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Just finished reading Pied Piper (Vintage International) by Nevil Shute. Remember him? You’ve got to be over about 50 to even know his name. He’s most famous for his book On the Beach that he wrote in 1957. This book, the Pied Piper, he wrote during WWII. It’s a poignant tale about a rather elderly Englishman who decides to take a trip to the mountains along the French/Swiss border just before Germany invades. His goal is to go fishing – but he gets caught up in a bit of intrigue (not the spy novel type at all) when acquaintances he meets beg him to take their children, to get them out of France before they might be taken by the Nazis. Reluctantly he agrees when he realizes that he probably shouldn’t have made the trip at all and that he must return to England. Many logistical difficulties ensue, and more children are added to his little family. It’s a wonderful tale, heartwarming for sure. Shute is an excellent writer who draws you into his tales. He also wrote Trustee From The Toolroom, one of my favorite books I’ve read in the last couple of years.

Also read Tracy Chevalier’s newest book, Remarkable Creatures: A Novel. I always love to read a novel that has me learn something concrete, as it tells a story. This one is about the friendship between two women in Lyme Regis (a town on the southern coast of England) back in the mid-1800s. From different social strata, they both share a love, a passion, for collecting and finding fossils on the beaches of their town. The education here is all about the fossils. Fossils from ancient times, with a great “to-do” over who owns them, crediting (or not) who found them, about the astute (not) experts who discredit these two women. The story is charming, sweet, and Chevalier did it again, for me, creating a story that was a pretty good page-turner. I’ve never been interested particularly in fossils, but they hold new interest since reading this book.

Just finished The Interestings: A Novel, by Meg Wolitzer. It’s about a group of mid-teens (both guys and gals) who become close friends at a summer camp, and with nothing else to inspire them, they decide to call themselves “The Interestings.” The story switches back and forth from the early years, with alcohol, drugs and sex playing fairly major roles, to their late 30s or early 40s when all of the “interestings” have become adults, parents, successes, failures. It’s about their internal angst, or pride, or false-pride, and their jealousies of each other. It had been recommended by more than one friend of mine. As I read it I kept hoping it was going to get better and it does, but I had to get half way through before I really wanted to keep going. It WAS a good read, though. With the exception of seeing some maturity develop amongst the characters, the book is kind of like a soap opera. The main character is a likable woman, thank goodness.

IN THE POWDER ROOM: Our guest half-bath has a little tiny table with a pile of books that I change every now and then. They’re books that might pique someone’s interest even if for a very short read. The Art of Travel, a collection of essays about traveling (it’s not a how-to), gathering a variety of stories of some historic authors and where and why they traveled; The Greatest Stories Never Told; and Sara Midda’s South of France; also Forgotten Bookmarks: A Bookseller’s Collection of Odd Things Lost Between the Pages (just the cutest book – with a miscellany of things – letters, grocery lists, notes, reminders, confessions the author discovered hidden inside the books he purchased for his used bookstore); and The Trouble with Poetry (Billy Collins).


Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small engraved sterling silver tea spoons that I use to taste as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Appetizers, on March 28th, 2015.


When you serve an appetizer, I’m always looking for a new way to serve a vegetable rather than cheese (although I must say, serving cheese is a fall-back for any dinner party if I run out of time). Here you’ll get some peppers in a balsamic vinaigrette kind of thing and they’re really delish on top of a little piece of toast. I used ciabatta bread.

Eat our vegetables! Isn’t that the mantra? As a single person now, I buy fresh veggies, and at least half the time I forget about them, or I just end up not cooking for several nights in a row and suddenly they’re over the hill. So I’ve kind of decided not to buy fresh veggies unless I truly know I’m going to prepare them that night or the next one. A week or so ago I had a package of yellow crookneck squash, a bunch of asparagus and mushrooms. I ended up cooking them all together (adding the thin asparagus in the last 4-5 minutes of cooking) with shallots, half of an onion, a bunch of dried thyme and oregano, and adding in a little pat of butter at the end. Well, I ate that for about 4 meals. Once it was cooked, it kept in the frig for over a week, and I had the last of it last night with a tiny bit of left over pork chop from over a week ago also. That was dinner, and it was wonderful. My food buying and my eating habits have changed, that’s for sure!

Anyway, since we all know we should eat more veggies, make an appetizer that contains some, if at all possible. And here, that’s exactly what works. If you don’t count the bread/toast! The peppers are broiled and Diane Phillips used a little different method here – she roasted them under the broiler, turning them to blacken the skins on all sides, then she turned the oven OFF, and let the pan just sit there for about an hour. That accomplishes the same thing as putting them in a plastic bag to soften the charred skins. The blackened skins came right off. Then you slice them thinly and marinate them in a balsamic vinaigrette and garlic. One thing to remember: don’t smash or mince the garlic. It doesn’t get cooked, so you want to slice the garlic so it can be easily removed before serving. The peppers are left out at room temp for 2-8 hours, then drain off the dressing (and keep it – it will work fine for a salad) and serve with toasted baguette slices or in my case I used ciabatta. Do use good balsamic for this – not the ancient aged stuff, but at least buy and use one that aged for 15 years. You’ll notice the difference.

What’s GOOD: the peppers have a wonderful umami taste – at least I think they do. I’m not so sure that red bells are on the “master list” of umami flavors, but with the addition of balsamic (which is an umami) you get a double-whammy of sharp, pungent flavors (good type, though). I could have made that my dinner, except for eating all of the carbs! It will keep for a few days if you don’t eat it all.

What’s NOT: nothing, really. Make only as much as you think you’ll consume. It should keep for a few days, but probably not more than that. They’ll begin to turn to mush in the vinaigrette, I think.

