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You’ve got to read Catherine Ryan Hyde’s book –Take Me With You. What a story.  From Amazon’s description: August Shroeder, a burned-out teacher, has been sober since his nineteen-year-old son died. Every year he’s spent the summer on the road, but making it to Yellowstone this year means everything. The plan had been to travel there with his son, but now August is making the trip with Philip’s ashes instead. An unexpected twist of fate lands August with two extra passengers for his journey, two half-orphans with nowhere else to go. What none of them could have known was how transformative both the trip—and the bonds that develop between them—would prove, driving each to create a new destiny together. Have a tissue handy at the end. It’s such a charming, sweet story. You’ll fall in love with the young boys, and fall in love with them again 10 years later.

One of my book clubs occasionally reads a kind of edgy book. This is one of them. By Mohsin Hamid, Exit West: A Novel is a book set in an age not dissimilar to our own and in current time, but something bad has happened in the world. Something never divulged, although symptoms of a civil war are mentioned. A unmarried couple, Nadia and Saeed, are given the opportunity (as others are, as well) to go through a door (this is the exit part of the title) and to another place in the world – it takes but a second – to go through the special door. They go to England (London), to a palatial mansion. Sometimes the power grid is sketchy. Another door. And yet another. And finally to Marin County (north of San Francisco). You follow along with the ups and downs of the chaste relationship of the two, this couple from a house to living on the streets. And the eventual dissolution of the relationship too. I wasn’t enamored with the book, but after listening to the review of it and hearing others talk about it, I suppose there’s more to this story than it might appear. Hope is the word that comes to mind. The book is strange, but it won the Los Angeles Times book award in 2017. It’s received lots of press. It made for some very interesting discussion at our book club meeting.

The Last Letter from Your Lover: A Novel by JoJo Moyes. Story: Jennifer Stirling wakes up in hospital, having had a traumatic car accident. She’s introduced to her husband, of whom she has no recollection, and is sent home with him eventually, to a life she neither remembers or embraces readily. But this is the life she was raised to have, so surely it must be worth living, underneath the strange, muted tones of her daily existence. Jennifer goes through the motions, accepts what she is told is her life and all seems to bob along well enough, except when she finds a letter that isn’t her husband’s handwriting, and is clearly a link to someone she has been involved with, but whom? London, France, Africa and America all come into play in this story of a woman piecing back together her life in effort to understand what she has lost, and what she threw away. There is a bit of a time-hop from 1964 to 2003. . . from a reviewer on amazon.  I loved this book from page one to the end. There’s some bit of mystery and you so get into the head of Jennifer Stirling. I could hardly put it down. Great read.

Francine Rivers, an author relatively new to me, but much admired, is most known for this: Mark of the Lion : A Voice in the Wind, An Echo in the Darkness, As Sure As the Dawn (Vol 1-3) It’s a trilogy. The first 2 books are about Hadassah, a young woman in the time of the Roman Empire. When Jerusalem was overrun and destroyed, the Christians still alive were sent off and away, separated and derided and abused. Hadassah was one of them. She’s a slave to a wealthy family and it takes 2 of the books to read before the son of the family finally realizes that he’s in love with Hadassah. If  you’re a Christian, you’ll learn a whole lot more about the time following Christ’s crucifixion, about the lot of the struggling Christian community. The 3rd book in the trilogy is about a gladiator who is part of book 1 and 2, but not a main character. You’ll learn about his life too, after he regains his freedom from the fighting ring and the battle of his soul. These books are a fabulous read. Can’t say enough good things about them all. I’ve never been a huge fan of old-world Roman Empire reading, but this one was altogether different. Very worth reading.

Amy Belding Brown wrote this book: Flight of the Sparrow: A Novel of Early America, a true accounting in 1676, of Mary Rowlandson, a woman who was captured by Native Americans.  Even before she was captured on a winter day of violence and terror, she sometimes found herself in conflict with her rigid Puritan community. Now, her home destroyed, her children lost to her, she has been sold into the service of a powerful woman tribal leader, made a pawn in the ongoing bloody struggle between English settlers and native people. Battling cold, hunger, and exhaustion, Mary witnesses harrowing brutality but also unexpected kindness. To her confused surprise, she is drawn to her captors’ open and straightforward way of life, a feeling further complicated by her attraction to a generous, protective English-speaking native known as James Printer. The story is riveting, and perplexing once she is traded back to her home. You’ll see a different side to the Indian problem back then and find yourself conflicted. An excellent read.

Taylor Caldwell was a prolific writer, and one I read when I was younger. She died in 1980, and this book, her last, Answer As a Man certainly delivers as her others did. All his life, Jason Garrity has had to battle intolerance and injustice in his quest for power, money, and love. His new hotel will give him financial security, the means to support a loving family and become an upstanding citizen. When family secrets and financial greed combine to destroy his dreams, his rigid moral convictions are suddenly brought into question. . . from Goodreads. Caldwell believed the banking industry was way too powerful, and often took aim at it, as she did in this book. It chronicles the life of a very poor, impoverished Irish immigrant to the U.S. He was an upstanding citizen, God-fearing, but maybe naive in some respects. Good book if you enjoy very deep character study.

Another book by Diney Costeloe, Miss Mary’s Daughter. When a young women is suddenly left with no family and no job or income, she’s astounded to learn that she’s actually a granddaughter of a “grand” family in Ye Olde England. She’s very independent (at least I thought so, for the time period), but is willing to investigate this new family of hers. There are many twists and turns – is she going to inherit the family home – or is the man who has been caring for the home and his daughter the logical inheritors. There’s a villain who nearly sweeps her off her feet, much intrigue from many characters. Well developed plot with a happy ending. A good read.

Celeste Ng is a hot new author. I read another of her books (see below) but this time I read Little Fires Everywhere. There are so many various characters and plots in this book, as in her others. This book focuses on a Chinese baby abandoned at a fire station and the subsequent court battle when the single mother surfaces six months later to try to reclaim her daughter from the family in the process of adopting her. Emotions well up, waxing and waning on both sides of the issue. You may even find yourself changing your own mind about the right or wrong of a child raised with a natural-born mother (albeit late to the raising) or the mother the child has known since near birth. Ng likes to write books with lots of grit and thorny issues. Although a good read, I liked Everything I Never Told You better than this one.

The Rent Collector by Camron Wright. Oh my. This book has so many layers: (1) the young, impoverished couple and their infant son who live, literally, in a dump in Cambodia and about the precarious structure, if you can even call it that, that comprises their “house” in the midst and perched on top of trash; (2) the woman who collects the rent (hence the title and yes, people have to PAY to live there); (3) the young son’s chronic illness; (4) how they make a living out of collecting and selling trash; and (4) the life saving grace and wisdom imparted by characters in the book as the young mother begins to learn to read. If you decide to read this book, please don’t stop at about page 15-20, thinking you just don’t know if you want to read about this. Please continue. It’s so worth it. Have a highlighter pen in your hand because you’ll find so many quotes you will want to remember. Believe it or not, there is also quite a bit in this about literature.

