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Carolyn

Sara

Sara and me

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Esther Freud’s book The Sea House: A Novel is about a small village on England’s southern coast. There are characters galore in this book, and it sometimes takes a bit to figure out which decade you’re reading about (few clues) or which person. Oh yes, her, current day. Oh, that’s him, during the war. Max, oh, I thought he died. No, that’s his son. I think. The book is about love found, love lost, love sometimes found again, sometimes not. About how fleeting it can be or seem. There is family dysfunction. Relationship dysfunction. There is quite a bit of adultery going on, yet I found myself understanding why. The book relays a true story (names changed) about an architect and a woman who is trying to write a book about him. Drawings and paintings of this village play a big part. There is some mental dis-health too. And throughout, it’s about the land, the sea, and this remarkable house. I wondered if in the hardback edition there were any photo plates of the drawings. One character is driven to draw the rooms he’s in, the house he’s in, or the house he conjures in his mind. There are lots of beach walks, and there is a huge tidal flood too. Despite having some difficulty keeping track of the characters, it was a good read.

Amor Towles’ book, Rules of Civility: A Novel was quite a read. It’s NYC, 1937. Twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent [Kon-TENT she iterates to many] is in a Greenwich Village jazz bar when a handsome banker, happens to sit down at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel Katey on a year-long journey into the upper echelons of New York society—where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve. She struggles to keep her poverty at bay, and like many women of her time and the day, wished themselves on men of means. There is love. There is loss. And through it all, the thread that holds it all together is the mores – the rules of civility – required of most everyone. To keep up the face. To swing. To survive. Really well developed drama and a very real sense of place. I’m reviewing the book in one of my book clubs; fortunately there is a lot online about this book.

Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl by Stacey O’Brien. What an adorable book. True story about Stacey’s 20 years with a feisty but lovable barn owl. She’s a biologist, was working at Cal Tech and someone brought in a tiny abandoned barn owl. She took him home, and he became her “mate” (that happens at year two). Everything about this book is interesting, from how she nurtures him in his tiny habitat, to how she transforms her living space to accommodate a full grown owl. He couldn’t be habilitated to the wild because of a wing injury (likely when he fell out of the nest). It’s a heartwarming story.

Loved The Wedding Officer: A Novel by Anthony Capella. It takes place in the middle of WWII in Naples. A young British officer, Captain James Gould, is sent to Naples to wade through the zilions of applications from soldiers to marry local Italian women (and presumably take them back to England when the war ends). The supposition is that all the women are ladies of the night, and it’s their ticket to a better life. He holds to his principles until he meets lovely Livia, who begins cooking for a group of soldiers (it was a real job). Food plays a starring role in this book, as well as Vesuvius’ eruption. It’s a very interesting story – I don’t know if it’s true there were such positions in the British military, but it sounds like it. Gould has to find his way through the miasma of politics, corruption, provisioning in a war-torn country and the warfront. But all of it is laced with the very sweet love story.

Reading behind Bars: A True Story of Literature, Law, and Life as a Prison Librarian by Jill Grunenwald. So interesting. Jill is  young, with a newly minted degree in library science at a time when the economy was very slow. She accepts a position in a minimum security prison in Ohio. She needs a job, and agrees to the commute, rain, shine or snow. The “library” is limited. The inmates her “staff.” She weaves her way through the pitfalls of limited funds, theft, perversion, jerks, rules, and every myriad of inmate problems. Very interesting read.

The Walls of Lucca by Steve Physioc. A novel that takes place in between WWI and II. Franco is a weary Italian soldier. He stumbles into a vineyard and is hired. It’s hard work (nothing he’s ever done before) but he’s a very diligent worker. He didn’t stop there to find love, but it found him. There’s a lot of sinister Fascist activity throughout the book, plenty of local history, and of course, a bit about the walls of Lucca.

The Hired Man by Aminatta Forna. A novel about Croatia in the aftermath of their more recent wars. A British family buys a very dilapidated house, and a local man (the handyman) begins helping them fix it up. Two children play a part, with the British husband merely peeking in now and then. There is local dissension, town secrets, some violence as the town tries to heal from years of war. And the handyman just keeps working, pondering his own demons as well. Very riveting story.

A Column of Fire: A Novel by Ken Follett. It takes place in the 1500s, in England, and has everything to do with the war between the Catholics and the Protestants, that raged throughout Europe during that time, culminating in the Spanish Inquisition. Some of that is hard to read, but Follett writes sagas, and I was really “into it.” Have always loved his writing, and if you haven’t ever read this sidebar before, or my section on books, his book, The Pillars of the Earth: A Novel  is my#1 favorite book I’ve ever read. In this Fire book, though, there are numerous characters, families really, in France, London and the (fictitious I think) town of Kingsbridge. Riveting reading, as are all of his books.

Having read all of Kristin Hannah’s books, I knew I’d read her latest too: Between Sisters: A Novel.  Two sisters, raised by the same mother but different fathers. At a young age a rift occurs and the sisters go their own way. Anger is there, but deep down you know, reading this, that they care about each other. The one that left is a successful but lonely attorney in Seattle. The other is a single mother who owns a small seasonal cabin rental facility near Seattle. It’s a very sweet story – takes awhile to “get there” but you know they’re going to reconcile and find their sister-groove again. Good book. Worth reading.

Just finished Matt McCarthy’s book The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly: A Physician’s First Year. It tells the true life story of his first year as an intern at a New York hospital. You ride the wave of his first, painful days when he questions if he was ever meant to be a doctor, to the end of the year when he recognized his true passion for infectious disease diagnostics. I really enjoyed the book, and commend him for being so brutally honest about his own vulnerabilities and what he saw as complete inexperience. If you enjoy this genre of book, this is a good one.

Also read Karen Harper’s book The Royal Nanny: A Novel. The time frame is 1890s onward, at Sandringham, when Charlotte Bill (a real person) was hired by the Duke and Duchess of York, to care for their children. She was hired as an under-nurse, but soon became the prime caregiver of the youngest children. She became “Lala” to the children, and they loved her dearly. And she them. This is a serious below-stairs look at that part of the royal family, their foibles, idiosyncrasies, and even the proclivities of the children themselves. It was a great read. Loved it from the first page.

Also read Roger Swindell’s Mendelevski’s Box. It’s an historical novel about the aftermath of WWII in impoverished Amsterdam. It’s an eye-opener. Over the last many years I’ve marveled at authors who have found a niche of some part of that awful war and it was enough to write a great story. Simon is the hero, here. He was a Jew and miraculously survived Auschwitz and returned to his home, hoping to find his mother and sister (who were also at Auschwitz, but he knew not their fates). He knew his father had died in the camp. The family home had been taken over by others. He was destitute. He befriended two young women (one had worked for his father in his clock-making business). There is a “box” in the story – an important element. Simon finds a job, income, friends, and love. Finds some caring people, but also encounters some very shady characters as well. The story is told very well. There is mystery, poignant love and redemption. Well worth reading.

Camille De Maio wrote Before the Rain Falls. Very interesting story about a young doctor who returns to her border town in Texas for a very short vacation. And about a young down-on-his-luck journalist who goes to the same town to get a story. There’s a death/murder long ago, the sharp shards of emotions that remain in the town. The survivors. The grandmother who spent 7 decades in prison. And a love story. Very sweet book about family. Love. Loss. As I write this, it’s $.99 on Kindle.

Also read a very quirky non-fiction book: The Perfect Gentleman: The remarkable life of Dr. James Miranda Barry by June Rose. This is a biography about a person who lived in the mid-1800s. He was a surgeon; graduated from Edinburgh Medical School at the age of 14. Joined the British Army as a medical officer then sent off to South Africa and many other tropical outposts during his career. There was always “talk” about him. He never married. He was querulous. He got high-handed too frequently. He was a tee-totaler, and always had a dog named Psyche. He was a brilliant diagnostician and was appalled at the condition of prisons and even ordinary Army barracks. When he died it came out – Dr. James Barry was really a woman. And a woman who had borne a child. Facts that were suspected by many, but never corroborated. S/he did so because a woman wasn’t allowed to go to college, let alone medical school. When you read it in context, it’s logical what her mentors suggested she do. I can’t say that this book is all that well written – some of it uses the stilted language of the time, even though it’s current in its publication. But it’s a fascinating read nonetheless. So I’ve read, there is going to be a documentary made about her life.

