dill, 1 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp black pepper together in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate, allowing the cabbage to marinate. 

When ready to serve, preheat the oven to 425°F. Brush a baking dish with olive oil and place the salmon in it. Mix the chile powder, lime zest, and 1 1/2 tsp salt in a small bowl. Brush the salmon with 1 Tbsp of the lime juice and sprinkle with the chipotle seasoning mixture. Roast for 12 to 15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish, until the salmon is just cooked through. (Note: I followed Ina's steps for seasoning the fish but pan fried mine in a bit of mac nut oil in a hot pan--searing the salmon on all sides and cooking it until just cooked through.)

Wrap the tortillas in 2 foil packets and place them in the oven with the salmon. (I toasted mine over my gas grill) Roughly mash the avocados with the remaining 2 Tbsp of lime juice, the Sriracha, 1 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp black pepper.  

To serve, lay 2 warm tortillas on each of 6 plates. Place a dollop of the avocado mixture on one side of each tortilla, then some large chunks of salmon, and finally, some of the slaw. Fold the tortillas in half over the filling (they will be messy!) and serve warm.

Notes/Results: I was intrigued by Ina's combination of the different components but it all worked together amazingly well for some really good salmon tacos. I liked the slaw as I am a big dill fan (you could sub in cilantro or another herb if you aren't) and the touch of sriracha in the guacamole--it wasn't too spicy but there was a nice warmth in the back of my throat. They are pretty messy, so have forks and napkins handy--but they are worth a little mess. I think this is one of the healthier Ina recipes I have cooked/come across, so not only are these tacos the way to her husband Jeffrey's heart (our IHCC theme for the week), I think more recipes and dinners like this would be good for Jeffrey's heart health too! ;-) It all goes together quickly once you have your slaw chilled and tastes great and so I would happily make this recipe again.  

Linking up at I Heart Cooking Clubs where we are cooking The Way to Jeffrey's Heart this week--Ina's recipes that her husband Jeffery loves--which I think pretty much means any Ina recipe! You can see what everyone made by checking out the picture links on the post.  

Since this recipe features slaw--a salad, and tacos are sandwich-like, I am linking to Souper Sundays here at Kahakai Kitchen. Every Sunday, I round up delicious soups, salads & sandwiches that are linked up on that week's post. You can see the details of how to join in on this week's post.

 Happy Aloha Friday!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "Hiddensee" by Gregory Maguire, Served with a Recipe for Mulled Hard Cider (Glühmost) and Pear Toast with Pomegranate & Toasted Walnuts

Someone reminded me that it was just under six weeks to Christmas. Yikes! Today's stop on the TLC Book Tour of Hiddensee, (the new fantasy book by Greogry Maguire that brings the story of the toy maker that carved the Nutcracker to life) has some obvious ties to the holidays--like the famous Nutcracker Ballet that is a tradition for so many. I'm pairing today's book review with a snack (afternoon please--there is alcohol!) of Mulled Hard Cider (Glühmost) and Pear Toast with Pomegranate and Toasted Walnuts--two dishes that would be more than welcome at the holiday table.

Publisher's Blurb:

From the author of the beloved #1 New York Times bestseller Wicked, the magical story of a toymaker, a nutcracker, and a legend remade . . .

Gregory Maguire returns with an inventive novel inspired by a timeless holiday legend, intertwining the story of the famous Nutcracker with the life of the mysterious toy maker named Drosselmeier who carves him.

Hiddensee: An island of white sandy beaches, salt marshes, steep cliffs, and pine forests north of Berlin in the Baltic Sea, an island that is an enchanting bohemian retreat and home to a large artists’ colony– a wellspring of inspiration for the Romantic imagination . . .

