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Carolyn

Sara

Sara and me

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Esther Freud’s book The Sea House: A Novel is about a small village on England’s southern coast. There are characters galore in this book, and it sometimes takes a bit to figure out which decade you’re reading about (few clues) or which person. Oh yes, her, current day. Oh, that’s him, during the war. Max, oh, I thought he died. No, that’s his son. I think. The book is about love found, love lost, love sometimes found again, sometimes not. About how fleeting it can be or seem. There is family dysfunction. Relationship dysfunction. There is quite a bit of adultery going on, yet I found myself understanding why. The book relays a true story (names changed) about an architect and a woman who is trying to write a book about him. Drawings and paintings of this village play a big part. There is some mental dis-health too. And throughout, it’s about the land, the sea, and this remarkable house. I wondered if in the hardback edition there were any photo plates of the drawings. One character is driven to draw the rooms he’s in, the house he’s in, or the house he conjures in his mind. There are lots of beach walks, and there is a huge tidal flood too. Despite having some difficulty keeping track of the characters, it was a good read.

Amor Towles’ book, Rules of Civility: A Novel was quite a read. It’s NYC, 1937. Twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent [Kon-TENT she iterates to many] is in a Greenwich Village jazz bar when a handsome banker, happens to sit down at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel Katey on a year-long journey into the upper echelons of New York society—where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve. She struggles to keep her poverty at bay, and like many women of her time and the day, wished themselves on men of means. There is love. There is loss. And through it all, the thread that holds it all together is the mores – the rules of civility – required of most everyone. To keep up the face. To swing. To survive. Really well developed drama and a very real sense of place. I’m reviewing the book in one of my book clubs; fortunately there is a lot online about this book.

Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl by Stacey O’Brien. What an adorable book. True story about Stacey’s 20 years with a feisty but lovable barn owl. She’s a biologist, was working at Cal Tech and someone brought in a tiny abandoned barn owl. She took him home, and he became her “mate” (that happens at year two). Everything about this book is interesting, from how she nurtures him in his tiny habitat, to how she transforms her living space to accommodate a full grown owl. He couldn’t be habilitated to the wild because of a wing injury (likely when he fell out of the nest). It’s a heartwarming story.

Loved The Wedding Officer: A Novel by Anthony Capella. It takes place in the middle of WWII in Naples. A young British officer, Captain James Gould, is sent to Naples to wade through the zilions of applications from soldiers to marry local Italian women (and presumably take them back to England when the war ends). The supposition is that all the women are ladies of the night, and it’s their ticket to a better life. He holds to his principles until he meets lovely Livia, who begins cooking for a group of soldiers (it was a real job). Food plays a starring role in this book, as well as Vesuvius’ eruption. It’s a very interesting story – I don’t know if it’s true there were such positions in the British military, but it sounds like it. Gould has to find his way through the miasma of politics, corruption, provisioning in a war-torn country and the warfront. But all of it is laced with the very sweet love story.

Reading behind Bars: A True Story of Literature, Law, and Life as a Prison Librarian by Jill Grunenwald. So interesting. Jill is  young, with a newly minted degree in library science at a time when the economy was very slow. She accepts a position in a minimum security prison in Ohio. She needs a job, and agrees to the commute, rain, shine or snow. The “library” is limited. The inmates her “staff.” She weaves her way through the pitfalls of limited funds, theft, perversion, jerks, rules, and every myriad of inmate problems. Very interesting read.

The Walls of Lucca by Steve Physioc. A novel that takes place in between WWI and II. Franco is a weary Italian soldier. He stumbles into a vineyard and is hired. It’s hard work (nothing he’s ever done before) but he’s a very diligent worker. He didn’t stop there to find love, but it found him. There’s a lot of sinister Fascist activity throughout the book, plenty of local history, and of course, a bit about the walls of Lucca.

The Hired Man by Aminatta Forna. A novel about Croatia in the aftermath of their more recent wars. A British family buys a very dilapidated house, and a local man (the handyman) begins helping them fix it up. Two children play a part, with the British husband merely peeking in now and then. There is local dissension, town secrets, some violence as the town tries to heal from years of war. And the handyman just keeps working, pondering his own demons as well. Very riveting story.

A Column of Fire: A Novel by Ken Follett. It takes place in the 1500s, in England, and has everything to do with the war between the Catholics and the Protestants, that raged throughout Europe during that time, culminating in the Spanish Inquisition. Some of that is hard to read, but Follett writes sagas, and I was really “into it.” Have always loved his writing, and if you haven’t ever read this sidebar before, or my section on books, his book, The Pillars of the Earth: A Novel  is my#1 favorite book I’ve ever read. In this Fire book, though, there are numerous characters, families really, in France, London and the (fictitious I think) town of Kingsbridge. Riveting reading, as are all of his books.

Having read all of Kristin Hannah’s books, I knew I’d read her latest too: Between Sisters: A Novel.  Two sisters, raised by the same mother but different fathers. At a young age a rift occurs and the sisters go their own way. Anger is there, but deep down you know, reading this, that they care about each other. The one that left is a successful but lonely attorney in Seattle. The other is a single mother who owns a small seasonal cabin rental facility near Seattle. It’s a very sweet story – takes awhile to “get there” but you know they’re going to reconcile and find their sister-groove again. Good book. Worth reading.

Just finished Matt McCarthy’s book The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly: A Physician’s First Year. It tells the true life story of his first year as an intern at a New York hospital. You ride the wave of his first, painful days when he questions if he was ever meant to be a doctor, to the end of the year when he recognized his true passion for infectious disease diagnostics. I really enjoyed the book, and commend him for being so brutally honest about his own vulnerabilities and what he saw as complete inexperience. If you enjoy this genre of book, this is a good one.

Also read Karen Harper’s book The Royal Nanny: A Novel. The time frame is 1890s onward, at Sandringham, when Charlotte Bill (a real person) was hired by the Duke and Duchess of York, to care for their children. She was hired as an under-nurse, but soon became the prime caregiver of the youngest children. She became “Lala” to the children, and they loved her dearly. And she them. This is a serious below-stairs look at that part of the royal family, their foibles, idiosyncrasies, and even the proclivities of the children themselves. It was a great read. Loved it from the first page.

Also read Roger Swindell’s Mendelevski’s Box. It’s an historical novel about the aftermath of WWII in impoverished Amsterdam. It’s an eye-opener. Over the last many years I’ve marveled at authors who have found a niche of some part of that awful war and it was enough to write a great story. Simon is the hero, here. He was a Jew and miraculously survived Auschwitz and returned to his home, hoping to find his mother and sister (who were also at Auschwitz, but he knew not their fates). He knew his father had died in the camp. The family home had been taken over by others. He was destitute. He befriended two young women (one had worked for his father in his clock-making business). There is a “box” in the story – an important element. Simon finds a job, income, friends, and love. Finds some caring people, but also encounters some very shady characters as well. The story is told very well. There is mystery, poignant love and redemption. Well worth reading.

Camille De Maio wrote Before the Rain Falls. Very interesting story about a young doctor who returns to her border town in Texas for a very short vacation. And about a young down-on-his-luck journalist who goes to the same town to get a story. There’s a death/murder long ago, the sharp shards of emotions that remain in the town. The survivors. The grandmother who spent 7 decades in prison. And a love story. Very sweet book about family. Love. Loss. As I write this, it’s $.99 on Kindle.

Also read a very quirky non-fiction book: The Perfect Gentleman: The remarkable life of Dr. James Miranda Barry by June Rose. This is a biography about a person who lived in the mid-1800s. He was a surgeon; graduated from Edinburgh Medical School at the age of 14. Joined the British Army as a medical officer then sent off to South Africa and many other tropical outposts during his career. There was always “talk” about him. He never married. He was querulous. He got high-handed too frequently. He was a tee-totaler, and always had a dog named Psyche. He was a brilliant diagnostician and was appalled at the condition of prisons and even ordinary Army barracks. When he died it came out – Dr. James Barry was really a woman. And a woman who had borne a child. Facts that were suspected by many, but never corroborated. S/he did so because a woman wasn’t allowed to go to college, let alone medical school. When you read it in context, it’s logical what her mentors suggested she do. I can’t say that this book is all that well written – some of it uses the stilted language of the time, even though it’s current in its publication. But it’s a fascinating read nonetheless. So I’ve read, there is going to be a documentary made about her life.

