Subscribe

Get updates sent to you for free by RSS, or by email:

Archives

Currently Reading


– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

You’ve got to read Catherine Ryan Hyde’s book –Take Me With You. What a story.  From Amazon’s description: August Shroeder, a burned-out teacher, has been sober since his nineteen-year-old son died. Every year he’s spent the summer on the road, but making it to Yellowstone this year means everything. The plan had been to travel there with his son, but now August is making the trip with Philip’s ashes instead. An unexpected twist of fate lands August with two extra passengers for his journey, two half-orphans with nowhere else to go. What none of them could have known was how transformative both the trip—and the bonds that develop between them—would prove, driving each to create a new destiny together. Have a tissue handy at the end. It’s such a charming, sweet story. You’ll fall in love with the young boys, and fall in love with them again 10 years later.

One of my book clubs occasionally reads a kind of edgy book. This is one of them. By Mohsin Hamid, Exit West: A Novel is a book set in an age not dissimilar to our own and in current time, but something bad has happened in the world. Something never divulged, although symptoms of a civil war are mentioned. A unmarried couple, Nadia and Saeed, are given the opportunity (as others are, as well) to go through a door (this is the exit part of the title) and to another place in the world – it takes but a second – to go through the special door. They go to England (London), to a palatial mansion. Sometimes the power grid is sketchy. Another door. And yet another. And finally to Marin County (north of San Francisco). You follow along with the ups and downs of the chaste relationship of the two, this couple from a house to living on the streets. And the eventual dissolution of the relationship too. I wasn’t enamored with the book, but after listening to the review of it and hearing others talk about it, I suppose there’s more to this story than it might appear. Hope is the word that comes to mind. The book is strange, but it won the Los Angeles Times book award in 2017. It’s received lots of press. It made for some very interesting discussion at our book club meeting.

The Last Letter from Your Lover: A Novel by JoJo Moyes. Story: Jennifer Stirling wakes up in hospital, having had a traumatic car accident. She’s introduced to her husband, of whom she has no recollection, and is sent home with him eventually, to a life she neither remembers or embraces readily. But this is the life she was raised to have, so surely it must be worth living, underneath the strange, muted tones of her daily existence. Jennifer goes through the motions, accepts what she is told is her life and all seems to bob along well enough, except when she finds a letter that isn’t her husband’s handwriting, and is clearly a link to someone she has been involved with, but whom? London, France, Africa and America all come into play in this story of a woman piecing back together her life in effort to understand what she has lost, and what she threw away. There is a bit of a time-hop from 1964 to 2003. . . from a reviewer on amazon.  I loved this book from page one to the end. There’s some bit of mystery and you so get into the head of Jennifer Stirling. I could hardly put it down. Great read.

Francine Rivers, an author relatively new to me, but much admired, is most known for this: Mark of the Lion : A Voice in the Wind, An Echo in the Darkness, As Sure As the Dawn (Vol 1-3) It’s a trilogy. The first 2 books are about Hadassah, a young woman in the time of the Roman Empire. When Jerusalem was overrun and destroyed, the Christians still alive were sent off and away, separated and derided and abused. Hadassah was one of them. She’s a slave to a wealthy family and it takes 2 of the books to read before the son of the family finally realizes that he’s in love with Hadassah. If  you’re a Christian, you’ll learn a whole lot more about the time following Christ’s crucifixion, about the lot of the struggling Christian community. The 3rd book in the trilogy is about a gladiator who is part of book 1 and 2, but not a main character. You’ll learn about his life too, after he regains his freedom from the fighting ring and the battle of his soul. These books are a fabulous read. Can’t say enough good things about them all. I’ve never been a huge fan of old-world Roman Empire reading, but this one was altogether different. Very worth reading.

Amy Belding Brown wrote this book: Flight of the Sparrow: A Novel of Early America, a true accounting in 1676, of Mary Rowlandson, a woman who was captured by Native Americans.  Even before she was captured on a winter day of violence and terror, she sometimes found herself in conflict with her rigid Puritan community. Now, her home destroyed, her children lost to her, she has been sold into the service of a powerful woman tribal leader, made a pawn in the ongoing bloody struggle between English settlers and native people. Battling cold, hunger, and exhaustion, Mary witnesses harrowing brutality but also unexpected kindness. To her confused surprise, she is drawn to her captors’ open and straightforward way of life, a feeling further complicated by her attraction to a generous, protective English-speaking native known as James Printer. The story is riveting, and perplexing once she is traded back to her home. You’ll see a different side to the Indian problem back then and find yourself conflicted. An excellent read.

Taylor Caldwell was a prolific writer, and one I read when I was younger. She died in 1980, and this book, her last, Answer As a Man certainly delivers as her others did. All his life, Jason Garrity has had to battle intolerance and injustice in his quest for power, money, and love. His new hotel will give him financial security, the means to support a loving family and become an upstanding citizen. When family secrets and financial greed combine to destroy his dreams, his rigid moral convictions are suddenly brought into question. . . from Goodreads. Caldwell believed the banking industry was way too powerful, and often took aim at it, as she did in this book. It chronicles the life of a very poor, impoverished Irish immigrant to the U.S. He was an upstanding citizen, God-fearing, but maybe naive in some respects. Good book if you enjoy very deep character study.

Another book by Diney Costeloe, Miss Mary’s Daughter. When a young women is suddenly left with no family and no job or income, she’s astounded to learn that she’s actually a granddaughter of a “grand” family in Ye Olde England. She’s very independent (at least I thought so, for the time period), but is willing to investigate this new family of hers. There are many twists and turns – is she going to inherit the family home – or is the man who has been caring for the home and his daughter the logical inheritors. There’s a villain who nearly sweeps her off her feet, much intrigue from many characters. Well developed plot with a happy ending. A good read.

Celeste Ng is a hot new author. I read another of her books (see below) but this time I read Little Fires Everywhere. There are so many various characters and plots in this book, as in her others. This book focuses on a Chinese baby abandoned at a fire station and the subsequent court battle when the single mother surfaces six months later to try to reclaim her daughter from the family in the process of adopting her. Emotions well up, waxing and waning on both sides of the issue. You may even find yourself changing your own mind about the right or wrong of a child raised with a natural-born mother (albeit late to the raising) or the mother the child has known since near birth. Ng likes to write books with lots of grit and thorny issues. Although a good read, I liked Everything I Never Told You better than this one.