Having brought his legions of devoted readers to Oz in Wicked and to Wonderland in After Alice, Maguire now takes us to the realms of the Brothers Grimm and E. T. A. Hoffmann– the enchanted Black Forest of Bavaria and the salons of Munich. Hiddensee imagines the backstory of the Nutcracker, revealing how this entrancing creature came to be carved and how he guided an ailing girl named Klara through a dreamy paradise on a Christmas Eve. At the heart of Hoffmann’s mysterious tale hovers Godfather Drosselmeier– the ominous, canny, one-eyed toy maker made immortal by Petipa and Tchaikovsky’s fairy tale ballet– who presents the once and future Nutcracker to Klara, his goddaughter.

But Hiddensee is not just a retelling of a classic story. Maguire discovers in the flowering of German Romanticism ties to Hellenic mystery-cults– a fascination with death and the afterlife– and ponders a profound question: How can a person who is abused by life, shortchanged and challenged, nevertheless access secrets that benefit the disadvantaged and powerless? Ultimately, Hiddensee offers a message of hope. If the compromised Godfather Drosselmeier can bring an enchanted Nutcracker to a young girl in distress on a dark winter evening, perhaps everyone, however lonely or marginalized, has something precious to share.

Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: William Morrow (October 31, 2017)

My Review: 

I jumped on this tour when I saw that Gregory Maguire was adapting the story of the Nutcracker both because of the story subject and because I hadn't picked up a Maguire book in a few years. I was a big fan of Wicked and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister and I liked Mirror Mirror and Lost, but although I own them, I just never got around to reading his other works--something I intend to do one of these days.

Hiddensee is similar to the other books in that it is a secondary character that takes the lead and the bulk of the storytelling. In this case, rather than focusing on the Nutcracker, or even Klara, it is the toy maker, Herr Drosselmeier who presents the Nutcracker to Klara on Christmas Eve. Hiddensee leans to the darker side, as Maguire stories tend to do and takes us to the forbidding deep woods where the young Dirk was a foundling, raised by a woodcutter and his wife. It's not a happy childhood, nor is how he leaves it and goes out into the world, but his story is for the most part interesting (a few chapters dragged a bit for me), as is how the Nutcracker came to be and how he ended up as a gift to a young girl.

If you go into Hiddensee expecting lots of dancers and sugar plum fairies or even much of a Christmas story, you will be disappointed but if you enjoy a quirky, slightly dark story that aligns with Grimm's Fairy Tales and Germanic folklore you will likely get caught up in Dirk Drosselmeier's journey. Although it didn't win my heart as much as Wicked or Ugly Stepsister, I think it is a worthy addition to my Maguire collection. (And I do have to say that I love both the paper jacket--which is gorgeous and the printed book underneath--which is creepy/cool--check out the last picture of the post for a glimpse.)  


Author Notes: Gregory Maguire is the New York Times bestselling author of Confessions of an Ugly StepsisterLostMirror Mirror; and the Wicked Years, a series that includes WickedSon of a WitchA Lion Among Men, and Out of Oz. Now a beloved classic, Wicked is the basis for a blockbuster Tony Award–winning Broadway musical. Maguire has lectured on art, literature, and culture both at home and abroad. He lives with his family near Boston, Massachusetts.
Find out more about Maguire at his website and follow him on Facebook.


Food Inspiration:

There was a good amount of food in Hiddensee and it provided plenty of inspiration with things like mushrooms, ale, bread, chicken, sausage, stew, potatoes, lots of bread and cheese, red apples, figs, venison, carrots in honey, noodle pudding, sweet cakes,  pastries with gooseberry jam, wurst with soft yellow cheese, veal stew, potato dumplings, strudel, onions, shelled beans, strawberries, sauerbraten, black cherry conserve, bread dumplings, headcheese, pomegranates and walnuts, schnapps, gingerbread, fesenjan (Iranian stew), baklava, raspberry pastry, pork and apples, pickled onions, sliced apples in honey, veal with lemons and carrots, and thin-shaven potato in vinegar, boiled sweets,steamy aromatic cider, chicken and olive soup, pear toast and biscuits with honey icing, cabbage with fennel seed and caraway, soup, fish, whipped eggnog and pfeffernusse.

