Saturday, June 14, 2014

Weekend Cooking: Ratatouille Lasagne

Leftovers! I love them. Love the fact that you don't have to worry about dinner for another night, or that you have lunch for the next few days. What I don't have is any imagination about doing anything different with those leftovers. Even when you read a foodie magazine and they say that you can make this with the leftovers it never really catches my attention because a lot of the time that still feels a lot like cooking a whole other meal rather than just shoving a plate in the microwave. The other day though I saw a recipe for Ratatouille Lasagne and realised that had I found a recipe to try that means I am making a deliberate decision to make something with a plan to do something with the leftovers.

I have posted before about ratatouille and cous cous being one of my favourite meals.  I don't find it possible to make just a small amount of ratatouille. There is always a ton of leftovers and so I usually end up eating it for lunch and/or dinner for several days afterwards and then, after having eaten it for days on end, I don't actually need to eat it again for a couple of months.

Rather than posting both the ratatouille recipe and the lasagne recipe here I will just link to the ratatouille recipe on the Taste website. In terms of the ratatouille recipe itself, I thought it was good served up with lamb steaks and cous cous but my "chuck whatever you have in a pot" version is probably a little tastier. However, when I cooked it up into the lasagne, I did think that this version worked well. It is relatively easy to do and quite tasty. I expect I will make this recipe again next time I make my own version, especially seeing as it was also a winner with the teenage boy in the house.

Ratatouille Lasagne 

60g butter
50g (1/3 cup) plain flour
1L (4 cups) milk
70g (1 cup) finely grated parmesan
Pinch of ground nutmeg
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 x 250g pkt dried lasagne sheets
1/2 quantity of Ratatouille (recipe link above)
250g mozzarella, sliced
Mixed salad leaves, to serve

1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat until foaming. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes or until the mixture bubbles and begins to come away from the side of the pan. Remove from heat.

2. Gradually add half the milk, whisking constantly with a balloon whisk until smooth. Gradually add the remaining milk, whisking until smooth and combined.

3. Place over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, for 5 minutes or until sauce thickens and coats the back of the spoon. Remove from heat. Stir in parmesan. Season with salt, nutmeg and cayenne pepper.

4. Preheat oven to 180°C. Spread one-third of the sauce over the base of a 3L (12-cup) capacity rectangular baking dish. Top with half the lasagne sheets. Top with half the ratatouille. Continue layering with remaining sauce, lasagne sheets and ratatouille. Top with the mozzarella.

5. Bake for 40 minutes or until golden. Set aside for 10 minutes to stand. Serve with mixed salad leaves.

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Sunday Salon: April (non) Reading and (non) Blogging Reflections

Ah, April. What happened?

Welcome to my worst reading month in probably more than 10 years and worst blogging month since I started blogging nearly 9 years ago. And you know what? Whilst I do wish I had read more because now I feel like I am behind, I also don't really regret not reading much at the time. I know that sounds contradictory but while I wasn't reading I was having a good month doing other stuff. And as far as blogging goes, well, we will see what happens with that. In the last two days I have managed to write more blog posts than I did for all of last month! No idea if I can maintain this or not!

I spent April reconnecting with old friends, and I went back to Adelaide on holidays. Whilst I was away I basically didn't check emails, write any posts, read or anything. Now, the reading part is not unusual. When I talk to people about going on holidays they always assume that I will read more than usual but that is very rarely the case. I generally don't read anything when I am on holidays and that is true whether I am away or just hanging around home.

Going back to Adelaide used to be something of a stressful time for me but these days it is a much more pleasant experience. This time my mum was away and my son went to stay with his dad and so basically I was able to do whatever I liked for the duration. This means that I was able to spend time with friends, some of whom I hadn't seen since before I moved overseas 20 years ago, some of whom I see most times I go to Adelaide. I went out to breakfast, for dinner, for coffee, to the beach, drove the new road  (which excited my friends no end) and more.

Now when you look at the list of books I read it does look as though there are a number of books here, but that is kind of misleading because four of those are audiobooks and one is a cookbook. Yes, that does mean that I only actually read one book for the whole month. One!!

Here's my monthly summary

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith 4.5/5 (audiobook)
A Feast of Ice and Fire by Chelsea Monroe-Cassels and Sariann Lehrer 4/5
Blood Safari by Deon Meyer 4/5 (audiobook)
Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer 4/5 (audiobook)
Sylvester by Georgette Heyer 4/5 (audiobook/reread)
Bellagrand by Paullina Simons 3.5

In terms of challenges, there obviously was not a lot of progress although A Feast of Ice and Fire counted for the Once Upon a Time Challenge and Bellagrand counted for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

Currently Reading

A Star for Mrs Blake by April Smith and listening to Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Up Next

I am Livia by Phyllis Smith

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Weekend Cooking: Chef

A few days ago I went to see Jon Favreau's new movie Chef. If there is just one thing you need to know before seeing this film, it is this.....

