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Just finished a quirky book, Goodbye, Vitamin: A Novel by Rachel Khong. She’s a new writer (newly published, I guess I should say) and this story is about Ruth, a 30+ something, trying to readjust to life without her fiance, who’s dumped her. She goes back home to help with the care of her father, who has Alzheimer’s. Written in a diary style, it jumps all over about her life, her mother, the funny, poignant things her father says on good days, and the nutty stuff he does on not-so-good days, her ex-, and her very quirky friends, too. Then a woman flits through who had had an affair with her father –  you get to observe all the angst from the mom about that. Mostly it’s about her father, as he’s relatively “together” early in the book, but then he disintegrates. Reading that part isn’t fun, although the author is able to lean some humor into it. I’m not sure I recommend the book exactly – I read it through – and felt sad. It doesn’t tie up loose ends – if you want that kind of book – you may not want to read this one.

Also finished Julian Fellowes’s Belgravia. You know Julian Fellowes, the producer and writer of Downton Abbey? He lends his mind to a story about a family or two from the similar time period as Downton, who live in London. There’s some amount of intrigue, romance, observations from within the halls of wealthy Londoners and moderately well off tradesmen and their families. There’s affairs, shady business dealings, an illegitimate child, the comings and goings of the “downstairs” staff too, etc. The characters were well done – I had no trouble keeping all of the people identified. The story is somewhat predictable, but it was interesting clear up to the end.

The Letter by Kathyrn Hughes. It’s a very intricate tale. At first it’s about Tina, a battered wife [at which point I paused and wondered if I wanted to read any further, but I’m glad I did]. She tries to get the courage to leave her husband. Then enters the letter she finds in a suit pocket in the thrift shop where she volunteers. It’s old – sealed and stamped, but never mailed. Then you learn about Crissie, decades earlier, a young pregnant girl who is sent off to Ireland to a distant relative by her father, then to a rigid (meaning horrible) convent [the book takes place mostly in Manchester, England and in rural Ireland]. The letter is addressed to her. Jump forward decades and William, the adopted child Crissie gave up, tries to find his birth mother. William meets Tina in Ireland [a serendipitous moment] as she’s trying to find the woman to whom the letter is addressed. This book is the #2 best seller on Amazon at the moment. It’s a riveting tale and I really enjoyed it.

The Muralist: A Novel by Shapiro. It tells the story of a young woman, an artist, who was part of the U.S.’s WPA mural project from the 1930s-40s (she is fiction, the WPA is not). As with so many artists, even today, they live in abject poverty through much of their lives. This woman, though, had family in France, desperately trying to escape before Hitler’s henchmen rousted them into concentration camps. The story, a bit of a mystery but not of the mystery-genre, is about Alizée Benoit, this young painter, who slightly captivates Eleanor Roosevelt’s help. It also skips into current time when the painter’s great-niece uncovers paintings she believes were painted by her aunt. The painter had disappeared into thin air in 1940, and her relative tries desperately to find out what happened to her. It’s a really good story including such Abstract Expressionist painters as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner well-woven into the narrative. It keeps you guessing right up to the end. A good read. The author also wrote The Art Forger: A Novel a few years ago.

Also recently read 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 free-lance 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 family was 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 an old (wild) 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. Just read this one first!

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 Lamb, on July 2nd, 2012.

lamb_kebabs_harissa_plate

Something totally different – Moroccan marinated lamb with a fantastic yogurt sauce that contains harissa (a spicy pepper condiment), cumin and coriander. And garlic. I swear I could eat it with a spoon, but it’s ever so much better with a little bit of lamb, or chicken or fish with it. Or pita bread.

harissa_sauce_320Many cultures have some kind of hot sauce associated with it – like salsa, or sambal oelek, that really hot chile pepper mixture from Indonesia. The Vietnamese have their hot sauce too – we fondly call it rooster sauce because it has a picture of a rooster on the bottle. A big jar lives in the door of my refrigerator. In this case it’s harissa, a briskly hot condiment from Morocco. There you can see it right out of the jar – thick and spicy. You don’t want to use much – the amount I spooned up for the picture would be way too much for a standard sauce. Harissa originally came from Tunisia, but has been adopted by many cuisines of the region, Morocco among them. They’re much the same – red chiles, cumin, coriander, garlic and a little bit of oil to smooth it out. You can make your own easily enough too. That jar will likely last me the rest of my life because you don’t use much of it in any one dish, and I don’t make Moroccan, Tunisian or Libyan food with any frequency!