The Rent Collector by Camron Wright. Oh my. This book has so many layers: (1) the young, impoverished couple and their infant son who live, literally, in a dump in Cambodia and about the precarious structure, if you can even call it that, that comprises their “house” in the midst and perched on top of trash; (2) the woman who collects the rent (hence the title and yes, people have to PAY to live there); (3) the young son’s chronic illness; (4) how they make a living out of collecting and selling trash; and (4) the life saving grace and wisdom imparted by characters in the book as the young mother begins to learn to read. If you decide to read this book, please don’t stop at about page 15-20, thinking you just don’t know if you want to read about this. Please continue. It’s so worth it. Have a highlighter pen in your hand because you’ll find so many quotes you will want to remember. Believe it or not, there is also quite a bit in this about literature.

Recently finished C.J. Box’s book The Disappeared (A Joe Pickett Novel). I just love Box’s novels. They take place in present day semi-wild west, and chronicle the fish and game warden, Joe Pickett, as he unravels another crime in his territory. A woman has disappeared, and the governor has asked him to figure it out. He does, but the tale meanders through multiple layers of intriguing story. His books are riveting. Men and women enjoy his books – so if you have a fellow in your life or family that would enjoy an intriguing book (this is not espionage) then gift him one of Box’s books.

Also finished Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. About a dysfunctional family, through and through. I picked this up from amazon from someone who read the book, named “McReader,” and she says: “Set in the 70s, the story follows a Chinese American blended family in Ohio. When Lydia [the daughter] is found floating in the lake, her family is forced to analyze what put her there. Was it pressure from her family to succeed? Was it pressure to fit in? Was it a crime of passion or convenience? I was spellbound reading the last half of this book. I loved each flawed family member, especially Hannah,. While the story went where I hoped it would go, I was not disappointed at all with the progression. It was also quite insightful on the prejudices that society had about Chinese Americans still during that timeframe and how careful parents have to be to put their dreams onto their children.” Such a good book and definitely worth reading. Would be a good book club read. You’ll be hearing more from this author. Am currently reading her next novel, Little Fires Everywhere.

The Boston Girl: A Novel by Anita Diamant. A very, very intriguing book. The book is written from the voice of a Jewish grandmother as she tells her granddaughter the saga of her life starting about 1910, who struggles with her own individuality, with her domineering mother who never says a kind word to her. It’s certainly a coming-of-age story as she grows up, finds a job, makes friends, joins a literary girls club, moves out, but still suffers under her mother’s thumb and tongue. She becomes a reporter on a local newspaper, which opens her eyes to more of the world than she ever knew. She finally meets the right man (of course!) and she shares the stories about her life, and her friends and family members as she grows up, giving some sage advice along the way. Part of the time she’s talking to herself – to her young self  (really wanting to tell young Addie to keep on, forgive herself for her perceived transgressions, to live life, and experience the world).

One of the best books I’ve read in a long time – Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. Rivers is a prodigious writer of Christian fiction, and I’d never read anything by her until now. As I write this, I’ve already read this, another one (below) and just purchased the Kindle trilogy called Mark of the Lion (Vol 1-3) that I haven’t yet started. (Two of my friends have said the trilogy is her best.) Redeeming Love details the fictional story of a godly man, Michael Hosea, forging his way in the era of the Gold Rush. He’s “driven” to rescue a beautiful prostitute who lives and works her trade in a nearby town. The entire book is about the story, the rescue, and it parallels a bit of scripture about Hosea who rescues a prostitute names Gomer. You get into the heads of both Hosea and the prostitute, named Angel. We read this for one of my book groups. A great read.

As soon as I finished the above book I promptly visited my church library and found a whole shelf of Rivers’ books, and grabbed one called The Atonement Child. This book takes place in the 1980s or 90s, about a young college student who is raped. She was engaged to be married, was a stellar student. The book chronicles what happens to her when she discovers she is pregnant from the rape. Every possible thing goes wrong in her life. I don’t want to spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it, but I couldn’t put it down. I ended up spending a good part of a day plowing through it. You hear her inner voice (I’m guessing this is a common thread in Rivers’ books) from a Christian perspective. Lots of meaty issues to discuss in a book club if your group would be interested and willing to talk about rape, abortion, adoption and the thorny issues surrounding all of those things, but with a Christian bent, for sure.

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen. It’s kind of amazing how many and varied plot lines can be created from events of WWII. This is another one, about a current day woman who finds papers in the attic, after her father’s death, with references to “the child.” She never knew her father could have had another child – could she have a step-sibling somewhere? Her father she knew, had been shot down over Italy, but he never talked much about it. But of course, she must go to Italy to find out about this “child.” The book flips back and forth from this daughter on the search, to her father during the war, all of it taking place in a very small town in Tuscany. It’s about the varied people she meets who want her to go away and not dredge up anything about the war years (are they hiding something, you question), about how much she loves the landscape, and some of the people. And about the intense love affair between the injured pilot and a caring woman of the village. Very charming story. I could almost smell the flowers, taste the olives, hear the bees flitting, and loved the prose about the simple meals that were described. I really enjoyed the book. Perhaps not enough meat for a book club read, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy reading it nonetheless.

Leaving Blythe River: A Novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde. Almost a page turner. When one uses the phrase “coming of age,” it usually means (I think) love and loss/boyfriend/girlfriend, and in this case it’s somewhat that way. When Ethan, a 17-year old boy and his mother come home unexpectedly to find dad and his young secretary in a compromising position, all hell breaks loose. Separation happens instantly and just as his father moves out, his mother has to go take care of her aging mother. Ethan’s too young to be left in the NYC apartment alone, so Mom sends son to the father who is escaping from the world in Wyoming, living in a primitive A-frame house, and continuing his daily 20+ mile running journeys. Ethan and his father are barely speaking. They live in the middle of nowhere. Ethan feels betrayed by his father in every possible way, and somewhat by his mother for forcing him to live with his father for a temporary period. Then his father doesn’t return one day from his run. The authorities do a cursory search, but they are under the impression the dad wants to “get lost” on purpose. Ethan, although he thinks he doesn’t care, really does. What happens next is best left to you reading this book. Very interesting people (kind of loners) enter the picture and off they go to search. So worth reading.

The Girl With No Name by Diney Costelhoe. What a good book. Perhaps you’ve read before about the huge numbers of German refugee children who were sent to England before Hitler closed down any exits. This is a novel about one particular young girl, who is devastated when her mother puts her on one of the boats. She ends up in London, in an orphanage kind of place, and is eventually placed with a childless couple. She speaks no English. They speak no German, but they manage soon enough. Lisa (who eventually becomes Charlotte) is so homesick. She’s bullied at school, because most people and children don’t want any Germans there. A boy steps up to protect her, and as she grows up, she’s attracted to him. She shouldn’t be – he’s also German and from her own home town. He’s not a good match for her. You live with her through the blitz during all those war years and during one attack, she’s badly injured and loses her memory (and no ID on her). Through a series of mishaps she ends up in a village far from London, with a spinster woman who does eventually come to love her very much – they name her Charlotte and Charlotte she becomes. She goes to school there, still longing, though, for her mother and brother and her London foster family too. Then when she’s 16 she returns to London to help at the orphanage where she was originally placed and tries to find her foster parents. The story goes on from there, with the boy/man who “wants” her, the bad boy, and a good boy/man she befriends in the village in the country. Eventually she regains her memory. SUCH a good read.