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley. The premise of this book is different . . . a woman writer goes to Scotland to connect with distant heritage. She hopes to gain inspiration for her next book. As she investigates, she discovers she’s related to a family that lived in the early 1700s at Slains Castle on the east coast of Scotland near Aberdeen. This was the time of the Jacobite rebellion (the exiled King James and his hoped-for return to England). When I say this woman gets inspiration . . .well, it’s more than that. She questions whether she could possibly have genes that contain memory (what an idea, huh?), because she begins to know how events took place, who the people were, what they said, exactly where they stood, the layout of the castle, even the furniture in the rooms. She wasn’t channeling, actually, but I suppose it could be interpreted so. The book is full of the Jacobite history (more than I’d ever known before, but then I love English/Scottish history). There’s a romance back then, and a romance in the today time. Both lovely. Great book. An historical novel of the first order.

Another great read, The Island of Sea Women: A Novel by Lisa See. Six months ago I attended an author’s talk at the Bowers Museum. Lisa See was the speaker and shared her story about this book. I’ve heard her speak several times before (she lives near me) and have read several of her books. This one, though, is very different. She was sitting in a doctor’s office reading some magazine and spotted a tiny snippet of data about Jeju Island off the coast of Korea where the island as a whole is matriarchal because the women were trained from a young age to deep dive, free dive, for mollusks. These women were the breadwinners. Husbands stayed home and cared for the babies. The island is real. The history is real. And what happened during WWII on this island is horrific – makes me feel ashamed that our military had a hand in what happened to many people. But everyone should read this book. It’s a novel, about 2 girls who are divers and how their lives diverge for a variety of cultural reasons and because of the war.

Radio Girls by Sarah-Jane Stratford. A novel about the early days of radio in London. This book takes place in the 1920s and tells not only the general history of the early days of radio, but also the role women played (a vital one). Initially it was in the background, because women weren’t considered intelligent enough. Maisie, the heroine in the book, works her way up the ranks. It’s a fascinating read from beginning to end. Many famous characters (real) flow through the studios. Early voting rights play a part in the story line also. And some wartime intrigue. You’ll find yourself cheering from the bleachers when women make a tiny inroad into the male-dominated field.

A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts by Therese Anne Fowler. My friend Ann, from Idaho, brought it with her as we spent a week in Palm Desert in February. She handed it to me and said I’d really like it. Oh, did I! Loved the book. This book is a novel, but based on the life of Alva Smith Vanderbilt (Belmont). Her family was nearly destitute (and faking it) when a marriage was proposed for her with William Vanderbilt. There is lots of dialogue in the book which is made up, but I’m guessing the author probably read many diary entries of Alva (and the family) to create a very intriguing and readable story. A life of unbelievable privilege. Several children, including one who marries into a titled family in England. You see the inner life of Alva – her day to day busy work, charity work, visiting for afternoon tea, the undercurrent of society’s morals – men were nearly expected to have mistresses or affairs. This was the Victorian Age when sex between husbands and wives was not necessarily, and usually not, passionate. I loved this book from page one until the end.  Alva was a suffragette of the first order. Having read the book, I have a lot of admiration for her, even though she lived in the highest echelons of society.

Also read In Falling Snow: A Novel, by Mary-Rose McColl. From amazon: Iris, a young Australian nurse, travels to France during World War I to bring home her fifteen-year-old brother, who ran away to enlist. But in Paris she meets the charismatic Dr. Frances Ivens, who convinces Iris to help establish a field hospital in the old abbey at Royaumont, staffed entirely by women—a decision that will change her life. Seamlessly interwoven is the story of Grace, Iris’s granddaughter in 1970s Australia. Together their narratives paint a portrait of the changing role of women in medicine and the powerful legacy of love. The book  gives you a vivid picture of the state of nursing in WWI, but the story is quite mesmerizing. And there’s a twist almost at the end. Highly recommend.

Also couldn’t put down The Secret Wife by Gill Paul. A long story that begins in war-torn Russia. Cavalry officer Dmitri falls head over heels in love with one of the daughters of Tzar Nicholas. But events intervene, as history tells us. That was 1914. Cut to 2016 when a young woman inherits an ancient cabin in upper New York State and she discovers a jeweled pendant. The two times weave together to make a really riveting story. Lots of Russian history; well written; as I said, couldn’t put it down.

Uncommon Woman. A book about Colonial America, but really the western frontier at that time, which is in western Pennsylvania. The warring native Americans play large in this book. There is a romance, yes, but this book is not “a romance.” It’s more than that – about the hardships of living on the land, away from protection, Tessa and her family struggle to make a living and avoid the angered natives who take revenge when their people are murdered. Clay Tygart is a respected officer/soldier and commands a fort near where Tessa lives. Clay was captured by Lanape Indians when he was a young man, so he straddles both sides of the equation – first hand, he knows how the natives feel, but also his role in the lure of American exploration of the west. The natives wish to preserve their hunting grounds from the encroaching settlers. This book takes place in the mid-1700s I think. Loved it. Not only the history that is brilliantly detailed, even to the summer heat they experience. The crops they raise, the constant fear of attack. And the sweet love that weaves through it. Not a speck of sex in it.

Reading mysteries has never loomed large in my reading life. Occasionally, yes. And some espionage type books. But light mysteries have not intrigued me much. But one of my book clubs had us read Louise Penny’s novel, A Rule Against Murder (Chief Inspector Gamache Novel). The member actually handed out a cheat sheet of the characters in the book (many) and posed several questions of us as we read through it. The cheat sheet really helped. She asked us when (or if) we caught the foreshadowing of the murder culprit (I never did). The book takes place at a lovely inn in Canada and Chief Inspector Gamache (he is quite a character – along with his wife – are vacationing there) when a murder occurs. None of the characters escape the C.I.’s scrutiny. Lois, our book club member, led us through a very thorough and lively discussion of the book. Usually, my complaint about murder mysteries is that they don’t make for good discussion at a book club – but this book was an exception, for sure. Many of my learned book club friends rave about Louise Penny. One told me I should read Still Life next, and probably should have read it before I read this one.

Rachel Hauck is an author I’ve enjoyed reading over the years. Just finished reading The Memory House. It’s about relationships. Love. About family. About secrets. Doesn’t that just describe about 90% of every novel out there these days? Beck is a cop in NYC; a series of events occur and she is forced to take leave. Just then she inherits a house in Florida. She barely remembers the woman who bequeathed the house to her. Then you meet Bruno, a sports agent who will figure large in Beck’s life. Then the book jumps back in time to Everleigh, the woman who owned the house and you learn her story. Really stories of her two husbands. And how do those stories connect to present day. Very sweet book. Not a speck of sex in this one, either.

The Parrot Who Owns Me: The Story of a Relationship by Joanna Burger. Such an interesting book – nonfiction. The author is an ornithologist by profession (and a PhD) and this memoir of sorts is about her Red-Lored Amazon parrot she and her husband own. But no, it’s the parrot who owns her/them.

My Name Is Resolute by Nancy Turner. She’s the author of another book of some renown, These is my Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901 (P.S.). Resolute is what I’m discussing here. A book club friend recommended this book, I immediately bought it on my Kindle. I could NOT put the book down. I devoured it. Any other “work” I should have been doing was swept aside as I read and read of Resolute’s adventures. It’s fiction, but based some on a true story. Resolute, as a young girl from a privileged life on a plantation in Jamaica, was taken captive by slavers, eventually ended up in Colonial America. This book is the story of her life. The people she met, the men in her life, her children, and always about her indefatigable energy for life. Always hoping to return to Jamaica.

Finished The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek: A Novel by Kim Richardson.  It’s a novel about the first mobile library in Kentucky (this is the 1930s) and the fierce, brave packhorse librarians who wove their way from shack to shack dispensing literacy, hope, and, just as importantly, a compassionate human connection.