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Roasted Red Bell Peppers in Balsamic Vinegar

Recipe By: Diane Phillips, cooking instructor and cookbook author, 2015
Serving Size: 10

4 large red bell peppers
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar — (use good quality, aged) or more if needed
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 medium garlic cloves — very thinly sliced (will be removed later)
Crostini, for serving

1. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and preheat the broiler.
2. Wash the peppers and remove any stickers. Place them on one flatter side on the baking sheet and broil, turning them once or twice to char them evenly on all sides. Watch carefully.
3. When they’re blackened, turn off the broiler, close oven door and allow them to rest in the oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour. The steam formed in the oven will help you to remove the skins more easily.
4. Remove the peppers from the oven and when they are cool enough to handle, remove skins (use disposable gloves if desired).
5. Remove core, seeds, then slice into strips and place in a medium-sized bowl. Stir in oil, vinegar, salt, pepper and sliced garlic. Mix. MAKE AHEAD: can be made up to 8 hours ahead, but they need to sit for at least 2 hours to meld the flavors, covered, at room temperature.
6. Taste for seasonings. Remove garlic slivers and pour into a small serving bowl. Serve with crostini and a fork to put the slices on the bread more easily.
Per Serving: 158 Calories; 16g Fat (89.7% calories from fat); trace Protein; 4g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 214mg Sodium.

Posted in Beef, Grilling, Miscellaneous, on March 23rd, 2015.


Just plain steaks are fine, but don’t you sometimes want to put something on them, to give them an added lift, or some different flavors?

Recently I invited my/our son Powell and his family over for dinner. (And the good news is that I was able to do enough walking and standing in the kitchen to pull it off.) I have meat in my freezer. Oh my, do I have meat in the garage freezer, and I can’t believe that it’s been nearly a year since my darling DH died, and I’ve hardly made a dent in the meat stash. I’ve purchased plenty of chicken breasts and thighs, and salmon steaks which crowd in there, and go in and out, but I have numerous cuts of beef, pork, whole chickens and fish fillets that are now more than a year old. I’ve GOT to do something with them.

The good news was that I WANTED to cook. Those of you reading this, who don’t know me very well yet, won’t understand. In the last year I’ve hardly wanted to cook at all. But I also had my darned foot injury that for 7 months has kept me from standing at my kitchen counter much at all. That’s completely healed now and I’m trying to push my limits a bit. Am walking some every day to flex those tight ligaments, tendons, the plantar fascia and the Achilles tendons too.

In coming days  you’ll see a couple of other new recipes I tried out for this dinner (a crostini appetizer using green peas, and a fennel vegetable side). I also made my favorite Crisp Apple Pudding, one of my signature, very homey desserts. My grandson Vaughan was salivating from the moment he heard Grandma had made the apple pudding, which he just loves. He could hardly eat hissteaks_with_steak_rub dinner because he wanted that dessert so much. Then he wanted seconds, but mom and dad said no.

Anyway, back to the steaks. They were ribeyes (USDA prime, from Costco). Powell grilled them for me, and I handed Powell this little bowl (above) to season them. He used the trusty Thermapen to make sure the steaks were cooked to perfection. The 4 of us shared these 2 big steaks. I have some leftover which I’ll use to make a nice steak salad, I think. Karen brought a lovely green salad (with the first of our spring strawberries) and left some greens with me which will make a nice start. Maybe I’ll have that for dinner tonight.

What’s GOOD: just something different. I liked the spice combination. It was easy enough to make. Just remember, spice blends should not be kept for more than a month, so use it up, or make a smaller batch to begin with.

What’s NOT: nothing, really. Same as above, a spice blend doesn’t keep more than a month, so use it up.

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Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click on link to open recipe in MC)

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Bobby Flay’s Steak Rub

Recipe By: Bobby Flay, online
Serving Size: 10

2 tablespoons ancho chile powder
1 tablespoon Spanish paprika — (sweet paprika)
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons chile de arbol — (optional – I didn’t have any)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Combine ingredients and store in well-sealing jar. Sprinkle liberally on steaks before grilling.
Per Serving: 12 Calories; 1g Fat (37.3% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 2g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 16mg Sodium.

Posted in Uncategorized, on March 21st, 2015.


Early this morning, a year ago, my darling Dave (my DH) passed away. I knew today would be a rough one and it is.  I have plans to be with friends later today and with daughter Sara tomorrow. But this morning I’m home, letting out my grief. And I decided to write. Here. To share it. I hope you don’t mind.

Last year, a week or so after Dave’s death, my friend Cherrie gave me a really pretty decorated box (with sand, shells, ocean, birds on the cover) and into it I put Dave’s most personal things. And all the dear, dear cards sent to me after he was gone, with the heartfelt notes of sympathy. And of memories shared. Words of encouragement, appropriate bible scriptures, hope, love, caring.

The one year anniversary of a spouse’s death (or the death of any dear one) is a milestone. A hurdle, a huge emotional hurdle. And maybe more so with a spouse. But it’s a journey we must take in our grief path. A walk of tears for sure. As I write this, I’ve been going through that box. I haven’t been in that box at all, except to add an item or two that had been misplaced in my house. Someone told me – or maybe this was from the griefshare class I took – I can’t recall – to not delve into the box until the one-year anniversary. And then it’s an appropriate time, that one year milestone, to go through the things. To cry over them, to savor memories and to be warmed mightily by the loving and caring cards from my friends. And then you can put away the box for another time. Maybe the 2nd anniversary. Or maybe not for a long time.

So, this morning, I read about half of the 200+ cards I received. They make me cry. And as I kept digging down in the box there were his glasses. I hugged them to me. I came across the x-rays of Dave’s brain, showing the bleeding from his stroke. I didn’t dwell on those. But then I found the little baggie the nurse at the hospital gave me with clippings of Dave’s hair. I think that made me cry the most. I opened the bag and hoped to find his scent. No, unfortunately. His wallet is in the box. Still with the little bit of money he had there from the day before his stroke. I just can’t seem to take that $36 out of his wallet. At least not yet. I tucked his passport in the box too. That also made me cry – a lot. For all the trips we’ll not be able to share in the future.