Recently finished C.J. Box’s book The Disappeared (A Joe Pickett Novel). I just love Box’s novels. They take place in present day semi-wild west, and chronicle the fish and game warden, Joe Pickett, as he unravels another crime in his territory. A woman has disappeared, and the governor has asked him to figure it out. He does, but the tale meanders through multiple layers of intriguing story. His books are riveting. Men and women enjoy his books – so if you have a fellow in your life or family that would enjoy an intriguing book (this is not espionage) then gift him one of Box’s books.

Also finished Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. About a dysfunctional family, through and through. I picked this up from amazon from someone who read the book, named “McReader,” and she says: “Set in the 70s, the story follows a Chinese American blended family in Ohio. When Lydia [the daughter] is found floating in the lake, her family is forced to analyze what put her there. Was it pressure from her family to succeed? Was it pressure to fit in? Was it a crime of passion or convenience? I was spellbound reading the last half of this book. I loved each flawed family member, especially Hannah,. While the story went where I hoped it would go, I was not disappointed at all with the progression. It was also quite insightful on the prejudices that society had about Chinese Americans still during that timeframe and how careful parents have to be to put their dreams onto their children.” Such a good book and definitely worth reading. Would be a good book club read. You’ll be hearing more from this author. Am currently reading her next novel, Little Fires Everywhere.

The Boston Girl: A Novel by Anita Diamant. A very, very intriguing book. The book is written from the voice of a Jewish grandmother as she tells her granddaughter the saga of her life starting about 1910, who struggles with her own individuality, with her domineering mother who never says a kind word to her. It’s certainly a coming-of-age story as she grows up, finds a job, makes friends, joins a literary girls club, moves out, but still suffers under her mother’s thumb and tongue. She becomes a reporter on a local newspaper, which opens her eyes to more of the world than she ever knew. She finally meets the right man (of course!) and she shares the stories about her life, and her friends and family members as she grows up, giving some sage advice along the way. Part of the time she’s talking to herself – to her young self  (really wanting to tell young Addie to keep on, forgive herself for her perceived transgressions, to live life, and experience the world).

One of the best books I’ve read in a long time – Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. Rivers is a prodigious writer of Christian fiction, and I’d never read anything by her until now. As I write this, I’ve already read this, another one (below) and just purchased the Kindle trilogy called Mark of the Lion (Vol 1-3) that I haven’t yet started. (Two of my friends have said the trilogy is her best.) Redeeming Love details the fictional story of a godly man, Michael Hosea, forging his way in the era of the Gold Rush. He’s “driven” to rescue a beautiful prostitute who lives and works her trade in a nearby town. The entire book is about the story, the rescue, and it parallels a bit of scripture about Hosea who rescues a prostitute names Gomer. You get into the heads of both Hosea and the prostitute, named Angel. We read this for one of my book groups. A great read.

As soon as I finished the above book I promptly visited my church library and found a whole shelf of Rivers’ books, and grabbed one called The Atonement Child. This book takes place in the 1980s or 90s, about a young college student who is raped. She was engaged to be married, was a stellar student. The book chronicles what happens to her when she discovers she is pregnant from the rape. Every possible thing goes wrong in her life. I don’t want to spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it, but I couldn’t put it down. I ended up spending a good part of a day plowing through it. You hear her inner voice (I’m guessing this is a common thread in Rivers’ books) from a Christian perspective. Lots of meaty issues to discuss in a book club if your group would be interested and willing to talk about rape, abortion, adoption and the thorny issues surrounding all of those things, but with a Christian bent, for sure.

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen. It’s kind of amazing how many and varied plot lines can be created from events of WWII. This is another one, about a current day woman who finds papers in the attic, after her father’s death, with references to “the child.” She never knew her father could have had another child – could she have a step-sibling somewhere? Her father she knew, had been shot down over Italy, but he never talked much about it. But of course, she must go to Italy to find out about this “child.” The book flips back and forth from this daughter on the search, to her father during the war, all of it taking place in a very small town in Tuscany. It’s about the varied people she meets who want her to go away and not dredge up anything about the war years (are they hiding something, you question), about how much she loves the landscape, and some of the people. And about the intense love affair between the injured pilot and a caring woman of the village. Very charming story. I could almost smell the flowers, taste the olives, hear the bees flitting, and loved the prose about the simple meals that were described. I really enjoyed the book. Perhaps not enough meat for a book club read, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy reading it nonetheless.

Leaving Blythe River: A Novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde. Almost a page turner. When one uses the phrase “coming of age,” it usually means (I think) love and loss/boyfriend/girlfriend, and in this case it’s somewhat that way. When Ethan, a 17-year old boy and his mother come home unexpectedly to find dad and his young secretary in a compromising position, all hell breaks loose. Separation happens instantly and just as his father moves out, his mother has to go take care of her aging mother. Ethan’s too young to be left in the NYC apartment alone, so Mom sends son to the father who is escaping from the world in Wyoming, living in a primitive A-frame house, and continuing his daily 20+ mile running journeys. Ethan and his father are barely speaking. They live in the middle of nowhere. Ethan feels betrayed by his father in every possible way, and somewhat by his mother for forcing him to live with his father for a temporary period. Then his father doesn’t return one day from his run. The authorities do a cursory search, but they are under the impression the dad wants to “get lost” on purpose. Ethan, although he thinks he doesn’t care, really does. What happens next is best left to you reading this book. Very interesting people (kind of loners) enter the picture and off they go to search. So worth reading.

The Girl With No Name by Diney Costelhoe. What a good book. Perhaps you’ve read before about the huge numbers of German refugee children who were sent to England before Hitler closed down any exits. This is a novel about one particular young girl, who is devastated when her mother puts her on one of the boats. She ends up in London, in an orphanage kind of place, and is eventually placed with a childless couple. She speaks no English. They speak no German, but they manage soon enough. Lisa (who eventually becomes Charlotte) is so homesick. She’s bullied at school, because most people and children don’t want any Germans there. A boy steps up to protect her, and as she grows up, she’s attracted to him. She shouldn’t be – he’s also German and from her own home town. He’s not a good match for her. You live with her through the blitz during all those war years and during one attack, she’s badly injured and loses her memory (and no ID on her). Through a series of mishaps she ends up in a village far from London, with a spinster woman who does eventually come to love her very much – they name her Charlotte and Charlotte she becomes. She goes to school there, still longing, though, for her mother and brother and her London foster family too. Then when she’s 16 she returns to London to help at the orphanage where she was originally placed and tries to find her foster parents. The story goes on from there, with the boy/man who “wants” her, the bad boy, and a good boy/man she befriends in the village in the country. Eventually she regains her memory. SUCH a good read.