The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape by James Rebanks. This book was offered as a bargain book from Bookbub, and something about the description resonated with me – maybe because of my Old Testament readings regarding the lives of shepherds back in ancient days. I utterly loved this book. It might not suit everyone – it’s a memoir, so a true story, of a young man growing up in the Lake District of Northern England, the son of a farming family, who sabotages everything in his being regarding going to school and leaves as soon as he is able (probably about 8th grade, I’d guess). And becomes a shepherd. And at night, he read literature that he accumulated from his grandfather. He bickers with his father, eventually moves out. One night in a pub with his blokes (friends) he enters some kind of a contest in the pub and realizes he has a lot more knowledge than he thought he did. In time he applies to get what I’d call here in the U.S. a G.E.D (high school diploma), which he does, and then he applies to Oxford, on a whim. And gets in. He graduates. He applies his knowledge to his rural life. He marries, has children, but still, his day to day life is all about his Herdwick sheep, although he does have a day job too working for UNESCO. You’ll learn more about sheep than you might have wanted to know. I absolutely loved, LOVED this book. If you are interested, James Rebanks has a Twitter feed, called @herdyshepherd1, and you can sign up to get updates from him about his farm and his sheep. I don’t do Twitter or I would.

Moloka’i: A Novel by Alan Brennert. A riveting book about the early days of Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) in Hawaii, and the stigma attached to the victims AND their families. It chronicles the story of a young woman, diagnosed almost as a child, and ostracized from her family, subsequently learning to live alone and remote.

House by the Fjord by Rosalind Laker. What a darling story. From amazon: A touching and atmospheric love story – When Anna Harvik travels to Norway in 1946 in order to visit the family of her late husband, the country is only just recovering from five cruel years of Nazi occupation. So it is with surprise that she finds in this cold and bitter country the capacity for new love and perhaps even a new home. I just loved this book – could hardly put it down; yet it’s not a mystery. You’ll come away with a desire to find that house by the fjord. I want to go there and have some coffee with the Anna, who was a Brit, yet fell head over heels in love with Norway.

Running Blind (Jack Reacher) by Lee Child. A Jack Reacher mystery. From amazon: Across the country, women are being murdered, victims of a disciplined and clever killer who leaves no trace evidence, no fatal wounds, no signs of struggle, and no clues to an apparent motive. They are, truly, perfect crimes. Until Jack Reacher gets in the middle of it. A page turner, as are all of the Jack Reacher stories.

Say Goodbye for Now by Catherine Ryan Hyde. This story, which takes place in a kind of Texas backwater, sets a town into an angry mess when two young boys, one white, one black, become friends, something most folks don’t like. At all. There’s a dog involved, the father of the black boy, the father of the white boy plus a woman who lives in the town and does her best to avoid people altogether. But they all get fused. Wonderful story.

Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart. A sweet book, true story, of the author and her friend, during one summer in the midst of their college years, going by train to NYC and ultimately getting a job of Tiffany’s.  Cute read.

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann. You might think what a stretch – what does an Indian (Native American) tribe have to do with the FBI. Read and you’ll find out. This is back in time, 50s I think, and a number of murders have taken place on the Osage Reservation. A wake up call, even for today.

Oh wow. Just finished reading David Guterson’s book, East of the Mountains. You know this author from his most well known book, Snow Falling on Cedars. I loved the Cedars book when I read it years ago, and assumed I’d like this other book (not new) as well. Have you learned to trust my judgment when I tell you, you HAVE to read a book? If I tell you the story line, I can already hear you thinking . . . oh no, I don’t want to read this kind of a book. Please trust me. You’ll come away from it being glad you did.

A fabulous read – Catherine Ryan Hyde’s newest book, Have You Seen Luis Velez? I marvel sometimes about how authors ever come up with the ideas they do, to create the premise for a novel. And this one is right up there at the top of the list. Raymond, a youngster, an older teenager, who has a big lack of self-confidence and feels like an odd duck sometimes, reluctantly (at first) befriends an elderly woman in the apartment building where he lives with his mother and step-father. He discovers she’s blind and needs some help, which he gives her.

Magic Hour: A Novel

Excellent Women

Pachinko (National Book Award Finalist) by Min Jin Lee

An American Marriage (Oprah’s Book Club): A Novel by Tayari Jones.

Recently finished Sally Field’s memoir (autobiography) called In Pieces.

If you want grit, well, read Kristen Hannah’s newest book, The Great Alone: A Novel.

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.

The Last Letter from Your Lover: A Novel by JoJo Moyes.

Mark of the Lion : A Voice in the Wind, An Echo in the Darkness, As Sure As the Dawn (Vol 1-3) by Francine Rivers.

Flight of the Sparrow: A Novel of Early America

Answer As a Man

Celeste Ng Little Fires Everywhere.

The Rent Collector by Camron Wright.

C.J. Box’s book The Disappeared (A Joe Pickett Novel).

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng.

The Boston Girl: A Novel by Anita Diamant.

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers.

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen.

Leaving Blythe River: A Novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde.

The Girl with Seven Names by Hyanseo Lee.

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian.

The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes.

How It All Began: A Novel by Penelope Lively.

 

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 Desserts, on June 6th, 2020.

straw_sauce_ricotta_cream

That’s a glass espresso cup. Tiny. And an espresso spoon. To make a tiny dessert.

As businesses have opened up here in California (mostly) I’m still sheltering in place. Wishing all of this was over with, so we can go about our lives again. Alas, for people my age, at least here in California, it’s not happening yet. I’m still at home, preparing all of my own food (I haven’t done any take-out so far). There’s no shortage of recipes to try, but sometimes there aren’t the right ingredients to make things happen. My next door neighbor is still buying lots of food for me, although I’m now buying from some local grocery stores that deliver.

The other day a little memory rose up to the surface, as they are wont to do sometimes, and I remembered waaaay back in the day when I was still working. Kathleen, who worked for us, was going to Weight Watchers at the time, and came into the office and said oh, taste this . . . it was something creamy, thick, white. Eileen tasted it and said eww….. I tasted it and said wow, that’s delicious. What is it? She said pastry cream. What? Really, on Weight Watchers? She said yes. I wanted the recipe. She laughed a little, I think, and said you won’t believe what it is? Ricotta cheese, a smidgen of yogurt with some sweetener in it (probably Sweet ‘n Low, which was about all that was available back then). And maybe there was a tiny splash of vanilla in it. Not sure that I remember if Kathleen used it, but I do add vanilla when I make it.

My business partner and I sold the ad agency back in 1995, but I’ve stayed in touch with some of the employees, Kathleen included. I emailed her the other day and asked her if she remembered that day. Of course she did! And she recalled that the following week after that epiphany in the office, she went to her Weight Watchers meeting, and raved about the “pastry cream” she’d been snacking on a few times a day, the leader said WHAT? You’re only supposed to have a bite or two, like on a strawberry, or spread on an apple slice. OH. We all laughed about that.

ricotta_cheese_TJsBut I’ve not forgotten that little sinful pleasure, and had my neighbor buy me a tub of ricotta from Trader Joe’s. I buy full fat because I’m not pleased with what I’ve read about how dairy products are stripped of the fat – maybe not a healthy food to eat. So anyway, I opened the tub, sprinkled on some monkfruit sweetener, added a small dollop of yogurt, and a couple of drops of vanilla, and stirred it up well. I prefer to do this several hours ahead, but hey, if you’re in a hurry, go right ahead. The sweetener or sugar just doesn’t dissolve immediately in ricotta cheese. Over the years, I’m sure I’ve made this “ricotta cream” at least 20 times. (Thank you, Kathleen!) The original recipe suggests you whiz this up in the food processor until the ricotta is silky smooth. I don’t bother – the stirred version is fine with me.

