Showing posts with label cheese. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cheese. Show all posts

Friday, July 5, 2019

Giada's Caprese Pasta Salad

July 4th might be over but it is still the holiday weekend and a summer full of potlucks and parties. Nothing says summer like good pasta salad, especially when it is a pasta salad version of a classic like Giada's Caprese Pasta Salad.

I made a few small changes to the recipe--adding capers, using marinated mozzarella balls and stirring in about 1/2 cup of artichoke pesto I had on hand for extra oomph. Easy and delicious!

Caprese Pasta Salad
Slightly Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis via
(Yields 6 Servings)

1 lb fusilli pasta (I used rotini)
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced (I used 4 cloves)
(I added 1 1/2 Tbsp capers, drained)
3 cups cherry tomatoes, quartered (about 1 1/2 pints) (I used local Heirloom minis)
I added 1/2 cup jarred artichoke pesto (this one)
1 tsp salt, or to taste (use less if capers are undrained)
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
1/2 cup packed fresh basil leaves, torn
8 oz fresh mozzarella, diced (about 1 1/4 cups) (I used marinated mini mozzarella balls)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain pasta into a large bowl and reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid.

In a medium skillet heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic (and capers) and and saute until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, salt, and pepper. As the tomatoes cook and soften, smash them with a fork. Continue to cook until the tomatoes make a chunky style sauce, about 4 minutes.

Transfer the tomato sauce to the bowl with the pasta. Toss to combine. Add (the pesto if using), basil leaves and mozzarella. Stir to combine. Add the reserved pasta water, 1/4 cup at a time, until the pasta is moist. (Note: I also added some of my marinade from my mozzarella balls to moisten the pasta, adding extra flavor.) Serve.

Notes/Results: If you love pasta and you love caprese salad, you will enjoy this recipe. The mix of flavors--sweet, savory, garlicky, briny and the texture of the pasta, cheese and chunky tomato sauce make it a winner. I think the capers and pesto are the perfect touch but you could omit them or add a drizzle of your favorite balsamic for another flavor punch. Fresh and good mozzarella, tomatoes and basil make this salad sing and taste like summer in a pasta bowl. I liked this salad at room temp best, but chilled is nice too. Easy to put together and really good, I would happily make it again.

Linking up to I Heart Cooking Clubs where this week's theme is I'll Bring the Pasta Salad. Any pasta salad from any of our nineteen featured chefs.

I'm also 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.

Finally I am linking up this pasta salad to Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays, right here at Kahakai Kitchen and where any of the above dishes are welcome. ;-) Here's the link to this week's link up.


Wednesday, July 3, 2019

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "The Summer of Sunshine and Margot" by Susan Mallery, Served with a Recipe for Sautéed Mushroom & Chive Bruschetta

I love a short work week. Tomorrow is July 4th and I took the day after off for a rare-for-me four-day weekend. I have a delightful summery new novel to kick it off with as today's stop on the TLC Book Tour for The Summer of Sunshine and Margot by Susan Mallery. Accompanying my review is a tasty and elegant little appetizer for a summer night party, Sautéed Mushroom & Chive Bruschetta, inspired by the book.

Publisher's Blurb: 

The Baxter sisters come from a long line of women with disastrous luck in love. But this summer, Sunshine and Margot will turn disasters into destiny…
As an etiquette coach, Margot teaches her clients to fit in. But she’s never faced a client like Bianca, an aging movie star who gained fame—and notoriety—through a campaign of shock and awe. 

Schooling Bianca on the fine art of behaving like a proper diplomat’s wife requires intensive lessons, forcing Margot to move into the monastery turned mansion owned by the actress’s intensely private son. Like his incredible home, Alec’s stony exterior hides secret depths Margot would love to explore. But will he trust her enough to let her in?
Sunshine has always been the good-time sister, abandoning jobs to chase after guys who used her, then threw her away. No more. She refuses to be “that girl” again. This time, she’ll finish college, dedicate herself to her job as a nanny, and she 100 percent will not screw up her life again by falling for the wrong guy. Especially not the tempting single dad who also happens to be her boss.
Master storyteller Susan Mallery weaves threads of family drama, humor, romance and a wish-you-were-there setting into one of the most satisfying books of the year!

