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Just finished The Letter by Kathyrn Hughes. It’s a very intricate tale. At first it’s about Tina, a battered wife [at which point I paused and wondered if I wanted to read any further, but I’m glad I did]. She tries to get the courage to leave her husband. Then enters the letter she finds in a suit pocket in the thrift shop where she volunteers. It’s old – sealed and stamped, but never mailed. Then you learn about Crissie, decades earlier, a young pregnant girl who is sent off to Ireland to a distant relative by her father, then to a rigid (meaning horrible) convent [the book takes place mostly in Manchester, England and in rural Ireland]. The letter is addressed to her. Jump forward decades and William, the adopted child Crissie gave up, tries to find his birth mother. William meets Tina in Ireland [a serendipitous moment] as she’s trying to find the woman to whom the letter is addressed. This book is the #2 best seller on Amazon at the moment. It’s a riveting tale and I really enjoyed it.

Read Grace Unshakled, by Irene Huising. From Amazon’s page, it says: “In the year 2025, 17-year-old Grace Duncan finds herself in shackles because of her faith in Christ. An obedient daughter and stellar student, doing time in jail was never on her mental radar, despite the changes in religious laws [this takes place here in the United States] over the past few years. Through twists and turns in circumstances, Grace and a small band of Christians in Newport Beach, California begin a journey to discover what it means to follow Christ with unwavering faith in the midst of increasing persecution. Facing the potential loss of all her hopes and dreams, would Christ be enough?” We read this for one of my book clubs, and it’s a scary thought about what it could mean if we take God out of our country. The author is a friend of a friend and she attended our book club meeting to share about how she came to write this book. I don’t often share my faith here on my website, but this book made me stop and think about the direction our government is going, removing more and more our ability to worship God. Or to worship in any religion. Will this book ever make waves in the book world? Probably not. My copy may be a pre-edited version, as it contained numerous typos and formatting errors. But they didn’t detract from the subject, just the cosmetics. The book doesn’t come to a resolution; in fact it leaves you hanging, as some books do. It was intentional (obviously), but left me wondering about the “end of the story.”

Also just finished reading The Muralist: A Novel by Shapiro. It tells the story of a young woman, an artist, who was part of the U.S.’s WPA mural project from the 1930s-40s (she is fiction, the WPA is not). As with so many artists, even today, they live in abject poverty through much of their lives. This woman, though, had family in France, desperately trying to escape before Hitler’s henchmen rousted them into concentration camps. The story, a bit of a mystery but not of the mystery-genre, is about Alizée Benoit, this young painter, who slightly captivates Eleanor Roosevelt’s help. It also skips into current time when the painter’s great-niece uncovers paintings she believes were painted by her aunt. The painter had disappeared into thin air in 1940, and her relative tries desperately to find out what happened to her. It’s a really good story including such Abstract Expressionist painters as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner well-woven into the narrative. It keeps you guessing right up to the end. A good read. The author also wrote The Art Forger: A Novel a few years ago.

Read The German Girl: A Novel by Correa. It chronicles the story of a wealthy German Jewish family in Berlin, as the Nazis arrive and make life a living hell. The family is lucky (I guess you could say this) to be allowed to purchase passage on the M.S. St. Louis, a passenger liner, to take them to “the Americas.” The destination is actually Cuba. The story is told from two voices – the teenage daughter in this story, and from a current-day distant family member who is trying to learn about her ancestry. Of the 900+ passengers on the ship, only a few were allowed to disembark since the Cuban President decided he needed more money to accept them. Most families had no money left, as the Reich had taken nearly all of their assets. The daughter and her very eccentric mother were allowed to stay in Cuba.  The remaining passengers are rejected by the U.S. too, and eventually return to Europe, where most of the Jews end up dying in concentration camps. The story goes back and forth from the 1939 journey to current day as the link between the two women is slowly revealed. I had a tough time sometimes, tracking the people in this book, but the story was very riveting. It’s based on facts about the ship (see Wikipedia link above if you’re interested). A shameful chapter in history.