Meanwhile, my neighbor phoned me one day and said the local grocery store had big boxes of fresh strawberries for $1.99. Did I want one? Wow, that’s a lot of strawberries for me to eat, but I said “sure.” I ate a few, then thought about making a fresh strawberry sauce, using artificial sweetener. I’m really trying to limit the sugar I eat. This may be the last “dessert” you’ll see here for awhile as I’m telling myself I can’t be baking with abandon as I stay here at home. I want to bake. No. Need to stop!

straw_sauceSo I made a fresh strawberry sauce with fresh, sliced strawberries, some monkfruit sweetener, and a little bit of fresh lemon juice. It took little or no time to make. I read a bunch of different recipes, and one intrigued me stating that sliced berries will result in a vibrant, clear sauce. If you mash them, it muddies the waters, so to speak. I liked the result, and it’s low in calorie to boot. I also added a tiny, tiny splash of dark balsamic vinegar to the mixture once it cooled. It gives a different flavor profile – you can’t quite figure out what’s in it. Those little storage containers above are now in the freezer. The pound of berries made a lot of sauce, which won’t keep all that long because it’s not sweetened with sugar. It tastes like a thin jam, but without real sugar it will begin to spoil after 4-5 days.

straw_sauce_ice_creamUSING: Well, when I’m desperate for a snack, my spoon goes into that tub of ricotta cheese. I eat maybe 2 bites straight, just like Kathleen taught me back in the 90s [cheeky grin]. If I’m wanting something more fancy, I do have some vanilla ice cream on hand that I’m trying very hard not to eat but rarely, and the other night I scooped some into a little bitty glass dish and spooned some berries on top, with a few walnuts. A tasty dessert. Or I spoon some of the ricotta cream into a little espresso cup and add the berries on top (pictured at top).

What’s GOOD: a great little snack (moderation, remember?) and makes a nice little bitty dessert if you’re hankering for something not too sinful. Strawberries are at peak season here in California at the moment. A perfect time to make this. And freeze some of it for a winter’s day.

What’s NOT: only if you don’t like the texture/consistency of ricotta cheese. It is an odd, kind of grainy texture, perhaps an acquired taste for some, but I’m fine with it. Obviously Eileen wasn’t! Chuckle.

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

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Fresh Ricotta Cream

Recipe By: From my friend Kathleen H, from a Weight Watcher’s class, c. 1990
Serving Size: 8

1 pound ricotta cheese
3 tablespoons plain yogurt
3 tablespoons sugar — or artificial sweetener
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1. Blend ingredients in food processor with metal blade until satiny smooth. Refrigerate in tightly covered container. Will keep for at least a week.
2. If you’re lazy, you can just stir into the ricotta the yogurt, sugar and vanilla and mix well. The sugar takes awhile to dissolve, so it’s best if made a few hours ahead.
SERVING: Serve as a kind of small-portion pudding, top with some sliced fruit, a fruit sauce, or even chocolate syrup. Put between two cookies, or use between thin layers of cake.
Per Serving: 108 Calories; 6g Fat (49.7% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 9g Carbohydrate; 0g Dietary Fiber; 29mg Cholesterol; 65mg Sodium; 5g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 124mg Calcium; trace Iron; 134mg Potassium; 93mg Phosphorus.

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* Exported from MasterCook *

Fresh Strawberry Sauce

Recipe By: My own recipe.
Serving Size: 12

1 pound fresh strawberries — cleaned, dried with paper towels, stemmed, then sliced thickly
2 tablespoons sugar — or monkfruit sweetener, or other artificial sweetener
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar — or more to taste

1. Place sliced strawberries into a saucepan. Add sugar and lemon juice. The amount of sugar needed will depend on how ripe the berries are – riper the berries = less sugar.
2. Bring mixture to a simmer and stir occasionally as it cooks and the strawberries soften, about 4-8 minutes. Do not overcook or the berries will soften to a mush. That’s not the texture you want – just cooked through, barely. Taste for more sugar or lemon juice, as needed.
3. Set aside to cool.
4. Add balsamic vinegar and stir well. You do not want the balsamic vinegar flavor to predominate – it’s there just to add a nuance. Allow to cool completely and chill. Freezes well.
Per Serving: 21 Calories; trace Fat (4.6% calories from fat); trace Protein; 5g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 1mg Sodium; 4g Total Sugars; 0mcg Vitamin D; 6mg Calcium; trace Iron; 61mg Potassium; 9mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Beef, on June 1st, 2020.

beer_braised_veal_bratwurst_onions

Ever get a hankering for bratwurst?

As I write this, we’re still in the sheltering-in-place routine. Am I tired of it? Heck, yes. But I’m not willing to risk going out yet. My doctor has told me that older folks (like me) should stay home until there is a vaccine. Oh my. Is that ever a depressing thought. That’s more than 6 months away. I can’t wrap my head around that possibility. So I’m staying at home and trying not to think more than 1-2 days ahead.

It was a few weeks ago that I was watching Joanne Weir’s Plate and Places (PBS). In that episode she visited Germany, chugged some lager with the locals, and then came home to make veal brats and her version of a cabbage dish to go with it. Since they kind-a go together I’m giving you both recipes in the one post.

My problem was getting the brats. Since I’m not going out, I had to rely on my neighbor to go for me, and there are only a couple of stores locally that carry good veal brats (other than the bulk-made grocery store variety that I don’t think are very authentic). My neighbor, Josee, was kind enough to say she’d go to one particular independent market for me. I had her get the brats and a bunch of Italian sausage (the latter vacuum sealed in one-sausage-per-pkg that’s in the freezer). Fortunately I had cabbage and Brussels sprouts too, so I was happy to be able to prepare this dish.

What I didn’t have was the German amber beer, but I did have ordinary beer (I don’t drink beer, but my son-in-law brought some here last fall when they visited). There was one bottle left, and it was just enough.

The gist of this recipe is that once you brown the sausages in a spice toasted pan, they are braised in beer until cooked through. Then onions are added (see them perched on top of the sausage in the photo) and then served with the mustard sauce (which I forgot to photograph).

cabbage_brussels_pan_braisingThe cabbage dish was so intriguing to me because it combined regular cabbage and Brussels sprouts. But then, I love Brussels sprouts just about any old which way. But to combine them with cabbage, then flavor them with celery seeds, caraway, juniper berries and some Riesling wine? Oh yes! And butter. And the wine I didn’t use in the cabbage I had as an aperitif for several evenings in a row. I went into the wine cellar – which I knew would contain next to nothing in the Riesling department (because my DH didn’t like sweet wine), but I did find about 3 bottles. Yippee, I could make this dish!

There’s a photo at left of it cooking in the pan. As it cooked down, it became less vibrant looking, sorry to say, but it was delicious nevertheless.

What’s GOOD: everything was good. Loved having some veal brats, and I ate this for 3 days in a row. Loved the cabbage and Brussels sprouts. Actually, I liked them better on day two than the night I served them. I suppose the flavors married a bit. Which made the leftovers so much more delicious. Do make the mustard sauce too. A bit of work, but you can do it while the other stuff is cooking away.

What’s NOT: nothing really – pretty easy dishes to make if you have all the ingredients.

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

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Beer Braised Sausages with Mustard Sauce

Recipe By: Joanne Weir, her TV program “Plates and Places”
Serving Size: 4

1 1/2 teaspoons mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
1/2 teaspoon dill seed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 pounds bratwurst — uncooked veal type, or other sausages– hot or sweet Italian
2 large yellow onions — thinly sliced
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Kosher salt to taste
2 cups beer — amber (German)
HONEY MUSTARD SAUCE:
1/2 cup stone ground mustard
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons beer
1 Pinch cayenne
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice — or more

NOTE: If possible use German beer.
1. Place the mustard seeds, caraway seeds and dill seeds in a mortar and crush them gently with a pestle.
2. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat and cook the sausages, turning occasionally, until golden on both sides, about 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside to cool slightly. Using a pin, prick the sausages several times.
3. Over medium heat, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter and add the spices, onions, brown sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt to the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are very soft and translucent and begin to take on some golden brown color, about 20 to 30 minutes. Place the bratwurst on top of the onions and pour the beer over the bratwurst. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer, covered, until the bratwurst are completely cooked, about 20 to 25 minutes.
4. In the meantime, place all of the ingredients for the sauce in a bowl and whisk together. Set aside.
5. With tongs, remove the bratwurst from the pan and place on a platter. Cover with foil to keep warm. Increase the heat to high and cook until the onions are almost dry, 3 to 4 minutes. Place the onions on top of the bratwurst and serve with the Stoneground Honey Mustard Sauce.

