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me_in_paris_198That’s me, on a trip, in a Paris restaurant.
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Just finished reading a book called Maude by Donna Mabry. It’s a true story (but written as a novel) about the author’s grandmother, Maude. It takes place from the early 1900s to her death in the 1960s. She lived a hard, hard life (mostly in Detroit), and there’s information that even takes me back to things I vaguely remember about my own grandmother’s life. I was fascinated. I won’t say that I couldn’t put it down, but I looked forward each night to read what was going to happen next. It’s hard to tell you much about the book without revealing too much of the story – I won’t call it a happy book, because there is much sadness within its pages, but you admire Maude for what she did, the role she played, her inherent grit. But I wanted to smack her 2nd husband! A good read, though.

While I was on my 3-week trip to Europe, I read 5 books. Of them all, Sgt. Reckless: America’s War Horse by Robin Hutton, was by far the best story, a true story about an American Marine. Many books have been written about Sgt Reckless, this rather nondescript, small Mongolian mare that was purchased by American forces in Korea in the height of the war. She was reared as a race horse, but she spent her career as an heroic soldier for our military, saving countless lives as she willingly delivered munitions from one place to another. Everyone who came in contact with her loved her. She became a regular soldier, mostly so they could requisition food for her. Sometimes she survived on next to nothing to eat. She aimed to please, and please she did, as in one 24-hour period she ferried ammunition up steep slopes (too steep for soldiers to climb) and she did it all by herself. When the Marines unloaded her cargo, she immediately worked her way down for more. She knew what she was supposed to do. She was highly intelligent, amazing many people over the course of her life. If you love animal stories, you’ll love this one. Have a Kleenex box nearby.

When I load a book onto my Kindle, I don’t keep a note about where or how I heard about it. Did someone suggest it to me? Did I read about it on amazon’s site? I wish I kept track. Hence I don’t know why I ordered Born Under an Assumed Name: The Memoir of a Cold War Spy’s Daughter by Sara Taber. Probably the title intrigued me. And the book was interesting, I’ll give it that. Sara Taber grew up in places all over the world as her father, actually a spy, but commonly called a diplomat for the State Department, wherever he was stationed. Much of the book is about her inability to fit in. She was always the new girl in school, or the neighborhood. She was shy. Didn’t have a lot of self-confidence. She lived in Taiwan, Washington, D.C., The Hague, Malaysia (Borneo) and Tokyo. I probably missed a couple in there. She learned to love moving. She adored her father, and some of the story is about his career, though she only learns as a teenager what he really did for a living. Part of the book is her coming-of-age story, part angst about herself and yet she eventually finds success as a writer. And she is a very good writer – a kind of lyrical style. She repeats herself a bit too often and a few words were repetitive throughout. But overall, it was a very interesting read.

For years I used to read a travel column in the Los Angeles Times by Susan Spano. She wrote wonderful stories about her travels. I envied her life. One time she visited Paris for awhile, writing a series about eating and living in France. When that series ended, she didn’t want to come home. So she stayed. And she wrote for other publications. She’s written several books (one on divorce [hers] and another on divorce from the man’s point of view). This book, French Ghosts, Russian Nights, and American Outlaws: Souvenirs of a Professional Vagabond compiles some of her newspaper stories and she weaves in some new ones as well. She’s quite an outdoors woman – loves climbing mountains. I certainly admire that about her. One of the stories was so cute I read it aloud to my group of traveling buddies as we sat around in our Lyon, France flat having a glass of wine one evening. If you enjoy travel writing in general, you’ll enjoy reading this one.

Another really riveting story, one I could hardly put down, is The Headmaster’s Wager by Vincent Lam. My friend Joan recommended this one to me. Most likely  you’ve never read anything about Chinese immigrants living in South Vietnam during the war there, right? Neither had I. And you have to keep track of who is who, and the politics of the time. The Vietnamese don’t like Chinese people, so there’s that going on. The Chinese man runs an English school somewhere near Saigon. He has a right hand man who may or may not be what he appears to be. The Chinese man has a son who gets himself into trouble. Oh, webs woven every which way. As I said, I could hardly put it down. Will make a very good book club read.

