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

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant (she arrived after the birth, actually). Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the father is a wealthy man in the area who carries a lot of clout. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

On my recent road trip, I visited one of my local libraries and borrowed 5 books on tape. We listened to 3 of them. I’m a big fan of Craig Johnson, the author of a series of mysteries taking place in Wyoming, and a TV series on Netflix called Longmire. This book, A Serpent’s Tooth: A Longmire Mystery was really complex. Hard to explain, but it’s about graft and greed and oil. Worth reading, for sure. Also read Stone Kiss by Faye Kellerman, another complex mystery about Lt Decker, an LA cop who journeys to NYC to help out his family when a murder occurs. Lots of violence in this one.  Not particularly a fav book, I’d venture. Then read Leaving Time: A Novel by Jodi Picoult. I’ve read most of her books – always very riveting. In this book, you’ll learn a whole lot about elephants since the protagonist in it is a young girl whose mother disappeared when she was quite young. Her parents ran an elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire. In the ensuing years, Jenna has tried to find clues as to her mother’s whereabouts because she just cannot believe her mother would have up and abandoned her. There are a whole cast of characters (her mother, her father, employees at the sanctuary, a cop or two, and a psychic). All play fairly prominent roles. Fascinating book – I really liked it, almost as much for the education about the behavior of elephants as about the mystery. A great read.

Also on the trip, I read a book (on Kindle) for one of my book clubs, The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin. It’s about the relationship between Truman Capote and his “swans,” a group of middle-aged high society ladies, and specifically Beth Paley. I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not. Truman Capote was not a nice man, although the whole novel (vs. non-fiction, which this is not) is conjured from speculation about the years Truman was kind of adopted by the group of women. He cared about all of them (most were married/divorced, and wealthy) but in the end he betrays them all by writing a novella about their secrets, their marriages, their affairs (theirs or their spouses, information they’d all shared with him, thinking he could be trusted with their innermost secrets). It was scandalous, and yes, all that part is true. I finished the book, but almost felt like I’d read a “dirty book.” There is no graphic detail in this book – it’s just what Capote did to destroy these women, supposedly his dear, darling “swans.” He was the villain in the book, and in his old age . . . well, I won’t spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it.

 

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 Grilling, Pork, on January 25th, 2014.

grilled_pork_chops_spanish_adobo

Years ago, when I was in the advertising biz, we had a very talented art director on our staff from the Philippines, named Dolf. He was an American, but so loved his native country’s cuisine. A couple of times he brought chicken adobo to our festive potluck lunches – his version from the Philippines, a wet braise kind of dish. But this post is NOT about the Filipino version, which is altogether different. Not just a little bit different, but a lot different.

SPANISH ADOBO is a spice mixture, and is meant to be liberally applied to pork chops (and allowed to sit there, so it becomes a marinade) and grilled – it’s cinchy easy to make. I saw a blog post from one of the varied ones I read, and it was called pork chops adobado. Since I’d not heard the adobado (rather than adobo) part before, I started sleuthing. Adobo is the spice mixture, but once you put it on some kind of meat and grill it, it becomes a food preparation, so it’s the adobado or adobada. I read what wikipedia had to say about it, then did a search and came to a recipe at epicurious that sounded just right.

In the explanation, wikipedia says of ancient cooking:

Animals were usually slaughtered in the coldest months of winter, but surplus meat had to be preserved in the warmer months. This was facilitated through the use of adobos (marinades) along with paprika (a substance with antibacterial properties). Paprika gives a reddish color to adobos and at the same time the capsaicins in paprika permit fats to dissolve to the point of allowing tissue penetration, going deeper than the surface.

spanish_adobo_pasteIf I interpret what that says, it means meat was marinated for long periods of time, like months – yikes. From winter to summer? So, by using a paprika-based marinade, they were able to preserve meat without refrigeration (obviously) and the capsaicins (that’s what gives heat to peppers) in it allowed for better absorption. Spanish (or Mexican) Adobo is a oil and spice paste that’s spread on the pork up to a couple of hours ahead of grilling. It’s a mixture of oil, paprika, dried oregano, fresh garlic, ground cumin, hot chili flakes, fresh lime zest, salt and pepper.

I slathered this mixture onto 2 pork chops and 2 steaks. It’s a heady mixture – not only with spices, but it has some heat. If you’re averse to hot spicy food, eliminate the chili flakes. I used half-sharp paprika (a mixture of mild and hot), so it was plenty hot for me. The recipe calls for mild paprika. The paste marinated on the chops for a couple of hours (in the refrigerator), then Dave grilled them. First they’re browned – and I mention this only because with the reddish paste on them, it may be hard to tell when the chops are truly browning as they’re already brownish red before you put them on the grill. After they’re grilled on both sides just to get grill marks (if you can see them), you move them over onto an indirect area of the grill, loosely cover them with an upside-down foil pan, or with foil itself to finish cooking. Use a meat thermometer and take them off when they’re just done!

You can vary the heat depending on what kind of paprika you use. Please don’t use grocery store paprika – it doesn’t cut the mustard. (Oh, ha! I made a joke . . . 🙂 Here is a link to Penzey’s page for Hungarian paprika. Many high end markets now carry premium Hungarian paprika – do seek it out. And do refrigerate it. Penzey’s also sells Spanish paprika, but that is the smoked variety. Perhaps cooks in Spain do use the smoked, but I’d try it without the first time. And if I tried it, I’d use half regular and half smoked. The smoked goes a long way.

Be SURE to use a meat thermometer – the chops took much less time than anticipated. Ours were about 3/4 inch thick, and only took about 10 minutes cooking time. And?

What’s GOOD: the adobo spices were a big hit. I loved it; so did Dave. We have found a new, local purveyor of pork, and this first try was great – the meat was tender and juicy. The paprika and other spices hit a great flavor note for both of us. It was a quick preparation – and some nights that’s exactly what’s needed. I’ll be making this again and again.
What’s NOT: I can’t think of a thing. We loved this, big time.

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Grilled Pork Chops with Adobo Paste

Recipe By: Adapted from Epicurious
Serving Size: 4

2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons Hungarian paprika — (can use half-sharp)
1 1/2 tablespoons dried oregano — crumbled
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes — or more if desired
1 1/2 teaspoons lime zest — finely grated, from a fresh lime
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 pounds bone-in pork center rib chops — 3/4″ thick, or thicker

1. Heat grill to medium-high for direct-heat cooking.
2. Stir together all ingredients except pork chops in a bowl to form spice paste, then rub paste all over pork chops. Allow to rest for 20 minutes to 2 hours in refrigerator.
3. Oil grill rack, then grill chops, turning over occasionally and moving around if flare-ups occur, until browned, 2 to 3 minutes total.
4. Move chops to indirect heat, then cover loosely with heavy-duty foil, turning chops over once, until thermometer inserted horizontally into center of a chop (do not touch bone) registers 140°F, 6-10 minutes. Transfer to a platter and let stand 5 minutes before serving.
Per Serving: 405 Calories; 29g Fat (65.3% calories from fat); 31g Protein; 4g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 89mg Cholesterol; 770mg Sodium.

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