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I’m going to write up an entire blog post about this book. 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 Florence as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

Also finished The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: A Novel by Gabrielle Zevin. It popped up on a list I subscribe to and was available for $1.13 as an e-book. As it begins, you’re hearing from A.J., a grieving widower who owns a bookstore on an obscure island off the East Coast. He’s angry, rude and every other negative adjective you can imagine. A book rep comes to visit and he’s awful to her, yet she perseveres and manages to sell him a few books. You get to know his friends (a friendship with him is full of sharp points) and one day an abandoned toddler is found in his bookshop. In between the story line about A.J., the book rep, the little girl and others, you will learn all about A.J.’s book tastes. If you’re an avid reader, you’ll really enjoy that part. It’s a charming book; loved it.

Also read 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 need that kind of book – you may not want to read this one.

 

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 Beef, on February 24th, 2015.

beef_in_barolo

 

Can’t you just tell how fork-tender that roast is? It cut like soft butter, and oh, was it full of flavor! It’s marinated overnight in a red wine mixture, then cooked on low, or in a slow cooker for hours and hours. Then the marinade, which was the cooking liquid also, became the sauce. Hope it’s okay that I use the word “yum.” Such a trite and over-used word, but, gosh it was.

It’s been ages since I’ve fixed a chuck roast. I mean ages. I have a recipe here on my blog from 2010 for a French pot roast, that’s just succulent and wonderful. Worthy of a company meal. I’ve been making that version for 40+ years – it’s on my list of favs, it’s so delish. This one is similar, but it’s an Italian version and done in the slow cooker. It uses Italian wine, pancetta, veggies and Tuscan herbs. And the sauce, oh my yes, that gravy was divine. I’d have liked to have that as a bowl of that gravy as soup, except it’s probably too rich for that. The recipe came from Diane Phillips, at a class my friend Cherrie and I took recently. Diane prepared recipes from one or more of her books. Diane has authored a whole bunch of cookbooks. She’s a blond Italian, and owns a home in Umbria that she and her husband/family visit with regularity. Every time she comes home she has a whole bunch of new recipes to try. I’ll be sharing several other recipes from the class. This was the stand-out, although everything she made was really good.

Cooking for one doesn’t lend itself very well to making this, unless I cut it way down in size and just ate it for a couple of meals. It would be better for a company meal. As I’m writing this, it’s been a couple of weeks ago that we went to the class and had this, and I’m craving it. Maybe I’ll have to plan a small group dinner and if I plan ahead, perhaps I can do it all. But really, this is done in the slow cooker, so how easy is that?

beef_barolo_1The meat is marinated overnight in a Barolo wine mixture with herbs and garlic. The marinade later becomes the cooking liquid and is also the sauce for it too. The meat is browned, then all the other stuff is added in (pancetta, onions, carrots, celery, dried porcini mushrooms [Diane adds this because she thinks a little bit of porcini mushroom bits – dried – add a lot of succulent flavor to long, slow cooked meats] and some demi-glace or a beef soup base. You can do this on the stovetop (instructions for both are given below) or in a slow cooker.

After the beef has become soft and tender, it’s removed, then  you make the gravy by adding a little beurre manié (butter kneaded with flour). If you like a thicker gravy, just make more of that mixture to add in and cook it a bit longer. Diane recommended this be served with garlic mashed potatoes, buttered noodles or some Tuscan white beans (recipe to come). I’d have liked to lick the plate if that tells you how much I loved this.

What’s GOOD: everything about it was wonderful. You do have to plan ahead since it marinates overnight. The beef becomes so tender, and the vegetables are still slightly visible (and colorful) so you can do with the meat/gravy, a carb and a salad or a vegetable, not both. Worth making and as I mentioned above, it’s elegant enough for a company meal. Doing it in the slow cooker makes it a no-brainer. The wine in this is the star of the show, really – it’s what flavors this throughout.

What’s NOT: only that you have to start this the day before.  And you’ll need to make the gravy at the last minute, but it will only take a few minutes.

printer-friendly CutePDF

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Italian Marinated Beef in Barolo (Slow Cooker or Stove Top)

Recipe By: Diane Phillips, cookbook author and instructor
Serving Size: 8

MARINADE:
1 bottle Barolo — (Italian red wine) 750 ml
4 cloves garlic — minced
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary — finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried sage
2 whole bay leaves
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
BEEF ROAST:
4 pounds chuck roast — boneless, trimmed of excess fat
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 ounces pancetta — finely chopped
2 large yellow onions — finely chopped
4 medium carrots — finely chopped
3 stalks celery — finely chopped, including some of the leaves
2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms — crumbled
3 tablespoons Penzey’s beef soup base — or other soup base paste (or use demi-glace)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup Italian parsley — chopped