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley. The premise of this book is different . . . a woman writer goes to Scotland to connect with distant heritage. She hopes to gain inspiration for her next book. As she investigates, she discovers she’s related to a family that lived in the early 1700s at Slains Castle on the east coast of Scotland near Aberdeen. This was the time of the Jacobite rebellion (the exiled King James and his hoped-for return to England). When I say this woman gets inspiration . . .well, it’s more than that. She questions whether she could possibly have genes that contain memory (what an idea, huh?), because she begins to know how events took place, who the people were, what they said, exactly where they stood, the layout of the castle, even the furniture in the rooms. She wasn’t channeling, actually, but I suppose it could be interpreted so. The book is full of the Jacobite history (more than I’d ever known before, but then I love English/Scottish history). There’s a romance back then, and a romance in the today time. Both lovely. Great book. An historical novel of the first order.

Another great read, The Island of Sea Women: A Novel by Lisa See. Six months ago I attended an author’s talk at the Bowers Museum. Lisa See was the speaker and shared her story about this book. I’ve heard her speak several times before (she lives near me) and have read several of her books. This one, though, is very different. She was sitting in a doctor’s office reading some magazine and spotted a tiny snippet of data about Jeju Island off the coast of Korea where the island as a whole is matriarchal because the women were trained from a young age to deep dive, free dive, for mollusks. These women were the breadwinners. Husbands stayed home and cared for the babies. The island is real. The history is real. And what happened during WWII on this island is horrific – makes me feel ashamed that our military had a hand in what happened to many people. But everyone should read this book. It’s a novel, about 2 girls who are divers and how their lives diverge for a variety of cultural reasons and because of the war.

Radio Girls by Sarah-Jane Stratford. A novel about the early days of radio in London. This book takes place in the 1920s and tells not only the general history of the early days of radio, but also the role women played (a vital one). Initially it was in the background, because women weren’t considered intelligent enough. Maisie, the heroine in the book, works her way up the ranks. It’s a fascinating read from beginning to end. Many famous characters (real) flow through the studios. Early voting rights play a part in the story line also. And some wartime intrigue. You’ll find yourself cheering from the bleachers when women make a tiny inroad into the male-dominated field.

A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts by Therese Anne Fowler. My friend Ann, from Idaho, brought it with her as we spent a week in Palm Desert in February. She handed it to me and said I’d really like it. Oh, did I! Loved the book. This book is a novel, but based on the life of Alva Smith Vanderbilt (Belmont). Her family was nearly destitute (and faking it) when a marriage was proposed for her with William Vanderbilt. There is lots of dialogue in the book which is made up, but I’m guessing the author probably read many diary entries of Alva (and the family) to create a very intriguing and readable story. A life of unbelievable privilege. Several children, including one who marries into a titled family in England. You see the inner life of Alva – her day to day busy work, charity work, visiting for afternoon tea, the undercurrent of society’s morals – men were nearly expected to have mistresses or affairs. This was the Victorian Age when sex between husbands and wives was not necessarily, and usually not, passionate. I loved this book from page one until the end.  Alva was a suffragette of the first order. Having read the book, I have a lot of admiration for her, even though she lived in the highest echelons of society.

Also read In Falling Snow: A Novel, by Mary-Rose McColl. From amazon: Iris, a young Australian nurse, travels to France during World War I to bring home her fifteen-year-old brother, who ran away to enlist. But in Paris she meets the charismatic Dr. Frances Ivens, who convinces Iris to help establish a field hospital in the old abbey at Royaumont, staffed entirely by women—a decision that will change her life. Seamlessly interwoven is the story of Grace, Iris’s granddaughter in 1970s Australia. Together their narratives paint a portrait of the changing role of women in medicine and the powerful legacy of love. The book  gives you a vivid picture of the state of nursing in WWI, but the story is quite mesmerizing. And there’s a twist almost at the end. Highly recommend.

Also couldn’t put down The Secret Wife by Gill Paul. A long story that begins in war-torn Russia. Cavalry officer Dmitri falls head over heels in love with one of the daughters of Tzar Nicholas. But events intervene, as history tells us. That was 1914. Cut to 2016 when a young woman inherits an ancient cabin in upper New York State and she discovers a jeweled pendant. The two times weave together to make a really riveting story. Lots of Russian history; well written; as I said, couldn’t put it down.

Uncommon Woman. A book about Colonial America, but really the western frontier at that time, which is in western Pennsylvania. The warring native Americans play large in this book. There is a romance, yes, but this book is not “a romance.” It’s more than that – about the hardships of living on the land, away from protection, Tessa and her family struggle to make a living and avoid the angered natives who take revenge when their people are murdered. Clay Tygart is a respected officer/soldier and commands a fort near where Tessa lives. Clay was captured by Lanape Indians when he was a young man, so he straddles both sides of the equation – first hand, he knows how the natives feel, but also his role in the lure of American exploration of the west. The natives wish to preserve their hunting grounds from the encroaching settlers. This book takes place in the mid-1700s I think. Loved it. Not only the history that is brilliantly detailed, even to the summer heat they experience. The crops they raise, the constant fear of attack. And the sweet love that weaves through it. Not a speck of sex in it.

Reading mysteries has never loomed large in my reading life. Occasionally, yes. And some espionage type books. But light mysteries have not intrigued me much. But one of my book clubs had us read Louise Penny’s novel, A Rule Against Murder (Chief Inspector Gamache Novel). The member actually handed out a cheat sheet of the characters in the book (many) and posed several questions of us as we read through it. The cheat sheet really helped. She asked us when (or if) we caught the foreshadowing of the murder culprit (I never did). The book takes place at a lovely inn in Canada and Chief Inspector Gamache (he is quite a character – along with his wife – are vacationing there) when a murder occurs. None of the characters escape the C.I.’s scrutiny. Lois, our book club member, led us through a very thorough and lively discussion of the book. Usually, my complaint about murder mysteries is that they don’t make for good discussion at a book club – but this book was an exception, for sure. Many of my learned book club friends rave about Louise Penny. One told me I should read Still Life next, and probably should have read it before I read this one.

Rachel Hauck is an author I’ve enjoyed reading over the years. Just finished reading The Memory House. It’s about relationships. Love. About family. About secrets. Doesn’t that just describe about 90% of every novel out there these days? Beck is a cop in NYC; a series of events occur and she is forced to take leave. Just then she inherits a house in Florida. She barely remembers the woman who bequeathed the house to her. Then you meet Bruno, a sports agent who will figure large in Beck’s life. Then the book jumps back in time to Everleigh, the woman who owned the house and you learn her story. Really stories of her two husbands. And how do those stories connect to present day. Very sweet book. Not a speck of sex in this one, either.

The Parrot Who Owns Me: The Story of a Relationship by Joanna Burger. Such an interesting book – nonfiction. The author is an ornithologist by profession (and a PhD) and this memoir of sorts is about her Red-Lored Amazon parrot she and her husband own. But no, it’s the parrot who owns her/them.

My Name Is Resolute by Nancy Turner. She’s the author of another book of some renown, These is my Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901 (P.S.). Resolute is what I’m discussing here. A book club friend recommended this book, I immediately bought it on my Kindle. I could NOT put the book down. I devoured it. Any other “work” I should have been doing was swept aside as I read and read of Resolute’s adventures. It’s fiction, but based some on a true story. Resolute, as a young girl from a privileged life on a plantation in Jamaica, was taken captive by slavers, eventually ended up in Colonial America. This book is the story of her life. The people she met, the men in her life, her children, and always about her indefatigable energy for life. Always hoping to return to Jamaica.

Finished The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek: A Novel by Kim Richardson.  It’s a novel about the first mobile library in Kentucky (this is the 1930s) and the fierce, brave packhorse librarians who wove their way from shack to shack dispensing literacy, hope, and, just as importantly, a compassionate human connection.

The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape by James Rebanks. This book was offered as a bargain book from Bookbub, and something about the description resonated with me – maybe because of my Old Testament readings regarding the lives of shepherds back in ancient days. I utterly loved this book. It might not suit everyone – it’s a memoir, so a true story, of a young man growing up in the Lake District of Northern England, the son of a farming family, who sabotages everything in his being regarding going to school and leaves as soon as he is able (probably about 8th grade, I’d guess). And becomes a shepherd. And at night, he read literature that he accumulated from his grandfather. He bickers with his father, eventually moves out. One night in a pub with his blokes (friends) he enters some kind of a contest in the pub and realizes he has a lot more knowledge than he thought he did. In time he applies to get what I’d call here in the U.S. a G.E.D (high school diploma), which he does, and then he applies to Oxford, on a whim. And gets in. He graduates. He applies his knowledge to his rural life. He marries, has children, but still, his day to day life is all about his Herdwick sheep, although he does have a day job too working for UNESCO. You’ll learn more about sheep than you might have wanted to know. I absolutely loved, LOVED this book. If you are interested, James Rebanks has a Twitter feed, called @herdyshepherd1, and you can sign up to get updates from him about his farm and his sheep. I don’t do Twitter or I would.

