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Recently finished reading The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke. All I can say is “wow.” In a general sense, this book is based on the premise of The Pilot’s Wife. But this one has some totally different twists and turns. A young wife is met at the door by police, informing her that her husband has died in an auto accident. Then she finds out he died in Hawaii – not Kansas, where she thought he was, on business. Then she finds out there was a woman in the car. Then she meets the fiance of the woman passenger and the two of them embark on a fact-finding mission in Hawaii to discover the truth. Well, I’m just sayin’ . . . the plot thickens. And thickens. And thickens clear up to the last few pages. Hang onto your seat. A really, really good, suspenseful read.

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 Novel by 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. 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 angry father is a wealthy and influential man in the area. 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.

 

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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