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Just finished a quirky book, Goodbye, Vitamin: A Novel by Rachel Khong. She’s a new writer (newly published, I guess I should say) and this story is about Ruth, a 30+ something, trying to readjust to life without her fiance, who’s dumped her. She goes back home to help with the care of her father, who has Alzheimer’s. Written in a diary style, it jumps all over about her life, her mother, the funny, poignant things her father says on good days, and the nutty stuff he does on not-so-good days, her ex-, and her very quirky friends, too. Then a woman flits through who had had an affair with her father –  you get to observe all the angst from the mom about that. Mostly it’s about her father, as he’s relatively “together” early in the book, but then he disintegrates. Reading that part isn’t fun, although the author is able to lean some humor into it. I’m not sure I recommend the book exactly – I read it through – and felt sad. It doesn’t tie up loose ends – if you want that kind of book – you may not want to read this one.

Also finished Julian Fellowes’s Belgravia. You know Julian Fellowes, the producer and writer of Downton Abbey? He lends his mind to a story about a family or two from the similar time period as Downton, who live in London. There’s some amount of intrigue, romance, observations from within the halls of wealthy Londoners and moderately well off tradesmen and their families. There’s affairs, shady business dealings, an illegitimate child, the comings and goings of the “downstairs” staff too, etc. The characters were well done – I had no trouble keeping all of the people identified. The story is somewhat predictable, but it was interesting clear up to the end.

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.

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.

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 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)

* Exported from MasterCook *

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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