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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 Soups, Vegetarian, on December 11th, 2011.

farm_house_veggie_soup

There are a couple of secret ingredients in this soup that help to make this soup an over-the-top version. First – a tiny little glug of soy sauce. Second – a little amount of dried porcini mushrooms  that are ground up to a powder. Who’d think those two things could make such a difference?

When I made this about a week ago, I was recovering from a cold, and some good, hot vegetable soup sounded so restorative to me. And I had about a quart of turkey stock in the refrigerator, leftover from Thanksgiving. It needed to be used, or else frozen. Then I read my most recent issue of Cook’s Illustrated (the Nov/Dec 2011 issue) and there was a long article about vegetable soups. I read it from beginning to end. In it, the author labored long and hard over how to enhance a vegetable soup. He added this and that. He discarded a number of sample batches. But he finally determined that adding in a hint of soy sauce just gave the soup that umami taste we’re all looking for. And the same with the porcini mushroom powder. I’ll have to remember that idea because you could easily add some of that to almost any soup.

So, for this big batch of soup that serves at least 6-8 for a dinner meal, you add just two teaspoons of soy sauce and also 2 teaspoons of porcini mushroom powder (you make this yourself in your spice grinder). That’s not much – but I assure you, it makes a difference. The recipe also has you make a little compound butter (butter, lemon zest, fresh thyme and a tiny bit of lemon juice) which you can spoon onto the top of the soup when it’s served. The butter is hard to see it in my photo at top – it’s just to left and slightly below the center of the soup bowl. And to tell you the honest truth, I couldn’t taste the butter, but there’s only 2 T. of butter used to sweat the veggies at the beginning – that’s it. A very low fat soup! I also added some shiitake mushrooms to this soup. Those weren’t in the original recipe, but I had them on hand and they needed to be used up. Other than that one thing, the recipe below is made exactly to the Cook’s Illustrated one. The soup has a lot of carbs in it – potatoes, turnips, carrots, barley (I used farro because that’s what I had on hand) and peas.

What I liked: doesn’t it always end up being about the taste? It does for me. As I write this, we enjoyed this soup just last night but this won’t post until next week sometime. But I can’t wait to have it again. Fortunately there’s a lot of it. I may freeze one bag and eat the other one sooner rather than later. I may add some green veggies to it next time (like some sugar snaps, maybe green beans just at the end). I like a veggie-laden soup and this one is more carb-laden. Serve this with some bread, or maybe a toasted cheese sandwich. Delish.

What I didn’t like:  well . . .when I make it again I’ll reduce the amount of soy sauce by just a little bit. I could taste it. It wasn’t bad, but I didn’t think I should be able to taste it! A great soup, though and worth making. It does take some time doing all the sous-chef thing with chopping, peeling, etc. Be prepared to spend at least an hour overseeing the cooking of it. If you have a kitchen helper, enlist the help to peel and chop!

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Farmhouse Vegetable Soup

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Cook’s Illustrated, Nov./Dec. 2011
Serving Size: 6-8

1/8 ounce dried mushroom — porcini type
8 sprigs Italian parsley — 3 T. of it chopped, remainder whole
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 whole bay leaf
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 pounds leeks — green parts removed, sliced lengthwise, coarsely chopped
2 whole carrots — peeled, cut in 1/2 inch coins
2 whole celery ribs — cut into 1/4 inch cubes
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 teaspoons soy sauce
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
6 cups water
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth — [I used turkey broth] or vegetable broth
1/2 cup pearl barley — [I used farro]
1 clove garlic — peeled and smashed
1 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potato — peeled, cut into 1/2 inch pieces (or smaller)
1 whole turnip — peeled, cut into 3/4 inch pieces
1 1/2 cups cabbage — chopped
1 cup frozen peas
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 cup shiitake mushrooms — sliced [my addition – not in the original recipe]
LEMON-THYME BUTTER:
6 tablespoons unsalted butter — softened
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
3/4 teaspoon lemon zest — freshly grated
1/4 teaspoon lemon juice
1 pinch salt

1. Grind porcini mushroom pieces in a spice grinder until they resemble fine meal, 10-30 seconds. Measure out 2 teaspoons of the powder and reserve remainder for another use. Using kitchen twine, tie together the parsley sprigs, thyme and bay leaf.
2. Melt butter in large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add leeks, carrots, celery, wine, soy sauce and 2 teaspoons salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid has evaporated and celery is softened, about 10 minutes.
3. Add water, broth, barley, porcini powder, herb bundle and garlic. Increase heat to high and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, for 25 minutes.
4. Add potatoes, turnip and cabbage; return to simmer and cook until barley, potatoes, turnip and cabbage are tender, about 18-20 minutes.
5. Remove pot from heat and remove herb bundle. Stir in pease, fresh lemon juice and chopped parsley; season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve, passing Lemon-Thyme Butter separately.
6. LEMON-THYME BUTTER: Combine all ingredients in a bowl.
Per Serving: 408 Calories; 14g Fat (28.0% calories from fat); 16g Protein; 65g Carbohydrate; 11g Dietary Fiber; 31mg Cholesterol; 230mg Sodium.

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