The Girl with Seven Names by Hyanseo Lee. If you, like me, know little about North Korea and how it came to be what it is today, you’ve got to read this book. It’s a memoir written by a young woman who escaped from North Korea about 9 years ago. Her journey – and I mean JOURNEY – is harrowing, frightening, amazing, heart-rendering all at the same time. She chronicles the lives of the Kims (Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il to current Kim Jong Un), shares the strict propaganda that surrounds every North Korean citizen, the poverty and hunger, as well as the underground black market for food and goods. It took her awhile to get from North Korea, to China and eventually to South Korea, where she currently lives. She’s well educated and speaks English quite well. She was invited to be a speaker at a TED talk – you know about those, right? TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a media organization which posts talks online for free distribution, under the slogan “ideas worth spreading.” I listen to them as  podcasts now and then. Always very educational, if sometimes over my head when it gets very technical. She works diligently for human rights now, doing her best to help other North Koreans escape. You owe it to yourself to read this book.

Also just finished reading The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian. Another WOW book. I’ve always liked the author – many years ago I read his book, Midwives and really liked it. Don’t confuse this book with the one I recently read, The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas that I reviewed recently. I think we read it in one of my book groups. He’s a brilliant writer, and this one has a lot of characters and twists. It’s a novel, but based on a lot of truth regarding the Armenian genocide. Most of the book takes place in Aleppo, Syria with some good Samaritan folk trying to help rescue people (mostly children) following the forced long marches the Turks made prodding the Turkish Armenians to exit their country. But it also jumps to near present day as a family member is trying to piece together obscure parts of her grandparents’ former lives there. She uncovers some hidden truths (many survivors of the genocide never-ever-ever wanted to talk about it) and a bit more about her Armenian heritage. A riveting book – I could hardly put it down. Lots to discuss for a book club read. I simply must read more of Bohjalian’s books (he’s written many).

The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke. All I can say is “wow.” In a general sense, this book is based on the premise of The Pilot’s Wife. But this one has some totally different twists and turns. A young wife is met at the door by police, informing her that her husband has died in an auto accident. Then she finds out he died in Hawaii – not Kansas, where she thought he was, on business. Then she finds out there was a woman in the car. Then she meets the fiance of the woman passenger and the two of them embark on a fact-finding mission in Hawaii to discover the truth. Well, I’m just sayin’ . . . the plot thickens. And thickens. And thickens clear up to the last few pages. Hang onto your seat. A really, really good, suspenseful read.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. What a WONDERFUL book. It opens up a shameful part of America’s past, but one you might not have heard about before this. In the late 1800s thousands of Chinese workers were brought to the West Coast to help with a variety of construction projects and a myriad of other things where laborers were needed. Many settled, married and made a new life for themselves. But suddenly the white population didn’t want them here anymore and they summarily ordered them ALL out of our country. This book chronicles a young Chinese girl, who was on a ship that was supposed to take her family to China, but the ship’s captain decided en route to dump them all overboard, to drown. The girl’s father knew it was going to happen and in order to save her, he threw his daughter off the ship as they were passing Orcas Island (in the San Juan Islands west of Seattle). She was saved. The book switches from that time to current time as a woman is rebuilding her family’s home on Orcas and finds a beautifully embroidered silk Chinese robe sleeve hidden under a stair step. The book is about that sordid past and the young girl’s descendents, and about the woman who is rebuilding. Stunner of a novel. Good for a book club read, I think. It has a reader’s guide at the back with good questions for book groups.

How It All Began: A Novel by Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

 

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Cookies, on December 9th, 2018.

choc_peanut_butter_globs

Chocolate and peanut butter, plus nuts. What’s there not to like in a cookie?

These cookies come from daughter, Sara. She loves to bake, and even though she’s following Weight Watcher’s (and has lost 40 pounds) she still bakes for her family (husband and HS senior son and for daughter at Clemson – she ships packages to Sabrina regularly – and she bakes for the small staff at their business, and for customers). She may have a bite or two, but she’s got lots of will power. Anyway, she made these cookies and everyone raved about them. I didn’t try them as I was sure I’d eat an entire cookie. Not on my diet, either.

I record all of Ina Garten’s programs, and I’d remembered when she made these on her show, thinking to myself, what a name for a cookie? Globs? But, okay. They’re similar to one of those cloud cookies. But the ingredients here are somewhat different.

Sara’s only comments were – be sure the eggs are at room temp. She made this recipe twice, and the 2nd time she used chilled eggs, and there was definitely a difference in the volume of the cookie. So be forewarned! She also mentioned to use walnut HALVES – not finely diced – you want to encounter the texture of the nut.

These cookies were gone in a flash – that’s all I’ll say – does that tell you enough? Sara made hers smaller – she used a cookie scoop rather than 1/2 cup portions (which makes a really big cookie) so adjust according to your own taste.

What’s GOOD: the texture, the chocolate, the crunch.

What’s NOT: not a thing, so everyone said!

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Chocolate Peanut Butter Globs

Recipe By: Ina Garten recipe
Serving Size: 22

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
2 large eggs — at room temperature
1 tablespoon espresso powder
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup walnut halves
1 cup pecan halves — whole
2/3 cup peanut butter chips — such as Reese’s

1. Heat oven to 325°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment. In a bowl stir together 1/3 cup flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.
2. In a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water melt the butter, 1 cup chocolate chips, and the unsweetened chocolate, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
3. Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs, espresso powder, and vanilla until combined. Add the sugar and beat until light and thickened, about 2 min. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the melted chocolate. By hand, fold the flour mixture into the batter. Fold nuts into the batter with remaining chocolate and peanut butter chips.
4. Drop 1/2 cup mounds [Sara made smaller mounds] of batter onto the prepared baking sheets. Press mounds to flatten slightly. Bake until set around the edges and slightly gooey in the centers, 18 min. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
Per Serving: 273 Calories; 19g Fat (59.8% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 25g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 9mg Cholesterol; 79mg Sodium.

Posted in Cookies, on December 5th, 2018.

glazed_double_almond_bars

If you’re a fan of almond in cookies, oh, this one’s for you.

Since I didn’t actually eat these . . . I made them, served them, gave all the remaining cookies to my guests to take home, but I didn’t have any . . . I can’t tell you from my own taste buds that they’re sensational, but from the feedback I received when I served them to one of my book club evenings, this cookie gets rave reviews.