And then I came to his watch. I pulled it out and hugged it to my heart. You just never know, when you’re grieving, what is going to be an emotional trigger. He loved this inexpensive Seiko watch. It was his everyday watch. And I couldn’t believe it when I looked at it and realized it’s still running. It’s a sign. I just feel it in my heart – it’s still ticking – and Dave wanted me to know he’s okay. He’s in heaven and he’s whole, happy and his heart is ticking in lockstep with Jesus. That’s what I choose to believe. (Disregard the fact that it’s a good battery in that watch and that it’s sat still and unattended for a year . . . no, I choose to believe it’s a heavenly sign.)

A dear friend of mine sent me an email message this morning – her husband died 3 years ago, so we often share grief feelings. I thought this paragraph she wrote to me was very meaningful: This is a special day for recognizing the loss.  It is a day of celebrating the life of Dave. Grieving stems not from the death itself but from the loss—the change in your life. The loss of laughter, love and the connection past, present and future that we mourn.

Back to the box: I started taking a few notes as I went through the cards – one, a reminder to send an email to some because of what they wrote or something about the card itself, and another I wrote down because of how the words or the message struck me. I thought I’d share a few.

Love never dies

Eventually the sun will shine again . . . (maybe I’m seeing a glimmer)

Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted . . . Matthew 5:4 (this is one I chant to myself often)

Every ripple a memory, every memory a blessing . . . (this was in a card with a picture of a lighthouse and the ocean beyond)

The heart that has truly loved never forgets . . . Thomas Moore

Friends comfort the hurt, share the sadness, soften the grief and inspire the healing . . . (and I’m so very blessed with many friends)

To reach the port of heaven, we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it,—but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor. (This last one, my favorite, a quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes [from his book The Autocrat at the Breakfast Table], which is so appropriate because Dave was a sailor. Dave’s college girlfriend Meredith wrote that on the card she sent me.)

Posted in Chicken, Soups, on March 18th, 2015.



There’s still a minimal amount of cooking going on at my house these days. I’m going to cooking classes occasionally, and I’m reviewing books, and I am cooking, but I’m not doing much cooking that’s all that noteworthy. Worthy of a blog post, anyway. But this soup, oh gosh, is it ever good. Such comfort food, good for cold weather and something to come in from the rain to enjoy.

Actually my daughter Sara and I made this several months ago. I realized that I’ve had the recipe up in my browser for a good long time and hadn’t ever transferred the recipe to my software (MasterCook). Then I went looking for the picture I’d taken of it. Couldn’t find it. So, the credit goes to Bon Appetit, whence the photo came, from the article they did on this soup years ago.

An equally long time ago – a couple of years ago, I’d think – I wrote up another recipe with a similar title (Lemon Chicken Soup with Orzo) , from my friend Linda. It’s a thick soup with oodles of orzo in it. This one is completely different – it’s a more brothy soup, with very little orzo, but enough that you know it’s there. It’s a very flavorful broth (from canned stock), and it has big shreds of chicken meat. And celery and leek, and a lovely sprinkling of fresh dill when it’s served. The day Sara and I made this at her home in San Diego, we were trying to make 2-3 dinners on a Saturday so she’d have some things already made for busy school nights with her family. We had this for dinner that night, and we just couldn’t get enough of it. It’s the lemon juice that makes it – and there’s almost nothing made with lemon juice that I don’t like – so it was a given I’d be head of heels in favor of this soup.

It’s not hard to make – just buy a leek, some fresh chicken thighs (or breasts), have celery on hand, chicken broth, and then some dill. Don’t forget the dill – it’s essential. Oh, and the lemons, obviously.

What’s GOOD: everything about this soup is delicious. As I mentioned, the lemon flavor was what struck me first, and I loved the fresh dill too. Hearty, but not thick. Remember, it’s a brothy soup. No cream or dairy in it. Healthy soup too, but you’d never think it because it’s so flavorful.

What’s NOT: nary a thing. I loved this soup. I have a small Ziploc bag in my freezer right now – Sara sent me home with one portion. I need to find it. I’m not making a whole lot of headway at cleaning out my freezer.

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Lemony Chicken and Orzo Soup

Recipe By: Bon Appetit, April, 2013
Serving Size: 4

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium leek — white and pale-green parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced crosswise 1/2-inch thick
1 celery stalk — sliced crosswise 1/2-inch thick
12 ounces chicken thighs without skin — boneless (or use chicken breasts)
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
Kosher salt — freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup orzo
1/4 cup fresh dill — chopped
Lemon halves (for serving)

1. Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add leek and celery and cook, stirring often, until vegetables are soft, 5-8 minutes. Add chicken and broth; season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and simmer until chicken is cooked through, 15-20 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate. Let cool, then shred chicken into bite-size pieces.
2. Meanwhile, return broth to a boil. Add orzo and cook until al dente, 8-10 minutes.
3. Remove pot from heat. Stir in chicken and dill. Serve with lemon halves for squeezing over.
Per Serving: 226 Calories; 9g Fat (29.3% calories from fat); 29g Protein; 22g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 40mg Cholesterol; 117mg Sodium.

Posted in Books, on March 12th, 2015.

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About a  year ago I wrote up something about a book – one I’d read that I just loved. One that a friend had recommended to me and since I’ve trusted her suggestions in the past, I bought a used copy and and fell in love with it in the first chapter. That book was written by Nevil Shute – Trustee from the Toolroom. Of all the books I’ve read in the last several years, it was/is a standout. The book is hard to get – the books are almost collector’s items – Shute’s books are no longer in print, so hardbacks are a bit on the precious side. Libraries have them, though, and most, if not all, are available on Kindle. Nevil Shute died in 1960, unfortunately. I never wrote up a post about that book; it just appeared on my left sidebar after I read it, and I raved about it.