The Girl with Seven Names by Hyanseo Lee. If you, like me, know little about North Korea and how it came to be what it is today, you’ve got to read this book. It’s a memoir written by a young woman who escaped from North Korea about 9 years ago. Her journey – and I mean JOURNEY – is harrowing, frightening, amazing, heart-rendering all at the same time. She chronicles the lives of the Kims (Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il to current Kim Jong Un), shares the strict propaganda that surrounds every North Korean citizen, the poverty and hunger, as well as the underground black market for food and goods. It took her awhile to get from North Korea, to China and eventually to South Korea, where she currently lives. She’s well educated and speaks English quite well. She was invited to be a speaker at a TED talk – you know about those, right? TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a media organization which posts talks online for free distribution, under the slogan “ideas worth spreading.” I listen to them as  podcasts now and then. Always very educational, if sometimes over my head when it gets very technical. She works diligently for human rights now, doing her best to help other North Koreans escape. You owe it to yourself to read this book.

Also just finished reading The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian. Another WOW book. I’ve always liked the author – many years ago I read his book, Midwives and really liked it. Don’t confuse this book with the one I recently read, The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas that I reviewed recently. I think we read it in one of my book groups. He’s a brilliant writer, and this one has a lot of characters and twists. It’s a novel, but based on a lot of truth regarding the Armenian genocide. Most of the book takes place in Aleppo, Syria with some good Samaritan folk trying to help rescue people (mostly children) following the forced long marches the Turks made prodding the Turkish Armenians to exit their country. But it also jumps to near present day as a family member is trying to piece together obscure parts of her grandparents’ former lives there. She uncovers some hidden truths (many survivors of the genocide never-ever-ever wanted to talk about it) and a bit more about her Armenian heritage. A riveting book – I could hardly put it down. Lots to discuss for a book club read. I simply must read more of Bohjalian’s books (he’s written many).

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.

 

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.

Scroll down to the bottom to view my Blogroll

Posted in Miscellaneous, on December 19th, 2015.

Syrup  / Photo by Chelsea Kyle, food styled by Rhoda Boone

One of my readers, Donna, left a comment for me about the new grading system for maple syrup.

If you haven’t shopped for maple syrup lately, you might not have been aware that sure enough, the powers that be have come up with a new set of names for the same set of maple syrup types. I never did particularly like the way they graded maple syrup because it seems to me that Grade B implied a lesser quality than Grade A – when, in fact, Grade B was actually a stronger flavor. I guess some other people must have thought the same thing. So now, all maple syrup is Grade A, but they just have gradations of color and descriptors.

The photo above came from epicurious and most of the information contained here comes from an article on epicurious about the new grading system.

In a nutshell, here’s what’s new – just look for the descriptive name and you’ll figure it out:

GRADE A: Golden Color & Delicate Taste – The far left one, that used to be called Grade A, is still Grade A, but it’s the mildest form, more like honey. It’s the early season syrup.

GRADE A: Amber Color & Rich Flavor – The second from the left is also still Grade A, but it’s like the old Grade B, both “Medium Amber” and “Dark Amber.” This one is more mid-season syrup.

GRADE A: Dark Color & Robust Flavor – the 3rd from the left is a Dark Amber also, but has the deeper flavor and is harvested later in the season.

GRADE A: Very Dark & Strong Flavor – the far right one and has the most maple flavor. It was a type that wasn’t sold commercially, but sold to factories and candy producers and can be substituted for molasses. I’m guessing it’s not something we’d ever see in a store. And obviously, this one is the last of the maple syrup to be harvested.

Thanks, Donna, for informing me about this change – I’ll know now, and so will you as you shop for maple syrup.

Posted in Fish, Miscellaneous, on November 17th, 2015.

pistachio_crusted_salmon_apricot_glaze

You know when I tell you you have to make this. Yes. This. Soon. Fabulous.

Oh my goodness, this recipe is so good. I do love salmon, but it’s almost like chicken, in a way, since you can do so many different things with it – broil it, bake it, pan sauté it, or in this case it’s sautéed briefly, then baked for 6-8 minutes. And then served with this wonderful tangy, spicy apricot sauce/glaze. And with those pistachio nuts on top (with chives, parsley and a little oil to hold it together). Oh yes.

The sauce will keep several weeks. And, in fact, Phillis Carey talked about how good it is with chicken or halibut too. Phillis’ original recipe made half as much glaze, and my friend Cherrie and I, who attended Phillis’ class together, decided then and there that we’d make more of the sauce to use on other things, so I’ve increased the glaze part by 50% in the recipe below. We also thought a serving portion of the salmon could use just a bit more of the glaze than we had, so that’s another reason to make more.

So, the sauce can be made ahead by several weeks, as I mentioned, or the day before. Do give it some time to marry the flavors, though, if time permits. The salmon fillets are seared for a minute or so on each side, then placed on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Then you combine a tiny tetch of oil, the pistachios, parsley, chives and salt and pepper, and carefully pile it on top of the salmon. Into a 375° oven it goes and bakes for 6-8 minutes (depending on how thick the salmon is). Serve immediately! I promise – to raves! Easy. Good enough for a company meal, and not so hard that it couldn’t be made for a weeknight dinner. Especially if you made the glaze ahead of time.

What’s GOOD: everything about it – especially the glaze. It’s all good, and it’s also very easy.

What’s NOT: nothing at all.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 14/15 file (click link to open)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Pistachio Crusted Salmon with Apricot Glaze

Recipe By: Phillis Carey cooking class, 10/15
Serving Size: 4

GLAZE:
12 dried apricot halves — quartered (use sulfured type)
1 cup apricot nectar — plus 2 tablespoons
6 tablespoons white vinegar
6 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon Sriracha sauce — or other Asian chile sauce
1 tablespoon fresh ginger — minced
1 tablespoon shallots — minced
SALMON:
20 ounces salmon fillets — 4 pieces, 1 inch thick, 5-6 ounces each
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
3 tablespoons grapeseed oil — divided use
1/4 cup Italian parsley — chopped
2 tablespoons chives — chopped
1/2 cup pistachio nuts — toasted & chopped (or you can use walnuts or pecans)

NOTE: You probably will have some of the sauce left over – that’s a good thing – use it on other fish or chicken since it keeps several weeks.
1. SAUCE: Place ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Transfer to a blender and puree until smooth. Return to saucepan and simmer to thicken, if desired. (Will keep for several weeks, refrigerated.)
2. SALMON: Preheat oven to 375°. Season fish with salt and pepper. Heat 2 T. of oil in a large nonstick pan. Sear fish for one minute per side and then transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet.
3. Toss remaining tablespoon of oil with parsley, chives and pistachios. Brush fish lightly with the apricot glaze. Spread pistachio mixture on top of the fish and bake 6-8 minutes, or until just cooked through. Serve drizzled with more apricot glaze and serve remaining sauce on the table.
Per Serving: 490 Calories; 23g Fat (41.6% calories from fat); 32g Protein; 41g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 74mg Cholesterol; 125mg Sodium.

