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Kristin Hannah is quite an author. She’s written upwards of 20 books, I think. This one, Magic Hour: A Novel is another very mesmerizing read. I could hardly put it down. A young, 6-year old child is found in a small town on the Olympic Peninsula. She’s mute and frightened beyond reason. And she seems not to understand English. A psychiatrist is brought to town to try to unravel the mystery and to “reach” the child. I don’t want to spoil the story, but know that the whole subject of nature (biology) vs. nurture comes into play and will keep you hanging onto your seat until the last few pages.

Ever heard of Barbara Pym? I knew the name, but hadn’t ever read any of her work. She was an English author (deceased now), having penned several books. I think she was an inveterate spinster, and in this book, Excellent Women she wrote about a small village community in England with the humdrum, day to day life, but she wrote with such interesting detail. I thought I might be bored to tears reading it, as it describes a 31-year old woman, considered a spinster in the time (1950s), and the book is about her rather boring life with new neighbors who move into her small home (2 units, sharing a bathroom), the local vicar, his sister, and a myriad of other ladies of the parish. Yet you get caught up in the very minor intrigue of the deteriorating marriage of the couple in the building, the love life of the vicar, and the annual planning for a jumble sale at the local church. This book is considered Pym’s best. I loved the book. I highlighted a bunch of phrases and sentences (I will be doing a book review in one of my book clubs). It wasn’t boring at all, and was entertaining right up to the last page!

Did you ever watch Sandra Lee on the Food Network? This was in the early days of the network, and I did watch her some, although her cooking style didn’t mesh much with mine, since I’m a bit of a make-things-from-scratch kind of girl. But then, I don’t make my own mayo, or jam anymore. And I understand her philosophy, making it easier for busy women to feed their families and juggle a busy life. I’d never thought about reading her memoir. But then, a friend highly recommended I do so. I found a used copy online, and read Made From Scratch: A Memoir. She had a very, very hard young life. Her mother? Well, she shouldn’t have even been a mother. Sandra was the eldest and from a very early age she took care of all of her younger siblings. She was badly mistreated and nearly raped by a family member. Her grandmother Lorraine was her favorite person from the get-go and Sandra took care of her grandmother in her waning years. Once Sandra was old enough she left home and went to college for 3 years, then her entrepreneurial spirit just took over. She learned by doing in every job she’s ever had, and I have to admire her tremendously for her accomplishments. She made money, then lost it, found another niche, made money, then lost it. Yet she’s got the kind of grit that we should all emulate. There are 2 recipes in the book. Sandra is a Christian, and a paragraph that really gripped me was at the very end: “Grace has become one of my favorite words. To me it means learning to balance the good days with the bad. Grace is about being proud of yourself, your actions, your life, what you stand for, and the way you give back [Sandra is a huge philanthropist]. Its’ being generous when someone hurts you; it’s knowing when and how to react. It’s knowing that someone you’re not fond of today might turn out to be the only person who puts his or her hand out tomorrow just when you’re about to step in front of a moving bus. Grace is offering understanding and acceptance when the rest of the world does not.” This book isn’t great literature; yet I’m very glad I read it. She is an inspiration.

The book Pachinko (National Book Award Finalist) by Min Jin Lee had been recommended to me by several friends. Finally got around to reading it. It’s a novel about a family of Koreans living in Japan and covers several decades, beginning in the 1940s, I believe. They’re poor. Dirt poor, yet the women just get themselves back up and work. The husbands in the story have problems, health and otherwise. But what you see here is work, and work and more work just to keep above water. You’ve probably read about how poorly Koreans are treated in Japan – they’re kind of thought of as scum of the earth. I don’t know if this phenomena is still true today, but it apparently was even up until a couple of decades ago. As  you read this book, you’ll find yourself rooting for various family members as they progress in life. A fateful decision is made by one that reverberates throughout her life and those of her children. Pachinko (the machines and the gaming economy that runs because of it) is thought of as part of the underbelly of Japanese culture. I remember seeing the pachinko machines when I visited Japan back in the 1960s. So the book infers, much of pachinko is even controlled by a kind of Japanese mafia and certainly has no status if you work in the pachinko arena. Wealth, yes. Status, no. Very worth reading, even though it’s tough going part of the way. This isn’t a “happy” book. But still worth knowing and reading about the subject. Reading the author’s afterword at the end was very revealing and interesting.

Also read An American Marriage (Oprah’s Book Club): A Novel by Tayari Jones. The book is set in the south with a young, well-educated, middle-class couple and suddenly the husband is accused and convicted of rape (that he didn’t commit). The book is not about the justice system or his wrongful conviction. Not at all. It’s about the relationship, the husband, wife, and then the 3rd person who inserts himself into the mix. Much of this story is told through the letters that Roy and Celestial write each other during and after his incarceration. Jones recreates the couple’s grief, despair and anger until they finally work their way to acceptance, but maybe not how you would expect it. This is complicated emotional territory navigated with succinctness and precision, making what isn’t said as haunting as the letters themselves.  Some of the above (italics) came from the New York Times’ book review.

Recently finished Sally Field’s memoir (autobiography) called In Pieces. I’ve always admired her and her acting, but never knew much about her. I remember when she was involved with Burt Reynolds, but knew nothing about her dysfunctional coming of age. I think she’s a consummate actress, and was awed by her performance in Norma Rae, and also with her role as Abraham Lincoln’s wife.  She wrote this book herself, with help from a writer’s workshop and with some good advice from various other writers. It’s very well written. She spends a lot of time discussing the very young years and her perverted step-father. But the over-arching person in her life was her mother, be what she may as far as being a good/bad mother. I really liked the book; really enjoyed reading about how Sally throws herself into her tv and film roles over her life. And what a defining moment Norma Rae was in her career. Well worth reading if you enjoy movie star memoirs.