Recently finished reading a magnificent historical novel. Not new. Philippa Gregory has been a favorite author of mine for a couple of decades. You may remember her most famous book, The Other Boleyn Girl, published some years ago. I thought that was a really great book. I’ve read other books by Gregory, but most recently I read The King’s Curse (The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels). The time period is the 1450s to 1541, mostly under the rule of King Henry VIII, the infamous womanizer and wife/Queen-killer. The man who cursed Rome (the Pope) – he wanted his first marriage annulled because Queen Catherine couldn’t produce a living male heir. And subsequently made himself the head of the church in England in order to do so. It was a Catholic country at the time. This story (it’s fiction, but woven with intricate historical detail) is from the voice of Margaret of York (a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine),  who was a Plantagenet in her own right (which is key to the later events in the book). Certainly I’ve read other novels over the years that dealt with Henry VIII, but not with this much breadth of info. What a wicked, sinful man he was. And did I say tyrant. Wow.  I could hardly put it down, through its nearly 600 pages. In the author’s notes at the end, she shares relatively recent medical info that suggests Henry probably suffered from a rare problem, Kell positive blood type, which can cause miscarriages, stillbirths and infant deaths IF the mother has the more common Kell negative blood type. And that in his later years, he may have had McLeod syndrome, a disease only found in Kell positive individuals. Around the age of 40 it causes physical degeneration and personality changes resulting in paranoia, depression and irrational behavior. All of those King Henry VIII had in spades. If you read the book, you might read the author’s notes (at the end) before reading the book. If you like historical fiction (I love any book about English history) you’ll just love this one. It’s interesting, though, as I think about the many books I’ve read covering this era in English history, that each book presented its hero/heroine as the most innocent and worthy individual vying for the crown of England. I remember thinking Anne Boleyn was dealt with so badly during her life (and certainly her beheading), and yet reading this book, I completely reversed my opinion. Anne Boleyn was called a wh–e by most people during the years she shared Henry’s bed. The “curse” from the title pertains to Henry’s inability or the curse on the Tudors, that caused him to fail in producing a male heir. In any case, none of Henry’s wives should have died for it – likely it was all Henry’s fault anyway. Just read this one, okay?

Also recently read News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a free-lance job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her family was killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of an old (wild) west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many. Just read this one first!

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, Grilling, on August 10th, 2009.

sizzling steak 1

For my dear hubby’s birthday dinner (celebrated a couple of weeks late) that we had with friends last weekend, I knew his first choice would be beef. Steaks, specifically. Good steaks. Make that really good steaks. Our favorites are rib eyes. We made the mistake two summers ago of buying USDA Prime steaks at our local independent market/butcher. We both thought we’d died and gone to heaven. Now we’re spoiled, and don’t want the regular, pedestrian steaks at all. Costco to the rescue.

Now, in case you don’t know about it, Costco now carries (at least in our part of the country) prime steaks. The story goes like this (according to our local newspaper Food Editor, Cathy Thomas), because of the recession, fewer people are going to steakhouses. Or if they are, they’re perhaps not ordering those fantastically thick high-ticket steaks for which they charge an arm and leg. So the beef distributors have had to find new avenues for the extra-tender beef. Enter Costco on the scene. Their prime rib eye steaks are about $8-11 apiece, packaged in fours. Generally Dave and I share ONE steak. For this dinner I prepared 4 steaks for 6 of us, assuming maybe the guys would like an extra portion. Actually, we had enough leftover to serve dinner to friends the next night.

Over the years I’ve learned to trust Hugh Carpenter. He’s one knowledgeable chef. And an innovative menu creator. In addition, he and his wife have authored several cookbooks. Either last year or the year before, when we celebrated Dave’s birthday with this same group of friends (we all bring out our very special – read expensive – red wines to share with one another), we had another one of his recipes: Rib eye Steaks with Amazing Glaze. That one is a real favorite of ours. I’ve made it many, many times, always to raves. But I didn’t want to serve the same thing, so I went to his book, Hot Barbecue (where the other Amazing Glaze rib eye recipe came from also), and chose this one.

Recipe Tip:

Do double the amount of sauce you make – it’s SO good, and
you’ll find another use for it, either with leftovers or with some other kind of grilled meat a day or two later.

