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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 Salads, Vegetarian, Veggies/sides, on January 31st, 2016.

basmati_wild_rice_golden_raisins_salad

What a lovely side dish this is – or it could be a vegetarian entrée, it’s so filling and complete with nutrition! Technically, I  used golden raisins since I didn’t have any currants. It was just fabulous!

Looking for a variety-packed side dish (a carb) to serve with the big family dinner I did recently, I decided to try this wild  and basmati rice (my favorite kind of white rice) side salad. My cousin, who has to eat GF, was all over it (1 1/2 teaspoons of flour is called for in the recipe, to coat the onion topping, so I used his GF flour instead). My D-I-L thought it was a great find, and one she could make and pack small cups into her son’s lunch. I don’t think anyone didn’t like it, and I certainly heard only positive descriptors, so I’d say this dish was a hit. I’d definitely make it again.

Wild rice features in this, and I used one of those already-cooked packets. If you don’t have that, just make it from scratch as instructed in the recipe.

RICE CONUNDRUM: The rice is a bit of a perplexing method. Well, let’s just say that I doubted the accuracy of the recipe when I began making it . . . for over 2 cups of white rice you used just 1 1/2 cups of water? Eh what? Surely I thought that was a typo. You need more water than rice, making it in a traditional method. I went back to the recipe in Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottalenghi. Nope, it was right. So I went on the ‘net, thinking there would be others who had posted this recipe. Yes, but the few there all showed using the same amount of water. I went to Ottolenghi’s website, thinking there might be an errata page (book errors), but no, there wasn’t. I went to my food chemistry book, Harold McGee’s small encyclopedia, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. He has no less than 6 pages of info about rice (no recipes) and in one section it did elaborate that different cultures/cuisines use different proportions of water (no specifics) and he briefly discussed the Middle East’s penchant for flavorings, and the use of oil and butter. No help there. I did a google search on “how to slow steam rice” and that brought up about 100 slow-cooker methods. I took out the “slow” and then got dozens of youtube links to show me exactly how to steam rice. Not what I needed. I even went to the publisher’s website (Random House) hoping for an errata page. I couldn’t find one. What’s with that? Publishers always used to have an errata page.

So, what did I do? I cooked the rice according to the directions, but were I to make this again, I would increase the water by about half. Usually rice needs twice as much water to rice. I’d make it with 1 1/2 times the amount of water to see if that works. The rice is slow-slow cooked on the cooktop – I used my risottos cooker on its slow cooker setting and in the allotted 15 minutes it ran out of water. I let it sit for a bit, thinking that the grains would cook a bit more. I tasted it. It was okay – just a bit crunchy. Surprise. And yet, to me, the rice was on the firm side, for sure.

Once both rices are ready, you begin adding ingredients – herbs, spices, then the raisins. The chickpeas (garbanzos) are sautéed in some oil and spices too (so the flavorings stick to the beans) and those are added in. The onion is a common thread in Middle Eastern rice and grain salads, and not just onion added to the carb, but prepared separately. I didn’t deep fry the onion as the recipe indicated as I was using my cousin’s GF flour and wasn’t certain how it would react to frying, so I just used a few tablespoons of oil and did it that way. Next time I think I’d make more onions and I’d caramelize them, since that adds so much flavor. And I’d leave out the flour – some people made the onions like onion rings, but I prefer the full-bodied flavor of caramelized onions and would mix them in. I added in a bit more olive oil at the end because I thought the dish was very (too) dry, but you can go without that.

What’s GOOD: this was a wonderful side dish. I still question the quantity of water to rice and will alter the recipe if/when I make it again. The flavors were wonderful. The golden raisins (or currants) add such a surprise taste in the savory rice. It’s colorful and everyone liked it a lot.

What’s NOT: it does take a bit more time than some dishes, but none of it was difficult or all that time consuming. If I made caramelized onions next time, THAT would take some extra time.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 14/15 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Basmati and Wild Rice with Chickpeas, Currants and Herbs

Recipe By: Jerusalem: A Cookbook, by Ottolenghi
Serving Size: 6

1/3 cup wild rice
2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 1/4 cups basmati rice
1 1/2 cups boiling water [my opinion – it needs more water]
2/3 cup currants
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley — chopped
1 tablespoon dill weed — minced
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
Drizzle more oil before serving if salad seems dry
GARBANZO BEANS:
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
1 1/2 cups garbanzo beans, canned — drained, rinsed, towel dried
FRIED ONIONS:
3/4 cup sunflower oil, for frying the onions (or other vegetable oil) [I used about 2 T. instead]
1 medium onion — thinly sliced * see notes
1 1/2 teaspoons all-purpose flour

1. Start by putting the wild rice in a small saucepan, cover with plenty of water, bring to a boil, and leave to simmer for about 40 minutes, until the rice is cooked but still quite firm. Drain and set aside.
2. To cook the basmati rice, pour 1 tablespoon of the olive oil into a medium saucepan with a tightly fitting lid and place over high heat. Add the rice and 1/4 teaspoon salt and stir as you warm up the rice. Carefully add the boiling water, decrease the heat to very low, cover the pan with the lid, and leave to cook for 15 minutes.
3. Remove the pan from the heat, cover with a clean tea towel and then the lid, and leave off the heat for 10 minutes.
4. While the rice is cooking, prepare the chickpeas. Heat the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil in a small saucepan over high heat. Add the cumin seeds and curry powder, wait for a couple seconds, and then add the chickpeas and 1/4 teaspoon salt; make sure you do this quickly or the spices may burn in the oil. Stir over the heat for a minute or two, just to heat the chickpeas, then transfer to a large mixing bowl.
5. ONION: Wipe the saucepan clean, pour in the sunflower oil, and place over high heat. Make sure the oil is hot by throwing in a small piece of onion; it should sizzle vigorously. Use your hands to mix the onion with the flour to coat it slightly. Take some of the onion and carefully (it may spit!) place it in the oil. Fry for 2 to 3 minutes, until golden brown, then transfer to paper towels to drain and sprinkle with salt. Repeat in batches until all the onion is fried. *NOTE: next time I would use twice as much onion and I’d caramelize it in oil rather than batter and fry them, only to chop them up to add to the rice mixture.
6. Finally, add both types of rice to the chickpeas and then add the currants, herbs, and fried onion. Stir, taste, and add salt and pepper as you like. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Per Serving (altogether incorrect because it assumes you consume the oil you fry the onions in): 445 Calories; 8g Fat (16.4% calories from fat); 12g Protein; 83g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 232mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on February 3rd, 2016:

    I love Yotam Ottolenghi! I have ‘Plenty’ and read it for pleasure.

    I like his recipes – those I’ve tried anyway. Most are complex ones with oodles of ingredients but the results have been really good. . . Carolyn t

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