If you want grit, well, read Kristen Hannah’s newest book, The Great Alone: A Novel. It’s a gripping novel about a young girl whose family moves to Alaska when her father is gifted a small plot of land with a ramshackle cabin on it that’s barely fit for habitation. The family survives only because some of the townspeople offer to help them learn how to live through an Alaskan winter, which is not easy. The girl’s father is a tyrant and a wife-beater as well. Some pages were hard to read. Surviving on the land with nearly no funds is an arduous task in the best of times, but doubly so when you’re dealing with an Alaskan winter which lasts about 9 months of the year. I don’t want to spoil the story by telling you too many details. The book touches on some very current social issues and is so worth reading. Although difficult at times, as I said. But I’m very glad I did. I think it would make for a good book club read – lots of survival issues to discuss, let alone the other social problems that ensue. But there’s also love, which makes it worth the read.

Recently finished reading a book for one of my book clubs. I’m interested to find out who in that group recommended this book, Tangerine: A Novel by Christine Mangan. Had it not been selected for my club, I wouldn’t ever have picked it up. Most of it takes place in Tangiers, in the 1950s. Alice and John have moved there, newlyweds, when Lucy Mason shows up. Lucy is Alice’s former college roommate. Lucy simply moves in. There’s bad blood between them following the death of Alice’s beau during their college years. Lucy, who might appear as a very sensible woman, has a dark physical and mental obsession with her “friend.” Is it horror? Not really by strict definition. Is it a mystery? Not quite, although there are several murders that take place. Chapters jump between Alice’s voice and Lucy’s voice and you understand the mental fragility of Alice, and this consuming obsession Lucy has for her friend. I’m NOT recommending this book, but I did finish it just because of my book club choosing this very strange book.

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.

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.

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.

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Posted in Fish, Pasta, on January 15th, 2013.

angel_hair_shrimp_zucchini_lemon_cream

Oh my. Oh my. Yes, this was SO wonderful. Can’t wait to eat the left overs, which will be gone by this evening. This is a quick dinner, as long as you have all the ingredients (shrimp, heavy cream, chives, parsley, FRESH lemon juice, angel hair and zucchini). If you love pasta, and shrimp – well, this dish is IT.

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’ll already know that I don’t make pasta very often. Even though I love it, it’s not good for my DH (Type 1 diabetic) and probably not all that great for me, either. But sometimes, for a splurge, we have it. And oh, am I ever glad. This dish was downright sensational. And EASY. Our granddaughter Taylor was here, and although she professes to not like fish or shellfish, she ate all but one shrimp on her plate. Her Dad, Todd, loves shrimp, so he had no trouble downing all of his own plus any of Taylor’s discards.

The inspiration for this recipe came from Simply Recipes, a blog I read regularly. As long as I’ve been reading food blogs, Elise’s has been one of my favorites. I love her easy-going writing style and her stories about her family’s recipes. I also love her recipe index. That might not sound so important to you – if you don’t write a blog, but recipe indexes aren’t automatically produced – nobody (that I know of) has written code to create recipe index entries when you post something new. I did use one for awhile, but it’s not meant for recipes and it was dreadfully hard to read. So when I go to Elise’s website I can easily find what I’m looking for. My recipe index here on my blog I created myself using the minimal amount of WordPress coding I know how to do, and I have to update it regularly. I do it about every 2 weeks or so. It’s tedious.

shrimp_cut_upAnyway, back to shrimp and angel hair. The huge shrimp were defrosted first. Then I cut them up into manageable (and different) sizes. Some I chopped. Some I sliced in half lengthwise and then I left one whole for each serving.

These shrimp were huge, and probably not the ideal size for this dish as the whole (or even the half) shrimp required a knife and fork. But the whole and halves looked so pretty on the dish.

Even though there is heavy cream in this, I was almost surprised when I looked at the nutrition analysis to see that to serve 5, each serving has 20 grams of fat. Not too bad considering . . . We had a green salad to go with this, which added a few grams of fat also, but not much. So this dish wasn’t as wicked as you might think. Just so you know . . .

Elise’s recipe didn’t call for zucchini. I added it just cuz I wanted some veggies in it (although to tell you the truth – and you can see from the photo – you can’t even SEE the zucchini). I chopped/sliced up the zucchini in tiny little pieces. I also added some additional seasonings (thyme, oregano). I used fish stock (or you could use clam juice too) because I have some of Penzey’s soup bases in my frig, but Elise suggests chicken stock, which would be fine too. I also added a couple of cloves of minced garlic to the cream as it simmered with the zucchini.  When you simmer garlic in a sauce (not sautéed in oil, for instance) it mellows out. I grated just a bit more Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese than the original. And lastly, because I was using Meyer lemons (which are sweeter than regular lemons), I added just a bit more lemon juice. Oh yes, I also used more lemon zest too – half of it I put into the cream as it simmered, and the remainder I added just at the end.

What’s good: oh, everything! I just loved this dish. The lemon, you might think, could overwhelm the dish, or be acidic. It was neither. Even our son-in-law, who says he doesn’t love lemon particularly, thought it was very nicely balanced. I agree. Definitely a make-again dish. Nice for guests too.
What’s not: absolutely nothing at all.

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Angel Hair Pasta with Shrimp and Zucchini in a Lemony Cream Sauce

Recipe By: Inspired by Simply Recipes, 5/2012
Serving Size: 5
NOTES: The shrimp I used were really large – 2-inch size would probably be best. If you use very large shrimp as I did, you can chop some of them into pieces, slice some of them in half lengthwise and leave one shrimp whole to place on the top of each serving.