Don't watch this movie if you are hungry!! Eat before you go to see it because the food in it looks delicious. Even the toasted cheese sandwiches look A-MAZ-ING!

Now that we have that out of the way, what is the movie about?

Chef Carl Casper (played by Jon Favreau) is about to have one of the most important nights in his career as a chef. His restaurant is about to be reviewed by the most influential food critic/blogger in the city. Carl has big plans to serve up the food that he is passionate about until the restaurant owner (Dustin Hoffman) insists that he needs to cook the tried, tested and somewhat tired menu that has been the restaurant staple for many years.

After a very bad review, Casper asks his son to teach him about Twitter and he somewhat naively and inexpertly reacts to the review, eventually trending on Twitter (you can view a short clip of Casper learning some of the intricacies of Twitter here).  This leads to him goading the food critic to come to the restaurant to eat the food that he wanted to cook in the first place. Once again the restaurant owner steps in and suddenly Casper finds himself without a job.

In order to spend some quality time with his son, Casper flies to Miami with his gorgeous ex-wife (Sofia Vergara). Miami is the place where his food journey began and for Casper it is a chance to start afresh, in this case with a food truck.  It is really once we get to this part of the movie that it picked up for me as the initial set up of the story took quite some time.

In some ways it seemed to me that this movie tried to do too many things. Whilst it is undoubtedly a foodie movie - an ode to Cuban food and to a certain extent music - it was also a father-son road trip movie giving us glimpses of places like Miami and New Orleans along the way, a commentary on the power of social media to make or break something or someone (the book lovers amongst us might recognise some of the chef/critic relationship in some of the author/critic/blogger dramas that breakout fairly regularly) and for good measure throw in a small tasting of misplaced romance.  Comedy wise there were times when this was kind of charming but other times when it played a little too obviously for laughs.

I have mentioned a few of the people who have roles in the movie but there are also a couple of other big names. Scarlet Johansson plays a maitre-d/love interest and Robert Downey Jr also plays a small role.

Whilst I quite enjoyed the movie despite the slow start and the fact that the father-son dynamic took too long to resolve, the reviews were mixed. My friend's review of the movie was "shite, shite, shite". We do have mixed success in going to the movies. This year we have been three times. The first time we saw The Book Thief which we both quite liked, then we went to see Monument Men with her husband. She hated it, I didn't mind it and her husband loved it. We did joke that maybe I should just go to the movies with her hubby from now on but that might be a bit odd!

I gave it 3.5 frying pans!


Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

The Shadow Queen by Sandra Gulland

Forgive me, fellow bloggers, for I have fallen off the blogging platform. It has been a month since my last post and more than a month since the last time I wrote a review of a novel. Now, I am sitting here on a Friday night when I am already tired, trying to start a review and it seems that my brain is a bit rusty! Let's see if we can get this thing going again.

When Claudette des Oeillets first meets the young girl Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente, who will in future be known as Athenais de Montespan, it is a chance encounter. After all Claudette is from a poor travelling theatre family, trying their best to get by in 17th century France and Athenais is the girl who in due course will become 'The Shadow Queen', mistress to Louis XIV of France.

Claudette is forced to grow up quickly, taking responsibility for her mother who barely seems to be able to hold it together unless she is on stage performing where she is exceptional, and also for her brother Gaston who is disabled. Whilst her mother is onstage performing plays by the most notable playwrights of the day, Claudette does anything and everything that she can to bring in a few extra sous to help make ends meet from cleaning and sewing to the occasional small onstage part. Claudette's story provides the viewer with ringside seats in the volatile world of French theatre, a world peopled by playwrights like Racine, Corneille and Moliere, the actors and actresses as well as all the fans from all walks of life.

I found much of the theatre aspect of the book very interesting, mainly because I don't remember reading a lot about the complex political and religious implications of theatre at this point of time. I was surprised by how badly any one associated with the theatre were treated by the church of the time - not allowed to enter the church or have communion and therefore if they died without renouncing the theatre unable to be buried in holy ground. And yes, despite these efforts to ostracise the performers and their families, there were still many actors and actresses who attracted many fanatics (from where we get some of our modern concepts of fandom), even from among the aristocracy. It is an interesting dichotomy.