Posted in Miscellaneous, on October 6th, 2015.

caramelized_onions_bourbon_sauce

Caramelized onions stewing in the pan make for a wonderful aroma – add some bourbon and a few other things and it’s a match with a piece of grilled steak or pork chop.

Remember, I was mentioning that my freezer in the garage is kinda full of frozen beef? Mostly steaks. I think this one was a prime ribeye from Costco since it was in a vacuum sealed bag. I can’t remember the last time I grilled a steak – I’ve had steak at my son’s home –  I never order it at a restaurant because I think I can make it better anyway. So, I defrosted a nice big steak – enough for 2 meals for me. It was 4:00 in the afternoon once it was defrosted (I plunged the sealed bag into a big bowl of cold water, put a big wide bowl on top and put a weight in the middle to keep the steak submerged). It took about 2-3 hours and it stayed very cold.  Grilled or sautéed onions with a splash of bourbon were what appealed to me so I researched several recipes online. I went off on a tangent and added a variety of things

I decided not to fire up the outdoor grill, but instead I cooked the steak in my sous vide. It needed a minimum of 2 hours at 131°F, and that was just exactly how much time I had before my approximate dinner time at 6:30. The beauty of the sous vide is that I could have cooked it for 4 hours at 131° and it would have been the same, perfectly cooked medium rare.

Meanwhile, I started making the onions. Sliced them – not paper thin as they kind of come out as a gloopy mess – a little thicker than that. They are gently sautéed in olive oil and butter. It takes awhile for them to sweat off all the liquid, but it’s enhanced with just a teaspoon of brown sugar. Once they began to brown they need more frequent stirring so they don’t burn. Once they get to a dark golden brown you can finish – or you can let them go to a full mahogany color if you’d prefer. By then it had been about 35 minutes and I was ready to eat, so I added in the liquids (Worcestershire sauce, a dash of soy sauce, mustard, and bourbon). It took another 5+ minutes for that liquid to be absorbed and simmered off – I wished I’d left just a smidgen of liquid to drizzle onto the steak, so keep that in mind if you make this.

My sous vide steak was ready to finish – it was fully cooked, but it has a kind of insipid grayish color to the outside when it’s done in the sous vide, so I fired up my stovetop grill and got it smoking hot and plopped that steak on there for about 90 seconds per side – that’s all it needed. I let it sit for about 5 minutes on a cutting board, cut it in half and served it with the onions on top.

What’s GOOD: oh my, yes, it was delicious. Loved the sweet onions – I could have eaten double the amount if they’d been there – I saved half for a 2nd meal. The bourbon flavor was very subtle. Altogether delicious. If you like bourbon, you could add more – I will next time.

What’s NOT: really nothing other than the time it takes to sweat down and caramelize the onions.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 14 file (click on link to open in MC)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Caramelized Onion Sauce with Bourbon

Recipe By: My own concoction, but loosely based on several online recipes
Serving Size: 2

1 large yellow onion — peeled, sliced thinly
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 clove garlic — smashed
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon soy sauce — reduced sodium
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup bourbon

1. Slice onions and add to a skillet in which you have heated the oil and butter. Stir frequently – it will take awhile – about 20 minutes – to get most of the water out of the onions, then they’ll begin to get golden, then darker and darker. Turn down the heat so the onions don’t burn. Once they’ve reached the color you like, add the garlic and stir for about 30 seconds or so.
2. In a small bowl combine the Worcestershire, soy sauce, Dijon and bourbon. Mash up the mustard so it’s mostly disappeared into the liquid.
3. Add liquid to the pan of onions and cook over low heat until nearly all the fluid has evaporated – about 4-5 minutes. It’s nice to have just a little tiny bit of liquid left to drizzle onto the grilled meat.
4. Pile on top of a piece of grilled steak or pork chop.
Per Serving: 220 Calories; 13g Fat (73.6% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 9g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 16mg Cholesterol; 338mg Sodium.

Posted in Miscellaneous, on July 26th, 2015.

nigel_slaters_plum_chutney

Plums are in season now – or maybe, lucky you, you have a plum tree? If so, here’s a new way to use plums and if you’re so inclined you can can it to keep for another season.

Shopping at Trader Joe’s, I spotted some plumcots, a hybrid fruit that’s more plum than apricot, and am not really sure what’s different about them (in tasting them I really couldn’t tell the difference with it and a straight plum). But I’d read this recipe for a plum chutney and decided I’d make it. As I write this, I’m going to entertain one night soon, about 12 people, and I wanted something to serve alongside some grilled meats. I’ve made this and will also make an old favorite, Escoffier’s Peppers for Cold Meats. I don’t think I’ve made those peppers for a couple of years and I love them.

plums_cut_upIt took over an hour to make this, but most of it is just simmering time. There’s about 15-20 minutes of prep time involved. It’s not difficult – just chopping the onions and plums mostly. The plums are the most gorgeous color, aren’t they? I love the color red. If you came to my house, you’d know how much I love red. It’s not in every room, but it’s in several!

The plums get cut up (the recipe said to halve them, but I wanted smaller pieces than that) and then you put it all together in a big, heavy-duty pot (don’t use something flimsy as you cook this, or it will burn). There, below is a photo of all the gorgeous stuff in the pot – the onions, raisins, sugar, dried chile flakes, mustard seeds, apple cider vinegar, malt vinegar (that’s different, huh?) and I added a little bit of dried thyme. Oh yes, and a stick of cinnamon too.

chutney_mixture

My eye strays immediately to the deep ruby red of those plums. Anyway, the mixture is brought to a boil and simmered for about an hour (without a lid) and it cooks down and cooks down until it’s the consistency of loose jam. Just keep it on low so it doesn’t burn. Listen for the sound of sizzling, meaning it’s too hot, or needs just a little bit of water added to it.

You may wish to can this as soon as it’s done – pour into sterilized jars and seal. But I knew I’d be using it soon, so I just allowed the pot to cool (that took awhile because the mixture was really hot) and poured it into refrigerator containers and it’s now safely stored in the refrigerator until I need it next week. You could freeze it as well, if that’s your fancy.

plum_chutney_with_chickenAnd there at left was my dinner – some left over chicken with a couple of dollops of the chutney on top.

