Sunday, February 28, 2010

Review: Happy Hour

Summary: The weekdays may be for real life, but Sundays are for friendship, good food, and great wine.

Meet the women of Napa...

Kat is a sommelier and co-owner of a restaurant with her chef husband Christian. Although deeply in love, their relationship is facing a series of challenges, including ex-spouses, teenage children, and a surprise visitor who turns Kat's life upside down...
Danielle is a vintner who finds herself entrenched in a family crisis when her daughter returns home from college with bombshell news... Jamie is a single mother and editor-in-chief at a wine lover's magazine. Her husband's death a few years prior has left her in financial ruins and having to care for a senile but endearing mother-in-law.... And Alyssa is an artist and gallery owner. When a tragic event from her past catches up with her, she must face the skeleton in her closet and rearrange her future.

With each woman's life in transition, they'll rely on tight friendships more than ever to get through the difficult times. While surrounding each other with love, humor, and strength, the four women pull together each week for their own happy hour. But will friendship be enough to get each woman through her crisis? And what about the secrets that are being kept...?

This special edition of HAPPY HOUR includes book club questions, an interview the the author, recipes and wine pairings, and a chance to win books for your book club along with gourmet wine and food baskets. -- D Vine Press

When author Michele Scott asked me if I was interested in reading her latest novel HAPPY HOUR, I jumped at the chance. She is one of the nicest authors that I've met since I began blogging, and the description of her book sounded like it was right up my alley. This book is about four women with very different lives who manage to come together on Sundays to drink wine, eat good food and talk. It's all about the importance of friends in our lives! (Where can I find a group of women like this?)

I enjoyed HAPPY HOUR -- it was a quick read that held my attention throughout, but I am always a sucker for heartwarming stories about women and their friendships. The story is told in alternating chapters about each of the characters' lives, and I truly believe that most women will relate to one or more of the characters. I also think they will see traits of their family and friends in the characters as well.

HAPPY HOUR has a little something for every woman -- love, romance, parenting problems, friendships, secrets, etc. Of course, one thing that all the women have in common though is a love of wine. Each Sunday, these four women can put aside all of their troubles and just drink some wine, eat some food, and relax with each other. While not all of the women feel the same level of closeness with each other, by the end of the book, they realize the importance of these meetings and how lucky they are to have these women as their friends.

As is the case in real life, each of the four women is facing problems in their own lives. What I found interesting (and very realistic) is that often times, the women didn't share their problems with their friends. Maybe it was because they were private or maybe because they were embarrassed and afraid of judgment, but they tried to take on these issues entirely by themselves. When a very serious crisis occurs for one of the characters at the end of the book, they do pull together and come through for her. I enjoyed how this book demonstrated the beauty and power of women!

Since one of the main themes of HAPPY HOUR is wine, it should come as no surprise to you that food is also a central theme in this book. Ms. Scott has included many of the recipes that the characters served at their Sunday meetings. One recipe that caught my eye was for Fettucine, Goat Cheese and Pancetta, but the Salmon in Miso looks fabulous too. With the author's permission, I am happy to share these recipes with you!

Kat's Fettucine, Goat Cheese and Pancetta

1 cup dry white wine
2 Tablespoons minced shallots
5 oz. goat cheese, at room temperature, cut up or crumbled
salt and freshly ground black pepper
pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 lb. dried fettucine
1/2 cup chopped pancetta or bacon (you can also use chicken or shrimp)
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 oz. fresh baby spinach (about 6 cups)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

In a medium saucepan combine the white wine, shallots. Over high heat, reduce the liquid by half, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the goat cheese until the mixture is smooth, season with 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. pepper, and the red pepper flakes, and set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until just cooked, 9 to 11 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water, drain the pasta, and set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat. Brown up pancetta or bacon (if bacon there is no need to use the olive oil until you add the spinach.) Add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and the spinach and saute until it's wilted, about 2 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine the pasta with the goat cheese sauce, add the spinach and pancetta. Season with salt and pepper and serve in warm bowls, topped with the basil.

