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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 Salads, Veggies/sides, on May 19th, 2010.

A week or so ago I watched the chefs at America’s Test Kitchen prepare an Austrian type potato salad. It has not even a whiff of mayonnaise in it. No hard boiled eggs. No celery. It does have red onion, cornichons (those little French pickles – I used kosher dills) and a light oil, vinegar, Dijon mustard dressing with some chives too. It’s easy. And it’s delicious! We were barbecuing red bell peppers and Italian sausages (I know, it should have been something like Kielbasa or Polish Sausage, but that’s what I’d defrosted). I thought this potato dish just sounded like a perfect marriage.

Yukon Gold potatoes are peeled, quartered and chopped into 1/2 inch pieces. They’re put into a wide skillet (that has a lid) with a bit of water and chicken broth, salt, a little tiny amount of sugar and some white wine vinegar. The potatoes get cooked through, and you use the little bit of liquid remaining in the pan as part of the dressing – it’s mixed with Dijon, oil and more vinegar, and a little bit of cooked potatoes mashed up, then it’s tossed with the hot potatoes, along with some finely diced red onion, some chives, and the minced pickles. It’s seasoned well with salt and pepper and you’re done. How easy is that?

These potatoes are supposed to be eaten within a few hours of making the salad/side dish. Don’t refrigerate it, as it changes the consistency of the mixture. The folks at ATK said serve it within 4 hours. So, you can just leave it out (covered) once it’s made. They tried many different kinds of potatoes for this, and found Yukon gold by far the best. As it happened, I had Russets, but next time I’ll make it with Yukon. I thought the salad was scrumptious. It comes together quickly – you could do some of the work ahead, even. And sitting for an hour or two likely enhances the flavor. Be sure to taste it for more salt and/or pepper. I thought it took a lot of salt to make it just right to suit me. And I’m always very heavy-handed with the pepper anyway. I’d definitely make this again! And it’s no wonder the Austrians and Germans have a great reputation when it comes to potatoes. They know a thing or two about how to prepare them. A mayo-based dressing would have ruined this combo.

And, by the way, if you haven’t looked at the America’s Test Kitchen website lately, they’ve completely revamped it, and have ALL the recipes going back as long as they’ve been producing the TV show. That is SUCH an improvement. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I’d watch a segment, go online to try to find it, only to not find the recipe. I contacted them by email and they told me that different regions of the country broadcast the shows at different times (sometimes a year later!) so the recipes were long gone. No more, with the new website! Thank you, ATK.
printer-friendly CutePDF
Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click link to open in MC)

Austrian Style Potato Salad

Recipe By: America’s Test Kitchen
Serving Size: 8
NOTES: The finished salad should be creamy and loose, with chunks of potato that keep their shape but are very tender. To maintain its consistency, don’t refrigerate the salad; it should be served within 4 hours of preparation. The salad takes more salt than you might think.

2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes — (about 4 large) peeled, quartered lengthwise, and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 small red onion — chopped fine (about 3/4 cup)
6 cornichons — minced (about 2 tablespoons) (or kosher dills)
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives
ground black pepper to taste

1. Bring potatoes, broth, water, 1 teaspoon salt, sugar, and 1 tablespoon vinegar to a boil in 12-inch heavy-bottomed skillet over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook until potatoes offer no resistance when pierced with paring knife, 15 to 17 minutes. Remove cover, increase heat to high (so cooking liquid will reduce), and cook 2 minutes.
2. Drain potatoes in colander set over large bowl, reserving cooking liquid. Set drained potatoes aside. Pour off and discard all but ½ cup cooking liquid (if ½ cup liquid does not remain, add water to make ½ cup). Whisk remaining tablespoon vinegar, mustard, and oil into cooking liquid.
3. Add ½ cup cooked potatoes to bowl with cooking liquid mixture and mash with potato masher or fork until thick sauce forms (mixture will be slightly chunky). Add remaining potatoes, onion, cornichons, and chives, folding gently with rubber spatula to combine. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Per Serving: 179 Calories; 7g Fat (35.7% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 25g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 127mg Sodium.

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  1. Shellie McKinley

    said on October 6th, 2011:

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I saw that same episode of America’s Test Kitchen and immediately set about to make this potato salad. Although it was absolutely wonderful, I misplaced the recipe. I desperately tried to recreate it from memory but it was never quite the same – until now. I just put the finishing touches on my Austrian style potato salad and the results are heavenly. I have never left a comment on anyone’s page, but I found your blog so nicely written, informative, and entertaining, I had to tell you, “job well done.”
    Gee whiz, thank you! Hope you come back to visit again! . . . Carolyn t

  2. Janet

    said on May 23rd, 2012:

    I agree with the previous posting only this will be my first time making it.

  3. Cook

    said on July 1st, 2012:

    Thank you! I’m so glad that you posted this. I remember eating several potato salads like this in Bavaria and Austria years ago but I’ve never been able to make anything even remotely close. An a resounding YES for the no mayo, egg, celery routine! It is about the potatoes, a robust vinegar presence and a bland oil for lubrication. You made my day – and I just happen to have some YG potatoes. Thanks!

    Gosh, you’re SO welcome. Am glad I made it too. Lots of people seem to like this style potato salad as I’ve had oodles of comments or emails from people about it. . . carolyn t

  4. Adam Hartley

    said on February 22nd, 2013:

    Heading out to buy the ingredients now…

    This recipe seems to be one of the most popular recipes on my blog! Hope you enjoy the salad. . . carolyn t

  5. MissFoodFairy

    said on July 1st, 2013:

    Thank you for sharing this potato salad. It’s certainly a nice change from my potato salad, where I use bacon, mayonnaise, sour cream and springs onions! This went perfectly with the Wiener schnitzel I made for dinner tonight!

    Oh, I’m so glad! I’ve had a number of people come to my blog because of this recipe – it must come up from search engines on the recipe title, I suppose, since this style potato salad IS so different. . . carolyn t

  6. Texas Farmer

    said on September 29th, 2013:

    Chris Kimble’s and his American Kitchen may disapprove but I like and use 1:1 EVO and grape seed oil. I also add some sweet red ripe Hungarian peppers. No Gerkins, Chornichons only and garden grown Austrian fingerlings for potatoes. All Veggies should be fresh out of your garden. Thanks for posting the basics.

    Those sound like very good suggestions! .. . carolyn t

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