The vinegar in the mix gives a definite savory edge to this chutney but it’s sweet too – guess that’s why it’s called hot and sweet. There are some red chile flakes in the mixture – I didn’t use many because I’m always wary of using too many, and you certainly can’t un-do it. Chutney almost always has some kind of acid in it, and usually some kind of fruit as well. So this is definitely a chutney, right?

I bought some nice goat cheese, and think I’ll serve the chutney on that as an appetizer. Should be lovely. I’ll also serve it as a relish with the grilled meat. I found the recipe online in several places. One suggestion was to make this ahead because it improves with age. Okay, I’ve done that.

What’s GOOD: love the sweet and sour aspect, though there isn’t much sour. Yet the acid definitely gives it a sweet/savory piquant taste. It’s great with some cold meat. Would be fabulous in a turkey sandwich, I think. Pork would lend itself well to this. Also on cream or soft cheese as an appetizer. Or just plain on a cracker.

What’s NOT: nothing that I can think of!

printer-friendly PDF

Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click on link to open recipe in MC)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Nigel Slater’s Hot and Sweet Plum Chutney

Recipe By: Nigel Slater’s Recipe from his cookbook, Ripe (I found it at The English Kitchen blog)
Serving Size: 20

1 2/3 pounds plums — (I used plumcots)
3/4 pound onions
3/4 cup raisins
1 1/4 cups muscovado sugar — (or brown sugar)
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes — crushed
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
5 1/2 ounces apple cider vinegar
5 1/2 ounces malt vinegar
1 teaspoon dried thyme — (my addition: optional)
a cinnamon stick broken in two

Notes: This gets better tasting as days go by. If you can do it, let it ripen for a couple of weeks. Perfect to serve with cold meats and cheeses.
1. Halve the plums, discarding the stones. Peel and roughly chop the onions. Put the fruit and the onions into a large heavy bottomed saucepan. Add the remaining ingredients.
2, Bring the mixture to the boil, then reduce the heat to low. Simmer on low heat, stirring occasionally, for about an hour. Taste for sweetness – may need more sugar, depending on the plums. (DO not forget to stir it occasionally as it may burn.)
3. Pour into hot and sterilized jam jars and seal. Or, allow to cool to room temperature, refrigerate and use within a few weeks.
Per Serving: 83 Calories; trace Fat (3.7% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 21g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 1mg Sodium.

Posted in Miscellaneous, on June 18th, 2015.

perfect_hard_boiled_egg
No credit is due here to my invention or my years of kitchen skills. I read it all over at Serious Eats, a blog that’s been in existence for about as long as mine has (8 years). The difference is that one of their contributors is a restaurant chef (and I’m not), and she just set out to share her years of experience in a restaurant kitchen. So I took her advice.

Never again will I put cold eggs in a pan of cold water, cover them and bring them up to temp and simmer for awhile. Never again will I bring the eggs out of the refrigerator to let them “warm up” a little on the kitchen counter. Never again will I put eggs in their shell IN water in a pan. Never again will I just guess at how long they need to cook – 15 minutes? 20 minutes? Nope. Never again will I rap the just ice-chilled egg (in the shell) onto my sink side to “break” the air bubble at the flatter end, that membrane inside, hoping the cold water will circulate around in there and make it easier to peel (because that’s what my mother taught me to do). Never again will I try to peel them when they’re just newly chilled in ice water. And lastly, never will I try to make them in a pressure cooker (I never have, but just thought I’d add that in since Kenji mentioned it also).

breville_risotto_cooker_acting_as_a_steamerIf you’re curious about all-things-hard-boiled-eggs, then you must go read the extensive and very scientific blog post over at Serious Eats. And if you want to read the short version, with just the recipe, then do this one.

cold_eggs_ready_for_steamingWhat I WILL be doing is what Kenji taught me – to cook them exactly 12 minutes in the steamer insert of a pan. I did it in my risotto cooker (pictured above right, set on the sauté function so I could keep the water boiling), which is just like doing them in a steamer insert of any old pan set you have and doing them on the stovetop. And after exactly 12 minutes, I’ll be plunging that steamer insert full of hot, just hard-cooked eggs eggs_steaminginto a big bowl of extra-cold ice water (with ice cubes) to bring the temperature down right away quick. And I will be chilling them for a few hours, or even overnight in the refrigerator before trying to peel them.

Here’s the short course:

1. Bring about an inch of water to a boil, in a covered pan for which you have a steamer insert. Place the steamer insert inside while it’s heating up.

2. Once the water is boiling solidly, add the cold (right out of the frig) eggs to the steamer insert and cover again.

3. Set the timer for 12 minutes.eggs_chilling_ice_water

4. Meanwhile, get out a big, deep bowl large enough to contain the steamer insert and fill it with cold water and with lots of ice cubes.

5. After the 12 minutes, remove the steamer insert with eggs inside and plop them down, altogether, into that icy water. Allow to cool for about 15 minutes.

6. Remove eggs and refrigerate for at least several hours or overnight if possible.

Kenji does say, and I think rightly so, there probably is no 100% perfect way to hard cook eggs – you’ll have an occasional failure, but this method, which is new to me, worked like an absolute charm. But all the credit is Kenji’s!

printer-friendly PDF

Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click on link to open recipe in MC)

Posted in Miscellaneous, on May 16th, 2015.

tartar_sauce_with_cottage_cheese

Don’t stick up your nose at the title of this – I know what you’re thinking – how could tartar sauce made with cottage cheese taste like anything? Well, I might have been in that camp, but laziness on my part made me inventive.

You see, I didn’t want to go to the store to buy sour cream. Or, yuk, to buy ready-made tartar sauce, which I think is awful. So, since I did have cottage cheese in the refrigerator (full fat type), I decided to snoop around on the ‘net to see if anyone had devised a recipe that was palatable. I took ideas from a couple of different recipes, and  used different proportions. I didn’t want a lot – it’s just me these days – and I had just one piece of salmon to eat.

What I wanted was a tartar sauce similar to what you’re served in a restaurant, which  usually is made fresh daily. So, I fiddled with what to add, a little jot here and there, and it tasted pretty darned good. Generally, I don’t buy “diet” labeled items, and I don’t necessarily stint on using butter (in moderation) when it’s needed. And I’d have used sour cream if I had it; but I didn’t. I’d have  used yogurt, except what I have in the refrigerator is sweetened slightly, and I didn’t think that would taste good with salmon! So, you see, I made do.

The capers are essential – they add a little sour taste and a briny flavor from their juices. And the pickle relish is also essential for me. But you can jiggle the proportions to suit your taste if you’d like. The cottage cheese kind of flew around inside my little tiny food processor, and the part that stuck to the lid was still little curds, so I didn’t scrape that down or use it in the finished sauce. Just the part that got whizzed well until it was smooth (remember, I wanted it to taste like sour cream). I tasted, add more lemon juice, more pepper, then scraped it out into a bowl, with some going into that little ramekin in the photo. If I’d had fresh dill I would have added it, but I didn’t. You could add dried dill.

