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Just finished News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her parents were killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of a old west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many.

Winter Journey by Diane Armstrong. Have you ever read about forensic dentistry? I sure had not, so I found it fascinating reading. It’s a debut novel for the author, and what a story. Halina, an Australian, with Polish roots, specializes in this obscure profession as a forensic dentist, and is asked to go to Poland, to help identify bone (and tooth) fragments, to put to rest a sad event in the story of this small town, when many, many people (Jews) were murdered. Was it the Nazis? Or was it the local townspeople who disliked the Jews. What a tangled web of intrigue, including Halina’s own mysterious past. I really enjoyed the read. The author does a great job of developing the characters (which I always like). This is no light read if you consider the subject matter, although it IS a novel (but based on fact). Nor is it a spy thriller – it’s more just an historical novel with lots of interesting people throughout. There’s a romance thrown in too, and a whole lot of angst about the discoveries found in the mass grave. But, the subject expanded my knowledge about forensics.

The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr. I just LOVED this book. I’ve never been much of a fan of Caravaggio’s paintings, although I’ve seen plenty of them (many are extremely large) in museums around the world. His paintings were dark, often with dark subjects. But as with many of the old masters, occasionally some obscure work surfaces, perhaps credited to another artist, even, that turns out to be one done by “the” master. In this case, Caravaggio. Although this book is written as a novel (with dialogue, etc.) it’s historical through and through. It begins with two young women art scholars, in Italy, who are asked to do a research project. One thing leads to another, and to another. All true.  If you enjoy books about art – I learned some things about the paint and the canvases of the time – you’ll be intrigued as I was.

Eye On the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press, by James, McGrath Morris. Each year my AAUW book club reads something related to Black History Month. This is a biography of a woman you’ve probably never heard of, Ethel Payne, and about her life-long journey in journalism, struggling to keep her head above water financially, but staying true to her purposes of telling the truth about the black stories and black racism of the day. Sometimes biographies aren’t all that riveting, but I found this one to be so, and I savored each new chapter. We had a really good discussion of the book, and the ups and downs of Payne’s life, especially during her years as a Washington reporter. You’ll not be sorry to have spent the time reading this book. It’s well-written, as well. I was thrilled when the author, Morris, left a message here on my blog, thanking me (and my group) for reading his book.

H Is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald. This one has been on the best seller list. It’s a memoir about a woman who takes on a personal challenge of taming a wild hawk. Prior to reading this book, I knew next to nothing about the entire subject of hawking, or taming any of the big, wild birds. The book is equally about the writer’s inner journey. She’s a consummate writer, and every page was a joy of words, for me. My only problem is my own – I found it hard, the more time that went by, and the more time the writer spent trying to tame this bird, to scream out “let the bird go.” Perhaps it’s because I spent time in Africa in 2015, seeing animals in the wild, that I felt more for the bird than I did with the writer’s discontent with herself and the taming process. Little did I know what a hard job it is to tame a hawk. I actually didn’t finish the book. It was a book club read, and highly recommended by several of our members. And I ended up not being able to attend the meeting as I had a cold. So perhaps there is some great ending to it that would have made me feel better. I haven’t gone to the end to find out. I just had to stop reading it. But I’m not NOT recommending it. If nothing else, read it for Macdonald’s sublime proficiency with words.

Also read George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, by Brian Kilmeade and Dan Yaeger. Here’s what it says on amazon: When George Washington beat a hasty retreat from New York City in August 1776, many thought the American Revolution might soon be over. Instead, Washington rallied—thanks in large part to a little-known, top-secret group called the Culper Spy Ring. He realized that he couldn’t defeat the British with military might, so he recruited a sophisticated and deeply secretive intelligence network to infiltrate New York. I won’t exactly call this book a riveting read, but it was interesting. Relating facts that few people knew about, this Culper Spy Ring. It’s a little chunk of American history researched in depth by the authors. An interesting read.

Also read The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel by Nina George. If you’re an avid reader, you probably have the same kind of longing as I do for a quaint, independently owned bookstore right around the corner. So few exist anymore. This novel is about a very unusual book store, and book store owner. In Paris. On a boat/barge. It’s not a typical book store, and the writer takes you on a journey of discovery about (likely) her own lifetime of book reading. You’ll learn all about a variety of existing books and why they’re a good read. But it’s all cloaked in a story about this book store and the owner. And the customers. Very fun. I’m reviewing it for one of my book clubs next month.