Moloka’i: A Novel by Alan Brennert. A riveting book about the early days of Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) in Hawaii, and the stigma attached to the victims AND their families. It chronicles the story of a young woman, diagnosed almost as a child, and ostracized from her family, subsequently learning to live alone and remote.

House by the Fjord by Rosalind Laker. What a darling story. From amazon: A touching and atmospheric love story – When Anna Harvik travels to Norway in 1946 in order to visit the family of her late husband, the country is only just recovering from five cruel years of Nazi occupation. So it is with surprise that she finds in this cold and bitter country the capacity for new love and perhaps even a new home. I just loved this book – could hardly put it down; yet it’s not a mystery. You’ll come away with a desire to find that house by the fjord. I want to go there and have some coffee with the Anna, who was a Brit, yet fell head over heels in love with Norway.

Running Blind (Jack Reacher) by Lee Child. A Jack Reacher mystery. From amazon: Across the country, women are being murdered, victims of a disciplined and clever killer who leaves no trace evidence, no fatal wounds, no signs of struggle, and no clues to an apparent motive. They are, truly, perfect crimes. Until Jack Reacher gets in the middle of it. A page turner, as are all of the Jack Reacher stories.

Say Goodbye for Now by Catherine Ryan Hyde. This story, which takes place in a kind of Texas backwater, sets a town into an angry mess when two young boys, one white, one black, become friends, something most folks don’t like. At all. There’s a dog involved, the father of the black boy, the father of the white boy plus a woman who lives in the town and does her best to avoid people altogether. But they all get fused. Wonderful story.

Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart. A sweet book, true story, of the author and her friend, during one summer in the midst of their college years, going by train to NYC and ultimately getting a job of Tiffany’s.  Cute read.

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann. You might think what a stretch – what does an Indian (Native American) tribe have to do with the FBI. Read and you’ll find out. This is back in time, 50s I think, and a number of murders have taken place on the Osage Reservation. A wake up call, even for today.

Oh wow. Just finished reading David Guterson’s book, East of the Mountains. You know this author from his most well known book, Snow Falling on Cedars. I loved the Cedars book when I read it years ago, and assumed I’d like this other book (not new) as well. Have you learned to trust my judgment when I tell you, you HAVE to read a book? If I tell you the story line, I can already hear you thinking . . . oh no, I don’t want to read this kind of a book. Please trust me. You’ll come away from it being glad you did.

A fabulous read – Catherine Ryan Hyde’s newest book, Have You Seen Luis Velez? I marvel sometimes about how authors ever come up with the ideas they do, to create the premise for a novel. And this one is right up there at the top of the list. Raymond, a youngster, an older teenager, who has a big lack of self-confidence and feels like an odd duck sometimes, reluctantly (at first) befriends an elderly woman in the apartment building where he lives with his mother and step-father. He discovers she’s blind and needs some help, which he gives her.

Magic Hour: A Novel

Excellent Women

Pachinko (National Book Award Finalist) by Min Jin Lee

An American Marriage (Oprah’s Book Club): A Novel by Tayari Jones.

Recently finished Sally Field’s memoir (autobiography) called In Pieces.

If you want grit, well, read Kristen Hannah’s newest book, The Great Alone: A Novel.

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.

The Last Letter from Your Lover: A Novel by JoJo Moyes.

Mark of the Lion : A Voice in the Wind, An Echo in the Darkness, As Sure As the Dawn (Vol 1-3) by Francine Rivers.

Flight of the Sparrow: A Novel of Early America

Answer As a Man

Celeste Ng Little Fires Everywhere.

The Rent Collector by Camron Wright.

C.J. Box’s book The Disappeared (A Joe Pickett Novel).

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng.

The Boston Girl: A Novel by Anita Diamant.

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers.

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen.

Leaving Blythe River: A Novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde.

The Girl with Seven Names by Hyanseo Lee.

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian.

The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes.

How It All Began: A Novel by Penelope Lively.

 

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 Vegetarian, on April 24th, 2020.

mushroom_masala

A vegetarian Indian entrée. Full of meaty mushrooms and sauce.

It’s not news here that I enjoy Indian food. So, lacking the ability to go visit a restaurant these days (although take-out is certainly an option), I took the problem into my own hands and tried something new in my own kitchen. As I write this (actually about 3 weeks ago) I’m having others go grocery shopping for me. My neighbor went to Costco and I asked for mushrooms. I got a one-pound box. Lots. More than I’d usually use. But instead of making a vegetable side dish and mushroom soup, I had this recipe in my head. I found the original recipe online and adapted it to my somewhat limited Indian-spiced kitchen. And oh, this was wonderful. The original was made in the instant pot. I chose not to; no particular reason. I just thought a longer, slower cooking would provide more flavor.

What I didn’t have was Kashmiri red chili powder. No-can-do. But I had New Mexican chile powder, which has really rich, deep flavor. I also didn’t have dried fenugreek leaves. My little bottle of fenugreek is likely 15 years old, and it’s not leaves anyway, so that got left out altogether. I didn’t have cashews, either, so instead of a cashew-cream to drizzle on top I used yogurt mixed with milk. And a little sour cream. Probably not authentic. Oh well. In these times of self-quarantine, we do the best we can, right?

Ghee was melted in a big pot, then onion was added and lightly sautéed until translucent. Then I added fresh ginger and garlic. The mushrooms were added then, but as expected, the mixture was quite dry. I stirred it a bit, added the turmeric, then the fairly big jar of passatta tomatoes (a kind of puree). That gave plenty of liquid. I added the chile powder, stirred, then the garam masala and salt. After cooking just slightly, I put a lid on it and put the pot in the oven for about 2 hours at a low-low temperature. I thought the mixture was too thick to cook well over the heat of a gas burner – the oven provided gentle but all-around heat.

Meanwhile, I made a small pot of rice in my instant pot. I’ve read that if you slightly undercook rice, it doesn’t get absorbed so much as a carb. And that if you make it ahead and refrigerate overnight, it also allows less absorption. Sounds good to me. Making rice in the instant pot is so incredibly easy – if nothing else, I want you to remember this part:

Instant Pot Rice: add 1 cup rice (I used basmati), 1 1/4 cups water or broth, a tablespoon of fat (combo of butter and EVOO) and a big pinch of salt to the Instant Pot. Cook on pressure for 3 minutes. Vent immediately, remove lid and allow to cool.

I made this masala the day before I ate it  – kind of like soup – always better if allowed to chill overnight. I have nothing but time on my hands these days, so that was no big deal. The next day it was so simple to scoop out a bit of rice into a bowl, spoon an ample portion of the mushroom masala on top, then heat in the microwave for 2 minutes on high. Meanwhile I made the yogurt cream to drizzle and chopped up the cilantro. Done. As I write this, it’s been my lunch for 3 days in a row and I’m not at all tired of it.

What’s GOOD: oh, the flavor for sure. Mushrooms have umami, one of those enhanced flavor profiles, and it comes through in spades here. Very satisfying. The rice (made as paragraphed above) was still just slightly chewy which I liked, and the mushroom mixture was just so good. Altogether delicious.

What’s NOT: nothing at all. A bunch of cutting of mushrooms, but that’s all.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Mushroom Masala

Recipe By: Adapted from Ministry of Curry blog, 2020
Serving Size: 5

1 pound mushrooms — rinsed, blotted dry and sliced
1 tablespoon ghee — or EVOO
1 tablespoon EVOO
1 large yellow onion — minced
2 teaspoons fresh ginger — grated
2 teaspoons garlic — minced
1 1/2 cups tomato puree — or same amount of peeled fresh tomatoes, chopped
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
3/4 tablespoon red chili powder — [I used New Mexico, though that would not be traditional]
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup yogurt
1 tablespoon milk — or half and half
Cilantro leaves chopped for garnish
INSTANT POT RICE:
1 cup basmati rice
1 1/4 cups water — or broth
2 teaspoons ghee
2 teaspoons EVOO
2 pinches salt

1. Preheat oven to 300°F.
2. In a large pot (that has a good fitting lid) heat ghee over medium heat. Add onion, stir and saute over low heat for 4-6 minutes until onion is translucent. Add ginger and garlic and continue stirring for about a minutes.
3. Add the sliced mushrooms and stir well, then add the tomatoes. Add turmeric, chile powder, garam masala and salt.
4. Put lid on pot and bake for about 2 hours. Remove from oven, cool and allow to refrigerate overnight, if time permits. Reheat over low heat until bubbling.
5. INSTANT POT RICE: To instant pot add rice, water/broth, ghee and EVOO. Pressure cook rice on high for 3 minutes. Vent and cool. May be served immediately or chill overnight. To serve: Scoop about 1/3 to 1/2 cup rice into each serving plate or bowl, then top with ample portion of mushroom masala.
5. Meanwhile, mix yogurt with milk and drizzle on top, then add chopped cilantro.
Per Serving: 324 Calories; 15g Fat (39.7% calories from fat); 8g Protein; 43g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 12mg Cholesterol; 776mg Sodium.