The recipe came from another blog, The Runaway Spoon, a blog I read regularly. Apparently this is an old recipe of Perre’s; one she’s been making for years and years. The cookies are easy to make – as long as you have a fresh tube of almond paste. Not marzipan in the tube, but almond paste. I’ve learned over the years to NOT buy one to keep in my pantry. They simply don’t keep – they get dry and hard as a rock = unusable. So buy a fresh one and start with the simple shortbread type base for these cookies (butter, sugar, eggs, flour, salt and the almond paste). It’s pressed into a 9×13 baking dish and baked for an hour. During the last 5 minutes before they come out of the oven you need to mix up the glaze – powdered sugar, almond extract and milk, and then you try to spread it around on the top of the hot cookie.

There isn’t much of the glaze. So when I handed my friend Ann the recipe that evening, since she said she needed to make these immediately, I suggested that she double the amount of the glaze. She did, but thought that was too much, so after she made them yet again, she and I agreed to 1 1/2 times the amount of glaze – that way you’ll have enough to spread all the way out to the edges, but not so much it might overwhelm the tender crumb of the base bars.

At this point you merely let the bars cool completely, then slice them up for serving. I cut two sizes (I had several other desserts – 2 cakes and another cookie) to serve that night, so I knew some of my guests would want a small cookie rather than a big one. I was surprised . . . . several people took the big ones and a few went back for seconds. Big thanks to Perre over at the Runaway Spoon for this great recipe.

What’s GOOD: from what I heard from my guests, it was the almond flavor that took them all by surprise and just said YES! It’s a kind of a chewy cookie/bar – how do I know that? – only because of the texture when I cut them. I could tell. But the reports from my guests were a definite thumbs up. (Do I hate being on a diet? Yes, especially in November and December!)

What’s NOT: only that you need to buy fresh almond paste to make this.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Glazed Double Almond Bars

Recipe By: the runaway spoon blog
Serving Size: 16

BARS:
1 cup unsalted butter — softened
7 ounces almond paste
2 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
GLAZE:
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons almond extract
5 drops milk — guess?

1. BARS: Preheat the oven to 300°F. Line a 9 by 13 inch baking pan with non-stick foil or parchment paper with some overhanging ends.
2. Beat the butter and the almond paste together in the bowl of a stand mixer until smooth and creamy and well combined. Add the sugar and the eggs and beat until combined and smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
3. Beat in the flour and salt until the batter is smooth, again scraping the bowl as needed. Spread the batter into the prepared pan. Use clean, damp fingers to press it out into an even layer if needed. Bake for 1 hour until firm and lightly golden and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
4. Spread the glaze over the bars as soon as you remove them from the oven.
5. GLAZE: [My suggestion: increase the amount of glaze by 1 1/2 times.] Whisk the confectioners’ sugar, almond extract and enough milk to make a glaze as thick as heavy cream. Pour over the warm bars, spread out to the edges and leave to cool completely.
6. Cut the bars into squares. If you cut them smaller, you’ll get at least 24 bars. The bars will keep in an airtight container for 2 days.
Per Serving: 373 Calories; 16g Fat (37.4% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 56g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 58mg Cholesterol; 79mg Sodium.

Posted in Miscellaneous, Salads, on December 1st, 2018.

cranberry_jello_salad_walnuts

A really simple salad to serve with a holiday meal – or more likely with Thanksgiving turkey.

As it happened, I was watching The Pioneer Woman last week, and she showed something similar to this salad above, that was her mother-in-law’s standard for Thanksgiving. Her MIL passed away recently, so Ree was making this salad in homage to Nan. It reminded me of a salad I had once upon a time, years and years ago and really liked, and never found out who made it, to acquire the recipe.

So, first off – if you follow the recipe – you need to find cranberry Jell-O. Well, that proved an impossible task in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. Supposedly Target has it, but perhaps it’s only available online. I gave up looking after visiting 3 grocery stores + Target. So I bought Black Cherry Jell-O and used that instead.

First you make the underneath gelatin part – adding 2 cans of whole cranberry sauce and a 6-ounce can of crushed pineapple (drained). I also added about 2/3 cup of chopped walnuts (my addition to the recipe because walnuts were in the salad I remember from long ago). That was chilled until set (overnight in my case). Then, I started on the topping. Ree said to add 1 1/4 cups of milk to an 8-ounce package of cream cheese. That seems like too much to me, so I added just 1/2 cup and spread that all over the top of the chilled Jell-O. Then I microplaned some fresh orange zest on top (in Ree’s recipe). I covered it with plastic wrap (elevated above the cream cheese) and chilled that until we were ready to eat.

Was it up to my expectations? Absolutely. I loved it. And I shouldn’t have had any of it (not on my no-sugar, no-carb diet) but I ate it anyway. AND, I had a serving of it the next day when we had leftovers. By then it was nearly gone.

What’s GOOD: love-loved it in every way possible. Sweet, tart, piquant, satisfying, easy. What more could you want?

What’s NOT: really nothing. It was a great addition to the Thanksgiving table.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Cranberry Sauce Salad

Recipe By: Adapted from a Pioneer Woman recipe from her MIL, Nan
Serving Size: 12 (maybe 16)

3 packets cranberry gelatin — (small ones) or use Black Cherry as substitute
2 cans cranberry sauce — 14 ounce size (whole cranberry style)
8 ounces crushed pineapple — canned, drained
2/3 cup chopped walnuts
8 ounces cream cheese — at room temperature
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup whole milk
1 orange, zest only

1. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil, then remove from the heat. Stir in the gelatin until completely dissolved, 1 to 2 minutes. Add 1 cup cold water, the cranberry sauce, chopped walnuts and pineapple. Mix well, ensuring you break apart any large chunks of the cranberry sauce.
2. Pour into a 9-by-13-inch glass dish. Cover and place in the refrigerator until firm, 3 1/2 to 4 hours.
3. Beat together the cream cheese and powdered sugar with a hand mixer until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the milk and mix until completely combined. Carefully spread the cream cheese frosting in a thin layer over the cranberry sauce. Zest the orange directly over the frosting. Can be chilled (covered in plastic wrap, but elevated up above the cream cheese) overnight. Serve in individual squares.
Per Serving: 365 Calories; 11g Fat (25.8% calories from fat); 8g Protein; 63g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 22mg Cholesterol; 225mg Sodium.

Posted in Cookies, on November 28th, 2018.

dories_new_classic_cc_cookie

Is it possible to have yet another chocolate chip cookie in your repertoire? Uhm. Yes.

If you want to know, I fell off the (diet) wagon the day I made these. I was baking for an upcoming book group meeting at my house, and the hostesses of late have made 3-4 things. If you’re curious, I’m also making Dario’s Olive Oil and Orange Cake; and the Egg-Separated Rum Sponge Cake. These cookies will be served, and I’m also making some almond bars – if they’re good, I’ll post that recipe.

I knew when I started making the dough, that I would succumb to eating cookie dough. Yep. I did. More of it than I should have. And I did eat one single finished cookie. As it happened I burned the 2nd two trays I popped in the oven, and they all went into the trash can (forgot to set Alexa for 11 minutes!). So I have about 12 cookies altogether. I gave some away to a friend, too before I realized I was going to burn that 2nd set. Oh well.

