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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 Soups, on February 20th, 2015.

cheddar_ale_soup_shallots_bacon

What’s more comforting than a hot, steaming bowl of creamy soup? This one would be right at home in a British pub. Some beer cheese soups are more broth-oriented. This one’s milk and cream with broth also, but it’s loaded with flavor from the onion, carrots, celery and shallots – oh, and how could I forget? The bacon! Of course, the bacon flavors everything. So does the ale. Make it you must.

Once in awhile I crave this kind of soup. It’s been awhile since I had beer cheese soup (years, actually), but when I saw this recipe in my to-try collection the other day, I decided it really needed to be made. Next month I’m hosting a tea for a group of lady friends – not a “real” afternoon tea kind of thing – this one’s a soup, scones, dessert and tea kind of lunch meal. And I thought since I’m going to teach these ladies how to make a proper pot of tea (that’s part of the event – it’s a fund-raiser – and I thought they all ought to know how to make a traditional pot of tea), I might as well make the menu a bit more British inspired. I’ll have to make this soup again when it’s time. This batch I’ll probably eat up in the next few days. It’s SO good.

Many years ago I wrote up an entire post about making a proper pot of tea – a “praw-per” tea, the British way. My dear friend Pamela (and her late husband Jimmy) befriended us, my DH and me, in a pub one evening in Ilminster, a small town in SW England, and we became friends. This was waaaay back in 1981. We stayed with them many times over the years, and on one occasion Pamela taught me how to make tea. She had a particular blend of tea that she combined herself. Her belief is that you must have some portion of a tea combo a smoky tea – like Lapsang souchong. [By the way, did you know that Lapsang Souchong is the oldest tea known and that it’s smoked over pine wood?] I’m not so crazy about smoky tea, and never all by itself. Pamela’s personal mixture was: 1/4 smoky tea, 1/4 English Breakfast, and 1/2 Darjeeling. That combination I like, though, so I may have to buy some of those varieties for my tea event – just so I can have everyone taste it. My guess is that most Americans (without a Chinese background or a very strong interest in tea) hardly know about smoky teas. I have all of those teas in my stash, but haven’t used any of them in years and years. Some websites say tea should be thrown out in 2 years, but some people have used tea more than 20 years old and they thought it was fine. A taste test will need to be done.

Pamela and Jimmy were very particular about their tea, so over the years I learned more and more about it. In years past when I had a lot of trouble sleeping, if I woke up in the middle of the night and would decide I had to get up, not just toss and turn, I’d quietly pitter-patter to the kitchen, bundled up in a warm robe and fuzzy slippers, light a fire in the fireplace sometimes, and I’d make a pot of tea, in the Pamela fashion. I might read, or watch TV, or sometimes I’d play games on my computer. I don’t think Pamela ever had Earl Grey (she would frown terribly at the thought, I’m sure, but it’s probably my favorite). She didn’t like floral-flavored teas. On one trip to England I bought some Lady Grey tea, which is a take-off on Earl Gray, but a little less bergamot (I think), the bergamot being the addition that makes Earl Grey distinctly different. For my event I’ll probably serve 3 kinds of tea, the above mix, Earl Grey and maybe an herbal tea for those who don’t like black tea or caffeine.

Well, I got sidetracked talking about tea. Let’s get back to the soup. With me – as I write this anyway – still wearing my special boot – I thought this soup would be easy to make. Well, it wasn’t hard really, but it sure took more time than I’d anticipated, so my foot was aching by the time I was done. I should have done the vegetable prep earlier in the day, but as it was, I was up and down about an hour. I used my Vitamix to puree it. First I tried my immersion blender, and should have done it BEFORE I added the cheese. It stuck to the immersion blender, which took a brush to remove once I got to cleaning it. I gave up on the immersion blender because it wasn’t doing a good job. Anyway, whatever you do, make it really smooth. After 6-8 minutes of using it the immersion blender, there were still lots of pieces of things in the pot, so the regular blender was the way to go.

The original recipe I got from Williams-Sonoma, but I altered it some, adding some things, and taking out some things. Bacon was my addition (oh, and a good one). I didn’t add the paprika called for, nor did I add cayenne. Could have, I guess. Another recipe suggested a couple tablespoons of sherry at the end, but mine was plenty ale-tasting already and I didn’t think it needed sherry. I think I added an extra carrot – no biggie. I purchased an 18-ounce bottle of ale – I had to carefully peruse the shelves for an ale, not just a beer. According to the write-up about the recipe, it’s the hops in the beer that’s needed, so I found one that said the hops were prominent. I’m not sure I’d do that part again – but then, I’m not a beer drinker. If you are, then by all means go for the hops-forward style.

What’s GOOD: well, the flavors first and foremost. You definitely taste the beer/ale, the cheddar and the BACON. Loved that part for sure. I used some sharp American cheddar and some Irish sharp cheddar (both white cheeses, not yellow, otherwise you’d end up with a very orange colored soup). You need to cook it long enough to get the booziness out of the soup, then add the dairy at the last. Altogether delicious. Don’t know that it will freeze – it might separate if you did that. So plan accordingly. The other things that make the soup are the garnishes – the bacon and crispy shallots. The soup doesn’t have any texture once you puree it, of course, so the bacon and shallots add a bit of that. You could also serve it with some croutons. That, too, would be a nice addition.