3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup fish stock — or clam juice or chicken stock
2 small garlic cloves — sliced, then minced
3 tablespoons lemon juice — 4 T. if using Meyer lemons
2 small zucchini — cut in tiny thin dice
Zest of two lemons, divided use
3/4 pound angel hair pasta — (also called capellini)
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 1/2 pounds large shrimp — peeled and deveined
1/2 cup Italian parsley — (loosely packed), chopped, some reserved for garnish
1/4 cup chopped chives — (loosely packed), minced and threads both, some reserved for garnish
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2/3 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated (save a little for garnish)

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
2. In a large pot heat the cream, fish stock, minced garlic, zucchini, half the lemon zest and lemon juice to a low simmer. Simmer gently for 5 minutes or until zucchini is just barely tender. Do not boil or you will boil away the cream.
3. Add the angel hair pasta to the boiling water. It will usually cook in 4-5 minutes – do not over cook!
4. Add the shrimp, thyme and oregano to the simmering lemon cream sauce. Stir well and add a pinch of salt and black pepper. The shrimp should cook in about the same time as the angel hair pasta. Stir and toss the shrimp to make sure they’re cooked through.
5. When the pasta is done, drain (do not rinse) and add to the shrimp cream sauce. Stir it well. Add the herbs, the remaining lemon zest, most of the Parmigiano cheese, the chives and parsley and and let them cook for about 1 minute. If the mixture is dry, pour in a drizzle of additional cream so it’s creamy but not soupy. Taste for seasonings – may need more pepper and a dash or two of salt. Spoon mixture into individual pasta bowls and top with the remaining Parmigiano, parsley and chives. Serve IMMEDIATELY!
Per Serving: 593 Calories; 20g Fat (31.2% calories from fat); 43g Protein; 58g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 265mg Cholesterol; 436mg Sodium.

Posted in Healthy, Pasta, Veggies/sides, on November 4th, 2012.

no_calorie_noodles_arugula_spinach

No, I’m not joshing you. And no, these aren’t made of cardboard, either. Cardboard would have carbs perhaps? From tree bark and fiber? Nope, these are made from tofu and some kind of
Asian yam. I’m sure I have some readers who, after just
seeing that word tofu – will not even read further. I might have been one of those some years ago. I don’t eat tofu, as tofu, but if it’s in other things, well, yes I do. These noodles have almost zero calories, nearly zero carbs, zero fat in a single serving.

It’s not news on this blog that we are a family of two try to limit carbs, what with my Type 1 diabetic husband. And certainly I can cut down on them myself. But I’ll tell you true – I miss pasta. Once in awhile – a big splurge for us – I make a huge batch of spaghetti sauce from one of my numerous recipes (my favorite one this year is Ina Garten’s Weeknight Bolognese Sauce). I freeze some of it for other dinner splurges months hence. Well, we’re now going to be able to have all we want because of these fantastic new products.

I’d heard about them several months ago when I got an email from one of the daily deal emails I subscribe to, offering me “Miracle Noodles” for some unbelievably low cost. I knew nothing whatsoever about them. I talked to a friend of mine, a recent Type 2 diabetic, who is struggling with her revised diet, to ask if she’d like to share the box with me. It was 29 packages or some odd number. She said no. Knowing so little, I opted not to buy it, either. Then I visited a local Asian market, thinking that surely they would have them – indeed they did, although it wasn’t the “Miracle” noodle, but Tofu Shirataki (the fettucine and angel hair varieties shown here), and it took the store manager’s involvement to find them in the store. Aha! In the refrigerated area – not really near anything in particular – and they were lying flat, so you couldn’t see the package front very well. FYI: a 4-ounce serving (half of the above package) contains 20 calories, .5 grams of fat, 15 mg of sodium and 3 g of carbs. And 1 g of fiber. As I’m writing this, I haven’t had the Miracle Noodle yet – I’ll probably write up another post after that with more info.

Each package holds about 8 ounces including the fluid – and about 4 ounces of net wet noodles – enough for 2 side servings. And just maybe enough for a small serving of a pasta main dish. These packages need to be refrigerated and they’ll keep for about 6 months. They don’t ever spoil, really, but eventually, the noodle may dissolve into its primary form of glucomannen (that’s the tofu and yam product).

I threw together a side dish to serve them the first time. I had no recipe, but wanted to make it a little special for the first time we’d eat them since I wasn’t certain my DH would eat them – he did and he liked them. He loves pasta too, and encourages me to NOT make it very often since it wreaks havoc with his blood sugar. The thing you need to remember is that these noodles, like most tofu products, don’t have much taste straight out of the package, so you must add flavorful ingredients to them, so they’ll soak up the flavor. Don’t just heat them with a little oil or butter and expect them to have great flavor. They won’t.

The other thing about these noodles is that they’re packed in a rather unappetizing fluid (that you drain off). It smells something like Asian fish sauce. In case you haven’t ever taken a sniff of Asian fish sauce, well, it’s not pleasant – kind of like rotten fish, actually. Tastes great, but doesn’t smell all that nice. So, there is a process of getting the noodles ready to eat. First, drain them, then rinse well under running water. According to the package instructions, I put them on a plate and microwaved them for 60 seconds. You can also “cook” them in a nonstick pan until they make a kind of squeaky sound in the pan, but microwaving is almost easier. I rinsed them again, drained again, then they went into the skillet. They’re already cooked, you see, so they don’t really need further cooking – just heating – but they need to absorb flavor. So I stirred them around, added the dairy stuff, some herbs and cayenne, and let them sit in the pan just barely simmering. I had to add a little water as the creamy ingredients boiled away, tasted it for salt and pepper, added the grated cheese and served it piping hot.

