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Just finished 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 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 parents were 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 a old 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.

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.

Eye On the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press, by James, McGrath Morris. Each year my AAUW book club reads something related to Black History Month. This is a biography of a woman you’ve probably never heard of, Ethel Payne, and about her life-long journey in journalism, struggling to keep her head above water financially, but staying true to her purposes of telling the truth about the black stories and black racism of the day. Sometimes biographies aren’t all that riveting, but I found this one to be so, and I savored each new chapter. We had a really good discussion of the book, and the ups and downs of Payne’s life, especially during her years as a Washington reporter. You’ll not be sorry to have spent the time reading this book. It’s well-written, as well. I was thrilled when the author, Morris, left a message here on my blog, thanking me (and my group) for reading his book.

H Is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald. This one has been on the best seller list. It’s a memoir about a woman who takes on a personal challenge of taming a wild hawk. Prior to reading this book, I knew next to nothing about the entire subject of hawking, or taming any of the big, wild birds. The book is equally about the writer’s inner journey. She’s a consummate writer, and every page was a joy of words, for me. My only problem is my own – I found it hard, the more time that went by, and the more time the writer spent trying to tame this bird, to scream out “let the bird go.” Perhaps it’s because I spent time in Africa in 2015, seeing animals in the wild, that I felt more for the bird than I did with the writer’s discontent with herself and the taming process. Little did I know what a hard job it is to tame a hawk. I actually didn’t finish the book. It was a book club read, and highly recommended by several of our members. And I ended up not being able to attend the meeting as I had a cold. So perhaps there is some great ending to it that would have made me feel better. I haven’t gone to the end to find out. I just had to stop reading it. But I’m not NOT recommending it. If nothing else, read it for Macdonald’s sublime proficiency with words.

Also read George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, by Brian Kilmeade and Dan Yaeger. Here’s what it says on amazon: When George Washington beat a hasty retreat from New York City in August 1776, many thought the American Revolution might soon be over. Instead, Washington rallied—thanks in large part to a little-known, top-secret group called the Culper Spy Ring. He realized that he couldn’t defeat the British with military might, so he recruited a sophisticated and deeply secretive intelligence network to infiltrate New York. I won’t exactly call this book a riveting read, but it was interesting. Relating facts that few people knew about, this Culper Spy Ring. It’s a little chunk of American history researched in depth by the authors. An interesting read.

Also read The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel by Nina George. If you’re an avid reader, you probably have the same kind of longing as I do for a quaint, independently owned bookstore right around the corner. So few exist anymore. This novel is about a very unusual book store, and book store owner. In Paris. On a boat/barge. It’s not a typical book store, and the writer takes you on a journey of discovery about (likely) her own lifetime of book reading. You’ll learn all about a variety of existing books and why they’re a good read. But it’s all cloaked in a story about this book store and the owner. And the customers. Very fun. I’m reviewing it for one of my book clubs next month.

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 October 18th, 2010.

Do you know what a la mode means? It’s French, and originally meant in the current style, or fashion. I believe it may have pertained more to clothing than food. But here, and in French cooking, a la mode does still mean in vogue, in style. Restaurants here in the U.S. use the phrase a la mode to describe a dessert when it’s served with ice cream. Like apple pie a la mode.

This pot roast – well, it’s just that this has been in style for at least a century, and it’s just so infinitely good. Delicious. Succulent. Comfort food. Melt in your mouth scrumptious.

Picnik collageThis is a recipe I’ve been using for about 40 years. Gee, that makes me feel ancient. 40 years. It appeared in the San Diego Union Tribune in October of 1973. I have an aging yellowed newspaper clipping that I scotch taped to the page in my ring binder and had written in the date. The short article was written by a food writer named  Zolita Vincent. I have adapted it (more wine, seasonings, different side veggies, and I make it with a smaller piece of meat).

PICTURED LEFT: (1) that’s the 9×13 pan I started with, lined it with two pieces of heavy-duty foil – I patched two together with a seam in the middle; (2) the chuck roast nestled in the middle; (3) the roast was broiled/browned on one side with the red onions and carrots nestled alongside – they got broiled too – for about 5 minutes; and (4) once browned on both sides and the red wine and other stuff was added, I sealed it up tight as a drum and it went into the oven for 3+ hours.

In the traditional French method (I looked at one of my Julia Child cookbooks for this) the roast is marinated in red wine and herbs for 2-3 days before it’s baked. I didn’t plan that far ahead, and never seem to.