Recently, though, I was reviewing my notes on to-read-books (my list is incredibly long, and I keep a running litany on Evernote, on my iPhone) I was reminded of this book on my master list. This one is also by Nevil Shute. Several people told me it was very good. A Town Like Alice (Vintage International) is a walk down a history road, partly in Malaya, and partly in Australia. Shute was an Aussie, and the country or its people populated many of his books. I haven’t researched this, but my understanding is that really the events happened in Sumatra, but Shute decided for some reason to re-write it for Malaya. It doesn’t really make any difference, because it’s about the Japanese invasion anyway.

What I’ve learned is that I really like Nevil Shute’s writing. It’s easy reading. It’s very descriptive, and you get a real sense of place as  you read his books. He also does magnificent character studies. And he keeps you wondering where the story is going next. That was particularly the case with the Toolroom book, which was almost a mystery in a way, but not like today’s mysteries. This book isn’t a mystery, either. It’s really a love story, but you don’t discover it’s a love story until you’re nearly half way through the book. It’s not sappy, or pulp fiction. It’s literature.

The heroine is a feisty young English woman who has a very interesting youth, partly living in Malaya. The story is told from the voice of her attorney. A bit of a fusty older, single Londoner, you sense his wistfulness of what might have been had he been younger. But the story is really about the woman . . you learn about her parents and her brother. Suffice to say that she’s in Malaya (now Malaysia, I assume, although I’ve not consulted a map) when the Japanese invade and she’s taken prisoner. I’ll say no more about that, except that she meets a young Aussie man during this time period and never forgets him. His story is deep, poignant and excruciating.

Without giving away the plot, I’ll not give you any additional info, except that this book is such a good one. The “Alice” refers to Alice Springs in central outback Australia (I’ve been there). When I suggest you’ll feel a sense of place,  you truly will understand the Aussie outback a whole lot better when you’ve read this book. It’s a real winner. You’ll feel the same way about the Malaya jungle too. And you’ll be led along a very interesting story line that will stay with you long after you’ve finished it.

Posted in Fish, on March 8th, 2015.


 White things are so difficult to photograph . . . the halibut is on the left, and potatoes on the right, with a little bonnet of sun-dried tomatoes providing a bit of color! No matter the bland look of it, the taste is what matters. That’s always what matters!

At the price of halibut these days, this dish will/should be a special treat. Unless you live in Alaska, perhaps, and have friends or family who give you some of their catch. Interestingly enough, when my DH and I visited Alaska some years ago ( that one a driving trip) halibut was on the menus of course, but I won’t say it was inexpensive. Surprising. So, if you’re halibut-averse, make this with salmon or sea bass, or even cod. It’ll still taste wonderful. It’s the sauce that makes this anyway.

Although this recipe was designed to be done in a slow cooker, I’m not even giving you that part because it was way too over-cooked, according to my friend Cherrie, who prepared it recently. At the class with Diane Phillips, she prepared this on the stove top since there wasn’t time to do it in a slow cooker. The flavors were wonderful – the fish with it’s wonderful texture, but it’s the sauce. The sauce, indeed!

What’s in it? – a bunch of different flavors – lemon zest and juice, garlic, paprika, herbes de Provence, sun dried tomatoes and capers. And some olive oil. Not all that difficult. I had to hunt for my herbes de Provence and it’s ancient, so I think I need to buy some new. Remember, herbs in a combo mix don’t hold their flavor for more than a few months.

The unusual thing about this preparation is the bed of Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into big bite-sized cubes on the bottom. You carefully lay the halibut on top of the potatoes and gently simmer it – or bake it in the oven until the fish has cooked through. The potatoes are partially cooked first, then you add the fish. And the fish doesn’t take long (about 10 minutes on the stove top and about 10-15 minutes in a 400° oven, depending on the thickness of the fish.

There’s no question this dish would make a lovely company dinner – just make a green veg (do make something colorful since the fish and potatoes aren’t full of color). You could make a salad, but it wouldn’t be strictly necessary.

What’s GOOD: the flavors/sauce are foremost. It’s also very easy to make, albeit expensive if you do use halibut. Well worth it, though.

What’s NOT: can’t think of anything I didn’t like about it.

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Halibut Provencal on a bed of Yukon Gold Potatoes

Recipe By: Diane Phillips, cookbook author and instructor
Serving Size: 8

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
zest of two lemons
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
4 garlic cloves — minced
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
2 teaspoons herbes de Provence
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, oil-packed — drained
1/2 cup capers — drained
1 pound Yukon gold potatoes — peeled and diced
36 ounces halibut fillets — in 6 equal pieces
1/2 cup Italian parsley — finely chopped

1. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon zest and juice, garlic, salt, pepper, paprika, herbes de Provence, sun-dried tomatoes and capers and set aside.
2. In a deep skillet (big enough to hold all the fish in one layer) and arrange the potatoes in the bottom.
3. Preheat oven to 400°.
4. Drizzle some of the lemon sauce mixture over the potatoes and toss to coat the potatoes.
5. Bake the potatoes for 20 minutes, covered, then remove. Arrange the halibut over the potatoes and pour the remaining sauce over the halibut.
6. Cover and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes. The fish will be opaque in the center and the potatoes will be tender.
7. Taste the sauce – if it has too much acidity, add just a little bit of salt.
8. Arrange the fish on a serving dish, surround with the potatoes and spoon some of the sauce over the fish. Garnish with the chopped parsley before serving. STOVE TOP: Prepare through step 4, using a bit more of the sauce. Simmer potatoes over low heat for about 15 minutes. They should be nearly tender. Add fish and the remaining sauce, cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes until fish flakes apart easily with a fork. Plate and garnish the fish.
Per Serving: 328 Calories; 17g Fat (48.5% calories from fat); 28g Protein; 13g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 41mg Cholesterol; 570mg Sodium.