And lastly, and probably my least favorite, but it certainly tops many charts for its pulp factor, The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty. The premise, a letter written by the husband, is found by the wife, supposedly to be opened after his death, but he isn’t dead, and she opens it anyway. Out springs Pandora’s box. It’s like Peyton Place on steroids. Oh my gosh. How much calamity can happen in a few pages? I wasn’t impressed, but it made for a good airplane read, I suppose.

IN THE POWDER ROOM: The guest half-bath in my house has a little tiny table with a pile of books that I change every now and then. They’re books that might pique someone’s interest even if for a very short read. The Art of Travel, a collection of essays about traveling (it’s not a how-to), gathering a variety of stories of some historic authors and where and why they traveled; The Greatest Stories Never Told; and Sara Midda’s South of France; also Forgotten Bookmarks: A Bookseller’s Collection of Odd Things Lost Between the Pages (just the cutest book – with a miscellany of things – letters, grocery lists, notes, reminders, confessions the author discovered hidden inside the books he purchased for his used bookstore).

 

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small engraved sterling silver tea spoons that I use to taste as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Brunch, Pork, on October 20th, 2008.

baked eggs with chorizo and cannellini beans with green salad

So, I was browsing through some of the blogs I read, and I happened on Chez Loulou’s post (I so enjoy Loulou’s blog – she lives in France, and has THE most interesting photos in and around the area she lives in – always very entertaining – I even tried to make a watercolor of one of her photos) about a breakfast or brunch dish that she’d made recently. It actually came from another blog Loulou reads (ah yes, I’m going to need to add yet another blog to my growing numbers that I read every few days), called Stonesoup. That blog originates from Australia, although the author is multi-national, I think. She’s lived all over the world, but currently resides in Sydney.

Perhaps it was the chorizo in this dish that intrigued me. Or maybe it was just because I’m always on the lookout for some easy entrée dishes that can stand in for dinner. Don’t you have evenings when you just aren’t inspired, or just don’t have the time? That’s me once in awhile (yes, really, there are times when I just don’t feel up to cooking anything much). So, that got me to thinking about meals – like this egg and bean dish – that is called a brunch dish – but could certainly be served for another meal like dinner.

I well remember that my mother sometimes on Sunday nights after we’d had a large midday dinner, would serve us creamed tuna on toast. She managed to make one small can of tuna spread between three people. She made a simple cream sauce, always added some lemon juice to it, then at the last minute she added the drained contents of one 6-ounce can of tuna, and we’d eat that spooned over one slice of white toast. It was a light meal, and perfect for the day in question. But then, there were Sundays when my mother would serve waffles for dinner. Why or how it ever became a tradition in our family I don’t know, but probably once a month we’d have regular waffles with sausage patties for dinner, with the finale being one last waffle piled with strawberries and whipped cream. As a kid, I thought that meal was heaven on a bun. My parents used to entertain other families for Sunday waffle suppers. My mother and dad are both gone, so I can’t ask them how that tradition ever got started. As a young adult I did have some waffle suppers, but my recollection (this would have been back in the 1960’s and 70’s, they weren’t met with much glee as I thought. I always told guests what we were having, so it wasn’t a surprise, but still I could tell people didn’t love it as much as I did. My DH doesn’t think waffles should be eaten at any meal except breakfast. In years past I tried the waffle supper thing on him, but he ate it reluctantly.

So, maybe it was that background of waffles on Sunday nights that made me look at this recipe with more interest. We don’t eat hearty breakfasts – if we do it seems to mess up our eating for the whole day. We’re not hungry for lunch, but then we’re starving by about 3-4 in the afternoon. Therefore, when I read this recipe I didn’t even think about breakfast at all. I thought – great idea for a light dinner. It took me 2 days to decide I wanted to make it.