So what makes these different? Well, if you follow Dorie Greenspan’s recipe exactly, you’ll include some whole wheat flour. I didn’t add that; I just used more regular flour. But she also adds some unusual spices: nutmeg and ground coriander. I couldn’t discern the spices in the dough at all. And could barely taste them in the finished cookie I ate, either. So if I made these again, I’d use more of those two spices. I mean, why add them if you can’t taste it? And I also added some chopped walnuts. Just because I like them in CC cookies.

The mixing/making of these is no different than any other chocolate chip cookie. The recipe recommends chilling the dough for an hour (which I did). They were the perfect consistency for crispy CC cookies. I’m not a soft-cookie kind of girl. Any cookie needs to be crispy in my book unless you count brownies in that category. Those need to be soft.

What’s GOOD: yet another chocolate chip cookie recipe. Do increase the spices by at least 50%. And you could add the whole wheat flour if you want. Crispy. Chocolaty for sure, and that’s important!

What’s NOT: nothing really. If you’re a CC cookie fan, this one will float your boat. Nothing at all to complain about!

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

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Dorie’s New Classic Choc Chip Cookie

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Food52, Dorie Greenspan
Serving Size: 50

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour — (238 grams)
2/3 cup whole wheat flour — (91 grams) [I used all-purpose]
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg — (add more)
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander — (add more)
2 sticks unsalted butter — (8 ounces; 226 grams) cut into chunks, at room temperature
1 cup sugar — (200 grams)
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar — (150 grams)
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 large eggs — at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
10 ounces semisweet chocolate — or bittersweet (283 grams) coarsely chopped (or 1 2/3 cups chocolate chips)
1/2 cup walnuts — chopped (my addition – optional)

1. Whisk both flours, the baking soda, nutmeg, and coriander together.
2. Working with a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, beat the butter, both sugars, and the salt together on medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes.
3. One by one, add the eggs and beat for 1 minute after each goes in. Beat in the vanilla. Turn the mixer off, add the dry ingredients all at once and pulse to begin the blending, then mix on low speed until the dough comes together and the flour has disappeared. Add the chocolate and walnuts (if adding) and incorporate on low speed or mix in by hand with a sturdy flexible spatula. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate it for at least 1 hour.
4. Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat it to 375° F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
5. Using a tablespoon, scoop out level portions of dough. Roll each tablespoon of dough between your palms to make a ball and place the balls at least 2 inches apart on the lined baking sheets. [Or use a cookie scoop which makes a ball.]
6. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes, rotating the pans top to bottom and front to back after 6 minutes, or until the cookies have spread, puffed a little, turned a light golden brown, and feel only just set around the edges. Transfer the baking sheets to racks and let the cookies rest on the sheets for at least 5 minutes before putting them onto the racks to cool to just warm or room temperature. Repeat with the remaining dough, being certain to use cool baking sheets.
Per Serving: 120 Calories; 6g Fat (45.6% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 16g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 18mg Cholesterol; 62mg Sodium.

Posted in Chicken, on November 24th, 2018.

artichoke_chicken_590

Oh so easy – chicken breasts, marinated in Italian salad dressing, then with an easy-to-put-together topping of canned artichoke hearts, Parm and mayo. So moist and flavorful.

My Northern California daughter, Dana, eats lots of chicken, and she occasionally finds a recipe that floats her boat. This is the one. When I drove up there a few weeks ago (for her 50th birthday – oh gosh – does that make me feel old!) she fixed this one night. She’d found the recipe on Pinterest, from a website called Plain Chicken. First you marinate the chicken (she used boneless, skinless breasts, but I’m sure you could use thighs) in some kind of Italian salad dressing. If you don’t have some on hand, make some. It probably wouldn’t take all that much dressing to be enough to marinate. Start on this a few hours ahead, or even overnight works.

artichoke_chix_before_baking_590Then, you pan sear the chicken on both sides, (Dana forgot to do that step, as you can see – raw chicken breasts there) put them out onto a foil-lined baking sheet and cover the tops with a mixture of canned and chopped artichoke hearts, grated Parm, mayo and some garlic powder. How easy is that? Into the oven it goes and bakes until perfectly juicy and tender.

When Dana made these, she used really big, thick chicken breasts, and we talked about it, that none of us could finish a whole half-breast, so if I were making it I’d cut the chicken breasts into 2 pieces and pound both pieces to an equal thickness (not super thin) and I’d pan sear the chicken only on one side. Then I’d put the artichoke mixture on the un-seared side and I’d watch the temp really closely once baking them. The recipe says 20-25 minutes. If you did the half of a half-breast, it might only take 12-15 minutes. Use an instant read thermometer, and take them out of the oven a few degrees shy of 165°F and tent the pan for just a few minutes and the temp will rise a little bit. Fix the rest of the dinner in those few minutes, then serve. The topping stays really – REALLY hot, just so you know. I think 2 or 3 of us burned the roof of our mouths on the topping. Thanks to the blog writer from Plain Chicken for this recipe.

What’s GOOD: great flavor – the salt in the topping tastes extra good (from the Parm and mayo) and it’s a perfect protection for the chicken breasts so they don’t get over done. Make a salad and you’ve got dinner.

What’s NOT: really nothing, although ideally you start this the day before and marinate them overnight.

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Artichoke Chicken

Recipe By: From a blog called Plain Chicken, via Pinterest
Serving Size: 4

1 cup Italian salad dressing
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
1 tablespoon olive oil
15 ounces canned artichoke hearts — drained and chopped
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

NOTES: If the chicken breasts are particularly large, cut them in half and pound them some, to an even thickness – but not too thin or they won’t stay moist enough. Half of a large chicken breast is enough for one serving unless you’ve got hungry teenage football players on hand.
1. Marinate chicken breasts in Italian dressing in a sealed plastic bag for a few hours to overnight.
2. Preheat oven to 375ºF.
3. Heat olive oil in non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Remove chicken from marinade and brown lightly 2 minutes per side. Place chicken on foil lined baking sheet. If using the half breasts, sear on one side only, turn over and put topping on the un-seared side.
4. In a medium bowl, mix together chopped artichoke hearts, Parmesan cheese, mayonnaise, and garlic powder. Spread artichoke mixture evenly on top of chicken – go all the way to the edges which helps keep the chicken moist.
5. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until juices run clear. If using pounded-thinner half of a chicken breast, it will likely take 12-15 minutes to bake – test several times with an instant read thermometer to make sure you don’t over bake them – it should register 165° F.
Per Serving (calorie count assumes you consume the salad dressing-not): 839 Calories; 73g Fat (76.5% calories from fat); 37g Protein; 13g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 95mg Cholesterol; 1319mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on November 20th, 2018.

apple_gingerbread_cake_whole

So pretty. So fall. So apple-y. And also really tasty.