Posted in Veggies/sides, on March 4th, 2015.


Do you often think of serving beans as a side dish to beef? Can’t say that I do, but these were really delicious with the Italian Beef in Barolo wine (you can see it in the background). They’re great on their own – the beans – and you could probably add some broth and make it a soup if you have any left over. Or better yet, whatever part of the Italian Beef (and sauce) you have left over, add that into the soup. Sounds like a plan to me!

When my DH was alive, because he was a Type 1 diabetic, I really limited carbs, and figured it was just as well for me too. Not that we didn’t eat any, just that I limited them, or we had very small portions. So, when I was at a recent cooking class with Diane Phillips, I certainly took note of the serving of a bean side dish with a roast. The beans were exceedingly easy to make, and were a very nice textural change. Diane said the roast could be served with mashed potatoes or noodles, but these beans . . . well, they were really delicious.

In the recipe below directions are included for both stove top and slow cooker. Both are easy – stove top takes about 2 hours, and in the slow cooker it will take 8-9 hours on low or 4-5 on high. Make these the day before you need them – they’ll taste even better. That way you’ll have the slow cooker available to make the roast.

Did you know how/why what we used to call a crockpot was changed to slow cooker? I certainly didn’t. Diane has written 2 cookbooks about using such appliances, and she knew enough to call them slow cooker books. Rival (the brand) trademarked the name “crockpot” decades ago, so only something made in a Rival pot can be called a recipe for a crockpot or a cookbook would only be published by their company. Interesting, huh? Diane also told us in the class that she followed the testing done by Cook’s Illustrated about any of these types of appliances. According to the tests, Rival brand’s crockpots run about 20° higher temperature than nearly all the other brands. She doesn’t use Rival at all. But she recommended the All-Clad (which is what I have, but I also use my risotto maker as a slow cooker because it has a smaller capacity (more suitable for me, now).

So, back to the beans . . . it’s best if you allow the dried beans to sit overnight amply covered in water, which plumps them up some and gives the cooking a little kick-start. You cook a bit of pancetta, garlic and fresh rosemary, add it all to the slow cooker with chicken broth or vegetable broth, cover and cook. How simple is that?

What’s GOOD: these make a really nice side to a tasty meat dish. Or it could be an entrée too, but I’d probably add more flavoring (like celery, fresh fennel, even carrots) if I were doing it that way. And remember my suggestion – after serving for an main meal, turn the left overs into soup with any other goodies you’ve got hanging around your refrigerator.

What’s NOT: nary a thing, other than you need to plan ahead – soak the beans overnight – make them – and they’ll be better if you make them a day ahead of serving anyway.

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Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click on link to open recipe in MC)

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Tuscan White Beans with Pancetta, Garlic & Sage

Recipe By: Diane Phillips, cookbook author and instructor
Serving Size: 8

1 pound white beans — rinsed, picked over for stones
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 slices pancetta — thinly sliced, finely diced
2 whole garlic cloves — sliced
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary — chopped (or use fresh thyme)
6 cups low sodium chicken broth — or vegetable broth
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 tablespoons Italian parsley — chopped (garnish)

1. STOVE TOP INSTRUCTIONS: Place beans in a large bowl, add enough cold water to cover them by about 2 inches, cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temp overnight. Rinse the beans and drain.
2. In a Dutch oven heat oil over medium-high heat and cook pancetta until crisp.
3. Add garlic and rosemary and cook another 1-2 minutes until oil is fragrant (but do not brown or burn the garlic).
4. Add beans, broth and cook, covered for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring frequently, adding more broth as needed until the beans are tender.
6. Season with salt and pepper and serve with parsley sprinkled on top.
7. SLOW COOKER METHOD: Place beans in a large bowl, add enough cold water to cover them by about 2 inches, cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temp overnight. Rinse the beans and drain.
2. In a skillet heat oil over medium-high heat and cook pancetta until crisp.
3. Add garlic and rosemary and cook another 1-2 minutes until oil is fragrant (but do not brown or burn the garlic).
4. Add those ingredients to the slow cooker, then add beans, broth and cook on slow cooker’s low setting for 8-9 hours, until the beans are tender.
6. Season with salt and pepper and serve with parsley sprinkled on top.
Per Serving: 509 Calories; 17g Fat (29.6% calories from fat); 53g Protein; 36g Carbohydrate; 9g Dietary Fiber; 79mg Cholesterol; 3455mg Sodium.

Posted in Books, on February 28th, 2015. once in awhile do I write an actual blog post about a book – when a book is particularly worthy. If you’re a regular reader of my blog, then you already know that my reading list is on the left sidebar of my home page. That’s where I write up blurbs of what I’m currently reading, or have just finished reading – about the last 2-4 of them.

For now I don’t own any animals, but for most of my life I’ve had a dog. You can be a dog or a cat lover and not be enamored with the entire animal kingdom, I guess, but I’m a sucker for a good animal story. And oh yes, this one is wonderful. True story. I watch Nature on PBS. On occasion I’ll just turn on Animal Planet and leave it on.

Well, anyway, a couple of friends recommended this book, The Elephant Whisperer: My Life with the Herd in the African Wild , by Lawrence Anthony, and I’m so glad they did. Just now, as I’ve been finding these two photos did I realize that Anthony died in 2012. Much too young (age 61, heart attack).

Anthony devoted his entire adult life to the conservation of the African animal kingdom. He was a native to South Africa. A very gentle man, he always preferred to let the wild animals be wild, to do their predatory thing, because that’s what animals do in the wild. Thula Thula is the gigantic game reserve (preserve) he founded in Zululand (that’s in South Africa) many years ago. It took him decades to introduce the animals back into the area as they’d been hunted to extinction in that part of South Africa.

