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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 Beef, Miscellaneous, on February 1st, 2017.

tenderloin_w_mock_bearnaise

I do enjoy a good hunk of beef now and then. I had my share over the holidays – I think I had it 3 times (prime rib twice and this beef tenderloin once), and each time it was just fabulous. This one, with the super-tasty but lighter calorie mock Béarnaise was really special.

Probably I’d cook a small beef tenderloin occasionally, but it makes no sense to do it for one person! Costco has them at a decent price, but they’re huge – only useful for me if I were to have a really big dinner party! Some Costco stores offer beef tenderloin that’s already been cleaned and trimmed of the silverskin and sinews. That job takes awhile, especially if you don’t do it all the time.

The cooking instructor, Caroline, from Antoine’s Restaurant in San Clemente (CA) demonstrated  this at a cooking class. She said she was catering a dinner party for a client, and the wife asked if she could do a Béarnaise, but not a fat-laden one. So Caroline came up with the idea of this mock Béarnaise. I won’t sit here and type to you, that the sauce is just as good as a butter-driven Béarnaise, but it was surprisingly delicious. It had ALL the flavors of Béarnaise, but just not all the fat. Some yes, but not the usual amount. I really liked it, and I’d definitely make it. Even for a grilled steak, or any time you need a Béarnaise.

The tenderloin is so easy to do – you season the meat with salt, pepper and oil, sear it on all sides, then roast it in a hot oven for about 20-25 minutes, remove, tent it, let it sit for 10 minutes, cut and serve.

The sauce is made similarly to a regular Béarnaise, but it’s thickened with a little cornstarch, so it will hold together, AND you can make it the day ahead and just reheat it before serving. That’s a big help, so you wouldn’t have to do this as you’re roasting the meat and putting together the rest of the meal.

What’s GOOD: everything about this was delicious. The meat was great (tender, juicy) and the sauce was amazing – since it’s a whole lot lower in fat and calories than a regular Béarnaise. My hat’s off to Chef Caroline for coming up with this option for Béarnaise!

What’s NOT: nothing whatsoever. A great dish – both the meat and the sauce.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Beef Tenderloin with Tarragon-Mustard Sauce

Recipe By: Caroline Cayaumazou, chef, Antoine’s, San Clemente
Serving Size: 6

MOCK BEARNAISE SAUCE:
3/4 cup vermouth
1/4 cup white Balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons shallots — minced
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon — chopped
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup heavy cream
4 large egg yolks
1 1/2 tablespoons mustard — regular, coarse grain
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
BEEF:
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 pounds beef tenderloin — center cut (trimmed of silverskin and sinews)
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

NOTES: do buy a tenderloin that has been cleaned and trimmed of the silverskin. If you do it yourself, allow about 45-60 minutes time to complete it for a full tenderloin.
1. SAUCE: In a small saucepan place the vermouth, vinegar, shallots, tarragon and pepper. Bring to a boil and reduce quantity to about a third (solids and liquids combined). Strain and set aside.
2. In a 2-quart saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add cornstarch and cook for one minute. Slowly whisk in the chicken broth and cream. Bring to a simmer. Add the vermouth mixture.
3. In a small bowl temper the egg yolks with about 2-3 T of the sauce, then add to the sauce. Whisk and stir over low heat for about a minute. Add the coarse-grain mustard and adjust seasonings. May be made up to a day ahead. Gently reheat just before serving.
4. BEEF: Preheat oven to 450°F. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Season the tenderloin with salt and pepper. When the oil is hot, sear tenderloin on all sides for about 10 minutes total time.
5. Transfer tenderloin to a roasting pan and place in the hot oven. Roast until a meat thermometer registers 130°F for medium-rare, about 20-25 minutes.
6. Remove meat from the roasting pan and place on carving board. Tent lightly with foil and allow to rest for 10 minutes before slicing and then serve with the heated sauce, passing more at the table.
Per Serving: 840 Calories; 66g Fat (74.5% calories from fat); 45g Protein; 6g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 330mg Cholesterol; 182mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on February 1st, 2017:

    That is a clever sauce – I think it would work for fish too, perhaps Turbot or Halibut or even Cod. (But that is just my preference, as you might have guessed).

    It would be lovely with a fairly sturdy fish. Salmon would be my first choice. . . carolyn t

  2. Susan Mehrtens

    said on February 3rd, 2017:

    Hello, Carolyn! I enjoyed meeting you at Susan’s house this morning and have spent some time this afternoon perusing your blog. I’m looking forward to receiving your posts and to trying some of your recipes!
    Thanks so much!
    Susan Mehrtens

    Thanks, Susan! Did you sign up by email to receive my posts? That’s probably the easiest, but it’s up to you whether you want to get one more email in your inbox! See you next month . . . carolyn t

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