Hard Cover 368 Pages
Publisher: HQN; Original Edition (June 11, 2019)

My Review:

Whether it be due to work stresses or the warmer summer weather, I find myself drawn more to lighter reads this time of year. I gravitate to books that help me relax, tell a good story, introduce me to likable characters and despite any drama, generally end on a happy note. Susan Mallery is a great author for this kind of book, and I have reviewed a few of her novels over the years including the recent, California Girls. 

The Summer of Sunshine and Margot is like California Girls in that is about sisters, although there are two in this story. Margot is a somewhat buttoned up etiquette coach who has made the mistake of loving and altering her life for one man, who just can’t seem to grow up. She is determined not to let him back in her life and is busy working with a new client, Bianca, an actress who has a reputation for unconventional behavior but is now set on marrying her true love, an ambassador who needs to keep his dignity to keep his job. The job requires her to move in with Bianca who is currently staying with her reclusive researcher son in a renovated monastery. Margot likes and is attracted to Alec and is worried about failing both him and Bianca. Sunshine is Margot’s fraternal twin and rather than putting all her eggs in one relationship basket, she has made a series of bad very choices in men, and though she loves children and being a nanny, she constantly leaves her positions to follow those bad choices. Sunshine is trying to change her life and working for a successful and widowed landscaper, caring for his young son Conner and has big plans to go back to school, get her degree and lead a better, more responsible life. Both she and Declan are tempted by each other, but don’t want to admit it and hurt Conner or each other. 

Although the sisters are very different in appearance, personality, and in how they approach life, both were deeply affected by their childhood and being raised by their great-grandmother as their grandmother left their mother and their mother left them. They are easy characters to like and to cheer on, as are the supporting characters, especially Conner, Sunshine’s young charge. Mallery writes with humor and heart and captures the bond between sisters well. There are no twists or surprises, but it is a satisfying story that is easy to curl up with and enjoy on the lanai or at the beach. The Summer of Sunshine and Margot is a good choice for your summer reading stack if you like women’s fiction, stories about sisters and family relationships, sometimes snarky humor, romance, and stories about personal growth and second chances.


Author Notes: #1 NYT bestselling author Susan Mallery writes heartwarming, humorous novels about the relationships that define our lives-family, friendship, romance. She’s known for putting nuanced characters in emotional situations that surprise readers to laughter. Beloved by millions, her books have been translated into 28 languages.Susan lives in Washington with her husband, two cats, and a small poodle with delusions of grandeur. Visit her at

Connect with Susan on her website, Facebook, Twitter and on Instagram.


Food Inspiration:

Susan Mallery's books always seem to have plenty of food mentions and there is even a recipe for a quick coq au vin in the back. Food mentions included: ice tea, lasagna roll-ups, salad, garlic knots and zucchini fries, champagne, chocolate, mixed berry pie, brownies, cinnamon rolls, banana bread, burger and a milkshake, a green drink of spinach, parsley, cucumber and kale with a little red apple tossed in for sweetness and a protein drink with almond milk, cacao, banana and vegan vanilla protein powder, martinis and margaritas, crab puffs, white and dark chocolate mousse in a pastry shell, cold avocado and cucumber soup, a chicken and pasta dish with cheese sauce, and a potato casserole. 

I decided to recreate one of the bruschetta appetizers that Margot and Alec put together for a small gathering:

"Margot stirred fresh chopped chives into softened cream cheese, then spread it on the bread and topped it with the mushroom mixture. Alec prepared the more traditional bruschetta, topping the bread with diced fresh tomatoes and feta."

I made mine a bit easier with a cream cheese spread with onions and chives, adding the fresh chives to the top. To punch up my somewhat ordinary cremini mushrooms, I used plenty of butter, thyme and some Trader Joe's Mushroom & Company Multipurpose Umami Seasoning Blend that a friend sent to me--a mix of kosher salt, black pepper, red pepper, mushroom powder, and mustard seed.

Sautéed Mushroom & Chive Bruschetta
Inspired by The Summer of Sunshine and Margot by Susan Mallery
(Yields about Six Servings)

1 small sourdough baguette, sliced
olive oil
3 Tbsp butter

1 shallot, diced
2 to 3 sprigs worth of fresh time leaves
1 lb mushrooms of choice (I used cremini), chopped
2 tsp Trader Joe's Umami Seasoning or your favorite multi-purpose seasoning mix
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/3 cup Philadelphia Chive and Onion Cream Cheese Spread (or make your own)
chopped fresh chives to garnish

Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. brush both sides of each bread slice lightly with olive oil. cook them in a single layer until warmed through and grill marks form. Set aside.