What’s GOOD: I was almost amazed at how good this was. Of course, it’s not like the real thing, but salmon has a lot of flavor all on its own, so the tartar sauce was just fine. And yes, I’d make it again if I needed to. Note that there is a tiny bit of mayo in it – I think that helped. I used regular Best Foods/Hellman’s because that’s all I have in my refrigerator.

What’s NOT: nothing, really. No, it’s isn’t like the real thing, but it’s pretty darned close!

printer-friendly CutePDF

Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click on link to open recipe in MC)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Tartar Sauce made with Cottage Cheese

Recipe By: My own concoction, but based on several internet ones.
Serving Size: 2

1/3 cup cottage cheese (full fat)
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons sweet pickle relish
1 tablespoon capers
1 teaspoon chives — minced

1. In a small food processor combine the cottage cheese, mayo, lemon juice, pepper and mustard. Whiz until you can no longer see any cottage cheese curds, and it’s smooth.
2. Scrape out into a bowl and stir in the pickle relish, chives and capers. Taste for seasonings. Chill for 30 minutes or more to blend the flavors. Will keep for several days.
Per Serving: 93 Calories; 7g Fat (62.1% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 4g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 6mg Cholesterol; 288mg Sodium.

Posted in Beef, Grilling, Miscellaneous, on March 23rd, 2015.

bobby_flays_steak_rub

Just plain steaks are fine, but don’t you sometimes want to put something on them, to give them an added lift, or some different flavors?

Recently I invited my/our son Powell and his family over for dinner. (And the good news is that I was able to do enough walking and standing in the kitchen to pull it off.) I have meat in my freezer. Oh my, do I have meat in the garage freezer, and I can’t believe that it’s been nearly a year since my darling DH died, and I’ve hardly made a dent in the meat stash. I’ve purchased plenty of chicken breasts and thighs, and salmon steaks which crowd in there, and go in and out, but I have numerous cuts of beef, pork, whole chickens and fish fillets that are now more than a year old. I’ve GOT to do something with them.

The good news was that I WANTED to cook. Those of you reading this, who don’t know me very well yet, won’t understand. In the last year I’ve hardly wanted to cook at all. But I also had my darned foot injury that for 7 months has kept me from standing at my kitchen counter much at all. That’s completely healed now and I’m trying to push my limits a bit. Am walking some every day to flex those tight ligaments, tendons, the plantar fascia and the Achilles tendons too.

In coming days  you’ll see a couple of other new recipes I tried out for this dinner (a crostini appetizer using green peas, and a fennel vegetable side). I also made my favorite Crisp Apple Pudding, one of my signature, very homey desserts. My grandson Vaughan was salivating from the moment he heard Grandma had made the apple pudding, which he just loves. He could hardly eat hissteaks_with_steak_rub dinner because he wanted that dessert so much. Then he wanted seconds, but mom and dad said no.

Anyway, back to the steaks. They were ribeyes (USDA prime, from Costco). Powell grilled them for me, and I handed Powell this little bowl (above) to season them. He used the trusty Thermapen to make sure the steaks were cooked to perfection. The 4 of us shared these 2 big steaks. I have some leftover which I’ll use to make a nice steak salad, I think. Karen brought a lovely green salad (with the first of our spring strawberries) and left some greens with me which will make a nice start. Maybe I’ll have that for dinner tonight.

What’s GOOD: just something different. I liked the spice combination. It was easy enough to make. Just remember, spice blends should not be kept for more than a month, so use it up, or make a smaller batch to begin with.

What’s NOT: nothing, really. Same as above, a spice blend doesn’t keep more than a month, so use it up.

printer-friendly CutePDF

Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click on link to open recipe in MC)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Bobby Flay’s Steak Rub

Recipe By: Bobby Flay, online
Serving Size: 10

2 tablespoons ancho chile powder
1 tablespoon Spanish paprika — (sweet paprika)
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons chile de arbol — (optional – I didn’t have any)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Combine ingredients and store in well-sealing jar. Sprinkle liberally on steaks before grilling.
Per Serving: 12 Calories; 1g Fat (37.3% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 2g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 16mg Sodium.

Posted in Brunch, Miscellaneous, on November 30th, 2014.

five_spice_fall_fruit_salad

five-spice fruit salad

It’s always nice, at a brunch, to have some kind of a fruit dish. You could certainly do plain, fresh fruit, but you can also make it special with this recipe that has some spice additions that are certainly a little off the usual list – five-spice and vanilla bean.

We had this lovely, fun brunch. We sat outside (a few weeks ago, here in California, we were still having full-on summer) so gathering on a Sunday, at nearly mid-day, we enjoyed the waning days of summer with a delicious mixture of brunch dishes. This being one of them. Peggy brought this one, a delicious marinated fruit mixture that contains some five-spice powder and a half of a vanilla bean. It’s marinated in a honey-based mixture, which also gave it a lovely sweetness. The recipe came from epicurious a couple of months ago. Peggy couldn’t find any figs, since they’re out of season, so she used peaches, the plums, and she added a few prunes to give it some alternate color. I think this dish could be very adaptable – use whatever fruit is in season, though not apples unless you cooked them a bit. Pears would probably work also.

The spiced honey syrup is made ahead, cooled, then poured over the fruit. It’s refrigerated for a few hours. It probably would be fine made the day before as well. I would think this could be made with less honey syrup – starting with 3/4 cup of honey is a lot. I might try making half the amount of honey and water (but use all the spices), marinate in a plastic bag, and turn the bag over several times in the refrigerator.

What’s GOOD: well, you know me, I like foods and recipes that have something different about them, and this definitely fits the bill here, with the five-spice (not overwhelming at all) and the vanilla bean. Of all the dishes we had at the brunch, this was the only one I went back to for seconds. Use fruit that have different colors to them if at all possible. The syrup could be used again – strain it, freeze it and use it weeks or months later.