This recipe is a short-cut method of making the plan-ahead recipe. Part of the great flavor comes, though, from the red wine you pour all over the roast. Since it’s baked at a low heat (300°), it just barely simmers, which makes the meat so tender and succulent. The onions, carrots and celery also provide a lot of flavor (you toss those out after the roast is done – they’ve expended all their flavor to the roast and the sauce). So you make other veggies to serve with this, or you can open up the foil packet about 1 1/2 hours before it’s done and add new onions, carrots and some potatoes, if you choose.

Personally, I prefer mashed potatoes with a pot roast any day. And that’s what I did this time. I also quick-sautéed some thinly sliced mushrooms in some olive oil and butter to serve along side. I’d also baked a couple of red onions too, for the last hour (not sealed in foil, though).

Once the roast was done, I poured out all the liquid in that foil packet into a saucepan (leaving the roast inside, and resealed it to keep it warm), and added some thickening. Actually I tried using something new . . . I read about this stuff in the King Arthur Flour catalog – it’s called Signature Secrets Culinary Thickener. Like using flour or cornstarch (which is what my original recipe called for), this new-fangled stuff will dissolve and thicken without mixing with water, doesn’t clump, and will thicken even COLD liquid. Imagine that? I’m a new believer in this stuff. It’s not cheap, but you only use a tablespoon or so at a time. Great product.

Anyway, I thickened the sauce/gravy, added just a bit of water because it was a tad too salty for me, and spooned it over the slices (well, you can hardly slice the meat as it falls apart with the touch of a fork) and over the mashed potatoes. I think you could make the pot roast in a crock pot too, although I’ve not tried adapting this recipe to that method.

Yum is all I can say. And if you’re a regular reader of my blog, and I tell you this one is a keeper, trust me. You can do all the prep work ahead of time (don’t broil/brown the meat, though until you’re ready to roast it).

printer-friendly PDF

French Pot Roast a la Mode

Recipe By: Adapted from an ancient newspaper clipping, circa 1970.
Serving Size: 6
NOTES: If you’d prefer to have roasted potatoes too, remove the foil sealed pouch and pan about 1 hour before it’s done and add potatoes to the mixture. Seal back up and continue roasting. I prefer this with mashed potatoes.

3 pounds beef chuck roast — trimmed of exterior fat
2 medium red onions — peeled, wedged
3 whole carrots — peeled, cut in big chunks
1 stalk celery — cut in 2-3 pieces
3 whole garlic cloves — peeled, smashed
2 teaspoons dried thyme — crushed in between your palms
2 whole bay leaves
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups red wine
1 teaspoon beef soup base — or bouillon cubes
1/4 cup brandy
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons cornstarch — or other thickening agent
3 tablespoons Italian parsley — minced
5 large baking potatoes — made into mashed potatoes
2 cups mushrooms — sliced, sauteed in olive oil and butter

1. Preheat oven to broil. Place two layers of heavy-duty foil in a 9×13 roasting pan. Leave long ends (or seal two long pieces together to make one larger piece). Make an interior nest with the foil.
2. Place the chunk of beef in the middle of the foil. Prepare onions, carrots and celery and nestle them around the outside of the meat.
3. Broil the meat on one side, until it’s golden to dark brown, watching so the vegetables don’t burn. Turn roast over, and the vegetables too, and broil the other side until it’s brown. Remove from oven and add all other ingredients to the roast. Seal carefully, rolling ends in to completely seal up the meat. Turn oven temp to 300°.
4. Place meat, in the roasting pan, in oven and bake for about 3 hours.
5. Open the pouch and using a strainer, pour out the juices into a small saucepan. Seal up the meat and veggies and place them back in the oven (turn off the oven).
6. Taste the sauce and check seasoning. Mix the cornstarch with a little bit of water and add to the sauce as it’s heating up over medium heat. Cook until it’s a thin-gravy consistency, then pour into a small pitcher.
7. During the last 30 minutes of baking, separately prepare the potatoes and mushrooms.
7. Discard the vegetables in the packet (they’re tasteless from such a long roasting time). Garnish with Italian parsley and serve.
Per Serving: 734 Calories; 36g Fat (49.1% calories from fat); 41g Protein; 43g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 131mg Cholesterol; 585mg Sodium.

A year ago: Italian Sausage and Tomato Soup (a real favorite)
Two years ago: Wednesday Breakfast Scones (from a Portland, Oregon bakery)
Three years ago: Heavenly Cream Cheese Brownies

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