Heat butter in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the shallot and sauté for a few minutes. Add the thyme, mushrooms, Umami Seasoning, a dash of salt and pepper and sauté for about 10-12  minutes, stirring often, until mushrooms are tender and glossy. Taste for seasoning and add more if needed. if mushrooms seem too dry, add a little more olive oil.

Spread each slice of grilled baguette with a layer of cream cheese spread and place a spoonful of mushrooms on top. Top with a sprinkle of fresh chives and serve warm. Enjoy!

Notes/Results: Such an easy and tasty little appetizer to make. I loved the cream cheese and chive spread with the rich and buttery warm seasoned mushrooms. They were definitely moreish and a nice change from the usual tomato bruschetta. they would be perfect with a glass of cold Sauvignon Blanc. I will happily make them again.

Linking up my review with Simona at briciole for her Novel Meals #36 event, where culinary inspiration comes from published literary works. 

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 Summer of Sunshine and Margot" was provided to me by the author and publisher via TLC Book Tours. I was not compensated for my review and as always, my thoughts and opinions are my own. 

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

Thursday, May 9, 2019

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "Before She Was Found" by Heather Gudenkauf, Served with a Recipe for Cheese Pizza (with Pesto, Artichoke Hearts & Black Olives)

One more day until Friday! I am excited for the weekend and excited to be today's stop on the TLC Book Tour for Before She Was Found, a new mystery/thriller by Heather Gudenkauf. Accompanying my review is a recipe for an easy Cheese Pizza. While the dish is inspired by my reading, I changed up to experiment with a keto-friendly egg and cheese crust and topped it with pesto, artichoke hearts, black olives and plenty of cheese.

Publisher's Blurb:

A gripping thriller about three young girlfriends, a dark obsession and a chilling crime that shakes up a quiet Iowa town.

For twelve-year-old Cora Landry and her friends Violet and Jordyn, it was supposed to be an ordinary sleepover—movies and Ouija and talking about boys. But when they decide to sneak out to go to the abandoned rail yard on the outskirts of town, little do they know that their innocent games will have dangerous consequences.
Later that night, Cora Landry is discovered on the tracks, bloody and clinging to life, her friends nowhere to be found. Soon their small rural town is thrust into a maelstrom. Who would want to hurt a young girl like Cora—and why? In an investigation that leaves no stone unturned, everyone is a suspect and no one can be trusted—not even those closest to Cora.
Before She Was Found is a timely and gripping thriller about friendship and betrayal, about the power of social pressure and the price of needing to fit in. It is about the great lengths a parent will go to protect their child and keep them safe—even if that means burying the truth, no matter the cost.

Hardcover: 368 Pages
Publisher: Park Row; Original edition (April 16, 2019)

My Review:

Before She Was Found is my first Heather Gudenkauf book and one reason I jumped on this tour as I have been meaning to give her a try. The other thing that drew me in was the similarity of the plot description to the Slender Man case from a few years ago in which two 12-year-old girls in Wisconsin, lured another friend to the woods and stabbed her in order to impress a creepy Internet urban legend. Gudenkauf notes in the afterword that this is where the inspiration from the book came from, although there are differences in characters, settings and plot lines. I won't go into much detail in this review as I don't want to spoil it.

The story is told from different points of view and methods--a therapist's notes, Cora's journal, texts between friends, etc., and goes back in forth from the night Cora is found on the train tracks of the abandoned rail yard having been attacked to the time before she was found. Gudenkauf does a skillful job in weaving the different perspectives together and building the suspense, with several twists and turns. There are a lot of characters--the three friends, Cora, Violet and Jordyn, their families, the doctors and police involved, other friends and a somewhat creepy teacher, which kept me interested and guessing as to what happened and who was involved. The down side is that it also made it hard to get to know or bond with any one character and I wanted to understand some of the different motives more than I did. Still, overall I enjoyed Before She Was Found; the story engaged me, the pages flew by, and I would definitely read more from this author. 


Author Notes: Heather Gudenkauf is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Weight of Silence and Not a Sound.  Heather lives in Iowa with her family.