Posted in Soups, on April 20th, 2020.

caulif_soup_golden_raisins_capers_pinenuts

Oh my goodness, is this soup fabulous. You’d almost not know its base is cauliflower.

There’s a story to go along with this post. Last month before the virus had ramped up, I took a one-week trip to our California central coast. I had a fabulous time – by myself – visiting wineries, window shopping, used book stores, stopping at coffee shops here and there. I thoroughly enjoy driving and I meandered – I was in no hurry to get anywhere so I could enjoy the views. Visiting with old friends in San Luis Obispo, we went to a local hotel (the San Luis Obispo Hotel) for lunch. Cauliflower soup was featured that day – I quizzed the waitress if it was good. She waxed glorious about it – whenever the chef made it, she said she had some – and that I wouldn’t be disappointed.

So here’s what the restaurant’s soup looked like, at right. cauliflower_soup_san_luis_obispo_hotelI think the menu said it was garnished with a sage leaf, but that wasn’t a sage leaf – looked like basil to me. But on top was plenty of the balsamic glaze, toasted almonds, capers, some plumped up raisins (can’t really see those) and a few little pieces of caramelized roasted cauliflower.

Upon my first sip, I swooned. It was SO good. I insisted my friends needed to try it – they agreed it was sensational. My thoughts as I ate it – the golden raisins added so much – they were plumped for sure. The nuts added great texture, and so did the few little pieces of cauliflower. There was no discernible cauliflower flavor to the soup itself. So I decided it probably wasn’t made with caramelized cauliflower. Plus, the soup was super smooth. When the waitress returned I quizzed her some more about the soup – she knew it contained cream (check), and yes, it was balsamic glaze (check), and toasted almonds (I used pine nuts, check) and she knew the raisins had been cooked in something (check). And yes, they used a Vitamix to puree it until very smooth (check).

Soon after returning home I went online to google such a soup. No soup came up, but a bunch of results showed a vegetable dish (from the New York Times, I think it was, plus epicurious) of roasted cauliflower with toasted pine nuts, capers, golden raisins and balsamic glaze drizzled on top. My first thought was that the chef had perhaps made a monstrous batch of that for the dinner service, didn’t serve it all so he created the soup with the leftovers. I don’t know, of course. And it doesn’t matter – I created the soup with what little I could discern.

As I’m writing this post, I’m going to have it for the 2nd day, for my lunch. I have all the garnishes except the roasted cauliflower pieces. And I used pine nuts, as I mentioned. No basil or sage leaf, either. I added more parsley. I tried to make the soup with white onion, but my neighbor who is doing my shopping couldn’t find white onions. So yellow it was. I added celery for flavor, chicken broth, cream, and thickened it a little bit with flour. All of it was whizzed up at length in my Vitamix. I let it whiz for a long, long time  – and truly it resulted in a silky-smooth texture. I added a drizzle of sour cream (not on the restaurant soup), but you could easily use a little drizzle of EVOO for appearance or a tiny drizzle of heavy cream.

caulif_soup_with_cozyLunch at my house is often soup of some kind. There’s a photo of my bowl sitting in the microwave soup cozy (several artisans make them on Etsy). The soup bowl is sitting off center only because I wanted to show you the cute fabric on the back side of it. I have flat bags and bags of various soups in my freezer. I think this one will get eaten in total with none for the freezer. It’s that good. Do try to make this a day ahead of serving – as with all soups, they taste better once they’ve chilled overnight.

What’s GOOD: all the flavors produce an outstanding soup. The garnishes absolutely “make” this soup. Don’t skimp on them – in my opinion they’re all needed.

What’s NOT: a bit more prep with all the garnishes, but really it’s not a difficult soup to make.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

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Creamy Cauliflower Soup with Golden Raisins, Pine Nuts, Capers and Balsamic Drizzle

Recipe By: Loosely based on a soup I enjoyed at a hotel restaurant in San Luis Obispo, CA, March 2020
Serving Size: 6

SOUP:
2 tablespoons EVOO
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large white onion — chopped
2 stalks celery — chopped
1 clove garlic — minced
1 head cauliflower — chopped (no leaves)
5 cups low sodium chicken broth
Salt and WHITE pepper to taste
3 tablespoons all purpose flour — or cornstarch
2/3 cup heavy cream — or half and half
GARNISHES:
4 tablespoons golden raisins
1/3 cup water
1 1/2 tablespoons white vinegar
4 tablespoons pine nuts — toasted, or slivered almonds
2 tablespoons capers — drained
2 tablespoons sour cream — drizzled on top, or EVOO Drizzle of balsamic glaze
4 tablespoons parsley — minced

1. SOUP: In a large soup pot warm the butter and EVOO over medium heat. Add onion and saute for 3-5 minutes until onion is soft. Do not burn or brown. Add celery and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add garlic, then chicken broth, then the cauliflower. Simmer for 20 minutes until vegetables are cooked through. Allow mixture to cool for 20-30 minutes, then pour (in batches if necessary) into blender and puree for a long time – until the soup is super-smooth. Add the all-purpose flour during one of the whizzing sessions. Pour all the pureed mixture back into the soup pot, add cream and bring to a simmer again and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring often, as it thickens, watching that it doesn’t burn. Cool and refrigerate overnight if possible.
2. RAISINS: Bring golden raisins, water and vinegar to a simmer and cook over very low heat for about 5 minutes, then set aside to cool, while the raisins plump up. Drain.
3. SERVING: Pour reheated soup into individual bowls and garnish with any and all variety of the garnishes. The raisins are a must, as are some kind of toasted nuts. If you don’t have pine nuts, use slivered toasted almonds. If you don’t have balsamic glaze, you can make it by cooking down about 1/2 cup of regular vinegar until it’s thick and syrupy. Or, in a pinch drizzle soup with a TINY amount of regular balsamic. If you don’t have sour cream, drizzle with EVOO. If you feel particularly creative, sizzle the capers in a little olive oil until they burst and crisp up.
Per Serving: 291 Calories; 21g Fat (63.1% calories from fat); 13g Protein; 15g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 46mg Cholesterol; 491mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on April 15th, 2020.

indiv_choc_pavlova_choc_pastry_cream

The prettiest little dessert ever. Chocolate.

At a cooking class awhile back, Phillis Carey made these gems. Would I ever make them? Probably not – I think they’re a bit too fussy for my dessert-making tastes, but Phillis assured us they weren’t that difficult. However, she’d made the meringues that morning, and prepared the chocolate cream filling the night before. She’d put the meringues in a sealed container. So, really, all she had to do at the class was assemble them. That part’s really easy. But, if you don’t mind the making of meringues, or the chocolate cream, then go for it.

The recipe down below looks more than intimidating, I’d wager, for even the more experienced cooks out there. Some folks get turned off by anything more than about 5 ingredients in a recipe. Definitely more complicated than that.

Making meringues can be off-putting to some, but Phillis’ instructions are quite straight forward. You do have to make 4” circles on a big piece of parchment paper, then you turn it over so you don’t absorb graphite into the meringues, but you can still SEE the circles through the other side of the parchment. And, you’ve got to whip the egg whites for at least 8 minutes. Advice: set a timer when you begin, because you’ll think you’re done at about 5 minutes. No, a full 8 minutes.

The chocolate cream is easy enough, although  you do need to prepare an ice-water bath for it. Once made, and it’s hot, of course, you set the bowl into the ice water to cool it down until it’s fully cold. So, do make the meringues the day ahead (store at room temp, sealed up in a plastic, lidded box) and make the filling up to 3 days ahead. Then it’s only a matter of whipping the cream, shaving some chocolate curls and assembling it. That part’s very easy.

What’s GOOD: loved having chocolate pavlova – that was a new taste treat. If you want to make it a bit more decadent, make MORE of the chocolate cream – the chocolate flavor really comes from that and as the recipe is now, it doesn’t give any serving very much of it. I think I’d double it.

