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Just finished reading 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 because 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 a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine, Margaret of York, later titled Countess of Salisbury, but 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, too!

Winter Journey by Diane Armstrong. Have you ever read about forensic dentistry? I sure had not, so I found it fascinating reading. It’s a debut novel for the author, and what a story. Halina, an Australian, with Polish roots, specializes in this obscure profession as a forensic dentist, and is asked to go to Poland, to help identify bone (and tooth) fragments, to put to rest a sad event in the story of this small town, when many, many people (Jews) were murdered. Was it the Nazis? Or was it the local townspeople who disliked the Jews. What a tangled web of intrigue, including Halina’s own mysterious past. I really enjoyed the read. The author does a great job of developing the characters (which I always like). This is no light read if you consider the subject matter, although it IS a novel (but based on fact). Nor is it a spy thriller – it’s more just an historical novel with lots of interesting people throughout. There’s a romance thrown in too, and a whole lot of angst about the discoveries found in the mass grave. But, the subject expanded my knowledge about forensics.

The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr. I just LOVED this book. I’ve never been much of a fan of Caravaggio’s paintings, although I’ve seen plenty of them (many are extremely large) in museums around the world. His paintings were dark, often with dark subjects. But as with many of the old masters, occasionally some obscure work surfaces, perhaps credited to another artist, even, that turns out to be one done by “the” master. In this case, Caravaggio. Although this book is written as a novel (with dialogue, etc.) it’s historical through and through. It begins with two young women art scholars, in Italy, who are asked to do a research project. One thing leads to another, and to another. All true.  If you enjoy books about art – I learned some things about the paint and the canvases of the time – you’ll be intrigued as I was.

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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