Connect with her on her website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


Food Inspiration:

The food in Before She Was Found was a bit limited, but there were mentions like gingerbread and pitchie moloko ("birds milk cake" from Russia), ice cream, green rivers (a classic soda shop/diner drink of 7-Up and lime syrup), pizza, a turtle sundae, hot chocolate and fries, oatmeal, chocolate or strawberry milkshakes, peanut butter sandwich, butterscotch candy, bagels, donuts and orange juice, cupcakes, toast with butter and peach jam, pasta and wine, and a bunch of drinks and cocktails as one of the characters grandfather ran a bar and remembered people's drinks rather than their names.
For my bookish dish, I chose cheese pizza as when Cora and Violet first become friends, one of the things Cora notes they have in common is a love of cheese pizza.

Why not a regular cheese pizza like the ones the girls enjoyed in the book? well, I have been wanting to experiment with a gluten-free crust and wanted something very easy for a weeknight dinner. my friend has been experimenting with a keto lifestyle lately and suggested I try this one from I like the simplicity of it--just eggs and cheese in the crust (plus a little pepper I added). I prefer non-tomato sauces and have been craving pesto and I thought that the brine of the artichoke hearts and olives to cut some of the rich cheesy-ness.

Keto Cheese Pizza (with Pesto, Artichoke Hearts & Black Olives)
Slightly Adapted from
(Makes 2 to 4 Servings)

4 large eggs
6 oz shredded cheese--preferably mozzarella and/or Provolone
black pepper and oregano if desired

pesto or pizza sauce of choice
shredded cheese of choice (I used a mix of Parmesan, Romano, and cheddar)
canned or jarred artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
black olives 
dried basil or oregano if desired

Pre-heat over to 400 degrees F. Prepare a baking sheet or pizza pan with parchment paper or olive oil cooking spray.

Crack the eggs into a medium bowl and stir them with a fork until blended. Stir in the shredded cheese and mix together well.

Spread out thinly on your prepared pan, using a rubber spatula. (Note: I used two personal pizza pans and divided the mix between them.

Bake for about 15 minutes--until crust turns golden. Remove and let sit for a few minutes. (After it cools a little, I like to loosen the crust from a pan with my spatula before putting on the toppings.)

Turn oven to 450 degrees F. Spread pesto or sauce over pizza crust. Top with artichoke hearts, cheese and black olives--or toppings of choice. Sprinkle with a little dried oregano or basil if desired.

Bake for 7 -10 minutes or until cheese is melted and top is golden brown.

Serve and enjoy!

Notes/Results: Like a cross between pizza and frittata, but chewy and good and enough to solve my  pizza craving, I liked this pizza. It is rich though and I topped one of my two crusts and found myself only eating half of it. (The other half became today's breakfast and I saved the other crust to make another time.) If you don't want to bother with making crust, or frozen crust or pulverizing cauliflower rice if you want to go gluten-free, it is a good way to go and very easy. I will make  it 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 "Before She Was Gone" 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.


Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "Where the Forest Meets the Stars" by Glendy Vanderah, Served with a Recipe for Cheesy Cauliflower

I am very excited to be today's stop on the TLC Book Tour for Where the Forest Meets the Stars, the debut novel by Glendy Vanderah. Accompanying my review is a bowl of very Cheesy Cauliflower, inspired by the book and the mysterious child, Ursa. 

Publisher's Blurb:

In this gorgeously stunning debut, a mysterious child teaches two strangers how to love and trust again.

After the loss of her mother and her own battle with breast cancer, Joanna Teale returns to her graduate research on nesting birds in rural Illinois, determined to prove that her recent hardships have not broken her. She throws herself into her work from dusk to dawn, until her solitary routine is disrupted by the appearance of a mysterious child who shows up at her cabin barefoot and covered in bruises.

The girl calls herself Ursa, and she claims to have been sent from the stars to witness five miracles. With concerns about the child’s home situation, Jo reluctantly agrees to let her stay—just until she learns more about Ursa’s past.

Jo enlists the help of her reclusive neighbor, Gabriel Nash, to solve the mystery of the charming child. But the more time they spend together, the more questions they have. How does a young girl not only read but understand Shakespeare? Why do good things keep happening in her presence? And why aren’t Jo and Gabe checking the missing children’s website anymore?

Though the three have formed an incredible bond, they know difficult choices must be made. As the summer nears an end and Ursa gets closer to her fifth miracle, her dangerous past closes in. When it finally catches up to them, all of their painful secrets will be forced into the open, and their fates will be left to the stars.

