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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 aging 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, wealthy women) 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.

I’ve written up an entire blog post about this book. (It hasn’t been posted yet, but will soon.) It may be one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a memoir by Pat Conroy (an author I’ve long admired). He died a year or so ago – sad, that. In order to get the most out of My Reading Life, I recommend you BUY THE HARDBACK. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s an autobiography of sorts, but not really. He never wrote one, I don’t think, and I doubt he would ever have written one as he likely didn’t believe anyone would want to read about his (sad) life. In this memoir, he chronicles the books (and the people who recommended them) that influenced his life. Starting at his mother’s knees and continuing through influential teachers and mentors and friends. One of my book clubs read it, and I devoured it, cover to cover, with little plastic flags inserted all the way through to re-read some of the prose. Pat Conroy was a fabulous writer – he studied words from a young age and used them widely and wisely throughout his writing, but better than most authors would. He adored his mother, and hated (with venom) his aviator military father who physically abused everyone in the family, including his mother. They all took it like stoic Buddhas. I’m going to have to read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel because of reading this book. I’ve never read it. Conroy says that book’s first page is the best first page of any book he ever read in his life. Wow. And maybe my book group is going to re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Vintage Classics) too because of the chapter on that book. We might have to assign that to a 2-month or longer read. If you have friends or family who are avid readers, this would make a great gift, this book, My Reading Life. If YOU are a reader, it needs to be on your bookshelf, but in hardback, so you can go back to it and re-read his stories. It’s a series of essays, each one about a sub-section of his life. A must-have and a must-read.

Also read The Towers of Tuscany by Carol Cram. It was a bargain book through amazon or bookbub (e-book). Back in the Middle Ages women were forbidden to be artists. Their only place was in the home, caring for children and sewing and cooking. But the heroine in this book was taught to paint by her widowed artist-father (in secret, of course). When her father suddenly dies, all hell breaks loose and she must fend for herself. Much of the book takes place in Siena (and also San Gimignano) as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

 

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 May 3rd, 2011.

burgers_bacon_feta

This is one fantastic recipe. The kind that if I were a swearing person I’d be saying OMG! But I don’t say that, so just take my word for it! I cannot tell you how absolutely off the charts this was. I created the recipe myself – I had fresh baby spinach – and I’d defrosted some lean ground beef. And a new favorite recipe was made.

burger_mixtureFirst of all, you mix the ground beef with a few slices of very finely minced raw bacon. In reading a recent cooking magazine it was mentioned that some East Coast chef was frustrated with his bacon burgers because the bacon slices fall off or out of the burger (this being one with buns, I suppose). So he started adding raw bacon to the raw meat. There was no recipe – it was merely mentioned in an article. That got the idea brewing in my head. I decided to try it myself. I mixed the finely minced raw bacon, some dried thyme, salt, pepper and eggs with the ground beef and made patties. I let them rest in the refrigerator for a couple of hours, then lightly they were dredged in flour before frying them in grapeseed oil.

Meanwhile I made the spinach – I sautéed some red onion finely minced up – then added the spinach just before the burgers were done – so the spinach was barely wilted. I added some salt, pepper, ground nutmeg, a tiny little drizzle of cream, a bit of feta cheese and lastly a speck of butter.

The burgers were crisped up in the pan, then removed to a heated plate. Be careful not to over cook them! I poured off all but a speck of the oil, then added some vermouth. It bubbled away until it turned to a light slurry. Then I added a little splash of sherry vinegar, cooked that for a minute or two, and off heat I added a tablespoon or so of unsalted butter. On each individual dinner plate I scooped some spinach, placed the burger on top, spooned the sauce over each one, then sprinkled the top with some additional feta cheese. Voila! If I’d wanted to serve anything else with it I’d have made mashed potatoes. If so, I’d have increased the volume of sauce so there would be enough to drizzle over some of that potatoes. I think I would have placed the spinach and the potatoes side by side, put the burger right smack in the middle, and drizzled the sauce over both – but mostly it goes on the burger.

