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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 aging 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, wealthy women) 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.

I’ve written up an entire blog post about this book. (It hasn’t been posted yet, but will soon.) It may be one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a memoir by Pat Conroy (an author I’ve long admired). He died a year or so ago – sad, that. In order to get the most out of My Reading Life, I recommend you BUY THE HARDBACK. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s an autobiography of sorts, but not really. He never wrote one, I don’t think, and I doubt he would ever have written one as he likely didn’t believe anyone would want to read about his (sad) life. In this memoir, he chronicles the books (and the people who recommended them) that influenced his life. Starting at his mother’s knees and continuing through influential teachers and mentors and friends. One of my book clubs read it, and I devoured it, cover to cover, with little plastic flags inserted all the way through to re-read some of the prose. Pat Conroy was a fabulous writer – he studied words from a young age and used them widely and wisely throughout his writing, but better than most authors would. He adored his mother, and hated (with venom) his aviator military father who physically abused everyone in the family, including his mother. They all took it like stoic Buddhas. I’m going to have to read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel because of reading this book. I’ve never read it. Conroy says that book’s first page is the best first page of any book he ever read in his life. Wow. And maybe my book group is going to re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Vintage Classics) too because of the chapter on that book. We might have to assign that to a 2-month or longer read. If you have friends or family who are avid readers, this would make a great gift, this book, My Reading Life. If YOU are a reader, it needs to be on your bookshelf, but in hardback, so you can go back to it and re-read his stories. It’s a series of essays, each one about a sub-section of his life. A must-have and a must-read.

Also read The Towers of Tuscany by Carol Cram. It was a bargain book through amazon or bookbub (e-book). Back in the Middle Ages women were forbidden to be artists. Their only place was in the home, caring for children and sewing and cooking. But the heroine in this book was taught to paint by her widowed artist-father (in secret, of course). When her father suddenly dies, all hell breaks loose and she must fend for herself. Much of the book takes place in Siena (and also San Gimignano) as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

 

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 Chicken, Soups, on June 3rd, 2014.

moroccan_harira_chix_soup

Zippadee-doodah! Not only was I glad to be back in the kitchen again, but oh, what a good recipe I’m sharing with  you today. It’s low in fat, hearty, and really high in the flavor department. It is great to make ahead, good to freeze too. And wonderful comfort food.

Even though I have some posts already in my queue, I just couldn’t wait to share with you this recipe that I made yesterday. And yes, I know, this really isn’t soup weather. My apologies for that, but when I get a bee in my bonnet about something, it just won’t be stilled.

You’ll remember, perhaps, I posted a few days ago about watching Anthony Bourdain’s CNN show called Parts Unknown where he visits rather oddball places in the world, mostly to sample the food and learn about that country’s food culture. He is such a character – is he an alcoholic, you think? He visited Tangiers, and I was transported back to the day trip Dave and I took to that city (from across the narrow straits at Gibraltar and Spain) back about 15 years ago. And all I remembered was the soup, harira (pronounced just like it looks – hah-ree-ruh) we had for lunch. It was special and full of flavor. I’d totally forgotten about it until I was watching that show. And I could almost taste that soup. I went on the hunt for a recipe. Found several – if you google harira you’ll find several hits. I printed out two in particular and made my own version but with more of it coming from this one at bbcgoodfood.com. The other one was from about.com under their section called Moroccan food.

What makes this different is the group of spices used. Lots of them. Really LOTS of them. The most unusual, perhaps is cinnamon (although you do not taste cinnamon in the finished soup). Also ground coriander, turmeric, cumin seed, ground cumin, ground ginger and some harissa. Now, harissa is perhaps not a common staple in every grocery store, for sure. And I know I had a bottle of it in my refrigerator, but I couldn’t find it. Perhaps it hadn’t gotten used enough and I threw it out awhile back. I substituted red chile paste/sauce (the Thai one) but I think sriracha would work fine too. The ingredients are similar (a variety of red chiles, red peppers – not necessarily hot ones – garlic, sometimes other seasonings, but those are the main ones). And I’m sure if any Moroccan reads this he/she will think it heresy to use anything but a true harissa from Morocco.  You can make your own from this recipe at saveur.

As I began cooking I had a sad moment – my darling Dave would have been hovering around me, and washing dishes (and putting them away) as fast as I dirtied them. I missed his presence. I had to wash dishes three times in the process of making this soup and eating it for dinner last night. Some went in the dishwasher, but not all. He’s chuckling at me, I suppose, saying uh-huh, you miss my dishwashing don’t you? Only one of many things – oodles of things – that I miss about him every single day.

Anyway, I didn’t brown the chicken thighs (boneless, skinless) because I didn’t really think they would acquire all that much flavor from that process. So I sautéed the vegetables (onions, celery, leeks) in a bit of oil. There’s another interesting step here. Mostly I toss out parsley stems and cilantro stems, but here, you wash both and cut off all the stems from the leaves. Save the leaves for later. Also cut off the little brown stem ends. Those stems of parsley and cilantro I diced up fine with a knife. The food processor might have done it fine, but I’d already put the veggies in the workbowl so I just minced away and added them to the food processor too. All that gets gently sautéed. Then you add the canned tomatoes. Do note that you want to use canned tomatoes in puree, not just tomatoes with juice/water. The puree adds just a little bit of texture to the soup.