For my book-inspired dish, I decided to combine a few things. First "a cup of cider, aromatic and steamy" is given to Drosselmeier sounded so good that I decided to make a mulled hard cider. Then young Klara imagines a café where on the menu is "...chicken and olive soup. Also some pears on toast. And what else. Some biscuits with honey icing." I thought it would be fun to do the pears on toast but add some pomegranates and walnuts to it--as both play a role in the story and to use labne (yogurt cheese) as a base and drizzle it with honey. Together with the mulled hard cider, it makes a nice snack to enjoy with a good book.

There were a few different recipes online for Mulled Hard Cider (I learned it is called Glühmost and is more popular in South Germany and Austria, consumed in the winter months as a changed from mulled wine). The recipe that I liked best is from a blog called The Kitchen Maus where the blogger used to (she's been on maternity leave since last year) has a passion for making authentic German recipes. She has a good write up on it that I encourage you to read. I kept her recipe ingredients mostly the same--just making a few small changes to her quantities to my tastes and noted in red below. 

Mulled Hard Cider (Glühmost)
Slightly Adapted from Diony at
(Serves about 4)

4 cups (or two 16oz cans) of Dry Hard Cider (I used 3 12-oz bottles Angry Orchard Crisp Apple Hard Cider)
4 slices of lemon
2 cinnamon sticks
4 whole cloves (optional--I omitted)
2 star anise
1 (2-inch) piece ginger, peeled
(I added 1 cup apple cider) (optional)
honey to taste (I used 2 Tbsp)
1/3 cup of Orange Juice (optional)

Place all ingredients except for orange juice into a medium saucepan and bring to a low simmer over medium-high heat--being careful not to boil--so the alcohol remains. Reduce heat to low and let cider steep about 20 minutes. add the orange juice a few minutes before it's finished and allow it to warm up.

Pour the cider through a sieve and discard solids. Serve hot, garnishing with extra lemon slices, apple slices, star anise and/or cinnamon sticks as desired. 

Pear Toast with Pomegranate & Walnuts
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Serves 2 as a snack)

2 pieces thickly-sliced good bread (I used cranberry-walnut bread)
3 Tbsp labne, yogurt, ricotta or cream cheese (I used labne)
1 ripe pear of choice
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp walnuts, toasted & chopped
2 Tbsp pomegranate arils/seeds

Toast bread until lightly browned. Let cool for a few minutes and spread with labne (or yogurt, ricotta, cream cheese...)

Core and thinly slice pear and brush the slices with lemon juice. Layer pear slices on top of toast and drizzle with the honey.

Sprinkle tops of toast with chopped toasted walnuts and pomegranate seeds and serve. 

Notes/Results: I may have to swap out my hot mulled apple cider tea for Glühmost. With the hard cider, it reminds me a bit of a warm apple shandy. Comforting and delicious with the cinnamon, star anise, ginger and lemon. Since the hard cider available to me is fairly sweet and I used both apple cider and orange juice, I reduced the amount of honey and it was a good level of sweetness for me. The pair toast was delicious--a nice alternative to my usual savory avocado toast--but not too sweet due to the fruit and tang of the labne. I will definitely make both of these again.

I'm sharing this post with the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.

Note: A review copy of "Hiddensee" was provided to me by the author and the publisher, Harper Collins, via TLC Book Tours. I was not compensated for this review and as always, my thoughts and opinions are my own.

You can see the stops for the rest of this TLC Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.


Sunday, November 12, 2017

Classic 'Chicken' Noodle Soup (Made Vegan with Jackfruit) for Souper (Soup, Salad, & Sammie) Sundays

I like to experiment in the kitchen and since I stopped eating it, I love taking the meat or poultry out of dishes while still keeping in the flavor and texture, so I am surprised that it took me so long to give cooking with jackfruit a try. If you aren't familiar with it, (here's an interesting write up), in short it's a fruit that in its unripe, young form has little flavor but the texture of chicken or pulled pork so it is "hot" as a meat alternative for vegetarians and vegans looking for a more natural meat substitute. Even Trader Joe's is selling it in cans. Wanting to make a veg-friendly version of chicken noodle soup, I grabbed a few cans from my local natural foods store and headed for the kitchen.