His story about this elephant herd began when he received a frantic phone call asking him to “take” a herd of wild elephant from another reserve, that were “difficult.” He did, and the book documents the extremely dangerous process of even transporting elephants across many hundreds of miles, and acclimating them to this new area. It’s a fascinating story. Every page.

In the photo above (the book cover) I’m assuming the photo is of Nana, the matriarch of the herd, and the astounding friendship he had with her and the herd. Understand, this herd was never tamed, they were strictly wild elephant, and subject to their own trials and tribulations, but Nana and a couple of the other elephants became his friends. He was extremely cautious around them and only rarely did he allow or did they approach him without an electric fence between them, but often Nana would put her trunk over the top of the wire and smell and fondle his face and chest – a sign of friendship. He didn’t exactly “whisper” with them (as the title says), but he talked to them, called to them (and they would usually come), calmed them (normally his voice would immediately relax the herd). With a huge 5,000 square mile preserve, he had to go to find them first, then he’d stop the Land Rover and call to them. Only on a rare occasion would he be out on the open ground (as the book cover shows) without the protection of the sturdy Land Rover (it probably was just to the left of him). He and his wife built a safari lodge on the reserve, and that helps keep the reserve in operation. Some of the story is also about the verbal battle(s) between the native people who think that any wild animals can be hunted for meat, and the poachers who still encroach and kill for the tusks or even the thrill of the kill. Gradually, though, with friendships between the conservationists and the native tribal chiefs, they’ve carved out a huge chunk of land that now comprises a bigger area for all kinds of wildlife.

Anthony wrote several books – one about the saving of most of the animals in the Baghdad Zoo – that book’s called Babylon’s Ark: The Incredible Wartime Rescue of the Baghdad Zoo. He also wrote a book (his last one) about the white rhino – The Last Rhinos: My Battle to Save One of the World’s Greatest Creatures. I haven’t read either of those, but I sure do recommend this one. It’s a touching story and well written (he had a co-author, so I assume he’s the so-called ghost writer, but his name was also listed.

When Anthony died, the herd “knew.” Amazing. The entire herd came to the house and crowded as close as they could get beyond the fence and mourned him. Elephants do mourn – they actually weep and they communicate with each other through specific rumblings in their digestive systems (yes, really). When Anthony would be gone on business trips, the elephants would be invisible to the family and the game reserve crew for days or weeks, but before he returned (how could they possibly know?) they would be gather at the fence to greet him. But they knew. That happened over and over again. Anthony truly believed Nana could understand him in some way. Beautiful book and amazing story.

Posted in Beef, on February 24th, 2015.



Can’t you just tell how fork-tender that roast is? It cut like soft butter, and oh, was it full of flavor! It’s marinated overnight in a red wine mixture, then cooked on low, or in a slow cooker for hours and hours. Then the marinade, which was the cooking liquid also, became the sauce. Hope it’s okay that I use the word “yum.” Such a trite and over-used word, but, gosh it was.

It’s been ages since I’ve fixed a chuck roast. I mean ages. I have a recipe here on my blog from 2010 for a French pot roast, that’s just succulent and wonderful. Worthy of a company meal. I’ve been making that version for 40+ years – it’s on my list of favs, it’s so delish. This one is similar, but it’s an Italian version and done in the slow cooker. It uses Italian wine, pancetta, veggies and Tuscan herbs. And the sauce, oh my yes, that gravy was divine. I’d have liked to have that as a bowl of that gravy as soup, except it’s probably too rich for that. The recipe came from Diane Phillips, at a class my friend Cherrie and I took recently. Diane prepared recipes from one or more of her books. Diane has authored a whole bunch of cookbooks. She’s a blond Italian, and owns a home in Umbria that she and her husband/family visit with regularity. Every time she comes home she has a whole bunch of new recipes to try. I’ll be sharing several other recipes from the class. This was the stand-out, although everything she made was really good.

Cooking for one doesn’t lend itself very well to making this, unless I cut it way down in size and just ate it for a couple of meals. It would be better for a company meal. As I’m writing this, it’s been a couple of weeks ago that we went to the class and had this, and I’m craving it. Maybe I’ll have to plan a small group dinner and if I plan ahead, perhaps I can do it all. But really, this is done in the slow cooker, so how easy is that?

beef_barolo_1The meat is marinated overnight in a Barolo wine mixture with herbs and garlic. The marinade later becomes the cooking liquid and is also the sauce for it too. The meat is browned, then all the other stuff is added in (pancetta, onions, carrots, celery, dried porcini mushrooms [Diane adds this because she thinks a little bit of porcini mushroom bits – dried – add a lot of succulent flavor to long, slow cooked meats] and some demi-glace or a beef soup base. You can do this on the stovetop (instructions for both are given below) or in a slow cooker.

After the beef has become soft and tender, it’s removed, then  you make the gravy by adding a little beurre manié (butter kneaded with flour). If you like a thicker gravy, just make more of that mixture to add in and cook it a bit longer. Diane recommended this be served with garlic mashed potatoes, buttered noodles or some Tuscan white beans (recipe to come). I’d have liked to lick the plate if that tells you how much I loved this.

What’s GOOD: everything about it was wonderful. You do have to plan ahead since it marinates overnight. The beef becomes so tender, and the vegetables are still slightly visible (and colorful) so you can do with the meat/gravy, a carb and a salad or a vegetable, not both. Worth making and as I mentioned above, it’s elegant enough for a company meal. Doing it in the slow cooker makes it a no-brainer. The wine in this is the star of the show, really – it’s what flavors this throughout.

What’s NOT: only that you have to start this the day before.  And you’ll need to make the gravy at the last minute, but it will only take a few minutes.