What’s NOT: nothing really – just plan about an hour of prep and cooking, then the pureeing, then the cheese and reheating. Have everything else all ready once you start the puree process. Or make it earlier in the day and reheat. That would work fine too.

printer-friendly CutePDF

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Cheddar and Ale Soup with Crispy Shallots and Bacon

Recipe By: Adapted from a Williams-Sonoma recipe
Serving Size: 6

3 pieces thick-sliced bacon — finely chopped
4 whole shallots — thinly sliced
1 pound white potatoes — (if using red potatoes, peel them)
1 whole yellow onion
2 stalks celery
3 whole carrots — peeled
1 clove garlic — minced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
12 ounces beer — ale, hops forward style
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon dry mustard
12 ounces Cheddar cheese — shredded (sharp, white – not yellow cheese)

NOTES: If you use a lighter style beer it won’t have the punch as much as if you use a hops-forward ale. Next time I might use a lighter style than the imported ale I purchased. Your choice! The original recipe called for more flour and less fluid, but I thought it was too thick, so have cut back on flour and added more milk in this recipe.
1. In a frying pan over medium heat, render bacon until cooked through and light golden. Remove to paper towel, but retain fat in the pan. Add the shallots to the bacon grease and cook, stirring once or twice, until crisp and golden, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a bowl and set aside.
2. Cut the potatoes into 1/2-inch cubes; chop the onion, celery and carrots and add to the pan along with the garlic. Add the chicken broth, bring to a boil and reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring, until the onion, celery and carrots have softened and the potatoes are almost tender, 7-10 minutes.
3. In a jar combine the milk and all-purpose flour then shake until combined with no lumps, then slowly add to the soup mixture, along with the heavy cream and the beer/ale, stirring as you do so. Bring to a simmer and cook until mixture returns to a simmer, whisking frequently. Add salt, Worcestershire sauce and mustard. Allow soup to cook, keeping it still just below a simmer, if possible (it may separate if you actually boil it). Cook for 5-10 minutes maximum.
4. Puree the soup in batches in a stand blender. You can use an immersion blender, but it won’t get it completely smooth and it will take a long time. Reheat just until steaming. Add in the cheese and cook, stirring, until the cheese has just melted, 2-3 minutes. Taste for seasonings (salt) and add more broth or milk if you think it’s too thick. It thickens up as it cools.
5. Garnish with the crispy shallots and bacon and serve at once. If you want to be especially fancy, add some croutons on top too.
Per Serving: 511 Calories; 33g Fat (57.8% calories from fat); 25g Protein; 29g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 103mg Cholesterol; 880mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on February 21st, 2015:

    This sounds perfect for a winter’s evening in front of the fire. I don’t care for hoppy beers, so I have to decide whether to go for something I like or use up an IPA we never seem to want to drink. Maybe something with a touch of bitterness but not as much as an IPA. I have an Old Speckled Hen imported British ale which I find drinkable but a bit more bitter than I really care for. Perhaps that would be the way to go.

    Well, I don’t drink beer at all, so I was kind of lost when it came to choosing something. The soup ended up with a bit of bitterness to it, so I thinned it out with more chicken broth and a little bit of milk. As it sat in the refrigerator it also seemed to mellow a bit. Hope you enjoy it. . . carolyn

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on February 24th, 2015:

    I have never heard of a beer and cheese soup! I don’t think you’d see it on a pub menu either, it sounds far too radical, they mostly stick to plain old vegetable soup, the most exciting being Leek and Potato. This sounds rather good though I must say.

    Hmmm. Well, I thought I’d read that this was (or used to be) pub fare, but I could be wrong! . . . carolyn

  3. hddonna

    said on February 27th, 2015:

    I made this for supper tonight, and it was just marvelous. I was going to use the Old Speckled Hen ale but I chickened out (pun intended), as it is really a bit too bitter for my taste. I decided to follow the rule of thumb about wine–don’t cook with a wine you wouldn’t like to drink. We aren’t big fans of bitterness, so I went with one I love, Blue Moon’s Saison/Flanders-Style Farmhouse Red. It isn’t hoppy, but it does have “hints of white pepper and a tart finish”, and with the extra sharp cheese, Worcestershire sauce, and dry mustard, the soup had plenty of zip. I also used all whole milk and omitted the cream–I figured there was enough fat with all that cheese. I did add a dash of cayenne. This was the best cheese soup I’ve ever had. The bacon was a good idea. We had the spinach, roasted apple and candied pecan salad with it, the one you posted in December. It’s a perfect salad for winter and went very well with the cheesy soup.

    Oh, I’m so glad you liked it. Next time I make it (in another week or so for my tea event) I’m going to use a much lighter beer, probably not even an ale. Your meal sounds wonderful! . . . carolyn t

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