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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 Beef, on January 12th, 2018.

parkers_beef_stew

Beef stew, yes. A little different? Yes. Delicious? Yes.

A dear sweet gal, Susan, volunteers her home when a group of us gather for a cooking class each month. Last time as we were collecting our stuff to go, leaving her behind with a mound of dirty dishes and detritus on the floor from the cooking demonstration with Tarla, she mentioned that she had dinner ready to go into the oven. Oh, what was it, we asked? Parker’s Beef Stew, from Ina Garten. She went on to explain that she’s been making it for years, and that it’s hers and her husband’s favorite stew. No other will do.

I promptly came home and looked it up. It appeared in 2008 in her book, Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics: Fabulous Flavor from Simple Ingredients. Ina mentions her chef at the Barefoot Contessa store, Parker Hodges, who wasn’t a trained chef, but he had an innate skill with food. This is his recipe.

The unique thing about this stew is that the beef stew meat is marinated for about 20 hours or so in an entire bottle of red wine (along with some bay leaves and garlic). The marinade is reserved (minus the bay and garlic) and added back in later. The meat is dried off and dredged in a flour/salt/pepper mixture and browned. I made mine with just one pot, my big Le Creuset pot. I browned the meat, removed it, then browned the veggies (carrots, onions, mushrooms and a few potatoes), removed that, then started the layering of the meat on the bottom, then the veggies added on top. The wine is poured in, along with some seasonings, more fresh garlic, a jot of Worcestershire, a few sun-dried tomatoes (which add a good umami taste to the stew), some fresh rosemary AND some chicken broth. Chicken broth, you ask? In a beef stew? Yep. The article in Ina’s cookbook doesn’t explain, but I followed the recipe.

I veered off just a little bit – because my cousin was coming to visit, and he eats GF, I didn’t dredge the meat in flour, choosing to thicken the gravy at the end, just before serving, with cornstarch instead. And, I didn’t put in hardly any potatoes (because I prefer it that way) but doubled the mushrooms. Otherwise, I stuck to the recipe more or less. I didn’t happen to have any sun-dried tomatoes, but I did have a sun-dried tomato tapenade in the pantry, so I used that instead. AND, because I had a little packet of dried mushrooms on hand, I rehydrated them, and added them into the stew also (minus the water from it).

The stew is baked in a slow oven for 2 hours. Knowing that my oven runs hot, I turned down the temp to 275°F, so the stew would not bubble-simmer (it wants to be below that). And once removed from the oven, the beef was fork tender and the juice/sauce was just delicious. Also knowing that stew is better when reheated, I cooled it down and heated it up the next day, adding in the frozen peas at the very last minute. They add a lovely texture and bright color.

What’s GOOD: altogether delicious rendition of stew. The broth/gravy part is really flavorful since it’s mostly red wine. If there’s anything that’s really unusual about this, it’s the marinating of the beef in a bottle of red wine. It almost gives the resulting broth a French beef bourguignon flavor. Loved that part. When I served this to guests I cooked more onion and carrots in a little bit of butter and water and added them into the stew to give the mixture some additional vibrant color. And I sprinkled the top with some chopped Italian parsley too.

What’s NOT: only that you have to start this at least 24 hours ahead.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Parkers Beef Stew

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Ina Garten’s recipe, 2008
Serving Size: 6

2 1/2 pounds beef chuck — good quality, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 bottle red wine — (750 ml) like a Zinfandel or Cabernet
2 whole garlic cloves — smashed
3 whole bay leaves
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon fresh ground black pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil — as needed
2 large yellow onions — cut into 1-inch cubes
1 pound carrots — peeled and cut diagonally in 1-inch chunks
1 pound white mushrooms — stems discarded and cut in half
1/2 pound potatoes — small, halved
1 tablespoon minced garlic
14 1/2 ounces chicken stock
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes — chopped
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
More salt and pepper as needed to season
10 ounces frozen peas

NOTES: Use a very hearty type red wine, like Zinfandel or Cabernet – the more full bodied the wine, the more full bodied the sauce/stew will be. I also added a 1-ounce packet of dried mushrooms to the stew, after rehydrating in hot water for about 20 minutes, chopped up, fluid discarded. I also used double the fresh mushrooms and half the amount of potatoes, so you can adjust to suit your family’s preferences. The calorie count assumes you consume all of the flour, salt and pepper, which you won’t.
1. Place the beef in a heavy duty ziploc bag with red wine, garlic, and bay leaves and refrigerate overnight.
2. About 4 hours before you are ready to eat, remove bag from refrigerator and preheat the oven to 300°F. [I did mine at 275°F – see notes below under #11]
3. Combine the flour, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 tablespoon pepper.
4. Lift the beef out of the marinade with a slotted spoon and discard the bay leaves and garlic, saving the marinade. Blot the beef dry with paper towels.
5. In batches, dredge the cubes of beef in the flour mixture and then shake off the excess.
6. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot and brown half the beef over medium heat for 5 to 7 minutes, turning to brown evenly. Place the beef in a large oven-proof Dutch oven and continue to brown the remaining beef, adding oil as necessary. (If the beef is very lean, you’ll need more oil.) Place all the beef in the Dutch oven.
7. Heat another 2 tablespoons of oil to the large pot and add the onions, carrots, mushrooms, and potatoes. Cook for 10 minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
8. Add the garlic and cook for 2 more minutes. Place all the vegetables in the Dutch oven over the beef.
9. Add 2 1/2 cups of the reserved marinade to the empty pot and cook over high heat to deglaze the bottom of the pan, scraping up all the brown bits with a wooden spoon.
10. Add the chicken stock, rosemary, sun-dried tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper. Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables in the Dutch oven and bring to a simmer over medium heat on top of the stove.
11. Cover the pot and place it in the oven to bake it for about 2 hours, until the meat and vegetables are all tender, stirring once during cooking. If the stew is boiling rather than simmering, lower the heat to 250° or 275° F.
12. Before serving, stir in the frozen peas, season to taste, and serve hot. May sprinkle chopped Italian parlsey on top if desired.
Per Serving (assumes you consume all the flour and the S & P in it, which you won’t): 784 Calories; 40g Fat (46.1% calories from fat); 41g Protein; 64g Carbohydrate; 8g Dietary Fiber; 109mg Cholesterol; 1862mg Sodium.

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