What I liked: the fact that they’re very similar – not identical – to a wheat noodle, but have so few calories and carbs. That’s the logical answer, of course. Why would we bother to eat these unless they were giving us some kind of nutritional boon. Or if I needed to restrict gluten. Obviously these are GF also.
What I didn’t like: if you forced me to say something negative (I’m trying to be at least neutral or unbiased), the texture of these noodles aren’t the same as a wheat pasta fettuccine noodle. It doesn’t have the same kind of “chew” as a wheat noodle – more like a rice noodle to me. But if you know going into it that you’re wanting a vehicle for the SAUCE – it’s the sauce we love, right? – then these noodles absolutely work. All in all, this is a great alternative to a much higher calorie wheat noodle.

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Shirataki Fettucine with Arugula and Spinach

Recipe By: My own concoction.
Serving Size: 2

2 teaspoons unsalted butter
1 cup arugula — fresh, chopped
1 cup baby spinach — fresh, chopped
8 ounces tofu shirataki — fettucine style (read notes regarding preparation)
1 tablespoon light sour cream
1 tablespoon heavy cream
2 tablespoons goat cheese — crumbled
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 pinch cayenne
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
water, as needed to keep the mixture fluid

1. TOFU SHIRATAKI PREPARATION: Remove noodles from package and drain. Run under water for 30-40 seconds, lifting and separating. Place noodles on a plate and microwave for about one minute (this parboils them). Remove from microwave and wash under running water again. Drain.
2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet (large enough to hold all of the mixture) melt the butter. Add arugula and spinach and stir over medium heat until greens are cooked. Add tofu shirataki noodles and stir to combine.
3. Add the sour cream, cream, goat cheese, herbs and cayenne. Stir to combine and continue heating over low heat. Add shredded Parm, salt and pepper to taste and add water to the pan if it’s thicker than you want. Serve immediately. Makes enough for a side dish, not a main dish.
Per Serving: 193 Calories; 16g Fat (66.2% calories from fat); 13g Protein; 6g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 44mg Cholesterol; 432mg Sodium.

Posted in Pasta, Veggies/sides, on September 20th, 2010.

The picture doesn’t do justice to this dish. Oh, is it wonderful! Pasta, onion, shallots, chicken broth, marinated artichoke hearts, cream, fresh basil, prosciutto and grated Parm. This is from a cooking class recently with Tarla Fallgatter. She served it with a chicken breast entree (yes, I’ll post that one too). But we talked about it, that you could add some cooked chicken cubes to this and make it an entree unto itself. That, too, would be wonderful. I’ll be making this sometime soon (and I’ll take a better picture of it).

First you need a small package of prosciutto – the little thin box that holds about 3 ounces, maybe 2 ounces. The slices are briefly broiled, cooled, then crumbled up. Meanwhile you make a quick, simple sauce with the onion and shallots, broth, marinated artichoke hearts (drained, rinsed and sliced), the cream, basil, Parmesan, the pasta and the crispy prosciutto on top. That’s it. Worth making.

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Fettucine with Artichokes and Prosciutto

Recipe By: From a cooking class with Tarla Fallgatter
Serving Size: 8
Serving Ideas: This could also be a very nice entree – just add about 12 ounces of precooked chicken cubes to the sauce and heat through. This dish is very rich, so do serve small portions.

1 pound fettucine
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion — peeled, thinly sliced
1 whole shallot — peeled, thinly sliced
1 cup chicken stock
1 1/2 cups marinated artichoke hearts — drained, rinsed, sliced
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons fresh basil — or fresh thyme leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper (may not need any salt)
3 ounces prosciutto — thinly sliced
1 cup Pecorino-Romano cheese

1. Bring 2 quarts water to a boil, add a tablespoon of salt and return to the boil. Add fettucine and cook until al dente, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid. Drain and set aside.
2. Preheat broiler and place prosciutto slices on a cookie sheet and broil for 2 minutes per side. Set aside to cool. Cut into small pieces. (Put serving platter in the oven to heat.)
3. In a saute pan, heat 2 T. butter, add onion, shallot and basil, then saute until soft. Add the artichokes and stir to coat with onions and shallots. Add chicken stock and simmer until liquid is reduced to about 1/2 cup. Add one cup of the cream and bring to a simmer.
4. Add the cooked fettucine and stir to coat with the sauce, stirring in a third of the cheese and more cream, as necessary. Stir in the prosciutto.
5. Pour the pasta onto the preheated serving platter and sprinkle with more of the cheese. Pass the remaining cheese. Add more basil sprigs to the top.
Per Serving (assumes you use all the cream and all the cheese): 513 Calories; 27g Fat (48.1% calories from fat); 17g Protein; 49g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 91mg Cholesterol; 887mg Sodium.

A year ago: Crown Roast of Pork with Apple Gravy
Two years ago: Chicken Posole
Three years ago: Garlic Green Beans (a favorite)

Posted in Pasta, Salads, Veggies/sides, on April 3rd, 2010.