Claudette's life changes immeasurably when she moves from the theatre world to the court of Louis XIV after she is appointed as the personal attendant and confidante to Athenais de Montespan, wife to a nobleman, mother of his children who live with him in another country but more importantly mistress to the king, and mother of his children. Athenais is desperate to protect her place as the king's main squeeze, resorting to charms and potions to keep his attention from wandering too far away and Claudette is a key player in helping her with this objective. This  ends up with Claudette being caught up in the Affair of the Poisons which rocked the royal court of the day.

I think that the publishers and marketers missed the mark with this book in a way. Firstly, in relation to the title, I must confess I am not 100% sure of the logic behind giving a book a title that actually doesn't relate to the main character. Sure, Athenais is the shadow queen but the reality is that the book is not about Athenais. It is about Claudette. Yes, for a large portion of the book Athenais is pretty much Claudette's main focus but as a title it didn't work that well for me.

The same could be said of the synopsis. Yes, all the things that are mentioned in the synopsis did happen but I was a little disappointed by how little depth there was when it came to some of those events. For example, in the synopsis it talks about the "increasingly uneasy relationship between two strong-willed women whose actions could shape the future of France". Whilst there was a confrontation I don't think I got the increasingly uneasy vibe let alone anything more. And if you google Claudette's name you will find that she was (in)famous for one thing and yet that was mainly inferred rather than explored and how that all came about felt a bit odd to be honest!

It is a bit disappointing to feel this way about this book, especially seeing as I did find many things in it interesting. I was a big fan of the Josephine B trilogy, and I liked Mistress of the Sun (just not quite as much) and as such I got excited when I learned that the author had a new book out. I think that will probably be still true for her next book but I do wonder how high I should set my expectations. Of course, maybe my reaction is tempered by the fact that in addition to not doing any blogging I haven't been reading much at all. Maybe this is just as much about me as it was about the book.

Rating 3.5/5

About the Tour

Tour Schedule:
Sandra Gulland's website.
Sandra Gulland on Facebook
Sandra Gulland on Twitter.
Sandra Gulland on Goodreads

About the Book

From the author of the beloved Josephine B. Trilogy, comes a spellbinding novel inspired by the true story of a young woman who rises from poverty to become confidante to the most powerful, provocative and dangerous woman in the 17th century French court: the mistress of the charismatic Sun King.

1660, Paris

Claudette’s life is like an ever-revolving stage set. From an impoverished childhood wandering the French countryside with her family’s acting troupe, Claudette finally witnesses her mother's astonishing rise to stardom in Parisian theaters. Working with playwrights Corneille, Molière and Racine, Claudette’s life is culturally rich, but like all in the theatrical world at the time, she's socially scorned.

A series of chance encounters gradually pull Claudette into the alluring orbit of Athénaïs de Montespan, mistress to Louis XIV and reigning "Shadow Queen." Needing someone to safeguard her secrets, Athénaïs offers to hire Claudette as her personal attendant.

Enticed by the promise of riches and respectability, Claudette leaves the world of the theater only to find that court is very much like a stage, with outward shows of loyalty masking more devious intentions. This parallel is not lost on Athénaïs, who fears political enemies are plotting her ruin as young courtesans angle to take the coveted spot in the king's bed.

Indeed, Claudette's "reputable" new position is marked by spying, illicit trysts and titanic power struggles. As Athénaïs, becomes ever more desperate to hold onto the King's favor, innocent love charms move into the realm of deadly Black Magic, and Claudette is forced to consider a move that will put her own life—and the family she loves so dearly—at risk.

Set against the gilded opulence of a newly-constructed Versailles and the War of Theaters, THE SHADOW QUEEN is a seductive, gripping novel about the lure of wealth, the illusion of power, and the increasingly uneasy relationship between two strong-willed women whose actions could shape the future of France.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Library Loot: 9 April

I swear that this is not just one visit to the library because, quite frankly, I would have needed two carry bags to carry all my loot out!

Here's my loot for this week:

A Star for Mrs Blake by April Smith - I have seen some good things about this book, and now I am going to be participating in a blog tour for it.

The Cracks in the Kingdom by Jaclyn Moriarty - I read the first book in this series a while ago and was a bit underwhelmed by it until the very end when I was very definitely hooked into wanting to know what happens next.

Murder of Crows:  a novel of The Others by Anne Bishop - I thought that I was done with urban fantasy when I read the first book in this series by Anne Bishop and loved it last year!

Somewhere in France by Jennifer Robson - I definitely have a WWI theme going on with my reading at the moment, and this is the next one.

Marco's Temptation by Fiona McArthur - The next book in the Sydney Harbour Hospital series.