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Italian Marinated Beef in Barolo (Slow Cooker or Stove Top)

Recipe By: Diane Phillips, cookbook author and instructor
Serving Size: 8

1 bottle Barolo — (Italian red wine) 750 ml
4 cloves garlic — minced
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary — finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried sage
2 whole bay leaves
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 pounds chuck roast — boneless, trimmed of excess fat
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 ounces pancetta — finely chopped
2 large yellow onions — finely chopped
4 medium carrots — finely chopped
3 stalks celery — finely chopped, including some of the leaves
2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms — crumbled
3 tablespoons Penzey’s beef soup base — or other soup base paste (or use demi-glace)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup Italian parsley — chopped

1. STOVE TOP METHOD: In a large Ziploc plastic bag combine the marinade ingredients, then add the beef roast to it. Seal tight and refrigerate for at least 12 hours, or up to 24 hours, turning it over a couple of times. Remove the roast from the bag and SAVE the marinade. Pat dry the meat with paper towels.
2. In a large Dutch oven, heat oil over high heat and brown the meat on all sides. Remove meat to a plate and set aside.
3. Add pancetta to the pan and allow it to render fat, then add onions, carrots, celery and porcini mushrooms. Saute for 3-4 minutes, until the onion begins to soften. Add the reserved marinade and soup base (or demi-glace) and bring to a boil. Return the meat to the pot, cover and simmer for 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours, until the meat is FORK tender.
4. Remove meat from pan and cover with aluminum foil to keep it hot. Discard the bay leaves (this is important as you don’t want anyone to choke on the bay leaf hidden in the gravy) and skim off excess fat – use a couple of paper towels gently scrunched but still kind of flat, and wipe the towels across the top of the liquid and it will pick up most of the fat. Discard paper towel. Bring the sauce to a boil. Meanwhile, combine the softened butter and flour in a small bowl and using a whisk, slowly add the roux to the liquid in the pan. Continue whisking until sauce returns to a boil and is smooth and thickened. Season with salt and pepper and stir in the parsley – reserving just a little bit to sprinkle on top when served. Carve the meat and serve with the sauce on the side. This is wonderful served with buttered MASHED POTATOES, buttered NOODLES, or WHITE BEANS cooked with Tuscan herbs.
1. SLOW COOKER METHOD: In a large Ziploc plastic bag combine the marinade ingredients, then add the beef roast to it. Seal tight and refrigerate for at least 12 hours, or up to 24 hours, turning it over a couple of times. Remove the roast from the bag and SAVE the marinade. Pat dry the meat with paper towels.
2. In a large skillet (or if you have the kind of slow cooker with a removable metal pan, do this step in that insert) heat the oil and brown the meat on all sides. Place meat in the slow cooker. Add pancetta to the skillet, reduce heat to medium and cook until it renders some fat. Add onions, carrots, celery, and porcini mushrooms and saute for 3 minutes, or until the onion begins to soften. Add the marinade to the skillet, add soup base (or demi-glace) and bring to a boil. Continue boiling for 3 minutes, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Transfer to the slow cooker.
3. Cover and cook on LOW for 8-9 hours, until the meat is fork-tender. Remove meat from slow cooker and cover with aluminum foil. Discard bay leaves (important) and transfer the contents to a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Combine the butter and flour in a small bowl and whisk mixture into the sauce. Continue whisking until the sauce returns to a boil and is smooth and thickened. Season with salt and pepper and stir in most of the parsley. Carve the meat and serve with the sauce on the side. Sprinkle remaining parsley on top. If the sauce isn’t thick enough, add another small amount of butter/flour mixture until it’s thickened sufficiently. This can also be made with a beef brisket. This is wonderful served with buttered MASHED POTATOES, buttered NOODLES, or WHITE BEANS cooked with Tuscan herbs.
Per Serving: 660 Calories; 46g Fat (63.8% calories from fat); 43g Protein; 17g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 149mg Cholesterol; 1681mg Sodium.

Posted in Soups, on February 20th, 2015.


What’s more comforting than a hot, steaming bowl of creamy soup? This one would be right at home in a British pub. Some beer cheese soups are more broth-oriented. This one’s milk and cream with broth also, but it’s loaded with flavor from the onion, carrots, celery and shallots – oh, and how could I forget? The bacon! Of course, the bacon flavors everything. So does the ale. Make it you must.

Once in awhile I crave this kind of soup. It’s been awhile since I had beer cheese soup (years, actually), but when I saw this recipe in my to-try collection the other day, I decided it really needed to be made. Next month I’m hosting a tea for a group of lady friends – not a “real” afternoon tea kind of thing – this one’s a soup, scones, dessert and tea kind of lunch meal. And I thought since I’m going to teach these ladies how to make a proper pot of tea (that’s part of the event – it’s a fund-raiser – and I thought they all ought to know how to make a traditional pot of tea), I might as well make the menu a bit more British inspired. I’ll have to make this soup again when it’s time. This batch I’ll probably eat up in the next few days. It’s SO good.

Many years ago I wrote up an entire post about making a proper pot of tea – a “praw-per” tea, the British way. My dear friend Pamela (and her late husband Jimmy) befriended us, my DH and me, in a pub one evening in Ilminster, a small town in SW England, and we became friends. This was waaaay back in 1981. We stayed with them many times over the years, and on one occasion Pamela taught me how to make tea. She had a particular blend of tea that she combined herself. Her belief is that you must have some portion of a tea combo a smoky tea – like Lapsang souchong. [By the way, did you know that Lapsang Souchong is the oldest tea known and that it’s smoked over pine wood?] I’m not so crazy about smoky tea, and never all by itself. Pamela’s personal mixture was: 1/4 smoky tea, 1/4 English Breakfast, and 1/2 Darjeeling. That combination I like, though, so I may have to buy some of those varieties for my tea event – just so I can have everyone taste it. My guess is that most Americans (without a Chinese background or a very strong interest in tea) hardly know about smoky teas. I have all of those teas in my stash, but haven’t used any of them in years and years. Some websites say tea should be thrown out in 2 years, but some people have used tea more than 20 years old and they thought it was fine. A taste test will need to be done.