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* Exported from MasterCook *

Braised Cabbage and Brussels Sprouts Slaw

Recipe By: Joanne Weir, Plates and Places TV show
Serving Size: 4

1 teaspoon celery seeds
1 teaspoon caraway seeds — crushed
6 juniper berries — crushed
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3/4 pound Brussels sprouts — halved
1 1/2 cups Riesling wine
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 head cabbage — red or green, 1-inch dice

1. Place the celery seeds and the caraway seeds in a mortar and with a pestle, gently grind the seeds.
2. Warm the oil in a large frying pan over medium high heat. Add the Brussels sprouts and cook, stirring and shaking the pan occasionally, until the Brussels sprouts are golden on the cut side, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add 3/4 cup of the Riesling and continue to cook until the Brussels sprouts are almost cooked and the Riesling has evaporated, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside in a large bowl.
3. Melt the butter in the frying pan over medium high heat. Add the cabbage, celery, caraway, and junipers berries and cook just until the cabbage begins to wilt, about 4 minutes. Add the remaining 1/2 cup Riesling and cook until the Riesling has evaporated, about 4 minutes.
4. Over medium high heat, add the Brussels sprouts to the cabbage and toss gently together. Cook until hot, 2 minutes.
Per Serving: (not accurate as it assumes you’re drinking the wine, not simmering it off in the pan) 265 Calories; 10g Fat (47.0% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 21g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 15mg Cholesterol; 33mg Sodium; 9g Total Sugars; 0mcg Vitamin D; 61mg Calcium; 2mg Iron; 447mg Potassium; 77mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Salad Dressings, Salads, on May 27th, 2020.

crunchy_asian_cabbage_salad_chicken

A great way to get a Chinese chicken salad but without the carbs.

Before Mother’s Day, my daughter Sara drove to my house, and we visited. Albeit, shelter-in-place style. We sat outside (without masks, but 6 feet apart). I made lattes for each of us and we just visited. SO nice. SO fun. So needed. I was just sorry I couldn’t hug her!

I made a salad for us to enjoy outside for lunch (it was a lovely day). I started with a recipe from Kalyn’s Kitchen. But I veered off a little bit from her recipe – I wanted chicken, and I added a few other ingredients, and used some different proportions of things also. Technically, it’s not a “pure” Chinese chicken salad. It’s got asparagus in it and arugula. But during this shelter-in-place, we use what we have, right?

crunchy_asian_salad_chicken_dressingThe dressing starts with mayo – but then you add in a little sugar or sweetener, white wine vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, freshly grated ginger, mashed-up garlic and a bit of Sriracha. Oh, that dressing is wonderful. I’m sorry I didn’t make more! I recommend you make DOUBLE of it, use what you need for this salad, and keep the rest for another day.

Taste the salad as you add the dressing – it might need a bit more. Then serve on plates and sprinkle the top with sliced almonds (I should have toasted them – forgot). And don’t forget the cilantro garnish too – to me that’s an essential ingredient in any semblance of a Chinese chicken salad. It’s in the salad itself, but you can add more as a garnish also.

What’s GOOD: loved everything about it – the crunchiness of the cabbage, all the different textures. And loved-loved the dressing. As I mentioned – make double so you can use it on another salad a day or two later. No crunchy won ton strips on this, unfortunately, but I didn’t miss them. There’s very little sesame oil in this, but it adds a lovely flavor.

What’s NOT: nothing at all.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Crunchy Cabbage Asian Slaw with Chicken

Recipe By: Adapted from Kalyn’s Kitchen
Serving Size: 4

4 cups Napa cabbage — thinly sliced then coarsely chopped
1 cup sugar snap peas — ends trimmed, sliced
1/2 cup radishes — sliced into half-moon shapes
1/3 cup green onion — sliced
1/2 cup cilantro — chopped
2 cups cooked chicken — cubed
1 cup fresh asparagus — steamed and cooled
3 cups arugula — chopped
1/2 cup sliced almonds — toasted, for garnish
1/4 cup cilantro — for garnish
ASIAN MAYO DRESSING:
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Monkfruit sweetener — or sugar or honey
2 teaspoons soy sauce — low sodium if possible
1 teaspoon garlic — smashed and minced
1 teaspoon dark sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon grated ginger root
1/2 teaspoon Sriracha sauce
1/3 cup mayonnaise
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Thinly slice Napa cabbage, then coarsely chop. Add to a large bowl.
2. Add sugar snap peas, radishes, green onion, cilantro, asparagus, chicken and arugula.
3. DRESSING: In a bowl or glass measuring cup stir together the white wine vinegar, sweetener, soy sauce, garlic, sesame oil, ginger puree, and Sriracha sauce. Whisk in the mayo until ingredients are well combined.
4. Toss salad ingredients, add enough dressing to coat ingredients, and toss again. Add salt and pepper to taste.
10. Toast the sliced almonds in a dry pan over high heat for 1-2 minutes (just until the nuts are fragrant). Add almonds as a garnish to the salad. Add more cilantro on top if desired.
Per Serving: 432 Calories; 30g Fat (59.1% calories from fat); 30g Protein; 17g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 66mg Cholesterol; 370mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on May 22nd, 2020.

rhubarb_cobbler_ice_cream

Every time I make something with rhubarb, my mind wings back in time to my mother’s varied ways of preparing it.

No question about it, I love rhubarb. I love the sweet-sour taste of it – even with plenty of sugar in it – it still has that little bit of sour that reaches those particular taste buds on your tongue. This was a new recipe I tried, and I liked it a LOT. My mother most often just made a rhubarb sauce – probably nothing more than rhubarb, sugar and water. That would be dessert. Mom would put out the bowl of sauce, 3 little serving bowls and we’d help ourselves. As I think I’ve mentioned before, my mother had a patch of rhubarb in the back  yard, clearly tucked away under a tree with lots of shade. I’ve heard tell that some people serve stalks of rhubarb with a bowl of sugar and you just dip the end into the sugar and eat it raw. I’ve never tried it.

rhubarb_cobbler_unbakedThe chunked up rhubarb was mixed with sugar (I used half real sugar and half monkfruit sweetener), salt, lemon juice and some almond extract (loved that part). It went into a buttered baking dish. Then you mix up the topping – flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, some shortening (yes, really), some butter, milk and an egg. It came together very easily. I did use a pastry blender, although at the end I just used my hands and mashed the little pieces of butter between my fingers. Then you pinch off little pieces of that dough and put them on top of the rhubarb. What happens is that it makes  “cobbled” top. It gives the topping, when baked, a craggy type top with little nooks and crannies.rhubarb_cobbler_baked

Into the oven it went for about 30 minutes and it was perfectly golden brown on top. I let it cool – but I think the best way to eat this would be still warm, with the ice cream.

Truth be told, the next morning I had this for my breakfast with some milk poured over it. Absolutely divine.

What’s GOOD: altogether wonderful. The rhubarb. Yum. Topping. Yum. After having 2-3 portions, I gave the rest of it to my daughter Sara, who came to visit the day before Mother’s Day – we visited outside. I made lunch.

What’s NOT: nothing. nothing.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Rhubarb Cobbler

Recipe By: Adapted from a recipe at Tasty Kitchen (Ree Drummonds recipe sharing part of her website, Pioneer Woman)
Serving Size: 12

RHUBARB:
6 cups rhubarb — chopped
1 2/3 cups sugar — you can use half or all artificial sweetener – I use monkfruit
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon almond extract
TOPPING:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 cup shortening
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup whole milk
1 whole egg

NOTE: Use a ceramic or glass dish. The rhubarb cooks down a lot so choose a dish that is larger than a 9×9 if you have one.
1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
2. In a large bowl, combine rhubarb, sugar, salt, lemon juice, and almond extract. Stir it well to distribute the sugar mixture and set aside.
3. In a separate bowl, combine flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, salt and baking powder. Stir together. Using a pastry cutter or your hands, add shortening and butter, until all the fat is in small little pebbles.
4. Beat egg and milk together. Pour into flour mixture and stir with a fork until just combined. If mixture is too dry, add a teaspoon or two of milk. The dough should hold together but not be sticky.
5. Pour rhubarb into a large, buttered baking dish. Tear off pinches of dough and drop it onto the surface of the fruit, creating a “cobbled” texture. Sprinkle additional sugar over the top.
6. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbly. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream, half and half or fresh whipped cream. You can also serve this for breakfast with milk poured over it.
Per Serving: 311 Calories; 11g Fat (30.5% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 52g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 12mg Cholesterol; 318mg Sodium.