I have some friends that have been having me make extra batches of my soups each week for them to buy. They are actually the ones that brought up chicken soup--but said they thought a vegan version would be interesting and refused my offer to make a chicken broth-like base and just add chicken meat to their batch--saying they wanted to try whatever I came up with. 

I did some research online, finding a couple different recipes for a chicken noodle-style soup using jackfruit--one was even on Cooking Light's site. I was concerned about the brine of the jackfruit (lime juice and salt in the brand I bought) impacting the taste of a mild soup and so I was happy to see that a blogger at Plant Based On a Budget had "marinated" his jackfruit in a chicken-flavored broth and lightly pan seared it to get a closer flavor and texture. I used his technique and steps for making jackfruit 'chicken' but did my own thing with the soup base and rest of the soup. I wanted something simple and classic--carrots, celery, pasta--in a great-tasting broth. I picked a "curly" noodle--fusilli pasta to appeal to my young friend Zof (and to my inner child). My recipe and the jackfruit technique (and a quick picture of jackfruit) are below.

Classic 'Chicken' Noodle Soup (Made Vegan with Jackfruit)
By Deb, Kahahkai Kitchen
(Makes 8 servings)

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large sweet onion, chopped
2 large stalks of celery, chopped
3 medium carrots, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp dried parsley
1 tsp dried basil or thyme
1/2 tsp poultry seasoning
1/2 tsp celery salt
10 cups of your favorite broth (I used a mix of homemade garlic broth and no-chicken bouillon paste mixed with water)
1 can young jackfruit in brine, rinsed well, drained and prepared as below
2 cups dried pasta of choice (I used fusilli)
1/3 cup nutritional yeast
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
fresh parsley or other herb to garnish

Prepare jackfruit as directed below.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add onions, celery and carrots and saute about 10 minutes until veggies are softened and onions translucent. Stir in the garlic and herbs and spices and cook for another 2 minutes. 

Add broth and bring soup to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes. Stir in reserved prepared jackfruit and bring up to a light boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions (about 10 minutes usually).

Stir in nutritional yeast. Taste and add sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Serve soup garnished with fresh herbs and enjoy.

Jackfruit 'Chicken'
Adapted from Plant Based on a
1 can young jackfruit in brine, rinsed well and drained
2 cups chicken-flavored broth, boiling with 1/4 tsp poultry seasoning added

Place the rinsed and drained jackfruit pieces in a bowl and pour the boiling chicken-flavored broth over it. Allow to set for about 90 minutes, then drain jackfruit and pat dry. (I discarded the broth because of the jackfruit brine flavor but you could reserve it and add it to the soup if desired.)

In a large skillet, add 1 Tbsp olive oil. When hot, add jackfruit and fry until each side is lightly browned. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Once cool, shred into pieces, using two forks or clean hands and set aside until ready to add to soup.

Notes/Results: For my first jackfruit experiment I think this soup turned out really well. I might have liked the jackfruit a bit drier, but I think I could try roasting it a little after shredding it next time. It does have more of a chicken texture than most "faux meat products" and I like that--as well as it is more of a natural option. The soup overall had great chicken-like flavor and tasted like the classic soup of my childhood. I found the jackfruit a bit reminiscent of artichoke hearts and I think it can be more easily disguised with spices and sauces than in a simple broth-based soup, but overall I'd call it a success. My soup friends texted me about 5 minutes after I dropped their soup off and said they loved it--so that says something. I have another couple more cans of jackfruit and I will be experimenting with them--maybe in a stew of chili next time.

We have some good friends and tasty dishes waiting this week in the Souper Sundays kitchen--let's have a look at what got linked up this week! 

Shaheen from Allotment2Kitchen shared Roasted Butternut Squash, Fennel, Orzo Salad and said, "For those of you who may be unfamiliar wither Orzo, Orzo is Italian and translates as barley from which it was originally made.These days, orzo is made from hard wheat semolina. For people like me, orzo often means rice-shaped pasta. ... this  Roasted Butternut Squash, Fennel Orzo Salad is a very simple recipe. To the cooked orzo pasta, I added roasted butternut squash and fennel, sliced black olives and red onion." 