Hardcover: 332 Pages
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (March 1, 2019)

My Review:

I signed up for this book based on the description and somewhat on the comparison to The Snow Child, a book that I want to read, but I confess, still sits on my Kindle--unread after several years. Although I can't speak to the comparison being accurate, I can tell you that I very much enjoyed Where the Forest Meets the Stars and that it is a beautifully written book that had me fully caught up in the story and characters and kept me turning the pages. 

Magical realism can be tough to write without it traveling over to the unbelievable, too much woo-woo side, and for me, Glendy Vanderah had a deft touch that had me truly wanting to believe that Ursa really comes from the stars, or at least has something magical about her. She is a special character, wise beyond her years, funny and engaging, and that makes it easy to imagine why a practical scientist would keep her hidden and why a hurting, reclusive neighbor would help her. I also liked Jo and Gabe and how they come together with Ursa, the trio forming bonds as each works through the hurts and damages that life has given them. The story had me smiling and tearing up in almost equal parts as Ursa looks for her five miracles--things that other people might overlook in the search for something bigger, but that a child (whether human or from another world), would see the beauty and magic in. Although I have not spent time in the rural areas of Southern Illinois, the author brings the settings with the rustic rented cottage, the forest and landscape surrounding it, and Jo's bird study sites to life beautifully. Where the Forest Meets the Stars is a special book, one that I found easy to curl up and get lost in, and one that I wanted to go back to after I finished, to spend more time with the characters. I can't wait to see what Glendy Vanerah writes next. 

If you would like to win a copy of Where the Forest Meets the Stars and you have a U.S. or Canada mailing address, head over to my Instagram account @DebinHawaii for a chance to win. 


Author Notes: Glendy Vanderah worked as an endangered bird specialist in Illinois before she became a writer. Originally from Chicago, she now lives in rural Florida with as many birds, butterflies, and wildflowers as she can lure to her land. Where the Forest Meets the Stars is her debut novel.

Connect with Glendy on her website or Instagram.


Food Inspiration:

There was a lot of food in Where the Forest Meets the Stars, much of it cooked over the fire pit at the cabin, including marinated chicken breasts and vegetable skewers, turkey burgers, toasted marshmallows, grilled mahi basted with butter and vegetable skewers. There was also apple cider, oatmeal, tuna sandwiches, trail mix, fruit, blueberry muffins, scrambled eggs with "green stuff" (aka spinach and/or broccoli), apple pie, leftover beans, rice, and chicken, coffee, cereal, pancakes with syrup, orange juice, peach and strawberry-rhubarb pie made with farm stand fruit, potato salad from Jo's mother's recipe, burgers, pork chops, applesauce, and green beans, Raisin Bran cereal, wine, iced tea, milk and cookies, pizza, Necco rolls, turkey burgers with sweet potato fries, turkey and cheddar sandwiches, omelets with Gabe's eggs, roast chicken and packaged bread stuffing, leftover green beans and corn, beer, cheese and crackers, fried eggs, English muffins and orange slices, tomato soup, a chef's salad, dutch apple pie and vanilla ice cream, a spaghetti dinner, chili and cornbread, egg sandwiches, roast beef, and sandwiches and lemonade.

I thought about the toasted marshmallows that Ursa loved or a potato salad like Jo's mom's recipe, but decided instead on Cauliflower in Cheese Sauce because Gabe brings it over for a dinner with Ursa and Joe and I liked their exchange...

"Gabe brought leftover cauliflower in cheese sauce for dinner. 
'Not yuckyflower!' Ursa said. 'Jo made me eat it last night!' 
'This has gooey cheese on it,' he said, and gooey cheese makes anything, even dirt, taste delicious.'
'Can I eat dirt instead?'"

and later...

"'Wow, a clean plate,' Jo said to her. 'Even the cauliflower is gone.'
'The cheese made it okay.' she said. 'You should do that when you make yuckyflower.'
'Thanks,' Jo told Gabe. 'You've set the bar way too high for my simplistic cooking skills.'"

Between Ursa's yuckyflower comments and the fact that my friend was talking about a keto-friendy cheese sauce she made that was giving me serious cheese sauce cravings, I picked it as my book-inspired dish. I like cauliflower already, but enough gooey cheese sauce (and I put plenty of the sauce recipe below on my steamed cauliflower) would make it palatable for a child or anyone who found it "yucky." 