What’s NOT: only that you’ll want to plan ahead – make meringues day before – make cream at least a day or 2 ahead of time. A little bit fussy to serve, but not overly so. If everything IS made ahead, it’s not difficult in the least.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

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Individual Chocolate Pavlovas with Dark Chocolate Cream

Recipe By: From a cooking class with Phillis Carey, 2020
Serving Size: 4

PAVLOVAS:
2 large egg whites — at room temperature
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
6 tablespoons superfine sugar
1 pinch salt
1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup heavy cream — whipped (garnish)
chocolate curls (garnish)
CHOCOLATE CREAM:
2 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream — + 1 tablespoon
1/4 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
4 ounces dark chocolate — finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. PAVLOVAS: To make meringue, preheat oven to 275°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment. Draw four 4-inch circles on parchment, flip parchment over (so you can see the pencil marks but it won’t be absorbed into the meringue). Mix egg whites, sugars, salt and vinegar in a mixing bowl, set over a bowl of simmering water. Whisk constantly until sugars dissolve and mixture is warm, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk on medium-high speed or hand mixer until stiff peaks form, about 8 minutes. Set a timer if that helps – you do not want to under-beat this meringue. Beat in vanilla.
2. Sift cocoa powder over meringue and fold until barely any streaks remain. Using an offset spatula or a large spoon, spread meringue onto parchment, using the circles as a guide. Be careful not to spread out too much as the meringue will spread some during baking. Form a small well in the center of each meringue, being careful not to spread the meringue too thin in the center.
3. Bake meringues until dry to the touch, about 40-45 minutes. Let cool on sheet pan on wire rack. Meringues will keep in a tightly covered container for up to one day. Remove to a sealed container.
4. CHOCOLATE CREAM: Prepare an ice-water bath.
5. Whisk egg yolks and half of the sugar in a medium bowl. Bring cream, milk, salt and remaining sugar to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Pour a THIRD of the hot cream mixture into the yolk mixture, whisking until combined. Pour yolk mixture into pan with hot cream. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until mixture coats the back of a spoon – this will happen very quickly.
6. Place chopped chocolate in a large heatproof bowl. Pour hot mixture over chocolate. Whisk until chocolate melts and mixture is smooth. Strain through a sieve into a medium bowl, then set bowl in ice-water bath, stirring often, until chocolate is cool/cold. Stir in vanilla. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly on surface of chocolate cream, cover and refrigerate for up to three days.
7. ASSEMBLY: Spread chocolate cream evenly in the center of each meringue, leaving a 1/2-inch border around the outside. Spread whipped cream over chocolate cream. Garnish with chocolate curls and serve immediately.
Per Serving: 465 Calories; 28g Fat (52.1% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 52g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 170mg Cholesterol; 330mg Sodium.

Posted in Pasta, Vegetarian, on April 12th, 2020.

broccoli_spaghetti

This recipe has such an interesting story. I hope you’ll read it to learn why it’s called “Stop Trying So Hard” Broccoli Spaghetti.

Reading other blogs is a favorite pastime for me. And Food52 is one of them, with the staff there posting sometimes 4-6 stories a day. And perhaps because I had so much time on my hands the day I read this story, I read more of them than usual. I might have breezed by it just because I don’t eat much pasta. But I did click through (and am so glad I did, as the story is just so fun) and read the short saga of a young chef, James Park, who moved away from his home in South Korea to New York City. Some years had past and he hadn’t made the time to fly home to visit his family. Finally, his family decided to visit him. He went into semi-panic mode. He lives in a tiny, tiny Manhattan apartment and he needed to house them (his mother, father and brother) in the space. And he needed to cook for them. As the arrival became closer he mapped out what he would do with them, partly being tourists and he thought he’d take them to some of his favorite restaurant haunts, assuming they’d be impressed not only with the food, but with his now-prodigious knowledge of food. Uh, no. It didn’t happen that way. They didn’t want American food at all. They wanted to eat Korean food.

The chef never mentioned how difficult it must have been to sleep everyone in his small home space, but he did mention the various restaurants he took his family to, encouraging them to order particular dishes that were his favorites.

But I’ll back up. Arriving at his apartment from the airport with his family in tow:

“. . .per my mother’s request for pasta, I made my signature dish of penne, rosemary-infused oil, charred Italian sausage, and lots of Parmesan cheese—a weeknight go-to for me. This pasta was, in many ways, a reflection of various flavor-building techniques I had learned in culinary school. I wanted them to taste it, to see what their new chef son had learned during our years apart. Aiming to impress, I plated the pasta with extra Parm and garnished with fried rosemary, a flourish of freshly cracked black pepper.”

Her response (he obviously wanted, desperately, to impress his mother) was that this certainly wasn’t what she had been hoping for. She took a bite and said this is good, but she wanted that “other thing.” The one that was white and creamy. She said, you were eating it once when we were FaceTiming.

“. . . To many older Koreans, especially those of my mom’s generation, “pasta” is a dish with long noodles, pretty much always spaghetti, drenched in either tomato or cream sauce. Koreans love their cream pastas. Now that I think back on it, oil-based pastas, like the one I had just made, were not something my family would’ve ever associated with pasta.”

So, on their last morning there, he dug into his memory and tried to recall what he might have been eating during that long-ago phone call and pulled ingredients from his pantry and frig. His mother took a bite and made a satisfying sound of contentment. Yes, this is it, she said. It rated a 10 out of 10 in his mother’s eye. So Chef Park named this Simple Stop-Trying-So-Hard Broccoli Spaghetti, obviously referring to his wanting so hard to impress his family (mother) and finally resorting to something he threw together.

broccoli_spaghetti_cookingWith that kind of story, the recipe had been percolating in my head for the last 2 weeks or so. I had a big bunch of broccoli. I had some thin linguine (my fav). I had milk. And I had lemons. (My Meyer lemon tree is absolutely drooping from the weight of so many lemons.) This recipe is kind of incongruous – adding milk into a pot full of broccoli and onion? Doesn’t even sound good (oh, but it is).

Really, the only change I made was to double the amount of broccoli, and I also cut some of the stem to add in as well. So mine had more broccoli per serving. Not a bad thing.

What’s GOOD: how easy it is to make as long as you have broccoli. This is a dish you could throw together in less than 30 minutes. I don’t buy frozen broccoli, but I’m sure you could make it with that as well. Good flavor, although it’s somewhat bland (just know that if you make this) – with the only highlight the red chili flakes that give this a little zip. I think I’d try to make more “sauce” if you can call it that. When you add in a bit of the pasta water, usually it helps thicken some of the liquid, but mine didn’t do that very well. Since I’m into comfort food these days, this definitely filled the bill, so to speak. The milky consistency was actually quite good. Next time I might add just a tetch of chicken broth granules to the milky broth, but it wouldn’t be a necessary thing. It’s good just the way it is.

What’s NOT: not a thing as long as you have broccoli, pasta, lemon zest and milk. Everything else will likely be in your pantry already (onion, red chili flakes, Parm, garlic powder, butter, oil, fresh garlic). I noticed the leftover pasta had soaked up all the remaining milk, so I may need to add a bit more for reheating.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

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Simple Stop-Trying-So-Hard Broccoli Spaghetti

Recipe By: James Park, NYC chef
Serving Size: 4

8 ounces pasta — like spaghetti
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic — half sliced and half crushed
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 medium onion — sliced
2 cups broccoli florets
1 teaspoon lemon zest — or more
2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 pinch freshly cracked black pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1. Melt butter and olive oil in a large heavy pot over medium-low heat. When butter is melt, add sliced and crushed garlic and red pepper flakes until they are fragrant. Stir occasionally to make sure garlic and red pepper flakes don’t get burnt.
2. Once they are fragrant, add sliced onion and broccoli florets. Season them with salt and pepper. Toss everything until onions are translucent and florets are tender but still firm, for 3-4 minutes. Add lemon zest at the end and quickly toss everything again until it’s fragrant.
3. Add whole milk to the pot with salt and garlic powder and let it simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, cook pasta in heavily salted water, occasionally stirring, until very al dente (2–3 minutes less than package directions). Reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water.
5. Using tongs, add pasta to milk broth. Cook everything over high heat and bring everything together with pasta water and Parmesan for a minute, or until the pasta is cooked when you taste, “al dente” if you can.
6. Serve pasta with freshly cracked black pepper and more grated Parmesan cheese.
Per Serving: 391 Calories; 13g Fat (29.6% calories from fat); 15g Protein; 54g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 28mg Cholesterol; 404mg Sodium.

Posted in Cookies, on April 9th, 2020.

mega_ginger_cookies

This recipe was a winner of some kind of contest. A good reason to try them.

Whenever I input a recipe into my MasterCook software, and it has some kind of special accolades, I usually write it into the title so I can see it easily when I’m scanning through the list of recipes to try. In this case I wrote after cookies – “Sunset winner.” It’s been a few years ago, I think, but this cookie did win something. It might have been for Christmas cookies? I don’t recall. They contain an inordinate amount of crystallized ginger – plus ground ginger – so yes, these really have a ginger pungency. Not overwhelming by any means. I used every bit of crystallized ginger I could find in my pantry, and I’m not even sure I had quite enough. But it was close enough.

