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I’m going to write up an entire blog post about this book. 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 Florence as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

Also finished The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: A Novel by Gabrielle Zevin. It popped up on a list I subscribe to and was available for $1.13 as an e-book. As it begins, you’re hearing from A.J., a grieving widower who owns a bookstore on an obscure island off the East Coast. He’s angry, rude and every other negative adjective you can imagine. A book rep comes to visit and he’s awful to her, yet she perseveres and manages to sell him a few books. You get to know his friends (a friendship with him is full of sharp points) and one day an abandoned toddler is found in his bookshop. In between the story line about A.J., the book rep, the little girl and others, you will learn all about A.J.’s book tastes. If you’re an avid reader, you’ll really enjoy that part. It’s a charming book; loved it.

Also read 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 need that kind of book – you may not want to read this one.

 

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 Veggies/sides, on May 9th, 2017.

perfect_baked_potato

Who would have thought that I could get so excited about a baked potato?

Recently I was watching America’s Test Kitchen and they did a segment about the perfectly cooked baked potato. They talked about what makes a good potato (first off, a nicely shaped oval Russet variety for sure with few blemishes, dents or eyes). But they mentioned all the things that go along with it – you want it fluffy. That’s probably the most important. You want crispy skin. And fluffy. Fluffy! So the chefs at ATK went about perfecting it, and OH did they! One of the secrets to this recipe is baking the potatoes to exactly 205°F. More and more, we’re figuring out the exact perfect temperature for cooking all kinds of things.

There are a list of steps to make these:

  1. buy a really nice oval Russet with few blemishes, about  7-9 ounces each (mine were heavier)
  2. poke the potato 6 times on the top with a fork
  3. dip the potato in heavily salted water (see exact amounts below)
  4. bake on a rack on top of a baking sheet at 450°F
  5. bake about 45-60 minutes, or until the internal temp reaches exactly 205°F
  6. remove from oven and brush the outside with vegetable oil
  7. bake another 10 minutes
  8. remove and cut a big X in the top and smoosh the two ends together to open up the top
  9. plop a lovely tablespoon of butter inside, add salt and pepper to taste
  10. swoon.

russets_poked_and_soakedAnd I mean swoon (definition: a state of ecstasy). I could have made just that for a dinner for myself – maybe I will one of these days. I invited 3 friends for dinner (made some grilled shrimp with a garlic and butter sauce, a new green goddess dressing that was the best I’ve ever made, and crumbled asparagus) So, that means I tried 3 new recipes. All 3 of them winners. Yes, I’ll post the other recipes soon.

Pictured, the potatoes after they’d been swirled in the heavily salted water.

These potatoes are just SO good. When I pulled the potatoes out of the oven, steam was escaping from the fork holes in the tops. Then, when cut the X and smooshed the ends in, there was a geyser of steam from each potato, and OH, were they fluffy inside. I had 4 pats of butter (room temp) and dropped one into each. I also made a topping for them, that was recommended by ATK to go along with it, but I preferred the potato just plain, with butter, salt and pepper.

The outside skins were crunchy-perfect and salty – at the end of our meal I just kept pulling off little chunks of skin and eating it. Stone cold. But still delicious, and those pieces didn’t have any pepper, butter or topping on them. Just the salty, crunchy skin.

All 4 of us left our potatoes with most of the insides eaten and everyone went home with their own shells. Today, for lunch, I’m going to open up the potato fully, maybe fry up a slice or two of bacon, shred some cheddar, bake it for 10 minutes or so in my toaster oven, then top it with some green onions. Oh, and maybe a tablespoon or so of sour cream. Decadent. And I will eat the entire thing, the little bit of inside potato and all.

Image result for thermapenTHERMAPEN: As an aside, I’ll mention that I was so upset a couple of weeks ago when my beloved Thermapen quit working after 6 years! Woe is me! I use it ALL THE TIME. So I contacted ThermoWorks, and mailed the probe to them, with a $25 check and they repaired it with all new insides. Since these Thermapens are expensive, it was well worth paying $25 to get it fixed to near-new.

What’s GOOD: where do I start? Everything about this potato was downright perfect. Hence, the perfect baked potato. The crunchy, salty skin, the super-fluffy insides. This will be my go-to preparation from here on! DO MAKE THESE, okay? Thanks to Cook’s Country or America’s Test Kitchen they’ll be absolutely perfect!

What’s NOT: none of it is hard, but there are a few steps involved. Get everything ready (mis en place) so you don’t have to hunt for the thermometer, the pan and rack, the vegetable oil or brush, and have the butter at room temp. That will make the process easier and quicker. And once they’re out of the oven, no dilly-dallying getting to the table to sit down!

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Perfect Baked Potatoes

Recipe By: Cook’s Illustrated, Jan, 2016
Serving Size: 4

4 russet potatoes — unpeeled, each lightly pricked with fork in 6 places (about 7-9 ounces each)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

NOTE: Open up the potatoes immediately after removal from the oven in step 3 so steam can escape. Top them as desired.
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 450°F. Dissolve 2 tablespoons salt in 1/2 cup water in large bowl. Place potatoes in bowl and toss so exteriors of potatoes are evenly moistened. Using a fork, poke each potato about 6 times on the top half.Transfer potatoes to wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet and bake until center of largest potato registers 205°F, 45 minutes to 1 hour. (I put foil underneath them.)
2. Remove potatoes from oven and brush tops and sides with oil. Return potatoes to oven and continue to bake for 10 minutes.
3. Remove potatoes from oven and, using paring knife, make 2 slits, forming X, in each potato. Using clean dish towel, hold ends and squeeze slightly to push flesh up and out. Season with salt and pepper to taste and a pat of butter. Serve immediately.
Per Serving: 89 Calories; 3g Fat (34.2% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 13g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 5mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on May 9th, 2017:

    I love super-crisp-skinned baked potatoes. I like the idea of getting the skins salty. Will definitely try this. My husband and son always leave their skins, so I’ve got a plan: let them have most of the insides of mine, and they can give me their skins! Your lunch sounds marvelous. I’d do it for breakfast–with an egg on it.

    Great idea, Donna. You’ll be in potato-skin-heaven! . . . carolyn t

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on May 25th, 2017:

    I would pay good money to be able to get my oven to even near 205 degrees! I never know what it will end up at.

    I know I would not go to all that trouble over a baked potato, I wash, dry and slather mine in butter then push a skewer through the length of it then bake it for an hour or so. I could never stick to one pat of butter either – I like a lot of it, probably more than you would be happy with…

    Sounds like you need to replace your oven? Or have it fixed? It really isn’t that much trouble to fix the potato, it’s just those few little things that make such a difference to the fluffy texture you’ll get. And I might be tempted to use a LOT of butter too. Usually if I’m having one, I’ll add sour cream too, and butter, S & P. But baked this way, butter is all that’s needed. . . carolyn t

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