Every few weeks I need to either buy or make some kind of dessert for the evening bible study group when they meet at my house. I almost bought something this time as I was really cramming a lot into one day. As it happened, we had heavy winds in my neck of the woods, and they were so severe they blew down power lines in lots of places. Near me, obviously, as I had a power outage for about 14-16 hours. The night and morning that the winds blew I was driving from NorCal to home, so I missed most of them. But I arrived to find that the power was out. Thank goodness my security gate was open or I’d have had a heck of a time trying to get TO my house. I bought groceries, unpacked, but couldn’t do laundry, or watch tv, or bake. So I went out to dinner (salad) and got home just at dusk and found my flashlight. I read. I played with my kitty. I read some more. Decided that I really couldn’t do my bible study homework by flashlight. Went to bed early. By morning the power had been restored. I baked. Did laundry, put the suitcase away and went through the mail.

apple_gingerbread_cake_sliceSince it’s fall, well, my mind turns to apples. And this recipe, oddly enough, calls for red skinned apples, leaving the skins on. I bought Gala I think it was. They’re BIG apples, so I only used 2. My guests suggested that I should use more apples. The recipe called for a pound, and I used 1.25 pounds (that was 2 apples). So I’ve upped the apples by a little in the recipe below. But otherwise, I’d stick to the recipe as listed.

Since I’m not eating desserts these days, I had to rely on my guests to give me a critique of the cake. They said “mmmm.” They said moist, could really taste the ginger (there are 2 T of freshly grated ginger in the cake). They liked the spices in it. And they really liked how pretty it was. I served it with whipped cream.

First I made a small amount of caramel (brown sugar, butter and a little water) which was poured into the bottom of a springform pan. Then I cooked the slices of apple in butter (just a little) which is done in 2 batches, and those translucent slices are fanned out on top of the caramel, doubling up a little bit. Then the cake batter is made (molasses, maple syrup spices, eggs, the freshly grated ginger, flour, etc.) and lastly you add in a little bit of baking soda and water. Pour it all over the apples. THEN, you pour 1/2 cup heavy cream all over the top of the batter. I don’t know what that accomplished, really, as it just sat there. I did spread it out a bit, and most of it was absorbed into the cake eventually, during the baking. Once baked, it sat for 15 minutes to cool a bit, then you run a knife (I used a plastic spatula) around the outside edge to loosen it, then you remove the springform and cool some more. Then I upended it onto a platter and let it cool completely. Some sweetened whipped cream finished it off. Serve.

What’s GOOD: the comments come from my guests as I didn’t have any of it . . . they said it was wonderful. They loved the ginger, the spices and the apples. They said use more apples. The center of the cake wasn’t quite done, so it sunk a little bit – gave it a pudding like texture in the middle, they said. So make sure the center is cooked through before taking it out of the oven. The recipe said a 10” springform. I don’t have one, so used a 9” and added about 10 minutes of baking time. Not quite enough, I guess.

What’s NOT: a few more steps than some – making caramel, cooking the apples, then making them look pretty in the pan. Then the liquids, then the dry stuff, mixed.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

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Apple Gingerbread Cake with Cream

Recipe By: Bon Appetit, 10/2016
Serving Size: 10

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar — (packed) divided
1 1/2 pounds apples — Honeycrisp or other sweet, red skinned apples, unpeeled, very thinly sliced, seeds removed, divided
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
2 large eggs — room temperature
2 tablespoons ginger — fresh, finely grated peeled
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda — dissolved in 1 T hot water
1/2 cup heavy cream — to pour on cake batter
1/2 cup heavy cream — whipped for serving

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 10″ springform pan and line bottom with a parchment round; butter parchment. Heat 1 T butter, 1/2 cup brown sugar, and 2 T water in a large skillet over medium, stirring constantly, until butter is melted and sugar is dissolved. Cook, without stirring but swirling skillet often, until large bubbles that are slow to pop form, about 2 minutes. Pour caramel into prepared pan and tilt pan to evenly coat bottom.
2, Melt 1 T butter in same skillet over medium heat; add half of apples and toss to separate. Cook, tossing often, until apples are softened and almost translucent, about 4 minutes. Repeat process with another 1 T butter and remaining apples. Let apples sit until cool enough to handle, then arrange over caramel in overlapping layers. Set pan aside.
3. Whisk flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg in a large bowl to combine; set aside. Heat molasses, maple syrup, remaining 1/2 cup brown sugar, and remaining 1/2 cup butter in saucepan over very low heat, stirring constantly, until butter is melted and mixture is smooth. Set aside for a couple of minutes until mixture cools slightly. Whisk in eggs and ginger. Stir baking soda into 1 T very hot water in a small bowl until dissolved, then whisk into molasses mixture. Whisk molasses mixture into reserved dry ingredients and scrape batter over apples, spreading evenly. Evenly drizzle 1/2 cup cream over batter spreading if needed to outer edges.
4. Place cake on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet and bake until center is firm to the touch and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 35–45 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack and let cake cool in pan 15 minutes. Run a paring knife around the sides of cake to loosen, then remove the sides of pan and invert cake onto rack. Carefully remove pan and peel away parchment (apples might stick, so work slowly). Let cool completely.
5. Slice cake into wedges and serve drizzled with more cream. Cake can be baked 1 day ahead. Store tightly covered at room temperature. To revive apples, reheat cake slightly in a microwave and brush top with maple syrup.
Per Serving: 472 Calories; 22g Fat (40.9% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 67g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 106mg Cholesterol; 489mg Sodium.

Posted in Salad Dressings, on November 16th, 2018.

sherry_sesame_miso_vinaigrette

A variation on the theme of a Chinese Chicken Salad style vinaigrette.

Most of the salad dressings that I have made in the past in the style for Chinese Chicken Salad have contained a lot of sugar – honey, or molasses, or both, or sugar, period. And if I’d made this one per the directions, I’d have one that’s similar, but this one contains a lot more ingredients than most. And I cut way back on the sugar. (Actually I used Swerve, but you could easily substitute sugar or honey). In fact, this one had so many unusual ingredients I had to keep looking back at the recipe because I couldn’t remember more than one ingredient at a time.

It all starts out in the food processor. With fresh ginger cut up into little pieces. You need to start with the ginger all cut up because sometimes the food processor doesn’t mince up ginger very well. I have an older food processor, however. So old that I’ve been thinking of buying a new one, but my old one actually works well enough. It’s just that the work bowl has gotten cloudy with use and time, and the plastic that’s supposed to cover up the pulse button has broken off. Underneath it’s still plastic so I’m not worried about electrocution, thankfully. I have a new S-shaped blade than Cuisinart sent me a year or so ago when they had a recall. A few years ago I had to replace the lid because it had worn out and wouldn’t push the slide down inside indicating the cover was on tight, so it didn’t work at all! But now that I’m a single person (widow) I don’t actually use my food processor as much as I used to. I could have made this dressing in a blender, or perhaps even  used a stick blender too. But with the latter, the ginger wouldn’t likely have gotten chopped up much at all.