The making of the cookies was exceedingly easy – it got mixed up in the food processor – not my normal bowl of choice for making cookies and I will say, I had to remove half of it (I made a double batch) in order for the food processor to mix it sufficiently. Then remove that to do the second half. Then the dough was refrigerated – for me it was overnight. It would be best if you chilled it overnight if you took it out for about 30-45 minutes before trying to roll them in sugar. If the dough is cold, it’s harder to do that part.

mega_ginger_cookies_sheetpanI used my cookie scoop, but with that, I made them smaller than the scoop. I think the double recipe was supposed to make 72. Uhm, no, it didn’t. It made more like 48, but perhaps I made them much bigger. They were supposed to be 1-inch balls. I’m sure mine were a tad bigger than that. I have offered to bake cookies for a memorial service reception – as I write this, it was supposed to take place tomorrow, but with the Covad-19 overwhelming our country, the service has been indefinitely postponed. But I made them now and will just store in the freezer until they’re needed.

The only alteration I would make – and I did make in the recipe attached – was to reduce the amount of sugar. I thought the cookies were overly sweet. So, if you make these, taste the dough (note: the dough has raw egg in it) to see if you think it’s sweet enough with the reduced sugar amount. The original recipe called for 1/3 cup sugar to mix with the ginger, and 1/3 cup sugar mixed with the dough. You could also use 1/4 cup rounded on each measurement. I’ve not included this information in the pdf recipe attached. The difference could be the amount of sugar used in the crystallized ginger. Every product could be different.

What’s GOOD: lots of gingery flavor, crisp. Chewy. Love the craggy, crackled tops. Very sweet. I changed the amount of sugar in the attached recipe – read the above paragraph for more information.

What’s NOT: nary a thing that I can think of, unless you don’t like ginger!

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

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Mega-Ginger Cookies

Recipe By: Sunset Magazine winning cookie
Serving Size: 36

1/2 cup crystallized ginger — chopped
1/4 cup sugar
COOKIES:
4 1/2 tablespoons butter — at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 cup molasses
3/4 large egg
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons sugar — for rolling dough

1. In a food processor (or blender), whirl chopped ginger and sugar until ginger is very finely ground. Pour from container.
2. In the same container, whirl butter and sugar until fluffy.
3. Add ginger mixture, molasses, and egg; pulse to mix.
4. In a bowl, mix flour, baking soda, ground ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Pulse into butter mixture.
5. Cover dough and chill until firm to the touch, about 1 hour. If chilled overnight, allow to sit at room temp for 30-40 minutes to warm slightly.
6. Preheat oven to 350°F. Shape dough into 1-inch balls and coat in remaining sugar (use a little more sugar if needed). Place balls 2 to 3 inches apart on nonstick or oiled baking sheets.
7. Bake until slightly darker brown, 11 to 12 minutes, switching positions of baking sheets halfway through. Cookie tops will be crackled in appearance. They’re very soft when they come out of the oven, so allow to cool slightly, then transfer cookies to racks to cool. Make ahead: Up to one week, stored airtight at room temperature; frozen, up to 4 months.
Per Serving: 60 Calories; 2g Fat (24.1% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 11g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 8mg Cholesterol; 71mg Sodium.

Posted in Breads, on April 4th, 2020.

irish_guinness_quick_brown_bread

In my travel recollection, the crunchy brown bread I had in Ireland in about 1987 was some of the best wheat bread I’ve ever eaten. It wasn’t quite as dark as this bread, and I’m pretty sure it was a yeast-raised bread, but it used a type of milled wheat and grains that was unlike anything I’d eaten up to then, or since. I went to the grocery store with our friends we were staying with and they had rows of warm brown bread.

When I came home from that Ireland trip I looked in my various bread cookbooks for recipes. We didn’t have the internet to research with back then! I tried a couple. Nope. Didn’t measure up. Then someone told me the milled wheat produced in Ireland is different than anything we can buy here. Ah, well, that explained it. So I’d never tried making it since.

My Tivo records any new Ina Garten shows, and when they pop up in my Tivo menu, I’m sure to be watching her show. And this last week she did one on this bread. I was instantly interested and decided to try making it. So glad I did.

irish_guinness_loafIna used a brand of wheat flour called Heckers. I’d never heard of it before, but I learned it’s an East Coast label and is milled in the U.S. It’s carried at some Wal-Mart stores in the East, but I just went online and they’re out of stock (probably because of Ina Garten’s show). I bought an organic, non GMO whole wheat flour which is a finer mill than others – at least finer than ones from regular store shelf brands anyway.

Storing

Wheat Flour:

Just remember, whole wheat flour doesn’t keep for long at room temp – it will go bad – so seal it well and store in the freezer.

What’s different about this bread is how it’s made – the texture. The dry ingredients are stirred into a large bowl, then the wet ingredients are poured in and you use your fingers to lightly – very lightly – stir it together, pulling with 2-4 fingers from the center outward, until the batter (it’s more a batter than it is a dough) is mixed through and no dry streaks are visible. It’s very sticky and wet. Just know this is not like anything you’ve ever mixed before as a quick bread. The batter actually pours. No kneading could be done in any case.

guinness_brown_bread_slice_butterMeanwhile you will have buttered a loaf pan and the batter is poured into the pan and the top sprinkled with some more oats. It goes into a 450°F oven, and immediately you turn the oven temp down to 400° and it bakes for about 45-55 minutes. Use an instant read thermometer – bread is done at somewhere between 195° and 205°F. I took the bread out at 200°F. At 45 minutes my loaf wasn’t done and it took another 10 minutes to reach that temp.

I cooled it for about 5 minutes in the pan, then upturned it and cooled the loaf on a rack. I served this to a group of friends alongside a bowl of soup, with Kerry Gold butter.

SERVING: you will want to slice this bread thicker than a regular yeast bread because the structure of a quick bread is just different – it doesn’t have the glue (gluten) to hold it together. So hold your hand over the loaf, using your 4th and 5th fingers to keep the far edge from breaking off, and use a serrated knife and saw slowly.

What’s GOOD: love-loved the bread. So easy to make – truly. The only oddball thing was buying Guinness stout beer! Loved the flavor and warm flavor from the wheat flour and Guinness. Was this as good as I remembered from Ireland – well, no, but it was close.

What’s NOT: nothing at all.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

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Irish Guinness Brown Bread

Recipe By: Ina Garten recipe
Serving Size: 12

1 cup oatmeal — NOT quick cooking type, but use McCann’s, plus extra for sprinkling
2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour — such as Heckers
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dark brown sugar — lightly packed
2 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
11 ounces Guinness stout — (11- to 12-ounce) at room temperature
1 cup buttermilk — shaken
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 tablespoons unsalted butter — melted, plus extra for brushing the pan
serve with salted butter such as Kerry Gold

NOTE: If you use King Arthur Flour, the batter may be thicker – suggestion to use the larger quantity of stout – the batter needs to be very loose – not as loose as pancake batter, but not sturdy enough to roll out and knead, for instance. But this dough isn’t kneaded anyway.
1. Preheat the oven to 450°F.
2. In a large bowl, combine the oats, whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the beer, buttermilk, melted butter, and vanilla. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients into the well. With your fingers, stir the batter from the middle of the bowl to the outside, until it’s well mixed. It will look more like cake batter than bread dough.
3. Brush a 9 x 5 x 2 1/2-inch loaf pan with melted butter. Pour the batter into the pan and sprinkle the top with oats. Put the bread in the oven, immediately turn the temperature down to 400°F, and bake for 45 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean (mine took 55 minutes to reach 200°F). Turn the bread out onto a baking rack and allow to cool completely. Slice and serve with salted butter, preferably Kerry Gold!
Per Serving: 175 Calories; 2g Fat (8.6% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 35g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 1mg Cholesterol; 623mg Sodium.

Posted in Cookies, on April 3rd, 2020.

cc_cookies_alice_medrich

Are you really tired of reading another chocolate chip cookie recipe from me? My apologies, but I guess I’ll be forever on the quest for the perfect one.

I’m assuming most of you are on house arrest, aka shelter-in-place like I am. Social Distancing. What a phrase – we’ll remember that word forever, won’t we? As I write this, I’m on day 17 of being at home all day, all night, with not a single trip out of my driveway. In many ways, I’m lucky – I live in a big house, and I use most of the rooms  – living room for my phone calls on my cell – dining room table for a project now and then – kitchen all the time because I’m cooking a lot more than usual – my kitchen dining table is where I eat most of my meals – and my family room with TV (on from about 8am to 8 pm every day) and the gas fireplace nearby. Master bedroom of course, my big bath and dressing room area gets daily use, and my very comfortable library/study up there where I watch TV in the  evenings.