What’s NOT: nothing at all – it was a really lovely fruit salad.

printer-friendly CutePDF

Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click on link to open recipe in MC)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Five-Spice Fall Fruit Salad

Source: adapted slightly from epicurious
Serving Size: 8

3/4 cup honey
1/2 vanilla bean — split and scraped
1 piece ginger — (1 inch) thinly sliced
1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
5 plums — black-skinned, if possible, pitted and sliced
5 red plums — pitted and sliced
4 whole peaches — or fresh figs, if available

Notes: the original recipes called for 2 types of plums plus figs. If those fruits aren’t in season, substitute other – even cherries or prunes. If using apples, you may need to partially cook them; same perhaps with pears. Plums, figs and peaches are all soft fruits, so they lend themselves well to just marinating in the syrup. Try to vary the color in the fruit just because it looks nicer.
1. Place 3/4 cup water in a medium saucepan. Add the honey, vanilla bean pod with seeds, ginger, and five-spice powder. Bring to a boil and stir until honey dissolves. Set aside to cool completely, and stir in lemon juice. Discard ginger and vanilla bean pod.
2. In a large bowl, pour cooled syrup over the sliced plums. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours, or overnight in the refrigerator.
3. An hour before serving, slice peaches (or figs) and gently fold into plum mixture. To serve, use a slotted spoon to ladle fruit into a serving bowl.
4. DO AHEAD: Syrup can be made in advance and stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 days. [My suggestion: save the syrup, strain it, and freeze to be used again.]
Per Serving: 166 Calories; 1g Fat (2.9% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 43g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 2mg Sodium.

Posted in Fish, Miscellaneous, on November 7th, 2014.

tarragon_sauce_salmon

My friend Cherrie called me recently and said, “I fixed your salmon with tarragon sauce last night.” My mind went blank. Salmon with tarragon sauce?  “Are you sure it was my recipe,” I said? Yes, indeed, she even had my MasterCook print-out that said it was from Gourmet Magazine back in the 1990s. Hmmm. It took me awhile, but I found it in my recipe collection – a search revealed it was under “tarragon” not “salmon.” Obviously I haven’t fixed it in a loooooong time!

Cherrie was nice enough to give me some of it, as it makes a bunch – enough for 8 servings, and there are only two of them. I had it the other night on a nice piece of steamed salmon, along with Brussels sprouts I cooked in garlic, onion and a dash of maple syrup stirred in at the last minute, and some really ripe Plumato tomato slices. A lovely dinner, and a really tasty sauce. I think the sauce could go on chicken also, but it’s ideal for fish. (See, I am cooking a little bit, and my foot managed with me standing at the counter for about 15 minutes. That’s progress.)

In my notes, it says salmon is the best fish for it, and the recipe suggested placing a pool of the sauce on a plate and then adding the salmon on top. I chose not to do it that way – thought being on top would make it more photogenic. The original recipe called for mayo, but at the time I made this, back in the 90s, I was into using lower fat stuff – so you can use your own judgment – full fat or low fat, but don’t use nonfat mayo, okay? What is does require is a bunch of tarragon – 2 bunches. That’s a LOT. It also contains chives, shallot, parsley, rice wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar and a bit of Dijon. That’s it. Easy to make. And since Cherrie gave this to me a week ago, it obviously keeps awhile. But eventually fresh herbs will begin to disintegrate and get oozy, so do use it within a few days if you can. I think Cherrie told me she didn’t quite have enough mayo, so she substituted a little bit of yogurt, which should be just fine.

What’s GOOD: it’s really easy to make – providing you’ve got tarragon. I don’t seem to have much luck raising tarragon in my kitchen garden. Don’t know why, so I usually have to buy it. You will need 3/4 of a cup of loosely measured tarragon leaves if you make this batch for 8 servings.

What’s NOT: nothing other than it tastes much better if allowed to sit for a few hours (chilled).

printer-friendly CutePDF

Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click on link to open recipe in MC)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Tarragon Sauce for Salmon

Recipe By: Adapted from a Gourmet Magazine recipe, July 1998
Serving Size: 8

2 bunches fresh tarragon — (to measure 3/4 cup of loose leaves)
1 bunch chives — loosely chopped
2 large shallot — chopped and blanched
1/4 cup Italian parsley — loosely chopped
1 cup mayonnaise — may use some low fat if preferred, or substitute some yogurt
2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Pick off the tarragon leaves to measure about 3/4 cup without packing them down. Wash and drain briefly. Add to the bowl of a food processor along with the chives, parsley and shallot. Pulse until those ingredients are finely minced. Scrape down the sides of the bowl if necessary.
2. Add all the remaining ingredients (except salt and pepper) and pulse until smooth. Taste it and season with salt and pepper. Chill the mixture for a few hours, if possible.
3. Allow sauce to warm up (at room temp) for about 20 minutes before serving. You may spoon it onto a plate and place the fish on top, or the other way around. Garnish the fish with a sprig of Italian parsley.
Per Serving: 202 Calories; 23g Fat (97.0% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 1g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 10mg Cholesterol; 173mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, Miscellaneous, on July 30th, 2014.

orange_fennel_mostarda

Think condiment. Think Italian chutney maybe? Here it’s a fruity spread for crackers (or, a condiment for grilled pork). By definition, a mostarda is an Italian condiment made of fruit and a mustard-flavored syrup. That’s not exactly what this is (it does contain mustard seeds, but that’s the only relationship is has with “mustard”), but I didn’t name it. Whatever you choose to call it, this stuff is off the charts delicious.

If you’ve been reading my blog in the last couple of weeks, you know that I went camping with some of my family. Maybe I kinda went glamping, because I stayed in the lodge/motel just down the road. And I use the word lodge loosely. The room contained 2 beds and a bathroom. There was no TV, no internet, no cell service, period. There was no lobby, no place for guests to sit around except on an outdoor deck – if you could tolerate the heat. The clock radio was plugged in but didn’t work. The room was dark with minimal lighting available. But, that A/C unit was used every single afternoon and night and I was ever so grateful. And the mattress was actually pretty good. What they did have was a small sort of fast-food counter with minimal eating options and a gift shop. The ice was the big seller there, along with the ice cream bars.

One of the down sides to me being down the road from the campground where the family was, was that my ice chest full of goodies had to be in the hotel room with me up on the 2nd floor (and no, no elevator). The campground had bear boxes (i.e., sturdy thick-gauge stainless steel boxes that mostly elude bears from ripping into them), but all their campsite bear boxes were chock full.  It could not stay in the car for 2 reasons: (1) it was too darned hot – the ice wouldn’t have lasted more than a few hours at the temps we had up there; and (2) they have bears, and everyone is strongly told in no uncertain terms to leave absolutely nothing in the car in the way of food. Bears can break windows and will claw trunk lids if they think they might be able to get into food. As I awkwardly carried this full and very  heavy ice chest toward the lodge, a kind gentleman took pity on me (it wasn’t the kind that rolls on wheels – big mistake on my part) and at least carried it up the one flight of stairs for me. I was extremely grateful. The lodge did provide about a gallon of ice a couple of times a day (they kept track).

