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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 June 5th, 2016.

cheesy_cauliflower_soup

If you’ve never made cauliflower soup, maybe this will entice you to try it. The recipe came from Pioneer Woman, on one of her recent shows. I think she suggested it be served with a toasted cheese sandwich, or maybe that’s what I thought about as I was making it. But no, I didn’t make a sandwich, as much as I would have liked to!

After watching Ree Drummond make this soup, I immediately bought a fresh cauliflower and then something came up and I didn’t end up making the soup that day. Or the next. Or the next. But a week later the cauliflower was still in perfect condition so I made the soup – it makes a LOT – and froze about 5 single portions and still have two containers in my frig to have this coming week.

The soup does dirty-up two pans – one for the soup and one for the cream sauce. I considered just thickening the soup in the big pot with the cauliflower, but there IS a reason you don’t do that – milk doesn’t like to be boiled – it separates. So, you prepare a cream sauce that’s on the thin side, but still it is a thickened base, and it gets poured into the already cooked and pureed soup and at that point the soup is done. You simmer it for just a very few minutes – not enough time for the milk to separate.

cauliflower_cajun_seasoningBacon features in this recipe – chopped up and rendered, then reserved to be sprinkled on top when it’s served. That’s what’s visible, barely, in the middle of the soup bowl in the photo. There’s onion in there too. The cauliflower is chunked up – you don’t have to be meticulous about it – you could cut it up if you’d like, rather than bothering with florets. Most of it gets pureed anyway, so the shape doesn’t really matter here. Cajun seasoning is needed – in fact I think the soup would be a tad bland without it – I used Slap Ya Mama brand. Now I can buy the seasoning at my grocery stores, but back a few years ago it wasn’t available in the West, so my friend Joan bought some when she visited family in Texas. See photo at right.

It may be hard to see, but I liberally sprinkled the seasoning all over the raw cauliflower – you could just as easily add it into the cooking pot – I don’t think it matters. If you don’t have Cajun seasoning, you can use this recipe from the Food Network – it’s a combo of a bunch of herbs and spices. Just don’t make a lot of it unless you plan to use it up – I’ll never use up that can before the flavors are shot – you just use a bit more once the mixture is 6-8 months old. That’s what I did here. I know I used more than 1/2 teaspoon, but use your own judgment. There was some heat in the soup, but not very much – just enough that you knew it was there!

As for the pureeing – Ree likes chunky soup, so she uses an immersion blender, but only whizzes it a little bit so it leaves plenty of texture. I mostly pureed it but left just a little bit of texture. You can also pour it all into a blender – it will take several batches as this makes about 15-16 cups of soup. The cream sauce is made and poured into the simmering soup, then you add the Jack cheese, parsley and sour cream and cook briefly – just enough to heat it through and it’s done. Ready to be scooped into a serving bowl with the bacon, more cheese and parsley added on top. As always, the soup is enhanced if you make it, cool it and chill it overnight. When reheating it, be gentle – don’t let it boil.

What’s GOOD: What can I say about cauliflower soup?  It’s not going to knock your socks off, but it’s delicious. Creamy, and even though it has a bit of half and half in it, it’s not all that unhealthy – 24 grams of fat in an ample serving. I had it for dinner, nothing else with it, just the soup. It was very satisfying and the bacon hits a nice note of texture and saltiness. It’s not overly thick, but it does have some little bit of texture to it. Altogether good soup.

What’s NOT: nothing, really – you do dirty two pans – that’s about the only down side I can think of!

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Cheesy Cauliflower Soup

Recipe By: Ree Drummond, 2016
Serving Size: 10

4 thin slices bacon — cut into small bits
1 white onion — finely diced
1 head cauliflower — broken into pieces or chopped
1/2 teaspoon Cajun spice — or more to taste
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 cups low-sodium chicken broth — (2 quarts)
4 tablespoons butter — (1/2 stick)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
1 cup half and half
1/4 cup sour cream
3 cups Monterey Jack cheese — grated, plus more for serving
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley — plus more for serving

1. In a large pot, fry the bacon pieces over medium-high heat until crisp. Drain the bacon on a paper towel and set aside. Pour off the grease and return the pot to the stove.
2. Add the onions to the pot and cook over medium-high heat for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the cauliflower, sprinkle with the Cajun spice and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper and cook, stirring, until the cauliflower starts turning golden brown, another 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the chicken broth, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes.
3. Use an immersion blender to puree the mixture slightly, or all the way if you prefer. (Or use a regular blender; just don’t fill too full.)
4. In a separate saucepan or skillet, melt the butter. Sprinkle in the flour and whisk to form a paste. Pour in the milk, then continue cooking until it thickens. Remove from the heat and stir in the half-and-half.
5. Pour the white sauce into the soup. Turn the heat to medium high and bring back to a simmer for just 3 to 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, stirring in the cheese and sour cream until the cheese is fully melted. Stir in the parsley.
6. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve with a little extra cheese, a sprinkle of bacon and a sprinkle of parsley.
Per Serving: 298 Calories; 24g Fat (63.8% calories from fat); 21g Protein; 9g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 63mg Cholesterol; 352mg Sodium.

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