Just yesterday I mentioned that I have a bunch of posts for which I need to take my own photos. I’m ticking them off my list one by one. This pasta dish is a favorite. Not only because it is fabulous tasting, but it’s also incredibly EASY. The photo above shows, probably, a bit more basil than is realistic. I posted this recipe way back in 2007 and haven’t talked about it since. Have made it a time or two (but forgot I needed to take pictures of it). So that got rectified the other night. We had this with hamburgers – delicious.

pasta tom cr sauce mix collage

The photo just above is the sauce. The one on the left is the just mixed sauce. Once it sits for awhile (and you stir it a time or two) the cheese begins to blend into the tomatoes as in the right photo. This sauce is nothing more than a chunk of cream cheese, canned tomatoes, fresh garlic, red wine vinegar, olive oil, slices of fresh basil and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. You make the sauce and let it sit out at room temp (the health police will be after me, but this is the way it was made for me the first time and nothing’s ever happened to me in the dozen or so times since then that I’ve made this). It can sit for several hours. Then you make pasta (preferably penne) and pile it in on top of the sauce, stir, add more basil and the grated cheese. That’s IT. Takes about 5 minutes to make the sauce. 10-12 minutes of boiling the pasta and you’re done. Trust me on this one, okay? I’m not going to re-insert the whole recipe here – go look at the 2007 post about it.

A year ago: Spanish Pork Braise (a soup)
Two years ago: Pork Tenderloin with Maple Mustard Glaze/Sauce

Posted in Pasta, Vegetarian, on January 22nd, 2010.

tomato sauce and butter

If you’d told me even a few days ago that I’d make a tomato sauce (without meat) for pasta and I’d be head over heels, I’d have laughed. I’m from that school-of-thought that says for any tomato or vegetable-based sauce to taste good, it’s got to have some meat in it somewhere. I’m definitely a carnivore. But something about the write-up at the Smitten Kitchen blog made me rethink my position. The original recipe is from one of Marcella Hazan’s cookbooks, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking (one I don’t own).

So, I actually made this a couple of days ago when we were in the midst of our rainstorms. I was inside the house, my DH was struggling outside for hours on end and I knew he’d be starving hungry for heavier fare than we usually eat for lunch.

Besides, I’d just read the blog post about this sauce. I had some canned San Marzano tomatoes in the pantry. I had butter. I had a yellow onion. And I had some Dreamfield’s pasta (the kind that’s a lower-glycemic carb). That’s all you need for this. The onion is peeled and halved, the large can of tomatoes and the onion are added to the pan, brought to a boil along with the 5 T. of butter and it simmers. The onion gets tossed out once it’s cooked (seems a shame, but it’s done its duty and out it goes). I happened to use San Marzano chopped tomatoes, but probably any kind of whole or chopped tomatoes would work here. The butter – well, obviously – that’s what gives it the supple smoothness.

I cooked up the pasta and spooned a glob of this sauce on top and sprinkled it with some freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and this was a mighty-fine meal. We really don’t eat pasta very much (not that we don’t love it, it just doesn’t love us), but oh my goodness, this may have to become a regular on some one of our menus. My DH loved it – really loved it. He asked questions about how I’d made it, so I knew he enjoyed it a lot.
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Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onions

Recipe By: Adapted from Marcela Hazan’s Essentials of Classic
Italian Cooking (read on Smitten Kitchen’s blog)
Serving Size: 4

28 ounces canned tomatoes — (San Marzano, if possible)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 whole onion — peeled and halved
Salt to taste
8 ounces spaghetti — cooked
1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated
1. Put the tomatoes, onion and butter in a heavy saucepan (it fit just right in a 3-quart) over medium heat. Bring the sauce to a simmer then lower the heat to keep the sauce at a slow, steady simmer for about 45 minutes, or until droplets of fat float free of the tomatoes. Stir occasionally, crushing the tomatoes against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon. Remove from heat, discard the onion, add salt and pepper to taste (adding salt might not be necessary) and keep warm while you prepare your pasta.
2. Serve with spaghetti, with or without grated parmesan cheese to pass.
NOTES: For me, the addition of grated Parmigiano was essential. Some might prefer it without. I used 2 ounces of pasta per person and divided the sauce equally. It was just enough to coat the pasta to my taste.
Per Serving: 386 Calories; 16g Fat (35.8% calories from fat); 10g Protein; 53g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 39mg Cholesterol; 302mg Sodium.
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A year ago: Pork Loin Roast with Apricot Glaze

Posted in Beef, Pasta, on May 30th, 2009.

italian delight casserole

Whenever our grandchildren come to visit I rack my brain trying to find family-friendly recipes that both the kids and adults will enjoy. And recipes that are relatively easy. I have several casseroles that have been favorites over the years (Chili Spaghetti, for instance). For this dinner, I wanted something, well, similar, but different. All of our grandkids really savor pasta, so I turned to a 1970’s recipe given to me by a friend (also named Carolyn). It may be much like lots of other casseroles – pasta, ground beef, onion, garlic, tomato sauce, corn, thyme, oregano, Worcestershire and a bunch of grated cheddar cheese on top. Along with a green salad, this was dinner. The kids liked it – enough to have seconds. I didn’t have any ranch dressing, though, so they had to make do with my homemade blue cheese mock Caesar vinaigrette.

casserole
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Italian Ground Beef Delight Casserole

Recipe: Adapted from a friend’s recipe, from about 1970.
Servings: 10

2 pounds lean ground beef
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 small onions — chopped
3 cloves garlic — minced
2 whole red bell peppers — chopped
16 ounces tomato sauce
1 pound mushrooms — chopped (optional)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
16 ounces linguine
1 1/2 pounds frozen corn
2 cups cheddar cheese — grated

1. In a large skillet heat the olive oil and add ground beef. Cook until no pink remains and crumble it up with a spatula. Remove from the pan and set aside.
2. To the same pan add the chopped onion (remove some of the grease if you’d prefer) and stir while it cooks for about 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic and red bell pepper. Stir in the tomato sauce, mushrooms, seasonings. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, prepare linguine and cook until it’s just a bit under-done. Drain and add to the meat mixture. Add corn.
4. Pour mixture into a 9×13 pan and sprinkle top with the cheddar cheese.
5. Bake in a 350 oven for 45 minutes.
Per Serving: 615 Calories; 29g Fat (42.3% calories from fat); 32g Protein; 58g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 92mg Cholesterol; 516mg Sodium.