Judee of Gluten Free A-Z Blog made 5-Minute Kohlrabi Carrot and Raisin Slaw and said, "I have been seeing kohlrabi recently in many supermarkets. It is softer than cabbage and tastes great in a slaw or salad. Combined with grated carrots and raisins, grated kohlrabi makes a fabulous side that is sweet and juicy. Kohlrabi may be a light green or a deep purple - both taste the same."

Linda of made Parsnip and Apple Soup from a new cookbook and said, "It didn’t take me long to pick out some recipes to try and I’ve got them all marked with sticky notes.  I found variations on some of my recipes, like instead of using bread with the centre cut out and fried with an egg for Egg in the Hole, Marie uses a bagel.  I’ll be trying that one for sure. ... I love this soup, but find you have to be a parsnip lover to really enjoy it, but the added taste of the apple gives it a nice sweet taste.  This soup stores well in the freezer too."

Here at Kahaki Kitchen I tried Nigel Slater's Winter Salad of Pears and Blue Cheese. It's gorgeous and the tangy dressing and mix of ingredients is very tasty. It also gave me an excuse to buy my first pomegranate of the season. 

Mahalo to everyone who joined me at Souper Sundays this week! 

Souper Sundays is back with a new format of a picture link each week where anyone interested can post their soups, salads, or sandwiches any time during the week and I post a recap of the entries the following week.)

(If you aren't familiar with Souper Sundays, you can read about of the origins of it here.

If you would like to join in Souper (Soup, Salad, and Sammie) Sundays, I would love to have you! Here's how...

To join in this week's Souper Sunday's linkup with your soup, salad or sandwich:

  • Link up your soup (stew, chili, soupy curries, etc. are fine), salad, or sandwich dish, (preferably one from the current week or month--but we'll take older posts too) on the picture link below and leave a comment on this post so I am sure not to miss you. Also please see below for what to do on the post you link up to be included.

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

Have a happy, healthy week!

Friday, November 10, 2017

Nigel Slater's Winter Salad of Pears and Blue Cheese & Seven Other Favorite Apple and Pear Recipes

I am aware that this Winter Salad of Pears and Blue Cheese looks ready for Christmas with the red and green colors (not helped by my using red napkins) and it isn't quite Thanksgiving yet, but I needed a pear recipe and was craving salad and blue cheese and it gave me an excuse to buy my first gorgeous pomegranate of the season. This Nigel Slater recipe ends up being a good trial run for any holiday meal and paired well with a piece of salmon for a Friday night dinner.

Nigel says that slightly under-ripe pears with a little crispness are better for this than truly ripe ones--the contrast works well with the cheese. I made a few small changes to the recipe based on what I like and had on hand, noted in red below.

Winter Salad of Pears and Blue Cheese
Slightly Adapted from Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard  by Nigel Slater
(Serves 2 or More as a Side)

a plump pear, ripe but still slightly crisp
lemon juice
small, crisp salad leaves--a couple of handfuls. (I used baby arugula)
firm blue cheese, four thick slices (I used a Gorgonzola--in pieces)
walnut halves, a handful, toasted
1/2 pomegranate, seeds separated   

cider vinegar or white vinegar--1 Tbsp (I used champagne vinegar)
peanut oil--1 Tbsp (I used mac nut oil)
walnut or hazelnut oil--2 Tbsp (I used mac nut oil with a tiny bit of sesame oil)
heavy cream--1 Tbsp

Slice the pear into quarters. Remove the core and cut the fruit into thin slices. Brush each piece with lemon juice. 

Make the dressing by putting the vinegar in a small bowl and dissolving a pinch of sea salt in it. Stir in the oils and then the cream, whisking well. 

Divide the salad greens, pear slices and cheese between two plates and pour over the dressing. Scatter the toasted walnuts and pomegranate seeds over the salad and serve.