Pamela and Jimmy were very particular about their tea, so over the years I learned more and more about it. In years past when I had a lot of trouble sleeping, if I woke up in the middle of the night and would decide I had to get up, not just toss and turn, I’d quietly pitter-patter to the kitchen, bundled up in a warm robe and fuzzy slippers, light a fire in the fireplace sometimes, and I’d make a pot of tea, in the Pamela fashion. I might read, or watch TV, or sometimes I’d play games on my computer. I don’t think Pamela ever had Earl Grey (she would frown terribly at the thought, I’m sure, but it’s probably my favorite). She didn’t like floral-flavored teas. On one trip to England I bought some Lady Grey tea, which is a take-off on Earl Gray, but a little less bergamot (I think), the bergamot being the addition that makes Earl Grey distinctly different. For my event I’ll probably serve 3 kinds of tea, the above mix, Earl Grey and maybe an herbal tea for those who don’t like black tea or caffeine.

Well, I got sidetracked talking about tea. Let’s get back to the soup. With me – as I write this anyway – still wearing my special boot – I thought this soup would be easy to make. Well, it wasn’t hard really, but it sure took more time than I’d anticipated, so my foot was aching by the time I was done. I should have done the vegetable prep earlier in the day, but as it was, I was up and down about an hour. I used my Vitamix to puree it. First I tried my immersion blender, and should have done it BEFORE I added the cheese. It stuck to the immersion blender, which took a brush to remove once I got to cleaning it. I gave up on the immersion blender because it wasn’t doing a good job. Anyway, whatever you do, make it really smooth. After 6-8 minutes of using it the immersion blender, there were still lots of pieces of things in the pot, so the regular blender was the way to go.

The original recipe I got from Williams-Sonoma, but I altered it some, adding some things, and taking out some things. Bacon was my addition (oh, and a good one). I didn’t add the paprika called for, nor did I add cayenne. Could have, I guess. Another recipe suggested a couple tablespoons of sherry at the end, but mine was plenty ale-tasting already and I didn’t think it needed sherry. I think I added an extra carrot – no biggie. I purchased an 18-ounce bottle of ale – I had to carefully peruse the shelves for an ale, not just a beer. According to the write-up about the recipe, it’s the hops in the beer that’s needed, so I found one that said the hops were prominent. I’m not sure I’d do that part again – but then, I’m not a beer drinker. If you are, then by all means go for the hops-forward style.

What’s GOOD: well, the flavors first and foremost. You definitely taste the beer/ale, the cheddar and the BACON. Loved that part for sure. I used some sharp American cheddar and some Irish sharp cheddar (both white cheeses, not yellow, otherwise you’d end up with a very orange colored soup). You need to cook it long enough to get the booziness out of the soup, then add the dairy at the last. Altogether delicious. Don’t know that it will freeze – it might separate if you did that. So plan accordingly. The other things that make the soup are the garnishes – the bacon and crispy shallots. The soup doesn’t have any texture once you puree it, of course, so the bacon and shallots add a bit of that. You could also serve it with some croutons. That, too, would be a nice addition.

What’s NOT: nothing really – just plan about an hour of prep and cooking, then the pureeing, then the cheese and reheating. Have everything else all ready once you start the puree process. Or make it earlier in the day and reheat. That would work fine too.

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Cheddar and Ale Soup with Crispy Shallots and Bacon

Recipe By: Adapted from a Williams-Sonoma recipe
Serving Size: 6

3 pieces thick-sliced bacon — finely chopped
4 whole shallots — thinly sliced
1 pound white potatoes — (if using red potatoes, peel them)
1 whole yellow onion
2 stalks celery
3 whole carrots — peeled
1 clove garlic — minced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
12 ounces beer — ale, hops forward style
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon dry mustard
12 ounces Cheddar cheese — shredded (sharp, white – not yellow cheese)

NOTES: If you use a lighter style beer it won’t have the punch as much as if you use a hops-forward ale. Next time I might use a lighter style than the imported ale I purchased. Your choice! The original recipe called for more flour and less fluid, but I thought it was too thick, so have cut back on flour and added more milk in this recipe.
1. In a frying pan over medium heat, render bacon until cooked through and light golden. Remove to paper towel, but retain fat in the pan. Add the shallots to the bacon grease and cook, stirring once or twice, until crisp and golden, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a bowl and set aside.
2. Cut the potatoes into 1/2-inch cubes; chop the onion, celery and carrots and add to the pan along with the garlic. Add the chicken broth, bring to a boil and reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring, until the onion, celery and carrots have softened and the potatoes are almost tender, 7-10 minutes.
3. In a jar combine the milk and all-purpose flour then shake until combined with no lumps, then slowly add to the soup mixture, along with the heavy cream and the beer/ale, stirring as you do so. Bring to a simmer and cook until mixture returns to a simmer, whisking frequently. Add salt, Worcestershire sauce and mustard. Allow soup to cook, keeping it still just below a simmer, if possible (it may separate if you actually boil it). Cook for 5-10 minutes maximum.
4. Puree the soup in batches in a stand blender. You can use an immersion blender, but it won’t get it completely smooth and it will take a long time. Reheat just until steaming. Add in the cheese and cook, stirring, until the cheese has just melted, 2-3 minutes. Taste for seasonings (salt) and add more broth or milk if you think it’s too thick. It thickens up as it cools.
5. Garnish with the crispy shallots and bacon and serve at once. If you want to be especially fancy, add some croutons on top too.
Per Serving: 511 Calories; 33g Fat (57.8% calories from fat); 25g Protein; 29g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 103mg Cholesterol; 880mg Sodium.

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