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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 Miscellaneous, on October 6th, 2015.

caramelized_onions_bourbon_sauce

Caramelized onions stewing in the pan make for a wonderful aroma – add some bourbon and a few other things and it’s a match with a piece of grilled steak or pork chop.

Remember, I was mentioning that my freezer in the garage is kinda full of frozen beef? Mostly steaks. I think this one was a prime ribeye from Costco since it was in a vacuum sealed bag. I can’t remember the last time I grilled a steak – I’ve had steak at my son’s home –  I never order it at a restaurant because I think I can make it better anyway. So, I defrosted a nice big steak – enough for 2 meals for me. It was 4:00 in the afternoon once it was defrosted (I plunged the sealed bag into a big bowl of cold water, put a big wide bowl on top and put a weight in the middle to keep the steak submerged). It took about 2-3 hours and it stayed very cold.  Grilled or sautéed onions with a splash of bourbon were what appealed to me so I researched several recipes online. I went off on a tangent and added a variety of things

I decided not to fire up the outdoor grill, but instead I cooked the steak in my sous vide. It needed a minimum of 2 hours at 131°F, and that was just exactly how much time I had before my approximate dinner time at 6:30. The beauty of the sous vide is that I could have cooked it for 4 hours at 131° and it would have been the same, perfectly cooked medium rare.

Meanwhile, I started making the onions. Sliced them – not paper thin as they kind of come out as a gloopy mess – a little thicker than that. They are gently sautéed in olive oil and butter. It takes awhile for them to sweat off all the liquid, but it’s enhanced with just a teaspoon of brown sugar. Once they began to brown they need more frequent stirring so they don’t burn. Once they get to a dark golden brown you can finish – or you can let them go to a full mahogany color if you’d prefer. By then it had been about 35 minutes and I was ready to eat, so I added in the liquids (Worcestershire sauce, a dash of soy sauce, mustard, and bourbon). It took another 5+ minutes for that liquid to be absorbed and simmered off – I wished I’d left just a smidgen of liquid to drizzle onto the steak, so keep that in mind if you make this.

My sous vide steak was ready to finish – it was fully cooked, but it has a kind of insipid grayish color to the outside when it’s done in the sous vide, so I fired up my stovetop grill and got it smoking hot and plopped that steak on there for about 90 seconds per side – that’s all it needed. I let it sit for about 5 minutes on a cutting board, cut it in half and served it with the onions on top.

What’s GOOD: oh my, yes, it was delicious. Loved the sweet onions – I could have eaten double the amount if they’d been there – I saved half for a 2nd meal. The bourbon flavor was very subtle. Altogether delicious. If you like bourbon, you could add more – I will next time.

What’s NOT: really nothing other than the time it takes to sweat down and caramelize the onions.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 14 file (click on link to open in MC)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Caramelized Onion Sauce with Bourbon

Recipe By: My own concoction, but loosely based on several online recipes
Serving Size: 2

1 large yellow onion — peeled, sliced thinly
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 clove garlic — smashed
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon soy sauce — reduced sodium
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup bourbon

1. Slice onions and add to a skillet in which you have heated the oil and butter. Stir frequently – it will take awhile – about 20 minutes – to get most of the water out of the onions, then they’ll begin to get golden, then darker and darker. Turn down the heat so the onions don’t burn. Once they’ve reached the color you like, add the garlic and stir for about 30 seconds or so.
2. In a small bowl combine the Worcestershire, soy sauce, Dijon and bourbon. Mash up the mustard so it’s mostly disappeared into the liquid.
3. Add liquid to the pan of onions and cook over low heat until nearly all the fluid has evaporated – about 4-5 minutes. It’s nice to have just a little tiny bit of liquid left to drizzle onto the grilled meat.
4. Pile on top of a piece of grilled steak or pork chop.
Per Serving: 220 Calories; 13g Fat (73.6% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 9g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 16mg Cholesterol; 338mg Sodium.

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