Notes/Results: My favorite Nigel Slater salad recipe (featuring apples) is shown below and remains in my heart, but this is a lovely and tasty salad too and one I will happily make again. The combination of the peppery baby arugula with the sweet pears, slightly tangy dressing, soft blue cheese, toasty walnuts and gorgeous juicy little pomegranate arils all work together so well. This was a round and mellow Gorgonzola which I prefer to a sharper blue cheese and if blue cheese isn't your thing, you could sub in feta and it would be delightful. Salmon, cooked simply in a bit of oil, was a great pairing as it has a strong enough flavor to hold up to the salad. An easy and delicious Friday night dinner. 

Linking up to I Heart Cooking Clubs for the Monthly Featured Ingredient Challenge: Apples and/or Pears. You can see what apple and pear recipes everyone made by checking out the picture links on the post.

And linking up to Souper Sundays here at Kahakai Kitchen. Each Sunday we feature delicious soups, salads, and sandwiches from friends around the blogosphere--please join in if you have any to share. Here's this week's post and linkup


For our Monthly Featured Ingredient Challenge, it's fun to go back and look at some of the Apple and Pear recipes I have cooked with our IHCC Featured Chefs. Here are some favorites with links to their respective posts and recipes. (Excuse some of the photos--many of these are from my early blogging days!)

My VERY FAVORITE Apple Recipe: Nigel Slater's Pan-Fried Apple and Cheese Salad. If you have never had warm, pan-fried apples on a salad, making the cheese slightly melted, you owe it to yourself to try this. I make it as often as I can each fall.

And Other Favorite Apple and Pear Dishes from our IHCC Chefs:
Nigella's Pear and Ginger Muffins:

Giada's Apple and Thyme Martinis: 

Giada's Smoked Salmon and Apple Carpaccio: 

Madhur Jaffrey's Pears Poached in a Saffron Syrup (Zaafraani Nashpati) 

Curtis Stone's Lemon Puddings with Granny Smith Apple Compote:

Mark Bittman's Apple Cider and Calvados Slushy:

Happy Aloha Friday!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "The Austen Escape" by Katherine Reay, Served with a Recipe for "Black Butter" (Apple-Blackberry Preserves) from The Jane Austen Cookbook

Welcome to Tuesday. A good day because it puts us one day closer to Friday. If you are feeling the need to escape, you aren't alone. Whenever I need to get away, at least in my mind, I open up a good book like this week's stop on the TLC Book Tour--The Austen Project by Katherine Reay. A fun but thoughtful novel that takes place at a Jane Austen experience in a house in Bath, England. Accompanying my review is a treat children might have enjoyed back in Austen's Day, "Black Butter"--a tasty jam-like mix of apples and blackberry on toast with butter.  

Publisher's Blurb:

Falling into the past will change their futures forever.

Mary Davies finds safety in her ordered and productive life. Working as an engineer, she genuinely enjoys her job and her colleagues – particularly a certain adorable and intelligent consultant. But something is missing. When Mary’s estranged childhood friend, Isabel Dwyer offers her a two-week stay in a gorgeous manor house in England, she reluctantly agrees in hopes that the holiday will shake up her quiet life in just the right ways.

But Mary gets more than she bargained for when Isabel loses her memory and fully believes she lives in Jane Austen’s Bath. While Isabel rests and delights in the leisure of a Regency lady, attended by the other costume-clad guests, Mary uncovers startling truths about their shared past, who Isabel was, who she seems to be, and the man who now stands between them.

Outings are undertaken, misunderstandings play out, and dancing ensues as this company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation, work out their lives and hearts.

Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (November 7, 2017)

My Review:

Being a huge Jane Austen fan and quickly becoming a Kathleen Reay fan (this is the third of her books I've read), I was excited to read The Austen Escape and snagged the ARC on NetGalley and reading it before even learning about the TLC Book Tour. Since that was a couple of months ago, I reread the novel to refresh the story (and the food) in my mind and I think I liked it even better the second time around. 