1. STOVE TOP METHOD: In a large Ziploc plastic bag combine the marinade ingredients, then add the beef roast to it. Seal tight and refrigerate for at least 12 hours, or up to 24 hours, turning it over a couple of times. Remove the roast from the bag and SAVE the marinade. Pat dry the meat with paper towels.
2. In a large Dutch oven, heat oil over high heat and brown the meat on all sides. Remove meat to a plate and set aside.
3. Add pancetta to the pan and allow it to render fat, then add onions, carrots, celery and porcini mushrooms. Saute for 3-4 minutes, until the onion begins to soften. Add the reserved marinade and soup base (or demi-glace) and bring to a boil. Return the meat to the pot, cover and simmer for 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours, until the meat is FORK tender.
4. Remove meat from pan and cover with aluminum foil to keep it hot. Discard the bay leaves (this is important as you don’t want anyone to choke on the bay leaf hidden in the gravy) and skim off excess fat – use a couple of paper towels gently scrunched but still kind of flat, and wipe the towels across the top of the liquid and it will pick up most of the fat. Discard paper towel. Bring the sauce to a boil. Meanwhile, combine the softened butter and flour in a small bowl and using a whisk, slowly add the roux to the liquid in the pan. Continue whisking until sauce returns to a boil and is smooth and thickened. Season with salt and pepper and stir in the parsley – reserving just a little bit to sprinkle on top when served. Carve the meat and serve with the sauce on the side. This is wonderful served with buttered MASHED POTATOES, buttered NOODLES, or WHITE BEANS cooked with Tuscan herbs.
1. SLOW COOKER METHOD: In a large Ziploc plastic bag combine the marinade ingredients, then add the beef roast to it. Seal tight and refrigerate for at least 12 hours, or up to 24 hours, turning it over a couple of times. Remove the roast from the bag and SAVE the marinade. Pat dry the meat with paper towels.
2. In a large skillet (or if you have the kind of slow cooker with a removable metal pan, do this step in that insert) heat the oil and brown the meat on all sides. Place meat in the slow cooker. Add pancetta to the skillet, reduce heat to medium and cook until it renders some fat. Add onions, carrots, celery, and porcini mushrooms and saute for 3 minutes, or until the onion begins to soften. Add the marinade to the skillet, add soup base (or demi-glace) and bring to a boil. Continue boiling for 3 minutes, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Transfer to the slow cooker.
3. Cover and cook on LOW for 8-9 hours, until the meat is fork-tender. Remove meat from slow cooker and cover with aluminum foil. Discard bay leaves (important) and transfer the contents to a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Combine the butter and flour in a small bowl and whisk mixture into the sauce. Continue whisking until the sauce returns to a boil and is smooth and thickened. Season with salt and pepper and stir in most of the parsley. Carve the meat and serve with the sauce on the side. Sprinkle remaining parsley on top. If the sauce isn’t thick enough, add another small amount of butter/flour mixture until it’s thickened sufficiently. This can also be made with a beef brisket. This is wonderful served with buttered MASHED POTATOES, buttered NOODLES, or WHITE BEANS cooked with Tuscan herbs.
Per Serving: 660 Calories; 46g Fat (63.8% calories from fat); 43g Protein; 17g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 149mg Cholesterol; 1681mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on February 24th, 2015:

    There’s a chuck roast in the freezer. Just need to get the wine, and this will go on the menu soon. My mouth is watering!

    It’s really good. I made it yesterday and will re-heat it for a big dinner I’m doing tonight. Potluck, so all I had to do was make this roast. Easy. . . carolyn

  2. hddonna

    said on February 26th, 2015:

    I’ll bet it went over well! I may not be able to find a Barolo at my local supermarket, and I don’t have a wine shop I can get to easily. Guess I’ll look up the characteristics and figure out what might make an acceptable substitute. I hope to do this within the week.

    I made it with a Chianti. Not authentic, but I couldn’t find a Barolo in my DH’s wine cellar, nor could I find one at the upscale market I visited before I made this. The gravy was a lighter colored, but the flavor was just fine. And yes, it went over very well! . . .carolyn t

  3. hddonna

    said on March 4th, 2015:

    Made this last night, and it’s great. I love that it makes lots of sauce. I served it with noodles, but that luscious, rich, flavorful sauce would be so good on mashed potatoes–I may serve those with the leftovers. I expect a third meal out of it, so perhaps then I can do the beans you feature in today’s post! Being unable to find a Barolo, and not being familiar with that wine at all, I looked it up and based on the description of it as a big wine with plenty of tannins, I decided to go with a cabernet sauvignon albeit an inexpensive one (but drinkable–to me, at least, if not to a wine connoisseur). My only source for the porcinis on short notice was my local supermarket, and as a half ounce cost $4, I limited myself to an ounce instead of two in the recipe. They still packed a lot of flavor, and I was very pleased with the result. But this will have to be a special occasion dish hereafter–a worthy one, however!

    So glad you enjoyed it. I didn’t have any porcini mushrooms either, so I used some other dried mushrooms instead. It was fine. Costco sells a very tall plastic bottle (about 12 inches high, 5 inches square approx) of mixed dried mushrooms. I’ve had that jar/bottle for at least 5 years and have only used about 1/4 of them. They don’t seem to deteriorate. You might check to see if you have that at your Costco. My recollection is that it was quite inexpensive. I don’t love the taste of reconstituted dried mushrooms if they’re used in any quantity, but hidden in a soup and using just some, they’re perfect. . . carolyn t

  4. janet

    said on March 11th, 2015:

    I just took a class from Mary Ann Vitale at Great News. She ground dried porcini mushrooms into a powder and used them to flavor a brown butter sun dried tomatoOh, Oh, my goodness ….. fantastic. You can do that with the dried mushrooms from Costco….. I think you will really like it Carolyn!
    Janet

    Yes, I’ve done that before – just not with this recipe. Thanks. . . carolyn t

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