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me_in_paris_198That’s me, on a trip, in a Paris restaurant.
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Just finished a very interesting novel, The Color of Water in July by Nora Carroll. It takes place in the upper peninsula of Michigan, an area I’ve never been to, but I have friends who live there and have been trying to get me to visit them for years, having told me (and sent photos) of how beautiful it is. The story takes place at a remote little cottage enclave on a lake. It’s clique-y, in that generations of families have kept these cottages in the family, not wanting any “outsiders” to come in. A young woman, Jess, who grew up partly with a crazy gypsy-like mother, and a loving but stern grandmother (who owns a home in the enclave) has a romance in her youth during the annual trek to the cottage, but a long ago tragedy ripples down through the years to affect her. When her grandmother dies, Jess has lots of mixed emotions about returning to the cottage. She wants to, but doesn’t. Finding papers in the house, she begins to unravel events over the course of two previous generations of family with startling revelations all along the way. Good character development for Jess, Daniel, her long-lost love, her grandmother, Mamie, and her current boyfriend, Russ. And great descriptions of the landscape of the area.

Champagne Baby: How One Parisian Learned to Love Wine–and Life–the American Way by Laure Dugas, another book I read recently. The author is very young, considering she’s written a memoir already (good for her, I say!). She was born to an old Champagne family in France, and paid little attention to anything regarding the wine business until her uncle (the CEO) offered to send her to the United States to do a 6-month tour with the vineyard’s distributor. She was fresh out of college and hadn’t really decided what she was going to do exactly. She’d be the spokesperson (brand ambassador they called her) for the family. Despite having a boyfriend, she made the leap anyway. Each chapter tells the story of her journey in America (with little language skills) or about what she learned about wine. And what she learned about long-distance relationships too. If you’ve never experienced much French wine, this would be a good introduction (she explains all about the different French wine regions and how/why they raise the grapes they do), but it’s woven into the very interesting life she led, living on a shoestring, meeting other French ex-pats in New York, and her thoughts on going to California, Boston, Memphis and other cities. When her 6 months were up, she wasn’t ready to go home. You’ll have to read it to find out what she did then. I liked the book immensely.

If you’ve been reading this sidebar much over the years, you’ve rarely seen mysteries here. Great for an airplane read, maybe, but I don’t find them (usually) gripping enough. But one of my book clubs is read a book by C.J. Box, called Open Season (A Joe Pickett Novel). Joe Pickett is a game warden in the wild country of Wyoming. He’s a good man. A family man. A good husband. AND a dogged investigator whenever anything goes awry in the hills. Usually it’s a murder of some kind. He writes a really good book that incorporates the mystery, lots of character study, some family stuff, but also a lot about the animals, the flora and fauna of the parks and land, and this one is also about an endangered species. I could hardly put it down. I’m SO glad I read this, and yesterday I visited my local library and checked out two more of his books. They’re easy reads; not overly long. But very absorbing. You’ll fall in love with Joe Pickett’s daughter Sheridan, too.

A page-turner of a book, Before the Fall by Noah Hawley grabbed me nearly from the first sentence. A small group of people take a private jet out of Martha’s Vineyard. Sixteen minutes later the plane crashes into the ocean. Two survive, a 4-year old boy and a single guy, an artist/painter, who ended up on the plane almost by happen-chance. What might have looked more like a fluke accident turns a bit sinister when you begin to learn more about the passengers on the plane, and the crew; the parents of the young boy, and a few others. Each person is scrutinized through the author’s lens and his/her culpability is analyzed. The painter and the boy form a bond because the man rescues the child and they swim miles and miles to shore. It’s just riveting. It’s not a James Bond type of thriller, but a real-life kind of drilling down into the core of each person on the plane. What I will mention, though, is that once you’ve read this, there isn’t a whole lot to discuss as a book club read, which is often the case for mysteries. Once the case is solved, there isn’t much to talk about except the characters, perhaps.

When one of my book groups gathered last week, we discussed a bunch of books that we might read for our next Sept-August “year.” We select them all, for the whole year, in advance. On the list of 18 possible ones (we’ll read nine only) was an old classic – I guess you could call it a classic – Plainsong – by Kent Haruf. Since it was published some years ago I dropped by the library, and sure enough, they had a copy. I came home and devoured it in one fell swoop. What a story. Tender, yet harsh in some respects. It tells the story of a group of small-town people (a teacher – a man separated from his wife, but he has the 2 boys who both play prominent roles in the book; a single woman caring for her aging and Alzheimer’s driven father; a young teenage girl who should have known better, but got pregnant; a couple of very old brothers, both single, struggling along with their ranch). All this takes place in a small town in eastern Colorado. I laughed. I cried. I wanted to reach through the pages to some of these characters to give them a hug. It’s a winner of a book. I may have to read more of Haruf’s books. The prose is spare, yet you can feel the anguish, the pain, the love, the caring. What a book!

 

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.
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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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