I go back and forth on whether a Jane Austen 'escape'--like the one in the book (where groups of people spend time living in the Regency period and pretending to be characterless from Austen's works) is a dream vacation or my worst nightmare. I would love to visit Austen's stomping grounds and see the museums, houses and countryside where some of my favorite characters interacted but I have never been much of a costume person--Halloween makes me twitchy--so I don't know that I'd readily enjoy that part. Mary Davies, the main character of The Austen Escape has some similar feelings and wouldn't be going if her father hadn't convinced her that her friend Isabel needed her, and if Mary hadn't needed a handy escape from a failed project and a censuring new boss at work--her usual happy place. That there is some baggage with Mary and Isabel's friendship is readily apparent--and when Isabel forgets who she is and settles right into the pretending, Mary learns some hard truths about their friendship. 

I liked Mary from the start, she is smart and has some good snark--something I always appreciate. She leans to the ordered and routine side of things so the changes to her life have her feeling out of her element. Isabel was harder to like. Although I warmed to her more and sympathized with her as her story and childhood were unveiled, there is a betrayal that I don't think I would be able to get over if I were Mary--not to mention the way she treated Mary even before things are revealed. Reay does a great job of setting the atmosphere of Braithwaite House and of Bath and of what a Jane Austen-themed house party would be like. For me the descriptions added a lot to the story and from a slower start, things really took off after Mary and Isabel got to England. The supporting characters are fun and there is romance, of course--it's chick-lit--but it is clean chick-lit so things are kept light. 
An overall sweet and entertaining read that is a great escape itself--perfect to enjoy over a 'cuppa' and a few biscuits (or maybe some toast and jam or 'black butter'). If you don't enjoy or know your Austen at least a little (there is a handy Austen character overview in the front of the book to help), The Austen Escape won't have the same charm and probably isn't your book--but if like me, you are a Jane Austen lover, you will likely enjoy the fun.


Author Notes: Katherine Reay has enjoyed a life-long affair with the works of Jane Austen and her contemporaries—who provide constant inspiration both for writing and for life. She is the author of three previous novels, and her debut, Dear Mr. Knightley, was a 2014 Christy Award Finalist, winner of the 2014 INSPY Award for Best Debut, and winner of two Carol Awards for Best Debut and Best Contemporary. Katherine holds a BA and MS from Northwestern University and is a wife, mother, runner, and tae kwon do black belt. After living all across the country and a few stops in Europe, Katherine and her family recently moved back to Chicago. 

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Food Inspiration:

This is not the "foodiest" of Reay's books (for that check out my review of Lizzy & Jane here) but there was food to be found in The Austen Escape. Examples include: Starbucks beverages, Chiles Rellenos, ice cream, tres leches cake, a martini with cilantro flakes, Prosecco, random casseroles, a Red Velvet cupcake, trout, takeout,warm nuts and chocolate in First Class, tea sandwiches and slices of glazed orange cake, toast spread with country pâté, cheese, cheese puffs, champagne, an dinner of endive salad, a light fish course, and beef tenderloin with lemon tart, coffee, tea, and other small desserts, burgers, popcorn, roast chicken, eggs, sausages, salsa on eggs and s'mores with burned marshmallows, a tray of cheese, cucumbers and a variety of cold meats along with a nineteenth-century version of egg mayonnaise and sticky toffee pudding for dessert, a salad of greens and pears, macaroni and cheese, pizza, hot cocoa, petit fours, soup, crumpets, scones, and ale, Celeriac Soup with Roast Hazelnuts and Hazelnut Oil, Smoked Salmon with Pommery Mustard and Dill Mayonnaise, Posh Kabob Wrap with Autumn Slaw and Yogurt, and a Maximum Burger with two patties and a fried egg, biscuits, Tamarind Jarritos, steaks, potatoes, and Caesar Salad, jars of jam, and nachos.