A year ago: Zinfandel Sausage Sauce for Pasta (a family favorite, made with Italian sausage)
Two years ago: Grilled Sweet Potato Salad

Posted in Pasta, Pork, on March 10th, 2009.

pork-ragu

So I was reading the blog post over at 5 second rule (cute blog, enjoy it very much) and when Cheryl Sternman Rule (she’s a Silicon Valley food writer by profession) posted the recipe for this pork ragu, my mouth watered. Sure sign that I need to try the recipe. When my DH offered to go grocery shopping for me I asked him to go to Costco for a big pork shoulder. WELL! Can you imagine 11 pounds of pork shoulder?  Certainly more than I wanted for this dish, but when I opened the package it divided itself almost into two equal pieces. The other one is frozen for another day. The recipe came from a cookbook, Big Night In, by Domenica Marchetti, a book geared towards Italian family meals for a large group. If this recipe is any indication, I may be investing in yet another cookbook!

My friend Cherrie and I offered to take dinner to our son and family a week or so ago – that way Cherrie and her husband could see the huge remodeling our son and his wife had done to their home (completed about 9-10 months ago). Karen’s sister and husband came too. Karen made dessert, I made guacamole and this pasta dish, Cherrie made a crispy mixed green salad. And Janice brought some bolognese she’d made the previous night. What a feast!

Now I happened to make this in my slow cooker, but the directions are for stove-top simmering. You can do it either way. If you slow cook, do it for about 7-8 hours and it will be meltingly fall-apart pork. The dish is very easy to make – the most tedious part was pulling the pork apart, and waiting long enough for the pork to cool down so I could even PULL it.

This version of ragu is actually mild on the seasoning side (I might add a bit more spices next time). It does have some Italian sausage in it (next time I might try adding some sausage to the mixture in the last 15 minutes of cooking, just because sausage gives up its flavor to the juice around it, I think, when it’s been cooked that long  . . . just a thought). I really, really enjoyed this concoction. I liked it better the next day, so that’s another suggestion – make it ahead and refrigerate overnight. Cheryl over at 5 second rule called this “Pork Ragu for a Crowd.” Yes, indeed. Since I used nearly 6 pounds of pork (double the below recipe), there was ragu for everyone to take home.
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Pork Ragu for a Crowd

Recipe: Big Night In by Domenica Marchetti via 5 second rule blog
Servings: 12
NOTES: Domenica Marchetti indicates that this recipe serves 12 — or enough for 3 pounds of pasta. Cool any leftovers, and freeze, if desired, in quart-sized containers.

3 pounds Boston butt roast — (pork shoulder, boneless) in one or two pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 large yellow onions — diced (5 cups)
4 cloves garlic — minced
1 cup dry red wine
7 cups canned tomatoes — chopped, with their juices
4 whole bay leaves
A sprig or two of rosemary
1 pound Italian sausage — mild
Cooked short pasta — your choice
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Italian parsley chopped, for garnish

1. Season the pork shoulder well with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Brown the pork on all sides, 3 to 4 minutes per side, until it is evenly seared. This will take a good 15 minutes. Remove pork to a large bowl or plate.
2. Reduce heat to medium and add the onions and garlic, stirring well to coat with the oil. Saute until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the pork back to the pot, raise the heat to medium-high, and pour in the wine. Let it boil for a minute before adding the tomatoes, bay leaves, and rosemary. Reduce the heat to medium-low.
3. If using bulk sausage, break it into little clumps and add it to the pot. If using sausage links, remove the casings and squeeze the meat into the pot, breaking it up well. Give a good stir, cover, and simmer very gently for 2-1/2 to 3 hours, or until the meat is fork tender. If using a slow cooker, set for 7-8 hours or so until it’s fork tender. Remove the meat to a cutting board, allow it to cool for 20 minutes or so, then shred it. Discard any wayward globs of fat still attached to the meat. Return the meat to the pot and heat the ragu through. Adjust the salt if desired. Add pepper if you’d like.
4. Serve with cooked pasta and top with grated Parmesan cheese and some Italian parsley.
Per Serving (does not include the pasta): 400 Calories; 26g Fat (60.0% calories from fat); 29g Protein; 9g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 106mg Cholesterol; 578mg Sodium.

A year ago: Chocolate Grand Marnier Decadence Cake

Posted in Pasta, Salads, Travel, Veggies/sides, on January 26th, 2009.

curry-pasta-salad

The story about this recipe is certainly unusual. (I love these kinds of providences.) My friend Joan H. brought this pasta salad to our investment club Christmas potluck last month. In my effort to pass on carbs, I chose the protein and green salads instead. Then somebody raved about the pasta salad, and someone else told me that I really needed to try it because it was different. Oh my, was it ever! The group eating at my table determined right away there was curry in it, but it took me a few bites before I detected chutney. It was later that I learned it was Joan’s contribution, so I immediately sought her out at our gathering. Knowing that Joan frequently makes her own chutney, I thought perhaps this was a new recipe from her native South Africa. Well, no, it wasn’t. In case you’re interested, I have one of Joan’s recipes on my blog already – her South African Bobotie – a kind of ground beef casserole that is served with chutney.

