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Just finished The Letter by Kathyrn Hughes. It’s a very intricate tale. At first it’s about Tina, a battered wife [at which point I paused and wondered if I wanted to read any further, but I’m glad I did]. She tries to get the courage to leave her husband. Then enters the letter she finds in a suit pocket in the thrift shop where she volunteers. It’s old – sealed and stamped, but never mailed. Then you learn about Crissie, decades earlier, a young pregnant girl who is sent off to Ireland to a distant relative by her father, then to a rigid (meaning horrible) convent [the book takes place mostly in Manchester, England and in rural Ireland]. The letter is addressed to her. Jump forward decades and William, the adopted child Crissie gave up, tries to find his birth mother. William meets Tina in Ireland [a serendipitous moment] as she’s trying to find the woman to whom the letter is addressed. This book is the #2 best seller on Amazon at the moment. It’s a riveting tale and I really enjoyed it.

Read Grace Unshakled, by Irene Huising. From Amazon’s page, it says: “In the year 2025, 17-year-old Grace Duncan finds herself in shackles because of her faith in Christ. An obedient daughter and stellar student, doing time in jail was never on her mental radar, despite the changes in religious laws [this takes place here in the United States] over the past few years. Through twists and turns in circumstances, Grace and a small band of Christians in Newport Beach, California begin a journey to discover what it means to follow Christ with unwavering faith in the midst of increasing persecution. Facing the potential loss of all her hopes and dreams, would Christ be enough?” We read this for one of my book clubs, and it’s a scary thought about what it could mean if we take God out of our country. The author is a friend of a friend and she attended our book club meeting to share about how she came to write this book. I don’t often share my faith here on my website, but this book made me stop and think about the direction our government is going, removing more and more our ability to worship God. Or to worship in any religion. Will this book ever make waves in the book world? Probably not. My copy may be a pre-edited version, as it contained numerous typos and formatting errors. But they didn’t detract from the subject, just the cosmetics. The book doesn’t come to a resolution; in fact it leaves you hanging, as some books do. It was intentional (obviously), but left me wondering about the “end of the story.”

Also just finished reading The Muralist: A Novel by Shapiro. It tells the story of a young woman, an artist, who was part of the U.S.’s WPA mural project from the 1930s-40s (she is fiction, the WPA is not). As with so many artists, even today, they live in abject poverty through much of their lives. This woman, though, had family in France, desperately trying to escape before Hitler’s henchmen rousted them into concentration camps. The story, a bit of a mystery but not of the mystery-genre, is about Alizée Benoit, this young painter, who slightly captivates Eleanor Roosevelt’s help. It also skips into current time when the painter’s great-niece uncovers paintings she believes were painted by her aunt. The painter had disappeared into thin air in 1940, and her relative tries desperately to find out what happened to her. It’s a really good story including such Abstract Expressionist painters as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner well-woven into the narrative. It keeps you guessing right up to the end. A good read. The author also wrote The Art Forger: A Novel a few years ago.

Read The German Girl: A Novel by Correa. It chronicles the story of a wealthy German Jewish family in Berlin, as the Nazis arrive and make life a living hell. The family is lucky (I guess you could say this) to be allowed to purchase passage on the M.S. St. Louis, a passenger liner, to take them to “the Americas.” The destination is actually Cuba. The story is told from two voices – the teenage daughter in this story, and from a current-day distant family member who is trying to learn about her ancestry. Of the 900+ passengers on the ship, only a few were allowed to disembark since the Cuban President decided he needed more money to accept them. Most families had no money left, as the Reich had taken nearly all of their assets. The daughter and her very eccentric mother were allowed to stay in Cuba.  The remaining passengers are rejected by the U.S. too, and eventually return to Europe, where most of the Jews end up dying in concentration camps. The story goes back and forth from the 1939 journey to current day as the link between the two women is slowly revealed. I had a tough time sometimes, tracking the people in this book, but the story was very riveting. It’s based on facts about the ship (see Wikipedia link above if you’re interested). A shameful chapter in history.

Recently finished reading a magnificent historical novel. Not new. Philippa Gregory has been a favorite author of mine for a couple of decades. You may remember her most famous book, The Other Boleyn Girl, published some years ago. I thought that was a really great book. I’ve read other books by Gregory, but most recently I read The King’s Curse (The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels). The time period is the 1450s to 1541, mostly under the rule of King Henry VIII, the infamous womanizer and wife/Queen-killer. The man who cursed Rome (the Pope) – he wanted his first marriage annulled because Queen Catherine couldn’t produce a living male heir. And subsequently made himself the head of the church in England in order to do so. It was a Catholic country at the time. This story (it’s fiction, but woven with intricate historical detail) is from the voice of Margaret of York (a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine),  who was a Plantagenet in her own right (which is key to the later events in the book). Certainly I’ve read other novels over the years that dealt with Henry VIII, but not with this much breadth of info. What a wicked, sinful man he was. And did I say tyrant. Wow.  I could hardly put it down, through its nearly 600 pages. In the author’s notes at the end, she shares relatively recent medical info that suggests Henry probably suffered from a rare problem, Kell positive blood type, which can cause miscarriages, stillbirths and infant deaths IF the mother has the more common Kell negative blood type. And that in his later years, he may have had McLeod syndrome, a disease only found in Kell positive individuals. Around the age of 40 it causes physical degeneration and personality changes resulting in paranoia, depression and irrational behavior. All of those King Henry VIII had in spades. If you read the book, you might read the author’s notes (at the end) before reading the book. If you like historical fiction (I love any book about English history) you’ll just love this one. It’s interesting, though, as I think about the many books I’ve read covering this era in English history, that each book presented its hero/heroine as the most innocent and worthy individual vying for the crown of England. I remember thinking Anne Boleyn was dealt with so badly during her life (and certainly her beheading), and yet reading this book, I completely reversed my opinion. Anne Boleyn was called a wh–e by most people during the years she shared Henry’s bed. The “curse” from the title pertains to Henry’s inability or the curse on the Tudors, that caused him to fail in producing a male heir. In any case, none of Henry’s wives should have died for it – likely it was all Henry’s fault anyway. Just read this one, okay?

Also recently read 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 free-lance 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 family was 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 an old (wild) 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. Just read this one first!

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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