My report? I’m fine – feeling fine, no symptoms. My next door neighbor, Josee, has been a lifesaver for me – she goes shopping for me about once a week or every other week. The high school kids at my church are also available for shopping – all I have to do is send a list, put out some cash and shopping bags and they bring it back an hour later. I stay busy enough, I guess. I do watch the TV more than usual – tuned into news most of the hours, then in the late evening I go upstairs to my comfy study and start watching some of my recorded shows that take my mind off coronavirus. Have you seen this picture?

Screen Shot 2020-03-30 at 1.49.08 PM

That’s my neighbor’s very well-trained standard Doberman. I was sent a similar picture of a little Chihuahua with similar wording but had an acronym on the photo that wasn’t nice language – I sent it to my neighbor and she took a picture of Batman and added the same lingo but with the word “heck” instead of the f word.

Anyway, I belly-laughed so hard over this picture. Laughing is good for us, you know?

In my normal life I’m so busy I rarely have enough time to read or go up to my studio (an unused room in my house at the moment) to draw or paint. Reading I’m doing (see sidebar on my web page for what I’ve read recently). Cooking, I’m doing. But most everything else has fallen by the wayside. Have I cleaned my house? Nope. I’ve paid the two women who come clean my house for me, but I told them not to come in. I’ll do that again next week when they’d be due to come again. And I’ll pay them anyway as I know they need the money. I can’t seem to concentrate on doing other things. A couple of days earlier this week we had really beautiful weather here in Orange County and I went outside and sat in my nice outdoor furniture, under the umbrella and read for awhile, always conscious of the fresh air, the birds singing and the butterflies flitting.

What I crave is comfort food. What I really want is a pasta casserole (haven’t made one). Or things like mashed potatoes (haven’t done that either). Soup has been a mainstay on my table and you’ll have another recipe up soon – a delicious creamy chicken poblano chile from Joanna Gaines. Delicious. Most nights I have a big green salad. My neighbor is bringing me fresh salmon today from her shopping run, so I’ll have that with some fresh asparagus tonight.

Comfort food: [from wikipedia] The term comfort food has been traced back at least to 1966, when the Palm Beach Post used it in a story: “Adults, when under severe emotional stress, turn to what could be called ‘comfort food’—food associated with the security of childhood, like mother’s poached egg or famous chicken soup.”

I can’t say that I turn my mind to poached eggs. Or chicken soup either as my mother didn’t make chicken soup (my dad wouldn’t eat chicken). It might be better for me if I indulged in pasta or potatoes – rather than chocolate chip cookies! I don’t know about you, but I have a favorite brand of chocolate chips. I grew up on Nestlé’s semisweet, but oh no, since the advent of dark chocolate chips, I’m all over those, and Ghiradelli Bittersweet are my favorite. They’re very hard to find these days – have you noticed? I even considered ordering a 25 pound bag from amazon, but it was semisweet and I want bittersweet. So I’m figuring that lots of other households are baking chocolate chip cookies just like I am. My neighbor took a photo of the shelf at the grocery store – empty of Ghiradelli’s bittersweet. Sigh. So, since I’m nearly out of them in my own pantry, I dug into my chocolate stash and found a bag of Callibaut very bitter chocolate chips. They’re fine – I like them. So I’ll certainly have a couple more recipes’ worth before I’m desperate for Ghiradelli. Now that I’ve alerted my neighbor to look for them, she’ll probably hunt for them whenever she’s shopping.

cc_cookies_dough_aliceTurning to a cookbook I’ve had for awhile (I think I bought it just before Dave passed away) I found several cc cookie recipes that would suffice, but this one, Alice Medrich’s favorite, seemed to leap off the page. When I began I didn’t realize how different the batter/dough would be. This recipe uses melted butter  – certainly a variant that was not something I’ve ever done for cc cookies. The butter is combined with the regular and brown sugars, eggs, then the dry ingredients. The dough has a totally different look – it’s wet. See photo. I’m not sure you can tell from the photo  – it really does LOOK wet, although the dough is handle-able and pliable. It’s not sticky in the least.

The only other variant was that it recommended at least an hour or two of chilling (even overnight if time permitted). I did an hour. Then used my scoop for 1-tablespoon sized mounds. My baking sheets don’t require foil or parchment – they baked up perfectly.

What’s GOOD: gee, I really like these cc cookies. I want to try them with Ghiradelli, but other than that, they’re a perfect complement to a hot cup of coffee or tea. Or a mid-afternoon snack.

What’s NOT: nothing really. My problem is that I know they’re in the freezer . . . .

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

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Chocolate Chip Cookies Alice Medrich

Recipe: From Alice Medrich’s cookbook: Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy
Serving Size: 60 (I got about 54)

10 1/8 ounces all purpose flour — about 2 cups
1 teaspoon baking soda
8 ounces unsalted butter — melted, cooled slightly
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2 cups chocolate chips
1 cup walnuts — chopped, or pecans

1. Melt butter and set aside to cool for 2-3 minutes.
2. Combine in a bowl the flour and baking soda. Stir well and break up any lumps.
3. In a bowl combine the melted butter with sugars, vanilla and salt. Mix in the eggs. Stir in flour mixture just until all the dry ingredients are moistened. Stir in chips and walnuts. [This dough looks WET – very different than usual because of the melted butter used – see photo.] Chill dough for at least an hour, or overnight. If chilling overnight, let the bowl sit out at room temp for 20-30 minutes to warm up slightly.
4. Preheat oven to 375°F. Scoop dough into 1-tablespoon mounds and place on greased or foil lined cookie sheets. Bake cookies for 9-11 minutes, rotating pans and switching them halfway through. Cookies should be golden brown on the edges, and no longer look wet on top. Remove pans from oven and allow to sit for 1-2 minutes until cookies “set.” Remove to rack to cool completely. They will keep at room temp for several days if stored in an airtight container. Otherwise, freeze them.
NOTES: you may substitute raisins for chocolate chips. Also, you may remove chocolate chips and use only pecans (double the quantity). This latter is one of Alice’s favorite variations.
Per Serving: 115 Calories; 7g Fat (49.4% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 14g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 15mg Cholesterol; 61mg Sodium.

Posted in Travel, on April 2nd, 2020.

central_coast_mountaintops590

My recent trip – photo is looking south toward Morro Bay, fog is over the ocean

Waaaaaay back in late February, I took a driving trip. At the time we’d heard that coronavirus was in China and while I was on the trip the first cases appeared in Washington State, but there wasn’t even a whiff of quarantine or even much concern. How times have changed. But anyway, I took an 8-day driving trip, in my new car (I’ve been a BMW fan for most of my adult life) and love driving back roads and highways behind the wheel.

Here in California we know the phrase “Central Coast,” meaning it’s the central part of California, and mostly on the coast, although it also includes coastal hills and dales. In the summer it’s often hot there, so I went in spring-like weather and it was lovely. The hills were beginning to green-up.

emerald_iguana_mosaicMy goal was just to drive, enjoy the scenery, stay in a few nice B&Bs or boutique hotels, walk, shop, wine taste and devote an hour or more each day to reading. I did all of those things. Only one night did I spend on the coast, in Cambria, and the weather wasn’t very nice – foggy and cold, so I didn’t hardly walk much and it was the only place I stayed that I’d not return to – the motel wasn’t special in the least. The first two nights I stayed in Ojai (oh-high), a small inland town in the foothills almost east of Santa Barbara. The town is tiny, but my friend Cherrie and her husband often stay near there with their 5th wheel and Cherrie had told me for years about an old-fashioned department store in Ojai called Rains. They were having a sale on some items and I took my time and went to every department. Bought some cute t-shirts and my big purchase was a Patagonia top. I’ve never owned one and was so tickled to find one that fit and was 50% off. The B&B, called The Emerald Iguana, is as cute as a bug. I highly recommend it. I stayed in a large suite that included a kitchen and great room with dining table and separate bedroom. Breakfast was enjoyed on their sweeping patio each morning with excellent coffee and a varied breakfast. The photo above is the centerpiece of the inn – a mosaic iguana.blue_iguana_LR