cottage-namibia

Joan (pictured right with another friend, Jackie) and her husband Scott put together an extensive trip to Africa some months ago. It was while their group was staying at a lodge in Namibia that they had a buffet dinner at the n’Kwazi Lodge Randu, on the Caprivi Strip of the Okavongo River. One of the owners of the lodge, Valerie Peypers, provided the recipe for Joan. The curry proportion below is a namibia-resortguesstimate, as the original, pencil-scribbled recipe said one spoonful. Well, how big a spoonful is that? In a Namibia kitchen for a much larger quantity that could have been a huge soup spoon. Or, who knows. The curry flavor, however, was quite prominent, so 1 1/2 tsp. may be quite insufficient to your tastes. Use your own judgment on how much to add and taste it as you go! I’ve cut down the sauce part by half to make it a bit more manageable for a home kitchen, but still the quantity of curry powder is up to you. So is the quantity of pasta to sauce mix, but Joan uses the below proportions.

entertainmentAbove left is a photo of the resort itself. The photo at right shows the evening entertainment. Thanks, Scott, for the photos!
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Curry Sauce Pasta Salad

Recipe: n’Kwazi Lodge Randu, Namibia
1/2 cup vinegar
1/2 cup fruit chutney (Joan used store-bought this time)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder (or more, to taste)
3/4 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 pound pasta of your choice, cooked and drained

1. Combine all dressing ingredients and allow to sit for an hour before adding to your choice of cooked and cooled pasta. Save a little bit of dressing to add just before serving. Joan used corkscrew pasta, which was nice so the little bits of chutney could cling to the crevices.
2. Add some chopped tomatoes or other vegetables if you choose, either in the salad or as a garnish. Refrigerate until cold. Taste for seasoning (salt, perhaps) and just before serving add just a little bit more sauce and serve.
Per Serving: 270 Calories; 8g Fat (25.3% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 45g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 53mg Sodium.

Posted in Chicken, Pasta, on January 7th, 2009.

chicken-bouillabaisse

Wanting a fairly simple dinner the other night, I knew I would use chicken. So I glanced at my newest cookbook, Ina’s Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics (her newest), and found this recipe for a chicken stew kind of dish but with bouillabaisse overtones. Bouillabaisse (pronounced boo-ya-bess) is a French seafood stew that I enjoy very much. So Ina took all the identity of the dish and adapted it to chicken. (Why didn’t I think of that?) It wasn’t difficult at all. It did take some time to brown all the chicken pieces (I made enough to feed 8), but once you combine ingredients to go into the oven, it’s very simple. But I only recommend it with some reservations. Read on.

What you get is a tender chicken dish with potatoes (I used yams just because I had them and didn’t have any potatoes on hand) in a tomato-based sauce. If I made this again I’d serve it with some pasta (instead of the potatoes or yams), because there is a lot of sauce.  I didn’t think the sauce lent itself well to yams, and I’m not sure the dish is the right fit for potatoes either. But, no sense in wasting the sauce, so I think I’d just make some pasta on the side and serve the chicken on top of it. My photo above I took after the fact and forgot to add the dollop of rouille to it. Sorry about that.

One of the key ingredients to bouillabaisse is saffron. This recipe calls for a LOT of saffron, so dig out your wallet. Fortunately, I had plenty on hand. It gently flavors everything about this dish.

If you were to go onto the Food Network’s site for this recipe, you’ll find lots of people think there are some mistakes in the printed recipe. I agree. I’ve corrected them in my recipe below. (1) the chicken needs to be baked at 350 or 375 in order to get the potatoes to cook. After 90 minutes at 300, the yams I used were still quite firm so I ended up simmering the pot on the stovetop for another 10-15 minutes to get them tender enough to serve; (2) the rouille (a mayonnaise kind of sauce you dollop on top of the stew) contains too much oil (most people thought 1/2 cup was sufficient). It definitely didn’t need a full cup of oil. I did the full amount, and the rouille was very thick. Plus, I have way too much left over, so perhaps the reduced quantity is correct; and (3) adding the Pernod is optional (I don’t happen to like it, but if you like anise, go right ahead).

The rouille added a really nice garlicky high note. It also contains additional saffron. I would not eliminate that part of the dish – it needs the little cap on the stew with the garlic zing. I was a bit puzzled by my recipe software with the high calorie content of this dish. I guess it’s high because you use chicken pieces with skin, even though I don’t eat the skin. Ina’s recipe indicated it served 3 people, but I think it would serve more unless you buy a really small chicken.

A note about leftovers: A couple of days later when I reheated this to serve as leftovers, I was quite disappointed. The saffron flavor had completely disappeared.  How very sad, because I think it added something distinctive to the flavor. Especially sad because saffron is so darned expensive. And the garlic flavor had completely disappeared too. Bizarre. So, my advice is to make this only for the number of people you’ll serve at one meal. I also didn’t like the red sauce leftover. It lacked oomph – tasted too much like tomato paste right out of the can. I knew it wasn’t but that’s what it tasted like. I think I wanted to add salt, but knew there was plenty in it already. And the yams tasted next to awful with it left over. I threw them out and used the rest of the chicken in something else. I did end up using the sauce for a moussaka casserole (will post tomorrow), which was a great way to get double-duty out of the quantity this made. So, next time: make to serve over pasta, no Pernod again, and bake at a higher temp. And plan for no leftovers. So, I’m only recommending this with reservations.
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Chicken Bouillabaisse

Recipe: Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics
Servings: 4-5

BOUILLABAISSE:
2 chicken breasts — about 10
2 chicken thighs
4 chicken drumstick Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves — minced
2 tablespoons olive oil — good quality
1 head garlic — separated into cloves and peeled
1 teaspoon saffron threads
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
28 ounces tomato puree
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons Pernod — (I omitted this)
1 pound Yukon gold potatoes — baby sized, halved (I’d omit this and serve the chicken & sauce over pasta)
Rouille — for serving, recipe follows
Crusty French bread — for serving
ROUILLE:
4 large garlic cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup olive oil — good quality

1. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and season it generously with salt, pepper, and the rosemary. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a large Dutch oven and brown the chicken pieces in batches until nicely browned all over, about 5 to 7 minutes per batch. Transfer the browned chicken pieces to a plate and set aside.
2. Lower the heat to medium-low and add the garlic, saffron, fennel seeds, tomato puree, chicken stock, white wine, Pernod, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon of pepper to the pot. Stir and scrape up any browned bits on the bottom, and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, until the garlic is very tender, stirring occasionally.
3. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
4. Carefully pour the sauce into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Puree until smooth. Return the sauce to the Dutch oven and add the sliced potatoes and browned chicken pieces with their juices. Stir carefully.
5. Cover the pot and bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until the potatoes are tender and the chicken is done. Check the seasonings and serve hot in shallow bowls with big dollops of Rouille and slices of crusty bread.
6. ROUILLE: Place the garlic and salt on a cutting board and mince together. Transfer the mixture to a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Add the egg yolk, lemon juice, saffron, and red pepper flakes. Process until smooth. With the machine running, pour the olive oil in a thin, steady stream through the feed tube to make a thick mayonnaise emulsion. Transfer the rouille to a serving bowl and store it in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Yield: 1 cup
Nutrition count not included here because it just was wa-a-ay off and I couldn’t figure out how to fix it.

Posted in Pasta, Salads, on September 4th, 2008.

noodle salad (cold) with spinach jade sauce

Now don’t get all squirrely on me – some of you may read that title and think – oh no – that sounds awful! Not so. This is actually a cold side dish with an Asian influence. It’s healthy (lots of spinach) and can stand in as a pasta or a salad. So, don’t just delete this and move on. Read through and at least see what’s in this!

It had been some years since I’d made this salad. Well, actually, the dish is supposed to be a hot side, but with ribs and a green salad on a warm summer evening, I wanted a cold salad. So I took a recipe I’ve made before, adapted it a bit and made it a cold dish. Hugh Carpenter is a master of combining Asian condiments and making them into deliciousness for salads or side dishes. I perused my pantry to make sure I had the necessities (spaghetti, pine nuts, garlic, basil, cream and hot chili sauce). Onto my grocery list went the rest: fresh spinach, chives, and cilantro. My daughter, Dana, made this for me, for a family dinner the other night.

This recipe comes from Hugh Carpenter’s book Pacific Flavors, his first cookbook. He was on the cooking school circuit, as I recall, and I bought the book at one class he taught in Pasadena in 1988. Everything he prepared in the cooking class was outstanding. I’ve mentioned him before in some of my recipes – particularly the New Wave Garlic Bread (relatively traditional garlic bread but with an Asian twist), the fabulous Baby Back Ribs with Peanut Butter Slather (I mean, that explains it all, doesn’t it?), another great side dish of his called Tex-Mex Jicama Salad. And then, my all-time favorite Carpenter dish, the Grilled Ribeyes with Amazing Glaze. And I just blogged about the other pork ribs, the All-Star Asian Ribs. So, I suppose you could say I’m a fan of Hugh Carpenter’s cooking style. I own three of his cookbooks – the one mentioned here, also Hot Barbecue (a more recent one) and Chopstix (his take on “quick” Asian food). All of his dishes, though, are untraditional Asian. They’re Pan-Asian, or Pan-Californian, or Fusion. Whatever you want to call it. He uses all the different condiments and spices from multiple Asian cuisines and combines them into fresh foods with a California kind of flair.

So, this dish . . . it’s nothing but cold noodles tossed with a garlicky spinach sauce. The spinach is whirred (liquified) in the food processor along with a few other ingredients and poured over the noodles before serving with a generous amount of toasted pine nuts on top. That’s it. All of it can be done ahead except combining the noodles and the sauce. If you like a hint of Asia and want something a tad different, this is your ticket.
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Asian Noodle Salad with Jade Sauce

Recipe: Adapted from Hugh Carpenter’s book, Pacific Flavors
Servings: 8
Serving Ideas: This can also be made as a hot side dish if you prefer. Just heat the sauce and noodles together until heated through, then garnish with the nuts and cilantro.

1/2 pound spaghetti — thin type, if possible, or Chinese noodles
1 tablespoon peanut oil
2 medium carrots — shredded
1 whole red bell pepper — shredded
1/2 cup pine nuts — toasted
JADE SAUCE:
2 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons salt
1 pound fresh spinach — stemmed and cleaned
2 bunches chives — chopped
1/4 cup basil leaves
1/4 cup cilantro
1/3 cup chicken stock
2/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon Chinese chili sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil — dark, toasted
Freshly ground black pepper — to taste
1/4 cup cilantro — for garnish

1. Bring at least 4 quarts of water to a boil and add the noodles. Cook until they are al dente – still a little bit of firmness – about 5 minutes. Drain and rinse, then set aside. Add the bell pepper and carrots to the noodles and refrigerate until ready to serve.
2. In the food processor drop the garlic cloves and salt down the feed tube and allow this mixture to sit for a few minutes while you gather the other ingredients.
3. Add the spinach, chives, cilantro and basil and puree until smooth. Then add the chicken stock, cream, salt, sesame oil and chili sauce. Puree again.
4. When ready to serve pour the sauce over the noodles. Add more salt and pepper if needed, then garnish with pine nuts and additional sprigs of cilantro.
Per Serving: 299 Calories; 18g Fat (51.3% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 29g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 27mg Cholesterol; 688mg Sodium.

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