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 Vegetarian, on October 29th, 2013.

eggplant_parmesan

To say that my husband was in food ecstasy when I made this is almost an understatement. He swooned. Hmm – do men swoon? Well, for sure he purred! Eggplant Parmesan is one of his all-time favorite meals. And I haven’t made it in years because the usual method uses SO much oil to fry the eggplant. Not any more, with this recipe. It’s a keeper.

When we dine out at an Italian restaurant, my DH almost always orders Eggplant Parmesan. He adores it, and no matter how big the portion, he eats it all. A few times over the 30+ years of our marriage I’ve made it at home, and just cringed at all the oil the eggplant soaks up during the browning/frying process. And how heavy it tasted when you eat it – from all that oil. Eggplant is like a sponge!

Then I read this recipe over at Food52. It struck a chord for me. The raw eggplant first gets lightly floured and baked – then you use the slightly dried planks to layer the casserole. You also simmer down (reduce) a tomato type sauce until it’s thick. And of course there’s Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese AND some fresh Mozzie.

I will give you a heads-up here – it takes a bit of time to make this. A lot more than I’d anticipated, at least. I should have used 2 of my big baking sheets to roast the eggplant – but still, you’ll have to make at least 2 batches of eggplant to roast/dry out in the oven.

roasted_eggplant_planksAfter baking the eggplant slices, this (at left) is what I got. Maybe the two on the left toward the top you can see how “crisp” they are, sticking out sideways as they are. That’s why I call them PLANKS. There is still some moisture in them, but not much. They’re not dry like toast or chips. But a good bit of the water in the eggplant has been baked out of them, so they totally hold their shape. They need to bake at least 30 minutes (15 minutes per side), and you want them to get just a bit golden brown.

Meanwhile, I made the sauce – it’s nothing but good canned tomatoes (use San Marzano brand if you can), some shallot and a bit of herbs (I added the herbs – they weren’t in the original recipe). You need to simmer the tomatoes over a relatively low heat – once it gets thick it’s going to sputter out and all over, so I used a mesh cover. It won’t reduce if you leave a lid on the pan as the point is to evaporate the extra water in the tomatoes.

eggplant_parmesan_layeringNow you can see the casserole as I began to layer it. I’d made the sauce while the eggplant was baking. I pulled out a big wide casserole dish and put a bit of sauce in the bottom so the eggplant wouldn’t stick. I layered in some eggplant first (the Food52 contributor says press the pieces in like a jigsaw puzzle), then some little globs of sauce that I spread around some, some Parmesan, then a new layer. In one of the middle layers you’ll use the mozzarella. I used more Parmigiano-Reggiano than the recipe called for – and I like an ample amount on the top.

Outside of Italy, until the other day, I’d never had [water] buffalo-milk Mozzarella. My guess is that most restaurants don’t use it. I’d never cooked with it for sure. Why? I don’t know – just cuz I’ve thought that the cow’s milk mozzie was good enough. Well, I’m here to tell you, there is a HUGE difference between cow’s milk mozzie and buffalo-milk mozzie. buffalo_mil_mozzarellaTrue mozzie is made with the milk from water buffalo, but then, you all knew that already, right? And it has a wholly different taste. Whereas cow’s milk mozzie is bland, this stuff is positively umami in every way. I bought an 8-ounce little tub of it at Trader Joe’s, and it was a couple dollars more than the cow’s milk version. It was one big ball, which I sliced as thinly as I could. I took a taste. Oh my! It was full-flavored, broad, deep. Wonderful. It’s a bit sour – kind of like the difference between cow cheese and goat cheese. But the umami – it’s there – like you get in balsamic vinegar, anchovies, chiles, mushrooms.

Buffalo-Milk Mozzarella

Just trust me on this one – buy the real thing if you make this – you’ll be amazed at the depth of flavor.

The umami flavor aspect is kind of like the difference between cottage cheese and goat cheese. Or white bread and wheat grain. Or instant oatmeal and steel cut.

So, when you make this, do go to the extra trouble to find and buy buffalo-milk mozzarella. Truly it makes a difference. And I suggest you taste it. I may never use cow’s milk mozzie again. It’s that good.

If I make this again – oh yes, I WILL be doing that – I’ll be sure to have at least 6 layers of eggplant. eggplant_parmesan_casseroleI managed to have just 4 (because one of the eggplants we bought was spoiled – couldn’t tell from looking at the skin), so I made do with 2 pounds of eggplant (6 small servings). It was a little bit on the thin side (see picture at top). Not that it made any difference in the taste.  There at left you can see the casserole just before I stuck it in the oven. Not all that exciting looking, but wait until you taste it!