lamb_kebabs_skewersNow then, back to the meal – the lamb. It was marinated overnight in a variety of things like olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, mint, coriander, cumin. Most of the lamb soaked up the marinade – how can that be? But it did. We actually served the lamb two ways – butterflied and grilled, and also cut into cubes and threaded onto flat-bladed skewers as kebabs.

harissa_yogurt_sauceThe Harissa Yogurt sauce was ever so simple to make – jarred roasted red bell peppers were whizzed up in the food processor along with garlic, oil, cumin, coriander, Greek (thick) yogurt and seasoned with some salt and the harissa. That’s it. Chill until ready to serve. The sauce will keep for a week or so and could be used on other proteins too.

onion_kebabs_grilledTo round out the meal I highly recommend you also make the side skewers too – red onion wedges and whole dried apricots. I wouldn’t have believed that grilled dried apricots would make such an impression on me – they were wonderful. During grilling the edges get charred, and that caramelized them, of course. Delicious. And the onions – crunchy just a bit and a great accompaniment. They need to be grilled first since they take about 10 minutes longer than the lamb – once done just move them over to a cooler part of the grill while you grill the lamb. Serve with rice or couscous.

Because I had a lot of sauce left over (I made a double batch – far more than needed) I used it about a week later this way, pictured below. This was the broiled lemon salmon recipe that kind of goes with the asparagus pesto – I served it with some freshly made wild sockeye salmon and our dinner guests had a choice of either or both sauces..

What I liked: well, first and foremost I loved the sauce. Did I mention I think I could eat it with a spoon? Yes, well, it’s good! Loved the skewers of onion and apricots too. All worth doing.

What I didn’t like: nothing, really. Delicious meal beginning to end.

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Moroccan Lamb Kebabs with Harissa Yogurt Sauce

Recipe By: Phillis Carey, 2012 (also from Food Network)
Serving Size: 8

LAMB:
3/4 cup olive oil
2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
6 cloves garlic, minced — minced
2 tablespoons mint — chopped
4 teaspoons salt
4 teaspoons grated lemon zest
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper — thawed
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
4 pounds boneless leg of lamb — cut in 2″ cubes
SKEWERS:
16 metal skewers (12″ long)
32 dried apricots — whole, not halves
4 large red onions — each cut in 8 wedges, with some of root end attached
HARISSA YOGURT SAUCE:
1/4 cup roasted red peppers — jarred, drained
1 clove garlic — minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon hot chile paste
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup Greek yogurt, full-fat — plain

1. Combine in a large heavy-duty plastic bag: olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, mint, salt, emon zest, pepper, coriander and cumin. Squish it a little then REMOVE 1/2 CUP to use as a basting sauce.
2. Add lamb to plastic bag and toss. Marinate at least 2 hours, preferably overnight, refrigerated.
3. Yogurt Sauce: place red bell peppers, garlic, hot chili paste, olive oil, cumin, coriander and salt in food processor and puree. Stir this mixture into the yogurt. Cover and chill for at least an hour before serving. Will keep for 2-3 days.
4. Preheat grill. Remove lamb from marinade and drain on paper towels. Thread lamb cubes onto 8 skewers, dividing them equally. On the other skewers thread the apricots and onion chunks alternately. Brush all the skewers with some of the reserved marinade. Sprinkle the onion-apricot skewers with salt and pepper.
5. Grill onion-apricot skewers until onions begin to soften and begin to brown, turning and basting with marinade. Move skewers to cooler part of barbecue if necessary to keep apricots from burning, about 10 minutes. Grill lamb skewers to desired doneness, turning occasionally, about 8 minutes total for medium-rare. Serve meat with Yogurt Sauce.

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