Loulou’s and Stonesoup’s recipe is straight forward – you cook up some chorizo (I made a special trip to Whole Foods to buy their very meaty and lean version), some onion and garlic, a bit of Mexican oregano, red wine vinegar, tomato paste, canned tomatoes and canned cannellini beans. Little indentations are made in this mixture and eggs are gently cracked into them, then you bake it in the oven until done to your liking. This dinner took about 40 minutes to make from start to finish. My DH didn’t know what to think when I presented this dish at his place mat – for dinner. I had asked him first if this dish sounded good to him. I won’t say that he was over the top about it from reading the ingredient list, but generally he’s very willing to eat anything I put in front of him. So I made it the next night.

Truly, I enjoyed it a lot and Dave did too. I liked the flavor combination. It was hearty (beans). Very tasty. Easy and quick. I learned a couple of things, however. I revised the recipe to serve 2, since I didn’t know whether we’d eat leftover fried eggs on this chorizo bean bed. So I halved the recipe and tried to adapt it. I used a very large frying pan that can go in a hot oven, but the bean mixture then was quite thin. You must make this in a dish or pan that has enough depth to make the indentations for the eggs. And 15 minutes in MY oven was way too long at 400, so I revised the temp to 375. The eggs were almost rubbery, but not so overdone that we couldn’t eat it. My DH actually liked them that way since he doesn’t like runny eggs. So I’ve revised the cooking time to 10-15 minutes also. You need to determine your own preference. Definitely don’t use convection, either, as you don’t want hot air fanning the eggs! I also want this dish to have a bit more fluid – so use your own judgment about how much of the liquid to cook off. Ours was almost too dry, probably from being in the flatter pan. But it still tasted great.


Then you need to know about the leftovers – there was definitely enough to serve 3 adults using my recipe below. Dave and I both had a small portion of seconds, and there was still some leftover. So, what to do with those, you ask? Easy – I made soup. To the about 1 ½ cups of leftover beans I added some more tomatoes (I still had half a can of tomatoes), a small can of corn, some broth, chile powder, some ancho chile powder, heated it up and sprinkled shredded Cheddar on top. It was scrumptious!
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Baked Eggs with Chorizo & White Cannellini Beans

Recipe: Chez Loulou’s blog and she got it from the Stonesoup blog
Servings: adapted to serve 2

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 pound chorizo
1 small red onion — chopped (or yellow onion)
2 cloves garlic — peeled & sliced
1 tablespoon dried oregano — crushed in your hands
8 ounces canned tomatoes — peeled, crushed
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
16 ounces canned cannellini beans
4 whole eggs

1. Preheat oven to 375F. Heat oil in a large flame proof casserole dish or frying pan. Cook chorizo over a medium heat until well browned. Remove chorizo from the pan and drain on paper towels. Add onion to the grease in the pan and cook for 10 minutes or until softened and not browned. Add garlic and cook for a few more minutes before adding oregano, tomatoes, tomato paste and vinegar. Season and bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes or until sauce has thickened but still has a bit of liquid to it.
2. Stir in the beans and chorizo and using a spatula, smooth the top. (Make sure the pan or casserole you’re using allows some depth to the mixture so you can make the indentations needed – below – so the eggs won’t spread all over.) Bring back to a simmer and remove from the heat. Using a spoon, make 4 egg sized indentations (fairly deep) in the bean mixture and crack an egg into each hole. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until egg whites are just cooked but the yolks are still lovely and runny. Remember that this dish holds its heat so the egg will continue to cook after you remove the pan from the oven.
3. Divide between 2 warmed plates or bowls and serve immediately with some green salad on the side.
(I’m purposely not including the nutrition count because my software program thinks chorizo is about 100% fat – it adds over 600 calories per serving – the chorizo I buy at Whole Foods is extremely lean and meaty. The 1/2 pound produced about one teaspoon of fat.)

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