Posted in Soups, on May 17th, 2020.

easy_buffalo_chix_soup

This isn’t a “wings” recipe. I know a lot of the world out there adore buffalo chicken wings. Nope, this is soup with the profile of “wings.” But made with just ordinary cooked chicken.

A week or so ago I baked a whole chicken. I’d tried a new recipe (why didn’t I go to my old favorite?) and knew I’d use the leftover chicken for several meals. With what was left I made this soup. And oh, is it ever good. I made it, and ate it every day until it was gone. Now I wish I had more of it.

Perhaps the best part is it’s SO easy you won’t believe it. As most of you know, I’m not known as someone who cooks easy and simple. But this one IS – easy and simple. The original recipe was even simpler, but I tweaked it just a bit  – I added celery, just because I like how celery flavors soup. I added a shallot because I had one that was about to go over the hill. And I added cabbage. Now, I know, any true wings expert will tell me cabbage has no place in the same sentence as buffalo anything. Sorry about that, but I had some roasted cabbage in the frig, and I wanted to use it up, so I added it in. And I loved it. You can choose to leave it out if that offends your wings-senses.

But, there’s one thing that you must have on hand . . . Franks Red Hot Sauce, 12 Ounce. Some markets here in my neck of the woods carry it, but it’s a bit hard to find. And they have a whole line of various sauces. This one is the original plain, but hot sauce. Not the wings sauce, not the thick, just the straight hot sauce. It’s a staple in grocery stores in many places (the South?).  You cannot substitute Tabasco – it would blow your head off. As it was, I scanted the 1/2 cup called for and am SO glad I did, as the soup was plenty hot. If you’re at all sensitive to heat, reduce it even more. But that hot sauce does make the dish. I would not advise eliminating it altogether. I also didn’t add the cayenne – because I tasted it before I was about to do that and decided it was plenty warm for my tastes. I also forgot to add the sour cream garnish. And I didn’t have any green onions. This sheltering in place thing is getting very tiresome. I had cilantro, and that might have been a nice addition.

The vegetables are cooked with oil and butter, then you add broth, the hot sauce, cabbage, cream cheese (which also gives it a lovely flavor and texture) and the small amount of cream. It’s simmered for a short time, then you add in the chicken. Done.

What’s GOOD: how easy it was. How delicious it was. I told you it was easy, right? My mouth is watering as I write this and look at the photo. It’ll be on my soup rotation soon. Really enjoyed the cabbage addition too. Any way to get in more veggies is a good thing in my book.

What’s NOT: nothing at all – unless you don’t like anything with some capsicum heat. And it might be just fine with the addition of tomato paste instead. Not sure . . .

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Easy Buffalo Chicken Soup

Recipe By: Adapted from Tasteholics blog
Serving Size: 6

3 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 tablespoons EVOO
1 medium shallot — peeled, minced
3 stalks celery — chopped
3 whole carrots — chopped
3 cups cabbage — chopped (optional)
1 quart low-sodium chicken broth
3 ounces cream cheese
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup Frank’s Red Hot Sauce — (use less if you don’t want heat)
1 teaspoon thyme
3 cups cooked chicken — chopped
1/2 teaspoon cayenne — optional (it may be hot enough already)
Optional garnishes: sour cream, green onion

1. Heat large soup pot over medium heat and add oil and butter. When melted and bubbling lightly, add shallot, celery and carrots and saute at medium-low heat until vegetables are wilted, but not browned. Add chopped cabbage.
2. Add chicken broth, hot sauce, cream cheese and cream. Add dried thyme you’ve crushed between your palms.
3. Bring to a simmer, cover and set over low heat for 10 minutes.
4. Add the chopped chicken and heat through. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If desired, when you’re ready to serve, garnish with sour cream and chopped green onion.
Per Serving: 416 Calories; 32g Fat (64.3% calories from fat); 30g Protein; 10g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 119mg Cholesterol; 291mg Sodium.

Posted in Beverages, on May 13th, 2020.

masala_chai_concentrate_over_milk

This isn’t a repeat of the last post I did of something similar. I just liked the previous version enough that I tried this new one that’s a concentrate – –  – so you don’t have to make a new batch every time you want it.

We’ve been having some very warm weather of late. And I’ve enjoyed sitting outside in mid-day, and I always have some kind of beverage (ice water most often in my thermal flask) in hand. My iPad (with the Kindle app on it), my phone and I go outside to escape for a little bit of time. I read or talk on the phone which provides a change of scenery. Around my house I have hawks, crows, wrens, hummers, and a very persistent mocking bird that’s still singing to find a mate.

So, when I saw this recipe in a recent Cook’s Illustrated magazine, I whipped it out and made it tout suite.

masala_chai_concentrate_ingredients

It comes together very easily. You do have to whack or crack the cinnamon sticks and star anise – I used the bottom of a big iron skillet to do that. You also crush the cardamom pods, whole cloves and peppercorns too. I used the back of the skillet for that also. The spices are toasted in the pan slightly, then you add water, sugar (I used monkfruit sweetener) finely minced fresh ginger and salt. Those are simmered (in a regular saucepan) for 10 minutes, then steeped for 10 more, then strained. I will tell you, I used a plastic bowl to cool the tea – it’s a light golden color – the tea discolored the plastic bowl. Argh! Perhaps I’ll  use some bleach and water to see if I can get it out. So be forewarned!

tones_peppercornsA month or so ago I was watching an America’s Test Kitchen program and they did a taste test of black peppercorns. Well, they ground them up, but they started from whole peppercorns. Who knew that there could be such a big difference in the taste of peppercorns. They had the studio audience do the taste test too, and it was unanimous, they all preferred Tone’s Whole Black Peppercorns, 2.13 oz. (2 pack). Now, I’d never even heard of Tone’s. Have you? Perhaps it’s a regional thing – I’m certain I’ve never – ever – seen this brand in the West. But, amazon to the rescue, and for a very modest price I might add. So far I’ve used it only in this tea – once my pepper mill runs out of pepper I’ll add Tone’s.

And who would have thought, really, that black pepper ought to be added to masala chai tea, for that matter.

The tea mixture is cooled and chilled, then poured over cold milk with ice – or you can make it for hot tea also. And I suppose you could use alternative milk – almond milk?

On those warm spring days I enjoyed the tea over milk and ice as I sat outside and soaked in the outdoors. I’m very fair skinned, so I always sit under an umbrella, but I enjoyed sipping the tea and reading.

What’s GOOD: the various flavors that roll around on your tongue as you sip this. Altogether lovely. Whenever I get a yearning for more masala chai tea, I’ll definitely make the concentrate. It keeps in the frig for several days.

What’s NOT: nothing, really. Takes half an hour or so to make.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Masala Chai Concentrate

Recipe By: Cook’s Illustrated May/June 2020
Serving Size: 8

3 cinnamon sticks — 2″ long
1 star anise
15 whole cardamom — pods
2 teaspoons whole cloves
3/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
5 cups water
1/4 cup brown sugar — packed (or monkfruit sweetener, golden)
1 tablespoon fresh ginger — finely minced
1 pinch salt
3 tablespoons black tea — Assam is recommended
Milk, for combining with concentrate

1. Place cinnamon sticks and star anise on cutting board. Using back of heavy skillet, press down firmly until spices are coarsely crushed. Transfer to medium saucepan. Crush cardamom pods, cloves and peppercorns and add to saucepan. Toast spices over medium heat, stirring frequently, until fragrant.
2. Add water, sugar, ginger and salt and bring to a boil. Cover saucepan and reduce heat; simmer mixture for 10 minutes. Stir in tea, cover and simmer for 10 minutes more. Remove from heat and let mixture steep for 10 additional minutes. Strain mixture through a fine-mesh strainer to remove all spices and tea leaves. Let cool completely (don’t use a plastic bowl for this as it will stain) and refrigerate for up to a week.
3. SERVING: For hot masala chai, use 1/2 cup concentrate and 1/2 cup milk; heat over low heat until desired temp (or combine in mug and heat in microwave). For iced masala chai: use 2/3 cup concentrate, 1/3 cup milk over ice in glasses, stirring to combine.
Per Serving: 73 Calories; 1g Fat (11.7% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 18g Carbohydrate; 6g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 29mg Sodium.