This would make a scrumptious company meal – the only problem is it must be cooked at the last minute. But the flavors were superb, if I do say so myself. Maybe I’ll try making these with ground turkey, or half turkey and half beef. Maybe it could be done with a chicken breast too. I’ll let you know how that tastes!

Some of the idea for this came from my old standby, French Hamburgers, a Julia Child recipe I’ve been making for about 45 years. At least, the sauce did. The rest of it just came to me as I was cooking along. I do hope you’ll give this a try. So very delicious!

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Beef Burgers with Bacon, Thyme and Wine Sherry Sauce on a Spinach Bed

Recipe By: My own creation.
Serving Size: 6
Notes: This can be a complete entree, but you might want a carb to go along with it. A small serving of mashed potatoes would be ideal, or heated bread. This is SO worthy of a company dinner – but the cooking must be done at the last minute. The sauce is rich and very tasty. If you like more sauce, increase the quantity of wine and sherry vinegar. It’s quite stringent at that point, but once you add butter to it in whatever quantity, it smooths it out.

2 pounds lean ground beef
4 slices bacon — smoky, very finely minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
WINE SAUCE:
2/3 cup vermouth
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons feta cheese — crumbled
SPINACH:
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
1 small red onion — minced
16 ounces baby spinach
1/4 cup water freshly grated nutmeg to taste
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons feta cheese — crumbled

1. In a medium sized bowl combine the ground beef, raw bacon (cut it up with scissors to get it small enough) salt, pepper and eggs. Mix by hand, making sure the egg has been mixed in thoroughly. Gently form the meat into 6 patties about 1/2 inch thick. Set them on a piece of waxed paper on a flat plate, cover with another piece of waxed paper and chill until ready to cook, up to 4 hours.
2. Heat a nonstick frying pan (use two if needed) to medium high and add grapeseed oil.
3. Dredge the meat patties in flour or use your hands to gently pat a light coating of flour on both sides. Add meat to hot pan and sear at fairly high heat until a crust forms on the one side, about 1 1/2 – 2 minutes. Turn over, reduce heat to medium and saute the patties on the second side until a crust forms, another 2 minutes. Cook meat for another 1-2 minutes, turn back over on first side for one more minute and remove to a heated plate.
4. SPINACH: While burgers are cooking, In a large frying pan heat the grapeseed oil until shimmering. Add the minced onion, reduce heat and cook for about 5-10 minutes, until the onion is soft but not brown. Add the spinach and water and stir while the spinach wilts. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper. Add cream and butter and heat through. Spinach should be completely wilted but don’t cook any further than necessary. Add feta cheese and stir just to combine. Keep warm over very low heat until ready to serve.
5. WINE SAUCE: Meanwhile, in the burger pan, pour out all the oil, but don’t clean the pan. Add the wine. The pan should be hot enough that the wine will bubble and reduce down to about 3-4 tablespoons, and will become slightly syrupy. Add the sherry vinegar, cook for about one minute. Turn off heat, then add butter, about 2 teaspoons of it at a time. Swirl with a spatula until butter melts, then add more until all the butter is added and melted. The sauce should be smooth and will glisten.
6. Divide the spinach among the six plates, place burger on top, then spoon sauce evenly over them and sprinkle with the crumbled feta cheese. Serve immediately.
Have all your ingredients ready and at hand before starting to cook.
Per Serving: 677 Calories; 51g Fat (71.5% calories from fat); 34g Protein; 11g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 215mg Cholesterol; 531mg Sodium.

A year ago: Greek Style Halibut
Three years ago: Broccoli with Mayo Mustard

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  1. Stacey

    said on May 15th, 2011:

    My mouth was watering as I read this recipe. I remember how much I loved the French Hamburgers you made for Russ and me. Can’t wait to try this one!

    Our mutual friend Cherrie made these a week or so ago. She thinks the sauce wasn’t enough, but hers was too thin. So am not sure if my directions were clear enough. She couldn’t taste the bacon (well, neither could we, actually) but I assume it provides lots of moisture to the burger. Cherrie wants to come to my house and watch me make them. They’re not hard, for sure. But maybe the sauce is a little tricky. . . carolyn t

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