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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 Pork, Veggies/sides, on October 26th, 2017.

pan_roasted_pork_chops_apples_feta

Comfort food at its finest. Brown food is never very revealing in a photo . . . just trust me this is worth trying.

Aren’t pork chops just a simple way to get dinner on the table in fairly short order? Back in the days when I was working full time, pork chops were a regular on my evening dinner rotation because they could be prepared quickly. I won’t say that this method is quite that streamlined, but it won’t take you too much longer than a quick sauté in a pan and a short bake time to have this on your dinner table. I’m also including a new recipe for cauliflower that’s prepared to look like mashed potatoes. I liked this version better than the version I’ve made in the past. The pork chops are served alongside some nicely pan-sautéed apples that make a great accompaniment to the pork. Do make them – hopefully you have some apples, right?

The pork chops need to be brined for awhile – the recipe (from a cooking class I took) says 1-4 hours, but if you’re a working person, I truly don’t think brining for 8 hours would make any difference. The brine solution isn’t too salty (that would be the risk, that they’d absorb too much salt). But if you only have a short time, an hour will do it too. This brine is made with maple syrup, salt, of course, and water, heated to dissolve the salt. The purpose of simmering is ONLY to dissolve the salt, so I recommend you dissolve the salt in a cup or so of water, and the syrup, then add cold water to make up the water portion. That way you’ll get the pork chops in the brine a lot sooner. Or make it the night before and have it chilling. The brine also contains cider vinegar, peppercorns, apple cider and some fresh sage leaves.

Then you toss out the brine, blot the pork chops dry with paper towels and rub with olive oil and salt and pepper. This dish is made in a cast iron skillet (or another type of heavy skillet, like Le Creuset). That way you’ll get a nice sear on the meat and it holds the heat well while it roasts in the oven. The pork is browned on both sides briefly, then popped into a 400°F oven for 6-10 minutes (depends on how thick your pork chops are). Pork is done at 145°F internal temp. Use an instant read thermometer to make sure.

Meanwhile, just before the pork comes out of the oven (while it’s baking) peel, core and wedge some Gala or crispy apples, sauté them in a little butter and olive oil (with some red onion) and lastly you add some maple syrup and just before serving, spoon in some crumbled Feta. In another pan you sauté a few sage leaves until crispy (watch carefully). I usually don’t have sage leaves, so if you don’t either, just eliminate that part.

cauliflower_mash_sour_creamThe cauliflower mash is very easy and quick – buy a whole one, or the newer packages of riced cauliflower if you’d prefer. Cook the cauliflower in salted water until barely done, drain, then pulse in a food processor along with some whole milk, sour cream, butter, salt and pepper. Easy. Of course, it doesn’t taste exactly like mashed potatoes, but I’m telling you for sure, you’d be hard pressed to know if you’re eating it alongside pork and apples.

What’s GOOD: Delicious tasting pork with the sweet maple flavored apples alongside. Altogether scrumptious in my book. The cauliflower is also easy and a good way to eat your veggies without eating carbs. The sour cream is a nice addition to them.

What’s NOT: A little more prep than some, but not overly so. Would make a great company meal. If you have a helper in the kitchen, making this for a family weeknight dinner would be easy too.

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

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Pan-Roasted Brined Pork Chops with Maple Apples and Feta

Recipe By: A cooking class with Susan V, 2017
Serving Size: 6

BRINE:
6 cups water
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 cups apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons whole peppercorns
2 whole sage leaves — (fresh)
PORK:
6 pork chops — about 1″ thick
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
APPLES:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
10 whole sage leaves
1/2 cup red onion — sliced
1 pound apples — Gala or Honey Crisp, peeled, cored, cut in wedges
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/4 cup feta cheese — crumbled

1. Brine the pork: combine salt, maple syrup and water in a saucepan. Simmer, stirring, until the salt has dissolved. Let cool to room temp. Add cider, vinegar, peppercorns and sage. Submerge the pork chops in the brine and refrigerate for 1-4 hours.
2. Preheat oven to 400°F.
3. Remove pork from brine (discard brine) and pat dry with paper towels. Set the pork on a plate, cover with plastic wrap and allow pork to come to room temp, about 30 minutes.
4. Rub the pork with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork and sear on one side for 3 minutes. Turn over, then transfer skillet to the preheated oven. Roast for 6-10 minutes, or until pork has reached an internal temp of 145°F. Transfer to a heated plate and pour any pan juices on the meat. Let rest for about 5 minutes.
5. APPLES: Melt butter with olive oil in a large skillet. Add sage leaves and fry for less than a minute (do not burn). Remove sage to a paper towel and set aside. Add onion to skillet and cook about 5 minutes, then add apples, and cook for 6-8 minutes, until apples are softened. Add maple syrup and cook for just a minute. Remove apples from the heat, fold in the crispy sage leaves and crumbled Feta cheese.
6. Serve pork with apples along side.
Per Serving: 512 Calories; 26g Fat (44.5% calories from fat); 25g Protein; 47g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 84mg Cholesterol; 3903mg Sodium.


* Exported from MasterCook *

Cauliflower Mash with Sour Cream

Recipe By: Cooking class with Susan V, Oct. 2017
Serving Size: 6

1 whole cauliflower head — cut in florets
3 tablespoons whole milk
3 tablespoons sour cream
1 tablespoon butter
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Cook cauliflower in simmering salted water until tender, about 5-7 minutes. Drain.
2. Place cauliflower in food processor with remaining ingredients and pulse until smooth. Taste for seasoning.
Per Serving: 61 Calories; 4g Fat (52.0% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 6g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 9mg Cholesterol; 56mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on October 26th, 2017:

    This sounds like a super delicious meal. I’m making my weekly menus now, so will put this on the rotation–it’s just the kind of meal I like at this time of year.

    I really enjoyed it. Hope you do too. . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on October 27th, 2017:

    I am preparing the brine for this, and I discovered that vinegar is mentioned in your blog post and in the directions, but not in the ingredient list in the PDF or in the version of the recipe in the post. I’ll just have to wing it for now, but thought you might want to fix it. I’m going to go with a half cup, as there is plenty of volume in the rest of the ingredients to more than cover the pork chops, and I doubt that it will make a huge difference one way or the other.

    Oops, sorry about that. It was 2 CUPS of apple cider vinegar, not apple cider! Hope the brine wasn’t too sour!! I will fix the recipe. Thanks for noticing it. . . carolyn t

  3. hddonna

    said on October 28th, 2017:

    I used two cups apple cider and half a cup of apple cider vinegar–so not too sour. It was fine. We all liked all the components of the dish. I overcooked the chops. First, although I patted them dry–very thoroughly–I had a hard time getting a sear on the first side, so probably cooked them too long before turning them and putting them in the oven. Then I checked them after five minutes and they were all different temperatures, everywhere from 155 to 177. They were still pretty good, not quite as juicy as I would have liked, but not terribly dry either. These were about 3/4 inch thick. I think I’d go with at least an inch next time. I’ve done many versions of pork chops and apples; what I liked about this one was the addition of sage and feta to the apples–a little different, and really good. We all liked the cauliflower puree also. I also liked that there was not a huge mess in the kitchen. Things did tend to pile up a bit in the last half hour, with several things going at once, but clean-up was still quick and easy, and there were not serving dishes to wash, as I plated everything up right from the skillet and food processor. I would definitely make it again, and I’ll try it as written, with the full amount of vinegar.

    Am so glad you liked it. And yes, it’s SO easy to overcook pork chops. I have that happen to me from time to time as well. . . carolyn t

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