Anyway, I piled in the ingredients (except the oils) and got it mixed up well. What’s different about this dressing is the addition of white miso, a full 1/4 cup. That’s a lot. And tahini, of course. Not much toasted sesame oil, however. It’s powerful. Rice wine vinegar is called for plus the sherry vinegar. Garlic, soy sauce, even a pinch of cayenne too. The miso gives it a lot of thickening, and likely gives it emulsion too. The original recipe, from Dairy Hollow House Soup & Bread Cookbook, calls for honey, 2 T worth. I didn’t want to use honey, so I substituted Swerve instead, and only a rounded teaspoon of it. So this dressing is nowhere near as sweet as most dressings of this type. I liked it. You can adapt it to your taste – use honey, or sugar. Even agave if you’d prefer.

What’s GOOD: the flavor, first and foremost. I’d have felt really badly if I’d made this and then decided I didn’t like it – since it was more work than most and contained so many ingredients. I used EVOO in this, although the recipe calls for vegetable oil. It was lover-ly on a Romaine-centric green salad with some chicken. Nice for a change.

What’s NOT: only thing I’d say is the list of ingredients. I try not to make salad dressings just before dinner time – I get bogged down with making it (because most of my salad dressings have a lot of ingredients in them) so I made this a few hours ahead, and I have at least a cup left in the refrigerator. Am sure it’ll keep for at least a few weeks.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

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Sherry Sesame Miso Vinaigrette

Recipe By: Adapted from Soup and Bread Cookbook by Crescent Dragonwagon
Serving Size: 8

1 piece ginger — about 2″ long, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic — peeled
1/4 cup miso — light style (white)
1/3 cup rice wine vinegar — or mirin
1/3 cup sherry wine — sweet type [I used sherry vinegar]
2 tablespoons soy sauce — or tamari
2 tablespoons honey — or less [I used a rounded teaspoon of Swerve, a sugar substitute]
1 pinch cayenne
2/3 cup peanut oil — [I used EVOO]
2 teaspoons sesame oil — toasted type
1/4 cup sesame seeds — toasted

1. Combine in food processor all the ingredients except the oils and sesame seeds. Pulse and blend until it’s smooth and no pieces of garlic or ginger are visible.
2. Pour the oils through the feed tube as the dressing emulsifies. Add sesame seeds and pulse a few times to combine. Will keep for about 2 weeks in the refrigerator. There are a lot of calories in this dressing, so use it sparingly.
Per Serving: 236 Calories; 22g Fat (80.8% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 10g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 572mg Sodium.

Posted in Soups, on November 12th, 2018.

cr_chix_lemon_tarragon_soup

Tender chicken pieces simmered in an onion/leek-forward soup with tarragon, lemon juice and some zest. Altogether delicious.

It seems, I rarely make anything exactly as written. Are you like that too? Since I’m a big soup eater, recently I sat down at my kitchen table with cookbooks piled up on the table beside me. With this new diet I’m on, lots of soups (carb-centric) won’t do, so I scanned a couple hundred recipes and added sticky notes to about 24 of them.

Next on the agenda was to add the titles and a few ingredients into Evernote (an app on the phone) that is always with me at the grocery store, so when I think about soup, I’ll look up the soup category and will be able to read that this soup needs coconut milk, a pound of chicken, leeks, for instance. I always have onions and celery, and I have chives growing in my herb garden. And I almost always have chicken breast packs in my freezer. So I’ll know I can make this soup if I buy those extra items (leeks, coconut milk).

The original recipe for this came from a cookbook I bought about 10 years ago at Harrod’s in London. New Covent Garden Soup Company’s Book of Soups: New, Old & Odd Recipes. As I recall, the company makes a bunch of fresh soups available at grocery stores in England. The soups are unusual. Not every one, but many of them are ones I’ve not heard of before. Which is a good thing. I’m kind of tired of my usual stable of soup recipes.

But, despite the fact that the recipe looked complete, I wasn’t satisfied with leaving it status quo. I had leeks in the refrigerator, so those were added in. And, I always think celery adds good flavor, so a cup of chopped up celery went in as well. The recipe called for half and half – I didn’t have any, but coconut milk was on the shelf, so that’s what I added. It wasn’t noted in the recipe, but I whizzed up the mixture with my new immersion blender. I didn’t totally puree it because I still wanted some texture. Then the little bits of chicken breast were added and simmered. Then in went the coconut milk, the lemon juice and zest and it was done. I used a combo of low sodium chicken broth and vegetable broth and used double the quantity too.

Generally, when I make soup, I make it the day ahead with the intent of waiting a day to let the flavors meld, but I wanted to taste it and I took the picture at top with some chives from my garden. I dipped my spoon into the soup before I staged the photo (hoping the soup was going to be blog-worthy), and WOW. Was it ever good. I mean REALLY GOOD. What flavor. Can’t wait to have some tomorrow.

What’s GOOD: there is tremendous flavor – the onions, leeks and celery are definitely there, but then you get the tang of lemon. Yum. The zest likely added some nice extra oomph to it too. Delicious soup. A definite one for more often rotation in my kitchen.

What’s NOT: not a thing, really. Easy soup to make – it would likely take about 45 minutes total with the chopping and mincing.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

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Cream of Chicken Soup with Lemon and Tarragon

Recipe By: Inspired by a recipe in New Covent Garden Soup Company Book of Soups
Serving Size: 6

1 tablespoon EVOO
1 tablespoon butter
1 large yellow onion — chopped
2 medium leeks — cleaned, chopped
1 cup celery — chopped
2 cups low sodium chicken broth
2 cups vegetable stock
2 teaspoons dried tarragon zest from one lemon
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast — chopped in small cubes
12 ounces coconut milk — full fat, or coconut cream
3 tablespoons fresh chives — minced

1. In a large Dutch oven heat butter and olive oil over medium-high and once shimmering, add onion and leeks. Cook over medium heat for 5-7 minutes, then add celery. Cook for 5 minutes, then add dried tarragon, both chicken broth and vegetable broth to a simmer. Add lemon zest and juice. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes.
2. Using an immersion blender, puree about half of the soup mixture until thickened. Add chicken, cover and simmer for about 12 minutes, then add coconut milk. Heat to just below a simmer and serve with chives garnishing the top.
Per Serving: 353 Calories; 20g Fat (49.8% calories from fat); 25g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 50mg Cholesterol; 816mg Sodium.