There’s a photo of the main living room of my suite. It was really nice. It was a beautiful couple of days there. I shopped, had lunch at a quaint little coffee place (with a limited menu) and dinner at a recommended restaurant there. I had enough to take home and enjoyed it for my dinner the following night – only because I had a refrigerator to keep the food! I also spent several hours sitting out on the veranda of my suite, looking at the view (picture below). It was dark enough that the glare wasn’t too bad to emerald_iguana_porchread. There were plenty of birds and buzzing bees and pretty butterflies flitting. Ojai also has a place called Bart’s Books. It’s an Ojai institution – an old, dilapidated house that holds thousands of books. Do I need more books? Nope. But that doesn’t ever stop me from browsing in used bookstores. I think it’s something in the blood of anyone who likes to read, to meander into used bookstores. I bought 3 books – haven’t yet opened any of them, so can’t report yet about them. I bought a Louise Penny mystery, a memoir by Joyce Carol Oates and an essay book by Elizabeth David. All hardbacks.

cachumaDriving again I headed north and breezed through Santa Barbara. I drove over the mountains to look at Lake Cachuma (sometimes dry in drought years, but currently it has some water). It’s an iffy road to drive because it’s a 2-lane highway with just a few passing lanes, so if you happen to get stuck behind a truck and trailer, it can be miles before you can get around them. I wasn’t in a hurry, so I tried not to get annoyed. I think that picture was Cachuma – if not it was some other lake I passed on my trip.

hotel_cheval_streetview_pasoAlong the way I stopped and had an In-n-Out burger. So very good – a rare treat for me. Then I continued on to Paso Robles (technically it should be pronounced pass-oh robe-less but most people say pass-oh-ROH-bulls). I passed through San Luis Obispo along the way, which is one of the hubs of winemaking in the central coast. My DH Dave and I often stayed in SLO, it’s called, when we were on a wine-buying trip. I’ve begun enjoying Paso more than SLO (that’s how the locals refer to both towns), and I had reserved a room at the Hotel Cheval. Oh my goodness, was that ever special. On any future trip, I’m going to book 3 nights at this hotel – it was just hotel_cheval_interior_courtyardextra special. They call themselves unique, and certainly it qualifies. Luxury but not ostentatious. Rustic, yet elegant. Hard to describe. If you walk 150 feet to the right in the picture above, you’d be on the town square. I did a lot of walking all around the town, shopping, just enjoying being outside. On my 2nd day there I did a round about drive to several wineries (Still Waters, Cass). The drive was so pretty. Rural for sure. Love the landscape in and around Paso. Yes, I bought wine – a case altogether. The next day I visited Kiler Ridge Olive Oil and two more wineries before heading toward the ocean to Cambria (mentioned above).

The day after that I meandered along Highway 1, drove through Morro Bay, had lunch, then on to Los Olivos (actually Ballard) a town not too far away, where I stayed in a very pretty boutique hotel, the Ballard Inn. The only thing wrong with it was they don’t have TVs in the rooms (one only in the sitting room area near the lobby). I discovered that in the late afternoon I enjoyed my rooms, wherever I was, and wanted to listen to the news and later in the evening I wanted the “companionship” if you can call it that, of having the TV on before I went to sleep. Yes, I could have tried to stream something on my iPad, but that wasn’t what I wanted to do. Ballard is a tiny, sleepy town with nothing to do – a great place for a romantic (couple) weekend away – but not so much for a widow. Had dinner in their lovely restaurant (great food) then the next day headed back toward home. I spent 2 nights with my son Powell, his wife Karen and grandson Vaughan near Pasadena. And then home. Loved my own bed – don’t we always? I swear hotels all buy some kind of padded top thing when the mattresses have seen better days, trying to eke out another year of use, and I’m not a fan. I complained at one place about it. It was so thick I felt like I was sinking into a deep feather pillow. But not comfortable.

My trip was great – it taught me a very good lesson – stay in nicer places – eat well – and I did. I wasn’t sad being by myself – enjoyed plotting out my trips each day – stopped to take pictures here and there – did plenty of window shopping and walking. I’d make this trip again but I’d leave off Cambria and Ballard and just stay in Ojai and Paso.

Posted in Veggies/sides, on March 31st, 2020.

roasted_asparagus_dijon_thyme

Roasted asparagus with a butter Dijon sauce poured on top.

Asparagus is one of my very favorite vegetables. And they’re just coming into season about now, though the ones I’ve seen have been quite thin. I prefer them a bit more matured rather than pencil thin. So, this recipe, from a class with Phillis Carey, was so simple to make. The trimmed asparagus was tossed with some olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted at 450°F. That’s one HOT oven. These were done in 8 minutes. So, in the interim, you make the buttery sauce – with garlic, Dijon and thyme. Once the asparagus come out of the oven you pour it over and toss well. Finished. How easy is that?

The only suggestion is to make sure you spread the asparagus out in a single layer – no overlapping. They roast better that way. I love spearing an asparagus with my fork and munching it down to the base. I’ve been known to pick them up in my fingers too, butter and all, to munch them. Not according to Emily Post, for sure.

What’s GOOD: how easy these are to make – just get the ingredients for the sauce out before you put the asparagus in the oven. Delicious.

What’s NOT: not a thing.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

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Roasted Asparagus with Dijon and Thyme

Recipe By: From a cooking class with Phillis Carey, 2020
Serving Size: 4

1 pound asparagus — ends snapped off
4 teaspoons EVOO
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 small cloves garlic — minced
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon fresh thyme — chopped

1. Preheat oven to 450°F.
2. Toss asparagus with EVOO and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast asparagus for 8 minutes, or until asparagus is just tender.
3. Meanwhile, melt butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and stir for about 30 seconds, then whisk in mustard and thyme. Keep warm until ready to serve and toss over the hot, roasted asparagus.
Per Serving: 109 Calories; 10g Fat (82.4% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 3g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 16mg Cholesterol; 34mg Sodium.

Posted in Salads, Vegetarian, on March 25th, 2020.

veg_sheetpan_bowl_arugula_wh_beans

A great combo of flavors – all tasty by themselves, but tossed with a light balsamic dressing, it takes it to a tastier level.

When this veggie bowl was served to me I was certain I wasn’t going to care for it. I was at a cooking class, and often this instructor includes a vegetarian entrée at her classes. Then I took a bite, and decided it was really quite wonderful. I don’t eat very many beans (carbs) and I definitely don’t eat hardly any potatoes, either (more carbs) so I ate a bite or two of those things and devoured the rest of the bowl. It’s the dressing that pulls it all together.

Truly, I love sheetpan dinners – and this one is very easy – it’s just done in stages – pine nuts first (and removed), then potatoes and garlic, and zucchini last. Meanwhile, you make up the dressing – adding the roasted garlic to it once you take the sheetpan out of the oven. The arugula adds a lovely texture to this – making it equally a salad rather than just roasted vegetables, and as I mentioned, the dressing just enhances it all. When I make it myself, I’ll probably use sweet potatoes since they are healthier for me.

I’ve adjusted the recipe to use fewer potatoes (and added the sweet potato option). Do chop up the arugula – if it’s mature arugula it can be quite unruly to eat – easier to eat if chopped. The cold halved tomatoes also add a nice textural contrast. Making it for myself I’d add more zucchini and fewer beans, but that’s totally up to you. I don’t think you can buy half cans of cannellini beans!

What’s GOOD: for me the dressing brought all the various ingredients together and made it more of a salad than a sheetpan dinner, exactly. Loved the dressing element. Liked the contrast using chopped arugula and fresh tomatoes.

What’s NOT: only that it helps to have everything out and ready when you start – you make this in stages, but still, all on one pan. Yeah!

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Sheetpan Veggie Bowl with Cannellini Beans and Arugula

Recipe By: Cooking class with Susan V, 2/2020
Serving Size: 4

1/4 cup pine nuts
1 1/4 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes — cut into 1-inch cubes (or substitute sweet potatoes)
4 cloves garlic — unpeeled
1/4 cup olive oil — divided
3/4 teaspoon salt — divided
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper — divided
2 zucchini — quartered and cut into 1-inch slices
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
15 ounces canned cannellini beans — drained and rinsed
3 cups baby arugula — chopped
1 cup grape tomatoes — halved

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200 degrees C).
2. Spread pine nuts on a sheetpan; roast until golden and fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool.
3. Place potatoes and garlic on the sheetpan. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Bake 20 minutes. Add zucchini and rosemary, toss, then continue roasting until vegetables are tender and browned, about 20 minutes. Let cool about 5-10 minutes.
4. Squeeze roasted garlic out of its skin into a small bowl, mashing it slightly with a fork. Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil, balsamic vinegar, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper; whisk to combine.
5. Toss roasted potatoes and zucchini in a large bowl with beans, chopped arugula, tomatoes, and dressing. Serve in bowls sprinkled with toasted pine nuts.
Per Serving: 670 Calories; 19g Fat (25.0% calories from fat); 32g Protein; 97g Carbohydrate; 20g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 436mg Sodium.

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