There was a mix of Austin Texas and Bath, England foods and some things that would have been enjoyed back in Jane Austen's day to pick from and I decided to pull out The Jane Austen Cookbook and see if anything called to me. I have cooked from this book before, making versions of the Raspberry 'Vinegar' (Cordial) and Marmalett of Aprecoks to pair with the film version of The Jane Austen Book Club so it seemed a good place to start. I am a bit limited in what I can make from this book as I don't eat meat (and too bad because don't Forcemeat Balls sound delicious?!) ;-) so I perused the fruit and dessert sections and decided on Black Butter--which basically turned out to be a preserve of apples (for their natural pectin) and assorted fruits and berries with the authors suggesting the black in the black butter may have come from a pairing of blackberries with the apples. Online it is called "a somewhat dark fruit conserve" which may also be how it gets its name. I happened to have some Honeycrisp (my favorite) apples on the counter and a bag of frozen blackberries, and with the mention of jam in the book (and given my love for the stuff), it seemed like a good pairing.

"My old piano teacher sent me three jars of jam every August. The day they arrived always felt like my birthday, and I practically licked each jar clean--all the while pushing aside, and yet cosseting, that little nudge, that pinprick, of the something lost that they evoked."

It was always the music. I could now name it and enjoy it. After my dinner with Dad I'd driven home and pulled my Lanvin shoebox from the top of my closet. I had also pulled the last jam jar from the fridge, sat on the floor, and thrashed a spoon around its farthest edges. It was delicious."

From The Jane Austen Cookbook by Maggie Black & Deidre Le Faye

The book notes that: "In one of Jane's letters we find references to "black butter" (perhaps blackberry and apple) being eaten by her family as a treat. We do not have a printed source for that recipe, but we do have one written only twelve years after Jane died for a children's dish. It comes from Meg Dodd's cookbook, originally published in 1829, and is given below

Black Butter
(For Children, a Cheap Preserve)
Pick currents, gooseberries, strawberries, or whatever fruit you have: to every two pounds of fruit, put one of sugar and boil till a good deal reduced. 
(M.D. 1829 edn, fac. 1988, page 435.)


For a modern recipe a mixture of some or all of the above fruits can be used. For each 2lb/1kg fruit, allow 1lb/450g white sugar. De-stalk and rinse the fruits, making sure none is mouldy. Mix them and heat gently in a pan until the juices start to run. Stir in the sugar until dissolved, and boil until very thick. Pour into small ht jars and cover as for jam. 

Note: This is a lovely old country preserve, almost unaltered, but shaped by the wise hand of Mary Norwalk. She says it is ideal for using up the odd bits and pieces in the freezer.

Deb's Notes: I made a couple of small changes--first I used about 1 lb (4 large) honey crisp apples and a 1 lb bag of frozen blackberries, which I defrosted and heated until juicy, added one large cinnamon stick and 1 Tbsp lemon juice and cooked over low for about 30 minutes to soften the fruit and release the juices. I broke up some of the larger pieces with a spoon, then brought the mixture to a boil and stirred in about 1/2 cup of sugar. (I didn't want it over sweet), boiled until the sugar was dissolved, then simmered for about 90 minutes until the mixture was reduced and quite thick. I scooped in into a small jar and allowed it to cool before serving on toast, spread with butter.

Notes/Results: A sweet and slightly tart jam with a pretty black-purple color. Even reducing to 1/2 cup sugar, it's a bit sweet for me. Thankfully the lemon juice and cinnamon stick help curb it slightly. I imagine a child would be in high-heaven with the sweetness, although they may object to the seeds from the blackberries. This definitely is more the texture of jam or preserves than butter, but you could blend it with an immersion blender if you wanted it smoother. I tend to prefer my jams and preserves to be chunky. I suppose in Jane's day they would have sieved it if they wanted a smoother consistency but that is far too much work for my laziness. It was quite delicious on a sourdough-style bread with a bit of (salted) butter and a cup of English Breakfast tea. I would make it again--although probably less sweet for me. 

I'm sharing this post with the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.

Note: A review copy of "The Austen Escape" was provided to me by the author and the publisher via TLC Book Tours. I was not compensated for this review and as always, my thoughts and opinions are my own.

You can see the stops for the rest of this TLC Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.