Posted in Books, on November 12th, 2018.

Image result for library book susan orlean

In case you might be thinking about a book to give to someone in your life who is a book lover, THIS is the book for you! Or for her/him.

The Library Book – I bought my copy at Costco, but so I hear, it’s mostly sold out already. I’m glad I have the hard copy. It’s a book I want in my personal collection.

Back in 1986, the main library in downtown Los Angeles nearly burned to the ground. It was a catastrophic event. As thousands of books burned, microfiche files, precious collections, people from all over were affected. The day after the fire, with smoke still eddying from here and there, hundreds of people (not experts, not fire authority employees, just ordinary people who wanted to help) came to the library and with thousands of books at peril from smoke or water damage (mold) people lined up and thousands of books were packed into boxes and carted to places all over the city. Some into restaurant refrigerators or purveyor’s walk-ins (to keep mold from forming) and others just to have a place to keep them until the city could figure out what to do.Image result for los angeles public library fire I smiled at the thought of boxes of books sharing the shelves with leeks and tomatoes, saffron and cream.

Susan Orlean, the author of The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession (Ballantine Reader’s Circle) has written an amazing book about the library fire. From nearly the first page I was taken in with Orlean’s lyrical writing, her adept use of words and phrases, conjuring up the devastation, the fire itself, and the aftermath. And the mind of the man who allegedly started the fire, Harry Peak. Never convicted of the crime, even his mostly wasted life is explored in this book.

Image result for los angeles public libraryYou might think, what could I possibly learn from reading a book about a fire? But this was no ordinary fire since tens of thousands of books burned, countless thousands more suffered severe damage from the smoke and/or water. You’ll learn all about how fire works – the physics of fire and what it can do it an old-old building like the library. And you’ll learn about all of the various one-of-a-kind collections the library had. Many now gone.

You’ll learn about the employees, who all survived the fire. The library had periodic fire false alarms –  everyone went outside until the fire department came to explain about yet another false alarm. But this time it was for real, and the heartbreak was palpable as everyone watched the library go up in fire, smoke and water.

Many years ago I was privileged to take a tour of the Los Angeles Central Library – after it was rebuilt. It’s very impressive. As is this book.

Posted in Beverages, on November 8th, 2018.

amaretto_sours

Oh so delicious – a drink made with Prosecco, a bit of Amaretto and citrus. And the glass rims pressed into zested sugar.

A sour – what is it? As I learned when I searched on the ‘net, they’re a whole family of cocktails – with somewhat the same combination – an alcohol, or two, some sweet and some sour. The trick being the balance of sweet to sour. Ideally, you’d serve this with a cherry in it, maybe, or a slice of lemon or lime. As I was looking around at various recipes for an amaretto sour, I discovered a brand of top-notch cherries used in libations – called Luxardo, Gourmet Cocktail Maraschino Cherries 400G Jar. Just now I’ve added it to my amazon wish list. They’re pricey. But as I read comments from people at amazon who bought them, everyone raves about them. One commenter shared a long conversation about how his wife keeps dipping into his precious jar of Luxardo cherries and eats them straight. They had “words.” She doesn’t want to have one of the cocktails with her husband, she just wants the cherries (if you click on the link above, scroll down to the comments and you can read the very amusing comment). So now he adds 2 extra to each drink he makes for himself and she gets to have the extras cherries. Someone else said they add up to about $.35 apiece.

This recipe, from a cooking class with Phillis Carey, however, uses a slightly different combination of ingredients:

  • simple syrup (common, but this one contains a more sugar-to-water ratio)
  • lemon and lime zest
  • fresh lemon juice
  • Prosecco
  • Amaretto

Did I love this drink? Oh, yes, absolutely. I think I could drink one of these every evening if given the opportunity. On the diet I’m on, the simple syrup would not fit, but it’s not like you’re getting all that much sugar. Perhaps I could try it with one of the fake sugars. I’ve recently tried and really like Swerve Sweetner Granular. Swerve makes a confectioner’s type and regular granular. It tastes more like regular sugar than any substitute I’ve tried, and I’ve tried many. I don’t cook much with sugar at all anymore – occasionally I’ll use a tiny jot of maple syrup in something savory. I don’t bake unless I’m having guests, and then I send all the remaining dessert home with my guests. Phillis gave me a recipe a week or so ago for both a flatbread (made with almond meal) and a chocolate mug dessert, and both are zero or near zero carbs. Haven’t tried them yet, but I will.

So back to this recipe. First you need to make the simple syrup that has double the sugar to water. Cool it and chill. You’ll need some fresh squeezed lemon juice, the zests, as I mentioned above, a bottle of chilled Prosecco (so you’d want to make this when you’re having guests), your handy Disaronno Amaretto on hand and either citrus slices to garnish OR those cherries above. Mix it up in a pitcher and pour the drinks over ice, but into glasses that you’ve rubbed with lemon juice then dipped into sugar and the zests. So very refreshing.

What’s GOOD: the umami flavor of the sweet to sour. I enjoy Amaretto, but can’t say that I’ve had any (straight as an after dinner drink) for years and years. But in this drink. Oh yes!! The drink is incredibly refreshing, and very fancy with the sugared glass rims. Make it in a pitcher for a group. I can’t wait – am thinking about making this for Thanksgiving. You’ve got to make these, okay?

What’s NOT: only that there are a few steps – making the simple syrup, chilling it – juicing and zesting. The rest is easy peasy.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Sparkling Amaretto Sours

Recipe By: Phillis Carey class, Sept. 2018
Serving Size: 2

SIMPLE SYRUP CONCENTRATE:
1/2 cup water
1 cup sugar
AMARETTO SOUR:
1/2 cup sugar — for glass rims
zest of 2 limes — for glass rims
zest of 2 lemons — for glass rims
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Reserve one lemon half to use for glasses
3/4 cup Prosecco — chilled
2 tablespoons amaretto
4 tablespoons simple syrup — from recipe above
Ice

NOTE: This simple syrup is more concentrated (more sugar to water). And you don’t use all of the simple syrup to make these 2 drinks.
1. SIMPLE SYRUP: Combine water and sugar in a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally until sugar dissolves. Set aside to cool.
2. GLASSES: Combine 1/2 cup sugar with lemon and lime zests on a small plate. Rub each glass rim with the reserved lemon half, then coat the rim with the sugar/zest mixture.
3. THE DRINK: In a small pitcher, combine Prosecco, Amaretto, lemon juice and 1/2 cup of the simple syrup concentrate. Pour over ice in the prepared glasses and serve immediately. If you want to be particularly festive, buy Luxardo cherries (amazon) and add one to each glass.
Per Serving: 275 Calories; 0g Fat (0.0% calories from fat); trace Protein; 65g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 1mg Sodium.

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