Posted in Breads, on May 9th, 2020.

choc_banana_bread_whole

Ever made just enough for a mini-loaf? I wish I’d put something in the photo so you could get the perspective of the mini size. 

In all my years of baking, I’ve never – ever – made just enough batter to bake something in one of those little mini-loaves. Normally I don’t even use those mini-loaf pans except at Christmas time when I’m baking breads, or my Bishop’s Bread favorite. Since I’ve been a widow, however, I make just one loaf of that bread at Christmas. One regular loaf.

But when I saw this recipe, over at “I am a food blog,” it resonated with me. I had one over-ripe banana, I had chocolate, and best part, making a small loaf would keep me from eating so much of it. So I dove in and had a loaf done in no time. I won’t count the extra time it took to measure salt twice, measure baking powder twice, flour twice, etc. I should have brought all the duplicate ingredients out and left them out. I didn’t think about it, as I made the chocolate batter first, and it’s poured into the little loaf pan while you make the second batter.

choc_banana_bread_slicesNeither batter was hard or time consuming – mashing up the banana was the most wrist action I did. Then you pour that batter in on top of the chocolate batter. Into the oven it goes. I guess the chocolate batter rose first, hence it wound its way up the sides of the pan, then the banana batter began. The circle of chocolate was apparent at one end of the loaf and not at the other. But it’s kind of charming, in a way. NOTE: I’ve included gram measurements for the flour in both batters – it’s important that you measure because making a small loaf like this, it’s critical to be accurate. The chemistry in a small loaf wouldn’t be so forgiving.

A few days later my son stopped by my house to deliver something to me and he asked “do you have anything I can snack on, Mom?” I said of course. I made him a plate of cheddar cheese and goat brie with crackers, a cut-up apple and two slices of this bread. As it happened, he devoured it all as he stood 6 feet from me at the front door. I offered some water – he said no. Actually I think he said heck no, because “do you know how hard it is to find a public restroom now?” I didn’t. Hadn’t even thought about it.

What’s GOOD: everything about this bread is good. I’d definitely make it again. Loved the small portion it made. As I’m writing this, there is still one small slice in the refrigerator. I had a slice for dessert tonight with a little cream poured over it. But it’s a lovely snacking bread.

What’s NOT: only that you need to have an over-the-hill banana to make this. You’ll have very little flavor if you try this with an eating banana with no black streaks on it! Did you know that you can freeze a over-ripe banana in its skin? Then defrost and you’ve got mush already, perfect for going into this little bread.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Chocolate and Banana Bread – Mini Loaf

Recipe By: From the blog: I am a food blog
Serving Size: 4

CHOCOLATE LAYER:
6 tablespoons all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar — or sugar substitute
1 tablespoon cocoa — plus 1 teaspoon
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1 pinch salt
1/4 cup cold water
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3/4 teaspoon white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
BANANA LAYER:
52 1/2 grams all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 pinch ground cinnamon
57 1/2 grams sugar — or sugar substitute
1/2 large egg — whisk and measure out
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 tablespoons banana — ripe, mashed
1 1/2 teaspoons sour cream — or Greek yogurt
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

NOTE: Do use the gram measurement for the flour and sugar. Making a small loaf requires precision in measuring.
1. Lightly butter and flour a mini loaf pan (6×3) inches or a pan that holds 2 cups liquid. Preheat oven to 325°F.
2. Prepare chocolate batter: combine flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt in a bowl. Mix well, then make a well in the center and pour in the water, oil, vinegar and vanilla. Whisk until blended. The batter will still be lumpy. Pour into the prepared mini loaf pan and set aside.
3. Prepare banana bread batter: Combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in a bowl and set aside. Beat together the sugar and egg until light and fluffy. Slowly drizzle in oil while whisking, taking your time. Stir in mashed bananas, sour cream and vanilla. Mix just until combined and no flour streaks are visible.
4. Pour this batter on top of the chocolate layer and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 200°F when an instant read thermometer is inserted into the center. The cake should be golden brown on top and the cake will spring back when you gently press it and a skewer comes out clean. Cover top of bread with foil during baking if the top begins to brown too quickly.
5. Remove from oven and let cool in the pan for 30 minutes, then upend the pan into your palm and place on cooling rack until it’s reached room temp. Or until it’s still slightly warm. Use a serrated knife to slice.
Per Serving: 323 Calories; 12g Fat (32.1% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 52g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 27mg Cholesterol; 229mg Sodium.

Posted in Veggies/sides, on May 5th, 2020.

roasted_sw_potatoes_parm

Why is it we never think to pair Parm with sweet potatoes?

Is it because sweet potatoes are sweet that we think they don’t pair well with something umami and savory as Parm? I don’t know – but this combo is really fabulous. It’s weeks since we celebrated (albeit at home) Easter – that was my Easter dinner plate. A little bit of ham, fresh green beans and garlic and these potatoes. My plan had been to eat half of the potatoes and save the remainder for another meal. The ham wasn’t very good – it had been in my frig altogether too long. It wasn’t spoiled, but it didn’t taste good, either. I had two bites and tossed the rest. So that left me with green beans (devoured) and sweet potatoes (also gone in a flash).

While I was eating my dinner I zoom-ed with my family who live about 40 miles away, so we were sort of enjoying our Easter dinners together. In between bites of food we visited.

Usually I buy the yellow fleshed sweet potatoes, not the orange. But beggars can’t be choosers when your neighbors are doing the grocery shopping. So orange was what I got! I peeled the one large sweet potato, cut it into cubes, tossed it with a bit of EVOO and melted butter, fresh garlic, Italian seasoning and the grated Parm. So very easy to do. Onto a parchment lined baking sheet it went, with a bit of salt and pepper and it roasted for at max about 20 minutes. Depends on how big you cut the cubes. My sweet potato was long and skinny, so I did smaller chunks. When I took it out of the oven, the sheet pan was bubbling hot. Such a sweet sound!

You could easily vary the flavors here – use all EVOO if you’d prefer. Use a different seasoning than Italian if that’s not your preference. You could also use less Parm if you’re trying to keep it more “light.”  I know I found this recipe online somewhere, but the source got lost in translation somewhere between the online recipe and my downloaded one.

What’s GOOD: sweet potato in any way shape or form is fine in my book. This one was super easy, delicious and oh, those little crispy bits that caramelized on the pan? Yum. Definitely a keeper recipe.

What’s NOT: nothing at all.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Roasted Sweet Potatoes Parmesan

Serving Size: 6

3 cups sweet potatoes — peeled, cubed 1″
1 tablespoon butter — melted
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
Chopped parsley for garnish

1. Heat oven to 400°F. Prepare a cookie sheet by lining with tin foil or parchment paper. Very lightly spray the tin foil or parchment paper to prevent any sticking. It’s important to spray – the potatoes WILL stick.
2. Place cubed sweet potatoes into a bowl. Add in the remaining ingredients and stir together until all sweet potatoes are coated. Pour onto prepared cookie sheet and evenly spread out so potatoes are in a single layer.
3. Bake for 20-25 minutes (less if you cubed the potatoes smaller than 1″) stirring the potatoes at least twice during cook time so that all sides can get crispy and roasted.
4. Serve warm and garnish with fresh chopped parsley.
Per Serving: 129 Calories; 7g Fat (45.6% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 17g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 5mg Cholesterol; 200mg Sodium.

Posted in Soups, on May 1st, 2020.

chix_poblano_soup_joanna_gaines

You know Joanna Gaines? From Waco, Texas, with the Magnolia empire?

