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Recently finished reading The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke. All I can say is “wow.” In a general sense, this book is based on the premise of The Pilot’s Wife. But this one has some totally different twists and turns. A young wife is met at the door by police, informing her that her husband has died in an auto accident. Then she finds out he died in Hawaii – not Kansas, where she thought he was, on business. Then she finds out there was a woman in the car. Then she meets the fiance of the woman passenger and the two of them embark on a fact-finding mission in Hawaii to discover the truth. Well, I’m just sayin’ . . . the plot thickens. And thickens. And thickens clear up to the last few pages. Hang onto your seat. A really, really good, suspenseful read.

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 Novel by 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. 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 angry father is a wealthy and influential man in the area. 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.

 

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 Desserts, Miscellaneous sides, on July 14th, 2007.


As a confirmed chocoholic, I know my chocolate. And chocolate sauces. I don’t buy ready-made. Why bother to buy it when you can make it so easily? Maybe twice a year I make this sauce, my favorite, Regal Chocolate Sauce, and when it’s gone, it’s gone. When the grandkids visit I sometimes buy the Hershey’s squirt bottle, which they love. But, this sauce is far and away my favorite.

Year ago I was in a Newcomer’s Club, and the group decided to publish a cookbook of members’ recipes. A couple of my recipes are in the book, plus this one, from a friend I made in the club. Over the years I’ve tried several loads of other variations. The Los Angeles Times did an in-depth investigation into home made chocolate sauces some years ago and I tried a couple of them. Nope. Didn’t measure up in my book. I have tried recipes using heavy cream, a lot more butter, corn syrup instead of sugar, and various types of chocolate including milk. A friend shared her mother-in-law’s coveted recipe. Nope. Not that one, either. Why do I bother to try all these others? I have the best recipe already. It’s incredibly easy. What I like about it is that it doesn’t get chalky as it ages in the refrigerator. And you can make it in the microwave in a Pyrex measuring bowl, or heat it on the range if you want to have more control. You never want to overcook pure chocolate. Then pour it into a glass containier, cool and refrigerate. Then when I need it, I merely remove the lid and heat briefly – very briefly – in the microwave, until it’s just thin enough to pour and you’re done.

I’ve even tried the recipe using Scharffen Berger chocolate, and Valrhona too. They are good, and you can certainly substitute them for the German chocolate. What is it about the German chocolate? I’d forgotten what was unique about it:

  • German’s Chocolate dates back to 1852, when an American named Sam German created a sweet baking chocolate bar for the Baker’s Chocolate Company. This new chocolate had sugar added to it, as a convenience for bakers. But that all important apostrophe and “s” were soon dropped from “German’s.” In 1828, Dutch chocolate maker C. J. Van Houten invented the cocoa press. This machine squeezed cocoa butter out of the beans and treated the cocoa with an alkalizing agent to improve the color and flavor. The process became known as “dutching,” and cocoa processed this way is called Dutch chocolate.

So, Dutch chocolate, because of the use of an alkalizing agent is a milder form of chocolate. I’m a dark chocolate fan, so it’s interesting that I prefer the milder chocolate in this sauce. And speaking of Dutch chocolate, you may not have heard about this fabulous liqueur, Vermeer Dutch Cream. It’s very similar to Bailey’s, but it’s chocolate based rather than coffee/chocolate. It is made with Dutch chocolate. You have to seek out a retailer for it, as it’s a bit hard to find. It would make a great gift to a friend who is a chocoholic, or try it yourself. (As with Bailey’s, you should keep it refrigerated, and shake it up each time you intend to use it.) Note that the bottle has a Vermeer painting on the front The Girl with the Pearl Earring, the one that inspired Tracy Chevalier to write the novel about her (wonderful book, by the way, if you haven’t read it). Here’s a photo of the bottle, at left.

So, back to chocolate sauce – try my Regal Chocolate Sauce. You can use any form of chocolate you like. Try it on a little bit of good-quality vanilla ice cream with a few toasted almonds on top. Oh yes. (Photo at bottom from Vermeer Dutch Cream’s website.)

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MasterCook 5+ import file – click link to run MC or right click to save file

Regal Chocolate Sauce

Recipe from a friend I met in the 1970’s
Servings: 6
COOK’S NOTES: It keeps in the refrigerator for months, and is easy to reheat (at medium power setting) in the microwave.

4 ounces German chocolate squares
3 tablespoons water
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon butter
1 dash salt
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine chocolate, water, sugar and salt. Cook and stir over low heat until sauce is smooth. Remove from heat and stir in butter and vanilla. Serve hot or cold over ice cream. Makes 3/4 cup.
Per Serving: 144 Calories; 9g Fat (48.7% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 5mg Cholesterol; 65mg Sodium.

Posted in Miscellaneous sides, on May 17th, 2007.

Remember a couple of weeks ago when I wrote up the Stacked Enchiladas? They had these crispy, crunchy onions as a garnish with drizzled Mexican crema? Well, the Stacked Enchiladas are long gone, but I’d put the remains of these onions in a little plastic baggie in the refrigerator. You know how sometimes you poke around in there and find all kinds of gems? Maybe moldy gems. Perhaps something unidentifiable? And then, perhaps some tasty gems when you’re trying to throw together something in a hurry, and it doesn’t LOOK like there’s anything in the darned thing? This was lunch yesterday – Dave and I shared this one sandwich. It was some wonderful Citterio rosemary ham from Trader Joe’s, a little smear of Best Foods mayo, some pale ale mustard, sliced vine-ripened tomatoes, a few thin slices of avocado, a good grinding of freshly ground black pepper, and then I topped it with the vinegary red onions and some feathery leaf lettuce. Lo and behold – a magnificent sandwich. It’s the crunch that is the lure for me. I’ll make these again just for other dishes. I used some of the onions in a tuna salad sandwich a week or so ago, which were also delicious, and still had some left. These aren’t nibbling onions – they’re far too sour, vinegar-y (just like they’re supposed to be) but laced on a sandwich they’re sensational. Here’s a repeat of just the onions.

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Vinegary Red Onions

1 whole red onion, peeled, thinly sliced
3/4 cup rice wine vinegar
Place onions in a medium skillet. Add vinegar and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand until cool, stirring often. Add salt to taste. Serve immediately, or cover and refrigerate up to 3 days. Serve with a slotted spoon. Note: obviously these keep far longer than 3 days. It’s been 2 weeks and counting.

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