Jamie's Salmon in Miso

1 cup mirin (sweet Japanese rice wine)
4 tablespoons light yellow miso (fermented soybean paste*)
6 tablespoons sugar
4 salmon filets (about 5 or 6 ounces each)
3 tablespoons half-and-half
1 teaspoon flour
1 1/2 cups snow peas

Add the mirin, miso and sugar to a small, nonstick saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and continue to boil for three minutes, whisking as it boils to create a smooth miso marinade.

Reserve 1/3 cup of the miso marinade and set aside. Pour the remaining miso marinade over the salmon filets in a gallon ziplock bag or a shallow dish. Let salmon marinate in refrigerator for at least an hour (or up to 12 hours.)

Grill the salmon filets skin side down about 5 inches from the coals or heat for 14 minutes or until salmon is cooked throughout. You can lightly brown the top of the salmon filets by broiling briefly in your kitchen oven or by gently flipping the salmon filets over and grilling them, flesh side down, for a couple of minutes.

Meanwhile to make a miso sauce for the table, add the 1/3 cup of the reserved miso marinade to a small non-stick saucepan and stir in 3 tablespoons fat-free half-and-half and a teaspoon of flour. Bring to a gently boil, stirring constantly, until the sauce has reached your desired thickness. Also, add snow peas to a small microwave-safe dish with 1/4 cup water, cover and cook on HIGH until snow peas are just tender (about three minutes.)

Serve each serving of broiled salmon over a scoop of steamed white or brown rice (if desired) and top with a drizzle of the miso sauce and fan some snow peas on top for garnish.

The author definitely intended for HAPPY HOUR to be a discussion book for book clubs. Not only did she include recipes for entertaining, but she also included wine pairings and some discussion questions. If your club enjoys fiction about the strength of women and their friendships, then you might want to consider checking out HAPPY HOUR.

Thanks to the author for sending me a copy of this book.

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Anonymous said...

I love Michele Scott's wine country mystery series. Haven't read the one about the horses. This book sounds promising and I always like books that have a group of women friends. Thanks for sharing!

bermudaonion said...

I'd love to find a group of women like that, too, even though I'm not much of a wine drinker. The book sounds great and the fact that there are recipes makes it sound even better.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

This sounds like such a good book. Going to Napa is one of my favorite things to do, too, and I always like to imagine what the lives of vintners must be like. It seems like such a fun, romantic life but I'm sure it's a lot of hard work and worry as well. Still, it is something I love to fantasize about so I'm definitely putting this book on my list!

The Many Thoughts of a Reader said... I am starving for good Italian food and some wine to wash it down.. :)

Beth F said...

Oh wow! I didn't know Michele had a new novel out. This sounds so great. I really need to find a copy of this. Great review and thanks to alerting me to a new Scott book. And Michele is great, isn't she?

Carrie said...

This book sounds fun. And those recipes look yummy!

Amused said...

I love books about women and friendships too so I'll have to check this one out!

Heather said...

sounds like a wonderful choice for a book club read.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I have passion to spare for food and wine and friends. I LOVE books like this! (If the author is reading this, I would be thrilled to review this book!) It is good for the soul to have these types of outings with friends. I have always said that there is nothing else in the world like the power of a girlfriend. Wonderful review!

A.K. Alexander said...

Thank You for all the nice comments and the wonderful review! I am really grateful. I loved writing this book.

The only down side is that you can only get the book online off amazon or You can ask your local book stores to carry it or order it for you though!

Thanks again, Ladies!


Michele said...

I love reading books about women's friendships. So I am excited about this one. Thanks for the review Julie. Course I gotta read it just because the author spells her name correctly! :-)

Deb said...

I loved Happy Hour! I am hoping there will be a sequel!! I would love to get to know more about Alyssa, Danniele, Jamie & Kat! This was a great read, thank you Michele!