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Just finished reading The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. What a WONDERFUL book. It opens up a shameful part of America’s past, but one you might not have heard about before this. In the late 1800s thousands of Chinese workers were brought to the West Coast to help with a variety of construction projects and a myriad of other things where laborers were needed. Many settled, married and made a new life for themselves. But suddenly the white population didn’t want them here anymore and they summarily ordered them ALL out of our country. This book chronicles a young Chinese girl, who was on a ship that was supposed to take her family to China, but the ship’s captain decided en route to dump them all overboard, to drown. The girl’s father knew it was going to happen and in order to save her, he threw his daughter off the ship as they were passing Orcas Island (in the San Juan Islands west of Seattle). She was saved. The book switches from that time to current time as a woman is rebuilding her family’s home on Orcas and finds a beautifully embroidered silk Chinese robe sleeve hidden under a stair step. The book is about that sordid past and the young girl’s descendents, and about the woman who is rebuilding. Stunner of a novel. Good for a book club read, I think. It has a reader’s guide at the back with good questions for book groups.

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 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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