A Feast for Crows by George R R Martin - I am actually half way through this but was never going to finish it in time so I ended up returning it and borrowing it again within a couple of minutes.

Jasmine Nights by Julia Gregson - I really liked Julia Gregson's other books but never actually got around to reading this one.

Blood Safari by Deon Meyer - Bree is a big fan of this author so when I was looking for a new audiobook and I saw this one I thought I would give it a go.

The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka by Clare Wright - This is one of the books that has been longlisted for the Stella Prize this year.

Regeneration by Pat Barker - Early prep for a readalong that we might be hosting over at Historical Tapestry later in the year (not that we have announced it yet)

The Luminaries: a novel by Eleanor Catton -  I went and heard this author speak in February and thought the book sounded interesting. I am not sure that I am going to get through it before it is time to renew it though.

Library Loot is hosted by Clare from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief. Clare has the Mr Linky this week so head there to share your loot links.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Sunday Salon: March Reading Reflections

March was a pretty good month reading wise! My highlight was definite In Falling Snow by Mary-Rose MacColl, my first 5/5 read for the year. I was also very pleased with the number of books that I read for challenges this month, specifically the Australian Women Writers Challenge.

Here's what I read during March:

The Debt of Tamar by Nicole Dweck 4/5
Floodtide by Judy Nunn 2/5 (audiobook)
Hate is Such a Strong Word by Sarah Ayoub 4.5/5
Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley 4.5/5
A Bitter Taste by Annie Hauxwell 4/5
Dear Stranger by Alise K Ackers 4/5
Satisfaction by Sarah Mayberry 4/5
Sydney Harbour Hospital: Bella's Wishlist by Emily Forbes 2.5/5
The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon by Alexander McCall Smith 4/5
The Collector of Dying Breaths by M J Rose 4/5
In Falling Snow by Mary-Rose MacColl 5/5
1914: The year the world ended by Paul Ham 4/5 (audiobook)
Hope Flames by Jaci Burton 3.5/5
Just One Year by Gayle Forman 4/5
The Sandman Vol 2: The Doll House by Neil Gaiman 4/5
Play by Kylie Scott 3/5
Lick by Kylie Scott 4.5/5 (reread)

Challenge Update

Australian Women Writers - Floodtide, Hate is Such a Strong Word,  A Bitter Taste, Dear Stranger, Satisfaction, Bella's Wishlist, In Falling Snow, Play and Lick

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge - The Debt of Tamar, In Falling Snow,

Once Upon a Time - The Sandman Vol 2: The Doll House

Reading now

Bellagrand by Paullina Simons, A Feast for Crows by George R R Martin, The Golden Apple by Michelle Diener and listening to Blood Safari by Deon Meyer

Up Next Jack of Fables: Jack of Hearts by Bill Willingham

Saturday, April 05, 2014

A Feast of Ice and Fire: the official companion cookbook by Chelsea Monroe-Cassels and Sariann Lehrer

It seems as all the gods have been smiling in terms of the timing of my post about this book. I was a bit disappointed when I saw that someone else had requested it from the library so I couldn't renew it but, given that I have been reading A Feast for Crows, indulging in watching Season 3 of Game of Thrones this week and Season 4 starts on Monday, the timing really couldn't be better.

This book is actually by two bloggers who started blogging about the food from George R R Martin's A Song of Fire and Ice series over at In at the Crossroads and ended up with a book deal. Not only did they get a book deal, it is the officially sanctioned companion cookbook for the series and as such it includes a foreword from George R R Martin, In it he confesses to not being able to cook much at all, which given how much food is mentioned in the books might be a little surprising.

Whilst this is undoubtedly a book for the fans of the series, whether it be the books or the TV series, there are definitely aspects of the book that might be of interest to other people who like to read about historical food.

Let's start with why fans of the series will like the book. The book is broken up into a series of chapters which relate to different lands in Westeros and reflect the individual character traits of that land. For example, the recipes for the section from The Wall are mostly warm and hearty, as you would need if you lived atop a frozen wall whereas the recipes from King's Landing reflect the more cosmopolitan nature of the population, not to mention the feasts in the royal household and Dorne there are lots of spices and fruits. Each of the recipes includes a quote where the particular recipe has been mentioned in the books and there are plenty of pictures so you know what the finished product should look like.

What about from a purely food perspective? Whilst it would have been easy to put in a pie and call it something to do with the books, this is so much more than that. Lots of fantasy has it's basis in medieval history and this is true of a lot of the food in the series. The first section of the book talks about stocking a medieval kitchen and then gives some basic recipes. For example, there are recipes for Elizabethan Butter Sauce which is recommending for serving with small poultry and Lemon Pastry Dough  which sounds like it would be an awesome base for a fruit tart.

