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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 Beef, on May 13th, 2007.

If we’d wanted these ribeye steaks to turn out any better than they did, I don’t know what we could have done to make them so. The recipe is very exact in its cooking method, and with the help of my meat/oven thermometer, they cooked to perfection. The smear underneath is a puckery sauce made ahead and plopped on the hot plate just before serving.

Up until last night’s dinner, we’ve been a bit disappointed with steak we’ve purchased lately. The Costco ribeyes weren’t all that tender, and even the steaks from Whole Foods weren’t very tasty or tender, either. So we decided to splurge on our next steak dinner and buy U.S.D.A. Prime meat, only available at a local, independent butcher (Pacific Ranch Market in Orange Park Acres).

It was money well spent, as these steaks were outstanding in every way. The recipe comes from Hugh Carpenter, a prolific cookbook author and entertaining instructor. He came to my attention about 16 years ago with classes he taught in Los Angeles and Pasadena. I’ve purchased several of his books, and a couple of years ago he taught a grill or barbecue class at Sur la Table in Newport Beach (SLT is rarely doing guest chefs anymore, so don’t look for him there or at any other SLT store . . . perhaps I’ll write a rant about the Sur la Table cooking school on another posting . . . I used to be a big fan, but no longer). This was the recipe he prepared that night, and it’s been a success every time. I believe it’s from his book Hot Barbecue printed a few years ago, which I do not own.

Buy the best quality meat you can afford. Make sure you have a very reliable meat thermometer like the one pictured here. This little number has been a lifesaver for me more times than I can count. And as good as anyone thinks he/she is as a grill king, it will make a believer out of you that every cook needs one. This particular model by Polder tracks the temperature in the grill oven as well as the food so you can make adjustments. The method of cooking is this: the steak is marinated for a few hours. Meanwhile, make the Amazing Glaze sauce and allow it to cool.

After removing some to serve on the finished plate, drain the steaks, blot them dry and let them sit in remaining glaze for about 40 minutes. Heat grill to medium high, sear the steaks for one minute on each side, then put them on a rack on a baking sheet and place back in the grill at 300° but not over the direct heat. Watch the meat thermometer carefully and remove them when they hit 120°. Allow to sit for 5 minutes covered loosely with foil. Serve! You won’t be disappointed.
Happy grilling . . .
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Ribeye Steaks with Amazing Glaze

Recipe: Hugh Carpenter, cookbook author
Serving: 4
NOTES: Sauce is very spicy. If you prefer more highly seasoned, add more Tabasco. And this recipe assumes a VERY hearty eater with 12 ounces of steak per person. Most people would eat an 8 ounce steak. Another option: buy bigger ribeyes and cut them in half after they’re grilled. The “secret” to this recipe is the cooking method and it has worked perfectly every time. We take the steaks off at 120° and let them sit for a few minutes covered lightly with foil. The sauce keeps for months and months in the refrigerator.
Serving Ideas : This is best served with a smooth carb – like garlic mashed potatoes or creamy polenta. Grilled onions make a good accompaniment as well.

48 ounces steaks — 4 ribeyes, 12 ounces each
10 ounces Worcestershire sauce
3 whole lemons — squeezed
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 whole yellow onion — chopped
6 cloves garlic — minced
2 tablespoons fresh thyme
2 cups red wine
1 1/2 cups Heinz 57 Sauce
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons dark sesame oil
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon molasses
1 tablespoon fresh oregano
1 tablespoon paprika
1/2 tablespoon fresh sage
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce

1. Place the steaks in a large rectangular container. In a small bowl combine the Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice and water. Pour over the meat and chill for 1-8 hours.
2. Meanwhile, prepare the Sauce: In a 2 1/2 quart saucepan add oil and onion. Sauté until onions are translucent, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and continue cooking for just 30 seconds. Add all remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Remove lid, increase heat and boil until the sauce has reduced about half. Transfer to a bowl, cool, cover and refrigerate.
3. Set aside one cup of the sauce to serve with the meat. Drain and discard the meat marinade. Blot the steaks of excess liquid, then spread remaining sauce liberally over the steaks, to coat evenly.
4. Grilling meat: Preheat oven to 300°. Use convection, if available. Then preheat a stovetop grill over high heat. Grill steaks on hot grill and cook about 1 minute per side. Place steaks in oven on a rack, on a baking sheet and insert a meat thermometer in the center of one steak. Bake about 15 minutes, or until the internal temperature is about 120° – 130°. At 120° = medium rare, at 130° = medium. Cut into one steak when it is about 5° below desired temp. It may require a few more minutes, depending on your oven temperature.
5. Remove steaks from oven and allow to sit for about 5 minutes. Slice steak into thin slices and serve on a heated plate with a puddle of the sauce beneath it.
6. If you would prefer to use a GAS GRILL, preheat it to medium heat. Brush the grill with oil, then lay on the steaks, marking them, but cooking no longer than that. Have ready a rimmed baking sheet with a rack, and place steaks on the rack in the grill, but not over direct heat. Reduce heat to 300°. Insert meat thermometer, close lid and continue to cook until meat reaches temperature desired (see above). Allow to cool 5 minutes before serving.

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