Easy (Keto-Friendly) Cheese Sauce
by my friend Barb
(Makes About 2 1/2 Cups)

2 Tbsp salted butter
4 oz cream cheese, cut into chunks
milk, up to 1 cup
shredded cheddar cheese, up to two cups
(I added 1 tsp ground yellow mustard)
a few dashes of Tabasco, to taste, optional 
salt and black pepper to taste

Melt the butter over medium heat in a medium sauce pan. Add the cream cheese and stir until it has melted into the butter. 

Whisk in about 1/2 cup of the milk, turn heat to medium low and add about 1 1/2 cups of the shredded cheese, stirring until melted and smooth. At this point, you can play with the consistency of your sauce, adding more milk and/or cheese as needed, until you get a smooth, creamy, pour-able sauce. Turn the heat to low whisk in the yellow mustard and Tabasco, if using, and taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as desired.

Serve warm, with vegetables, eggs, or whatever you like. (I confess, I steamed a head of cauliflower cut into florets and just stirred it into my cheese sauce, but you can be more judicious and just drizzle or pour it over over.)
Notes/Results: OK, this cheese sauce, especially when you are lazy and use it all on a small head of cauliflower, isn't going to win low calorie or low fat health awards, but it is delicious. I'm not doing a keto or low-carb diet, but I appreciate a cheese sauce that is thick and creamy without having to use flour or cornstarch and bother with making a roux. I gobbled up a bowl for dinner the first night I made it and I have been enjoying the remainder-reheated with eggs on top and as a side dish for fish. I will happily make it again.

I'm linking up this review and recipe to Novel Food #35, hosted by my friend Simona of briciole, an event celebrating food inspired by the written word. The deadline for this round is Tuesday, March 26

I'm also 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 "Where the Forest Meets the Stars" 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.


Wednesday, March 6, 2019

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "I Invited Her In" by Adele Parks, Served with a Recipe for Baked Tortellini with Kale Pesto

It's Wednesday and I am working my way over the hump and into the weekend by taking an all-day leadership class on coaching behavioral issues. I can't help thinking that some of the characters in the new novel, I Invited Her In by Adele Parks, could benefit from some coaching--although I did more yelling at them in my head than thinking about trying to change their behaviors. ;-) Instead, I'll just review the book and throw in a recipe for a pasta dish, Baked Tortellini with Kale Pesto, inspired by my reading.

Publisher's Blurb:

Imagine the worst thing a friend could ever do.
This is worse.
When Mel receives an unexpected email from her oldest friend Abi, it brings back memories she thought she had buried forever. Their friendship belonged in the past. To those carefree days at university.
But Abi is in trouble and needs Mel’s help, and she wants a place to stay. Just for a few days, while she sorts things out. It’s the least Mel can do.
After all, friends look out for each other, don’t they?
I Invited Her In is a blistering tale of wanting what you can’t have, jealousy and revenge from Sunday Times bestseller Adele Parks.

Hardcover: 432 Pages
Publisher: MIRA; Original edition (February 5, 2019)

My Review: 

This is my first book by Adele Parks which seems odd as she has 15 novels out and all have been best sellers in the U.K, but I took the tour because I love twisty, dark thrillers that keep me guessing. Unfortunately I didn't quite get that with I Invited Her In. Be it the back cover blurb, the subtitle on the front cover (and she took everything...), the foreshadowing throughout the story, or a combination of all three, I ended up figuring almost all of the twists and turns out and so the suspense and tension just wasn't there. From the beginning it's pretty clear that Abi is downright evil and Mel got on my nerves too with her actions and her reactions to the things Abi. I spent much of the book yelling at Mel and her (more likable but equally clueless) husband Ben in my head. It's not a bad book, Parks did keep me turning the pages to see how badly the friendship between Abi and Mel derailed. For me it read a bit like a slightly over-the-top Lifetime movie and I found it more of a drama of full of dark secrets and a youthful friendship gone bad, than the psychological thriller I was expecting.


Author Notes: Adele Parks one of the most-loved and biggest-selling women’s fiction writers in the UK. She has sold over 3 million books and her work has been translated into 25 different languages. She has published 15 novels in the past 15 years, all of which have been London Times Top Ten Bestsellers. Adele was born in the North East of England, in 1969. She enjoyed a traditional 1970’s childhood, watching too much TV and eating convenience food because nobody minded if kids did that in those days. Since graduating from university, where she studied English Language and Literature, she worked in advertising and as a management consultant. In 2010 Adele was proud to be awarded an honorary doctorate of Letters from Teesside University.