In the main recipe section of the book the authors have gone back through history to find dishes and techniques that reflect the dishes mentioned and then provided a modern equivalent for the recipe where possible. Whilst a lot of them are medieval (like Pease Porridge which I thought was just a nursery rhyme thing), there are some that are Roman in origin (Peaches in Honey-Cumin Sauce) and others Elizabethan. There are some recipes where it has not been possible to find a historical recipe so they have made one up but these are clearly marked as such.

One thing I did like was that on each recipe there is a suggestion of other recipes in the book that would work well together, so if you so desired you could easily have a complete Game of Thrones themed menu for you and your friends.

Because you can't just pop down the shops to buy auroch for example, they generally have provided suggestions for substitute ingredients. There are some recipes though that still have some more obscure ingredients like pigeon, rattlesnake and locusts that may be a little difficult to source, let alone to contemplate eating but reading about those are part of the fun. And there are some that will be challenging but it could be fun to try like Cream Swans which are meringues that are shaped to look like swans - an elegant  addition to any dessert menu I am sure!

The big question for a book like this though is could you cook from it, and I think that the answer is most definitely a yes. There are a wide variety of recipes from breakfasts to soups, mains and sides as well as desserts, cakes and drinks. Yes, there are some recipes that you would be unlikely to make (Honey Spiced Locusts anyone?) but there are more than enough that sound delicious enough to try. My list would include:

Buns with Raisins, Pine nuts and Apple
Bean and Bacon soup
Traditional Style oatcakes
Blueberry tart
Poached Pears
Lemon cakes
Tyoshi Honeyfingers

A really good read for fans of the series and for people interesting in comparing historical dishes with modern equivalents.

Rating 4/5


Ever wonder what it’s like to attend a feast at Winterfell? Wish you could split a lemon cake with Sansa Stark, scarf down a pork pie with the Night’s Watch, or indulge in honeyfingers with Daenerys Targaryen? George R. R. Martin’s bestselling saga A Song of Ice and Fire and the runaway hit HBO series Game of Thrones are renowned for bringing Westeros’s sights and sounds to vivid life. But one important ingredient has always been missing: the mouthwatering dishes that form the backdrop of this extraordinary world. Now, fresh out of the series that redefined fantasy, comes the cookbook that may just redefine dinner . . . and lunch, and breakfast.

A passion project from superfans and amateur chefs Chelsea Monroe-Cassel and Sariann Lehrer—and endorsed by George R. R. Martin himself—A Feast of Ice and Fire lovingly replicates a stunning range of cuisines from across the Seven Kingdoms and beyond. From the sumptuous delicacies enjoyed in the halls of power at King’s Landing, to the warm and smoky comfort foods of the frozen North, to the rich, exotic fare of the mysterious lands east of Westeros, there’s a flavor for every palate, and a treat for every chef.

These easy-to-follow recipes have been refined for modern cooking techniques, but adventurous eaters can also attempt the authentic medieval meals that inspired them. The authors have also suggested substitutions for some of the more fantastical ingredients, so you won’t have to stock your kitchen with camel, live doves, or dragon eggs to create meals fit for a king (or a khaleesi). In all, A Feast of Ice and Firecontains more than 100 recipes, divided by region:

The Wall: Rack of Lamb and Herbs; Pork Pie; Mutton in Onion-Ale Broth; Mulled Wine; Pease Porridge
The North: Beef and Bacon Pie; Honeyed Chicken; Aurochs with Roasted Leeks; Baked Apples
The South: Cream Swans; Trout Wrapped in Bacon; Stewed Rabbit; Sister’s Stew; Blueberry Tarts
King’s Landing: Lemon Cakes; Quails Drowned in Butter; Almond Crusted Trout; Bowls of Brown; Iced Milk with Honey
Dorne: Stuffed Grape Leaves; Duck with Lemons; Chickpea Paste
Across the Narrow Sea: Biscuits and Bacon; Tyroshi Honeyfingers; Wintercakes; Honey-Spiced Locusts

There’s even a guide to dining and entertaining in the style of the Seven Kingdoms. Exhaustively researched and reverently detailed, accompanied by passages from all five books in the series and full-color photographs guaranteed to whet your appetite, this is the companion to the blockbuster phenomenon that millions of stomachs have been growling for. And remember, winter is coming—so don’t be afraid to put on a few pounds.

Includes a Foreword by George R. R. Martin
Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.


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