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Just finished reading The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. What a WONDERFUL book. It opens up a shameful part of America’s past, but one you might not have heard about before this. In the late 1800s thousands of Chinese workers were brought to the West Coast to help with a variety of construction projects and a myriad of other things where laborers were needed. Many settled, married and made a new life for themselves. But suddenly the white population didn’t want them here anymore and they summarily ordered them ALL out of our country. This book chronicles a young Chinese girl, who was on a ship that was supposed to take her family to China, but the ship’s captain decided en route to dump them all overboard, to drown. The girl’s father knew it was going to happen and in order to save her, he threw his daughter off the ship as they were passing Orcas Island (in the San Juan Islands west of Seattle). She was saved. The book switches from that time to current time as a woman is rebuilding her family’s home on Orcas and finds a beautifully embroidered silk Chinese robe sleeve hidden under a stair step. The book is about that sordid past and the young girl’s descendents, and about the woman who is rebuilding. Stunner of a novel. Good for a book club read, I think. It has a reader’s guide at the back with good questions for book groups.

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 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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