Connect with Adele on her website, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.


Food Inspiration:

There was food (an alcohol) to be found in I Invited Her In, lots of family meals and British comfort food including toast and jam, tea and Hobnobs, coffee, beer and French red wine, fish fingers and baked beans on toast, a cheese and pickle sandwich, champagne, birthday cakes, gin-and-tonics, herbal teas, hot chocolate and chocolate brownies, scrambled eggs, bolognese sauce with fried mince, tomato and basil, handmade chocolates, organic grapefruit tonic in a bottle, cream tea with salmon sandwiches and little chocolate cakes, Thai food, whiskey, brandy, carrots, olives and wine, pizza delivery, meat and multiple vegetables like peas and roast potatoes, pasta and tomato sauce, pesto pasta, shepherd's pie, ice cream, lasagna, tomato and lettuce salad, tinned soup, eggs, bacon, and toast, meatballs, takeaway fish and chips, soup and crackers, jam sandwiches, strawberry milkshake, chocolate, margaritas, tacos, tostadas, and a "potato something," roast chicken, sweet potato chips and broccoli, humus, soya milk, ginger nut biscuits, cereal, chocolate milk and Nutella, Weetabixes, kebabs, red ice lollies, soft cheeses, pate, raw eggs, a C'est la Vie (a cocktail made of lime juice shaken with Ciroc vodka and French pear brandy), rainbow chard, cornmeal porridge, sea bream, duck salad and dessert.

Pasta with bolognese, lasagna, spaghetti, fish fingers, and shepherd's pie seemed to be the most common fair at Melanie's house, none of which called to me as a weeknight dinner I wanted to eat. When a recipe for Baked Tortellini with Kale Pesto popped up in my Food Network feed, I was intrigued. It had  the same feel as easy pasta comfort food but the kale added a different edge so I decided to try it for my book-inspired dish. Both the pasta and the ease of making it tie it to the book. I made up the pan on Monday night, covered it and put it in the fridge, then pulled it out, topped and baked it last night. Seemed like something working mum, Mel would do.

Baked Tortellini with Kale Pesto
(Yields 4 to 6 Servings)

kosher salt
1 12-to-14-oz package spinach and cheese tortellini
7 cups baby kale (about 8 oz) (I used regular kale)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic (I used 2 cloves)
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp grated parmesan cheese
Freshly ground pepper
1 cup heavy cream (I used coconut milk)
1/4 cup sliced sun-dried tomatoes (not oil-packed)
3/4 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese (about 3 oz) (I used chunks of fresh mozzarella)
1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 Tbsp pine nuts, roughly chopped (I forgot to buy these, so omitted)
2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the tortellini and cook as the label directs. Reserve ¼ cup cooking water, then drain. Reserve the pot.

Meanwhile, puree 4 cups kale, the olive oil and garlic in a blender or food processor until almost smooth. Add ¼ cup parmesan and season with salt and pepper. Pulse until smooth, adding up to 1/4 cup tap water if needed.

Transfer the pesto to the reserved pot along with the heavy cream; stir to combine. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat to medium low; stir in the tortellini, sun-dried tomatoes and the remaining 3 cups kale, adding the reserved cooking water as needed to loosen. Transfer to a 9-by-13-inch baking dish and sprinkle with the mozzarella.

Combine the panko, pine nuts, parsley and the remaining 2 tablespoons parmesan in a small bowl; season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle over the tortellini and bake until golden brown, about 12 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving.

Notes/Results: I liked this bake, but would make a few changes. You have to enjoy kale for this one, which luckily, I do. If you aren't a fan, I would use spinach as it would bypass the slight bitterness that kale has. The recipe also calls for baby kale, which was missing at my local grocery store, so I use regular kale. Next time, I would saute the kale first with the garlic, to mellow it and to soften the kale left in the casserole. I also forgot I was out of pine nuts which would have added a nice crunch to the texture. Still, about 20 minutes in the toaster oven (I cooked it longer as I had it in the fridge overnight) and I had this hot casserole ready to go and enjoyed my plate feeling a bit more virtuous about the cheese and pasta, having worked my greens in. ;-) I would make it again and will try it with spinach or other greens too.

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 "I Invited Her In" 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.