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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 Soups, on December 11th, 2017.

mushroom_soup_wo_cream

Thrilled with the results of this home made mushroom soup without a speck of cream.

Sometime recently I ordered mushroom soup at a restaurant, and expected it to be a nice little cup with mushrooms swimming in it AND in a creamy broth. Nope. It had no cream in it, and wow, was it good. So I promised myself I’d try to replicate it at home. Couldn’t be that hard, right? I found several recipes, but settled on one from the New York Times, that actually was a pureed soup. That I didn’t want, but I stuck with their recipe for the most part.

The secret to making this is layering lots of flavors – all things complementary to soup, of course. Like shallots, leeks, onions. I bought crimini mushrooms, regular button mushrooms, plus some shiitake. And to help with layering, I used some dried mushrooms. Once I found them at my local market, I had a several choices. Mostly they contained oyster mushrooms and chanterelle. Those were fine – they’re in a tiny little clamshell box. They got soaked in hot water for 30 minutes before I began. Most recipes tell you to use the soaking liquid, but on this little box from Melissa’s Produce, it said NOT to use the water, so I discarded it. Sometimes that mushroom water can taste a little off.

What I have in my refrigerator is a plastic one-pound tub of mushroom concentrate (broth, like chicken broth concentrate). And oh, was it perfect for this. If you can find it in your stores, please use it. Mine is from “Custom Culinary” in Oswego IL. Here’s the link at Amazon for it: Custom Culinary Gold Label Vegan Mushroom Base, 1 Pound. I’ve had mine for at least a year or more and it’s shown no degradation of quality at all.

Chopping up all the fresh mushrooms took awhile, but the 3 different kinds added different texture. One little surprise ingredient is a jot of soy sauce, and I just KNOW it added great flavor. You don’t taste it – there’s not enough in there to do that, but it’s good umami flavor. I simmered the soup for about 45 minutes, cooled it and packaged it up for freezing and left one container for eating. As of tonight, I’ve had it for 3 meals. I just LOVE the flavor of it – love the leeks, the broth, and the tooth of the mushrooms themselves. The original called for a Parmesan rind, but I didn’t bother, although I do have one in my refrigerator. For me, this soup doesn’t need cheese! But a nice piece of toast with some melted Parm on top would be a great little topper for this soup. And, of course, you could drizzle in a little bit of sour cream or cream if you wanted to. I’m amazed at the calorie count (low, really low).

What’s GOOD: for sure the super-over-the-top mushroom flavor. Might be from the mushroom base – don’t know for sure. Love the meatiness of the mushrooms and there were lots in this soup. Freezes well. A keeper.

What’s NOT: you’ll likely have to go shopping for some of the ingredients (leeks, maybe shallots, and the mushroom base, the dried mushrooms and maybe all the varieties of fresh mushrooms too).

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Mushroom Soup without Cream

Recipe By: Adapted from a New York Times recipe
Serving Size: 6

1/2 ounce dried mushrooms — prefer porcini, or a mixture of dried mushroom types
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion — chopped
2 medium shallots — peeled, chopped
1 large leek — white and light green part only, sliced lengthwise, then chopped, rinsed well
Salt to taste
1 1/2 pounds mushrooms — (white and cremini) sliced
4 ounces shiitake mushroom — stems discarded, sliced
5 cups low sodium chicken broth — or mushroom stock or vegetable stock
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons dried thyme — crushed between your palms
Freshly ground pepper to taste
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon dry sherry — to taste (optional) (1 to 2)
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1/3 cup Italian parsley — chopped (garnish)

NOTE: I use Custom Culinary Mushroom Base – for the recipe to serve 6 I used a heaping tablespoon (plus the water, of course) in lieu of the low sodium chicken broth. It’s available from Amazon.
1. Place the dried mushrooms in a bowl or pyrex measuring cup and cover with 1 cup boiling water. Let sit for 30 minutes. Remove mushrooms and discard the water. (Some chefs use the hydrating water, but most dried mushroom packages recommend discarding the water as it often has “off” flavors.) Chop up the rehydrated mushrooms in small pieces and set aside.
2. Heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat in a large, heavy soup pot or Dutch oven and add the onion, shallots and leek and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, until tender and, about 5 to 8 minutes. Do not brown. Add fresh and reconstituted mushrooms and cook, stirring, until they begin to sweat and smell fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes.
3. Add the broth, bay leaf, thyme, soy sauce and salt to taste, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer 45 minutes. Remove the bay leaf.
4. If desired, you may blend the soup until smooth. Taste and adjust salt, and add pepper and the sherry, if using. Add the extra half cup of stock and heat through, stirring. If the soup seems too thick, thin out a little more but remember to taste and adjust seasoning. Serve in espresso cups or in bowls, garnishing each serving with chopped Italian parsley.
Per Serving: 215 Calories; 7g Fat (26.7% calories from fat); 15g Protein; 28g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 10mg Cholesterol; 792mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on December 13th, 2017:

    I never use cream in anything, to me it will always mask the flavour of whatever you put it on, I hate the stuff. I do love a good mushroom soup though and this one looks good but I would be unable to buy the mushroom base that you have so would rely on a mushroom ketchup.

    Does mushroom ketchup have a lot of tomato product in it? If so I probably wouldn’t try it. Just use more mushrooms, I guess! . . . carolyn t

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on December 15th, 2017:

    No there are no tomatoes in a mushroom ketchup here is a recipe: http://www.greatbritishchefs.com/recipes/mushroom-ketchup-recipe

    It is an intensley umami flavoured sauce.

    That recipe sounds very interesting, though kind of brown-ugly. It probably tastes good though. . . carolyn

  3. hddonna

    said on December 15th, 2017:

    Carolyn, when I read this the other day, I had to immediately go to Amazon and order some of that mushroom base! Then I came back and wrote a long comment. Apparently I never clicked on “submit”, because when I came back yesterday, there was no sign of it, even awaiting moderation. This soup sounds fabulous! Can’t wait to try it. I would think the base would be handy to have around for a lot of uses.

    No, I don’t think I did receive a comment from you about it. But you have now. You’ll love this soup – I want to make it again really soon. And yes, the soup base is useful for many other things – soups of other types and stew type things. I do hope you enjoy it. Let me know . . . carolyn t

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