Carpenter explained that although the recipe requires a few steps to prepare, it’s worth it. It requires that you have a fairly extensive spice cupboard. It also requires a bit of sitting time (for the steaks to absorb the spice flavors). And you have to make the red pepper sauce. That was the most amount of work in the total prep. And even that wasn’t all that difficult. Just took a bit of time sitting on the stovetop simmering away (to reduce the quantity). The sauce becomes a bed for the steak. The steaks were slathered with minced fresh garlic, then the spice mixture was patted on. They sat for 8 hours in the refrigerator so they’d absorb the flavor.

spice rub toasted The spice mixture was fun to make (well, it was for me, anyway). First a group of whole spices (pictured left) were toasted in a dry skillet (allspice berries, cinnamon sticks, black peppercorns, coriander seeds and whole cloves). They required a bit of stirring (no burning allowed), but once the pan got up to a high heat, they began to smoke lightly. Immediately I turned off the flame and poured the spices out onto a plate to cool. Those were then whizzed up in my spice grinder (it’s a coffee grinder, but I dedicate it for spices). Other items were added to the mix: chile powder, dark brown sugar, dry thyme, dry mustard, salt and freshly grated nutmeg. That’s it.

The red pepper sauce is composed of bottled roasted red peppers, chicken stock, red wine, honey and some spicy Asian hot sauce. Be careful of the hot sauce – once it’s boiled down to a thicker consistency, that will heighten the spiciness (heat). Do not add salt.

Dave was more interested in this dinner menu than usual – because he really wanted the wine to pair well with the food. We brought out a very special bottle of wine. Those of you who know my husband already, will find it no surprise that he tells lots of stories. (He’s a gregarious kind of guy, can walk into just about any room, crowded or not, and make conversation with total strangers, and will tell stories about sailing, or his artificial legs, or a trip we’ve taken.)

A few months ago we were shopping at our number one upscale market (Bristol Farms) in Newport Beach. If we go there together (it’s a 30-minute drive from our house to Newport Beach), Dave will leave me to go through the aisles, while he spends most of the time in the wine department. The store has one wine cabinet that’s all locked up, but you can see the wines inside. And their price tags. (This story has made the rounds of all of our friends, Dave is so proud of himself!) As he glanced in the rows behind glass he spotted a 1990 Chateau Lafite Rothschild. Anyone into wine knows that’s one really great French label. We rarely buy French wine. But as Dave examined the label, he knew – bingo – that’s the bottle we have at home. THEN he looked at the price tag. Of course, an upscale market would charge a premium for all their wines. But, gee whiz. Big but gee whiz. They are charging $850.00 for it. Wow. Yikes. Zippity-do-dah! He came – all but running to find me – to tell me about it. And THAT’s the wine we drank with dinner last Saturday. Somebody gave us a bottle of 1990 Lafite Rothschild nearly 20 years ago. We think the bottle was given to us by our friend Russ – the little scribble on the label says 7/93 Ru–? B’day. We think that means Russ gave it to Dave for his birthday in 1993. If so, Russ, we THANK YOU. Likely it was nowhere near that much money in 1993.

So how was it, you ask? Well, we decanted it and let it air for an hour, and poured it into our Reidel Bordeaux/Cabernet wine glasses. We did all the snobby wine things – swirling, sniffing, more swirling, looking through the glass to see the clarity, more swirling and sniffing. The bouquet was beyond wonderful. Had that slightly brown side of red color. It was sensational. Not worth $850 for sure, but we’re grateful for the bottle. We each had a small glass of it with our appetizers (a Roasted Red Pepper and Walnut Spread on Garlic-Oregano Grilled Pita Bread, some Caramelized Onion on toasted baguette slices and some Brie with blackberries). I’ll be posting ALL of the recipes from this dinner in coming days.

Then I served a chilled Avocado Soup (like Guacamole in a glass) with a spoon, which we enjoyed before we sat down to dinner. We ate outside by candlelight to the low-setting sun. We opened a bottle of Jordan Cabernet, then a magnum of Canoe Ridge Cab.