What’s GOOD: Oh my goodness, where do I start. Taste, texture, even the eggplant itself. The umami is all over the place. Worth the trouble. Make extra – you’ll be SO glad to have left overs!
What’s NOT: As I mentioned, it takes some time to make. Allow over an hour to prep the eggplant (unless you have 2 ovens – I do, but I used only one, so it took longer, of course), and at least another 30 minutes to do the rest of the prep. Baking will take about 30-40 minutes, plus some resting time (or you’ll burn your mouth big-time). So, that’s over 2 hours. Not a dish you can make after work unless you have other helping hands.

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Eggplant Parmesan with Buffalo-Milk Mozzarella

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Food52, from Nancy Jo, a contributor
Serving Size: 6

3 pounds eggplant — (Choose the large globe variety. Make sure they are firm and smooth. Also choose male eggplants. They have fewer seeds and have a rounder, smoother bottom)
1 cup flour — (about)
salt
3 tablespoons olive oil — approximately (drizzled on eggplant)
1 1/2 cups Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated
1/2 pound buffalo-milk mozzarella — sliced
TOMATO SAUCE:
56 ounces canned tomatoes — (28 ounce cans) San Marzano brand preferred – add another can if you want extra sauce left over. Use whole, peeled tomatoes. [I used Muir Glen diced]
3 cloves garlic — thinly sliced
1 teaspoon dried oregano

Notes: You will need the full 3 pounds of eggplant to make this – don’t skimp. Ideally, you want enough eggplant for about 6 layers. You’ll be surprised at how thin the eggplant becomes once it bakes. Part of the secret to this recipe is cooking down the tomato sauce – it’s almost like a paste, but not quite – that way the casserole doesn’t ooze juice through the baking process. You’ll have a lot of concentrated tomato (umami) flavor by doing it this way. If you can’t buy buffalo-milk mozzarella, use regular cow’s milk type, but it just won’t taste as good!
1. Peel the eggplant and slice long ways into 1/4 inch slices.
2. Lightly sprinkle each layer with salt and place into a colander, overlapping and salting as you go. Each slice should be salted. After you fill the colander, place a plate on top and weight it with a heavy pan or a tea kettle filled with water. Let the eggplant sweat for 30 minutes or more. If you’re concerned about using salt, just stack the slices without salt, but weight it down. You’ll still get the eggplant to drain some. Dry it off before proceeding.
3. While the eggplant sweats, make the sauce.
4. SAUCE: Coat the bottom of a sauce pan with olive oil and heat over medium high heat. Add the sliced garlic and let it cook until is sizzles (do not brown the garlic). Add the canned whole tomatoes and their juice. Stir and chop coarsely using a potato masher or two knives chopping crossways. Lower the heat and simmer until reduced by almost half. [I used Muir Glen diced tomatoes.] Add dried oregano and taste for salt and pepper [I didn’t think it needed any].
5. Remove the eggplant from the colander and thoroughly swipe and pat dry each slice with paper towels.
6. Heat the oven to 450°F. Cover the bottom of a baking sheet or two with olive oil. [I used a piece of parchment paper and drizzled the oil on one side of each eggplant slice.]
7. Dredge the eggplant slices in flour, shaking off any excess. Place on the baking sheets and drizzle each slice with olive oil. Bake until brown on one side (about 15 minutes or so) and turn over and brown the other side. Repeat until you have cooked all the eggplant. The eggplant will be moderately dry – not burned – not exactly browned – but like a plank.
8. Using a 7×11 baking dish (ceramic or earthenware, or stainless is okay too), spread a thin layer of sauce on the bottom and layer the eggplant until it completely covers the bottom (it’s like a puzzle!).
9. Sprinkle generously with the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Add another layer of sauce and then the eggplant. Continue to build the layers until you are about two layers from the top, then add a single layer of sliced mozzarella. Finish with a couple more layers of eggplant, sauce, and parmesan. Finish the top with parmesan – a bit more than you’ve sprinkled on any of the layers.
10. Bake in the upper third of a 400°F oven. Check after about 20 minutes. You may find that it throws off more liquid as it bakes. If so, press down on the eggplant and draw off any excess liquid. Cook for another 15 minutes or so or until the casserole is bubbling well all around the edges and a little bit in the middle. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.
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Per Serving: 328 Calories; 14g Fat (35.9% calories from fat); 15g Protein; 40g Carbohydrate; 8g Dietary Fiber; 16mg Cholesterol; 771mg Sodium.

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  1. Diana Campos

    said on November 15th, 2013:

    I made this in the morning without baking and popped it in the oven in the evening. It tasted great! Thank you for your post.

    You’re so welcome. I’m happy to HAVE the recipe as I’ll be making it again and again. . . carolyn t

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