A year or so ago, I was very sad when Joanna and Chip Gaines decided to quit their TV show on HGTV. But she had her hands full – I got that – having another pregnancy in the middle of their very hectic lives with rejuvenating their town, creating a restaurant or two and remodeling homes too. But then I got a little rumor somewhere that they would be back eventually. She’s written a cookbook, and now a second one. A few weeks ago she did a “special” as a forerunner of a cooking show she’s decided to do. But oh – on their own network. Ah-HA! That’s what they had in mind, and I’d heard a rumor about that too. This special she did – I had to laugh – the filming of it was so cute – one of the daughters was in charge of the camera due to the sheltering-at-home. And she did a great job, with Joanna sometimes holding the youngest baby on her hip. None of the recipes she demonstrated (I think there were four) are ones I’ll be making, but that’s okay. Chip breezed in a time or two as did the other children.

Joanna writes a blog, if you didn’t know, also part of the Magnolia empire. And this soup popped up some weeks ago. As you know. sometimes the story itself is what makes me decide to prepare something. This one did. When Joanna and Chip were dating, they drove up to Dallas one weekend and ate lunch at a restaurant there. My guess is it might have been Dean Fearing’s, but that’s really a stab in the dark. Somehow, when the restaurant closed Joanna got the recipe – or maybe she just made her own version – and has been making it ever since.

poblano_peppersPoblano chiles are a favorite of mine. They have such a unique flavor. There is some unusual compound (almost a minerally tinge) to them. So I was all over this recipe when I saw it. My biggest hurdle was getting poblano chiles, and that got accomplished by the high school students at my church who are doing shopping for us seniors. When I talked with the young woman who was supervising these shopping-kids, I asked, “will they know what a poblano chile is?” She said yes, I’ll make sure. Sure enough, I got exactly what I asked for.

I also needed tortilla chips. A whole package of ready-made chips would have been eaten in total by me, so I nixed that idea. Fresh tortillas were the answer and I’d make my own chips. The smallest package of corn tortillas, however, was 36 of them. Chuckle. It’s been a month since I made this soup, and I still have 30 of them in the package. One day soon those telltale black spots will begin to appear and they’ll get tossed. But at least I had them to make the chips for the garnish of this soup.

This soup is a cinch to make – butter (oh, lots), onion, celery, carrots (which gives the soup a more warm color), garlic and the chiles. Seasonings go in, some broth and heavy cream in abundance. Once it’s simmered a bit, you whiz it up in the blender, or use a stick blender. I wanted a super-smooth texture, so I used the Vita-Mix. Then you add in the cooked chicken, pour into bowls and garnish with radishes, the chips, cilantro – and I added some diced avocado. I used chicken thighs that I cooked up, but she recommended using rotisserie chicken to make it easy.

What’s GOOD: the silky smoothness of the soup part, and the crunch of the garnishes. Altogether delicious, but then, what wouldn’t be good with a whole cube of butter and 2 cups of heavy cream? I think I used 6 T butter.

What’s NOT: nothing, really. This recipe is a keeper.

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

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Creamy Chicken Poblano Soup from Joanna Gaines

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Joanna Gaines
Serving Size: 7

8 tablespoons unsalted butter — [I used less]
2 cups onion — diced
4 stalks celery — chopped
3 carrots — chopped
2 cloves garlic — minced
3 medium poblano chiles
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
8 cups low sodium chicken broth — (see note below)
2 cups heavy cream
3 cups cooked chicken — shredded cooked chicken breast (home-roasted or rotisserie chicken)
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Tortilla chips and sliced radishes — for garnish
1 whole avocado — diced, for garnish [my addition]

NOTE: Suggestion: Add about 3/4 of the chicken broth and taste the soup for consistency – next time I would use less broth to make a slightly thicker soup.
1. In a large soup pot, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the onion, celery, carrots, garlic, and poblanos and sauté, stirring often, until tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Add the salt, pepper, cumin, and thyme and sauté until caramelized and fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes longer.
2. Add the broth and cream, bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring often, for 15 to 20 minutes to meld the flavors.
3. Use an immersion blender to carefully blend the soup until smooth. (Alternatively, let cool slightly and, working in batches as necessary, process in a stand blender until smooth, filling the blender no more than half full and removing the lid slowly after blending. Pour the soup back into the pot.)
4. Add the chicken and simmer for 15 to 30 minutes to meld the flavors to your liking. Stir in the cilantro.
5. Serve warm, garnished with tortilla strips and sliced radishes and avocado.
6. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 1 month.
Per Serving: 601 Calories; 46g Fat (66.9% calories from fat); 35g Protein; 16g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 180mg Cholesterol; 1104mg Sodium.

Posted in Fish, on April 27th, 2020.

salmon_simmered_orange_sauce

Luscious, moist salmon in a simple creamy orange sauce

Salmon is one of my favorite fish. And I didn’t have any in my freezer arsenal, so I asked my neighbor to buy me a chunk. Sometimes I buy wild caught, but more and more the fillets are thinner and I truly do enjoy a thicker piece of fish. Plus, the wild is so very expensive! But thick pieces cook better, more evenly. So this one  was farm-raised. As I write this we’re still in the midst of the lockdown – maybe by the time this posts we’ll be somewhat out the other end (gosh, I hope so). I cut the chunk into 3 pieces, froze one that I vacuum sealed, cooked the two with this recipe, ate one and will have the left overs of this (above) for my dinner. And you can see I had it with asparagus (recipe up soon) with a maple pecan vinaigrette on top. Just a lovely dinner.

As I scanned through recipes I’d use, I was limited with what I had on hand – no running to the grocery store to buy leeks or mushrooms, or fresh ginger, or limes, so I decided to adapt a Phillis Carey recipe that’s already here on my blog (from 2008). Technically, I suppose this recipe doesn’t quite qualify as a “new” recipe, except that I did change it – I used green onions instead of the leeks called for in the other recipe, and I substituted orange juice for the white wine. I also reduced the amount of cream since so much of it rolls off of it, even when serving. You want to lap up that sauce, though!

As I was on the phone that afternoon with my friend Linda T, who lives about an hour south of me (we’ve been friends for 30+ years) she told me the original recipe was/is one of her favorites. She often makes it for guests. I haven’t made this recipe for a long time. I did have a fresh orange on hand, so it seemed destiny that I’d make this recipe with the adaptations.

All of it is made in a saucepan in lickety-split time. Really – you make this in less than 20 minutes if you have everything ready to go. The green onions (both white and lower green parts) are gently sautéed in butter. The asparagus took almost more time to make than the fish, but I did them simultaneously. The fish is added to the green onions, then you add the orange zest, orange juice and the little dash of cream. Bring it to a simmer, cover and let it gently cook until the salmon reaches 135°F. With my handy-dandy instant read thermometer, I checked the temp until it reached about 132°F, then turned off the heat while I finished the asparagus. By the time I plated dinner, the salmon had reached full temp and the sauce was ready.

What’s GOOD: the flavor, first and foremost. So very tender fish, flaking easily with a fork, with the orange sauce (not much – but enough to give it all super flavor).

What’s NOT:  nothing that I can think of.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Salmon Fillets with Orange Scallion Sauce

Recipe By: Adapted from an old Phillis Carey recipe
Serving Size: 2

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 green onions — halved, white and pale green parts only, sliced
1/3 teaspoon sugar
1/3 teaspoon fresh thyme
8 ounces salmon fillets — cut into serving pieces
1 teaspoon orange zest
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1/8 cup orange juice — or white wine
2/3 tablespoon fresh chives — cut in 1-inch lengths

1. Melt butter in heavy, large skillet over medium low heat. Add green onions and sprinkle with sugar and thyme. Season with salt and pepper. Saute 2-4 minutes until onions are limp but not browned.
2. Season salmon with salt and pepper. Arrange atop green onions and sprinkle with orange zest. Add cream and orange juice. Spoon some of the sauce over the top of the salmon. Cover pan and cook over low heat until fish is opaque, about 10-12 minutes. Use an instant read thermometer and do not cook the fish past 135°F in thickest part. Transfer fish to plates and keep warm.
3. Boil sauce until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper if needed. Pour sauce over fish. Garnish with chives.
Per Serving: 277 Calories; 18g Fat (58.7% calories from fat); 24g Protein; 5g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 105mg Cholesterol; 89mg Sodium.

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