sizzling steak dry rub Now, let’s get back to this fabulous meat . . . those spice-marinated rib eyes (pictured right, as they squeezed into a ceramic bowl to “marinate”) were put onto the hot grill, seared both sides, then put off to the side (not over direct heat, in a racked pan) to continue cooking until they reached about 123 degrees F (medium rare). Meanwhile, I had cooked some fresh corn on the cob and slathered the hot ear halves with a little bit of butter, then sprinkled them with the spice mix I used on the steak (I just made more of it from the beginning). The corn was a real highlight. I’ll be writing up a separate blog post about that. I also set out a Lebanese Layered Salad (which was ever so good). When the steaks were served I slathered a bit of the red pepper sauce on the piping hot plates, put the steak on top, then sprinkled it with fresh goat cheese chèvre and minced cilantro. Dinner was done. The rib eyes were fantastic. I don’t use that word all that often. They were SO good – the sauce and spice rub made it, though. I didn’t think I’d like the goat cheese, but it also was a nice foil to the beef. Yes, indeed, I’ll be making that recipe again. And maybe I’ll be making just the sauce by itself (Carpenter suggested you could use it in a variety of other ways) and freezing small portions so when we have a steak next time we can have more of that slather.

For dessert I wanted to make tiramisu, because it’s one of Dave’s favorites anyway. I had a new recipe (via America’s Test Kitchen). It was really, really good. I’ll post all the recipes in the next week. I apologize for this loooong recipe for the steak. It’s really not that hard. Believe me! And worth the time for sure.
printer-friendly PDF

Sizzling Rib Eyes with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Recipe: Adapted from Hot Barbecue, by Hugh Carpenter
Servings: 4
NOTES: My advice: make twice the amount of the sauce – if you have leftovers of it, you’ll find other uses for it. It’s really delicious. If you use chicken stock granules, don’t add water – it’ll take a lot less time to reduce the sauce.

STEAK INGREDIENTS:
4 whole ribeye steaks — 1/2 inch thick
3 ounces goat cheese
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, whole
flavorless cooking oil to brush on the grill rack
SIZZLING BEEF RUB:
4 whole garlic cloves — minced
18 whole allspice berries
1 piece cinnamon stick — about 1-inch long
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon coriander seeds — 1/2″ cubes
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
3 tablespoons chile powder
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar — packed
1 tablespoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
ROASTED RED PEPPER SAUCE:
1 cup roasted red peppers — jarred, drained
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup dry red wine
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons Asian hot sauce

1. STEAKS: Trim excess fat from the edges of the steak. Place the steaks in a glass container.
2. RUB: Rub the garlic cloves over both sides of the steaks. Place the allspice, cinnamon, peppercorns, coriander and cloves in a small dry skillet. Place the pan over medium heat and toast (stirring and shaking pan frequently) until the spices just begin to smoke. Some of them will just start to pop – watch for smoke, remove and pour onto a plate to cool.
3. Place the toasted spices in an electric spice grinder (or use a mortar and pestle) and grind finely. In a small bowl combine all the remaining spices and add the toasted spices. Stir to evenly combine them. Reserve 2 T. of the spices (for the sauce).
4. Rub the remaining spices over the steak surfaces, cover and refrigerate the steaks for 1-8 hours.
5. SAUCE: Place all ingredients for the roasted red pepper sauce in a blender. Add the reserved dry rub, then puree. Transfer the mixture to a heavy-duty saucepan, bring to a boil over high heat, simmer until the mixture has reduced to 1 1/2 cups. Cool and refrigerate. This can be made ahead and refrigerated.
6. 30 minutes before ready to cook, remove steaks and allow them to come to room temp.
7. Preheat grill to medium (350). Brush the cooking rack with a paper towel doused in the cooking oil. Insert a meat thermometer into the side of one of the steaks. Place the steaks in the center of the rack. If you don’t have a meat thermometer, grill steaks about 3 minutes per side (longer if steaks are thicker).
8. Once you’ve acquired grill marks on both sides, move steaks over to a part of the rack without direct heat. Continue cooking until a meat thermometer reads 123. Remove steaks, tent lightly with foil for about 5 minutes, then serve with the sauce.
9. During the time the steaks are cooking, reheat the sauce and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Spoon the sauce onto 4 heated plates and place meat right in the center of the sauce. Sprinkle the steak with goat cheese and cilantro. Serve immediately.
Per Serving: 563 Calories; 28g Fat (43.6% calories from fat); 29g Protein; 51g Carbohydrate; 11g Dietary Fiber; 79mg Cholesterol; 1599mg Sodium.

A year ago: Wellesley Chocolate Chip Cookies
Two years ago: Goat Cheese Chive Muffins (a favorite)

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