Water is added at this point, and I stirred in a little glob of my favorite Penzey’s chicken soup base. Then all the spices get added in, plus the chicken thighs. That mixture is simmered for about half an hour, until the thighs are cooked through. Now, you could use chicken breasts in this – no reason why not – just don’t overcook them – if you cut the breast meat into big chunks, it’ll probably not take more than 10-15 minutes to cook through. Remove as in the recipe. But don’t cook the chicken any further or it’ll get dry – yes, I know, it’s in soup – but it will, trust me. Once the chicken is cooked through, remove the pieces to a wide bowl to cool. Then add the lentils to the soup and simmer that for about 20 minutes, then add a can of garbanzo beans (or cook your own). At that point add back in the chicken that you’ve shredded by hand, or diced and minced to suit you. Taste it for seasonings. Add more water maybe.

I didn’t want a soup that was heavy-laden with carbs (the garbanzos and lentils) but you could easily add more if you’d prefer. A serving of about 1 1/2 cups is ample for dinner, with a dollop of Greek yogurt on top and some cilantro leaves.

What’s GOOD: oh my goodness, everything about this soup is good. Mostly, I think it’s the spices that make it different/good. It’s just abounding with flavor. Good for a family meal, good for freezing. Altogether wonderful, okay? Make it. Now. This is going onto my Carolyn’s Favs list if that’s any indication of how good it is. There is some heat in this soup, but you can vary it by using more or less of the chile paste.

What’s NOT: nothing, unless you don’t like lots of spices.

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Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click on link to open in MC)

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Moroccan Harira Chicken Soup

Recipe By: Adapted from a couple of internet recipes.
Serving Size: 7

1 large onion
4 stalks celery
1 medium leek
1 bunch cilantro — cut the stems off and save them
1 bunch parsley — cut the stems off and save them
2 tablespoons canola oil — or olive oil, or clarified butter
28 ounces canned tomatoes — in tomato puree, and include the juices
3 cloves garlic — minced or smashed
8 cups water — or more if needed
2 teaspoons Penzey’s chicken soup base
1 1/2 tablespoons cumin seed
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 1/2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon turmeric
1 tablespoon harissa — or other hot chile paste, like sriracha
2 teaspoons salt — or more to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups cooked garbanzo beans — drained, rinsed (if using canned)
3/4 pound boneless skinless chicken thighs — (leave them whole)
1/3 cup lentils — (use more if you want a more hearty soup)
1/2 cup Greek yogurt, full-fat, a garnish
parsley and cilantro leaves for garnish

Notes: Use canned tomatoes in tomato puree, not just water/juice. Either whole if possible, but chopped tomatoes will work. If using whole you’ll need to gently squeeze them to break each tomato into smaller pieces. The tomato puree gives the soup a bit more heft and flavor both. The soup I remember eating in Tangiers was more “soupy” than this – merely add more chicken broth or water to this mixture if you’d like it that way. As is, it’s a fairly hearty bowl of soup. You can add more lentils and/or garbanzo beans if you’d prefer. What I had in Tangiers had only lentils, and not many of them. It may also have had a little bit of rice in it, but not much of that either. Moroccans make it with all three, sometimes combined, sometimes only one (lentils, garbanzos, rice). You can use chicken breasts, if preferred. Just don’t cook them very long, shred them, and add back in and don’t cook the chicken further.
1. Chop up the onion, celery and leeks into chunks. Cut off the little brown ends of the cilantro and parsley, then cut the stems off and mince them up finely with a knife (you’ll add the leaves later in the recipe). In a food processor add the vegetables, plus the parsley and cilantro stems. Pulse until the veggies are chopped up, but not fine.
2. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven. Add the vegetables and saute until the onions have begun to turn translucent, about 3-4 minutes. Add the canned tomatoes and their juices, the chicken soup base, garlic and the water. Bring to a simmer. While it’s warming up, add all the seasonings including all the parsley and cilantro leaves, saving some cilantro leaves for the garnish.
3. Add the boneless, skinless chicken thighs (whole thighs) and once the mixture is simmering, cover and keep over low heat for about 25 minutes, or until the thighs are tender. Using a slotted spoon, remove the chicken thighs to a large bowl and allow to cool about 20-30 minutes.
4. While the chicken is cooling, add the lentils to the soup and simmer for about 20 minutes, JUST until the lentils are soft, but have not begun to fall apart.
5. Shred the chicken meat into small pieces about 1 1/2 inches long and add back into the soup mixture. Add the canned garbanzo beans (rinsed and drained) and taste for seasoning.
6. Serve in wide bowls (about 1 1/2 cups per serving) and add a dollop of Greek yogurt on top and garnish with cilantro.
Per Serving: 267 Calories; 11g Fat (34.4% calories from fat); 17g Protein; 29g Carbohydrate; 7g Dietary Fiber; 42mg Cholesterol; 1067mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on June 3rd, 2014:

    Okay, you’ve got me! I will definitely make this soup! I’m afraid I can’t do it now, but I will do it. I’ll let you know when I do–I’m sure it will be wonderful.

    It is! I guarantee it! . . .carolyn t

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