The family stayed in tents and slept on cots or air mattresses – in the heat. I had A/C. I was in charge of bringing appetizers for the 3 evenings I’d be with everyone. As I planned what I’d take along on this trip (a 6-hour drive from home) I knew I wanted to make some things ahead of time. And to make it as easy on myself as I could. No, I really couldn’t toast the bread. No, there was no ideal way to heat up anything. Yes, they had camp stoves, but it was highly recommended that I choose cold appetizers to not waste precious propane. SO. I looked for new recipes to try. You’ll read about the Brussels sprout appetizer in a few days.

In order to maximize my time with the family at the campground, I drove 3/4 of the way there and stayed overnight in Tulare (too-LARE-ee) at a very nice, comfortable Hampton Inn. That was the first time in a whole lot of years I’ve stayed by myself in a hotel. It felt strange without my hubby beside me. Be proud of me – I didn’t cry. I felt like it a couple of times but I didn’t. And going into a restaurant that night to eat alone was hard. Very hard. It wasn’t an upscale restaurant – more like a diner – so I didn’t feel uncomfortable exactly. I just missed my DH, big time.

That hotel did have an elevator, so it made carrying the full ice chest to the room a bit easier. For sure, if I ever do this again, I’ll take the much larger on-wheels ice chest. The next morning I got on the road early and made it to the campground by about 11 am. My daughter-in-law, Karen, and her extended family (all there camping too) are foodies. Powell (my son, my step-son actually but I never use the phrase) is too. All the dinner items were brought in vacuum sealed packages, prepared at home. We had coq au vin one night, and Bolognese another night. Carnitas tacos with all the trimmings was on the menu the other night I was there. No desserts, other than s’mores for the 2 children, although Karen had purchased monstrous square marshmallows, which were big enough you could divide them into about 4 portions of s’mores. I didn’t have any – my only indulgence was a dark chocolate kiss (or 2 or 3) I kept chilled in my ice chest and shared with everybody mid-day. And I left them with another package of milk chocolate ones.

mostarda_and_gin_tonicHappy hour started each night about 5, so I would bring from the hotel my chilled stash of food for the evening. This mostarda was on the menu my first night because I’d stopped at a market along the way there that day and bought a still-warm baguette. Of the 4 appetizers I took, this was, by far, the standout. Here at right is my gin and tonic (I’ve taken a recent liking to them – good Bombay gin, Schweppes tonic, and a squeeze from a generous slice of lime – very refreshing in extreme heat!). Do note the uber-colorful plastic tablecloth, the super lightweight trivet I added in for color and a prop for the bread, and the picnic table laden with “stuff.” Wine is generally the beverage of choice with this family, and there was no shortage of it. I should have taken some, but brought the gin instead. A few others shared one with me, and my son Powell, and his brother-in-law Julian made it for me each night I was there.

One of my appetizers won’t grace these pages – nobody liked it much, including me. It was a spiced carrot thing (pureed) with Moroccan flavorings including preserved lemon. I thought it looked good (and had no fat in it at all) but it wasn’t.  Most of it got dumped into the toilet in my lodge room.

Now, after all that lengthy monologue, we’ll get to the mostarda, finally. Pretty much, this is like making jam. You do need to bloom the spices first in the water, vinegar and sugar, then the minced fennel is added, and lastly carefully chopped flesh of the orange. You cook it and cook it. And cook it some more if you prefer orange_fennel_mostarda_simmeringthe texture to be more like marmalade. I did, so it probably simmered on the stovetop for about 35-45 minutes or so (photo at left). I tasted it here and there. My only difficulty was that fennel bulbs and oranges are all different sizes, so the ratio of fruit/fennel to vinegar/sugar was just a touch off (too much vinegar) so I have altered the recipe just slightly. It’s far easier to add more vinegar later if it’s needed (and continue to cook it a bit more too, if you do so) than to have to add more sugar as I did. The orange zest is added at the very last. If you’d prefer, go to the original at Food52  and use Elizabeth Rex’s recipe, although her recipe just says use a small fennel bulb and an orange, so those sizes are certainly open to interpretation. Elizabeth is a line cook in Chicago. She’s a genius with this recipe. Truly. I loved it.

Most of the double batch went camping with me, but I kept back about 1/2 cup and I’m definitely going to use it – Karen and I talked about it at the camp that the mostarda would be delish with a grilled pork chop, or a pork roast. Since this mixture keeps well, and until I have a dinner guest, I’m going to keep it in the frig for doing just that.

What’s GOOD: the flavor of the orange is the most prominent, but then you get the savory part (the fennel and the mustard, fennel and coriander seeds) but overall the jam is sweet. Truly, you could eat it on toast for breakfast, but it’s far too lofty for that, I assure you. It would likely be delish piled on top of a block of cream cheese too. I wouldn’t use any kind of a flavored cracker – you want the mostarda flavors to come through, not onion, caraway or Ranch flavorings in a cracker, if you understand my meaning. Use a plain cracker or slice of a baguette. Toasted would be lovely. Altogether delicious. It keeps for awhile too.
What’s NOT: other than the time it takes to mince the fennel, chop up the oranges correctly and simmer it, nothing at all. This is a keeper-recipe for sure.

printer-friendly CutePDF
Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click on link to open recipe in MC)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Orange Fennel Mostarda

Recipe By: Adapted just slightly from a Food 52 recipe by Elizabeth Rex
Serving Size: 16

1 small fennel bulb — cut into a small dice (I used more)
2 whole Navel oranges
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup white wine vinegar — or more if needed
1/4 cup water

1. Place fennel, spices, sugar, vinegar, and water into a small saucepot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
2. Meanwhile, as your saucepot is heating, zest the navel orange. It should yield about 1 teaspoon, but if you get less, that is fine. Set zest aside.
3. Peel the orange as if you were supreming or segmenting it, but instead of segmenting, cut the orange into 4 pieces and remove the middle pithy part, seeds, and hard rind (if any). The membrane between the orange segments is fine. Dice what you have, which should yield about 1 cup. Add to the saucepot, which should have come up to a rapid simmer/boil about now. If the pot started boiling while you were cutting up the orange, that is fine.
4. Once the oranges are in, bring to a boil for about 5 minutes, skimming any foam that appears, then turn down to medium. Simmer until liquid is reduced to the consistency of maple syrup (nearly all of the liquid will be gone by then) and the mustard seeds have plumped up and softened, about 20-25 minutes. Set aside and cool, then stir in reserved orange zest.
5. Note: At this point, there will still be pieces of fresh orange in the mostarda. If you want a more cooked-down, marmalade-ish consistency, bring the orange to a boil with the fennel, and simmer on medium-low heat for 30 minutes. Taste to see if it needs more sugar or vinegar.
6. Serve with toasted baguette slices or a plain cracker. Don’t use a flavored cracker – you want all the mostarda flavor to shine through to your taste buds. Will keep for up to a month, refrigerated.
Per Serving: 41 Calories; trace Fat (5.3% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 10g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 8mg Sodium.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...